THE SOLOTHURNER HINDU KUSH EXPEDITION, 1973
Members: Otto Zbinden (leader), Mr. Max Dorfliger, Albert Fellinger, Peter Kummli, Ernst Wahl, Viktor Durst, Joseph Henkel, Oswald Gassier and Roland Geis- buhler.
Summary: i) Depart Zurich by air 8-7-73 - arrive Kabul 9-7-73.
ii) Drive from Kabul (11-7-73) over the new asphalted road over Salang pass (3300 m.) via Doshi - Puli Khumri - Aliabaci to Kunduz (1st day).
iii) From Kunduz drive on very bad roads via Dalo- kan - Kesham - Faizabad - Baharak - Ishka- shim (entrance to Wakhan) - Futur - Qasi-Deh - Wark - to Langar (in 4 days) .
iv) 17-7-73 - ascend to Camp (c. 3500 m.) 18-7-73 - ascend to B.C. (4000 m.)
20- 7-73 - establish Advance B.C.
21- 7-73 - ascend to Camp I on the ridge (5300 m.).
22- 7-73 - ascend to Camp II on the ridge (6000 m.).
25- 7-73 - establish Camp III (6500 m.)
26- 7-73 - 1st ascent by the north-west flank of Languta-i-Barfi (7017 m.) (Zbinden, Kummli, Henkel and Wahl).
28-7-73 - Repeat ascent of Languta (Fellinger, Durst and Gassier).
30-7-73 - Henkel and Kummli attempt Langar Zom but discontinue on 1-8-73 due to lack of time.
4-8-73 - Return to Kabul.
WE proceed towards the Salang pass. We leave the valley, drive through a rocky gorge. Through a tunnel we reach the pass at a height of 3600 m. Upto Kunduz (333 m. from Kabul) the road is asphalted. Now we proceed on a unusuable dusty track. Its even worse than we expected every 50-100 m. a little rivulet crosses the road. We reach Taleqan at midnight. We camp on the grounds of the Spinzar Hotel.
The water tank of the lorry leaks and has to be repaired. Thus we only leave at 11 a.m. About 20 km from Taleqan we rest in a tea house so as to avoid the immense heat.
At 15-00 hrs. we start and have a puncture after 5 mins - some repair is needed to the lorry. It transpires that the mechanic from the Transport Agency has no inkling about motor repairs. We get quite worked up. With such delays our expedition wouldn't finish in six weeks. Of the 400 km of a dustry track we have covered only 100 km. Our interpreter stops a passing car and begs the driver to come to our help. He agrees to come after depositing his passengers to their destination 20 km away. Our interpreter takes from the driver 500 Afghans to ensure that he will return to us. We march back to our Tea House and the landrover tows the lorry.
The landlord of the tea house wants to have a tooth extracted. Max gives him a local and after ten minutes removes the tooth. Soon Max has his hands full of work; patients with boils, eye trouble etc. want to be treated.
As night comes, we worry about that driver. At 23.30 hrs. he comes. We start well after midnight.
Friday, 13 July, we drive the whole night, partly to make up time and partly for its coolness. Through Kalafghan and the Tschenaran pass to Keshem, along the river Darya-e-Kohcha to Faizabad. Bad roads, rain. Before Faizabad, a night in the desert, a rough primitive airport is visible.
At 13-00 hrs. we arrive in Faizabad. Hassan guides us to the only Tourist Lodge on a rock in the middle of the river. Just one room with a table and chairs and lovely Afghan carpets, on which we go to sleep.
Hassan finds the Governor of the Tea House. He has to give us the Wakhan visa. Hassan and Mat talk and urge and beg the Governor who doesn't want to be disturbed. We meet German and Polish expeditions who are also waiting for his valued signature. Eventually we all receive our permits. We can only proceed at 05-00 hrs. the next day, delay due to a landslide on the road that claimed 6 lives last week and the road isn't clear yet.
