Noshaq, a mythical peak, forgotten because of the war

Noshaq is Afghanistan’s highest mountain, soaring at 7 492 meters. Its name is pronounced «Nowshar» by the Afghans, which means «nine valleys» in Dari. Located in the Hindu Kush range, on the Afghan-Pakistan border, it opens the way to the Wakhan corridor, in the north-eastern part of the country. It is the second highest peak of the Hindu Kush, right after the Tirich Mir, in Pakistan. The Hindu Kush is the moutain range that marks the eastern frontier of the Himalayan chain.

Noshaq is hidden at the end of a large valley, and is hidden to those who wander on the Wakhan corridor. The 6 000 meter high peaks surrounding it may be abrupt, light and elegant, Noshaq, on the other hand, crushes everything with its impressive mass. Its southern slope is a gigantic glaciar face, with a 40° slope. Its western face is a flow of dodgy rocks. In between : the western CREST. It winds for kilometers, and boasts a gradient of almost 3 000 meters. It’s the regular route.

The first ascent was cleared in 1960 by a Japanese expedition (Toshiaki Sakai and Goro Iwatsubo), via the southern ridge. A half-dozen other trails have been cleared in between 1963 and 1978, all from the Afghan side. The first winter ascent was cleared in 1973, by Tadeusz Piotrowski and Andrzej Zawada, both from Poland. Temperatures fell below -40°C ! It was the first winter ascent of a peak of over 7 000 meters. The Pakistani face remains untouched.

This peak, at the western frontier of the Himalayan mountains, was very popular amongst mountain climbers from all over the world, in the 1960s and 70s. But it was entirely deserted in 1979, the year the Red Army invaded Afghanistan, and began a quarter century of conflict in the country. After the Soviet invasion, not a single expedition was organised, up until 2003. Forgotten for 25 long years, Noshaq isn’t as simple as it was at the end of the 70s, when a confortable trail lead nearly to the top. Lindsay Griffin, editor in chief of the monthly british publication High Magazine, was one of the last westerners to hike up Noshaq before 1979. «The regular path was a simple hike up until 6 600 meters, then a steeper hike through rocks, up until the western peak(...) if this peak had been located in an accessible region, it would have certainly become one of the world’s most popular 7 000 meter peaks for commercial expeditions.»

Although dozens of himalayists have managed to go up Noshaq since the 1960s, no Afghan national has ever managed to reach the top. An anomaly that the «Afghans to the Top» expedition hopes to make up for!

Chronology: The mountaineers’ Noshaq

• 1929 - topographic exploration of the Hindu Kush by the British.
• 1960 - First ascent of Noshaq by a Japanese expedition.
• 1963 - Austrians make way for a new trail on the western ridge that then became the regular route. They then managed the first trip to all four summits of Noshaq.
• From 1964 to 1979 - Around thirty expeditions took place, mostly on the western ridge, but half a dozen other trails were cleared, all taking off from the Afghan side.
• 1971 - A bulgarian expedition fails to make it. Five die during the attempt.
• 1973 - Noshaq is one of the first himalayan peaks to be climbed in the wintertime.
• December 1979 - The Red Army’s invasion of Afghanistan puts an end to all expeditions.
• July 2003 - «Oxus, Mountains for Peace», of the Mountain Wilderness International is the first ascent of Noshaq, after 24 years.
• July 2009 - «The Afghans to the top» expedition

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