Dave’s Himalayan hike with camels

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The adventures of Dave Binns will be the subject of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s latest talk in Galashiels on Tuesday (November 25).

The Bowden horticulturist will talk about leading a small group of friends into the Shaksgam Valley in Xinjiang, China, towards the base of K2 and the Gasherbrum peaks last year.

The five stayed at famed Himalayan mountaineer Eric Shipton’s Suget Jangal camp during the five-and-a-half-week expedition last August.

And the trip itself, the fulfilment of a long-held dream, came more than 20 years after Dave, 61, first visited the south side of K2, the world’s second highest mountain.

He told us: “I’ve been to the Himalayas six times since 1978, even driving to Nepal once from Edinburgh when I was a student. In 1991 I went to the south side of K2. The mountain straddles the border between Pakistan and China, and it is very dangerous – much harder to climb than Everest.

“Climbers get intoxicated by it, obsessed by it, and even as a trekker it has got me to a degree, too, and I wanted to go back and go to the north side.”

The trip was also inspired by Eric Shipton’s celebrated mountain exploration book, Blank of the Map (the ‘blank’ being unsurveyed land Shipton visited near K2 in the 1930s) and by a photograph of the Gasherbrum Glacier.

The group flew into Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, and then travelled for several days to reach the Chinese city of Kashgar.

A two-day journey from Kashgar round the edge of the Taklamakan Desert and over one of the highest roads in the world took the group to the village of Yilik, from where their trek – including nine camels, two camel-men, a cook and a guide – started the next day.

Dave said: “We had two destinations, K2 and the glacier that comes from the Gasherbrum peaks. I had read so much about the glacier that I wanted to go there, so in some ways it was the main destination.

The first day we felt pretty rough, so the second day we had a day off and were thinking ‘what have we let ourselves in for!’

“We followed the Surakwat River for three days and then climbed the Aghil Pass, at over 15,000ft.”

That took the group into the main Shaksgam River system which they followed for a week to reach the glacier, which stretched for more than six miles. Daytime temperatures reached 35 degrees.

Dave commented: “I could never get used to the scale of our surroundings. It was just so vast. You could look at a point ahead of you and think you would get there in an hour, but three hours later and you would still not be there.”

They explored the glacier for a couple of days before they decided not to push on to the actual base of K2.

“It would have been a three-day trip, and we didn’t fancy going up to 17,000ft over rough glaciers,” said Dave.

“We’d had fantastic views of it already.”

“The group also picked up some plant seeds along the way and wildlife sightings included the rare Asian wild ass and lammergeier.

Dave told us: “It’s a very special place because that side of the Himalayas is very remote. It was a very special one-off trip.

“I will be relating the story of our trip (at the talk), but there’s going to be a bit of history in amongst it too.

“I viewed that trip as the last of that type. I would like to do some major travelling with my wife (Borders photographer) Liz Hanson next.”

Dave’s talk at Heriot Watt University’s Netherdale campus starts at 7.30pm.