Snow and Avalanche Center 2008 Avalanche News

Lowari Top: It devours, freezes and kills
By Delawar Jan - 4/17/2008

PESHAWAR: Heavy snowfall blocks the Lowari Top, some 240 kilometres northwest of here, for all kinds of traffic in every winter and cuts off district Chitral from the rest of the country for at least four months.

After closure of the Top, the people have to cross it on foot to reach their destinations in Chitral, but most of the time the trekkers fall prey to avalanches, freezing cold and winds.

This winter the Top, known as the killer mountain had killed 12 persons, seven on January 8 and five on April 5, and injured scores of others while making a bid to cross it on foot.

An avalanche had hit the workers of the foreign construction company executing Lowari tunnel project in January, but luckily, they were pulled out unharmed.

From December to March, avalanches, storm and blizzard freeze groups of trekkers to death at the Top situated at 10,500 feet from the sea level.

Nothing, including a clear threat to their lives can hold people of Chitral back to undertake the walk in the absence of a choice.

Lowari was blocked thrice, from December to April 15. However, it has been opened for light traffic now.

There is no alternative ground route to the district Chitral on Pakistani territory while a road, runs through Afghanistan is not safe due to unrest in the war-torn country. Also, non-Chitralis and soldiers are not allowed to travel on Chitral-Kunr-Peshawar road and only those having Chitrali identity cards could use the road.

It may be mentioned that the Lowari Top could be crossed on foot only at the beginning of the winter and spring seasons.

It even remains closed for pedestrians from December to March as crossing it on foot during this period involves high risk.

Aerial route is another option that can be used but Pakistan International Airlines flights are also subject to weather condition.

Even if the weather turns clear after snowfall, the snow-covered runway of the airport could not be used. Moreover, the impoverished people of Chitral are quite unable to afford the exorbitant PIA fares that range from Rs2,200 for Chitral-Peshawar and Rs.2,500 for Peshawar-Chitral.

Thus, a walk on the Top remained the only option that at times leads to the deaths of the hikers.

The casualties caused by the Top run in thousands now. So far, more than 5,000 people had lost lives in the bid to cross Lowari Top, according to an estimate.

One has to cover a 15 kilometres distance on a thickly snow-clad mountain with a risk of storms, blizzards and avalanches. People usually trek from Gujar Kallay to Ziarat to cross the Top. In between the two places Chidala, Dara Khaur, Khoni Khaur (killer stream) and Daro Khaur are the most dangerous points as avalanches often fall there.

Sharing his experience with ‘The News,’ Muhammad Yar, businessman of Dir who used to cross the Top on foot said, “Most people get killed when they start climbing down the Top. Khoni Khaur is the most dangerous point for walkers as there is little chance to escape from a falling avalanche. Several hundreds people had lost lives there.”

Sometimes clear weather turns cloudy and murky in no time straying away the walkers from the right path while a sudden high velocity wind also causes most of the deaths, Yar added.

Farooq, a local of Chitral who crossed the Top on foot in December 28 last year said crossing Lowari in winter was tantamount to inviting one’s death.

“I was frozen and was about to collapse but thanks God I reached my home safe and sound. It was a terrible experience,” he recalled.

Experienced trekkers advise that one should wear warm clothes, waterproof coat and shoes to take on the mountain.

People should be in grouping and single person should avoid undertaking the hike, they suggest.

In order to provide round-the-year access to Chitral, the government had initiated construction work on a tunnel at Lowari. The Rs10 billion contract of the project had been awarded to a Korean construction company, Sambu.

So far 5kms tunnel has been built out of 8.6kms. Being rail-tunnel, vehicles would be switched off and parked on the track to be taken to the other side of the tunnel.

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