Thursday, August 26, 2010

British Mountaineer Claims Unclimbed Peak In Afghanistan

The BBC posted a great story yesterday about a U.K. climber who traveled to Afghanistan to take on an unnamed, unclimbed peak that is so remote, it may not have ever been seen by a westerner before.

The 5561m (18,244 foot) mountain is located in the northeastern part of Afghanistan in the remote Wakhan Corridor, a 100 mile long, 40 mile wide, panhandle that links the country to China. The area is very isolated, with extremely rough, challenging terrain, and while it once served as a trade route, it is now seldom visited by the locals, let alone outsiders.

Climber Alan Halewood and his partner Neal Gwynne, made the arduous journey to the mountain via trains, planes, and automobiles. (of the four-wheel drive variety!) They also traveled by horseback and eventually on foot, trekking the final miles to Base Camp, and of course making the climb as well. The entire trip took three weeks to complete, in some of the worst weather the region has seen in years. Anyone who has been following the events in Pakistan, China, and Nepal, knows that the Monsoon brought incredibly bad conditions this year, with more rain, and flooding, than was expected. Afghanistan was not spared from those storms.

In the end, Halewood made the summit by himself, as Gwynne turned back earlier in the climb. The solo summit allowed the Brit to name the mountain, which he dubbed Koh-e-Iskander in honor of his two-year old son Sandy and Alexander the Great, who's shadow still looms over the region.

Just how remote is this peak? Halewood says that it is located in a spot that is completely surrounded by other peaks, and that no inhabited valleys overlook the one he climbed. It is a very out of the way place, which is why the article says that not only may it not have been seen before by westerners, but possibly by no other humans ever. Now that is remote.

Very cool story about a couple of climbers on a big adventure. Trekking the Wakhan Corridor has been on my wish list for some time, and this only fuels my desire to visit that place. Really amazing.

13 comments:

Rob Thomson said...

This is a great story, but one that leaves me with a niggle of sadness that 'remoteness' should be defined by whether or not a mountain has been seen by Westerners or not. Also that a mountain in a land not of the first-time climber's origin or residence should be 'named' by that Westerner.

It sort of comes across as what one might call 'accidental imperialism', sort of along the lines of what Herbert Schiller called 'cultural imperialism', where Western cultural values are imposed upon and dilute local indigenous cultures through the spread of Western brands, Western media etc (such as North American sitcoms, brands (Disneyland), foods (MacDonalds, Coca Cola etc) etc). Unintentional (hopefully), but lands and minds are quite definitely being conquered through the well-meaning endeavours of Westerners...

That is to say, why is it that a Westerner gets the honour of naming a mountain, as reward for simply climbing it?

Not that there is much to do for it, but still, coming back to Alan's fantastic adventure, imagine if the peak was climbed, but left un-named?

I certainly do not wish diminish Alan's awesome efforts (I have cycled along the Wakhan Valley in Tajikistan; it is no mean feat to get there, let alone cross over to Afghanistan), but to simply wonder about the responsibilities and rights of modern-day adventurers.

I would love to hear of other peoples' thoughts on this.

Cheers,
Rob
www.14degrees.org/en

Man Overboard said...

Great to see there are still unclimbed and unnamed peaks. I agree with you Rob, just because someone didn't name it and blasted it all over Western media doesn't mean it hasn't been climbed before.

Maybe Alexander the Great climbed it himself!

Still stays an amazing story and inspiration. Don't want to take anything away from his awesome achievement!

Chris said...

@Rob and @Man Overboard Have you read the original story on the BBC site? Please do and you might be left with a different impression.

For a start, the word "remote" isn't used once, and certainly the fact that a Westerner may not have seen the peak is not used as a definition of remoteness (though this mountain surely is - by most definitions of the word.)

As the journalist who wrote the original BBC story - and someone who spent a good deal of time with Alan in Afghanistan - I can assure you that he is not motivated in the slightest by any form of imperial arrogance, but more a desire to explore and learn.

I was impressed by his deep knowledge and appreciation of the local culture, language and history. He's not just there for the climbing.

I don't think he would have given the mountain a name if it was overlooked by inhabited valleys. And he chose a name that was significant, understood and appreciated by the people who live there.

Alan said...

