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My fascination with the Karakoram Mountains began when I was 23 years old. In the travel section of my local library, I came across a book that was to change the course of my life. Written by the climber and photographer Galen Rowell, In the Throne Room of the Mountains Gods (1977) documented the 1975 American expedition to K2. I was familiar with K2, but had never heard of the Karakoram Mountains, and one photograph in particular – of the Trango Towers – captured my imagination like no other photograph ever had. What sort of place, I wondered, gave rise to mountains of this character, one that could transpose the mind to another realm? From that moment on, I was entranced and knew that my destiny lay there. The fact that K2 is located not in the Himalayas but in a mountainous region of north-eastern Pakistan is a revelation to many people. The name Karakoram is given to the great range of mountains that runs 400 kilometres (250 miles) north-west of the Himalayas and north of the Indus River, which flows between the two ranges from its source in Tibet. The highest peaks in the Karakoram are all situated in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, and the range contains four of the world’s fourteen 8000-metre (26,247ft) peaks, more than sixty peaks above 7000 metres (22,966ft), and hundreds of spectacular rock and ice mountains over 6000 metres (19,685ft) tall. Composed of granites and gneisses and sculpted by wind and ice into monumental spires, towers, cathedrals and pyramids, these rocks are a showcase of natural design and form. The Karakoram Mountains were first surveyed by Lieutenant Thomas George Montgomerie, a British officer who was seconded to the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. On 10 September 1856 he climbed Haramukh, a peak 5142 metres (16,870ft) high, now in the Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir, and set up his theodolite. Some 210 kilometres (130 miles) away stood the largely unknown Karakoram range, where he noted two prominent peaks. Having taken bearings, he sketched their profiles in his notebook, naming them K1 and K2 – the ‘K’ designating Karakoram. The survey endeavoured to find local names for the mountains if they were available; however, ethnic groups living on either side of the great chain were culturally different and, in most cases, the few names that did exist differed on the north and south sides of the same peak. K1 was later renamed...

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