Thursday, 26 November 2009

Mountaineering in Afghanistan

Afghanistan might not be everyone's idea of a holiday destination but adventurous climbers are starting to return to the country's mountainous Hindu Kush area. In the Winter issue of Summit, David James writes how it's packed full of unclimbed peaks, near perfect weather and is an ideal introduction to high altitude mountaineering. As for danger - as in the Taliban, rather than avalanches and rock-falls - he writes:

"the remote and and mountainous Wakhan corridor has remained entirely peaceful're more likely to see a yeti in the Wakhan than the Taliban."

James, a former news cameraman and ex-soldier, has set up Mountain Unity International, a company that aims to promote the mountaineering and trekking industries in the region. Since 2003 a small group of Afghans have undergone training as mountain guides while a series of guesthouses and campsites have been established. All profits and assets are locked into supporting the Afghan people.

From the 1960s up until the Soviet invasion of 1979, the country was an extremely popular destination for European climbers. However, no mention of the region can be made without reference to Eric Newby's A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, his memoir of an attempt to climb a virgin peak. In a review for the Observer, John Morris commented that the tale would "horrify conventional mountain explorers and even less ambitious travellers with some sense of organisation", while concluding that it was the funniest travel book he had ever read (October 26 1958).

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