Like all of us, when “lockdown” happened, we expected it to last for a month. Then, like all of us, we were surprised when it seemed to go on and on. Maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, or maybe some of you are feeling stir crazy as well. We live in Colorado, a little over an hour from the Rocky Mountain range – a year-round playground right in our backyard! When the state closed access to trails due to Covid-19, it was reassuring to know that we could access wilderness as soon as lockdown was over.
The walks, runs, and bike rides on trails around the city have been great, but the longer it lasted, the more we longed for the crisp, clean air and mountain solitude. Once restrictions started to ease, we planned our first hike and soon after, headed out to the mountains.
We started out early on Saturday morning to beat most other people to the trailhead…or so we planned. It was a beautiful drive through the winding canyon towards Indian Peaks wilderness, and we were excited for the morning ahead of us. Until we saw the policeman in the middle of the road, alerting drivers that the trailhead was full…!
Not to be deterred, I checked the map and found another small trail to a lake in an open space protected area – a little off the beaten path so not very popular. The easy trail was more of a long walk in the woods than a hike, but it was still great to be outside with very few people!
The starting point at mountain lake 8000ft (2439m) above sea level was a short walk away. From there, we set off on a 5-mile (8km) loop gaining less than 1000ft (305m) of elevation – a great way for our legs to ease back to sloping terrain after over 3 months of flat city life. Our previous day out at altitude (over 11000ft!) had been for snowboarding in March – an entirely different season and what feels like a lifetime ago!
Being out in the spring air was refreshing, with the smells and sounds of the forest all around.
The hike was shorter than planned, but exactly what we needed! The forest of green aspen and pine trees with mountain peaks rising tall above open meadows and an added bonus of the small mountain lake nestled within its midst, was a great start to the weekend. What a way to get back into nature!
The pandemic is still prevalent, but this should not stop us from planning and preparing our next adventure when travel resumes. We still have hopes of getting to Taiwan at the end of the year, so check out our Xue Mountain trek and our Holy Trail trek.
We also have lots of how-to videos, sharing of tips on topics such as photography, backpacking, climbing, diving and trekking on our Youtube Channel and website, to prepare you for your next adventure while staying at home. Subscribe to your Youtube channel now to receive updates whenever we upload great content!
“Annapurna, to which we had gone emptyhanded, was a treasure on which we should live the rest of our days. With this realization we turn the page: a new life begins.
There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.” ― Maurice Herzog, Annapurna
Although the sentiment behind this quote was a Herculean first ascent of a virgin 8,000er, it resonated strongly with my experience of Nepal – albeit on a much more diminutive scale.
Despite my proximity to Malaysia (living in Singapore), my first real trekking experience was in the Himalayas, an accidental adventure which shifted the focus of my travels since. With no concrete idea of what a multi-day trek at altitude would entail, I landed in Kathmandu with the must-sees dutifully mapped out, eager to discover, armed with a Lonely Planet and plenty of naivety.
At an elevation of 1,400m above sea level, there was just enough crisp in the night air for a pleasant change from the humidity of Singapore. ‘What beautiful temperatures we are going to get in the mountains’, I thought in blissful ignorance, ‘4,100m will feel just a little cooler.’ (On top of everything else, “wind chill” has not quite made its way into my lexicon.)
The next 4 days became an exercise in humility. Huffing and puffing each day while dragging an out of shape body up the slopes of the Ghorepani – Poon Hill region was as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Watching elderly ladies chug past me hoisting bags and sacks on their shoulders gave me motivation – after I got past the mortification.
Nepal was also where I first experienced “mountain spirit”, the camaraderie of fellow hikers and mountain people that crossed my path, always with an encouraging word or a smile when the spoken language failed. This lovely energy from strangers would become a constant feature in treks the world over.
On my second trip, eight years later, I joined two friends on the Annapurna Base Camp trek, one of the most popular in the region. The mountains have not changed. Prayer flags line the trail, and stupas and traffic dot the valley of Kathmandu.
We were blessed with a gorgeous winter trek over Christmas and our guide regaled us with stories and piled us with gourmet meals enroute.
Strong connections were formed with the crew and a scant 3 years later, I returned with Wildfire Expeditions to Mardi Himal, an off the beaten path trek still within the Annapurna region. It starts beautifully up a quiet path through the village into the forest, where we were led by rhododendrons strewn along the trail like a red carpet.
We incorporated some yoga into this trek at the lower altitudes. Our wonderfully hospitable hosts, rearranged the dining room for our wellness hour. Our wellness hour one morphed into party central just a couple of hours later as Raksi and Nepali music flowed, the two bemused tourists were warmly welcomed into their midst!
We found time to clown around during the lighter hiking days, inspired by Nature’s backdrop. The weather remained changeable. In one day, we went from dry forest to a blizzard!
In the last decade, I have visited Nepal thrice. Each time, the landscape took my breath away, somehow always more awe-inspiring than I remembered. Gazing upon the iconic Machaphuchare with its peak shaped like a fish’s tail the sense of familiarity and wonder never ceased. In March 2017, the air was still crisp, the weather predictably unpredictable, the altitude just as punishing to sea level lungs, and the panorama even more breath-taking than in my memories. There simply aren’t words to describe the views, the emotion they inspire, and the experience.
As the world is gradually coming out of Pause, I look forward to the day I can take to the mountains once more.
If Nepal calls out to you as much as it does to us, join Wildfire Expeditions on our next very special Mardi Himal trek. Trek is suitable for families and groups of all ages. Check out our website for more information about this amazing location! If you are looking for something a bit more challenging, then check out our other treks in Nepal, including our special Annapurna Base Camp Trek.
Talk to anyone about trekking in the Central Asia region, and the list goes on and on. In particular, one of the most raved about treks in the Pamir-Alay area has been crowned the title of “Asian Patagonia”. It got its name from the stark resemblance to the majestic beauty of the South American Patagonia, which offers hikers the alpine meadows, endless valleys, high ragged peaks, and white snowy landscapes with glaciers surrounding the peaks of Sabakh (5823m) and Aksu (5365m). With anticipation, we drove to Uzgarysh village, and met up with our hosts. We were showered with typical Kyrgyz hospitality, served traditional home-baked bread known as Lepeshka with constant topping up of tea and coffee.
After a hearty breakfast with our host, we are ready to embark on our journey! Blessed with great weather and clear blue skies, we followed the trail by a massive river called the Laily-Mazar Canyon, and the sunrays flicker like glitter on the river surface.
Even the cows and horses were out and about to bask in the sun.
That’s where we are heading towards! The majestic peak that appears right before our eyes.
“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. “- Dorothea Lange. There is always time to stop for a photo to capture that beautiful moment.
Curious adventurists we are, we decided to do a quick detour to the other side of the river bank to see what this captivating land offers!
