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Asia, Tadjikistan, Southwestern Pamir, Pik Engels, West Face to Foresummit, Russian Roulette II

Pik Engels, west face to foresummit, Russian Roulette II. In August the Alpine Fund of Tajikistan organized an expedition to Piks Karl Marx (6,723m) and Engels (6,510m) in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan. The expedition comprised Murod Akimov and Akai Muzafar from Tajikistan, Anna Crecenti and Mateo Gatti from Italy, Mojca Vajger and Irena Mrak from Slovenia, Johannes Chudoba from Austria, Daniel Passon from Germany, and I from the U.S. Several Soviet expeditions had climbed in this region from the 1960s to 1980s and put up super-hard routes on the north faces. However, since then there had been little or no reported activity. On Soviet topos it appeared that the col between Karl Marx and Engels could be reached from the north, giving access to both summits: Karl Marx via the 1951 Savvnov route (1,200m, 5A) and Engels via the 1963 Snegirev route (1,000m, 5A).

In early August the team gathered in Dushanbe and after an amazing drive along the Afghan border, hired donkeys for final transport. We established base camp at 3,800m on the terminal moraine of the Shaboy Glacier. We set an advance base camp three hours’ hike up the glacier, then Camp 1 at 4,900m. From close up we saw that glacier conditions had deteriorated in the last few decades, and the approach to the crucial Zugvand Col was threatened by fragile, immense, and scary-looking seracs.

Members of the expedition warmed up by ascending a sub-5,000m peak above advanced base (mainly a snow walk, with slopes of 30-50°), a sub-5,000m peak up a side valley (unroped scramble up rocks), and unsuccessfully attempting Prudnlkov and the Zugvand Col.

On August 15 Mrak and I climbed from Camp 1 toward the Zugvand Col, still planning to reach the col and climb Karl Marx by the Savvnov route. As we approached, though, it looked more and more scary, so before reaching the col we went left on a pure whim and continued up Pik Engels instead. The first section of the climb was a 450m glacier slope with sections of 70°. We then entered a world of crevasses and continued up the broad swath of snow and ice on the west face, at times coming to the edge of the vertical drop over the seracs to our left. That night we dug a snow hole at 5,800m. The next day we continued toward the top. However, clouds that had held back all day rolled over the summit, obscuring the long awaited views of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. We terminated the route on a 6,450m foresummit of Engels, where we joined the Snegirev Route. We started to descend immediately, as our tracks in the snow—our life-link down—were disappearing in a whiteout. We ended with a late night rappel back to Camp 1. Due to the similarities of this route with our 2002 Russian Roulette in the Pamir Alai, which because of objective danger was not the safest climb, we named our new line Russian Roulette II (1,400m, IV 70-80°).

Garth Willis