Secret Peaks of Afghanistan
On the 17th of July this year an International Expedition team landed in Dushanbe (Tadjikistan) and started their 13 hour journey to the border of Afghanistan.
Their mission, to film, mountaineer & paraglide the length of the Wakhan Corridor from West to the far East to explore two untouched valleys and to tackle first ascents on nameless & virgin peaks. To then paraglide over these previously unexplored valleys for a precise aerial view and produce a high definition documentary that can be used to promote the region among other climbers and lovers of any type of outdoor adventure.
They blogged about it:
Our starting point is Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, from where we go overland by jeep 524 km to the small mountain town of Khorog, reaching the border crossing into Afghanistan at Ishkashim after another 104 km. Entering Wakhan Corridor we follow the Panj River to the Pamir Knot, the confluence of Pamir and Wakhan river shortly after Qala Panja. From here we continue along the Wakhan River into the Little Pamir region all the way to Sarhad-e Boroghil after 200km, dead end of the jeep track. Boroghil is the starting point of our trek....
They share details of the culture:
Wakhan Corridor is dominated by Wakhi people with their year-round settlements from the West along Panj and Wakhan river. Predominant belief is Shia-Ismailism following the Aga Khan. Further into the eastern high plateau altitude doesn't allow permanent settlements with agriculture but forces its inhabitants to nomadic living. In the far east of Little Pamir Kyrgyz Nomads roam the valley and its pastures with their livestock. This isolation preserved their unspoilt culture and keeps centuries old traditions alive.
AND The history behind it all, who has been there? What has been done?
Wakhan Corridor received visitors from as early as 518AD. Son Yun, the Chinese Emperor's Ambassador upon arriving in Wakhan; "After a walk of one thousand and hundred forty Li we reached the kingdom of Vakhan. All around were heaped numberless great snowy mountains. From far they seemed to be peaks of silver and jade." Centuries later the same snowy mountains attracted trekkers and mountaineers to that, still very much, virgin territory. As a Russian mountaineer Vladimir Ratzek once rhetorically asked "Why would one wish to travel on foot in this uninhabited mountain region with its hazards of sudden blizzards, avalanches, rockfalls, crevasses, accidents, sunburn, frostbite and all forms of high-altitude illness?".
Before Soviet Invasion, in "the Golden Years" of mountaineering in Afghanistan main target were first ascents on the highest peaks such as Noshaq and other 7.000ers followed by the high 6.000ers like Baba Tangi. Following the easiest way of access, from West slowly to the East, from Hindu Kush into Afghan Pamir, mainly Big Pamir.
In 1960 first ascent of Noshaq was completed by a Japanese team followed by a Polish expedition. In 1963 an Austrian team set up a new route from North West. Till 1977 several more expeditions reach the summit.
All this came to a sudden end with Soviet Invasion in 1978 and the following civil war for more than 25 years. The Soviet Afghan war and then the Taliban regime brought isolation to the region from the rest of the world. First climbers started to come back in 2003 when an Italian team lead by Carlo Alberto Pinelli made a first ascent of Noshaq in 25 years. The team also explored a number of valleys south from Panj river which a detailed account can be found in the book C.A. Predan and G. Pinelli, ‘Peaks of Silver and Jade‘, 2007.
The success of a project like this expedition under difficult conditions of the wild and mostly unexplored mountains of eastern Wakhan Corridor totally depends on ourselves as a functional team. Thus, our team not only depends on individual skills, but on a functional mix of experienced members and their communication with each other, understanding and mutual trust, working together like a clockwork and keeping up a high team spirit throughout any situation - elements that in our opinion are crucial in such sport as mountaineering. We very much agree with Shipton's words which express that ‘the strongest mountaineering party is one in which each member has implicit confidence in all his companions, recognises their vital importance in the common effort and feels himself to have an equally indispensable part to play.' Every team member that is introduced in the following chapter is experienced in her/his field which allows him/her to contribute to this expedition.
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