Faizahad to Vardoj river
By 04.30 hrs. we get ready. Here is the last petrol pump before Wakhan. We fill up petrol in cans. This has to last for the forward and return journeys. By 08-00 hrs. we are on the road. The region of Baharak surprises us with plantations of apricots, pears and apples. It is 12-00 hrs. We eat as much of the fruits as we can because the area before us is dry and scarce of water. We stop at Zebak for tea and apricots. The valley widens to a great plain as the Sanglich valley enters from the right. Zebak is the starting point for the Central Hindu Kush.
Here too little rivulets flow across the road every 50-100 m.; otherwise the road isn't too bad. Before a newly cement bridge we stop. We face the Vardoj river at 2600 m. We camp here overnight.
Early morning we start. After 10 minutes drive we see that the Vardoj river has washed away our road for about a kilometre. This has probably been the condition for years. With difficulty we have to cross rivulets. Already at the first which is about 50 cm. deep, the car conks out. The wheels are deep in the sand. Only the landrover can tow it. At a little distance we see another lorry that has got stuck in a rivulet. We put stones behind the wheels and push. Half the inhabitants help too, the other half stare. After two hours we leave the rivulet and at 11-15 hrs. we reach the Sardab pass (3000 m.).
15 minutes later we reach Ishkashim (2670 m., 102 km. from Baharak) where we show our visas and are told not to take photos of Russia. We proceed along the Oxus (Ab-i-Panja). At last we have reached our valley and here begins the Wakhan, At Futur village we fill our water cannisters with clear water- to last for a long time. At the right bank of the Oxus we enter Wakhan. It is the narrowest part of Afghan territory. To the left of the Oxus lies Russia, and the frontier is clearly marked by posts and wire netting. The 300 km. long valley has no bridge and ends at the Chinese frontier. To the right of Oxus begins the high Hindu Kush whose summit ridge is the frontier of Pakistan. After 10 km. the lorry conks out. Nothing will move it. After 2-1 /2 hrs. the landrover hauls it forward but only upto the next river. Here the current is so strong that we cannot take the risk of towing the lorry across. The mechanic investigates again and soon rectifies the fault and the lorry moves on -we reach Langar, our destination.
We are 40 km. from Ishkashim at 2700 m. From here we will go tomorrow on foot to the Langar valley. Fog and dust descend. We retire early relieved that after these arduous five days of car journey we have reached the starting point of our expedition.
As soon as we arrive, we start negotiations about porters' wages. They demanded the unacceptable and want 800 Afghans. We offer BOO. At last they accept 350, but the head gets 400 per day per load.
Peter wants to make breakfast and wants to fill petrol. The cooker is probably still too hot and the petrol can is on fire. He quickly carries it out of the tent but has then to drop it as the handle is too hot. Fire all round. We pull the burning rucksacks from the fire and remove other items. Fire spreads as petrol flows from the can. We can just about pull away the tent before it goes up in flames. At last Sepp is able to move the can away. The porters shovel sand over it and the fire goes out. Soon thereafter another commotion follows. Victor can't find his purse with the passport and a few thousand Afghans. Befqre the fire he had put it on a tub!
After the first this morning, water gives us some anxiety. Before retiring we had noticed the area between our tents and the stream (some 100 m. distance) could possibly flood. We tried to make a ditch but realised that it wouldn't be enough to absorb the waters. So we built a dam and went to sleep.
Albert checks once more and notice that the water is rising. It is the melting waters from the glacier while we try to deepen the ditch the dam collapses and in a trice tents and all are in water. We rush to carry loads 50 m. away to a dry spot. We leave the tents in their place and sleep in the open. We hope that this is the last unpleasant surprise.
We start at a 9 a.m. halting about every 5 minutes as the loads are 30 kgs. and the sun is strong. By 18-00 hrs. we reach 3500 m. Thus we have climbed today 850 m. and walked 9 km. We camp in a small plain before the tongue of the glacier Sar Shakhaur. Before us is the north wall of Langar, to the left of it towers Shah Dhar. The view overwhelms us.
