May 13, 2013
The clear skies that we had been used to the past few days were gone that morning. It was lightly raining, cold, and windy. Since Langar is above 8000ft, we didn’t have to go up very far before every piece of vegatation had a dusting of snow on it. The dirt road was just below the clouds, making for lousy photo opportunities and a subdued gloom to the morning’s drive. The one silver lining is that the chill in the air was enough to prevent our Niva from overheating that day. After a couple of hours, the clouds broke and we got our last views of Afghanistan and the Wakhan Valley along with a couple of camel caravans along the Afghan side of the river.
Up and over the 13,000+ft pass, we quickly reached the Pamir Highway and Alichur, where we would leave behind our taxi driver and his very limited music selection. We chose Alichur for one reason. It was the first village on the Pamir Highway we would encounter going east. At over 11,000ft, the overcast skies and howling wind meant it would be the coldest place yet. Despite this, Sjoerd was restless and wanted to go up the closest mountain to the village, so I joined him. It was almost 4PM when we left so, we knew that getting to the top would be unlikely. In the end, frustrating mix of a lack of trails, the altitude, and a very loose mix of course sand rocks, meant very slow going. At times, we (more often myself) had to stop to really gasp for oxygen and subdue the dizzying effect of the effort. We were over 14,000ft at this point. In the end, we were only able to ascend 2/3rds of the mountain and satisfied with that.
It was dark when we arrived at our homestay and we were glad to have a warm room, even if it meant that the woodburning stove was fuelled by an environmentally unsustainable bush. The tersken bush is the only fuel source in these parts since trees cannot grow in the combination of high altitude, salty soil, and high winds. The area is completely denuded of it, so it must be trucked in from an area that probably can’t afford to lose its vegetation either. Guilt aside, we were in for a rare taste of luxury- fish from a nearby lake. Fried to perfection, we devoured it, happy to take a break from greasy mutton for a change. It really put us all in a good mood despite the greyness.
That night was difficult for all of us with the altitude change. Max can only effectively breath in one nostril from a deviated septum, I had a headache and Sjoerd was cold. So, we spent the night taking turns listening to the other breathe hard as we tried to get enough oxygen.