Qala-i-Hurst (valley), Koh-e-Hoppa, Koh-e-Baffa, and Koh-e-Forot Zorman

Asia, Afghanistan, Hindu Kush
Author: Marian Michielsen. Climb Year: 2010. Publication Year: 2011.

Roeland Bom, Bart Klein, Daniel Kuipers (leader), and I wanted to travel to an adventurous part of the world, without many climbers, within our limited budget, and with mountains below 6,000m. Our gaze had already turned towards the stan countries of Central Asia, when we discovered the strange strip of land between Tajikistan and Pakistan, known as the Wakhan Corridor. After some internet research, we decided this would be our goal: an area untouched by the war in the rest of Afghanistan, with friendly people, and many beautiful, unclimbed mountains.

We arrived at the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border with 200kg of luggage. It felt strange to be entering voluntarily a country that makes headlines daily with stories of war and terrorism. Nervous due to our satellite phone, supply of strong medicines, and video camera, we approached the check point. Our worries turned out to be groundless. The Afghan border guards were happy and friendly and only took interest in our Netherlands candy.

After four days of increasingly remote travel, we arrived at Qala-i-Hurst, a village 150km into the Corridor, from which the glacial valley of the same name rises south to the Pakistan border. We arranged for 10 porters for the final trek to base camp at 4,800m, which we reached in two days. The glacier here is more than 10km wide, and rimmed by many imposing north faces. On our first day we made an acclimatization climb on a small mountain in the middle of the glacier, from which we had a good view of the surrounding peaks. Our preparation at home had consisted of looking at Google Earth maps and a few photos from a previous expedition, so it felt good to view the mountains for real. We decided to try four mountains that looked feasible, all previously unclimbed, as far as we knew.

The first peak quickly gave us a lesson in estimating scale. We thought we would run up and down it in a morning, but we needed a full day to summit, panting because of the lack of oxygen. A rocky couloir, followed by steep snow and a short ridge, led to the 5,300m top, which we named Koh-e-Hoppa, after the word most frequently used by our porters. The route was AD and mostly snow to 70°, with a chimney of UIAA III.

Our second objective lay at the head of the glacier, and we first had to establish an advanced base. Heavily loaded, we certainly felt the altitude at 5,000m and again underestimated the distance. After a night of little sleep, we were greeted the following morning by a beautiful, steep, snowy ridge rising to the summit. Deadmen and snowstakes proved most useful, and we named the 5,300m peak Koh-e-Baffa: the good mountain. We traversed the mountain, descending an ice couloir. The ascent of the exposed ridge was AD+. Three days later we prepared for the most beautiful mountain so far by establishing a camp in a col on the frontier ridge. To our knowledge this pass had not been crossed by humans, but that night we dreamed of carpet-smuggling Taliban. The next day we woke to a glorious morning. We climbed a snowy ridge, then made a steep traverse around a rock tower, and finally followed another ridge to the top. Superb! We called it Koh-e-Forot Zorman (5,500m), after Roeland’s newborn nephew. Our route was AD+, with snow to 60° and one short mixed gully of 80°.

We spent another night at the border camp and then tackled our fourth peak. Again, we had problems estimating scale. A couloir led to a ridge. We thought the couloir looked rather difficult and delicate, but the ridge seemed to pose no problem. How wrong we were. Climbing the couloir on the east face was effortless, but the ridge turned out to be steep, unconsolidated snow alongside equally steep rock. Two hundred meters below the top we had no choice but to retreat. As far as we got, the grade was D-, with loose snow to 70° and rock to UIAA V. We were a little disappointed by this failure but, overall, very satisfied with our journey through a wonderful country, and our three new peaks.

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