The Karakoram Mountain Range, which lies in Pakistan, India, and China, is the most condensed cluster of high peaks found anywhere in the world.
Last Updated: 23 Oct. 2013
The Karakoram Mountain Range, one of the great mountain ranges of Asia, lies on the border of three countries: Pakistan, India, and China. The Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, Ladakh region of India, and the Xinjiang Province of China are home to this mountain range. About 500 km long and 200 km wide, the Karakoram Range borders the Pamir Mountains to the north, the Tibetan Plateau to the northeast and the Himalayan Mountain Range bounds it from the south. The Gilgit, Indus, and Shyok Rivers separate these two mountain ranges.
The Karakoram Mountains are the most condensed cluster of high peaks found anywhere in the world. K2, the 2nd highest peak in the world and the highest peak in Pakistan, stands at 8611 meters. This mountain range is home to more than 20 mountain peaks with heights above 7000 meters and of these four are above 8000 meters. Four of the world’s fourteen highest mountains are located within the Karakoram Range: K2, Gasherbrum I and II, and Broad Peak.
This range contains the world’s largest glacier field outside the Polar Regions. It is approximated that 37% of the Karakoram is glaciated. The world’s second longest glacier, Siachen Glacier, at 72 km, is located in this region. Other glaciers located in the Karakoram Range are Baltoro, Batura, Biafo, and Hispar. The lengths of these glaciers are disputed with various sources identifying different lengths.
Movement within the Karakoram Range is difficult and the passes located in this range are situated at very high altitudes. The Karakoram Pass at 5,575 km is the highest pass in this range. Other passes include Khunjerab, Mintaka, Kilik, Shimshal and Parpik.
About 150 million years ago the Karakoram Mountain Range lay flat upon the bed of a vast inland sea known as the Tethys. Slowly the earth cooled, newly-formed rock emerged upwards and formed the Tibetan Plateau, and the Tethys drained away into a new river—the Indus. Slowly this landmass, or the Asian Continental Plate, floated southwards as the Indian Continental Plate moved north. Around 65 million years ago the two ancient continents met and the earth buckled and folded and the great mountain ranges of Asia—the Himalaya, Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Pamir—were born. Even now the geological conflict between these two plates pushes up the mountains a millimeter or two every year.
The British Empire was keen to map its Indian Empire to have a “…complete geographical knowledge of the country for their revenue and administrative purposes.” Colonel William Lambton established the Great Trigonometric Survey of India in 1802. But it was his successor, George Everest, who completed much of the survey work with an accuracy that is remarkable even today. It was Everest’s successor Andrew Waugh who named Mount Everest after him.
Thomas Montgomerie, a young surveyor with the Survey of India, was stationed in Kashmir when from his station at Mount Haramukhin he noticed six tall peaks and gave them the labels K1 to K6 with K standing for Karakoram. Even today, K2 is still known by this appellation.
Amin, Mohamed, Duncan Willetts, and Brian Tetley. The Roof of the World. Nairobi: Camera Pix International, 1989.
Khalid, Nazir Ahmed. Geography of Pakistan. Lahore: Career, 2003.