I was beguiled by the beauty of this place. As the sun sets, the sky was ablaze with the rich and bold colours of the setting sun. As night falls, the moon rises and the sky changed to a purple tint. We fell asleep in the tent listening to the sound of rapids from the canyon, to the nature lullaby that relaxes our body and mind and were soon lured to sleep.
Good morning world! We woke up to motion outside the tent. Curious, we peeped out of the tent and were greeted with cows grazing the grass near the river.
After a quick breakfast, we are off to explore the peak that have been in sight the whole time.
Relaxing day out! Quick siesta before we proceed with our day trip exploration.
The river valley is surrounded by birch trees lining the river banks, juniper thickets scattered all around, and as we got closer to the peak, we were so close to the glacier! Surrounding rocks and slopes bear the tracks of ancient glacier activity.
Found a great spot for a rest. Surrounded by massive glaciers and snow capped peaks in the background.
Much as we would love to continue with the exploration, we had planned for a quick 2 Days 1 Night trek instead of the whole Aksu – Sabakh trek itinerary, so at this point, we had to turn around to start our descent.
Our kind and hospitable host was very kind to offer to pick us up from the trail head at 3pm, so at the arranged time, he was indeed out there to welcome us back! We were excited to see him! Just like seeing our long-lost friend whom we have not met for years (in actual fact, it had only been 1 day)!
Back in the host’s guest house, we were offered food but we had to kindly decline the offer as we needed to continue a long drive to our next destination. And finally, I managed to convince the younger of the 2 little girls to take a photo with me! I guess she was amused at how I was playing peek-and-boo with her.
Time to say goodbye to our wonderful hosts. Their hospitality and kindness towards guests are just beyond what one can ask for.
Want to experience the typical warm hospitality the Kyrgyz shower their guests with? Want to join us on this beautiful trip to the Asian Patagonia? Looking for more wild adventures in Central Asia? Wildfire Expeditions offer trekking, mountaineering, sight-seeing and horseback riding trips within Central Asia region. Contact us to find out more!
Trekking Nepal always inspires wonderful images and thoughts of the vast expanse of the Himalayas. But when it’s time to start packing, that’s when reality sets in. Questions that every trekker asks themselves start going thru the mind…
I wondered how difficult the trek would be. What if my pack is too heavy? Will I be fit enough? What if I get altitude sickness? These were all questions I asked myself, and maybe you are thinking the same thing if you’re planning on trekking to Everest Base Camp.
There isn’t an easy answer to these questions. The difficulty of the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek depends on many factors. In this post, I’ll go over the factors that can make the trek difficult, and how I got around them and successfully made it to EBC, and how you can too.
What makes the Everest Base Camp trek potentially difficult?
The altitude is by far the most challenging part of the EBC trek, especially for people who haven’t been at high altitudes before.
To put the altitude in perspective, EBC is about 500 meters higher than the top of Mont Blanc (the highest point in the Alps)!
Altitude sickness doesn’t discriminate. No matter how fit, young, or experienced you are, it can affect anyone.
Avoiding altitude sickness
Fortunately, it’s possible to get around the difficult altitude by acclimatizing. Ascend slowly is the best advice I can give for the altitude.
By slowly, I mean that after you’re above an altitude of 3,000 meters, you shouldn’t gain more than 300 to 400 meters in sleeping elevation per night, and for every 1,000 meters you should schedule a rest day. If you follow this rule, you’ll reduce your risk of developing altitude sickness.
Another great way to acclimatize is to stay hydrated (honestly, a great tip for life in general). I recommend drinking four or five litres of water each day during your EBC trek.
On top of drinking a lot of water, be sure to get 8+ hours of sleep per night and eat properly. It’s all about staying healthy so that your body has the energy to acclimatize!
Diamox is a commonly used drug that your doctor might prescribe to you before you go to Nepal or other high altitude destinations. It doesn’t completely remove the need to acclimatize (especially above 5,000 meters), but it does help a lot of people.
Regarding Diamox, you should consult with your doctor if you’re interested in using it. I prefer to acclimatize naturally, so I haven’t looked into Diamox too much (I did meet people using it on their EBC trek).
When I trekked to Everest Base Camp, it was by far the longest trek I’d ever done. In total, you’ll trek about 130 kilometres and gain about 400 to 800 meters in elevation each day.
Walking every day for 12+ days is tiring for most people. You need to put in a lot of work to be rewarded with the views at base camp, and they’re totally worth it!
Along with the numerous walking days, the closer you get to EBC, the colder the temperatures are. Depending on the time of year you trek, it can get pretty cold at night.
During my journey to Everest Base Camp, I trekked without the use of porters – meaning I had to carry all of my gear on my back.
Before your trek, try to lighten your load as much as possible. You don’t need to carry your city clothes up to EBC, just bring one or two sets of trekking clothes. You also don’t need multiple pairs of shoes; a good pair of hiking boots or trail runners will do just fine (add a pair of sandals if you wish).
Trust me, when you’re at 5,000 meters in altitude every ounce counts.
The alternative is to hire porters, which is a good idea if you feel you won’t be able to carry all your gear even after eliminating useless items.
Unfortunately, it’s fairly common to have to deal with stomach issues while on the Everest Base Camp trek.
If you’ve just flown from a western country, your stomach is likely not used to the bacteria you may encounter in Nepal. There are a few things you can do to decrease your risk of stomach issues.
First, take probiotics before your trip. These can help improve your gut flora.
When you’re in Nepal, make sure to never drink unfiltered water. Yes – even that clear glacial stream you see likely has Yak dung in it. In Kathmandu, you can buy chlorine tablets to filter your water. Alternatives to chlorine tablets are Sawyer filters and boiling any water you drink.
On your trek, avoid eating any dishes containing meat. In the Khumbu, locals do not kill animals. This means that any meat being served in a tea house was carried in from the lowlands, a multi-day unrefrigerated journey. It’s cheaper to order vegetarian dishes anyway.
Even with the above strategies, you might still have stomach issues (I did). If you do, just take a rest day to recover. Drink lots of tea and be sure to get some electrolytes. Resting and recovering is very important so that you can get back on your trek as soon as possible!
Making the Everest Base Camp trek less difficult
While the things I’ve outlined above describe the difficulties of the Everest Base Camp trek, there are a few things that you can do to decrease the difficulty.
Proper training can make your trek much easier.
You don’t need to do any crazy strength training, but having good core strength will help your balance when wearing a heavy backpack.
Cardio training is more important. The EBC trek is basically just a long hike at high altitude, so great ways to train for it are by going on hikes, running, and cycling. Climbing up and down stairs is a good way to train if you have access to a tall building.
When you’re getting comfortable with the hikes near your home, try doing them with a loaded backpack. It’s crazy how much tougher it can make them!
