Having climbed quite a lot in Afghanistan between 1993-1996 I have taken a deep interest in recent groups attempting to resurrect mountaineering and trekking in Afghanistan, although it still must be classified as 'extreme adventure.' I am proud that New Zealanders are at the forefront of breaking new trails in the Hindu Kush and Karakoram. One Kiwi is reviving skiing in Afghanistan.
Mir Samir, which the British expedition attempted this year in winter and we tried in October 1994. Made famous by George Newby's A Short walk in the Hindu Kush. Photo: Bob McKerrow
I followed Patricia Deavoll and Christine Byrch, sisters from New Zealand, on their expedition this year. A quote from Pat.
Christine and I summitted Koh-e-Baba-Tangi (6515m) in the Wakhan Corridor (Afgahnistan) on the 9th August 2012. 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
This was a magnificent achievement by Pat and Christine and for more information, go to Pat's website
This was a magnificent achievement by Pat and Christine and for more information, go to Pat's website
James Bingham in his article below on winter climbing in 2012 in Afghanistan, mentions another New Zealander active in the Hindu Kush, one Steve Parker. He says:
"In the absence of chair lifts and gondolas a couple of hours were expended ‘skinning’ up the Koh-e
Baba mountains to take advantage of the beautiful virgin powdered slopes. We met the enigmatic
Steve Parker , a New Zealander, who had given up some his time to teach a couple of local
shepherds and budding guides the dangers of avalanches in their back yards. "
Before launching into the most recent climb of Mir Samir, here is an article on our attempt in 1995.
From the American Alpine Club Journal 1995
Mir Samir and ascent of P500.
Mir Samir and ascent of P500.
After years when it was too dangerous to enter the mountains of Afghanistan, New Zealander Bob McKerrow and Englishmen Ian Clarke and Jon Tinker headed for Mir Samir in the Hindu Kush. McKerrow is head of the International Red Cross in Afghanistan and Clarke is a former Royal Marie, now head of the Halo Trust mine clearance organisation in Afghanistan. Tinker has worked in the country a number of times in the last seven years.The three climbers set out from Kabaul on September 23, 1994, acclimatizing near the Salang Pass before setting out for Parian in the upper Panjchir.
Ian Clarke left:
There four horses were hired to carry food and equipment up the Chamar valley to base camp at 3,400 m.Clarke's skills were put to the test when the saw air-dropped scatterable anti-personnel mines.They established a high camp at 4,300 m on September 29. Because of the deep snow, the two Englishmen made slow progress the next day to bivouac at 4,900 meters on an unclimbed snow route on the southwest face of Mir Samir. On October 1 they made a summit attempt.but unseasonable deep snow turned the back at 5200 meters, soime 600 meters from the summit. While Clarke and Tinker were climbing Mir Samir, McKerrow climbed an unclimbed peak at approximately 5000 metres, a prominent feature when viewed from the Chamar Valley. For further stories on climbing and trekking in Afghanistan, go to my weblog,
Now onto the article I found today of the attempt of Mir Samir. An excellent article for those wishing to do winter climbing in Afghanistan.
A SHORT WINTER IN THE HINDU KUSH
British Mountaineering Council Report
Mir Samir 19,878ft (6,059m), Afghanistan
10 January 2012 – 29 January 2012
James Bingham (author)
Quentin Brooksbank (editor)
Mark Wynne (editor)
Address: 42 Rivermeads Avenue, Twickenham, Middlesex TW2 5JQ
A SHORT WINTER IN THE HINDU KUSH
Mir Samir, Afghanistan 19,878ft (6,059m)
The team will attempt the first winter ascent of the mountain
The team will also attempt a first ascent of the unclimbed North Face
The team attempted the first winter ascent of Mir Samir, Afghanistan. The mountain, located in the
remote upper section of the Panjshir Valley, was made famous by Eric Newby and Hugh Carless in
the popular adventure book “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush”.
Our objective was the unclimbed North Face, although if conditions prevented this we planned to
climb the East Ridge, the same route Eric Newby attempted in the summer of 1956. Eric and his
climbing partner turned back 700ft from the summit after running short of time and becoming
concerned about getting down in the dark.
