Top 10 Expeditions of 2021: #7: Sharaghrar

Over the last 12 months, ExplorersWeb has documented incredible adventures in climbing, cycling, running, walking, skiing, and anything involving force of will and dedication to a dream in the outdoors. As this year comes to a close, we present our countdown of the Top 10 Expeditions of 2021.

Who would dare to venture into the barren Wakhan Corridor, near the Afghan border, at the same time as American troops withdrew and the Taliban took back the country? Archil Badriashvili, Baqar Gelashvili, and Georgi Tepnadze did. Geopolitics was not going to stop three tough guys from Georgia, where armed conflict is sadly too familiar. They had set their sights on Sharaghrar, an isolated peak in the legendary Hindu Kush. It lies far from lodges, helipads, wifi hubs, and virtually any communications with the outside world.

“We felt the tension when we landed in Islamabad, but after we got into the region, everyone we met was actually very friendly,” they said on returning home.

The Georgian’s new route on Sharaghrar. Photo: Archil Badriashvili

 

An old-fashioned adventure: a hard goal, no social media

As for the climb itself, news of their successful summit came the old-fashioned way:  A porter ran from Base Camp to the nearest place where a phone connection was available. Details were scarce until Badriashvili himself gave an interview to ExplorersWeb. By then, it was clear that “their first ascent… will end up on the shortlist for Best of the Year”.

“When I was a kid, I was always looking at mountains and painting lines up the faces, dreaming someday I would climb them,” Badriashvili told Ed Douglas. “The Hindu Kush is such a special place. No one had climbed there for a long time. I saw a photo of Sharaghrar and I said, I had to go there…”

Badriashvili told ExplorersWeb: “The mountains are huge, steep, and perhaps interesting only for extreme alpinists. After the Soviet-Afghan war, there was very little activity in the Hindu Kush. Saraghrar, for instance, is the most attractive peak in that area, but I found only two ascents since the 1970s.”

Smooth granite on Sharagrar. Photo: A. Badriashvili’s IG

The Rosh Gol Valley, on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, is one of the forgotten treasures of Hindu Kush. It is a beautiful place surrounded by four steep 6,000m and 7,000m peaks. The massive Saraghrar has more than a handful of summits (with the main summit rising up to 7,349m), resembling the crown of the massif. The only unclimbed summit was the NW point, at 7,300m. It looks exceptionally beautiful from the valley. The NW face looked logical and caught our interest at first sight. — Archil Badriashvili

 

A veteran trio

The team knew each other well from years climbing together. They were also self-sufficient and resilient on highly technical routes. “Our team is amazing,” Badriashvili proudly said. “Giorgi Tepnadze is relentless: We have been climbing for eight years and have done our best work together. Baqar Gelashvili has been with us for most of our Himalayan climbs. Both Giorgi and Baqar work as ski rescuers. I am a part-time MD and organizer for our expeditions. We all guide in the mountains.”

First of all, the team acclimatized on a different peak. The experience was exceptional enough to classify as its own expedition. Languta-e-Barfi, the Bride of the Hindu Kush, is a beautiful mountain, always bright white, covered in ice and snow. Said Badriashvili: “We climbed its south face, on the Pakistani side of the mountain, on August 25.” It was also a first ascent.

The Georgian team on the summit of Languta-e-Barfi, their acclimatization peak. Photo: A. Badriashvili

 

The appetizer

Languta-e-Barfi’s moderate level of difficulty allowed us to climb fast and light, and to properly adapt to altitude. At the foot of the mountain, we chose the right-hand slope of the face as our line. That same night, we started.

The slope became increasingly steep as we climbed higher. The upper half was mostly dried-out ice, mixed with sand and stones, around 60°. That day we gained 1,400m, climbing all the way up to the ridge at about 6,400m. The next climbing day, we made it to the summit. For the first time, we looked out on the Afghan side of the massif. The same day, we rappelled down the face.

Then they turned their attention to Saraghrar. They had deliberately gone very late in the summer. They hoped that the colder September days would glue the rocks better to the walls and give a safer (if chillier) climb on the mostly rocky mountain.

The supercouloir. Photo: A. Badriashvili

 

Harder than expected

The climbers had studied three possible routes. The one they finally chose was harder than they had expected but by the time they realized this, they were already in the middle of the face.

“The ascent was intense and varied. At first, we followed a ‘supercouloir’,” Badriashvili said. Despite its imposing look, it was quite straightforward and they completed it in a day.

“On the second day, we continued up the walls on the left. We spent the next days climbing dozens of granite walls, super complex. Some days, we could only advance two or three pitches!”

During the worst moments, the climber belaying the one opening the route would sing aloud to encourage him. “It’s kind of a Georgian tradition,” Badriashvili said.

Precarious bivouacs

“We spent the nights on tiny ledges in our single-wall tent,” Badriashvili said about the uncomfortable, precarious bivouacs. “Once, we had to stay outside, in a very exposed place.”

Climbing and singing away the fear. Photo: A. Badriashvili

 

“The wall finally ended at around 7,130m, with the hardest pitches so far. From there, a corniced, blade-sharp ridge led us to the ‘NW II’, climbed by a Catalan team in 1982. We camped near their high point. The following morning was windy and cloudy. Our work toward the summit involved trail breaking, some steep firn, and a very last mixed pitch. Then finally, we were on the top, and very happy!”

Now, how to get down?

They had prepared for a seven-day ascent but it took them eight just to reach the top, in rapidly worsening weather.  On the summit, they had to make another difficult decision: Which way they should go down?

“We explored all variants, considered a traverse, but we didn’t know what conditions we would face, so in the end, we chose the safest option — to descend the same face,” Badriashvili said. “We managed it in a day, rappelling some 35 times non-stop to the foot of the mountain.”

The climbers were exhausted and dealt with a strong blizzard all the way down, but finally made it safely back to Base Camp.

Sharaghrar. Photo: A. Badriashvili

 

Nothing distracted Badriashvili, Gelashvili, and Tepnadze from the climb. Because they had no way to communicate with the outer world, they never heard of a (rather strange) rescue operation on Rakaposhi, on the other side of the range.

 

Offered to help

Here, three climbers with no permit triggered a high-profile rescue that attracted two helicopters and some of the best climbers of Pakistan. As soon as the Georgians knew of climbers in trouble, they volunteered to cross the country and help. Luckily, by then another rescue team was already involved in the task.

Expedition leader Archil Badriashvili. Photo: Hussein Ahmed

 

Overall, Saraghrar was a flawless first ascent and an extraordinary adventure climb on an isolated mountain in a forgotten land. Despite the lack of advertising, no daily posts on social media, and scant media attention, it has deserved a place among the very best climbs in a remarkable year.

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!


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B Geoffries
B Geoffries
4 months ago

Everything about that is great.

Eddy De Wilde
Eddy De Wilde
4 months ago

Isn’t the mountain and it’s access wholly in Pakistan?