First Karakoram explorers have been the English during the period which coincide with the period of the possession of the area. We have to wait early twentieth-century to find a real interest which can be defined “climbing-touristic” as well as “exploratory”.
From the sixties the touristic flow of climbers and trekkers has progressively increased, also for the concentration in the area of unique opportunities for mountain adventure activities, of peaks and sceneries which are the only all over the world. CKNP hosts a number of important peaks and landscapes, which attract a substantial number of mountaineering expeditions and trekking groups during the summer season, between May and September.
Here below, historical trends over the last 20 years is analyzed, in relation to the available data gathered by the Alpine Club of Pakistan. These data regard the authorizations issued by the Ministry of Tourism for mountaineers expeditions, which are divided into two zones Baltoro area and Gilgit-Baltistan Area. It is important to underline that the Baltoro Area does not correspond to the CKNP boundaries.
As we can see in the graph here below, the whole time-period can be divided into three parts. The first part is going to go from 1989 until 2003, the second part from 2004 until 2007, here we have some high values.
Finally we have the last part, which develops in the last few years, where we can see a more regular trend with lower values.
During last years a change of climbers, and most of all of trekking groups, behavior, has been observed: they are now covering a corridor which start in Askoli and, going across the Gandogoro La with the assistance of the Hushey Rescue Team, they reach Hushey by crossing the Park along a corridor highly spectacular and avoiding the classic round trip route along Baltoro. In 2011 65% of visitors which entered the Park followed this itinerary, in 2012 this percentage arrives at 75%, and even considering tourists intentions the 90% of them, would like to cross the Gandoghoro La Pass to reach Hushey. But a lot of them must renounce for technical or meteorological difficulties, or for acclimation problems.
Tourism in the Park is now present since 60 years. Parallely also the interest for mountain adventure tourism increased. Few climbers have become in few years and high number with consequent environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts.
These negative impacts increased in the time also because proper politics for their surmounting in some areas, as the Baltoro one, that is already vulnerable, have not been undertaken.
With regard to the environmental impacts, the most significant is surely the one related to waste management, with a progressive increase of waste left at the base camps and along all the Baltoro trekking. For what concern the use of wood to cook, common in low part of the trekking in Akole and Paju, but also in the high campsites, after years of uncontrolled use, it has been introduced an absolute prohibition of collect wood and the obligation to use kerosene.
From the other side economic benefits related to the development of touristic sector have become, years after, years the main subsistence contribution for a large part of population, which not only concentrates in villages around the interested tourism area. Also indirect benefits are offering advantage to the near villages, which provide porters for transportation, to tour operators (almost an hundred), to transport services companies, to every kind of shops in the villages bazaars and in the main towns (Skardu and Gilgit). Economic benefits of tourism sector are giving advantage also to the system of hotels and restaurants involving thousands of families incomes.
Problems connected to the seasonality of this kind of works remain, and create a system stop and go which needs the maintenance of several opportunities of work and the creation of some concentration situations and the monopoly for some services to be solved and surmounted.
Two important and positive factors which happened in the last years should be underlined.
First of all the awareness process which is becoming always and more common among climbers and frequent visitors of mountain areas, about the need to preserve the unique environment of mountains from pollution, which now it is a phenomena not only localized but global with pollutants circulation on long distances. Secondly the number of expeditions which have as main aim mountains cleaning and not peaks climbing is increased in the last years: from nineties these expeditions are intensifying. Mostly in the last 10 years, several international projects have given high amounts for cleaning these areas and for sensitizing local populations on the need to preserve a clean environment.
In few years more than 40 tons of waste has been collected, differentiated and disposed at the Askoli incinerator, installed in 2009, and at present the glacier situation has been really improved, so that we can assert that today Baltoro glacier is one of the less polluted glaciers of the whole range Himalaya Karakoram.
Not only the glacier has been cleaned up but also the high camps of 8000 mt. peaks of Baltoro, during which have been verified conditions not as heavy as on Mount Everest and bringing down tons of waste. These expeditions reached altitudes of 7.500 mt.