Following the flow of the Fedchenko
Editor's note: In May of 2014 Emelie Stenberg together with her team Holly Walker, Selena Cordeau, Vince Shuley and Zebulon Blais travelled to Tajikistan Central Asia to cross the fabled Fedchenko Glacier on skis, entirely self-propelled and unsupported. The expedition was completed in 30 days.
This trip was sponsored by the ACC's Jen Higgins Grant, Mountain Equipment Expedition Support and Polartec Challenge Grant. The following story is Emilie's account of the trip.
Waylaid by weather
I unzip the tent fly and have a peek outside. It’s completely white, the wind is blasting snow into my face so I quickly pull my head back inside again and zip down the fly. As I’m curling back into my warm cozy sleeping bag I hear the voice of Holly, all bundled up in her sleeping bag literally one foot from my head. “So…what’s new out there?” Holly asks optimistically with some irony in her voice. “Nothing.” I answer with disappointment in my voice.
It is day 19 on our ski expedition crossing the Fedchenko Glacier in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan, Central Asia. In our basecamp on the upper Fedchenko Glacier a storm rolls in keeping us tent bound. The wind has not stopped blowing for four days. I’m feeling antsy. I’ve tried to keep as occupied and stimulated as possible, but really there is not a lot to do in a tent at 4,900m on a remote glacier in Central Asia. All we really do is hang out waiting for time to pass. After a few days of doing that it doesn’t matter how “in tune” you are with the elements, and how relaxed you feel or how much you like hanging out with your tent mates, it will drive anyone stir crazy. I can’t wait for the storm to pass and the sky to open up. So, anxious as I am, I get out of my sleeping bag once again, unzipping the fly. I know what to expect but I can’t help myself. Whiteness. There is nothing else to see. I slip back into my sleeping bag, close my eyes and doze off into a half-asleep state dreaming of warm summer days, green grass and birds singing: all those great things in life we take for granted.
About the area
The Fedchenko Glacier is located in the Pamir Mountains which is home to some of the highest peaks in the world, and have been known as “The Roof of The World”. With a length of 77km and an area covering over 700 square kilometers, the Fedchenko Glacier is the longest glacier outside the polar regions.
Despite being one of the largest glaciers in the world, in the most impressive mountains I’ve ever been to, there are surprisingly few people who know about the existence of this mighty sheet of ice, let alone visit the Fedchenko Glacier and the Pamir Mountains. The remoteness and difficulties traveling to these wild and untamed mountains are reasons why it is so seldom visited. The area has seen some hard times over the years. With a civil war and times of unrest, and with poor infrastructure and lack of roads connecting mountain communities with the outside world, life in the Pamirs is very difficult.
Heading to the glacier
Back in our tents it suddenly becomes quiet. I can’t hear the wind blowing anymore so I jump out of my sleeping bag and get out of the tent. And there it is, much-longed-for sunshine. Finally, by the end of day four in the tents, the sky opens up with one week of high pressure awaiting us.
At this point we’re all eager to get after it so we decide to ski tour up to the head of the Fedchenko the following day. Beautiful spires, steep couloirs, hanging glaciers, steep exposed ski lines freshly dusted after the storm with the sun shining on them, just asking to be skied. After a big storm in some of the highest mountains in the world, we feel pretty happy to be travelling on a huge flat sheet of ice far away from any avalanche exposure.
We had grand plans and spent almost two years planning our trip to Tajikistan, but with extremely touchy avalanche conditions now is not the time to ski big lines. The 6,000-7,000m peaks towering above us sure look enticing, but we admire it all from a distance and dream of coming back to this magical place one day. Instead we continue slogging up the glacier towards the head of the valley.
Soon we get our first glimpse of Pik Revolution towering above our heads with an elevation of 6,900m. Our goal is to make it to the head of the Fedchenko, the birth place of the glacier and main glacial centre of the Pamir Mountains, and a major water source for the countries in Central Asia. As we are approaching the head of the valley, surrounded by rugged peaks we decide to go for the ridge line on the west side with a friendly highpoint. With our eyes set on the summit, we realize we are so close, close to the goal of our trip to make it to the head of the Fedchenko Glacier.
Satisfaction and happiness overwhelm us when we reach the summit at 5,500m.
Three years prior to this moment I had had an idea, a dream about this place far away. A lot of work went into making it happen: from two years of planning to actually setting foot in the country of Tajikistan, travelling with off road trucks through remote valleys in search of an access route to the Fedchenko Glacier, and hauling gear over terrain that the Pamiri locals described as impossible, we spent 22 days of travelling on foot and skis to get to this point. I have a hard time believing we are actually standing on the summit and about to start our journey home again.
It’s been a grand adventure and the next eight days prove that the adventure isn’t over yet. Travelling back down the Fedchenko, eventually getting off the ice and spending the next five days traveling out the Tanimas Valley proves to be a gruelling mission. We barely scratched the surface of what these mountains have to offer, but the reward is big memories of exploring these untamed and awe-inspiring mountains of Tajikistan.
Promoting alpine-related outdoor pursuits for young women
The ACC is dedicated to helping young women pursue their adventure dreams with annual cash grants from the Jen Higgins Fund. Teams must include a young woman who is central to conceiving, developing and leading the trip.
The Jen Higgins Fund was established by friends and family to honour Jen Higgins after her death in 1997. Jen's enthusiasm and generous spirit continue to live on by supporting young women in creative, self-propelled, mountain adventures with this grant.
The Alpine Club of Canada is honoured to be able to continue Jen’s legacy of sharing knowledge and enthusiasm with others - the legacy of a truly adventurous and generous spirit.
Annual deadline for applications is January 31.
Donate to the Jen Higgins Fund
The ACC is dedicated to helping young women pursue their adventure dreams and your donation to the Jen Higgins Fund helps us support them.