the area is quite isolated from Taliban areas. Moreover, Wakan is populated by Ismaili people that are in general against Taliban. Biggest threat is that you will be looted by local service provider. But we will get to it later. Well, that’s not only threat, that’s certain.
Compare to standard 7k peaks where you can get nice service in BC you will be facing some more challenges. First and biggest challenge is logistic. Second is security. A yes, and actually last, but not least problem will be climbing the peak.
Before getting to Afghanistan
There are several things that you should not forget. First are VISAs. Remember that you would like to return back to the Tajikistan, thus you will need double entry to avoid ending stuck in Afghanistan. Second, beside your good climbing gear that you can’t rent in Afghanistan you will need to get propane-butane mix. And this could be a problem as it can’t be carried in plane and it’s not easy to get in Dushanbe. You can get butane cartridges, but butane has problem to ignite and burn below 5 degrees. And you should expect up to -18 in Noshaq. In worst case you can heat butane cartridges in your sleeping bag, that will give you 10 minutes of burning your Reactor or other fast boiling device. Second option is, that you can get propane-butane mix but in funny cartridges that you need to impale and I have no idea who is using it. You can buy also burner at the same market place, but they are poor quality, often does not work and boiling time is far from Reactor or other fast boiling device. Also its very handy if you are bigger group to obtain 10l gas tanks with stove. It’s much more convenient to cook for more people on normal stove then small outdoor flames. They are cheap, approximately 15$ including gas. One set weight 8kg, but it’s worth to transport and have them in BC. Good idea is to get Tajik prepaid SIM. It’s cheap and most of the people you will be interacting in Afghanistan are using Tajik cells as well.
Getting to Afghanistan
First of all, the best way hot to get to the Hindu Kush is through Dushanbe. Please, do not try from Kabul, that would raise even mine eyebrow. Tajiks are very friendly and honest people, unfortunately you can’t say the same about state employees that are hyper corrupted and ask for bribes in every occasion. And if there is no occasion they will create one. Your car will be stopped several times per day and police will not even bother to make some reason for bribe. They will simple tell your driver the price. Good news is, that they are asking for 5 or 10 Somoni, that is about 1$. Other favorite is to hunt tourist at night in Dushanbe and trying to get passport from them under some reason and get them to the police station. Best protection is to keep just copy of your passport with you. Anyway I strongly encourage everyone not to pay for several moral and harming reasons.
But beside that the Tajiks are really honest nation. You will be charged the same prices as locals with the same level of service.
Best way to get to the Afghanistan is by rented 4x4. Big car that can take up to 7 passengers and about 300kg of climbing material. It will cost around 800$ one way. Small car that will take 4 passengers will cost around 450$. Very reputable operator that can arrange all for you is Silk Pamir Travel (+992) 98 562 49 00 or email@example.com. They speak very good English, are very helpful and can arrange really everything.
Trip takes 2 days on poor, but exciting roads of Pamir highway. My recommendation is to sleep at half way, otherwise you will arrive wasted and missing strength for BC walk. Sleep cost from 1$ to 15$ in modest facilities.
Right point to cross the borders is in Iskhashim. Beware that borders are open Monday to Thursday from 9 to 12:00 and then from 14:00 to 16:00. The times are not sharp and can vary +- 30 minutes. Tajik side is not a problem, but once you leave Tajikistan, you will become one big rich wallet for locals that has strong communistic habits of fair distribution of wealth. It starts at borders where tourists are often asked for extra “fee” around 20$ to be let to Afghanistan. I strongly discourage to pay those illegal fees and complain. Second cheat is that border police will force you to use TAXI they call you that will charge you between 20$ to 80$ to Iskhashim for approximately 8km. Tourist are facing similar looting treatment everywhere. Best is to have already organized transportation to Iskhasihim and also to Qazideh that is starting point to Noshaq BC trek. Transportation can be organized by Silk Pamir Travel as well or by local provider Yormohmammada +992501866930. Problem is, that local providers are very often overcharging. Its normal, that tourist are asked to pay 400$ for 20km return trip by van. Always ask for prices ahead and always argue to pay fair price.
In Iskashim you need to get several permissions where some paperwork must be done. Its registration with police, some permission with border police and Wakan permit. All permissions are for free. You can arrange them by yourself, but it could cost you up to 2 days. Easier way is to let do all paperwork to your guide, for example Yormohmammada. He will charge you 30$ per person but I think it’s worth the time.
In Iskhashim are two guesthouses. First is famous Wafai guesthouse with long history and charge 25$ per night including dinner and breakfast. We have not tried second guesthouse, but price supposed to be 35$ per night. In Wafai guesthouse food seems nice, but beware of meat that could be poisonous and could make you very bad times in Afghanistan. It’s simply due to lack of electricity and there are no options to store meat fresh. BTW, electricity is donated by Tajikistan for 2 hours per day, so you need to plan and best to charge all your devices before getting from Tajikistan. Solar charger is good option as well.
Secondary, even every provider seems very friendly be careful with overcharging. Simply everybody will be trying to rip you off. Always ask for prices ahead.