Max Eiselin writes in his book of the First Swiss Expedition in this region in 1963 at the sight of the Langar-Languta north wall: "After only a few steps we san see the second giant of the Langar valley. Its steep north wall of 3000 m. plunges into the valley. It is one of the most impressive walls I have ever seen. Frozen and snow covered rock, veined with glacier-terraces and icefalls of about 200 m. thickness. Besides, the danger from the ice, it should be difficult to climb. In the thin air and the lack of climbing aids which we have at present times, it would prove quite impossible. Thus we are forced to investigate other valleys; the Langar valley would be suicide".
At 7 a.m. we proceed in the direction of the river. It has knee deep ice cold glacier water-we cross it.
Albert, Sepp and Peter go ahead to search for a place for the Base Camp. At 14-30 hrs. we find a suitable place at 4000 m. The porters are happy; each has earned 800 Afghans in the two days. Max gives them a chit for satisfactory services rendered, which the porters will give to the interpreter Hassan, who has remained at Langar.
From here we can judge the meagre possibilities to reach the summit. Overnight we hear thunderous noises. Ice and stone avalanche had been loosened from the north walls of the Langar and Languta. Realising the dangers, we divided into three groups. Sepp and Roland go along the German route to Langar and plan to bivouac on the edge of the mountain, which is noted in the map of the Polish expedition with a question mark (at about 6000 m.). As Sepp is not feeling well they stay overnight at 5100 m. on the spur. Through radio they suggest that an Advance Base Camp w7
ould have to be erected at 4300 m.
Viktor, Oswald and myself reach the Galati pass and observe that the summit south of the pass cannot be negotiated from the east side. One would have to climb over the summit to reach the German route on the saddle of the Langar fore-summits. The Base Camp could be moved to 4700 m. on the glacier.
The third group, Peter, Albert and Ernst go upto the orographic left arm of the Sar Shakhaur Glacier and disover the possibility to reach Languta over point 6350 m. The Bace Camp could be erected at 4600 m.
In the evening all return to the Base Camp except Sepp and Roland, Peter and Ernst. Over the radio we talk to them. Sepp's stomach has not been O.K. since Kunduz; the height does not agree with Ronald.
Peter and Ernst remain in the Advance Base Camp and want to investigate next day the possibilities of a first ascent of the Languta over the north-west flank.
Next day investigations are made to see if and how one could climb Langar and Languta.
We, in the Base Gamp fill our knapsacks - some of them to 30 kgs. in order to erect a new Base Camp at a greater height on Languta.
From the group on the Langar we get news that Sepp is pro gressing. Roland feels giddy and remains in Camp. At 08-00 hrs. Sepp has reached 5600 m. He almost reached the summit of the "question mark" peak and reports that the way to Langar sets no more problems. The flank which was climbed had a few dangerous spots, especially the climb to the ridge, which forms a rock band of about three rope lengths.
Peter and Ernst climb to 5300 m. of the Languta. They report that the ascent leads over a very steep and brittle couloir of 500 m. and they are trying to overcome the ice-slope.
After the first ferry we return to Base Camp where we find Sepp and Roland. During their descent, Sepp got a light injury to his ribs.
Peter reports over the radio that the ice-wall over which one could reach the ridge of the Languta is very dangerous, requiring at least two more people. He and Ernst would like to continue climbing and to try for the Languta only if time permits.
We decide to climb Languta, Peter and Ernst have climbed one third of the way. If we are lucky - it would be a first ascent. Materials are transported to the Advance Base Camp. Everyone except Max and Viktor sleep here at 4600 m.
Sepp, Peter, Oswald and Ernst climb with necessary equipment including two Hiebeler tents to 6000 m. to erect Camp II; Max and Viktor come up from the lower Base Camp with more materials.