Unfortunately, a number of factors led to our expedition being cut short. The theft of a kit bag
containing essential equipment, coupled with very deep snow conditions and route finding difficulties,
meant the team were unable to even reach the base-camp of the mountain.
While the summit of Mir Samir escaped us, the expedition was a success in the sense that we
travelled safely within Afghanistan, met some incredible people who welcomed us as their guests and
had the adventure of our lifetimes. Climbing Mir Samir in the depths of an Afghan winter was always
an ambitious dream, but I feel we have come away wiser and hopefully with the knowledge to come
back and try again.
It was clear from the very beginning that attempting a winter ascent of a near 20,000 ft mountain in
Afghanistan presented us with a formidable challenge. Three of the team (James, Mark and Quentin)
had previously travelled to Afghanistan in the summer of 2010 and successfully climbed Mt. Noshaq,
at 7,492m the highest mountain in the country. That expedition provided us with some vital insight into
such a misunderstood country and undoubtedly laid foundations for our trip to Mir Samir.
Having read Eric Newby’s book and keen to explore more of Afghanistan, we started to research the
possibility of following in Newby’s footsteps. In November 2010 we contacted David James of
Mountain Unity and mentioned our plans for an attempt on Mir Samir. David had previously assisted
during the planning of our Noshaq expedition and had a wealth of contacts within Afghanistan. He
discussed our plans with the American led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) who were based in
the Panjshir valley. David subsequently reported back that the PRT were very interested in developing
tourism and felt that Mir Samir was a viable objective. This came with a risk warning that the mountain
sat on the border with Nuristan which had become unstable, but the advice was if we approached
from the Panjshir side it should be safer.
There were many worries given the remote location and security concerns within the country. While
our last trip had taken us to the relatively stable north east of Afghanistan, this time we would have to
fly into Kabul. At that time we only had limited knowledge of the security situation in and around Kabul.
While we understood the Panjshir valley to be relatively safe by Afghan standards, we would still have
to travel out of Kabul on the open roads. There would be many concerns to address before the
expedition could become anything more than a pipedream. Aside from the security we could also
expect extreme weather conditions. Would the roads be passable in winter? Could we even reach the
mountain at that time of year?4
Key people who supported us, provided advice and guidance are detailed below. Without their help
the expedition would never have happened.
Philip Abbey, Provincial Reconstruction Team. Philip worked at the Panjshir PRT. He provided us
with information on the roads and travel, advice on weather, security and permits. His help was
invaluable. Panjshir was one of the first provinces in Afghanistan to take control of its own security
and when this transfer of power took place the PRT closed. It had been disbanded by the time we
travelled to the area.
David James, Director, Mountain Unity. David set up Mountain Unity in March 2009, as a social
enterprise to provide marketing and capacity building support to economic development in north east
Afghanistan. David mainly provided support for our earlier trip to Noshaq, but right at the start spoke
to the PRT to gauge whether they would support our Mir Samir expedition. It was this initial
encouragement that set the wheels in motion.
Jerome Starkey is a war correspondent and investigative journalist, who at the time was based in
Kabul, Afghanistan. He not only provided us with invaluable security information and guidance, but
also put the whole team up at his house in Kabul. Jerome also introduced us to various high ranking
officials and politicians which greatly facilitated our transit through the numerous checkpoints.
Dr Abdullah Abdullah is an Afghan politician and a doctor of medicine. He was an adviser and friend
to Ahmad Shah Massoud, legendary anti-Taliban leader and commander known as the "Lion of
Panjshir". In 2009 Abdullah ran as an independent candidate in the Afghan presidential election and
came in second place. Dr Abdullah approved our expedition and discussed the trip with the Governor
of Panjshir. This high level support was very useful as we travelled to the Panjshir and had to pass
through numerous military checkpoints.