Second option is if you already have permits ahead to pass Iskhashim and go straight to Qazideh, that is starting point for trek. There is only one guest house with modest food for 25$ per night including breakfast and dinner as well. Transportation between Iskhashim and Qazideh should cost maximum 50$ for standard sedan.
Guest house in Qasideh
Getting to BC
Trek start in Qasideh as was mentioned. Most of the expedition will need porter service. This can be arranged straight in the village. All is under control of tribe elder, something like village major. Porters rely on his decision. This service is still developing and in 2016 they were not clear about prices and how to charge. They are charging 20$ per day for transporting 21kg. We tried to give them advice to charge per load, and we hope they will follow our advice. Thus, count 60$ for delivering 21kg to base camp.
Its good idea also to hire Azamat +992501263357 who can speak decent English and can help a lot to solve communication problems. In general, I recommend to get in touch with him. He is not the best organizer, but he is definitely the most honest local and can be very helpful. He charges the same 20$ per day.
Trek to Noshaq BC
The trek is 37km and standardly takes 3 days and two nights. You should not rush it, because its big step to ascend to 4600m in less than two nights and can develop high altitude sickness. Porters has their own food and very modest sleeping blankets. It may happen, that during rain you will need to help them to accommodate them in your tents. They also can have problem with altitude and you should have medicine against headache for them as well. Very important note, there are unmarked mine fields. They are close to first camping spot, but could be also in other places. So first 15 km its safer to stay close to the path. Locals has good knowledge where the fields are located.
Trek is nice, smooth on rock moraine with not much surprises. There are plenty spots for camping on the way. Just first has problem with water that can be quite polluted and looks like coffee. Thus it’s good to have filter. Or get used to it J
On 3rd day before the noon you should reach BC.
Base camp is already located in quite hostile nature. There are only stones, dust and wind. Air is so dry and dusty that your mucous will be quite destroyed that cleaning your nose from blood will become standard. Ouch, and Jackdaws. It’s important to hide and secure all food and trash. Best is to secure everything because they are curious and stealing also other material. In BC are spots for tent and some provisional buildings made out of stones. They serve as kitchen or wind barrier for your tent. There are also build two latrines on side of the camp. Water is on upper side of the camp. I constructed there a natural water purifier, so enjoy.
Weather is stable with small surprises. If it’s not snowing at morning, then most probably before the noon will remain sunny. Very likely afternoon will be cloudy and could snow. So the best when to start climb is very early morning and finish till 14:00.
From BC you need to walk approximate an hour below the wall. Climb start with 1000m high and narrow couloir. There is threat of falling stones so beware and if possible, wear helmet. Despite that on photo couloir looks steep, it’s easy to climb with crampons. At the end of the couloir at 5400m is C1 plateau. Very nice place with show to melt.
Couloir from BC to C1
From there the climb is straight up again that is mostly steep snow walk with several places for camp. One, C2- with small water reservoir is at 6000. Official C2 camp is at 6200. Both are very good because they are protecting behind the stone wall against the wind that can be very strong. You can expect very pleasant temperature for 7k peak. During day it could be nice up to 25 and when its cloudy its between 5 and -5. At night temperature is around -10, but in C3 it can drop to -17.
From C2 to C3 the walk is same boring on snow fields occasionally around stone piles. C3 is just below the main stone wall that is needed to be climbed. C3 is at 6900 and by our co-climbers named most terrible place due to the wind. They favoured more C4 just above the wall. There are two routes how to climb the wall, from left or right. Most of the people who climbed through right claim that next time they would definitely go for left route. Our group climbed right route that has difficulty approximately 3+. For decent rock climber no fixed ropes are needed. But, it’s good to have some for rappelling on the way back. Once you reach top of the rock its needed to walk last 1000m on the ridge to reach the summit. Last walk can be difficult to walk in deep snow.
Standard time to reach summit is around 20 days since arriving to BC. Guys from our group succeeded in 11 days, so some shortcuts are possible.
Descending is fast. It’s possible to reach summit and get to BC in one day, but it’s safer to spend night in C1. You should have sat phone to arrange porters for return trip. They should charge 40$ per 21kg. Just be careful, because they are not skilled to count how much time it will take them to get to the BC to collect your luggage. So make reserve. It’s possible to reach Qazideh in one day, but to make it convenient it’s good to sleep in lower camp and arrive next day.
On the way back should be no surprises compare to transport from Dushanbe except Dushanbe airport. It’s one of the messiest, most corrupted and disorganized airport you ever been. It’s good to come 3 hours before the flight. There is custom check before the onboard who are looking to steal stuff from you or get bribe. Simply they will harass you because of expensive stuff you have either expecting bribe or seizure. Thus is better to go light with on board luggage and arm with a lot of patience.
Afghanistan is very rough country with even more hostile nature. Services are developing and ripping of tourist is standard. But If you want to have exceptional experience to climb one of a kind 7k peak by pure style as first climbers in previous century, then Noshaq is definitely very good choice.