40 Years of KE Adventure

KE Adventure Team

Just under 40 years ago, Kit Wilkinson was mailed a key by two friends, Tim Greening and Glenn Rowley, who he had met through the climbing club at uni. The key was for 32 Lake Road, Keswick, KE Adventure’s first real office, and he had just become their first employee.

Four decades later and KE is a leading adventure tour company operating in 100 countries and Kit is still along for the ride, now a Product Manager. Recalling the early days, Kit said;

“In the beginning, KE was a one-room office, a card filing system, a semi-electric typewriter and a beat-up Ford Escort van. There was a café below – the Trekker’s Lodge – and a bunkhouse in the back that the Keswick press called ‘The Black Hole of Calcutta.’ Everyone associated with KE lived at 32 Lake Road, sleeping on the floor when we ran out of beds. It was pretty anarchic.”

Kit has travelled the world with KEKit Wilkinson; KE Adventure’s first employee

In 1984, KE founders Tim and Glenn had travelled to Pakistan for an adventure and there they met Mohammed Iqbal who, together with his son Zafar, still works with KE through his own tour company, Baltistan Tours. He can recall that first encounter clearly;

“I remember that trip, it was marvellous and remarkable. I was called by a renowned climber who lived at the back of Flashman’s Hotel in Rawalpindi. He introduced me to two smart young gentlemen who wanted to trek to K2. We finalised our itinerary, got a permit from the Ministry of Tourism and set off in a hired private jeep for a 28-hour journey to Skardu. From Dasu village we started our trek, crossing the passes of Chaqpo La and Chongo La. We enjoyed ourselves with local hospitality and traditional customs during the 3-day walk to Askole. Then, setting off towards Concordia, we happened to meet the famed Pakistani climber Nazir Sabir at Paiju and then Reinhold Messner at Liligo. The mesmerising views of majestic mountains above the Baltoro was breath-taking, especially at Concordia, the heart of climbing expeditions in the Karakoram. The next day, we hiked up to K2 Base Camp and then traced our way back to Askole and Skardu, reaching Skardu after 24 days. I invited my new friends, Tim and Glenn, to my home village of Khaplu and in their honour we held a picnic at the hill station of Khaplu Broq which they enjoyed a lot. This first trip cemented our friendship and we discussed setting up a trekking company to attract visitors from the UK to come to Pakistan.”

Tim and Mohammed Iqbal, two of the founding members of KE Adventure and Baltistan ToursKE founder Tim with Mohammed Iqbal

As simply as that, Karakoram Experience (the original name of the company) was born. As client numbers grew, they expanded their repertoire to include more of the Himalayas, including India, Nepal and Bhutan, which led to their rebranding as KE Adventure. This expansion blossomed into a company that now offers worldwide trekking, mountaineering, biking, wildlife, and family tours for all levels of experience.

Kit has travelled widely with KE, listing Dolpo in West Nepal, Niger’s Air Mountains, and Amassalik Island, East Greenland, as some of his favourite adventures. It feels like no surprise that his commitment to the company has stuck for so long.

“It comes down to the attraction of the industry – adventure travel is never ordinary and, especially when it involves travelling to far-flung places, it’s pretty cool. Plus, I’ve been happy in the Lake District and I’m not the sort of person who restlessly looks for that next opportunity. Plenty of time for a change at 67 – I still don’t know what I want to do with my life,” he laughed.

Reflecting on the changes he’s seen, Kit commented: “It’s busier now; choosing to take an adventure holiday is more mainstream than it was in 1990. 35 years ago if you trekked in the Karakoram or in one of the high valleys of Nepal, you were pretty much isolated from the outside world for the period of your trek, you met few other travellers and the local people treated you as something of a novelty. Today, not only can you drive much further into those same high valleys in Nepal but also, rather than camping, you are now likely to be sleeping in a comfortable lodge with access to Wi-Fi.”

KE leads groups to the high Karakoram and K2Photo: Stuart Holmes

A thirst for adventure led to KE expanding their range across the world, but their roots are still firmly in the Himalayas, where Mohammed Iqbal has spent his whole life welcoming visitors to his local area, with Zafar following in his footsteps. Their knowledge of the region is unmatched and their love for it is evident. When asked about Pakistan and the Karakoram, they are quick to mention “the beauty, the hospitality, the peace, the opportunity to explore, the awe and the remoteness, the friendliness, the nature and the wilderness.”

With 40 years of hands-on experience, it is undeniable that KE are amongst the UK’s foremost Himalayan experts. Though the nature of the tourism may have changed since KE’s beginnings, the mountains and their extraordinary beauty remain just as awe inspiring. And although KE can’t guarantee you’ll always have a mobile signal, they can guarantee that same sense of friendship, camaraderie and wonder that Glenn, Tim, and Mohammed Iqbal discovered 40 years ago.

But don’t take it from us, take it from Mohammed Iqbal: “Faith and friendship has always been the binding force of KE and Baltistan Tours. Shared adventure and friendship paved the way for a successful business for over 40 years and continues to date. Every trip I have guided is worth remembering.”

KE Adventure
Photo: Stuart Holmes

KE Adventure have taken on a whole new look for their 40th birthday, so head to their website to plan your next adventure: www.keadventure.com. Or, pop into their Keswick office for a cuppa and some adventure advice.