Karakoram, The Hunt for Ibex
By Pedro Ampuero
My Dad and I started our hunt in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. We drove along the Karakoram highway for three full days. It was a 14 hour drive to Chilas, 12 more hours to Skardu, and after 9 more hours we finally arrived to Hushe. This was going to be our home for the following week.
Figure 1 “Photo” The mountains, this would be our new home.
The Karakoram highway is probably one of the most amazing roads to drive on in the world. It goes thru the mountains along the Indus River, which divides the three largest mountain ranges in the world, the Himalayan, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush.
Figure 2 “Photo” The high mountain peaks.
Figure 3 “Photo” Another great view from the highway…
Figure 4 “Photo” Pedro playing tourist, capturing roadside signs.
As you can imagine the sightseeing was unbelievable. The mountains are so vast that the sun light just appeared only for a few hours at midday. In Pakistan, there are 5 peaks over 8000 meters: the K2 (8611 m), the Nanga Parbat, the Gasherbrum I, the Broad Peak and the Gasherbrum II.
During these kinds of hunts, the trip gets to be as important as the hunting itself. It is when we get to know the country and their people, that it enriches our lives and helps us understand other cultures. Every little town was a good excuse for having a tea drink! It was interesting to see that in every valley, the culture was quite different. Not so long ago, the villages were isolated from each other by those high peaks. Most of the country is Muslim, although there are a lot different of types, which also reflected on the people and their hospitality. One thing that surprised us was that we did not see a single woman, during the whole trip along the Karakorum.
Figure 5 “Photo” Picture on some of the locales we met on our trip.
The road ends in Hushe, a lovely little village of around 100 families located above 3000 meters high. It was pretty amazing to learn how the village was organized. They have a community chief who was in charge of distributing the work among all the village people. At the same time, he was in charge of recollecting the money and for distributing it between the families, and also of investing it in education and health. The whole town was working as a team, and it was encouraging to see how many things they have achieved with so little resources. The people were outstanding.
Figure 6 “Photo” The children were adorable and very friendly.
One of the coolest things about this place was the mountaineering tradition. Hushe is one of the villages from which mountaineers start their trip to the base camps of the K2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum I & II. Actually, most of our guides had made it to the summit of some of these peaks, which proves their courage and deserves the best of my admiration. Speaking with our guides about their expeditions to those peaks reinforces why some of us love and respect the mountains and its challenging hunting.
Although by this time of the year, there are normally several feet of snow in the valley, this year there was not an inch. These strange climate changes sent the ibex higher up in the mountains than usual. This put a huge limitation on our hunting capabilities, since the mountains are tremendously technical, and ropes were needed everywhere. I have never seen mountains going up so steeply!
Figure 7 “Photo” Scounting the high mountains using a spotting scope.
We started out hunting everyday by walking from the village supported by the following team: a main guide, a specialist in climbing and an interpreter. Sometimes some more people would join us. I suppose it was the most interesting stuff to do in the village, so everyone was willing to participate. We didn’t climb high, because the mountains could get very dangerous. Instead, we glassed from the river in the valley looking for accessible ibex for stalking. I really regretted my lack of climbing experience, so I am determined to learn some basics soon before our next trip.
Figure 8 “Photo” Pedro crossing a small bridge in the mountains.
The weather was pretty good, except for some foggy days, in which you could barely see the ibex on top of the mountains. The temperature was pretty low, reaching around -20º degrees Celsius in the camp. The spindrift layer was definitely a must, in addition three heavy merino layers. Try waiting for several hours glassing a group of ibex, you can freeze up there.
Figure 9 “Photo” Pedro trying to stay warm
Figure 10 “Photo” scouting Ibex with the spotting scope from long distances.
Figure 11 “Photo” Enjoying a meal with my guide.
It was a bit frustrating to see the ibex, knowing that we could not reach them safely. Although in mountain hunting, patience is the key for success, we finally got our opportunity. Dad once again did not let it pass by, and put two wonderful shots into this nice ibex after a few hours stalk. I felt proud one more time!
The fun part started when it was time to bring the ibex down from the mountain!
Figure 12 “Photo” Pedro with the Ibex.
Figure 13 “Photo” Pedro, his Dad and guide with a great trophy Ibex.
With one ibex down, it was time for me to try to shoot another during the remaining days of the hunt. Surprisingly the organization (Karakoram Trek and Tours) didn’t obtain the second permit as promised, even though we had paid for it in advance. We lost two days of hunting trying to solve their huge “accidental mistake”. They wanted more money from us and that was definitely not the deal. The result was that we had to leave without being able to hunt a few more days for a second one. This left us with a bitter sweet taste in our mouths after what seemed to be the hunt of our lives. But you always have to look on the bright side of life! We were taking home a Himalayan Ibex and had an amazing experience!
Figure 14 “Photo” The Ibex trophy cape and skull.
The trip back home was a little more complicated, since the army stopped us. There was some shooting in one of the towns of the Karakorum highway and the road was blocked. We finally made it by plane, and stayed a day to walk around Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Security measures in the hotel were huge, but we didn’t feel any danger when visiting the city. The saddest part was to see a country with so much poverty everywhere which spends around 80%-90% of their budget on the army.
Figure 15 “Photo” Islamabad
For sure, this was another adventure that we will never forget! Good luck to everybody in the mountains! And thanks for your kind comments in the ibex photo report. Hunt ethically and be safe where ever you are enjoying the great outdoors.