ASCENT OF NOSHAQ
DR. YAJIRO SAKATO
The Academic Alpine Club of Kyoto (A.A.C.K.), which succeeded in the first ascent of Chogolisa
in 1958, planned to make a scientific and mountaineering study in the Afghan Pamir in 1960. Favoured with the support of H.E. Dr. Majid, Royal Afghan Ambassador in Japan, it was decided to send a party to make biological and geological surveys in the valley of the Wakhan, or the upper Oxus, and to try to discover a possible way to the summit of Peak Noshaq (7,490 m.) in the Hindu Kush range.
The party members were as follows: Dr. Riozo Yosii, biologist, age 46; Dr. Hideho Sawata, geologist, age 43; Yukiharu Hirose, engineer, age 30; Toshiaki Sakai, post-graduate student of geography, age 28; Goro Iwatsubo, post-graduate student of forestry, age 26; and myself, Dr. Yajiro Sakato, biologist, age 54, being the leader of the party.
As soon as our party reached Kabul in the beginning of June, 1960, we commenced negotiations with the Afghanistan Government authorities, applying for a permit to travel through the Wakhan and the attempt of Noshaq. Though some 20 days were spent in the negotiations and arrangements, we could not get the permit to the planned project and finally we had to reduce our project to a great degree, satisfying ourselves with the climbing of Noshaq and scientific work in the adjacent regions.
A Danish officer O. Olufsen, who explored the Pamirs in 1896- 99, mentions a peak Nushau (7,460 m.) of the Hindu Kush range, and Mr. H. W. Tilman, who travelled down the Wakhan in 1947, gives no description at all of the mountain, and in the report of the Norwegian Tirich Mir Expedition4
of 1950 there can be seen no reference to Noshaq, which was only some 12 miles to the north of their objective. The only material that we could gather of the mountain before our departure was a photograph of mountain panorama5
taken from the summit of Buni Zom, showing a snow- white pyramid seen at a great distance, which was hardly useful from the viewpoint of mountain climbing. Leaving Kabul on July 1st, the party proceeded by jeep to Faizabad, the capital of Badak- shan, and to Borak, and after some difficulties in the course of the way along the swollen Kokcha river, we arrived at Ishkashim on the upper Oxus or the Ab-i-Panja on July 14th. Then we went by caravan of horses and donkeys along the Ab-i-Panja, a troop of some dozen soldiers of the Ishkashim garrison accompanying us. After a camp at the village of Qazi Deh, where the Qazi Deh river joins the Ab-i-Panja from the south, on July 17th the caravan ascended the Qazi Deh river up to the confluence of an eastern tributary, the Mandalaz by name, where Base Camp was built on a small river terrace at an altitude of 3,080 m. Up to there, we could tread on the foot-path on the right bank of the Qazi Deh, but the stream of the Mandalaz was swift and violent enough to stop our caravan going further.
Next day the way up the main Qazi Deh valley was reconnoitred as high as about 3,900 m., where a suitable camp site was found on the right bank of a glacier, the snout of which comes down to about 3,500 m., filling the whole valley with a mass of black wastes of slate. We named it the Qazi Deh glacier. The next day was spent in building a small bridge of slender willow trees across the Mandalaz.
On July 21st, Hirose, Sakai and Iwatsubo ascended the valley with eight coolies and pitched Camp 1 at an altitude of 3,800 m. They made a reconnaissance on the glacier next day. Going up on the small right abrasion valley or on the marginal moraine they reached a point at about 4,600 m., where the glacier after bending its direction to the south-east was joined by a branch from the north, in front a massive mountain of rock and snow towering nearly 3,000 m. above them. They called this the fore-peak and the summit of Noshaq seemed to be hidden by this gigantic fore- peak. The head of the northern branch glacier is encircled by a precipitous wall hanging from the lofty ridge which runs from the fore-peak to the north, while the main glacier still extends to the east between the southern slope of the fore-peak and the knife- edge of the main Hindu Kush range. According to the quarter inch map (No. 37P) of the Survey of India a long strip of snowfield seems to lie at the source of the glacier. A site for Camp 2 was found close by a small pool of clear water on the moraine- covered glacier, at a height of 4,500 m.
After a pause at Camp 1, Sakai and Iwatsubo built Camp 2 with the help of two porters on the 24th and next day they went up the glacier to reconnoitre and reached a height of 5,300 m. After the second northern branch, the main glacier becomes steeper and free from wastes of black moraine but in parts very troublesome snow made a little dangerous by a network of crevasses. It provides a rather easy way on the whole. A little farther up the glacier seemed to be narrowed to a neck about 100 m. in width. They suffered from headaches and could not ascend high enough to look into a sanctuary which was supposed to lie beyond the neck.
