Asia, Tajikistan, South-Western Pamir, Ishkashimsky and Shakhdarinsky Ranges, 280km Traverse with Several Ascents

Publication Year: 2004.

Ishkashimsky and Shakhdarinsky ranges, 280km traverse with several ascents. In August-September our group from the sport club of the Moscow Aviation Institute led an autonomous expedition in the South-Western Pamir. This was the first significant expedition in this region after an 11- year period of civil war and an indefinite political situation in Tajikistan. Our group consisted of myself as leader, secondary leader Sergei Fetisov, Dmitrii Pribylov, Nadezhda Obukhova, Irina Bystrova, and Marina Nikonova participated in the first part of the tour. During 34 working days we covered a 280km linear route that encompassed the Ishkashimsky and Shakhdarinsky ranges. We crossed 15 passes, and ascended the highest points of each of these regions: Peak Mayakovsky 6,096 m, Peak Armed Forces 6,138 m, and Peak Karl Marx 6,723 m. Two ascents were accomplished by classical routes: the ascent of Peak Mayakovsky from the south, by the route done by V. Budanov in 1947,3A (icy-snowy); and that of Peak Karl Marx along its western ridge, by the route done by E. Beletsky in 1946, 4B (combined). The ascents of these mountains by Soviet alpinists after the Second World War began and formed the basis of the alpinism of this region. We did the third ascent of Peak of Armed Forces (Vooruzhen- nykh Sil) (6,138 m.) in the central part of the Shakhdarinsky range. This summit was climbed only once, in 1983, by a group led by Sollonikov along a wall route from the south 5B (rock). We led a new route along the north-western slope, 3A (ice-snow).

The linear thread of the route traversed almost the entire South-Western Pamir from the west to the east. The route was divided into two logically complete parts, between which we descended to the Pyandzh River, to the kishlak (Central Asian village) Shitkharv, where we’d left a cache of food and fuel before we started our tour. The South-Western Pamir is distinguished by its very severe conditions of acclimatization. The overwhelming majority of passes are higher than 5,000m, and the climate is very dry and hot, and likewise there are marked altitude changes between the passes and the bottoms of the valleys, which can drop to 2,500m.

At the start of our tour we completed first traverses of two of the lowest cols in the western spurs of the Ishkashimsky range, with heights of 4,650m and 4,850m, and only after this did we come out smoothly to an altitude level higher than 5,000m. On the tenth day of our tour we overcame the technically difficult mountain pass Surprise (3A, 5,300m), in the western ridge of Peak Mayakovsky.

Our base camp for the ascent of Peak Mayakovsky was set up on the mountain pass “50 Year Anniversary of LGU” [LGU = Leningrad State University] (5,270m). After the ascent we went down into the picturesque valley of the Daraidarshai River. This is one of the few places where in our age ovrings are still used—mountain paths made on steep rock faces, with birch pickets driven into fissures in the rock face, onto which are laid stakes, branches, earth, and stones. Such a path hangs above a 100-meter abyss.

The route to Mount Armed Forces led along the unbelievably beautiful valley of the Saryshitkharv River. Here there are many canyons, the walls of which at places reach half a kilometer in height, and many mineral springs. But in the lower part of the valley are located several islands of woods, quite rare for the South-Western Pamir. Our base camp was set up below Mount Armed Forces on the Saryshitkharv glacier, at 5,300m. We reached the summit on August 22.

Crossing two moderately difficult icy passes—Medyr 5,703, in the northern rib/edge of Peak Armed Forces; and Ratseka 5,850, between Peak Luknitsky and Peak Chibud—we came out at lake Zardiv. This place is the pearl of the Shakhdarinsky range, and in my opinion one of the most beautiful places in the Pamir. If you look from the northern edge of the lake, then it appears that the mighty walls of the summits are rising straight out of the lake. The change in elevation is about two kilometers. We approached the mountainous knot of Peak Karl Marx via four passes: Yamchun 5,340 (ancient caravan route from the valley of Shakhdara to Pyandzh), Dzhentiv 5130, Tsakhinlovga 4,523, and Khodash 5,140m. In order to get to the plateau of Marx, in the upper reaches of the Nishgar glacier, we had to surmount two difficult passes in the southern spurs of the Shakhdarinsky range: Riga 5,620 and Oval’ny 5,740. From the plateau of Marx (5,550 m. base camp), we began our ascent of Peak Karl Marx, which we summated on September 3. The final mountain pass on our route was the Nishgar pass 3A 5,750—the descent from the plateau of Marx towards the north. We crossed over icefall of the Khatsak glacier, in the end we saw the two-kilometer walls of the peaks Karl Marx and Engels. The next day the poor weather caught up with us and the peaks were hidden in leaden-colored clouds.

Petr Rykalov, Russia (translated by Henry Pickford)