If you do cardio training in the months leading up to your trek, you’ll be in much better shape than the average person attempting to reach EBC.
This is only an option for some people, but if you live in a place with access to reasonably high altitudes (3,000+ meters), you can get partially acclimatized before your trip.
If you live in Colorado, you have a bunch of 4,000-meter peaks that are great for acclimatization.
Understand that acclimatization only really lasts for about a week, so you can only do this type of training just before you leave on your trip.
Avoid Bad Weather
Avoiding bad weather in the Khumbu Valley is normally fairly easy.
Plan to do your Everest Base Camp trek between the months of October and May. The summer is monsoon season and there will be a lot of precipitation. Avoid the winter months (December, January, February) if you don’t like cold weather.
When trekking, start early each morning. During my trek in May, every day began with clear blue skies and then turned to clouds (and sometimes a bit of rain/snow) at around 2 pm.
By starting early, you’ll be able to avoid the bad weather (for the most part). You’ll get better views too!
You don’t need to go spend $500 on a jacket, but be prepared for cold temperatures, rain, light snow, and wind.
Any gear needed for the trek can be bought in Thamel (tourist district in Kathmandu) very cheaply. The one exception to this rule is footwear. While hiking boots can be bought in Thamel, it’s a better idea to buy them at home so that you have time to break them in properly. It’s wouldn’t be fun to be on day 2 of your trek and have your feet covered in blisters.
Trekking to Everest Base Camp is something almost everyone is capable of. While it can be difficult, proper preparation can help manage the difficulty.
If you’re still a bit worried about this trek being too challenging, remember that there are a bunch of other great treks in Nepal that might be more suitable for you!
I hope this post helps you successfully complete your trek! Let me know if you do! If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.
If you’d like to read more, check out my journal-style post about my trek to Everest Base Camp!
Moving quickly and efficiently whilst multi-pitch climbing is a real art, and will greatly improve your experience. Here are some great techniques and tips on how to hone your skills, and get more out of your day. Bad stance management and lack of planning can lead to all manner of problems, and the longer the route, the more serious this becomes. Prior planning and preparation prevents particularly poor performance. Research your routes Plan your routes thoroughly before you leave, including descents and alternatives if your chosen route is busy. Having a good understanding of a route before you go will mean that you can also have a good idea of the type of rack you’ll need. If it’s a lot of crack climbing or lower grade stuff, then you can leave the micros at home. If it’s a face or slab, then you may not need any large cams, and if it’s polished limestone, then swap your cams for hexes. The route description will really help you make some of these decisions. Photocopy (and laminate) the relevant guidebook pages and maybe leave the guide book behind or put it in the second’s pack. Make at least two copies in case you lose one. Making notes on the back of the photocopy on descent, gear, and important beta like belays and tricky route-finding can save you lots of time. If you know someone who’s done the route before, then have a chat with them before you leave. Why take 500 pages when you only need two? You’re more likely to get out a piece of paper and check the route than a whole guide book, and it’s a lot easier to do this when you’re halfway through a pitch. Attaching it to a bit of cord will mean you won’t
Moving quickly and efficiently whilst multi-pitch climbing is a real art, and will greatly improve your experience. Here are some great techniques and tips on how to hone your skills, and get more out of your day.
Bad stance management and lack of planning can lead to all manner of problems, and the longer the route, the more serious this becomes.
Prior planning and preparation prevents particularly poor performance.
Research your routes
Plan your routes thoroughly before you leave, including descents and alternatives if your chosen route is busy. Having a good understanding of a route before you go will mean that you can also have a good idea of the type of rack you’ll need. If it’s a lot of crack climbing or lower grade stuff, then you can leave the micros at home. If it’s a face or slab, then you may not need any large cams, and if it’s polished limestone, then swap your cams for hexes. The route description will really help you make some of these decisions.
Photocopy (and laminate) the relevant guidebook pages and maybe leave the guide book behind or put it in the second’s pack. Make at least two copies in case you lose one. Making notes on the back of the photocopy on descent, gear, and important beta like belays and tricky route-finding can save you lots of time. If you know someone who’s done the route before, then have a chat with them before you leave.
Why take 500 pages when you only need two? You’re more likely to get out a piece of paper and check the route than a whole guide book, and it’s a lot easier to do this when you’re halfway through a pitch. Attaching it to a bit of cord will mean you won’t drop it. You and your second can easily access it and ensure you don’t waste time going off route. It will also save you time at the bottom of the route, and means you don’t waste time pouring through the guide book.
Organise and pack your kit the day before, not in the car park or at the bottom of the route. Time spent sorting out your gear and changing clothes is time spent not climbing, and if you leave it till the last minute, you’re much more likely to have forgotten something vital.
Pack your kit so that when you arrive at the crag your helmet comes out first and goes straight on your head, followed by your harness. Then the ropes for your second to flake while you gear up.
When you’re packing your gear, think about how you like to rack it. Maybe clip all your quickdraws together, so when you pull them out they can go straight on your harness and not in a mess on the floor. Clip nuts and cams together in separate bunches, and arrange your slings so they are ready to go with karabiners already on them. Another option is to group your gear together according to the gear loop it’s going to go on, so when you pull it out it goes straight on the relevant loop. It’s not about rushing, but about a minimum of faff.
If you’re going to be carrying rucksacks up the climb, it can be useful to have one that will fit inside the other, enabling the leader to climb without a pack.
Warm up your body and mind
If it’s a short walk in to the crag then warming up can be tricky. If you’re driving to the venue then keep the car warm or wear a belay jacket to keep your body temperature up. I usually wiggle my toes, fingers, wrists and ankles to get them loose and lubricated. When walking in start mobilising the bigger joints – the aim is to mobilise and loosen up but not stretch. If it’s a longer walk in then use the time to discuss the route and get warm.
It’s also a good idea to get your climbing head on during this time. Put aside other thoughts or stresses and start thinking about the route description and the types of moves that might be needed (lay backs, jamming etc). Try and remember (positive) experiences on similar rock and grades. So much about climbing is psychological, and taking time to focus properly will mean you begin the climb in the right frame of mind.
Get on with it
It’s amazing how fast the time can go when you’re at the bottom of a route, but if you’ve prepared properly before you get there, then it should really only be a few minutes before you’re climbing.
Whilst the leader sorts the gear, the second flakes the ropes and sorts their personal gear and packs or stashes the rucksacks away. Once you’ve both tied on and checked each other, have a quick reminder of climbing calls or rope pulls to make sure that you’re on the same page, and then the leader puts on (pre-cleaned) rock boots, opens up chalk bag and heads up.