Ali Farhad, Dr Abdullah Abdullah’s “media guru”. Ali discussed our expedition with Dr Abdullah, who
in turn spoke to the governor of Panjshir. All of these men fully supported our endeavour. Ali was
concerned about security and said he couldn't entrust anyone with our safety. He therefore decided to
drive us to the Panjshir himself. For a while, perhaps swept up in the whole adventure, I think Ali even
contemplated joining us for the climb.
Peter Jouvenal, former freelance cameraman, who as the Taliban fled Kabul on 13 November 2001
filmed the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, walking into the city. Peter now owns the
Gandamack Lodge in Kabul. After a meal at his restaurant, Peter kindly offered the loan of his land
rover to the expedition. This greatly assisted us when travelling over the high passes and snow
covered roads in the Panjshir. Peter also introduced us to his former guide and fixer Rahman Beg,
who had worked for him and John Simpson during the time of the Soviet invasion.
Rahman Beg (“RB”), former guide and fixer for John Simpson and Peter Jouvenal. Following Peter’s
recommendation we employed RB to accompany us as we drove to the Panjshir. Although RB now
lived and worked in Kabul, he is from the upper Panjshir and his contacts within the remote mountain
village that we stayed were vitally important.
Shannon Gaplin, Director, Mountain 2 Mountain. Shannon is the founder of Mountain 2 Mountain, a
non profit organisation, dedicated to creating programs to empower and encourage women and
children in the rural villages in Afghanistan. During her time in Afghanistan Shannon also cycled the
length of the Panjshir valley and was able pass on the details of her experience and the reception she
encountered. Her personal account of travelling within the Panjshir was very useful as we assessed
the risks of travel up through the valley.
James Wilcox, Director, Untamed Borders. James’ company provides bespoke adventure travel
holidays to remote countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and North East India. James had
arranged several small adventure travel tours to Kabul and had travelled into the lower Panjshir valley.
He was therefore able to provide us with a good understanding of what to expect.
James Bingham (36): Expedition Leader
James grew up in North Wales and was introduced to the hills by his Dad. He climbed Tryfan when he
was 7 and has kept going ever since! Over the last 10 years James has travelled the world following
his dreams of high adventure in the mountains. Expeditions have included successful ascents of Mt
Everest, Lhakpa Ri, Noshaq, Ama Dablam, Island Peak, Lobuche peak, Aconcagua, a couple of
attempts on Denali and a failed winter ascent of Elbrus.
He started out on guided expeditions before building the experience and confidence to lead his own trips. Now James seeks out remote regions, climbing in small teams, travelling light and ideally with
climbing friends. Last summer he led a team comprising two school friends and an Alaskan salmon farmer to the top of Afghanistan’s highest mountain, Mt Noshaq (7,492m). Against all odds the team
accomplished the first British ascent of Mt Noshaq in 35 years.
Edward Bingham (30): Climber
Edward is a former British soldier lives on the doorstep of Snowdonia,
where the hills became his playground. At the age of 21 Edward joined
the Army and from there he further developed his mountaineering
skills following assignment to the Army Alpine Training Centre.
Edward has climbed extensively in Wales, Scotland and the European Alps, gaining significant
experience on rock and ice routes. He has successfully climbed many alpine mountains including Mt
Blanc and the Matterhorn. Beyond Europe he’s trekked and climbed in North America, including an
ascent of Mt. Denali.
Quentin Brooksbank (34): Climber and logistics
Growing up in Snowdonia, Q made the most of conditions all year round, especially the great winters! Regular forays in to the dark winter depths of the Scottish Highlands and European snow and ice
climbing trips to the Austrian, Bavarian and French Alps. He was an integral team member on the successful expedition to Mt Noshaq.
Summer 2011 was spent climbing in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru.
Mark Wynne (36): Climber, team medic and photographer
Four months after leaving school Mark went looking for action by joining the Royal Marines. During his eight years in the Corps he served in jungle and desert terrains, as well as spending five winters
in northern Norway, gaining his military ski survival instructor qualification.
On leaving the Corps Mark pursued his love of the mountains in Europe nearly always with a snowboard on his back searching for powder, of which he found plenty along with some close encounters with the odd avalanche!
