Tuesday, 16 August 2011

News Zealand women climbers summit Koh-e-Baba-Tangi in Afghanistan

My heart leapt today when I got the news that sisters Patricia Deavoll and Christine Byrch climbed Koh-e-Baba-Tangi in Afghanistan. What a magnificent achievement ! I know the Wakhan well and saw it from inside Afghanistan, and different views from Tajikistan when I worked in both countries in the 1990s.

Here is the news first hand from Pat:

Christine and I summitted Koh-e-Baba-Tangi (6515m) in the Wakhan Corridor (Afgahnistan) on the 9th August. Five days to the summit with some good steep ice, then 2 days to decend the West Ridge (line of the original 1963 ascent). Ours is only the second climb of the mountain, done via a new route up the N'NW ridge.

Took a lot out of us...but we are very pleased.The Wakhan is a beautiful remote area unlike anywhere ive been.

Now back in Khorog, Tajikistan, on our way home.

Here is further information on ttheir amazing expedition

An aerial view of the Wakhan corridor, Afghanistan.

2010 New Zealand Women’s Mountaineering Expedition to the Wakhan Corridor,

Patricia Deavoll and Christine Byrch

To make the first ascent of the North West Ridge of Koh-e-Baba-Tangi (6516m) in the Wakhan Corridor
Hindu Kush Range,Northern Afghanistan


Koh-e-Baba Tangi is in the upper Kezget Valley, at the far end of the Wakhan Corridor and is considered by many mountaineers to be the most fascinating peak in the Afghan Hindu Kush. It was first climbed by an Italian team via the West Ridge. There are accounts of this expedition in:

• The American Alpine Club Journal 1964. pp 324-235

• The British AC Journal No. 308 May 1964.

Pat and Christine wish to make the second ascent of the mountain via the unclimbed North West Ridge, which will take them into an area rarely visited by climbers, and which has certainly not had a visit in the last thirty years. If the North West Ridge doesn’t offer a safe climbing option they will make their attempt via either the unclimbed East Ridge, or via the West Ridge (route of the first ascentionists).


Pat Deavoll

Christine Byrch

Pat and Christine are sisters.

Expedition duration: 15th July 2011- 30th August 2011.

Nomadic Kyrgyz who live in the Wakhan for part of the year and often cross into tajikistan for trading. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The mountains of Afghanistan’s High Hindu Kush are located in the north east of the country, in the long finger of land known as the Wakhan Corridor, which separates Pakistan and Tajikistan. These mountains are gradually being revisited by climbers, who report the area to be remote, safe and worlds apart from the on-going war with the Taliban. Peaks in the Wakhan Corridor were hugely popular in the 1960’s and 70’s, particularly among European climbers who would often reach the area overland via the “hippy trail.” They were enticed by generally easier access than found in other parts of the Himalaya/ Karakoram, more stable weather and the ability to climb without the constraints of a restrictive permit system. But after the coup d’etat in 1978 and the Soviet Invasion in 1979 the climbing became strictly off-limits and remained so for
almost 30 years.
However in 2003 Carlo Alberto Pinelli, an Italian mountaineer who in the 1960’s climbed extensively in the area (and was one of the first ascentionists of Koh-e-Baba Tangi) organised an expedition he called the Oxuz: Mountains for Peace, with the objective of climbing Noshaq (7492m), Afghanistan’s highest mountain. He wanted to let the Afghan’s know they had not been forgotten by the climbers who had benefited from their generous hospitality. The successful expedition effectively marked the beginning of a new era of climbing in the region. Over the past five years a steadily increasing number of expeditions have, once again, enjoyed the superb climbing in the Afghan Hindu Kush.

Distinctive aims and objectives of the expedition:

• For two sisters from New Zealand to make the first ascent of the North West Ridge of Koh-e-Baba Tangi (6516m) in the Wahkan Corridor of the Hindu Kush Range of Afghanistan (second ascent of mountain)

• To showcase this neglected but fascinating region to other climbers worldwide and to determine its renewed safety as a mountaineering destination.

