The ascent of the South ridge of Koh i Marchech (21,200 ft)


L'ascension de l'aręte sud de Koh i Marchech

After resting (and eating) for a few days, we felt it was time to try one of the larger peaks, none were unclimbed but there were still many new routes to be done. The ridges seemed a safer proposition than the faces which were continually subject to stone fall. We liked the look of the South Ridge of Koh i Marchech which was long, interesting... and unclimbed. The rock appeared to be good granite, we had already reconnoitered the approach, just the last part looked steep. From below, however, it seemed to have a sort of zigzag of broken rocks that gave a reasonable chance of finding a route up. For the descent, we counted on scrambling down the West face to the top of the same glacier we would use for the approach.

This time we set off with plenty of food and after a bivi below the snout of the glacier soon reached the level top plateau with the ridge above us to our right. We slept on a level spot, next to a large boulder. From here we found a way up easy snow and rocks to the shoulder of the ridge and an yet another excellent bivi site. The weather was perfect and the ridge looked fine, a long series of gendarmes separated by easier angled sections, then the final pillar with its zigzag weakness. This was definitely better than the endless load slogging of Himalayan epics, we could have been in the Alps except the weather was much better and there were no noisy groups of Italians or crowded huts.

The next day was spent working along the ridge, sometimes scrambling, sometimes roped, but never too hard. In the evening we settled into yet another comfortable bivi although it had to be hacked out of the frozen rubble and was not quite up to our usual standards; my Macinnes ice axe demonstrated what it was really made for, weight counts. A splendid sunset made up for the lack of space.. 

In the morning the problem of final pillar was resolved much as we had expected and we found ourselves on the final icy corniced ridge. Breathing was distinctly more difficult as we got up into thinner air and we puffed a bit up to the summit which was itself an unstable cornice of ice and snow. We were now in some cloud, the temperature had dropped a bit more, we had already been climbing in duvets all the way up the ridge.

We finally arrived at the summit, 21,200 feet, the highest we had ever been. A clear spell enabled us to take the obligatory summit panoramas, we even had a good view of what we thought must be Tirich Mir far to North East. Shah i Kabud and the other peaks of the Hindu Kush, all granite and snow, way below us the glaciers and lower still, base camp valley with its meadow (a good nine thousand feet vertically) were all dutifully photographed before we started to feel the cold and decided to head down.

The descent took longer than we had thought and the easy scramble soon became steep enough to force us to abseil. The clouds had now dispersed but we were in the shadow and it was distinctly cool. To add a final sting in the tail the rope got stuck. We thought of climbing up to release it but we had both read too many mountaineering books to fall for that one, we cut it instead with a single blow of an ice-axe, reflected a little on how easy it had been to cut, and carried on down, hoping we wouldn’t need to abseil again. Once again, our luck held out and we reached the glacier safely by moonlight. It had been a very long day and we slept well. 

The next day we were back at base camp feeling pleased with ourselves, but starting to realize that our stay would soon be coming to an end.





 20/11/2001 Updated 26/04/2014