Risht Peak first ascent in Pakistan's unexplored Yarkhun valley
Symon Welfringer reports about an expedition with fellow French mountaineers Aurélien Vaissière, Pierrick Fine and Antoine Rolle to Yarkhun valley in Pakistan which resulted in the first ascent of Risht Peak (5960m) right at the end of the Risht glacier.
From the 26th of April 2019 to the 31st of May I traveled to the remote border between Pakistan and Afghanistan with three friends, Aurélien Vaissière, Pierrick Fine and Antoine Rolle. We had decided to explore an unknown valley deep within the Pakistan’s Himalaya. Having looked for wild places to do some mixed climbing in this area on Google Earth, we found the place we dreamt about in the Yarkhun valley. This used to be open for tourists in the 80's but as the conflict between the two countries began, the area was closed off to foreigners.
We were therefore the first alpinists to enter this valley for a long time. On our arrival we decided to acclimatise by ascending the massive Risht glacier and we believe we were the first to enter this glacier from this side.
It was an intense feeling ski touring up this glacier for 6 days, starting from base camp at 3000m and finishing at the very end of the glacier at a pass at 5600m. These 6 days were quite exhausted as we had to find a safe way through the crevasses. The last day we had to do some climbing to reach the col at 5600m.
We were very tired from this first week in the mountains but we managed to descend the glacier in his entirety, it was an amazing feeling to ski in perfect snow conditions through such a wild place.
Later, as the windows of good weather were too short to return to high altitude, we chose to discover a bouldering spot we had noticed on our way up to basecamp. We took all our gear for rock climbing and two days of food and discovered a really interesting bouldering area with numerous problems from 6A to 7B. It was really interesting to meet the people who live close to these boulders and try to communicate with them. As I mentioned earlier, we were the first foreigners to enter the area from a very long time, so many people found it rather strange to see us. And even stranger when they saw us climbing those small boulders!
We then returned to BC for two days of rest before heading back into the mountains. The weather forecast wasn’t too good, with just a short window of three days and a half of clear weather before another storm would hit our massif.
We decided to head all the back to the very end of the glacier as fast as possible to try to climb a mixed line on a virgin summit we’d identified during acclimatisation.
Over the next two days we managed to ascend from 3000m to 5400m, covering in those 2 days what we had previously done in 6, so it was quite exhausting really. And even though we were already tired of these two big ski mountaineering days, we remained focused on the line we wanted to establish.
On 22 May, after an early start, we were at the bottom of a 500m meter line with some rocky and icy portions. After the first part up easy snow slopes, we encountered more difficult terrain with a pitch of ice up to 90° that we graded 5. The following pitch was the crux of the route, I managed to lead this and we estimate M6 with some tricky section past poor pro. Then followed amazing ice pitches were a bit easier but still really sustained up to the final ridge.
We arrived at the base of the summit ridge exhausted, snow conditions were awful. This last part was really difficult for both our bodies and minds as we had to dig deep into the snow to gain elevation. It felt like we were making one step forward and two backwards. After a huge mental battle, I managed to beat the trail to the summit. We estimated this to be 5960m, according to the readings on our GPS and barometers on our watches.
Bad weather was brewing and we had to hurry down. We rappelled down the entire face in the storm, just to make sure that we were tired enough already!
The following day we skied back down to basecamp, feeling exhausted but also very satisfied about our new route. After some rest, we thought about where we might climb to end the trip in style. Our eyes turned to a beautiful gorge full of even more beautiful cracks that split the walls from bottom to top.
In order to climb as much as possibile, we climbed in two teams and established two new routes. While Antoine and Aurel made the first ascent of Sueurs chaudes (150m 6c+ max) Pierrick and I discovered an incredibly beautiful and committing line, in such a remote place like Yarkhun valley! Although the quality of the rock was poor on some pitches, in particular the fifth, this added to the spice of the day and many pitches provided really nice cracks with good pro. Our route, Removable Crux (250m, 7b + 250m) was established with trad gear only. This marked the end of our trip and by far my best expedition experience to date. Pakistan rocks!
Thanks to: Millet mountain, Petzl, Au vieux campeur, Elbec socks, 4 ultra, Hard bar. And special thanks to our weather forecaster Ambroise Guiot, and Ishaq Aali for the organisation
Link: FB Symon Welfringer