• To show solidarity towards the people of the Wakhan Corridor by supporting their economy, which has suffered over the past three decades with the demise of tourism.

• To showcase the abilities of strong female mountaineers in a male-dominant sport. Koh-e-Baba Tangi from Kezget

• To run an environmentally sound and socially conscientious expedition.

• To make a short amateur documentary on the expedition to be gifted to Wakhan Tourism for the promotion of future tourism in the area. We are hoping that a film of two western women travelling and climbing in Afghanistan will be of use to the organisation.

• To produce feature articles for leading outdoor publication on the expedition with the intention of promoting: a) the Afghan Hindu Kush as an area to climb, and b) the abilities of strong female mountaineers.

Intended route on Koh-e-Baba-Tangi

Description of North West Ridge Route from Guide Book (Peaks of Silver and Jade)

“The ascent of the Nth/Nth/West Spur…seems to be particularly attractive. It is a varied and hard route, but probably not to dangerous, alternating stretched of rock, mixed terrain and ice. Nothing is known about the bergschrund. A rock promontory protrudes from the glacier followed by an almost vertical ice dip. On top of it the slopes are less steep but then they straighten up once more along a small rocky ridge. From here a long crossing to the right could be attempted towards a large well visible ramp that takes you near the Western Ridge… It looks like and easy route. However it is partially exposed to the possible collapse of an overhanging barrier of seracs.

Above the little rocky ridge you proceed to your left on a second ridge until you land on a small snow plateau. The plateau ends at a spur of mixed terrain. Once you have negotiated this spur, you are soon on the summit.”

Detailed itinerary/schedule:

• Day 1: Arrive in Kabul

• Day 2: Shopping for food and equipment.

• Day 3: Fly to Faizabad.

• Day 4-5-6: Organisation with Wakhan Tourism and Mountain Unity.

• Day 7: Drive to village of Ishakashum .

• Day 9: Drive to Kandud

• Day 10: Drive to Kezget.

• Day 12-13: Trek to Basecamp (with expedition staff and porters/horses)

• Day 14-32: Acclimatization and climbing of Koh-e-Baba Tangi (6516m)

• Day 32-33: Trek to Kezget.

• Day 34-35: Drive to Ishakasum

• Day 36-40: Site seeing and liaison with Mountain Unity and Wakhan Tourism.

• Day 41: Flight to Kabul.

• Day 42: Leave Kabul for New Zealand

Some of the scenery is stunning, especially clolse to the Tajik border. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Why Pat and Christine think they will be successful?

Pat and Christine are two highly accomplished mountaineers; between them they have over fifty years of climbing experience. Pat has been on ten expeditions to Asia in the past nine years, all to climb mountains between 6000m and 7000m in height. Three of these (2007, 2008, 2009) have been to Afghanistan’s close neighbour, Pakistan, thus she is very aware of the risks of traveling in a Muslim country during periods of political unrest. Christine has also travelled extensively in Pakistan; therefore both women know how to conduct themselves as western women in an Islamic culture.

As a mountaineering partnership they climb well together, due mainly to the fact they are sisters and have known each other for ever! They are both extremely fit, despite their age. They have chosen Koh-e-Baba Tangi because it is a mountain of moderate height (6516m) and looks to be technically within their capabilities, but also, due to its position at the far end of the Wahkan Corridor, because it offers an exciting adventure just in reaching its base.

Both are confident they can summit Koh-e-Baba Tangi, if not by the North West Ridge, then via the East or West Ridge options.

My heartiest congratulations Pat and to your sister Christine. I am proud to be a Kiwi.