The second will often keep approach footwear on but may loosen off the laces and have rock boots laid out ready or if cold keep ’em stuffed in their jacket to warm them up. Once leader shouts ‘safe’ the second needs to be in their boots and totally ready to climb by the time the rope is pulled tight so that when the leader calls ‘climb when ready’, you are!
Beginning your route with this level of efficiency will put you in a great position to maintain it for the rest of the climb.
The big one – stance management
A lot of time is wasted at belays and on multi-pitch climbs and that time can add up quickly. This system doesn’t require you to move any faster but will allow you to leave the belay and continue climbing more efficiently.
Make sure you both know how you like to rack your gear on your harnesses (have a system, even if you adapt it for different routes). This can be talked through on the walk in or the day before. Doing this will mean that at belays you can both be doing something to enable the leader to get going again asap.
TIP: Use different coloured tape to colour coordinate the nuts on their racking karabiner. For example small nuts are marked with red tape as is the karabiner they’re racked on, medium nuts with blue tape etc. This enables the second to very easily re-rack the leader without having to constantly ask where things go or handing them to the leader to sort. The leader should be sorting the ropes while the second re-stocks the leader’s harness. If the second hands it to the leader or clips it to the belay then the act of re-racking involves more movements and actions than is necessary.
Here’s what normally happens
The second arrives at the belay, clips themselves into it, and then takes the cleaned kit (usually in a mess) from their harness and hands it to the leader who then has to sort it, leaving the second with nothing to do. Or the second takes the kit and clips it to the belay, and then the leader unclips it from the belay and racks it on their harness. Two people doing one job. Then, if you’re leading in blocks (same leader for the whole route) the ropes need back-flaking. Once flaked and the leader on belay, only then can the climbing resume.
What if we did this instead?
As the second climbs the pitch they strip and sort the gear and rack it neatly on their harness in a way that will enable them to re-rack the leader’s harness. I put all wires onto one krab, re-sling sling draws (60cm slings tripled up), cams on one side or on one part of my harness. If using the Yosemite racking technique (see Tip: Yosemite racking) then, as a second I can rack the quickdraws in the Yosemite way ready to put straight onto the leader’s harness – in one movement three or four quickdraws can be transferred from the second’s harness to the leader’s. Any cams or large nuts with extendable slings should be shortened in readiness. I rack all of my cams on individual krabs and if I need to extend the cam with a quickdraw, I’ll leave the krab on the cam to make stripping and sorting easier.
Upon reaching the belay the traditional roles can be reversed somewhat because the second knows how the leader racks their kit. Because they have organised the stripped kit onto their harness, the second is in the best position to remove it and re-rack the leader. The leader back-flakes and sorts the ropes – why? Because they’re the ones who have spent the last five, ten, fifteen minutes coiling or stacking it at the belay! So surely they know best how to back flake it (and can’t blame anyone but themselves if there’s a tangle!).
The system above is based on the same leader, leading for the whole route, but even if you’re leading in relay (swinging leads) the system doesn’t really change that much. There should be no need to re-flake the rope, but instead of doing this the new second (already at the belay), can rack the new leader with the kit that wasn’t used. While the new leader can be looking at the route description for the next pitch. If the second is to lead the next pitch then they should be stripping and sorting the gear from the route onto their harness ready for their lead as they climb.
This system involves less actions/movements and gives defined roles to each person depending on who’s best placed to carry them out. Basically, the second deals with the gear, the leader deals with the ropes. If one finishes their job first, then they can help the other (this system obviously assumes a fair amount of competence on the part of the second).
If you’re planning on travelling the Trans-Mongolian Railway, or just want to visit Mongolia after travelling in China, you’ll need to know how to get from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar.
There are a few different ways to make the journey – the fast and expensive flight, the normal direct train, and the cheap way. This post will show you how to get from China to Mongolia for less than $50.
You can also use this post’s information in reverse (travelling from Mongolia to China).
Beijing to Ulaanbaatar Route Overview
Here’s a brief summary of the cheap route from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar:
Take an overnight bus from Beijing to Erlian (a small city on the Chinese side of the China/Mongolia border).
Hang out in Erlian for a few hours if you’d like – there’s an odd dinosaur park/museum that is worth visiting.
Take a shared taxi across the border from Erlian to Zamyn-Uud (a town on the Mongolian side).
That evening, take the overnight train from Zamyn-Uud to Ulaanbaatar.
Arrive in Ulaanbaatar in the morning!
Getting from Beijing to Erlian
I took the overnight bus from Beijing to Erlian (Inner Mongolia) and found it quite comfortable. The overnight bus has flat beds rather than seats(although if you’re on the taller side like me, you won’t be able to fully stretch out).
Bus schedules in China change frequently, but as of December 2018, it’s been reported that the Beijing-Erlian (also called Erenhot) bus departs from the Yongdingmen bus station. Tickets cost 180 RMB ($26), and the bus leaves at 5:30 pm. I’d recommend heading to the station around lunchtime to make sure that you are able to get a ticket, and then go hang out somewhere nearby until departure time.
The bus will stop at a service station once or twice throughout the trip, giving you a chance to buy some water/snacks. Early in the morning, the bus will stop for a few hours to give the driver some time to nap. Expect to arrive in Erlian at around 8-9 am.
What to do in Erlian
In Erlian, you’ve got to check out the Dinosaur Museum of Erenhot if you’ve got a thing for weird museums. You’ll likely be approached by a driver as soon as you get off of your bus, so just tell them (or use Google Translate) that you want to go to the Dinosaur Museum. Make sure to negotiate. Entry tickets to the museum were 50 RMB when I visited.
When I went, another traveller that I met at the bus station had already found a driver, and we ended up paying a total of 100 RMB round-trip (the driver will wait in the parking lot while you visit the museum).
Crossing the China/Mongolia border
To cross the border, you’ll need to take a shared taxi/jeep. Drivers approach you, either at the bus station or in the main square of the town. Make sure to negotiate a price upfront – expect to pay between 50-80 RMB.
You’ll likely have to wait around for a bit while your vehicle fills up with other passengers. It’s a good idea to grab some snacks nearby, as the immigration process can take a while.
The jeep will drive you to the border control building. It has a giant rainbow arched over it – you can’t miss it. You’ll go through the typical border-crossing process, just have your passport ready and it’ll be fine.
There was a bit of confusion when it was my turn to be stamped into Mongolia – the immigration officers looked confused when looking through my passport and then called over one of their colleagues. The new officer continued to look through my passport, flipping through the pages with that same confused look. They then asked me “Do Canadians need a visa for Mongolia?” – I said no (the truth), and two seconds later my passport had a Mongolian stamp in it.
I guess the officers hadn’t ever dealt with a Canadian passport before, so didn’t know if I needed a visa or not. Pretty funny how they just took my word for it, rather than looking it up.