We fill our sacks to follow the advance party. Through binoculars we observe how often they have to retrace their path to find a more suitable one. Through radio they tell us that there are wide crevasses which make them retrace their paths and that the snow is very deep but that we should any way come up to 5300 m. to erect Camp I.
Thus Albert, Roland, Viktor and myself each start with a load of 20 kgs. and soon reach the entrance to the couloir. As we proceed it becomes steep and narrow and full of rubble. The ascent to the fissure takes hours. It is filled with firn snow, which rises 10 m. above us. We erect one tent on a small rock jutting out. Albert and Viktor have to climb over the snow wall to erect the other in a rock niche.
This night we sleep in three different places, Peter, Sepp Oswald and Ernst at Camp II at 6000 m. Albert, Roland. Viktor and myself in Camp I and Max alone in the Advance Base Camp.
Next day Sepp and Ernst remain at Camp II. Peter and Oswald trace upward and then return. The others remain where they are except Roland who offers to bring up materials like food and medicines. To descend through the couloir takes him 15 minutes. To ascend he requires 3 hours. Shortly before nightfall he reaches us and is in good condition.
Next day the weather is lovely, from Camp II Peter tells us that they would descend upto the fissure in order to carry provisions upto Camp II which is favourably situated and can be expanded.
Albert, Roland, Viktor and myself ascend at 7 a.m. with huge loads to Camp II. The climb of the flank between Camp I and II is ardous. We follow the track of our comrades who have marked the path with little flags. We cross the descending group who give us valuable hints and we reach Camp II (6000 m.) without trouble at 13-00 hrs. We hack out places and by the time the others arrive, the tent is ready.
Oswald has descended to Max in the Advance Base Camp as he doesn't feel quite fit. Max still suffers headaches, but yet he intends to come up with Oswald the next day. Suddenly we hear voices on the radio. A Swiss group under their leader Hanspeter Ryf is in the IJrgend area and sends us greetings; Among them is my brother. They intend to climb Urgend. The weather changes for the worse and we retire with sleeping and pain killing tablets which Max has given us.
Luckily the next day the sun shines. Today we intend to erect Camp III. The ridge leading to the summit looks favourable. We follow the ridge. To the right the giant plunge to the Abi-i-Shakhaur valley from which Kishmi-Khan rises; to the left the north wall of Languta and Langar from where this moment a huge ice avalanche plunges down. In a hollow at 6050 m. search for a suitable site for Camp III. We all can't remain up here. Albert and Viktor decide to descend to Camp II. The cold awakes us next morning. Roland does not leave his tent -; severe headache. Oswald radios that Max will have to return from Camp I to the Base Camp severe headache. Sepp's stomach still troubles him. Roland remains at the Camp III with the I ask of informing others whether we have reached the summit or not. He should then tell Albert and Viktor to ascend to Camp III. Oswald feels fit and can climb to Camp II with food and Meta tablets.
At 06-00 hours Peter, Sepp, Ernst and myself start. Ice-flank to the right is steep but the crampons catch well. Before noon we reach the summit of Languta (7017 m.). From the time of preparation upto this moment it is one and a half years. We feel thrilled. We are the first team to have climbed the summit over the northern flank. The view is tops; weather clear, only over Langar hang a few clouds to the north, we see Shah Dhar (6550 m.), Urgend (7038 m.), to the east lies Langar (7070 m.), to the south-east is Saraghrar (7350 m.), to the southwest is Udren Zom. (7131 m.), and next to it is Shakhaur (7116 m.) and Nadir Shah (7125 m.), westwards stands Kishmi Khan (7200 m.).
Southwards, separated by a trough, rises the south summit, about as high as ours. A few metres below we find a rock band. Surprisingly no earlier expedition has been here. The summit is flat. We build a huge stone cairn.
The temperature is bearable. It was colder in the morning at Camp III. We leave soon because we would like to reach Camp II today. We leave a pennant of the Solothurn Hindu Kush Expedition.
