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Snow Blindness and Sunglasses: From the Alps to Pakistan

22 February 2024

In June 2022, as an Adventure Tour Operator based in the French Alps, I organised our  first ever trek to Pakistan to experience the mighty Karakoram, a mountain range spanning 80,000 km² in the Kashmir region and bordering Pakistan, China, and India. Our objective was to get to K2 Base camp, which is the base camp for climbers of the second-highest mountain in the world. As  a small team of six, we had spent a lot of time making sure we had good equipment and were fully prepared for the adventure ahead.  

After our internal flight from Islamabad to Skardu, we took a day-long jeep ride to the start of the trail at Jhola, where we met our crew and set about distributing supplies for our adventure. As typical on Himalayan adventures, you have a mixture of human power (e.g porters, kitchen crew, local guides etc), as well as animal power, which in the Karakoram is mules. From well below the Baltoro glacier, we had a lot of snow and as we gradually gained altitude it became apparent that a high number of porters descending the mountain were suffering from snow blindness as a result of not having sunglasses. 

On arrival at Urdukas, just over 4000m, I administered first aid to a porter who had tripped and fallen, resulting in a deep wound just above his eye. This was a direct cause of snow blindness. I cleaned the wound, applied Steri-Strips to close the gash, then covered it with a dressing. Over the course of the following week, I regularly cleaned and re-dressed the wound as the porter made a speedy recovery. Our trek continued, with incredible breathtaking scenery. From the Trango Towers to Gasherbrum, to Broad Peak, and of course, to K2 itself, the world’s second highest mountain. However, there was something lurking at the back of my mind: all the porters and local staff who were without eye protection.

I live next to one of the world’s biggest ski resorts where everyone has a minimum of three pairs of sunglasses consisting typically of your favourite pair, a back up pair, and your old ones from several seasons ago. It was devastating to see that this protection from snow blindness was nonexistent here and at that moment, I knew we had to come up with a solution. One of our group members, Vicky, is based in Morzine, where her husband Adam owns a ski and mountain bike shop called Alpine Sports in the city centre. Over dinner, we discussed the idea of organising a collection of old sunglasses using Adam’s shop as the collection point. Perfect!! 

A return trip to K2 was planned for July 2023. As a corporate club member with Turkish Airlines, I receive a substantial baggage allowance giving me the opportunity to take an extra suitcase full of sunglasses with me, as well as some neck scarfs made from 100% recycled plastic bottles and 20 kg of clothing donated by Victoria Chelton for the family of a high altitude porter who lost his life in 2022. When we returned to K2 in July 2023, we were able to distribute the sunglasses, neck scarves, and clothes at the start of the trek, much to the gratitude of local staff. This was a grassroots project with maximum simplicity, working together with our group members and ground staff to help the prevention of snow blindness. 

Thank you to all involved, especially to those of you who donated! Our mission as a sustainable travel agency is to continue simple initiatives like this wherever we work in the world. Learn more about Live Breathe Hike!

© Live Breathe Hike

© Live Breathe Hike

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