We had to wait for about an hour after exiting Mongolian immigration, as our jeep was held up in the vehicle search line. I was having a conversation with one of the Mongolian dudes that were in the same jeep as me, and he started telling me how he smuggles cell phones across the border. He then opened up the well-wrapped box he had been guarding carefully and showed me the hundred or so iPhones that were inside. Glad that didn’t get caught at the border.
Welcome to Zamyn-Uud, Mongolia
You’re now in Mongolia, congrats! You’ll immediately notice how different the two countries are, and get a taste of a typical Mongolian town.
There isn’t much to do here, and the only thing of note is the town square with it’s few shops. It’s worth going for a short walk around town and picking up a SIM card if you want one.
Getting from Zamyn-Uud to Ulaanbaatar
Getting from Zamyn-Uud to Ulaanbaatar is rather simple. Upon arrival in Zamyn-Uud, head to the train ticket station near the main square.
There is a daily train departing from Zamyn-Uud at around 6 pm, and arriving in Ulaanbaatar at 8:30 am.
Tickets cost 25,600₮ ($10) for a hard sleeper. Try to purchase your ticket as soon as you arrive in Zamyn-Uud before they sell out.
The train is fairly comfortable but had no AC so it was quite hot as it rolled through the steppe before the sunset.
All in all, getting from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar with this budget method will cost a total of $46 (not including a visit to the Dinosaur Museum in Erlian).
Spring Loaded Camming Devices (SLCD’s) come under the heading of active protection and are one of the most versatile weapons in a climber’s arsenal. In this article you will find a brief outline of the different types available and what to look for when you begin building a cam rack. There are a number of articles on this site which take a more in-depth look at putting together your first trad rack and placing protection. The Russian, Vitaly Abalakov, invented the Abalakov Cam way back in the 1930’s. These were based on the mathematical logarithmic spiral shape, in order to maintain a constant angle between the cam and the rock at each contact point. It wasn’t until 1974 that Ray Jardine invented the first SLCDs and named them Friends. These literally changed the course of climbing history. For the first time, both parallel and flared cracks could be protected. Today we have a huge choice of cams, and they have come a long way, but they are all still based on the original Friend from Jardine which is still in production by Wild Country. The first thing a new climber will notice is that camming devices are not cheap, and cost significantly more than any passive protection. When you’re first starting out there really is no immediate need to own any cams at all, and it is well worth learning how to place passive protection well before you invest in your first cams. As with passive protection a little research into the areas that you intend to climb will help you decide what type and sizes will provide the most benefit. Check online and in guide books for suggested racks, or even better, give us a call or an email and we can help you out. Single Axle These are
Spring Loaded Camming Devices (SLCD’s) come under the heading of active protection and are one of the most versatile weapons in a climber’s arsenal. In this article you will find a brief outline of the different types available and what to look for when you begin building a cam rack. There are a number of articles on this site which take a more in-depth look at putting together your first trad rack and placing protection.
The Russian, Vitaly Abalakov, invented the Abalakov Cam way back in the 1930’s. These were based on the mathematical logarithmic spiral shape, in order to maintain a constant angle between the cam and the rock at each contact point. It wasn’t until 1974 that Ray Jardine invented the first SLCDs and named them Friends. These literally changed the course of climbing history. For the first time, both parallel and flared cracks could be protected.
Today we have a huge choice of cams, and they have come a long way, but they are all still based on the original Friend from Jardine which is still in production by Wild Country.
The first thing a new climber will notice is that camming devices are not cheap, and cost significantly more than any passive protection. When you’re first starting out there really is no immediate need to own any cams at all, and it is well worth learning how to place passive protection well before you invest in your first cams. As with passive protection a little research into the areas that you intend to climb will help you decide what type and sizes will provide the most benefit. Check online and in guide books for suggested racks, or even better, give us a call or an email and we can help you out.
These are the closest cams to the original design by Ray Jardine and most, if not all, still use the 13.75 degree angle that Ray calculated back in 1978. Single axle cams are lighter than double axles, but have a smaller range. These tend to be a little cheaper than double axles, but you will need more of them to make up a full set.
Black Diamond was first to introduce the double axle design with their Camalots, but once the patent expired other brands quickly brought their own versions out. A double axle design means each cam has a bigger range, and this means that in general you are more likely to place the right cam first go. They are a fair bit heavier than single axle units, but when you compare a full set of each there may be little difference in weight. These are generally the best cams to go for when you’re starting out.
These have a single, flexible stem that will adapt to the angle of pull, working well in horizontal and vertical placements. They are usually made up of a flexible cable that is either enclosed or supported by a plastic frame or tube. The latest offering from Black Diamond, the X4, uses aluminium armour to protect the cable. One small thing to bear in mind with a single stem is that the trigger nearly always requires two fingers to operate it.
Double stem or U stem, this design is used by DMM on their 4CUs and by Metolius on their Supercams. This system can give the stem more rigidity that can help with placements. They also tend to be lighter than a single stem equivalent. One real advantage is that the trigger can be operated with just one finger, so it can be placed when you are at a total stretch. Double stem cams are good value for money when you’re on a budget, and work well to compliment a double axle rack.
This is the sideways diameter of the unit, and in general is more important for larger sized cams. A cam that is too narrow will be unstable, whilst a cam that is too broad will not fit into shallow cracks and such. This isn’t something to worry too much about as manufacturers have made most of the decisions for you, but it is worth comparing different head widths between types and brands, especially if you know you’ll be placing them in narrow pockets or pin scars.
Cam stops not only prevent the cam lobes from inverting, they can also hold a load in passive or umbrella mode. Up until recently, only double axle cams could do this, but now that most cams are forged rather than cut, most good single axle cams now have cam stops. While it is never a good idea to simply hang a cam passively, a cam stop can help a tipped out unit hold a fall, and if nothing else will help prevent the trigger mechanism from snapping when dragged through a crack.
Number of Cams (Lobes)
The number of cams on a device, also known as lobes, varies. Most use four as this gives the most stability and surface contact area, but there are also a number of options available with only three. The benefit of having fewer cam lobes is that the unit will fit into smaller spaces, but this design will have considerably less holding power than a normal four lobe unit.
All cams come with a small length of sown tape attached to the end of the stem. Some of these, like DMM Dragons, have an extendable sling which can be shortened or lengthened, and have the advantage that you may not need to attach an extender to it.
These are units that have two lobes of one size and two of another size. They are seldom seen in the UK, but are the only cam type that will deal with small pin scars and off-width cracks. If you’re not convinced, just take a moment to think of the last perfectly parallel crack you encountered. These are a worthwhile addition to any rack, and essential if you’re planning on climbing in the US.
Just like the larger ones, but from small to miniscule.
