Climbing in the Fann mountains in Tadjikistan
Tajikistan is a central Asia country bordered by Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the north, China in the east, and Afghanistan in the south. The capital is Dushanbe, the main economic and politics center, surrounded by ten million people. The main language is Tajik, but Russian is also very common for business, English is used for tourism. The main source of revenue is farming, but capitals are also coming from Russia through services work.
Historically, Tajikistan has been a land of conquests and religious influence through centuries on the Silk Road. Following the USSR collapse in 1991, the country became independent. The exercise of authority remains difficult in this tormented country hustled by two periods of civil war from 1992 to 1997 and 2017 to 2020. Globally, people are mostly looking backwards remembering the Soviet times when the wealth was equitably streamed all over the population.
We have been discovering the Fann mountains, a limestone range in the Gissar Alia range, known for summits and blue lakes. We took place in an old alpine camp at 2700 meters called Alaudin vertikal alpine camp, a perfect location to circumvolute the region close to the main summits like Chimtarga (5489m) and its satellites Energia (5120m) and Zamok (5049m).
Many routes have been opened during the annual Russian mountaineering championships since the 70’s. The bibliography in the camp is very detailed and abundant, but best is to be Russian speaker to read guidebooks!
To sum up Russian approach of mountaineering, teams are composed by two or three persons. Each role is different: a climber responsible to open the route, climbing without a pack but with all protections to free or aid climb. A belayer in charge of belaying the climber, removing protections, and reinforcing each belay. A porter carrying all packs and necessities in charge of the bivouac, water, and food. The two last ones are using a Jumar on a fixed rope to ascend the route. This climbing strategy needs some strong physical skills, to be able to Jumar up a 1000-meter route. The trend is slowly changing, and free climbing is becoming more common.
Very few routes are repeated, almost no protections are left and climbing projects are committing and long: a six-hour approach, fifteen to twenty hours of ascent, and six hours back to an advanced base camp. A 50-to-60-liter backpack like the Blue Ice Stache 60 is recommended unless you hire a donkey.
The rock is globally crumbling on the bottom up to 4300 m, then getting more compact higher. The glacier limit is around 5000 m depending on sun exposition. The rock is often exposed to high and low temperatures, with rock bursts occurring sometimes.
Regarding to the material to take, two triple rated ropes and one tagline of 60 meters each, two sets of friends are useful, a set of various pitons (X10), a set of small nuts, a third tool, twenty meters of 6 mm cord that will complete quickdraws, slings, carabiners… and a belay device. A glacier rescue kit is also useful. Light and compact crampons (Harfang Alpine) and a pair of light alpine ice axes (Akila).
Add a light tent, a stove, tarp and sleeping bag to allow to gain time on the approach and acclimatization. Water is abundant but must be boiled or treated with UV Steripen or tabs to avoid gastric issues.
This expedition would have been a great occasion to dig deeper in the Russian mountaineering history, to understand a different approach in a beautiful landscape, like Pakistan, offering a great hospitality.