Hi guys,
Chris pointed me at this blog guys. Just wanted to assure you that I'm very aware of the concepts Rob mentions. I've climbed about 14 mountains that are probably previously unclimbed. Of those most have had no name recorded other than among the climbing party. The first 'first ascent' I made was of a 5000m+ peak in Bolivia. We decided not to name it because it was next to a major thru route for locals and almost certainly has a local name or names.
In this case the mountain is overshadowed by a larger neighbour that does have a local name as it is visible for some distance around. Our Koh e Iskander (the local way of writing Alexander) is invisible unless you have climbed a ridge beyond a glacier a day above the limit of vegetation (locals looked bemused when asked if anyone had been there- why would they, there is no vegetation for their animals). I also discussed the name with our horsemen who thought it appropriate. Also the media coverage is unsolicited- we just wanted to let people know about the amazing inhabitants of this awesome place and encourage people to see Afghanistan in a less negative light.
Just a few thoughts and reassurances that we aren't mountaineers of the 'conquering hero type' and that some thoughfulness and awareness went into our decisions.
Al

Adventure Junkie said...

Chris and Al: Thank you so much for stopping by to comment on the story and respond to some of the others. It is much appreciated.

I will take full responsibility for using the word remote, as I do think it is appropriate in the context of the story, but Chris is right in that it isn't used in the original story.

Also, I link to the stories in my blog posts so that others can read them and get the full context. The story does not set the tone of a conquering foreigner at all, but instead it paints the climbers in the light of adventurers doing the things they love, which gets a lot of respect around here.

Personally, I think this is a fantastic story, and I love the angle that it took place in Afghanistan too. A place I feel is misunderstood, and a place that I want to visit myself.

THanks again guys!

www.sharethisadventure.com said...

Totally awesome story
www.sharethisadventure.com

Wade Nichols said...

This is a great story, but one that leaves me with a niggle of sadness that 'remoteness' should be defined by whether or not a mountain has been seen by Westerners or not.

Good grief!

A story about a guy who simply climbs a mountain that is indeed remote, as defined by - remoteness from human inhabitants, and now we're gettting a lecture in post-modern anthropology?

What does Coca-Cola and McDonald's have to do with the climb? Does the insertion of ivory tower jargon ("cultural imperialism!!!"; "local indigenous cultures!!") somehow lend credence to your argument?

These guys simply climbed a mountain, they weren't trying to set up a remote branch of McDonald's.

And why are you using the "N word" (niggle)? Are you a racist?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!

Also that a mountain in a land not of the first-time climber's origin or residence should be 'named' by that Westerner.

Oh, I don't know, maybe the fact that he IS the FIRST person EVER to climb said mountain, perhaps gives him naming rights?

And who cares anyways? You can call it Denali, some people call it McKinley? Most people call it Everest, the Nepalese call it Chomolungma. So what? We all know what the other guy is referring to.

The only people who make an issue over such things are usually snobs who are simply trying to "one up" someone else.

I agree with you Rob, just because someone didn't name it and blasted it all over Western media doesn't mean it hasn't been climbed before.

C'mon, get real dude!

Climbing LARGE mountains isn't something that MANY pre-20th century peoples of any culture did, other than maybe a few instances in South America involving sacrifices and perhaps some other locations.

Why would people who subsisted "hand-to-mouth" waste their precious food calories to do such a foolish pursuit, other than perhaps as a religious ceremony?

Most non-European cultures, even today, find the idea of mountain climbing silly, even ridiculous.

And IT IS, and I say this as someone who's climbed a few myself.

Maybe Alexander the Great climbed it himself!

Yeah, and maybe the chains of Hercules are laying somewhere on Mt. Elbrus!

Maybe the "Afghan Girl" climbed it, who knows?


A guy climbs a mountain, and all of a sudden people start going all "Frantz Fanon" on the guy!

Wade Nichols said...

This is a great story, but one that leaves me with a niggle of sadness that 'remoteness' should be defined by whether or not a mountain has been seen by Westerners or not.

Good grief!

A story about a guy who simply climbs a mountain that is indeed remote, as defined by - remoteness from human inhabitants, and now we're gettting a lecture in post-modern anthropology?

What does Coca-Cola and McDonald's have to do with the climb? Does the insertion of ivory tower jargon ("cultural imperialism!!!"; "local indigenous cultures!!") somehow lend credence to your argument?

These guys simply climbed a mountain, they weren't trying to set up a remote branch of McDonald's.

And why are you using the "N word" (niggle)? Are you a racist?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!

Also that a mountain in a land not of the first-time climber's origin or residence should be 'named' by that Westerner.

Oh, I don't know, maybe the fact that he IS the FIRST person EVER to climb said mountain, perhaps gives him naming rights?

And who cares anyways? You can call it Denali, some people call it McKinley? Most people call it Everest, the Nepalese call it Chomolungma. So what? We all know what the other guy is referring to.

The only people who make an issue over such things are usually snobs who are simply trying to "one up" someone else.

I agree with you Rob, just because someone didn't name it and blasted it all over Western media doesn't mean it hasn't been climbed before.