Come join one of our On-the-Ground Courses to learn more about the fundamentals of trad climbing. Or join one of our trad climbing trips and spend a week with us learning about trad climbing!
During this unfortunate lockdown period, I have had time to sort thru a lot of photos and I came across pics of a canoeing trip. And I was reminded of while doing the canoe trek down the Whanganui river in New Zealand, I had the fortune (or misfortune) to experience the canoe tipping over and take an unexpected swim. I thought I would share some lessons learnt from that cold splash. Canoe weight distribution matters intently Balance is everything in a canoe and a slight shift in weight can make the balance of the canoe one-sided. If you are carrying lots of items, make sure the weight is distributed equally side to side. That is, when you are in the canoe, make sure the canoe sides are balanced so that one side is not leaning more in the water. If it leans in the water, while just sitting in the canoe, once you are moving and steering, you will have an increased chance of water coming in on the side that is dipping down. Once water comes in on that side, it will become even heavier, dipping down even more. Until eventually you will end up overturned. Not the best way to be in a canoe. Evenly distribute the weight, left to right, front to back. You may want to place heavier objects more toward the back. This will help to keep the canoe more streamlined in the front. The main thing, keep the sides balanced, or you will end up swimming. Water tight barrel / bags are essential. Watertight bags or plastic barrels as we used, are essential for the trip to store your gear in. Not only do they keep your gear dry, but it will also keep the canoe buoyant and floating more on top of the
During this unfortunate lockdown period, I have had time to sort thru a lot of photos and I came across pics of a canoeing trip. And I was reminded of while doing the canoe trek down the Whanganui river in New Zealand, I had the fortune (or misfortune) to experience the canoe tipping over and take an unexpected swim. I thought I would share some lessons learnt from that cold splash.
Canoe weight distribution matters intently
Balance is everything in a canoe and a slight shift in weight can make the balance of the canoe one-sided. If you are carrying lots of items, make sure the weight is distributed equally side to side. That is, when you are in the canoe, make sure the canoe sides are balanced so that one side is not leaning more in the water. If it leans in the water, while just sitting in the canoe, once you are moving and steering, you will have an increased chance of water coming in on the side that is dipping down. Once water comes in on that side, it will become even heavier, dipping down even more. Until eventually you will end up overturned. Not the best way to be in a canoe. Evenly distribute the weight, left to right, front to back. You may want to place heavier objects more toward the back. This will help to keep the canoe more streamlined in the front. The main thing, keep the sides balanced, or you will end up swimming.
Water tight barrel / bags are essential.
Watertight bags or plastic barrels as we used, are essential for the trip to store your gear in. Not only do they keep your gear dry, but it will also keep the canoe buoyant and floating more on top of the water rather than in the water if you overturn the canoe. An upside-down canoe that is partially submerged is a back breaker to get it back upright. The watertight barrels will also keep the canoe from completely filling up with water while upside down.
Strapping everything in you want to take home with you
This may seem obvious, but I saw many water bottles and jackets floating separately from the owners’ canoe. If you want to take it home with you, tie it or strap it to the canoe. An easy method is to tie a string to the canoe, thread the string through all of your small objects like cups with handles, waterproof cameras with long straps and such, and tie a two-litre empty plastic milk bottle to the other end. This way the string will float with the object, if it is being dragged behind by canoe upright or upside.
If you follow these three tips, I can’t guarantee you will stay dry, but I can assure you that all of your belongings will reach the destination safely. If you enjoy canoeing and the outdoors, and want to experience nature on your terms, we can help. Our trip consultants can build the perfect challenge for you. Be different. Trek the lesser explored, and live Life with Passion.
Respect nature and those around you. Take out more trash than you packed in and Leave No Trace.
Do any research on Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, and results will definitely prompt you to visit one of the beautiful, clear, breath-taking turquoise lakes in the region. One of the most raved about gem is located in western Kyrgyzstan, within the Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve in the Jalal-Abad Region, which is also a designated UNESCO World Biosphere reserve. There are 6 lakes in this area, Kylaa-Kel, Aram-Kel, Cheychek-Kol, Bakaly-Kel, Chacha-Kel and the most spectacular of all is the Lake Sary-Chelek. To spice things up a little, we are going to explore this lake in the traditional nomadic way, on a horse! This is really exciting, because it is my first time doing a horseback trek!
So we started our journey towards Arkyt village, driving by a massive turquoise lake that has a yurt built by the bank of the water. How clear is the reflection of the mountain ranges on the water! What a view!
After meeting our local guide at the village, we were brought to what he calls his “humble home”, and like how all Kyrgyzs always treat their guests with immense hospitality, we were offered some tea and coffee, with home-made Lepeshki bread, or round loaves that have been baked in a traditional tandyr oven. We did have our breakfast already, but it was so hard to resist the kindness of the host (actually, the kitchen area redolent with the aroma of the Lepeshki bread was the real reason why we could not resist), so we dug in for our second breakfast of the day.
Time to get on the horse! With guidance and help from our guide, we are off to our journey to the renowned Lake Sary-Chelek! We rode around the village, and were greeted with big smiles from the villagers and inquisitive kids who were definitely curious about these new foreign faces they see in their village.
After around 20 minutes, the guide stopped by a house in the village and prompted us to join him in there. We were greeted by the family members of the house (I counted at least 10 of them), and we stepped into the dining area. To our surprise, in front of us, was a brightly coloured traditional floor carpet (known as shyrdak or syrmak carpet) with a big spread laid on top of it.
“Come join me!”, the guide says. In such dining setting, the guests are usually seated at a spot furthest away from the door, and the hosts and hostesses will sit closer to the door and pour tea and pass food to the guests first.
Guests will never leave a table hungry. As soon as we finish a plate of food, another dish was offered to us. In this case, it was the plate of fragrant and delectable lamb plov, or pilaf rice, laid in front of us.
Some of the table talks revolved around where we are from, what life was like in our country, about our family, and whether we are going to start our family soon!
After our repeated refusals for the food that was still being served to us since we were so stuffed, we were toasting with vodka shots next. After a few toasts, and the hosts are satisfied that we are 100% full (or maybe 150% full) and ready for the rest of our horse riding adventure, the head of the family said a little prayer by cupping his palms in front of him, and then raise his palms to his cheeks and then lower them again, before bidding us farewell.
So back to our horses! The rest of the journey involved riding through lush green forests, up and down hills, crossing little water streams (where the horses would always stop to get their little water break), and riding right beside the smaller beautiful lakes.
Here we are, Lake Sary-Chelek!
Despite using padded saddles, the body still ache after riding for a couple of hours. A break to stretch out the body is definitely very much needed! The guide took out some snacks (more food again!), and we had a little picnic in the shelter. The kids (aged between 8 to 12) we met at the shelter were initially very shy, but I guess some sharing of snacks and chocolates that we brought along with us made them more comfortable chatting with us eventually!
