Peter's Post: Trekking to K2 base camp
Our travel expert answers queries on routes and destinations around the world
I want to do a trek to K2 base camp and have tried to get information from numerous people - particularly the Waljis Travel Agency, which, according to Lonely Planet, is extremely reliable. I have had no joy from them despite my numerous telephone calls. Can you assist? - Feizal Motala
K2, the world's second-highest mountain after Everest, lies in the Karakoram Range, straddling the border between Baltistan in northern Pakistan and China. There are two ways to reach the mountain - along the relatively well-trodden route from Askole or Skardu in northern Pakistan, or on the less-travelled and more difficult northern approach from the Chinese side of the range.
From the south, trekking parties - clients, guides and porters - journey north from Askole up to Concordia, the point where the Baltoro and Godwin Austen glaciers join and where 10 of the world's highest mountains are located. The trek is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular in the world.
Guided treks take about three weeks from arrival in Islamabad or Peshawar. The walking part of the trek takes about two weeks, including rest days and time spent visiting K2 base camp. You will spend four to six hours a day walking.
A web search turned up a number of outfitters offering treks on the Pakistan side of the range, including Jasmine Tours (www.jasminetours.com); The Mountain Company (www.themountaincompany.co.uk); Nepal Trailblazer (www.trailblazertrekking.com); and One World Trekking (www.oneworldtrekking.com).
Expect to pay around $3800 - $4200 (R31000 - R34300), excluding airfares to Islamabad, travel insurance and the cost of a Pakistan visa.
K2's northern base camp is situated in a distant part of Xingjiang province on the Chinese side of the Karakoram range. A handful of operators offer treks, including Jagged Globe (www.jagged-globe.co.uk); Xinjiang and Tibet Expeditions (www.xinjiangtibetexpeditions.com); and Muztagh Travel Service (www.muztagh.com).
Base camp treks from the north also take around three weeks, including internal flights and "jeep time". Expect to pay around $3900 for a three-week expedition, excluding international flights to Beijing.
TRANSIT VISAS FOR HEATHROW
Can you explain why we need a transit visa when travelling through Heathrow even if we do not wish to leave the airport? - Doug Reeler
This issue has been causing a great deal of confusion for many travellers in recent months. Travel Weekly recently published information received from the regional operations manager for the UK Border Agency, Andy Newlands, who explained that while South Africans generally require a visa for transit in the United Kingdom, they are exempted from obtaining transit visas for British airports only if they hold valid visas for one of four countries: the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - and are travelling to or from one of those destinations.
They must also have confirmed onward air tickets for their destination and cannot remain in transit for more than 24 hours.
South African travellers who do not meet the above requirements usually need transit visas, even if they will not pass through immigration control and are catching a flight from the same airport.
The visa is known as a Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV) and South Africans have, since July 1 2009, been required to have one, even if they have no intention of leaving the terminal or going through immigration.