Mark was called back to the Royal Marines for duty again in 2008 for his first experience of Afghanistan in Helmand Province for nearly seven months. He often looked to the distant mountains wondering
how good it would be to explore them but from where he was sitting at the time it wasn’t very likely. That was until he was offered a place on the Mt. Noshaq expedition last year, which crazy as it sounded to
most people, appealed to him as the best holiday idea he’d ever heard!
ADMINISTRATION AND LOGISTICS
Destination area: Afghanistan
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to specific regions of Afghanistan and
against all but essential travel to other specific regions of Afghanistan.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel to Bamiyan, Parwan and
Panjshir. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel to Kabul.
Research materials and information sources:
The source of our inspiration - Eric Newby’s book “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush”
Eric Newby’s obituary http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1532127/Eric-Newby.html
Hugh Carless’ obituary http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jan/22/hugh-carless-obituary
Our previous expedition to Noshaq:
Training and equipment testing:
The team met several times in some the worst weather that the mountains of Snowdonia, North
Wales, have to offer.
Permission and permits:
The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) of Panjshir Province initially advised that the security
situation should allow us to visit the region safely. The PRT stated they would arrange a letter of
introduction from the Director of Culture and Information, which will allow the team to travel in the
area. The PRT subsequently closed their office in the Panjshir and by November 2011 they advised
us that the security situation within the Panjshir had deteriorated.
We thought we may need to take police / armed militia with us as we travelled through the Panjshir
valley. We had to do this when we climbed Noshaq. In the end we decided it would be safer to travel
under the radar without police or military escorts. 8
We applied for grants from the following organisations:
1. British Mountaineering Council (BMC)
2. Mark Clifford Award
3. Mount Everest Foundation (MEF)
4. Nick Estcourt Award
5. Polartec Challenge
6. Sports Council for Wales
7. Wilderness Award
We won the Wilderness Award for 2011 (£650) and received grants from the BMC (£500) and Mount
Everest Foundation (£2,000). We are very grateful for all of the support we received.
The rest of the trip was self-financed.
The attached Appendix details the main costs of the expedition.
It is possible to obtain insurance coverage for travel and high altitude climbing in Afghanistan. IHI
Bupa provided over cover, although there is a 300% premium loading for Afghanistan. We paid £341
each and arranged over through the following broker:
Coral Parfitt, Bellwood Prestbury Limited
4 Imperial Square, Cheltenham, GL50 1QB, United Kingdom
T: +44 (0)1242 588 678 F: +44 (0)1242 588 688
Travel, transport and freighting
We flew to Kabul with Gulf Air and took all of our equipment and supplied with us. Our return flight
from London to Kabul cost £687. Their customer service is very poor and they changed our flight
schedule several times without any consultation or notification. Their customer service centre doesn’t
respond to emails. But there was some good news - they didn’t charge a penny extra for the 160kg of
luggage that we checked in! They are also the only carrier that offers a through service from London.
We changed at Bahrain and the flight was without incident.
We carried the bulk of our food and supplies with us as we didn’t want to spend a lot of time shopping
in Kabul. There are a couple of Western supermarkets in Kabul and you can get hold of most food
products. Western imported foods are expensive and these Western style supermarkets have been
targeted by insurgents in the past.
Given the difficulties of obtaining canisters of butane/propane we opted for liquid fuel. We purchased
unleaded petrol in Kabul as we could not find any other suitable fuel. There was no obvious white gas
or naphtha. We had the same issue when we travelled to the north of Afghanistan in 2010. This time
we took our own jerry cans as the ones supplied on our last trip contaminated the fuel.
Accommodation in Kabul
We stayed with Jerome Starkey and other journalists at their house in central Kabul. At the end of the
trip we stayed at the Gandamack Lodge which comes recommended www.gandamacklodge.co.uk
You have a couple of choices with the accommodation. The high end hotels have the most security,
blast walls, metal detectors, more men with guns etc, but they also tend to be subject to some of the
most audacious insurgent attacks. The smaller, more discrete hotels and guest houses, hopefully fall
under the radar.
