10/08/2018

Publication Trekking in Tajikistan by Cicerone Press planned in November 2018





On November 15th 2018 publication is planned for the very first printed edition of the guidebook Trekking in Tajikistan. This project is coming to a full circle after 9 years of making the decision to dedicate my time to promote trekking in the mountains of Tajikistan. I teamed up with Christine Oriol, who is one of the trainers and co-founders of Women Rockin' Pamirs, to turn the earlier published PDF into a real comprehensive trekking guide. It will be published by renowned UK publisher Cicerone Press, known for their outdoor guides and particularly walking guides. The cooperation has been great and I'm looking forward to show this labour of love to the world. Pre-orders can already be made on Amazon. I will keep selling my PDF until November 1st for those who still plan some hiking adventures this year.

25/05/2018

Women Rockin' Pamirs launch new website



Women Rockin' Pamirs is a great initiative that aims to train Pamiri women to become a trekking guide in their home mountains, the Tajik Pamirs. This month they have launched a new website full of information about the project. They have also started advertising two exciting new trekking expeditions, guided exclusively by female Pamiri guides who have completed their training. Some of them have already worked on high profile adventures, such as guiding National Geographic explorer Paul Salopek on his Tajikistan stretch of the Out of Eden walk.

02/11/2016

New Pamir trekking route: Bulunkul - Bardara

In 2012 I did a loop in the Southern Pamirs around Bachor, passing some amazing alpine lakes. In the late summer of 2016 I came back to the same area, this time to guide a group of trekkers. The route would be linear rather than circular and I had a feeling this route could be a world class adventure.

After a brilliant detour through the Shakhdara Valley our jeeps crossed the Koitezek Pass, the highest point on the Pamir Highway and the regional border between the Khorog and the Murghab administrations. A couple of hours later we arrived at the starting point of our trek, Bulunkul at around 3750m. This village is said to be the coldest inhabitable place in Central Asia (once the mercury plummeted down to minus 63 Celsius!!). The dusty hamlet has two home stays and a few yurts to stay at and a couple of shops where basic supplies can be bought.

The following day we hit the easy trail towards Sumantash, a historical site with an ancient caravanserai and a shrine. After three hours we arrived at Sumantash, although to our surprise we first had to wade the Alichur river. In September the water levels are usually at the lowest, not this time! We ferried all equipment across and decided to set up camp. It is possible to push on a couple of hours more for another good camp spot at Marjanay, later more about this.



View from a ridge near the camp spot at Sumantash

Day 2: From Sumantash we follow the dirt track that runs parallel to the north shore of Yashilkul, a beautiful and fairly large lake (4th largest lake in Tajikistan). We plan a lunch break at the Marjanay Valley, a wide typical Pamir valley with good water sources and camp grounds. Higher up the valley you can find pre-historic stone circles. After crossing the Marjanay River (you probably have to wade it in summer) we rejoin the route which is now a  well-worn walking path. It almost touches the chilly waters of Yashilkul. Just before our second camp we have to overcome a small cliff. The sections to overcome the steeper parts of the cliff are a bit technical but it's clear where to go. After a final climb we can see the stream where we will camp at. But we first have to wade through the ice cold water. We set up camp on the sandy part which is basically on an island in the small delta. The soil on the far end of the delta is all wet (and likely to be all trekking season).




Trying to find the shallowest part of the stream to reach camp 2

First thing in the morning we have to find the shallowest part of the stream, which isn't easy. Walk a few minutes upstream where the stream bends left (going up). Right at the end of the bend you start wading, walking downstream on a shallow part of the stream bottom. Gradually you traverse to the other side. The water is cold. Good luck! Once you've done the crossing it's easy cruising to the end of Yashilkul. Approximately one kilometre before the natural dam there is an excellent camp spot that shepherds use. Shortly after this point we start the climb to a small pass that leads us to the Langar Valley. We pitch our tents at 3960m where we have stunning views of the Shugnan Range in the south.



Trekkers heading up the small pass that is the gateway to Langar Valley

The next day we aim for the Langar Pass (4630m). The climb is gradual while staying on the true left (so right as you go up) side of the river. Every now and then there are little stone markers along the trail. As we approach the pass the trail sometimes fades away to appear again a few hundred metres further. On your left you can see some stunning icy peaks of over 5000 metres. After reaching the pass we descend to our next camp at 4570m on the shores of the little turquoise lake, just below the pass. The ground and water sources are not great but the views are absolutely amazing and the tents are in the sun for a large part of the day. If you still have some energy left you could go for the 3 hour return side trip to Chapdar Kul.