Despite the weather being a little overcast and cloudy, Lake Sary-Chelek is still a beautiful sight to behold. Time to head back towards the village!
Had so much fun today! Spending time with the locals, experiencing the typical Kyrgyz hospitality, chatting with them, eating traditional home-cooked Kyrgyz food, and finally checking an item off my bucket list (i.e. attempting horseback riding). It was hard to say goodbye to our wonderful guide!
Looking for more wild adventures in Central Asia? Wildfire Expeditions offer trekking, mountaineering, sight-seeing and horseback riding trips within Central Asia region. Contact us to find out more!
Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor is a long, narrow strip of land that is bordered by Tajikistan, Pakistan, and China. The corridor separates the Pamir and Karakorum mountains and is home to the source of the Amu Darya (Oxus). The borders of the Wakhan Corridor were defined in 1893, and it was designed to act as a buffer between the British and Russian empires. The corridor is inhabited mainly by Wakhi people, although the remote Little Pamir region is home to Kyrgyz semi-nomadic people. Historically, the corridor was used as a trade route between Afghanistan and China. It’s believed that Marco Polo even passed through here while travelling towards China. The Wakhan’s rugged passes are some of the only ones that cross the mighty Pamir mountains. Nowadays, the Wakhan Corridor receives a few hundred foreign tourists per year. Even fewer venture deep into the corridor’s Little Pamir
Note: There are two places named Ishkashim, one in Afghanistan and one in Tajikistan. In this post, I’ll refer to Afghan Ishkashim as “Ishkashim” and Tajik Ishkashim as “Tajik Ishkashim”. You may also see Afghan Ishkashim reffered to as “Sultan Ishkashim” in other resources on the internet.
Wakhan Corridor Itineraries
Anything can happen when you’re visiting a remote area like the Wakhan Corridor. Delays due to broken cars, sickness, and weather are inevitable. If you visit, prepare to be flexible with your schedule. Note: For simplicity, when I say Ishkashim, I am talking about the Ishkashim in Afghanistan. If I mention the Tajik Ishkashim, I will specify it.
1-Week in the Wakhan Corridor
With a week in the Wakhan, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the Wakhi villages of the corridor. You could travel all the way to Sarhad-e-Broghil, stopping in a few places such as Khandood and Qala-e-Panja along the way. If you’re looking to trek, consider the trek to Noshaq Base Camp. The trail begins an hour’s drive from Ishkashim and takes you to the foot of Afghanistan’s tallest mountain in only a few days.
2-Weeks in the Wakhan Corridor
Two weeks is the minimum amount of time that one needs to visit the Kyrgyz communities in the Little Pamir. Trekking to Chaqmaqtin Lake takes at least 8 days round-trip, and you’ll need some time on each side to get to/from Sarhad-e-Broghil and arrange your permits.
3-Weeks in the Wakhan Corridor
If you’ve got three weeks in the Wakhan Corridor, there’s a ton you can do. You could visit many of the Kyrgyz communities around Chaqmaqtin Lake, or spend a longer amount of time learning about Wakhi village life. If you’re planning on spending this long here, you probably already have a decent idea of what you want to do.
Getting an Afghan Visa
Getting an Afghan visa is the first step to any trip to the Wakhan Corridor. Fortunately, it’s quite simple to get an Afghan visa at the Khorog Afghan Consulate.
I got my Afghan visa in Islamabad, Pakistan. This info about getting it in Khorog is gathered from reports I’ve read online.
The Afghan Consulate in Khorog is open weekdays from 9 am to noon. It’s located near the Pamir Lodge, and is also marked on maps.me.
The visa will cost anywhere from $100 to $220 depending on your nationality (most expensive for Americans).
You’ll need to bring a passport-sized photo and a copy of your second Tajik e-visa.
Getting to/from the Wakhan Corridor
At the moment, the only way to access the Wakhan Corridor as a tourist is via Tajikistan. Overland travel from other parts of Afghanistan is still unsafe, and it isn’t possible to fly directly to Ishkashim.
Two border crossings are currently open for tourists and are useful for accessing the Wakhan Corridor – these are the Ishkashim and Shegnan border crossings.
Ishkashim Border Crossing
You’ll likely want to use the Ishkashim border crossing, as it’s the most convenient crossing for visiting the Wakhan Corridor.
On the Tajik side, the border crossing is a few kilometres outside of Tajik Ishkashim. If you’re coming from Khorog, you can ask to be dropped off right at the border as the vehicle drives by.
Getting to Ishkashim
Minivans and shared cars run the route between Khorog and Ishkashim. You should expect to pay 50 somoni for the three-hour trip. Vehicles depart in the morning from the opposite side of the river near the Khorog Bazaar. The location is marked on maps.me
Crossing the border
Officially, the border is open from Monday to Saturday and is closed for a short lunch break every day.
However, I managed to return from Afghanistan to Tajikistan on a Sunday, when the border is “officially” closed. A friend in Ishkashim called a border guard and got them to open it for me. It seems the opening times aren’t too strictly enforced here.
It’s a very easy crossing, and the border guards were very friendly (the Afghan ones even took selfies with me!). I didn’t even have my bags searched, although I’ve heard that others have had this happen.
Be sure to have a printed copy of your second Tajik e-visa, as the Tajik border guards wanted to see it. There have been some situations where tourists have gotten stuck in no man’s land because they didn’t have a second visa, and they want to avoid this in the future.
Getting to Afghan Ishkashim
After crossing the border, you’re about an hour’s walk from the Ishkashim bazaar. You can walk, or take a taxi.
If you take a taxi, be sure to negotiate. They’ll try to charge $20 for the 5-minute drive, but a more reasonable price is $5-10.
Shegnan Border Crossing
This border crossing is much less frequently used by foreigners, but also an option. I haven’t used it, but I did run into a tour group who did.
The Shegnan border is located very close to Khorog and crosses into the Shegnan district of Afghanistan. The border is reportedly open from Monday to Saturday.
After crossing to Shegnan, if you’ll need to find transport to Ishkashim. According to someone I met from Shegnan, a seat in a shared car from Shegnan to Ishkashim is about 1000A.
Let me know if you’ve used this border crossing! There’s very little info about it online.
Money in the Wakhan Corridor
US dollars are king here in the Wakhan Corridor. You’ll need to bring as many dollars as you’ll need with you – there aren’t any ATMs in the Wakhan.
Instead, I highly recommend getting as many dollars as you’ll need in either Dushanbe or Osh. It’s quite easy in either of these places.
In Dushanbe, the Hilton has an ATM inside that dispenses crisp $100 bills.