No vehicles can get close to the arrivals or departure gate, so you have to walk several hundred
meters to reach the taxis and buses. There are plenty of young men who will be eager to help carry
your luggage so best have a few dollars loose change ready. It does get fraught and two baggage
handlers came to blows over our luggage.
There are lots of taxis at the airport, and it costs about $10 to get to the centre of Kabul. However,
given we didn’t know where we were going, it was recommended that we get a pick-up from a minicab
company called Zuhaak taxi: +93 777 409 030. They are one of about five companies geared up to
serving the expat community. Their operators & drivers speak passable English. They normally
charge $5 a trip, but it's probably about $20 from the airport. They have a fleet of newish red Corollas.
Food and accommodation
For high altitude freeze dried meals we brought it all from the UK. It is possible to buy discounted
American army ration packs in the local markets around Kabul. Kabul has several western style
supermarkets which are well stocked. You could buy everything in Kabul if needed, but the prices are
high and the supermarkets have been targeted by insurgents.
These are very limited and we only located them inside a couple of the western supermarkets. They
have a maximum withdrawal limit of 200USD per credit card per day. It is therefore advisable to bring
your cash from home. US Dollars is the currency of choice and is accepted everywhere. It is easy to
change into local currency if needed. There are limited opportunities to pay for goods and services,
including hotels, by credit card. Bring plenty of cash.
When travelling around Afghanistan we dressed in local clothing (Shalwar
Kameez) and had grown beards. It certainly made us feel more inconspicuous when walking and travelling around. We spent several days wandering the streets and markets of Kabul and had no bother from anyone.
Some of the team visited a tailor on the first day and bought inexpensive tailored clothing.
Bottled water is widely available in Kabul, we also melted snow and ice in the mountains.
Satellite phone: SO-2510 Thuraya Satellite Phone with GPS
Spot trackers: Spot Connect and Spot Satellite GPS Messenger
Email is available in the larger hotels and guest houses.
Our mobiles had reception in Kabul and also on the road to Panjshir.
Avalanche transceivers: We’d never bothered with them for climbing trips before, but given the winter
conditions we decided to take them this time. Luckily we had no need to use them, but it provided
some additional peace of mind. 10
The risks of travelling in Afghanistan cannot be downplayed. Most of our expedition planning
concerned making sure we minimised the security risks as far as possible. However, in the months
before departure the security situation in Afghanistan markedly deteriorated.
Towards the end of August 2011 we received news that two German climbers had been kidnapped
close to the Salang Pass. The news later took a dreadful twist when we heard that the climbers had
been murdered. Of course, at such a time we had to reflect on whether it was wise to continue with
our own expedition.
Over the next few months we made additional contacts on the ground in Afghanistan in order to try
and gain further insight into the security situation. Looking at the news there appeared to be a
constant stream of attacks and no obvious lull as the winter approached.
In August 2011 Taliban gunman stormed the British Council in Kabul killing 12 people. In mid
September the Taliban launched coordinated attack across Kabul, in which Nato's headquarters and
the US embassy are among those targeted. And then in mid October the Taliban carried out their first
successful suicide attack in the Panjshir valley, targeting the PRT building.
This news unsettled us all and I think we all reflected as to whether we should continue. In November
our lead climber, decided the trip wasn’t for him and dropped out. Although his decision was
understandable, having one of the team drop out made us all think seriously about whether we were
taking the right decision.
Following further consultation with foreign nationals who live, work and have travelled to the areas we
were heading to, we decided to travel. We took it one step at a time and decided we would firstly
travel to Kabul and then assess whether we should travel to the Panjshir. If we made it that far then
we could assess whether or not to continue to the upper Panjshir as we had received specific
intelligence that this could be an area of concern. And once in the upper Panjshir we would then
assess whether the conditions allowed us to travel into the mountains.
Whether or not to travel to Afghanistan is very much a personal decision. Of course there are
significant risks and you have to take the risks onboard if you do travel. We tried to look beyond the
newspaper headlines and reflected on the fact that Kabul is a city of 3.6m people. These people get
up every day and go about their daily lives. As a westerner you are more vulnerable, but we spent
nearly a week walking the streets and had no hassle from anyone. Those people who did notice us
were welcoming and friendly. Perhaps we were lucky, but that was the chance we took.
