Trouble was already afoot when we posted in February a feature on the Karakoram Highway, this truly epic road which connects Pakistan with China across the 15,397-foot Khunjerab Pass in the Karakoram Mountains. On January 4, a massive landslide rolled off the mountains near the village of Attabad in the valley of the Hunza River.
In this day and age, events like this are captured as cell phone video, and this one was no different. Landslides are frightening:
The vast amounts of debris and rock killed twenty people, buried the Karakoram Highway, and blocked up the Hunza River. Eight months on, the water is still there in the shape of Attabad Lake, at 360 feet deep and 13 miles long—and you know you’re in trouble when a landslide lake has its own name and Wikipedia entry. It is, in fact, very visible on Google Maps, nestled between 16,000-ft mountain ranges:
The lake cuts off all land transport between Pakistan and China, requiring travelers to use small boats to traverse the lake.
Two months after the lake formed, some guys from the local car forum PakWheels made their way up to the Hunza Valley to see the damage for themselves. Here is what a member of the group, Basharat, wrote when he got back in the middle of March:
I am back from the disaster site, size of the land slide is humongous and huge boulders mixed with glaciated black clay has blocked the river flow. The lake size itself was huge and it has the potential to double its current water capacity before the water flow starts from the channel which is being prepared. Yes, the authorities were too slow to respond to this huge disaster which now has a potential to wash away everything which is 200 feet above the old River Hunza water level till Gilgit. Since all of the Bridges constructed on KKH are on narrowest passes, so the water current and height would be even higher on the bridges to wash them away.
The Karakoram Highway was expected to remain closed for years even before this summer’s apocalyptic floods, so don’t expect to make great 4×4 drives there anytime soon. You can see more pictures of the landslide lake on The Big Picture, as well as on the PakWheels forum about the landslide.