It was not until August 6th that the next climbing commenced, for one of us had caught a serious cold and had to stay at Base Camp, while Sawata and I went down to Ishkashim to get a permit for photography in the mountain area, which had been strictly prohibited by the Commissioner at Ishkashim because it was the frontier region. In the meantime, Sakai and Iwatsubo went up the Mandalaz river to a height of 4,200 m., and on another day Yosii and Sakai reconnoitred a western branch of the glacier and reached a col at its head, c. 5,000 m., on the side ridge separating the Qazi Deh glacier from the glacier sources of the Wakhan Gol river.
Hardly had Sawata and I returned to Base Camp on August 5th when the Polish mountaineering party reached there. We were very surprised to hear that the aim of the party was the same as ours and that they had been afraid that the peak was already trodden by us.
Sakai and Iwatsubo went up to Camp 2 on August 7th. Next day they ascended the glacier as high as about 5,500 m., finding a camp site on the snow slope just beyond the neck of the glacier. A little farther up there seemed to be a snow col at the head and the actual topography differs considerably from that shown on the quarter inch map. To the south a gigantic ice cornice hangs from the rocky ridge of the main range and to the north falling stones were threatening on the steep flank of the side ridge separating the main glacier from a branch that joins some 2 miles from Camp 2.
They returned to Camp 2 when Yosii reached there with three selected porters. On the 9th, Sakai and Iwatsubo built Camp 3 and porters worked in bringing up equipment and food necessary for the higher camps. Next day a porter alone came up again, the rest did not venture to bring luggage on the snow slope, while the two members took a rest at Camp 3. Next day was spent in reconnoitring the way further up. The col was reached in one and a half hours, where they could get a good view of the mountain ranges from Istor-Nal to Tirich Mir, 7,700 m., and below the great expanse of ice of the Atrak glacier. A steep slope of wind-crusted snow leads to a narrow rocky ridge coming down from the southern flank of the fore-peak, at the junction point of which is a steep rocky ridge about 600 m. in height, which has to be scaled before one gets to the fore-peak itself. Rarity of oxygen and headaches compelled them to turn back at the height of about 6,500 m. and they returned to Camp 2 in the evening.
The following two days were spent resting at Camp 2, the advance base for the climbing. In the meantime, Mr. Schwashinsky, leader of the Polish team, visited our Camp 2 and talked about the possibility of a joint attack of the Polish-Japanese members. Since their arrival at the mountain foot was some twenty days later than ours, neither were their encampments yet completed nor was acclimatization acquired by their members. We had only two members who were able to attempt the summit assault and could not wait for too many days, so the project of a joint attack was given up and we were to make the attempt alone.
On August 17th, Sakai and Iwatsubo started from Camp 4 at 5-30 a.m., the weather being fine with a slight wind. Roped up with 20 m. of rope, they reached the base of the rocky ridge in an hour and without any difficulty got to the snow col. A rucksack, burner set and some provisions were left there. It took about 5 hours to climb the rest of the ridge, '400 m. in height, consisting of unsound rock, crusted snow and in parts soft snow. It was 1-30 p.m. when they reached the upper end of the ridge, and before them there stretched a vast snow-field at the head of a small glacier which hangs down to the south-east. The top of the fore-peak still towered above them and the summit of Noshaq was visible beyond the snow summit ridge which runs from the fore-peak to the north-east. There are two side ridges from the summit ridge. They decided to climb the eastern and longer one. Traversing obliquely on the soft snow was laborious work and it took a long time to get to the base of the ridge. They were affected by rarity of oxygen and had to rest every 50 paces. At 5 p.m. they reached the summit ridge. The summit of Noshaq seemed to be a hill of brown wastes about 400 m. away and 150 m. high. It was just 6 p.m. when they stood on the highest point of the mountain and they left a pair of small wood-cut dolls as a monument. In the faint sunlight they took some photographs. Summits of Tirich Mir and Istor-o-Nal were seen floating on a sea of dark clouds. The northern side of the summit forms a formidable precipice of more than 3,000 m., directly down to the surface of the Atrak glacier far below.
After 30 minutes' stay, they commenced returning and hurried down to camp. While they were descending the head of the small glacier with the help of a torch, one of them broke through a thinly- snow-covered crevasse. They decided to pass the night in the crevasse for they discovered that it provided a suitable snow shelter for the purpose. It was 8 p.m.
They started early next morning and safely returned to Camp 4 at 11 a.m., and on August 19th came down to Camp 2 where the rest of the party had been waiting.
Leaving Base Camp on August 24th, the party came back to Ishkashim and returned to Borak on September 4th. After visiting Lake Shiwa, the famous grazing ground of the Afghan nomads, the party reached Kabul on September 19th.
(Later we heard that eight members of the Polish team succeeded in the ascent of Noshaq about 10 days later than we, and discovered our wood-cut dolls.)
Information on Alpine flora of the Hindu Kush and Karakoram Mountains in Afghanistan is given in'the review of the 'FLORA OF AFGHANISTAN'
published in this volume.-Editor.