There are private hire companies in Kabul who will pick you up from the airport in an armoured land
cruiser. We did think about this for a while, but having sought further advice, we opted for a more low
key approach. No one knew we were coming or where we were staying. We changed into our local
clothes in the arrivals lounge and called a recommended minicab company (Zuhaak taxi) when we
arrived at the airport.
The roads are in good condition and fully surfaced. It was January and the roads were clear until we
were well into the Panshir valley.
When approaching checkpoints at night, switch on your interior light and approach the checkpoint
We drove a borrowed land rover to the Panjshir valley from Kabul. We were advised that there is no
vehicle insurance so you have to take your chances on the road if you decide to drive. It is probably
safer and more sensible to arrange a taxi to drive you.
Transport to the Panjshir
Originally we planned to travel with Afghan Logistics who were recommended as one of the best
transport and logistics companies in Kabul. However, after contacting them from the UK for a quote,
they refused to take us and advised us not to come to Afghanistan given the security situation. This
was more unsettling news given they had a clear commercial interested to transport us. So when we
finally arrived in Kabul we didn’t know how we would get to the Panjshir or whether it would be safe
enough to travel. In the end we borrowed a land rover from Peter Jouvenal and Ali Farhad drove a
second car. Zuhaak taxis would also have taken us and we did receive a reasonable quote. When we
returned from the Panjshir we drove ourselves in the land rover and hired a taxi for the second
vehicle. Taxi fare around 100USD but expect to haggle hard.
In winter these are essential for driving through the higher mountain passes where the roads are
covered in snow and ice. We didn’t have them and this meant one car couldn’t get all the way and we
had to hitch a ride with a local taxi with chains! We managed to get our land rover through but had to
dig it out several times. Snow chains would have saved a lot of bother and the embarrassment of
being overtaken by local buzkashi rider on the way to a game!
We came prepared for a winter ascent. Our equipment was what you would expect for a Denali or
even an 8,000m peak. Sleeping bags were good for -30c.
Based on the large amount of snow that falls during an Afghan winter we were very concerned about
the general avalanche risk. Each member of the team carried a transceiver, probe and shovel. Even
on the roads there were risks. We travelled in two vehicles and at times switched on our transceivers.
Mark Wynne was the team medic given the medical experience he gained serving with the Royal
Marines. We had two full first aid kits which also contained high altitude medicines and antibiotics
(amoxicillin and ciprofloxacin).
The itinerary can be found in Appendix.
The expedition was always a long shot, not only attempting a first winter ascent, but over the past year
in particular the security situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated to a point where I think we all
questioned whether we should continue. We are all pleased we took the risks and traveled to this
beautiful country. On reflection this trip wasn’t so much about mountains, it was the people we met
and the places we stayed. It was a true adventure.
Expedition: A short story.
We arrived in Kabul on the evening of Thursday 11 January and spent three nights with Times
journalist, Jerome Starkey and his housemates. These guys were fantastic and Jerome's subsequent
introduction to Ali Farhad (Dr. Abdullah Abdullah's media guru) helped facilitate our passage through
the Panjshir. Ali discussed our expedition with the Doctor, who in turn spoke to the governor of
Panjshir. All these men fully supported our endeavour.
Ali was concerned about security and said he couldn't entrust anyone with our safety. He therefore
decided to drive us to the Panjshir himself. For a while, perhaps swept up in the whole adventure, I
think Ali even contemplated joining us for the climb!
The night before we left for the Panjshir, we bumped into Peter Jouvenal, at his hotel The Gandamack Lodge, who was once the cameraman of John Simpson when they secretly trekked
through the mountain passes of Pakistan in to Afghanistan during the days of the Taliban’s fall. Peter kindly offered to loan us his Land Rover for the duration of the trip. After a fantastic meal at his restaurant, and against all our safety briefings, we found ourselves driving back to Jerome’s house through the
streets of Kabul, in Peter’s trusty Land Rover – completely ignoring any local vehicle regulations and those that our own country would normally enforce upon us.
