IN THE SUMMER of 1978 a group consisting of four Austrians and several natives set out towards the Kachhikhani Pass through the Ushu Valley.
After having crossed the pass the group erected a base camp at 4000 m close to he Kachhikhani Glacier.
From this starting point the group climbed several nearby peaks. Two panoramic views taken there show an impressive mountain region widely covered with glaciers. All these mountains bordering Swat are dominated by the 6031 m Harambit which had been first climbed by a small group in 1971.
It is the purpose of this article to characterize mountains and people around the Kachhikhani Glacier
Part one deals with the geographical situation of this mountain region and the route taken by the members of the expedition Then attention will be drawn to some glaciological aspects on the basis of a publication by Dr Gerald Gruber.
Part two contains facts about the people who had climbed the various mountains for the first time, as well as a description of the respective routes to the summits.
Part three will tell about some experiences with the people south and north to the Kachhikhani Pass to round off the picture of this area.
1. Geographical site, aspects of glaciation, the climate and the geology
The peaks of the Kachhikhani glaciers make up the extreme western part of the mountain range, stretching from Thalo Pas up to the Kachhikhani Pass, up to the border of Chitral around Swat Kohistan. It projects two sturdy side ridges towards the north the shorter culminates in Harambit (6031 m); the other ridge begins at the highest point of the K range; at the point 5871 m (indicated as Kharakhali on the Japanese map) and ends there where the K valley joins in after Sor Laspur.
The geographical location is roughly 36° North and 72° 30' East.
The Kachhikani range has the advantage of being easily reached from Kalam in Swat-Kohistan as well as from Chitral through the Laspur valley.
We chose the way which led from Kalam in Swat through the Ushu valley and; across the Kachhikhani Pass to Chitral. To reach the encampment at Kachhikhani glacier we took 4 days. This approach has the advantage that in the heavily forested and exquisite Ushu valley and the Kachhikhani Pass one passes slowly from 2200 m to 4766 m. One gets well accustomed thereby to the height and has from the Kachhikhani Pass one of the best views of the mountains which surround the Kachhikhani glacier.
AREA OF KACHHIKHANI
There are other approaches from Gabral via Manali Pass (4920 m) or via Bandi (4400 m) and Thalo (about 4322 m).
We came to Pakistan—that is the touring team—by two different routes. Two of us—Erwin Lang and Werner Hesse—travelled by a VW bus on the 18 July 1978 via Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan to Pakistan. Helmut Hesse and Armin Beer flew from Munich via Damascus—Dubai—Karachi to Islamabad where they met the others. For further preparations we took ourselves to the park of Swat Hotel.
Since a bridge was washed away before Kalam at the bottom of Ushu valley our departure was delayed. Also the porter proceedings proved more difficult than expected. We could finally leave from Kalam with 9 new porters. For 4 days we wandered through the magnificent Ushu valley rich in water, reached the 4766 m high Kachhikhani Pass, starting from the base encampment at about 4000 m.
There is sparse settlement in this valley: after Baloga we came across only one settlement which was situated after the forest limits.
From this height of the Pass one has a comprehensive view of the peaks of Kachhikhani glaciers. Only the highest mountain of this range, the 5871 m high Kharakhali, is covered with snow. The peaks of the mountains in panorama are at 5600 m.
Geologically seen, these mountains are made of stones similar to granite: acid to intermediate intrusive stones (based on Dr Gamerith). Massive moraine on the sides are proof of a once heavy glaciation of this area.2
The biggest glacier by far is Manali glacier with an area of 48 sq. km, its length being 10 km. The next is the Kachhikhani glacier (20 sq. km, 6.2 km in length) and Thalo glacier (17 sq. km, 8.5 km in length).3
The dimensions of this glacier surpass even the glaciers of the Buni Zom Group. The snow line on Kachhikhani glacier was found to be at 4700 m whereas that in the Buni Zom Group was in parts over 5000 m.
During excursions through the Ushu valley to Sor Laspur one can observe a weather change while crossing the Kachhikhani Pass. South of the Pass there are beautiful forests, lakes and waterfalls. North of it begins a deserty dry valley with thorny undergrowth (for example hawthorn). The marked climatic difference between the humid climate south of the Thalo Pass —Kachhikhani Pass line and the dry climate north of it is also mentioned in the literature.
Panorama B is taken from a 5410 m high peak. Here one recognizes the highest mountains lying south of the Buni Zom Group. From this point the Harambit (6031 m) dominates with its glaciated northern flank. North of it one recognizes the 6249 m high Gochhar-Sar; the mountains in the foreground of the western ridges of the Kachhikhani glacier have a height of over 5600 m.
The entire excursion lasted from 11 to 23 August. By 7 September we again returned to Austria.
On the return journey, we passed Herat in Afghanistan which is striking and a quite friendly city where handicraft still thrives.
Finally I would like to point out that the peaks around the Kachhikhani glacier are reached relatively easily by mountaineering groups. They offer a good impression and have the variety of an Asiatic mountain range.
2. The peaks in the region of the Kachhikhani valley
The rush to this region, still considered to be a part of the Hinduraj, is limited—climbers motivated to climb the 6000 m and 7000 m are still not there.
According to Dr Adolf Diemberger—in 1965 the Italians under Pinelli systematically reconnoitred the area ruled by the Wali of Swat, and thereby climbed three peaks southwest of the Kachhikhani Pass (Pierluigi peak 5200 m, Punta Giovanna 5040 m, Punta Annamaria 5300 m).