Kyrgyz nomads who spent time in the Wakhan and cross often into Tajikistan. Photo: Bob McKerrow


An expedition in the Hindu Kush combines the delight of high mountain, the loveliness of the journey and exploration. That huge massif which stretches over nearly 1,000 km. can be divided into three parts—the occidental part is 5,143 m. high at Koh-e-Baba. The central Hindu Kush with its highest part in the Koh-e-Bandakor (6,600 m.) and which presents considerable interest for mountaineering but is rather well known nowadays. The best part for the alpinist is the high Hindu Kush which groups most of the seven-thousanders and numerous six-thousanders— its culminating point is Tirich Mir (7,706 m.) ascended in 1950 by the Norwegians from the valley of Chitral in Pakistan. We are not going to refer to that area of the high Hindu Kush attain­able from the south, but only about the less known part—the Wakhan. In fact, Wakhan is the narrow gully which separates the Hindu Kush from the mountains of the Soviet Pamir, but that same term is also used to characterize the northern’ part of the Hindu Kush attainable from Afghanistan.

In the whole of the Hindu Kush, the Wakhan is the part which has remained the least known up to now. The first expedition took place only in 1960. The reason why it has been so are simple. Before 1963 the access to the Wakhan was difficult because of the lack of roads. Even now, it depends on the summer season—when the torrents don’t cut the track, one can go as far as Quala Panja by jeep and by other vehicles; on the other hand, the permit to go to that region is not delivered every year so that some summers no climbing has been done, as has been the case in 1961 and 1967.

One of the many stunning peaks in the Wakhan. Photo: Bob McKerrow

In 1960 a Japanese expedition climbed Noshaq (7 492 m) the second highest summit in Hindu Kush and the highest in Afghanistan—some days later a Polish expedition succeeded in the second ascent of the same summit. The two expeditions began the ascents of the Wakhan mountains and explored the most western part of the massif near its entrance.

1 This is a translation of one of the articles printed in an excellent booklet ‘Montagne arides du Wakhan’ by the author

In 1962 the second Polish expedition joined by four French­men (Moreau, Ginat, Bruneau and Langevin) explored the valleys of Mandaras and of Urgen-Bala, climbing Koh-e-Tez (6,800 m.) and Koh-e-Mandaras (6,600 m.).

The year 1963 is one of the most important in the discovery of these mountains. Six expeditions were given the permit to get to them, and for the first time, a group of alpinists penetrated far to the east, towards the plateau of Pamir. After having explored the different valleys, among which was the valley of Lunkho, the Italians climbed Baba-Tangi (6,513 m.). However, it is once more in the region of Noshaq that the main activity of alpinists could be seen. Two Austrian expeditions, one directed by Dr. Gruber and the other by Pilz, ascended the western crest and went over the ridge to Noshaq, thus realizing the third ascent of that summit. The same year a third Austrian expedition climbed Kishmi-Khan (6,700 m.) twice.

The same summer the third Polish expedition succeeded in the first ascent of Languta-e-Barfi and the third and fourth of Kishmi- Khan after a rather elaborate attempt on the northern spur of Shakhaur (7,000 m.). That attempt foreshadowed the advent of the 6 Sporting era’ in the Wakhan. To complete the year 1963, let us mention a Swiss expedition led by Eiselin. Over and above the seven-thousander Urgen, that expedition climbed Shash-Dhar (6,550 m.) and Urup (5,650 m.). At the end of 1963 the occidental part of Wakhan was well explored, but a lot of things had to be done further to the east. There numerous summits, often difficult, but not reaching more than 7,000 m. rose along over a hundred kilometres losing height gradually as it approached the plateau of Pamir—the crossroads where the Hindu Kush meets the Pamirs, the Tien-shan and the Kara- korams. If the present political situation remains unchanged these frontier massifs will, no doubt, remain difficult of access to the alpinists for a long time.

The rugged landscape in the Wakhan. Photo: Bob McKerrow

In 1964 a German expedition directed by Von Dobeneck climbed the 7,000 m. high Langar. Then because of the persistent bad weather—which is likely to be rather rare on a massif not subject to the monsoon—undertook the longest penetration to the east ever realized up to that time by alpinists—as far as the Chinese frontier. Their account, thrilling from the exploration and adventure standpoint, contains precious details about those mountains of Asia which are still very little known.

The following year an important Czech expedition climbed seventeen summits in the Ishmurgh valley at the foot of Lunkho.

It left untouched the main problem of that part, but revealed the existence of beautiful mountains with huge and very steep face which can be compared to the north face of the Grandes Jorasses, but twice as high and reaching to about 7,000 m.

