British ascent of Afghanistan's highest

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 11/08/2010
Noshaq from the west. Lindsay Griffin

Two North Wales residents have become the first British climbers in more than 35 years to reach the main summit of Noshaq, the highest peak in Afghanistan.

James Bingham from Anglesey, Bill Lyden from Alaska and Mark Wynne from the Conway Valley placed four camps on the West Ridge, the highest at around 7,100m, before reaching the 7,492m main top on the 21st July. The three climbers, who comprised only the third team to climb the mountain since the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, found difficult conditions with poor weather, deep snow and areas of dangerous windslab. Wynne, a heavy weapons specialist and Royal Marines reservist who in 2008-09 served a term in Helmand with UN forces, had little previous altitude experience, though Bingham, on the other hand, summited Everest in 2007.

On reaching the village of Ishkashim, the gateway village to the Wakhan Corridor in North East Afghanistan, the team was only allowed to approach the mountain provided they were accompanied by four armed guards. Brandishing Kalashnikovs, these soldiers subsequently patrolled the area and checked on the climbers at their base camp every few days. But as with other visitors to this region in recent years, including Suzy Madge and Anna Torretta just a couple of months earlier, the team received a very friendly and warm welcome wherever they went.

Noshaq is the second highest mountain in the Hindu Kush, only topped by Tirich Mir, which lies entirely in Pakistan. The long but technically straightforward West Ridge was very popular in the 1960s and '70s, particularly with climbers from the then Eastern Bloc, who could access the region from the north through the Soviet Union. Notably it was this ridge that was followed by Andrzej Zawada and Tadeusz Piotrowski in February 1973 to make the first winter ascent of any 7,000m peak.

The mountain was first climbed in 1960 by Japanese but the first British ascent didn't come until 1972, when it was climbed by Alison Chadwick as part of a Polish expedition. Before this year the last British climbers to reach the main summit were probably Eric Roberts and Gilbert Harder in 1974. Last year two local Afghanis from the Wakhan Corridor and two French guides reached the summit. More history of the mountain can be read in Former Afghan fighters go climbing


The photograph shows Gumbaz-e-Safed (6,800m: left) and Noshaq from the west. The summit of Darban Zom (7,219m) is just visible behind and between the two. The broad West Ridge of Noshaq faces the camera and leads to the Far West Shoulder, West, Central and finally Main tops.


 

 



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