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Asia, Afghanistan, Peaks at Head of Pech Valley, Nuristan

Peaks at head of Pech Valley, Nuristan. After attempts to get permission to climb in Pakistan had failed, the Afghan embassy in Washington was approached about climbing in the Hindu Kush and they encouraged our plans. The expedition, which consisted of Graham M. Stephenson, leader, Dennis and Carol Burge, John Holloway, Lothar Kolbig, Jack Nevius, Jim Nichols, Russ Rasmussen, George Sardina, M.D., Erick Schumacher, John Thornton and me, was scheduled to depart in the middle of June. Some 6.5 tons of equipment had been shipped to Karachi in early April. On receiving favorable word from the Afghan embassy, I left for Kabul the last week of May to begin negotiations with the Afghan government about the peaks to be climbed and to arrange the transshipment of the gear to Kabul. Permission was finally obtained to climb in Nuristan in the southern Hindu Kush by approaching through Jalalabad, Chagha Sarai and the length of the Pech River valley. In this way we hoped to get into an untouched climbing area since we would be going north up the Pech River from Shtevi (Shtevgrom) rather than turning west over the Weran Pass (not locally known by this name) and then continuing north. Half the gear was left in Kabul and 80 porter loads and the expedition members, except for me, were transported in a truck and Land Rover to a wash-out about 20 miles up-river from Chagha Sarai, arriving on July 2. I remained in Kabul for three days more to get the final written permission and caught the expedition on the trail. Porters were hired at the road’s end with the help of local officials. No liaison officer was required but we hired an interpreter and helper for the doctor in Kabul. Three days up the trail the porters struck for more money than 30 afghanis per day and were then given 40 afghanis for the duration of the trip. The porters were strong but lazy and would go only five miles a day over a reasonably good trail with less than 2000 feet daily of elevation gain. The local mullah was along and was the prime mover of the porters. We also had an armed contingent of four soldiers reporting to the mullah for bandit protection. Most travelers we met were armed. Seven days from the end of the road brought us to Shtevi, where we hired new porters with woolen clothing to replace the lower-valley porters. In 2½ more days up the Pech valley we were at its source at about 13,000 feet. (Elevations are noted to the nearest 50 feet, with a probable maximum error of ± 300 feet.) Base Camp was established in a meadow at 13,300 feet on July 13. High camps at 14,800 and 16,900 feet were set up in the next two days on the slopes of the cirque forming the Pech source. On July 16 Schumacher and I climbed the southwest rock ridge to the summit of P 18,225 feet on the northeast side of the cirque. Half a mile to the north was an 18,900-foot peak and about 15 miles northwest was what appeared to be Koh-i-Moncdi. Two miles northeast were two 19,645-foot peaks and just beyond them two peaks of about 19,800 feet. Also on July 16 D. Burge and Nichols climbed P 17,520 and P 17,225 to the south and west respectively of P 18,225. On the 17th these two made the second ascent of P 18,225 while Schumacher and I plowed a trail through suncups, some four feet deep, around the west side of P 18,225 to the base of P 18,900. That same day Nevious, Holloway and Thornton climbed P 17,060 on the north side of the Pech cirque by the west ridge. On the 18th Schumacher and I gained the summit of P 18,900 by forcing a southwest arête to the summit plateau. Perhaps 40 miles north-northeast we could see Bandako. Northeast and closer were two peaks, apparently over 20,000 feet. Far beyond them we saw the high ridge with Noshaq on the north and Tirich Mir on the south. It is obvious that the Survey of India maps of this section of Afghanistan are virtually worthless. The country is far more mountainous than indicated and the ridge lines are chaotic. We could also see Mir Samir, a lonely pyramid on the distant western skyline. On July 19 all parties in the Pech cirque returned to Base Camp. Meanwhile Stephenson and Sardina had found 15,750-foot Putsigrom Pass, three miles south of P 18,225, which led from the Pech valley to the valley to the east. They also had climbed a 17,000-foot peak just south of the pass. Burge, Nichols, Schumacher and I crossed the pass and established a camp at 16,750 feet on July 23 on the glacier above this valley. On July 24 Schumacher and I climbed the north ridge of the more southerly P 19,645 east of the glacier; Burge and Nichols also reached its summit by traversing the north face to the northwest ridge, which they followed to the top. The 19,800-foot peaks a mile northeast are better approached from the southeast than from here. On July 25, Burge and Nichols made a new route on P 18,900 by the southeast slopes. On July 26 all returned to Base Camp. Throughout these two weeks the weather had been good in this area and to the north. The snow was firm even late in the day, but suncups slowed progress. The rock was reasonably sound providing good holds, with low class 4 or 5 climbing at the most technical parts. Most of the ridges involve alternating pitches of steep snow and rock. Overall, the impression was much like climbing in the southern Sierra Nevada in May. One of the two soldiers who had remained in Base Camp got us 30 porters from Shtevi and we made it to the end of the now repaired road in six days.

George G. Barnes, Sierra Club