Peter kindly introduced us to his former guide and fixer Rahman Beg ("RB"), who was from the upper
Panjshir. After a few late night telephone calls to his boss persuading him to agree the time off work,
RB agreed to come with us.
We left Kabul at 6am on Saturday 14 January. Having Ali and RB with us was fantastic and we
passed through the military checkpoints without problem. Jerome had become interested in our
journey and along with RB and Ali, decided to accompany us to Parian.
The journey was without incident and we were treated to a beautiful sunrise over the plains outside
Kabul. As we progressed further up the Panjshir valley, the route became more challenging with the
roads covered in snow and ice. Ali's car eventually became stuck and could not continue. Without
snow-chains, even the Land Rover was struggling and we had to dig it out on a number of occasions.
A local car with snow chains stopped to help and we managed to hire this vehicle in order to continue
over the pass.
Quentin, RB and I were the first to arrive at Kawjan, a small hamlet of stone/mud houses, just beyond
the Parian District Centre. RB recommended that we wait in the Land Rover while he spoke to the
local men who had started to gather around. RB appeared to know most of the men in the village and
once he had explained the situation, we were invited to meet the village elders. In spite of our
reservations, we were warmly welcomed by everyone. Interestingly this was the area that had been
specifically flagged to us as a potential security risk. In the event, the local Chief insisted that we
stayed in his house and for the next two nights we were treated as their guests and offered shelter,
delicious breads, thick winter stews and lots of hot tea.
Unfortunately for us, it later transpired that a large kit bag had gone missing, probably between the
contents of the Land Rover being unloaded and manhandled up to the Chief's house. The news came
as a bitter blow to us all as the bag contained vital equipment for our expedition; after a year’s
planning and to have come this far, it was now looking as if the trip was in jeopardy. For Quentin, the
news was even more disappointing as he had lost his thermals, sleeping bag, insulated boots and
snowshoes. As a team, we had lost a tent, one of our climbing ropes and an important cooking stove. 14
As guests in the Chief's house, we were put in a very difficult position. How could we bring up this
apparent theft without offending our guests? I held a private meeting with RB and the village Chief. RB
advised that the situation was getting “very dangerous” for us and we risked slighting the Chief’s
honour. We decided to stay for another night in the village, in the hope that the situation would change
and that perhaps the bag would reappear, but we were without luck.
“Tense times”, negotiating permissions, with the District Chief of the Upper Panjshir and a room full of curious villagers, to continue our expedition into the mountains.
Permission granted – the team finally sets out from the Kawjanvillage into the mountains of the Hindu Kush.
We mustered what kit we had. Mark had some spare leather trekking boots and although only suitable
for UK weather, Quentin decided to continue into the mountains and see how he found the conditions.
To his credit, he managed to stay with us for two days and nights, sleeping in -20°C with an old
Russian army surplus sleeping bag, before making the tough decision to turn around and make his
own way down the valley and back to Kabul
Although obviously sad at seeing Quentin leave the team, Eddie, Mark and I continued to work our
way up the valley towards Mir Samir basecamp. Progress was incredibly slow. The snow was deep,
the route not obvious and the sleds we relied upon to haul our gear were millstones around our necks.
We constantly fell into deep snow and even with snow shoes it was up beyond our knees. The valley
sides were too steep for the sleds which constantly slipped off the slope, threatening to pull us down
towards the valley floor.
After four days of this torment, we lowered ourselves down into the valley. We thought the Samir River
would be frozen and that we could follow its course, which would offer better terrain for hauling our
sleds. This worked for a time and we made some progress but later in the day, the ice thawed and we
found ourselves breaking through the ice. The floor of the valley was a classic terrain trap with
evidence of recent avalanches sweeping down. We proceeded with caution, switching on our
avalanche transceivers and keeping a good distance between the next man. 16
The sleds, weighing nearly 20kgs, proved to be hazardous on the steep terrain.