The weather was still rather bad and it prevented the Czechs from their great realizations in this area.

In 1966 again, only one expedition obtained permit to get to the Wakhan, for only the first twenty kilometres of the valley. It’s in that way that the fourth Polish expedition, joined by a Belgian, J. Bourgeois, and two French, my wife and myself, succeeded in the ascent of Noshaq (7,492 m.) by the Austrians’ route and different virgin summits of no great importance such as the Sad-Istragh (5,800 m.), M. 10 (6,000 m.), Chap Zom (5,400 m.)… During an attempt on a seven-thousander, Barban Zom near Noshaq, Potocki disappears in an avalanche. Bour­geois and Heinrich succeed in returning to the main camp after a week of superhuman efforts and thanks to much luck.

Before 1968, the discovery of the Wakhan developed fairly well in the occidental part, the central and eastern valleys, in spite of some incursions, kept their problems unresolved. All the ambitions were directed in fact towards the Lunkho region and it is in this region that five out of the six expeditions of 1968 were made. The sixth one, a group of Frenchmen led by L. Dubost, climbed Koh-e-Lakhsh (5,786 m.) at the entrance of Wakhan from its northern spur.

Going on to the east we find in the Yamit valley an Italo- Polish expedition which is said to have climbed the western ramparts of Lunkho and different summits of less importance in this valley as well as some in Khandud.

In the Khandud valley two expeditions—an Austrian and a Yugoslavian—succeeded together on the same day the ascent of Lunkho-e-Dosare (6,868 m.); a few days later, on 13 August the Austrians succeeded in climbing the central tongue of Lunkho- e-Hawar (6,872 m.). They also made the first ascents of the summits of Wala No. 321 (6,450 m.) and No. 353 (6,434 m.), as well as the second ascent of Koh-e-Hevad (6,849 m.) and with the Yugoslavians the second ascent of the Koh-e-Myani (5,632 m.). In the Ishmurgh valley where a Czech expedition went in 1965, a Scottish expedition, directed by Ian Rowe, climbed the northern spur of Lunkho-e-Hawar, but did not reach the top and had to stop 100 to 200 metres lower. During that diffi­cult climbing, Alan North lost his left foot toes. More to the east we find in the Quala Panja valley, our expedition. The 1968 year has then been very important in the discovery and conquest of the central part of the Wakhan mountains, namely all the summits around Lunkho. Thus as far as Quala Panja all the valleys are known. Most of the summits have been reached. More to the east, however, all the summits are virgin, except for Baba-Tangi.

In 1969 seven groups went to the Wakhan. An American team (Hechtel) and an Austrian (Axt) went to Noshaq. A French group (Dabos) climbed Kishmi-Khan by opening a new route by its south-west pillar, while a Franco-Swiss group (Dittert) went to the region of Mandaras and climbed some five- thousanders. Isabelle and I went back for the third time to the Wakhan with a team from Lyon. We climbed the northern pillar of Shakhaur. A Japanese group went to the Pegish valley, and a French group to the Quala Panja valley to try Koh-e-Wakhan, the first ascent of which has been realized on the same date from the Pakistani side by Helga and Rudolph Lindner.[1]

Some summits are still waiting for lovers of beautiful problems. Lunkho-e-Hawar (6,872 m.) presents a wall 1,000-2,000 m. high and which stretches over several kilometres to the east as far as the Uparisina and to the west as far as the Lunkho-e-Dosare. More to the east, the Quala-e-Ust (6,300 m.)[2] is virgin. The seven-thousanders have often been climbed only by a single route—walls of over 2,000 m. are not rare—around Shakhaur they reach 3,000 m. Beautiful granite pillars which remind you of the southern aspects of Mont Blanc but rise to 6,000-7,000 m. here and there. Let us mention for instance those we have seen on the Sad-Istragh, the Koh-e-Setara, the Saraghrar…

Notes on Summit Identification by Dr. A. Diemberger

Rahezom Zom North = Koh-e-Wakhan

In 1968 Henry and Isabella Agresti also reconnoitred Koh-e- Wakhan, the imposing summit in the south-east corner of the east glacier of the valley of Quala Panja. For this purpose they climbed two summits beside Col. Est (5,650 m.).

