Koh-i-Marchech, West Ridge, Shkurigal Valley, Hindu Kush. In 1968, while making a documentary film (A.A.J., 1969, 16:2, pp. 330-4), we looked fondly at the west ridge of Koh-i-Marchech (c. 20,176 feet)* at the head of the Shkurigal valley, the largest tributary of the Bashgal. (The mountain was first climbed by the German Traunstein Expedition in 1961 by an ice couloir that led to the west ridge. The present climb was a new route except for the last part of the ridge. — Editor) The ridge’s steep rise from an 17,000-foot col to the summit appeared formidable but attractive. In the summer of 1969 Jack Dozier, my father, led a Sierra Club hiking-climbing expedition up the Pech valley, west of the Bashgal, across the Kotal Putsigrom (16,000 feet) into the Shkurigal and thence to the base of Koh-i-Marchech. Perry Mann, Ray Jewell, Les Wilson, Rick Polsdorfer, Bill Peppin and my father ascended quickly, too quickly, to the col at the base of the ridge. Here the climb was brought to a sobering end by the sudden onset of acute pulmonary edema in Jewell, who deteriorated from slight nausea at supper to coma by dawn. The evacuation commenced at once. By late afternoon he had been carried down 4000 feet of glacier and moraine. He revived enough to sleep comfortably and rode a horse to a lower elevation. Only Wilson and Mann reascended to the 17,000-foot camp, hoping to start up the ridge the next day. That night lightning struck near the tent. Only slightly injured, they hurried down the next morning.
In 1970 Jack and Bill Dozier, Dick Erb, Gary Hill, Perry Mann and I of the 1968 group returned, joined by Carl Smith, Frank Bateman and my 15-year-old brother Dan. Cameramen Glen Denny and David Streit completed the crew; Mann, Erb and I would operate the tape recorders. In the evening of July 21 we arrived at Bargimatal, the 6000-foot roadhead on the Bashgal, after a two-day drive from Kabul. Burdening porters with huge packs and awkward boxes of film and recording tape, we hiked up the Bashgal and Shkurigal to the village of Loluk at 10,000 feet. After a rest day we moved on in a two-and-a-half day’s march to Base Camp at 15,000 feet. From the 17,000-foot col we saw that we would be able to climb easily for 1000 feet or so, but above that level the ridge was not visible. After a rest day, we all set out for the col. Dick Erb, our strongest climber in 1968, did not acclimatize well and had to return to Base. Carl Smith and I started early and climbed the ridge to 18,400 feet. Although we could climb unroped, we found no place large enough for even one tent. Above our high point the ridge narrowed abruptly; further up was a steep buttress. Dan reached the col and went down with the porters. Streit remained at the col with one of the movie cameras. The next night found eight of us in sleeping bags on various small ledges at 18,400 feet; we left the tents at the col. The huge northeast face of Shakh-i-Kabud (c. 20,500 feet) towered above us. In the morning we traversed the narrow arête to the difficult climbing above. We floundered about, filming some of the steeper pitches while searching for a route up the steep buttress or a traverse around it. Finally I got up a steep couloir, my fingers freezing when I touched rock or piton. Smith and I continued to about 19,000 feet, where we could see the way to the summit. A long, low-angle, but very narrow arête separated us from the final ridge. We descended leaving a fixed rope in the couloir and another over a difficult pitch below. Only Denny and Mann awaited us; the others had descended to the col camp. We four would go for the summit. We planned to bivouac without sleeping bags on the descent if necessary. To our chagrin we bivouacked on the way up. Climbing was tortuously slow with the heavy, awkward camera and tape recorder. We were only slightly over 19,000 feet when darkness fell. The long, narrow arête took time and energy. In six pitches on it we gained only 150 feet. Huddled in pairs on two ledges, we passed the night sipping our meager water supply — we had left the stoves with the sleeping bags — luckily sheltered from the wind. At dawn on August 3 we forced Glen Denny to arise and film our exploit. Reaching the base of the final ridge, we climbed a steep pitch with numerous loose blocks, the only disagreeable pitch of the climb, and then 400 feet of moderate-angle hard snow and ice to the corniced summit. From a belay thirty feet below, we climbed to the top one at a time. After Denny had used up the film, we rappelled down and reached our bivouac spot after dark. This time we had no water at all. It was not until late afternoon on the next day when we reached our sleeping bags at 18,400 feet, where we melted snow for badly needed lemonade before descending to the col.
*Altitudes recorded on maps vary greatly. Carl Smith has made a careful study based on comparisons made with inclinometer on “known” points, reports of other authorities and an altimeter reading on the summit and gives this average. The official Afghan height of 6400+ meters (20,998+ feet) seems too high.