Our camp just below the Langar Pass

We are leaving camp with the prospect of thicker air. First we drop 200 vertical metres on our way to Uchkul, a series of three amazing lakes with the glaciated peak of Mt Kulin in the distance. We pass a massive herd of yaks, who are apparently owned by our local guide Aliq. We revisit the family I met in 2012 and they treat us to a lovely lunch of fresh yoghurt and bread. It's good to hear that the eldest son has been accepted for an education program funded by the Aga Khan Foundation. After lunch we continue walking towards the end of Uchkul where we descend a further 150 metres towards the confluence of several rivers that drain into Lake Sarez. We set up camp near another shepherds settlement.



Crossing a typical Pamiri bridge

The following morning we're moving on in the direction of our highlight of this trek. The magical Zarojkul. An easy climb takes us to a series of four alpine lakes, each of them different in colour and located in a different landscape. It takes four hours to reach Zarojkul. What a place! We are treated to snowy showers, which adds drama to the place. This will be our base for the next two days, to rest and explore the direct surroundings.



Zarojkul in all its glory. Yes, that's the real colour!




Trekkers taking in the view of a 6000m+ peak soaring above Zarojkul

To see Zarojkul at its best, try to hike up a high point so you can see it from above. A whole different perspective!

After a few days enjoying Zarojkul we geared up for the toughest day of the trek. The crossing of the 4840m Shtik Lazar pass. We backtrack our footsteps for half an hour to the foot of the pass. A steep, rocky path zigzags up the narrow valley on the left. After an hour we reach the glacier that covers Shtik Lazar. In September there is no snow, there will be in early trekking season. Crampons and axe are not required in our case, but this might be the case in other months. We keep to the right, avoiding the big crevasses that are clearly visible. The actual highest point of Shtik Lazar is just after the glacier on the moraines. The descent to the Bardara Valley is long and the walking is hard-going. Lots of loose scree, steep angles and slippery slopes. Despite this don't forget to look around! Impressive hanging glaciers and mountain faces make the trip a bit more bearable. As we finally reach the Bardara valley we cross the river (wading, this could be deep in early season) and head downstream where you can find several campsites within a couple of kilometres.



Crossing the Bardara River. From here it's down!

The walk from the top of the Bardara Valley to the village of Bardrara is long (20km) but lovely. There is only one river crossing and it's the deepest one on the trek. You might end up walking upstream to find a suitable place to cross. We used donkeys for the crossing.

Gradually trees appear in the landscape and cultivated land. When we approach Bardara it feels like we enter Shangri-La. It's such a peaceful place. We could stick around for a while!

This trip was organised by UK based Untamed Borders.


17/07/2016

Help Pamiri women to become a trekking guide in the Pamirs!

This summer of 2016 five Pamiri women will be trained as a trekking guide, so they can start a professional career guiding visitors the mountains they grew up in. Support this amazing initiative, by donating but also by asking for female guides when you plan a trek in the Pamirs. Donations can be made through their crowd funding page.


07/06/2016

Fundraiser for new bridge in Bachor region

Earlier this year the bridge that connects Yashilkul and Zarojkul with the beautiful Pamiri village of Bachor was washed away by the Andaravj River. Our friends in Bachor who organise treks in this area, are raising funds to get the bridge repaired. If you have some cash to spare and want to keep the trekking route between these key places open, please go the this page and make a small donation to this great cause. Thanks! Below is the bridge we're talking about.


28/07/2015

The Fann Mountains revisited



View of Alaudin Lakes from Alaudin Pass

Three years ago I traversed the Fann Mountains with my friend Pete. Now, at the start of the summer 2015 I’m back with our mutual friends, Clare and Jerome. Inspired by the photos we had taken in 2012 Clare decided the Tajik mountains was a good place to celebrate her 50th birthday.

Upon arrival there was something strange going on. Instead of forming a half moon shaped line in the tiny and chaotic arrival hall, we entered a bright lit, shiny and swanky terminal. Was this really Dushanbe Airport? Although it used to be mahem I kind of miss it…

After a day of adjusting to the heat and general acclimatising in Dushanbe we were headed for Penjikent. Umed Ashurov, our host, warned us about road works en route. It may take a bit longer. The first infrastructural hurdle is the infamous Anzob Tunnel. We entered the tunnel and came to a stand still somewhere half way. It didn’t look very promising. Two lorries were unable to pass each other. For one hour nothing happened. Than things started stirring, with workers and a police man agressively trying to demand cars to reverse. Long story short, after 2.5 hours and being high on exhaust fumes, we managed to leave the 5km tunnel. I’m sure this event took at least a year from my life (so if I die at 97 instead of 98 you know why!). There was another less significant hold up as they were welding a bridge over the mighty Zerafshan River (probably a good thing to let them do their job properly). After nine exhausting hours we received a warm welcome at Umed’s family residence in Penjikent.