Southwards from Koh-e-Wakhan, and separated by a Col, towers another high peak which appears to belong to the system of Koh-e-Wakhan. Dr. Gerald Gruber names, in OAZ Fg. 1365, these two peaks Rahezom Zom North and South Height according to Agresti: North peak 6,400 m. South peak 6,636 m. Height according to Gruber: North peak 6,535 m. South peak 6,502 m. (taken from quarter inch and from Wala maps).

In 1969 Helga and Rudolf Lindner attacked both peaks from the south, from Chitral. From the Chi-Gari glacier, that is from south-west, they reached by step cutting, the big Col between the north and south peaks. They named this beautiful and broad Col ‘Silver Saddle’.

From Silver Saddle they scaled first on 4.8.69 the North peak and thereafter on 6.8.69 the South peak. They found that the South peak was higher than the North peak. The altitude meter showed a difference of approx 120 m. It would have been purposeful—and H. Agresti and G. Gruber would have agreed to it—to give the name Koh-e-Wakhan to the North peak. It lies on the border ridge between Wakhan and Chitral and is acces­sible from Wakhan. The name Rahezom Zom could be for the South peak which exists totally independent of the North peak It is pushed towards Chitral. Provisional height approx: Koh- e-Wakhan above 6,400 m., Rahezom Zom about 6,550 m The Lindners found no sign of any previous climbing on the North peak. On the peak edge one could only ride. Clear peak photos show, in the east Ouala Wust, above 6,300 m„ and Baba-Tangi above 6,500 m.

An Alpine Magazine reported a scaling of Koh-e-Wakhan from the north side on 2.8.69. That is, two days before the scaling of the Lindner team. Now the problem has been cleared. On 2.8.69 a French team came from north side up to the cornices below the summit of Koh-e-Wakhan, but could not reach the summit.

Further notes on the article by Henri Agresti in the Himalayan Journal, Vol. XXIX, 1969, by Dr. A. Diemberger.

The credit to Henry Agresti regarding the opening up of the Ouala Panja Valley cannot be sufficiently stressed. A few more remarks on the article on pp. 65 and 66, and on the ridge sketch.

1. The first summit north of Koh-e-Tirma (5,950 m ) is Koh-e-Andaval, approx. 5,640 m. In 1968 it was scaled by a Scottish Team from the Ishmurgh Valley.

2. Between Koh-e-Tirma and Koh-e-Setara (6,050 m.), a group of three summits lie, one said to have a height of 6,150 m.

H. Agresti takes all these three summits under a provisional name Koh-e-Bakera. The western one is a neve summit, the eastern one a complex of rock towers. These summits have not been scaled yet (1970) and deserve an ascent.

3. Further references:

(a) H.J., Vol. XXIX, 1969, pp. 65-66, 67-69, 69-70, 71-74 (the first three being reprints from A.J., 1969).

(b) A.J., 1970, pp. 169-172 (Austrian Expedition, 1969), p. 173 (American Expedition, 1969), pp. 173-174 (French Expedition, 1969), pp. 174-175 (Franco-Swiss Expedition, 1969), pp. 175-176 (French ascent of Shakhaur, 1669) (reprinted in H.J., Vol. XXX, 1970 pp. 275-277).

(c) H.J., Vol. XXX, 1970, pp. 264-269 (Austrian Expedi­tion, 1969), pp. 282-300 (Review of Scottish Expedi­tions, 1965-1970).

(d) AJ., 1971, pp. 213-214 (British Expedition, 1970), pp. 214-216 (Austrian Expedition, 1970).

(e) A.AJ., 1971, pp. 456-461 (Various Expeditions of 1970).

[1] See Dr. A. Diemberger’s notes which immediately follow this article regarding Koh-e-Wakhan and the 1968 French Expedition to Quala Panja.

[2] Also spelt Quala Wust.

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