British go Afghanistanski - radio interview

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 10/08/2010
Madge and Torretta in Afghanistan. Suzy Madge

British ski mountaineer Suzy Madge joined female World Cup Ice Climbing Champion, Anna Torretta from Italy, to make several first ascents and ski descents in Afghanistan's upper Wakhan Corridor.

You can listen to an interview with Suzy Madge on BBC Radio 1's Excess Baggage (Saturday 7 August) on BBC I-player (from 16mins)

Madge, who in 2007 made a ski descent of 8,188m Cho Oyu, was the first recipient of the Julie Tullis Memorial Award, a small grant given annually to help deserving female mountaineers or any disabled climbers or mountaineers, both male and female, to achieve their climbing or mountaineering ambitions.

The pair used the current safe route to access the mountains of north east Afghanistan. This involved flying to Dushanbe in Tajikistan, and then travelling south east by road to cross the Oxus River and reach the Afghan town of Ishkashim, gateway to the Wakhan Corridor.

From there, with local sirdar Mohammed Afiyat Khan, they travelled east for two days to the roadhead at Sarad-e-Boroghil, where they took a day off and made the first ascent of Koh-i-Suzanna (4,660m) in the Hindu Kush to the south.

This involved crossing the Oxus River on horseback and then a six-hour ascent of 1,660m, mostly on ski.

Heavy snowfall in the valleys south of the Corridor, and generally unstable weather, persuaded them to stay at relatively low altitudes, and Torretta, who had led a women's expedition to the area in 2008, was keen to go further east into little-known country.

The team continued over the Daliz Pass (4,260m), in the process making most likely the first ski descent, and then continued for several days by horse to the Kyrghyz nomadic encampment of Bozai Gumbaz.

In the Little Pamir to the north they made first ascents, and ski descents, of Koh-i-Ski (4,765m) and Koh-i-Grivel (4,680m). All three peak names were given provisionally by Torretta.

The two women found the locals wonderfully welcoming and hospitable. They also felt they were probably treated no different than men visiting this region; foreigner travellers are simply considered a different (and rich) species, irrespective of gender.

The four-day return journey to Sarad on horseback involved 13,000m of ascent and descent on narrow trails above large voids. Neither women had rode horses before but the drops below gave them sufficient motivation to cling on tight.

The far eastern sector of the Wakhan Corridor has never seen many foreign visitors. During the climbing boom of the 1960s and 70s it was too remote, and access too difficult, to capture attention, particularly with much higher, virgin peaks available near the entrance to the Corridor, just a few hours' drive from Ishkashim.

Although there have been (often clandestine) visits by hardened trekkers, few mountaineers planning to attempt one or more mountains have penetrated as far east as the British-Italian pair.

In 2008 Germans Steffen Graupner and Kathrin Münzel continued much further east than Bozai Gumbaz, eventually turning north to discover a huge horizontal ice plateau at c5,300m, which they felt could be a possible source of the Oxus. They attempted an unclimbed 5,588m summit but retreated when one member fell into a crevasse less than 400m from the summit.

Last year Polish explorer Bartek Tofel travelled by both horse and donkey past Lake Chaqmaqtin and the Kohe Aq Su Range to the furthest point east in the Corridor, the Tegeman Su Valley, the triple border point of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China.

Although he'd hoped to ascend one of the many virgin peaks, he was only able to photograph the mountains for a future climbing expedition. In these easterly ranges Tofel reports that more than 400 peaks above 5,000m still await first ascents.

The photo shows Suzy Madge (left) and Anna Torretta close to Sarad-e-Boroghil, with Koh-i-Susanna behind.



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