In 1968 members of the English Expedition North Kohistan from Gabral valley climbed the 5870 m high Kakhari (Kharakhali, White Piers) over (via) the north side, after crossing a Pass.
In 1971 members of the Cologne Hindukush Expedition climbed two peaks of the Kachhikhani Pass.
In 1973 the Austrians set up their encampment near the mouth of the Kachhikhani glacier and climbed from there the Kakhari and two other peaks of 5150 m and 5250 m in two easterly sides of the orographic left side ridge.
Any further expedition is at the time not known to us.
The encampment was set up by our group not so far from the mouth of the Kachhikhani glacier at about 4000 m. On a recce tour a peak of 5000 m was climbed and after setting up an encampment at 5000 m in a glacial basin of the orographic left ridge, point 5410 m could be reached.
Due to shortage of time it was not possible for us to reconnoitre the area any further and to climb any more peaks.
For small expeditions which have little time for long journeys and which might care for smaller peaks, there are sufficient opportunities for practice. A few peaks worth mentioning on the main ridges as well as on both the border ridges of the Kachhikhani valley are still waiting to be climbed. Besides the already mentioned peaks and the Dadalbo, higher peaks of the eastern ridge (climbers not known), most probably no other peaks have been conquered.
The general steep form of the peaks indicates mostly very brittle rock. Therefore, climbing via (across) the often glaciated northern flanks are preferable. There is a convenient approach from this side, as the glaciers are not much fragmented.
The glacier, though free of ice, is covered with rubble and can be negotiated with difficulty. However the Kachhikhani glacier is a good approach for the mountains on the main ridge as it leads up to a height of 4000 m. On the side ridges, west and east facing small glaciers push up to 4500 m though the loose moraine cannot be always avoided.
3. A few observations on the way from Swat to Chitral
When one arrives from the cool humid climate of the Indus lowlands to the north in the Swat one is immediately struck not only by the pleasant climate but also the enormous fertility of the valley and in comparison with other Hindukush valleys. This condition has made this area a favourite holiday resort of the Pakistani aristocracy. European tourists are rarely to be seen, since the land route from Persia is little used, due to the political situation.
In the capital city Saidu-Sharif one can for the last time replenish the equipment and provision and one can make the preparations for the mountaineering in the beautiful park of Swat Hotel where one can also get information in English and in German.
The route further into the valley is well built at least up to Kalam, but after the rainy season it is seldom free from collapsing bridges. Even we had to delay departure for two days due to such an incident, and we observed how one could build a new bridge with primitive equipment made of barks of; tree and stones, which would however not withstand the next rainy season. On the roads one sees noisy chains hanging from the big colourfully painted buses and small lorries which are mostly overfull with people. Generally the tyres of the cars are much overused, till they burst. Only then are the new tyres mounted—without jacks. They obviously, have a great knack and a talent for improvising in the repairing of cars.
Kalam is the last bigger centre of the valley. Besides the housing, (old) made of stones, loam and wood one finds here also a fairly new school, a hotel and even a sanitation station which seem deserted. Here we get to know directly from experience the dangers of Kohistan which we had heard from anecdotes: a young German couple who had undertaken an excursion on a mountain outside this place was assaulted and hurt. It happens repeatedly that foreigners are assaulted, especially when they wander to a distant area without a local escort or still worse accompanied by a woman. The English speaking personnel of the hotel took notice of this incident with the shrug of the shoulder and offered a few 'gunmen' as escorts.
The road to Ushu valley is motorable up to Matiltan; it is still well constructed even further but due to the constant breaks it is certainly not motorable since years.
Since we were there just at the beginning of Ramzan, the traditional month of fasting of the Muslims, the availability of escorts (porters) was extremely difficult; the faithful are not allowed to eat, drink and smoke etc., for a whole month from the time of sunrise to sunset. Therefore, one hardly saw any man on the street during the day. All were sleeping in the shade. Only after sunset does any activity begin. Should the fast be broken due to business or other important reasons, the faithful must make up the fast after Ramzan. Communication with our porters was mostly with gesticulation and the few words learnt. In disputes between the local people one had the feeling that the one who spoke the loudest and fastest had the final say, a tactic one acquires soon. In the area of Swat-Kachhikhani at least three languages or dialects are spoken; Pashtu, Urdu, Chitrali.
As porters the people of Kalam prove to be on the whole quite good; in most situations one observes a certain pampering and shamelessness; the reason for this may be that this region has been of late frequently visited by expedition groups.
On both sides of the Kachhikhani Pass in Sor Laspur one often meets people with slightly Mongolian features. Sporadically we find men who have a strong feminine face: later we observed on one of our porters how he painted his eyelashes and eyes with a black colour from a small saucepan. Apparently, a custom practised by men only.
One rarely gets to see a woman. Even a small girl is taught to retreat when strangers approach. Only seldom does their inquisitiveness overcome their good upbringing.
The place seemed better looked-after than in the inner Swat. The further one came through the barren valley in the direction of Chitral the more civilized were the people. Especially the place Sanoghar gave the impression of a school centre, where the young men in their fine attire wander hand in hand on the grass under the shady trees and chat. The young boys spend their time playing with stone catapults and archery.
Chitral itself which one reaches after an adventurous jeep journey over about 60 miles, is a city which is mostly visited by foreigners. A city with pulsating life and a big bazaar. The daily air connection to Peshawar is the most important connection since the road via the Lowari Pass is seldom motorable.