Between April 26 and May 31, I visited the remote border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan with three French friends, Pierrick Fine, Antoine Rolle, and Aurélien Vaissière. We had looked on Google Earth for wild places where we could climb mixed terrain and found our dream spot in the Yarkhun Valley. [Editor’s note: In its upper section this large valley lies immediately south of the border with Afghanistan, and while expeditions were relatively active in the area during the 1960s and '70s, it became more or less off limits to climbers and tourists after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Events after 9/11 acted as a further deterrent, and very few "tourists" have been here ever since.]
To acclimatize, we ascended the Risht Gol (Risht Valley) and its glacier. We believe we were the first to reach this glacier. The mouth of the Risht Gol can be accessed by roads leading up the Yarkhun Valley. From a base camp at 3,000m, we skied for six days up the valley, finishing on the col at the head of the glacier at 5,600m. We managed to descend the entire glacier on skis in perfect snow.
With windows of good weather too short to return to our high point, we visited a good bouldering area we had seen on our approach to base camp. There, we discovered numerous problems from 6a to 7b—the people living near these boulders were amazed to see foreigners, and even more amazed to see them climb on their small rocks.
After two days of rest in base camp, we learned of an upcoming weather window of three and a half days. In two days we raced back up the valley, reaching 5,400m—it had taken six days to gain this point before. On May 22 we were at the base of a 500m line of rock and ice on the northwest face of an unclimbed peak (36°40'40.26"N, 73°4'12.18"E) at the head of the glacier.
Easy snow slopes led to more difficult terrain and a pitch of WI5 (90°). I led the following pitch, which proved to be the crux: tricky M6 with poor protection. Sustained but slightly easier ice pitches then led to the southwest ridge. Here, snow conditions were awful and we had to dig deep—into our bodies, minds, and the snow—to gain elevation and reach the top. From the readings on our GPS units and watch altimeters, we estimated the summit altitude to be 5,960m. We rappelled the route in a storm and returned to base camp the following day.
After resting, we wondered how to end the trip in style and opted to visit a beautiful gorge southwest of our base camp, on the west side of the main valley. The walls were split by cracks from top to bottom. We opened two routes: Antoine and Aurel made the first ascent of Sueurs Chaudes (150m, 6c+), while Perrick and I climbed Removable Crux (250m, 7b+). The latter route had many pitches of nice crack climbing with good protection, but on some pitches, especially the fifth, the rock was poor, adding spice to the day. Routes were climbed using trad gear only. This trip was by far my best expedition experience to date.
– Symon Welfringer, France
Editor's note: The main peak of the Risht Glacier basin is Thui Zom II (6,523m), but it has not been climbed from this glacier. The peak was first climbed in August 1978 via the southeast ridge, approached from the Qalandar Glacier to the south, by the British trio of Chris Griffiths, Chris Lloyd, and Nick Tritton. During attempts on this peak in 1969 from the Shetor Glacier to the east, another British expedition climbed Pachan Zom (6,126m), a summit on the northwest ridge of Thui Zom II overlooking the Risht Glacier.