Alan Halewood from Fort William and Neal Gwynne of Glasgow have made first ascents in the Pamir i Wakhan mountain range at the eastern end of the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan, despite heavy monsoon rainfall experienced in neighbouring Pakistan.
The pair planned their five week trip inspired by a simple Japanese map that Alan bought second hand from a climbing shop in Glasgow twenty years ago.
Around seventy western travellers (mostly trekkers but also Suzy Madge's ski mountaineering trip and a large Polish mountaineering expedition) have visited the region this summer but Alan and Neal were the first mountaineers to access the interior of this particular mountain range south of the Oxus and west of the Waghjir Valley.
They accessed the region from Tajikistan via the town of Ishkashim. After a day buying supplies and arranging permits they made the two day trip by 4wd to Sarhad e Boroghil at the end of the road with their vehicles becoming stuck in recent mudlsides and deep rivers on more than one occasion. Then, following an eight day approach on foot in unusually wet conditions (their pack horses were often unloaded and the climbers forced to ferry their own loads up steep muddy slopes), they left their horsemen in the valley to establish a high camp.
Climbing initially on a narrow 'Cuillin like' ridge they were soon forced down onto a glacier by some of the loosest rock they have ever had the misfortune to climb on. From here the pair made their way to a high col and Alan continued alone to the summit of Koh e Iskander 5561m (pitch of Scottish III on loose rock), named both for Alexander the Great whose armies passed nearby in 326bc and Alan's two year-old son Sandy. After a careful descent over avalanche prone slopes the pair returned to their camp after a twelve hour day.
Time lost on the approach meant they had to leave the area almost immediately, but on the way out they did manage another ascent. Whilst crossing the Uween e Sar/Garmudee Pass (over 4800m) they took the opportunity to climb onto the ridge forming the north side of the pass. The granitodiorite here was more solid and the pair made a long traverse to a pair of twin summit towers climbing Koh- e Khar (Peak of the Donkey, 5327m, again Scottish III mixed and loose rock) before a 1000m descent straight to the valley floor reunited them with their horsemen at nightfall.
Returning to Sarhad e Boroghil the usual roadhead they found that the roads were washed away. The nearest a vehicle could get to them was 80km away so they hired more horses and rode for two long days to reach their 4wd.
A local agency called Wakhan Tourism exists to help visitors secure permits, interpreters (some local guides have undergone training with Italian alpine Guides in recent years) and vehicles.
The security situation east of Ishkashem has remained stable this year with no security threats to the many westerners visiting the area. This could, however, mean that next season the area provides a tempting 'soft' target for insurgent or criminal gangs so it is important to get local advice before visiting the area. Alan and Neal met with nothing but kindness, respect and incredible hospitality on their trip this year. The pair report enormous potential for first ascents at a wide range of technical difficulty in the area east of Sarhad.
You can watch the whole story of their expedition through the following three videos, documenting not only the climbing, but also their travel adventures.
VIDEOS: Scottish Wakhan Expedition 2010
Photo Gallery - Scottish Wakhan Expedition 2010:
The expedition was sponsored by MEF, MCofS and Alpkit.
Help with mountain training for Afghan guides: Mountain Unity UKC Forum Thread
Alan Halewood is an MIC working in Scotland: Climb When You're Ready