Inspired by Florian Tolle’s report in AAJ 2008, Ruud Rotte, Danny Schoch, Menno Schokker, and I left the Netherlands on June 3 for the Dasbar Valley in far northwest Pakistan. We were possibly the first climbers to visit since Tolle’s French team in 2007.
We hired 30 porters in Nialthi and reached a base camp at 3,600m, where we planned to stay three and a half weeks. Beautiful, unclimbed Kachqiant (36°37'0.25"N, 73°14'35.40"E), named by the late Bernard Domenech, was our main goal, but we also wanted to explore other mountains. Acclimatization trips quickly showed the snow to be very soft during daytime; climbing on snow was only possible at night. We made an advanced base at 5,000m, at the foot of Kachqiant's northeast ridge.
After two weeks of acclimatization and exploration, Danny, Menno, and I attempted the northeast ridge. It was a big struggle. The wind was extremely cold and the snow very powdery. Our progress was slow, and at 5,450m we decided to retreat.
Subsequently, Menno and Ruud went for the southeast ridge of Ghaintar Chhish (a.k.a. Gainthir Chhish, 6,273m). The main peak has been climbed once, and the southeast ridge rises to the unclimbed eastern summit at about 6,200m. They packed a tent and food for four days, but at an altitude of 5,800m they decided to retreat—the rock was very poor and there were many wet snow avalanches.
Danny and I went for a final try on Kachqiant. We knew conditions would not improve, but we were positive about our chances. Regaining the previous high point proved difficult, but this time there was less wind. An extra camp, lots of food, and thick down jackets were part of the new strategy. At 2:30 a.m. on July 1, we left our tent at 5,500m. The snow was immediately very powdery and unconsolidated. A lot of exhausting wading followed, though some of the snow overlay bulletproof black ice. There were a couple of 70° ice pitches, but these were easy compared to the sections of deep snow.
|Bas Visscher just below the summit of Kachqiant at the start of the descent. (A) The pointed rocky summit of Peak 6,200+m. (B) Thui Zom (Thui I, Karol Zom, 6,623m). (C) Peak 6,200+m. (D) Koyo Zom South and Koyo Zom (6,872m). (E) Dasbar Zom (6,058m). (F) Ghaintar Chhish (6,273m). Heights generally taken from the Miyamori map.|
Our progress was very slow, but luckily the conditions improved on the final ridge. At 4 p.m. we reached the summit. What a happy moment! Maps quote a height of 6,015m; the GPS on our satellite phone indicated 5,990m. We graded the ascent TD- (1,000m, mostly 50cm of steep powder snow on black ice, with five sections of 60–70° ice and a knife-edge corniced ridge).
Taking no risk, we descended the ridge entirely by rappelling from Abalakov anchors, finally reaching our tent at 1 a.m. Many rappels were needed, as we had taken only one 60m rope. We were completely exhausted and next day rested many hours in the sun. When the temperature cooled, we descended the tricky ridge to 5,000m. We knew we were safe now, and after some sleep walked down to base camp. The next day we walked out of the Dasbar Valley with smiles on our faces.
The Hindu Kush and Hindu Raj have not been frequented much by Western climbers in recent years—certainly not compared with other ranges in Pakistan. While we met many friendly people and the reception we received in Nialthi was wonderful, it was hard to assess the risk. The police in Ghizer District decided to send an agent to stay with us for our entire time in base camp. Future expeditions will have to make their own judgment.
We had good weather in June, with very hot days and cold nights. Better snow conditions might be found in September or October, but by that time it could also be very dry. The rock seems good in the lower valley, and there are some serious walls. Higher in the valley, the rock is poor. Lots of peaks have seracs, so finding safe lines is not easy.
Probably the best unclimbed goals for future parties are the north-northwest ridge of Ghamobar Zom (a.k.a. Dhuli Chhish, a collection of summits over 6,400m; the highest, 6,518m, was climbed in 1973 by Italians Platter, Riz, and Vaia, via the southwest face and southeast ridge); the southeast ridge of Ghaintar Chhish (6,273m, first climbed from the north in 1968 by an Austrian expedition); and perhaps Ayesh Bilou (5,000m). Attractive Peak 5,900m is hard to access and might be better from the adjacent valley to the west.
Bas Visscher, Netherlands