Our progress was ultimately blocked as the valley led into a steep ravine with polished rock walls on
either side. Ahead of us lay a frozen waterfall which at first appeared passable. I led out and managed
to climb about half way up when suddenly the snow and ice broke away. The waterfall was covered
only with a soft snow bridge which simply could not hold our weight. To have fallen through would
have been a disaster.
The next day we tried to climb back up the valley side but the terrain was too steep with our large
packs and sleds. We had been climbing for five days now and had only managed around 1,000m. We
couldn’t believe how hard it had been and how little progress we had made. The weather forecast was
heavy snow and possible storms. We were so behind our planned schedule now there simply wasn’t
time to climb the mountain even if we managed to get to base camp. After considering our position,
we made the difficult decision to turn back and head down.
Arriving back in the village later that day, it was clear how slow the uphill journey had been. We
couldn’t believe how quickly we returned after all those days of hauling. There were some fine
moments when we arrived back in the village and gave our sleds to the local kids; seeing their smiles
as they played with their new toys, somehow made everything seem worthwhile.
The expedition was always a long shot; not only attempting the first winter ascent but over the last
year, the security situation in Afghanistan had continued to deteriorate to a point where I think we all
questioned whether we should continue.
However, we are all extremely proud of ourselves for taking the risks and feel fortunate to have
travelled to this amazing and beautiful country. This wasn’t so much about the mountain but the
people we met and the places we stayed. It was a true adventure.
Upon returning to Kabul, and following a few beers behind the triple security doors of one of the few
‘Western’ drinking holes and a number of days exploring the city’s streets, Mark and Quentin
managed to organise flights to the ancient province of Bamiyan for some sightseeing and three days
In the absence of chair lifts and gondolas a couple of hours were expended ‘skinning’ up the Koh-e
Baba mountains to take advantage of the beautiful virgin powdered slopes. We met the enigmatic
Steve Parker , a New Zealander, who had given up some his time to teach a couple of local
sheppard’s and budding guides the dangers of avalanches in their back yards.
Steve Parker, left, and Mark Wynne , right, snowboarding down a beautiful powder filled couloirs.
However, these beautiful slopes hide a deadly force…the close call of a strong avalanche brought us
quickly down to earth from the highs of incredible back country skiing. We all carried avalanche
transceivers, probes and shovels as a precaution and fortunately Mark was shrewd enough to alter
course and snowboard out of harms way. Quentin didn’t have much choice about which way the
avalanche was heading, but his steady hand managed to take some great pictures
The final day was taken up by cross country skiing in the newly formed National Park of Band-e Amir
and its beautiful frozen lakes. A super ending to an adventurous trip in a country that some perceive
Day Date Where
Tuesday 10/01/2012 Depart London
Wednesday 11/01/2012 Night 1 Kabul (Jerome's house)
Thursday 12/01/2012 Night 2 in Kabul (Jerome's house)
Friday 13/01/2012 Night 3 in Kabul (Jerome's house)
Saturday 14/01/2012 Night 1 in Kawjan (Local chief’s house)
Sunday 15/01/2012 Night 2 in Kawjan (Local chief’s house)
Monday 16/01/2012 Walk to Camp 1 3,010m
Tuesday 17/01/2012 Walk to Camp 2 3,218m
Wednesday 18/01/2012 Walk to Camp 3 3,430m
Thursday 19/01/2012 Walk Camp 4 3,480m
Friday 20/01/2012 Attempt to reach Camp 5. Return to Camp 4. 3,480m
Saturday 21/01/2012 Return from Camp 4 to Kawjan. Drive back to Kabul.
Sunday 22/01/2012 Back in Kabul (Gandamack)
Monday 23/01/2012 Back in Kabul (Gandamack)
Tuesday 24/01/2012 Back in Kabul. (Gandamack)
Wednesday 25/01/2012 James and Eddie flight back to London
Mark and Q fly to Bamiyan
Thursday 26/01/2012 James and Eddie arrive at Heathrow
Saturday 28/01/2012 Mark and Q leave Bamiyan
Sunday 29/01/2012 Mark and Q arrive at Heathrow