Tomorrow a second group should make this ascent. Roland's condition in Camp III has grown worse. Since he could not communicate with Albert and Viktor they were still at Camp II. Roland is confused and can't remember anything and we at once descend with him. In Camp II we find our comrades most anxious because they have had no news from us. We prepare for the night. In 3 tents each meant for two we eight have to fit in. The weather is mild. I sleep in the open and thus Roland can be more comfortable.
Over the radio Max tells us from the Base Camp that Roland should take oxygen every hour and should drink a lot of fluids. After a mild night it is very cold before sunrise. We decide that Albert, Viktor and Oswald should come to Camp III and that the summitters should descend to the Advance Base Camp. Sepp, Peter and Ernst want to prepare for an ascent of Langar.
I remain with Roland in Camp II so that he can recuperate. I make soup, tea or cocoa. Neither gas nor petrol are suitable for cooking at this height. The Meta tablets are good for this.
Roland's condition does not improve. Cannot retain his breakfast. Max from Base Camp orders oxygen more often. Albert, Viktor and Oswald reach the summit without difficulty.
I am so anxious for Roland and do so hope that our comrades will return soon from the summit. They have to transport all material from Camp III downward and arrive at our Camp II in the afternoon.
Sepp, Peter and Ernst have brought all surplus material with them, leaving only one tent at Camp III. We have to erect the tents they brought because it is too late to descend to Camp I.
Roland can't leave the tent by himself any more. Max radios that we should bring him to the Advance Base Camp tomorrow morning. We go early to bed. Roland now refuses any kind of liquid. Next morning we descend with heavy loads. Albert and Viktor lead. Oswald and self with Roland in the middle. He is totally exhausted and his reactions are uncontrolled. With difficulty we get him near the Base Camp. Then he cannot walk any more.
Slowly we proceed without him over a rubble field to the Advance Base Camp. Max has been observing us from the Camp. He goes to Roland and gives him a cortisone injection.
The whole day we have not eaten and now sit down to a hearty meal. Max comes with Roland into the Camp and gives him another injection. After an hour Roland becomes conscious and after two days begins to take food again. Peter and Sepp prepare for their Langar assault. Ernst will accompany both to Camp I to help with the food, transport and will then return to our Camp.
At 02-00 hrs. Sepp, Peter and Ernst start. At Camp I (saddle of 5100 m.) loads are packed for four days. At 09-00 hrs. they bid Ernst farewell. He returns to us by noon. We follow their progress through binoculars. At the top of the flank we lose them out of sight for two hrs. when Viktor calls to us that they are on the ridge. Soon thereafter they contact us by radio. The climb was tortuous since the whole flank was practically smooth ice. Tomorrow they will proceed.
In a talk with Peter he radios that he had a most unpleasant night. During yesterday's ascent they all got wet; the shoes too were soaked. Sepp has contracted mild frostbite on his feet.
We hear that they feel exhausted. Added to this the clothes ;ne either frozen or wet. Peter asks us about time. I tell him i hat on 3 August we have to leave Camp, since the porters have heen asked to meet us. Since today is 31 July, time is not sufficient lor the assault. Thus they have to give up. At 11-30 hrs. Peer and Sepp descend. By 18-00 hrs. they reach and bivouac beneath the summit noted on the map as 5500 m. (according to our measurements it is 5800 m.). They descend over the less steep but longer route via the Galati pass. But this is not an easy way with its broad crevasses. By noon they have not reached the past. We at the Camp prepare the loads for our descent. Max and Albert undertake a tour in the western direction to a summit in front of Languta. Max who has up til now only looked after our welfare and transport of provisions between Base Camp and Camp I and wr
as always found unsuitable for heights now ascends to 5800 m.!
At last Sepp and Peter reach our Camp. They are wet and hungry but satisfied with their attempt although the summit could not quite be reached. Probably they were the first to ascend the summit with the ''question mark" and the Galati pass.
At night we have a camp fire of all unnecessary items. I make a speech about team spirit that enables comrades to reach their aim.
Langute-e-Barfi. Route of ascent.