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Discovery Central Asia #29
Discovery Central Asia

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In the Footsteps of the Pioneers

by Rick Allen

In 1928 Rickmer Rickmers and his German-Soviet expedition explored some remote glaciers of the eastern Pamir mountains in modern day Tajikistan. In 2004, I joined Joerg and Lydia  from Germany to repeat a section of his explorations and traverse the central section of the huge Fedchenko glacier, one of the largest outside the polar regions.

I left Dushanbe in a shared taxi in mid August but the car broke down several times and finally stopped at Khalikhum where my fellow passengers and I spent the night on the pavement. The next day I negotiated an exorbitant rate for the remainder of the journey to Xorog and spent a wonderful night sleeping under an apple tree in the courtyard of the guest house which was then run by the Mountain Social Development and Support Programme of the Aga Khan foundation, very active in the Pamir where many Pamiris follow the Ismaili branch of Islam. I had organised a jeep for the following 300 km to Murghab and another took me northwards the next day along the border with Chinese Turkestan to the desolate village of Kara Kul beside the eponymous lake. Here I stayed a day and a night while the driver went North to Kirgystan to collect my German companions. I am not sure who was more relieved the next day when they finally arrived, since there are no communications of any kind in Kara Kul. We travelled on past meteorite craters and stone-age sun dials to reach the end of the road (for us) near Kok Jar, where I was amazed to discover a small forest hidden in the river gorge in this otherwise desert environment. From here two horses took our gear on a leisurely journey up the Tanimas valley, halting when the river needed to be crossed. The crossing the following morning when the river was at its lowest was exciting enough as the horses were in up to their girths. After another day of trekking with the support of our horsemen it was time to bid them farewell and shoulder 75kg of food and equipment between the three of us.

That day we crossed the Grum Grijmailo glacier and camped on the far side. The next day was more challenging as we tackled the moraines of the Tanimas II glacier but with them behind us our confidence rose. Here the expedition of the 1920's had established a base camp and spent a month surveying, climbing and collecting geological and botanical specimens. Crossing the snout of Tanimas III glacier the next day finally led us to the north side of the glen and we were within striking distance of the Tanimas pass at 4570 m which would take us onto the Fedchenko glacier. We walked over 10 km up the Fedchenko, surrounded by 6000m peaks and pitched camp in a snowstorm just below Abdulkaghor pass (5080m). The weather cleared overnight and we crossed the pass in the morning and began our descent of the steep and tortured Abdulkaghor glacier. Here amidst the crevasses I pulled a muscle and Lydia bruised her leg badly so we were relieved to find a tiny patch of soil amongst the moraines to camp. More moraines took us to the vestiges of a track used by geologists, miners and herdsmen who had explored and exploited the upper reaches of the valley. However, landslips and washouts had taken out sections of the track and there were two more glaciers to cross before we finally emerged at summer pastures where we met the first people we had seen in 8 days. They were just about to pack up their summer dwellings and return to their village for the winter and they spontaneously invited us to their final night party! The next day we were offered a ride on the top of a truck down to Poi Mazar where we spent a leisurely morning with Marcus Hauser, author of the newly published Pamir map, before our jeep arrived for the two day journey back to Dushanbe.
In ten days we had covered around 100km, crossing two passes and six glaciers from the East of the Pamir range to the West, but barely touched the surface of this wild and remarkable place and its hospitable people.

Rick Allen has been mountaineering in the great ranges of Asia for over 25 years and has led clients to the summit of Everest. He is now a resident of Dushanbe where he is principal mountain leader for Hamsafar Travel which specialises in treks and tours in the high Pamir.

Joerg Ehrlich is an experienced mountain leader and a director of Diamir travel company

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