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Asia, Tadjikistan, Central Pamir, Upper Fedchenko Glacier, Possible First Ascents and Tragedy

Upper Fedchenko Glacier, possible first ascents and tragedy. Our expedition comprised eight current and former members of the University of Bristol Mountaineering Club. Four of us had climbed in Bolivia in 2003; for the others this was their first expedition to the Greater Ranges. The idea was to go somewhere different and adventurous with scope for first ascents and new routes. The Central Pamir fit these criteria, being both remote and relatively undeveloped, so we headed for the Fedchenko Glacier.

This region is situated in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) of southeast Tajikistan and requires an entry permit. Recent Western visits have been few, the most recent we could learn of being the 1992 Imperial College London expedition. One of its members, Dr. Phil Wickens, gave us some help.

Getting to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, was straightforward. We had organized accommodation, onward transport, and porters from the U.K. through a local guiding company. We planned to travel by truck to the Vanch Valley and continue with porters as far as the Abdukagor Pass. From there we would access the head of the great Fedchenko Glacier. From the pass we would need to be self-sufficient until we met our pre-arranged return transport.

Our drive to the mountains took us over roads of varying quality along part of the Pamir Highway. On the latter part of the journey, the road followed the Amu Darya, the river that marks the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The occasional sight of a vehicle lying upturned in the river highlighted the precariousness of this major route. Wrecked military hardware also littered the landscape, remnants of the recent civil war.

After two hair-raising but strangely therapeutic days of travel, the truck was just too large and cumbersome for the road ahead. We soon flagged a jeep, and the driver, unperturbed about removing the back seat and the kids sitting thereon, took our gear a little farther. However, the road was soon blocked by the last remaining snow, and after ferrying our kit across on foot, the porters found a look-alike VW combi. We couldn’t all fit into the van, so we took turns walking, which wasn’t much slower. The final kilometer was little more than a boulder field, which we had to clear in several places. We reached the end of the road that evening and set up camp.

We spent the following days ferrying kit to the Abdukagor Pass, via two interim camps. We averaged about 300m height gain per day, which was perfect for our acclimatization. By day nine we had reached our first base camp, at the 5,000m pass. We spent a week climbing here before moving up the glacier to a second base camp at 5,200m.

While at the first base camp we managed a number of possible first ascents: Pik Valodiya (5,847m), on July 4 via snow slopes at Alpine PD; Pik Bronwen (ca. 5,500m), on July 5 by the east face from Glacier 9, via a snow slope and ridge traverse at PD (Ed Bailey and Steve Nicholls); Tanymas (5,900m), on July 5 by the west face, 45°-50° snow slopes to a ridge followed to the summit, at D (Amy Marshall and Simon Spencer-Jones); Pik Bronwen, on July 7 by the northeast couloir at D/TD (Bailey, Robert Lavin, and Spencer-Jones); traverse of Pt. 5,390m, on July 10 by a series of couloirs and poor rock at TD (James Byrne and Lavin). In addition we climbed three routes on British Cosmonauts (5,400m?): Zero Gully, on July 6 by 45° snow and ice (Scottish II; Bailey and Nicholls); Fourth Gully, on July 8 by a long easy snow slope and two pitches of WI 2, followed by two final pitches of Scottish 4/5 (Scottish IV; Byrne and Spencer-Jones); Fifth Gully, on July 8 (Scottish III; Ian Hatcher and Sam Smith).

From the second base camp, below the north side of Pik 26 Bakinskish Kommissarov, members attempted Peak Grena (6,500m) but were thwarted at the north col by two days of stormy weather.

Finally, Hatcher and Spencer-Jones set off at 2:00 a.m. on the 13th for a traverse of Pik 26 Bakinskish Kommissarov (6,834m) and Pik Revolution (6,940m). They’d planned to take five days, but bad weather set in a day or so after their departure, and the pair was never seen again.

The loss of Ian and Spen notwithstanding, the expedition was a success. We visited a relatively unexplored mountain area and saw a part of the world of which many of us knew little. The people we met were welcoming and remarkably untouched by the influence of the West. Since the collapse of the USSR, Tajikistan has needed money; mountain tourism is seen as a way of attracting money. Hopefully the Pamir won’t be ruined by the transition to a post-Soviet future. The expedition thanks the Mount Everest Foundation and the British Mountaineering Council for grant awards.

Robert Lavin, United Kingdom