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This trip report is from October 2011 when a group of ten friends went into the Rushan range of the Pamir in Tajikistan. We never encountered any record of climbing or trekking into this area, before or after the expedition. The nearest named and climbed mountain is Patkhor Peak. At every stage of planning and exploration, routes, conditions, logistics and obstacles were overcome as a matter of problem-solving and guess work. The expedition was successful, with members of our team reaching six significant summits in a remote and spectacular setting.
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The expedition was initially destined for the Hindu Kush, however just weeks before setting off into Afghanistan a convoy of foreign aid workers were taken from their van and shot at road side in a northern area of the country. We therefore chose a new area that could also be reached from Duchanbe airport. The Rushan range of the Pamir is north of the Hindu Kush. It offers terrain with good glaciation and peaks rising to approx. 6000m with climbing objectives on impeccable rock, ice and snow.
In London we found a Tajik man who arranged (by phone and email) vehicles and drivers to get us from Duchanbe to Khorog on the border with Afghanistan. Aslisho Qurboniev operates Pamir Horse Adventure. The drive south from the capital to the Rushan is a tiresome drive of 25+ hours. The landscape is mountainous most of the way, tarmac is rare. It was necessary to have an additional visa to reach Khorog (Gorno-Badakstan).
In Khorog we stayed one night and made use of our time there to buy food supplies and rest after the long drive. We would be reliant on horses to move all of our equipment, food and fuel 14km up the valley from Vankala. We bought eggs, bread, vegetables and many other staple items to feed us from a base camp near the glacier. This was supplemented by lightweight instant meals brought from the UK, for nights on the mountain.
The cost of food was very little there. The market had a good range of food to choose from, although dry meats, cheese and sweets came in slim variety.
In Vankala village, four men with horses were gathered to take us up to the chosen base camp location. Neither the men, nor horses showed much sign of prior experience with this sort of excursion. We indicated our desired route, tied on the bags then set off. A good path took us from the small village well up the valley, and we encountered two major obstacles. The first was a bouldery slope which was difficult to move over. Above it the terrain improved but eventually the river had to be crossed from west to the east. This was cold, as expected. Sport sandals, shorts and running shoes helped in the matter. Two hours later we reached the flat meadow in sight of glaciers and soon a base camp was created with a group tent, cooking area, equipment laid out.
Base camp was located a few hours hike from the ends of several glaciers. In all directions peaks at 5000 to 6500m rose. It was clear that most of the peaks would require two days to summit. We spent the first day looking more closely at the mountain faces, river crossings and access route up above the camp. As routes were found to gain higher ground we made stone cairns / markers. Upon reaching the glaciers, conditions for climbing were very smooth, unlike the lower morraines which we found to be quite loose, steep and tiresome. Once a path was bashed in, the difficulty of the morraines was greatly reduced.
The first ascent was on a peak we named Hourglass Peak, due to a prominent snow/ice couloir on the northeast face in the shape of an hourglass. This was done as a one day climb up and down from base camp.
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