In recent years the north side of the High Hindu Kush has again become accessible to climbers. There are beautiful peaks, untouched walls, and lonely valleys. There is also a lack of food, fuel, tourist infrastructure, mobile phone coverage and emergency services; in short, everything that makes climbers looking for adventure happy. The last ascent on a peak in the Mandaras Valley took place in 1978, a year before Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. This was incentive enough for Klaudiusz Duda and me to organize an expedition to the area.
Crossing to Ishkashim from Tajikistan is currently the only safe access to the Wakhan. Reaching the area from Faizabad has become potentially dangerous, due to the appearance of the Taliban in 2011. We found the Tajikistan border closed due to a holiday and had to wait two days before crossing the river to Afghanistan, reaching Ishkashim on June 29.
Formalities for journeying onward have changed since 2010. To obtain permission to enter the Wakhan, it is now necessary to obtain a letter from the governor, to register with the police, and to visit the border guards. The procedure can be completed in a day.
On June 30 we reached the village of Qaz-i-Deh and hired two porters to guide to the mountains. The same day we reached the entrance to the Mandaras Valley, where we encountered serious problems crossing a wild river. On July 1 we reached base camp (4,100m) and sent the porters back to the village.
Our main goal was Koh-e-Nadir Sah (M4, 6,814m) by the same route as the 1962 Polish expedition, but we wanted to do this in a lightweight alpine style, as a two-person team without fixed ropes.
At Camp 2 (5,300m) bad weather interrupted our acclimatization, but on the 6th we set off again from base camp for the summit. Back at Camp 2 I got flu, so it wasn’t until the 9th that we climbed through the glacier cirque at 5,700m and started ascending snow slopes leading to the ridge connecting M3 and M3a. Once on the crest we followed it northeast over snow until we reached the junction with the west-northwest ridge of Koh-e-Nadir Sah. We walked down to the saddle, named Palane Safed (6,050m), between this peak and M3, and pitched Camp 3. That night it snowed and continued through the following day.
On the 11th we were awakened by sun, beautifully illuminating snow coating the surrounding peaks. Under these circumstances we did not have the slightest desire to approach the steep slopes leading to Koh-e-Nadir Sah. As an alternative, safe from avalanche danger, we opted for M3. The south ridge, rising from Palane Safed, had never been attempted.
From camp we went down a snowy depression towards the Shakhawr Valley, to bypass the first section of the jagged south ridge. We then climbed three ice-snow pitches (up to 60°) on a rocky rib to reach the main crest, which we followed for 50m to the final dome. Two pitches of mixed rock and snow led to the top. The grade was AD. We reversed the route with rappels and walked laboriously to Camp 3, worrying about the lack of time we had left. Our plane was due to depart from Dushanbe six days later. The next day we made five rappels directly from Camp 3 down the west flank of the ridge to the glacier and reached base camp in late evening. We caught our flight, very pleased that we were able to climb in such a remote, wild area during a three-week vacation.
[Editor’s note: M3 was first climbed, via the northwest ridge, in August 1962 by a predominately Polish expedition, with Henrik Dembinski, Bernard Langevin (France), Jan Stryczynski, and Stanislaw Zierhoffer reaching the top. It was not climbed again until August 1978, when a Czechoslovak expedition reached the summit via the northwest and north-northeast ridges. Koh-e-Nadir Sah was first climbed by the 1962 Polish expedition via the west-northwest ridge. By 1978 it had been climbed eight times, by at least two other routes.]