Kevin Swains
Travel Website
This is Kev's Travel Blog

Khunjerab Pass

The Khunjerab Pass and the KKH was opened in 1978. It was built with the hope of improving trade between Pakistan and China. But the pass lies nowhere near the major trade centres of either country and has been of little success.
Tourism however has brought some prosperity to the Karakoram valley and if political problems sort themsleves out then the area has almost unlimited tourist potential. For now the Khunjerab Pass is used as an access route into China/Pakistan by a trickle of tourists, a few Chinese and Pakistani traders and not much more than 10 goods vehicles per day.
The pass is now part of a wildlife conservation area due to it's collection of snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep and Ibex to name but a few.

Early autumn colours on the pass.

I left Zhud Khun and the chapursan Valley with some regret. I'd had a great time there and I could have easily stayed longer, but I must move on and winter is approaching.
The valley had opened my eyes in many ways to many things. Seeing the Kygyrz coming from Afghanistan, the friendliness of the locals and the incredible moutain scenery had flooded my head with the possiblity of real travel adventures. I'm sure I'll be back here some day....

Probably the highest part of the pass.

Cycled from grim Sust to Dhee and the last passport checkpost before the pass. There is also a Wildlife checkpost at Dhee where one has to pay a national park fee of U$4. I arrived at midday and was planning to push onwards and camp in the park but I was informed that there was no camping allowed in the park so I had to spend a night camping behind the checkpost.
I should'nt really complain because the staff looked after me making chai, feeding me and letting me sit around the fire. I even got breakfast and all for no cost.
I woke in the night freezing which suprised me given the relative low altitude. As I shivered in my sleeping bag all I could think of was at least this would be the last time I have to spend in this bleedin tent. In a way I wanted it all to be over.

A high digital zoom on far away Ibex. A handful of hunting licences are now
issued for a mere U$3000 a pop. The revenue raised going mainly to local villages.
The income tends to stop locals from hunting the Ibex into oblivion as the
U$'s are more valuable to the local community.

When I woke I saw the snow line not far above on the hills and anything higher obscured by cloud.
I felt glad that the weather was crappy as it prevented me from having to slog it up the hill. I packed my things and went for a chai....
20 minutes later I walked out of the kitchen to find a clearing sky. This meant I could no longer use the weather as a get out clause.
I stashed my luggage and set off up the pass.
My mind wasn't on the job and my knee also gave me much pain. It's not an easy ride with 55km if constant climbing.
The initial 20 or so km were rather daunting. The valley sides were steep and very unstable and loose rocks littered the road. I rode tight on the right hand side of the road to hopefully avoid and flying rocks.
I constantly looked up at the loose rocks. I was glad that I was wearing my helmet but I don't know if an Australian standard helmet is designed to withstand the blow from a 200kg rock travelling at high speed?

On the Khunjerab Pass (4736m)
Despite what the sign says I'm actually in Pakistan.

I then pass three Pakistani trucks, one of which has broken down at the side of the road heading towards China. I see them and wish that I could get a tow off a passing truck.
The weather fails to get better and it stays cloudy and cold and the views are nothing to write home about because of this.
As I cycle upwards I see a flock of Ibex fleeing up the hill at a good speed. I stop and take a distant photo. At least something seems going well.
At around 30km I hear a truck behind in the distance. I know that in a few km I'll hit some hairpin bends that'll lead me all the way to the pass so I push on a quickly as I can to try and hit the bottom of them before the truck catches me.

Now in China!

I time it to perfection and as the first truck passes me I grab a hold of a rope and my tow begins.
It's hard work. I'm only 2m off it's rear wheels and I have to focus, looking out for any rocks on the road. It's also getting very cold from the lack of movement. When the road becomes very rough I have to let go of the truck, pass the rough section and then do a hard short sprint to catch up again.
Later rather than sooner I'm on the pass having seen very little on the way up.

An approaching snow storm heading up from Pakistan and straight into my face as
I head back down to Sost.

I'm now on the pass. I've reached my goal and it's literally downhill from here on.
But it's not all over. It's miserably cold, snowing lightly with a nasty looking storm approaching (above). The fat lady doesn't greet me today and keeps her bedsocks on in
I don't hang around, simply snapping a few photos before heading back into an approaching storm.
The wind battered me and to make things worse I couldn't find my thermal gloves and my hands were icing up. I also had every piece of clothing on I had including my waterproof jacket but the wind was somehow managing to even get through this. It was only after 20km that I realised that the ventilation zips under my arms were fully open turning me into a bag of wind (no comments please:). Later I was to find my missing gloves hidden inside a pair of trousers....I think I'm my worst enemy?:)

Still gloomy weather on the lower reaches of the Khunjerab.

After 110km I reached the wildlife checkpost. The weather was still miserable so I collected my bags and pushed on to Sust.
I cycled down the high walled valley but the wind came up it like a hurricane. I was totally knackered having eaten little because of the weather.
It was dark when I reached Sost after 130km.
I never would have thought that I would have been glad to see this place....