C'mon, get real dude!

Climbing LARGE mountains isn't something that MANY pre-20th century peoples of any culture did, other than maybe a few instances in South America involving sacrifices and perhaps some other locations.

Why would people who subsisted "hand-to-mouth" waste their precious food calories to do such a foolish pursuit, other than perhaps as a religious ceremony?

Most non-European cultures, even today, find the idea of mountain climbing silly, even ridiculous.

And IT IS, and I say this as someone who's climbed a few myself.

Maybe Alexander the Great climbed it himself!

Yeah, and maybe the chains of Hercules are laying somewhere on Mt. Elbrus!

Maybe the "Afghan Girl" climbed it, who knows?


A guy climbs a mountain, and all of a sudden people start going all "Frantz Fanon" on the guy!

Wade Nichols said...

This is a great story, but one that leaves me with a niggle of sadness that 'remoteness' should be defined by whether or not a mountain has been seen by Westerners or not.

Good grief!

A story about a guy who simply climbs a mountain that is indeed remote, as defined by - remoteness from human inhabitants, and now we're gettting a lecture in post-modern anthropology?

What does Coca-Cola and McDonald's have to do with the climb? Does the insertion of ivory tower jargon ("cultural imperialism!!!"; "local indigenous cultures!!") somehow lend credence to your argument?

These guys simply climbed a mountain, they weren't trying to set up a remote branch of McDonald's.

And why are you using the "N word" (niggle)? Are you a racist?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!

Also that a mountain in a land not of the first-time climber's origin or residence should be 'named' by that Westerner.

Oh, I don't know, maybe the fact that he IS the FIRST person EVER to climb said mountain, perhaps gives him naming rights?

And who cares anyways? You can call it Denali, some people call it McKinley? Most people call it Everest, the Nepalese call it Chomolungma. So what? We all know what the other guy is referring to.

The only people who make an issue over such things are usually snobs who are simply trying to "one up" someone else.

I agree with you Rob, just because someone didn't name it and blasted it all over Western media doesn't mean it hasn't been climbed before.

C'mon, get real dude!

Climbing LARGE mountains isn't something that MANY pre-20th century peoples of any culture did, other than maybe a few instances in South America involving sacrifices and perhaps some other locations.

Why would people who subsisted "hand-to-mouth" waste their precious food calories to do such a foolish pursuit, other than perhaps as a religious ceremony?

Most non-European cultures, even today, find the idea of mountain climbing silly, even ridiculous.

And IT IS, and I say this as someone who's climbed a few myself.

Maybe Alexander the Great climbed it himself!

Yeah, and maybe the chains of Hercules are laying somewhere on Mt. Elbrus!

Maybe the "Afghan Girl" climbed it, who knows?


A guy climbs a mountain, and all of a sudden people start going all "Frantz Fanon" on the guy!

Rob Thomson said...

Many thanks to everyone who has made comments on this story, especially to Chris and Alan.

Particularly thanks to Alan for the encouraging peek into the ethical considerations of an inspirational adventurer.

My original comment came from a place of wishing to encourage dialogue amongst us adventurers who often simply by virtue of where we happened to be born (wealthy Western nations), are afforded the most wonderful opportunities to travel and experience the world at large.

The dialogue, at least from where I see it, and one that I struggle with myself, is centered around responsibilities as an (relatively) affluent citizen of this earth.

In my case, when I got home from travelling around the world for 2.5 years, I struggled with the social responsibility of my spending 2.5 years of my life, and around US$10,000 on a journey for what I percieved to be simply for my own benefit and enjoyment.

That is, at that time, I percieved some real ethical issues that I feel needed to be addressed and considered by adventurers (which, by the way, Alan indeed seems to be a role model of; good on you).

I blogged about this last year (http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=817), and got some encouraging responses. Mostly in that participating in adventure, the investment in time and money is quite small when seen on the larger scale of how it inspires others to get out there and experience and understand the world and its peoples and cultures and beauty.

It is awesome that in the original BBC article, the reader is shown an encouraging human side to an area that is otherwise often tarnished by reports of unrest. Thank you for that, Chris.

So yeah, I hope I didn't ruffle too many feathers; like I said, dialogue is great.

Once again, well done to Alan for an awesome, inspirational, enlightening adventure.

Dan said...

Very nice. Going into your story makes me want to plan for my next hiking trip. Nothing compares to a scenic Mother Nature, right?

Anonymous said...

Great story bad comments. It is a pity to know that politically correcteness has afttected so much mountaneering.
The author has the right to define a mountain as "remote" according to his own judgement.
Let's not see racism, imperialism,... everywhere. I this there are bigger issues in Afghanistan btw

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