American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Muzkol Range, Zartosh (6,128m)

Asia, Tajikistan, Pamir

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year: 2009
  • Publication Year: 2010

In August, Jock Jeffrey, Graham Rowbotham, Simon Woods, and I arrived in the Muzkol Range. We wished to make the first ascent of Zartosh, a peak that had been attempted in the late 1990s and 2000 by commercial expeditions organized by EWP, a U.K. outfit. They had made three attempts via the northwest face from the col below neighboring White Pyramid and a fourth, in 1999, by the spectacular north face, which ended in tragedy.

A four-day drive from Dushanbe brought us to base camp at 3,870m. From there we spent the next week establishing a camp on the glacier at 5,100m. The weather had been stable, although notorious Pamir winds picked up each afternoon and made base camp dusty and unpleasant. This changed on the night of August 16, and it snowed lightly every night for the next week.

After carrying tents a little higher to the foot of Zartosh’s 800m north face, Simon and I made an attempt on the 22nd. We reached a height of ca 5,650m on the face, before retreating due to unconsolidated snow on technical terrain.

On the same day Jock and Graham set off to climb White Pyramid (6,060m), first summited in 1998 by an EWP expedition (AAJ 1999). Deep snow on the slopes leading to the Zartosh-White Pyramid col hampered progress. After crossing a seemingly safe area of snow at the top of the slope, Graham suddenly felt a tug on the rope and, looking around, saw no sign of Jock, only the rope leading into a hole. A few moments later snow-caked sunglasses flew out of the hole, and then Jock hauled himself out. However, Jock is a tough, determined bugger, and after a chocolate fix kicked in, only a little encouragement was required to get him up the final 100m ridge to the summit.

I was keen for another try at Zartosh, and although Graham was not overenthusiastic about slogging back up to the col, the summit of White Pyramid had proved a good vantage point for studying the northwest face of Zartosh, and he had seen a reasonable line.

At 5 a.m. on the 24th we set off for the col. Although the previous tracks had filled with spindrift, Graham was delighted to find the going much easier than it had been. Above the col the terrain became more challenging. Graham led a gully of loose powder and, above the first rocks, a section of precarious climbing on loose snow over ice. A snow/ice gully led to a steep and technical rock step. A groove that Graham had spotted from White Pyramid proved the key to overcoming this section, and also provided the route’s crux. The summit ridge was a perfect knife-edge of snow, with huge cornices over the north face and broken rock and snow to the south. We reached the summit cornice in time for a late lunch. Descent was by the same route, rappelling from Abalakovs and downclimbing.

On the return trip to Dushanbe, we took a more southerly route along the Wakhan Corridor, which provided magnificent views of peaks in the Hindu Kush. We thank the Mount Everest Foundation for its generous support.

Adam Thomas, Alpine Club

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