Hello and welcome to our blog! Here, myself (John Proctor) and my climbing partner (Jonathan Davey) will be talking about our planned mountaineering expedition to Tajikistan this summer. But to start things off, I thought I would reproduce 2 quotes here which, for me, sum up the appeal of climbing in central Asia.
“Exploratory opportunities abound in the remote Pamir region…The majority of peaks have only one route on them, some two. Many will only have been climbed once.
…As the Pamir highway turns north towards Murghab, it skirts the northern Alichur range but approaches to the base of the un-named 5,624m highest point would entail at least 4 days. The highway curves around the remote Muzkol range including the Soviet Officers peak 6,233m. The map intriguingly classifies a track approaching the southern flanks of this group as permitting motor transport at up to 20 km/hour….”
– Rick Allen, in “Tajikistan and the High Pamirs”, Odyssey (2012)
“If somewhere in the streets of a Central Asian town you encounter a person wearing tattered clothes, beard and a backpack over his shoulders then you can tell a foreigner. In the West they are called back-packers. They belong to a totally specific category of tourists who travel neglecting comfortable accommodations pursuing adventures in the wild nature. It is for this category of people that the Central Asia is particularly attractive …. Only in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan one may fully experience the uniqueness of the Central Asia, perceive the culture of this region which is so different from the Russian culture. People here practice the genuine cult of food …. You have to be a complete loser if no one treats you to a lunch or dinner, but at the very least you will be offered some tea…”
– Igor Rotar, online at http://enews.fergananews.com/article.php?id=2708
In the west very little is known about the various central Asian countries that were formerly part of the USSR (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). Yet they have some of the highest and least explored mountain ranges in the world – the Tien Shan mountains (up to ca. 7,500m) straddling Kyrgyzstan and China, the Pamir mountains (including the Pamir Alai and Karavshin, also up to ca, 7,500m) in northern Tajikistan, south-west Kyrgyzstan and western Uzbekistan, and of course the Altai mountains (up to ca. 4,500m) at the intersection between Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia and China.
The highest mountains in the Altai, Tien Shan and Pamirs (e.g. Khan Tengri, Pik Lenin) were popular with climbers during the Soviet era but aside from that large sections of these ranges remain relatively unexplored. Most peaks have had one ascent, or no ascents. Many ranges remained almost completely untouched until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. For instance, climbers were not allowed to visit most of the Kyrgyz Tien Shan during the Soviet era due to its proximity to the Chinese border. The mountains in the background photo above (taken by myself on a visit to Kyrgyzstan in 2010) lie on the border with China.
In ex-Soviet central Asia there is enormous scope for making first ascents up to ca. 6,000m at a modest technical standard, and also at modest cost. The region is quite a contrast to India, Nepal or China where climbing permit and liaison officer costs can run to several thousand dollars, and permission to climb the higher mountains often comes with many restrictions. In Tajikistan the combined cost of the visa and climbing permit is just £ 150 each.
Any vacation in central Asia is also fascinating from the cultural point of view. You can eat food that is simply not available in any restaurant in the west, meet pastoral farmers and nomadic herders in the mountains whose way of life has changed little in centuries. Hospitality is integral to the culture in central Asia, it is difficult to travel in the mountains without constantly being invited into people’s yurts and mud huts to drink tea and eat food. On that note, here’s a photo from my trip to Tajikistan last year:
More soon! You can also keep up-to-date with us via twitter (see feed on left) on on facebook (British Muzkol Pamir Expedition 2013)…