Stuck in the Anzob Tunnel, not the healthiest place on the planet…

We planned a six day trek through the heart of the Fann Mountains, doing the Lakes Loop trek with an extension to Chukurak and finishing at the village of Zimtud. We spent the first night in the rather bombastic Soviet era mountain hut near Artush village. Here we met our entourage, who would spend the next six days with us. Our local guide and translator Dovood appeared to be a very chatty guy. We were all itching to hit the trail. The first stage involved a 700m climb up the biggest lake in the Fann Mountains, Kulikalon. It became painfully clear that some acclimatisation was needed. Though technically easy, the trail is pretty steep at times. After three hours of hard work we reached Kulikalon. The backdrop of the peak named “Maria” (after a Russian female climber who fell of the 1500m high north face) makes this place probably one of the most spectacular camp spots in Central Asia. The first true challenge was scaling the 3780m high Alaudin Pass. The combination altitude, bad stomach and 1000 vertical metres made this climb for Jerome a true ordeal. But he summited and a few tears were shed by seeing the unbelievable blue-green colours of the Alaudin Lakes. Down hill might have been even tougher than uphill. Steep scree battered the knees and mental energy. The intimidating echoes of the thunder storm made us duck for cover every time. Knackered we entered our camp on the shores of Alaudin Lake.




Stunning views on Maria Peak, en route to the Alaudin Pass

The third day was meant to be a resting day. But we found this beautiful objective, visible from the west shore of Alaudin Lake. On the north face of Chapdara mountain we could see a massive hanging glacier glued on the vertical wall. I had been there in 2010 and knew you could get really close to it. So off we went, struggling up this steep grassy slope. The terrain changed to scree and as we approached the snout of the glacier we had to climb up the moraines. Hard work but absolutely worth the effort. On our way back we managed to squeeze in a little bouldering session. The juniper forest around Alaudin almost looks like a bonzai garden. Very surreal. At day four we were heading back into western direction, trying to tackle the 3680m high Laudan Pass. After the Russian climbing camp we found the trail zigzagging up through the juniper forest. Above the tree line we were yet treated by a friendly looking landscape. The mountains here had a green, lush carpet of grass.



Clare at the snout of the tumbling glacier off Chapdara Mountain

After a false summit, Laudan Pass was finally visible. After two days we were descending back to Kulikalon, this time we planned to camp on the other side towards the Zierat Pass. We found a green little island in Kulikalon with a small stone causeway leading to it. Just as we had set up the tent it started pissing down with rain. This was basically the story every day. But somehow we managed to dodge the at times heavy showers by finding a cave or setting up camp in the nick of time. The Zierat Pass looked a bit daunting with no obvious trail and its steep slopes. From all the passes this was probably, at least psychologically, the toughest. Steep and monotonous. The other side is more interesting with a shallow green lake (Zierat Lake) and down to the fantastic Chukurak Lake. The latter is actually just 30 minutes up from the Alplager mountain hut. The hard way is better though!



The last high pass, the 3340m Zierat Pass. Hard work!

Unfortunately it was Clare's turn for violent sickness. With just one day to go it became unsure whether we could complete the trek to Zimtud. The 6th and last day we gave it a go, Jerome and I by foot and Clare on a donkey. Although she was still feeling weak and ill we managed to reach Zimtud, via the village Guitan where we were invited for a generous lunch by our donkey manager Hikmet.



Alaudin Lake

14/12/2014

Guidebook Trekking in Tajikistan available!




3 years, 693km of trails, more than 28,000 altimetres of ascent and many, many hours of writing and editing it's finally ready: the very first guidebook dedicated entirely to trekking in Tajikistan. The book describes 8 treks in the North of Tajikistan as well as The Pamirs, plus a 12-day trek in the Afghan Wakhan Corridor. Each trek is illustrated with easy to read maps, inspiring photography and detailed trail info. And of course it includes information how to get to the trailheads, what to think of when you organise a trek in Tajikistan and which organisation can help you further. This book does not describe general information about Tajikistan. If you want to know which hotel to choose in Dushanbe or background information on caravanserais of the Wakhan I advise to buy a general guidebook. To preview the book go to the Order Guidebook page or click on the photo above. The book is not in print yet, I am looking for a publisher to get it on the shelves. On the Order Guidebook page you can get the book in PDF (€6), handy for tablet/smart phone use.