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Monday
Jun252012

Afghanistan Ski Mountaineering Expedition 2012

On April 24th Dylan Taylor, Cecelia Mortenson, Ben Mitchell,  and I set off for Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor, a forgotten corner of one of the world's poorest countries. The purpose of our expedition was to explore the ski mountaineering potential of the area's 5,000-7,000 meter peaks. With 100 miles of peaks in every direction, none of which have ever been skied, we were very excited for the journey.

Cece on the North Issik Glacier

We met up in the Istanbul airport and then boarded a Turkish Airlines flight bound for our point of departure to Afghanistan, which was Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Because much of Afghanistan is war-torn and relatively dangerous for foreigners to travel through, we decided to take the land route up the Amu Darya river (which forms the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan) and would cross into the Wakhan Corridor via Khorog. 


Dylan testing conditionsAfter buying all the food for our expedition in Dushanbe, the post-Soviet capital of Tajikistan, we set off in a commissioned 4x4 with our Uzbek driver Odil and made slow but steady progress up the Pamir Highway. Being springtime we encountered flash floods which overturned cars and blocked the road, police checkpoints, late night soirees in random roadside restaurants, and finally we arrived at the peaceful university town of Khorog, Tajikistan. For nearly the entire journey the Pamir Highway runs on the northern bank of the Amu Darya (or Panj, or in ancient times, the Oxus) River. On our side of the river was Tajikistan and a few hundred meters away, beckoning us, was Afghanistan. As we inched deeper into the Pamirs the mountains around us gained incredible height above our heads, as much as 7,500 meters in elevation.  

 

 

First look at the terrain in the Wakhan Range

On our first day in Khorog we luckily obtained our Afghan visas from the local consulate and set off immediately and at top speed for the border which was closing in three hours. We arrived at the border in the late afternoon but before closing and checked out with the Tajik authorities and checked in with the Afghans. The border crossing was merely a bridge over the Amu Darya which had a gate on either side and a border guard office.


Dylan taking in the new views at 15,000 feet

It is hard to describe the feelings I had when our drivers picked us up at the border and we proceeded into Afghanistan, arguably one of the most dangerous countries in the world. After a few years of research and developing contacts we had reliable assurances that the area into which we were traveling was safe and we felt very good about our decision to be there. Needless to say it felt like driving into the wild west a few centuries ago. 


Cece and her sticky skins

Eventually we made our way into the Wakhan Corridor and had 25 days of amazing ski adventures in the mountains, nearly summiting 3 peaks, and barely tagging one on the last day of our trip in a storm. There were avalanches, snow leopards, bad weather, good weather, broken stoves, we ran out of food, we saw virgin peaks and had the adventure of a lifetime.


Exploring new terrain in the IssikApproaching high campEarly morning light over Koh-e-Pamir and high camp

 

Dylan Taylor skiing down Koh-e-Pamir

Cece Mortenson skiing down an previously unskied couloir on Koh-e-pamir

Cece skiing powder at 18,000 feet

Exploring a new valleyExploring Zemestan Valley

Zemestan Valley and unclimbed peaks

Base Camp

Walking back to "civilization" after 25 daysThe kids of Ptukh where we based our expeditionLocals inspecting the Polaroid's I took of them

In the kitchen in a Wakhi household

Wakhi kitchen

Reader Comments (1)

Danny-
You are my new hero! What a trip. I want to hear more sometime!
-Pete

September 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPete Keane

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