Changing USD to Afghani
In Ishkashim, you can change your dollars to Afghani at the mobile phone shops in the bazaar. They will only change crisp bills and prefer $50 and $100 denominations.
I recommend doing some math and figuring out roughly how many Afghani you’ll need, so you avoid changing too many dollars. You won’t get as favourable a rate changing back from Afghani to USD, and they can’t be changed anywhere after you’ve left Afghanistan
I didn’t try hitchhiking, although it is totally possible. There are quite a few vehicles in the Wakhan Corridor that belong to the Aga Khan Foundation, and if they have space when they’re driving between towns they would give you a free lift.
I met a few NGO workers in guesthouses that also had a car with them, and if I had been travelling in the same direction I definitely could’ve joined them.
So, hitchhiking is possible, but it will definitely take some time. You should budget at least for the price of a local shared car, just in case you can’t find anything.
You could also walk the entire length of the Wakhan if you wanted. Personally, I think the long walk from Ishkashim to Sargaz would be rather dull.
From Sargaz to Sarhad-e-Broghil, the scenery is very nice, and walking this route should take two or three days one-way. I had planned on walking the route, but got picked up by a shared car about 7-kilometers outside of Sargaz.
Accommodation in the Wakhan
In the Wakhi villages of the Wakhan Corridor, accommodation is in the form of guesthouses. They’re usually decent enough and will cook you a nice dinner and breakfast.
There are a few guesthouses in Ishkashim, the most popular one being the Marco Polo Guesthouse. The rate for this guesthouse seems to be $25, but there have been reports of people who look “wealthy” being charged more. Marco Polo Guesthouse doesn’t have any Tajik TCell reception.
You can also stay at Wafai Guesthouse – the price should be similar to Marco Polo. Wafai Guesthouse is located a kilometre or two out of town (marked on maps.me), but it does have Tajik TCell reception!
If you’re looking for a place to grab lunch in Ishkashim, there are a few hidden restaurants. Ask around for kebab and someone will show you the way. A lunch of 8 skewers, naan, and chai should cost 150A.
There is a guesthouse in Khandood, although I didn’t stay here. Quite a few people in Khandood speak English, so just find one of them and ask them to show you the way. It should cost around $20.
In Qala-e-Panja, there are two guesthouses that I know of.
I stayed at the “Qala-e-Panja Guesthouse“, located near the police checkpoint at the entrance of town. I paid $20 for the night.
I’ve also heard good things about Siri Mohammad’s guesthouse, but I haven’t stayed there.
There are a few guesthouses in Sarhad, and I HIGHLY recommend the one called Zarik Guesthouse. It’s not actually in Sarhad, it’s in the village of Chihil Kand, about three kilometers away.
The family running Zarik Guesthouse is extremely kind and hospitable and was super excited to see photos from my trek when I returned.
In the Little Pamir, you can stay in any of the Kyrgyz settlements. Personally, I stayed in Bozai Gumbaz and Itchkili (north side of Lake Chaqmaqtin).
In Bozai Gumbaz, there was a separate room for me to eat and sleep in. In Itchkili, I just stayed in the same room as the family hosting me.
Room and board usually will cost you 500 Afghani in the Kyrgyz settlements.
Trekking in the Wakhan Corridor
If you go through all the trouble of getting an Afghan visa and visiting the Wakhan Corridor, you should definitely go on a trek.
There are a ton of options for trekking here, but the most popular treks are to Chaqmaqtin Lake in the Little Pamir and the trek to Noshaq Base Camp.
I did the trek Chaqmaqtin Lake, as it gives you the opportunity to meet the Kyrgyz people living in the Little Pamir. I highly recommend this trek.
Little Pamir & Chaqmaqtin Lake
The trek to Chaqmaqtin Lake gives you a look into the life of both the Wakhi and Kyrgyz people of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.
Typically, the trek takes anywhere from 8 to 10 days. You’ll also need a few days on either side to arrange permits and travel to/from Sarhad-e-Broghil (the starting point of the trek), so plan on spending about two weeks in Afghanistan.
There are two routes that you can take to reach the Little Pamir plateau. They’re known as the “low route” and the “high route”.
The low route follows the path of the roaring Wakhan River. It typically takes people three days to reach the first Kyrgyz settlement of Bozai Gumbaz. On the low route, you’ll need to cook and camp until you reach Bozai Gumbaz.
In the past, the low route was impassable in July due to high water levels in some of the tributaries of the Wakhan River. This has been resolved with the construction of some new bridges – although still expect a few tough river crossings in July if you’re without an animal to ride.
The high route accesses the Little Pamir via Garumdee Pass (4,895 meters). Garumdee can remain snow-covered until quite late in the summer, but should still be passable provided you have the right footwear. On the high route, you’ll need to cook and camp your first night, but after that, there are Wakhi settlements (in summertime) that can provide you with basic food and accommodation.
A popular itinerary is to take the low route towards the Chaqmaqtin Lake (better for acclimatization than the high route), and then return to Sarhad-e-Broghil via the high route.
I’ll describe the trekking route in more detail in a subsequent post.
Most people who go trekking in the Wakhan Corridor take some sort of guide with them. If you don’t speak any Dari or Kyrgyz and want to have conversations with the locals, a guide is a must. English is rarely spoken outside of the larger Wakhi villages (and even in these villages, there are only a few speakers).
The trekking route itself is easy to follow, you don’t really need a guide to help with route-finding.
If you do decide that you want to hire a guide, I highly recommend finding a Wakhi guide. A Wakhi guide will be received better by the people you meet along the way.
The guides in Ishkashim are experts at ripping people off – they charge $50 a day for their services, and will try to get more money out of you when they can. I recommend that you find a Wakhi guide in Khandood or Qala-e-Panja.
There are two Wakhi guides I’ve seen recommended by multiple travellers – Ibrahim Hamdard from Khandod (WhatsApp: +93749229030), and Siri Mohammad from Qala-e-Panja. They reportedly speak great English and charge much more reasonable rates than the Ishkashim guides.
Basically everyone who goes on a multi-day trek in the Wakhan Corridor seems to hire a beast of burden.
Most commonly used are donkeys, which typically cost 500A per day. Horses are also often used, and they cost 1000A per day. You can even ride a horse all the way to Chaqmaqtin Lake if you’d prefer that over walking.
Any animal you hire will be accompanied by its owner. The owner will take care of themselves, and they may even know a few words of English (but don’t expect much).
Do I need a pack animal?
Not at all. Before my trek, I hadn’t heard of anyone doing it without an animal, and couldn’t decide if I should bring one or not.
I tend to trek pretty fast (donkeys don’t walk very fast…), and like being alone in the mountains. I decided to go completely solo and carry all of my supplies.
The first day of the trek was difficult, with its 1000 meter climb to the top of Daliz Pass. My bag was quite heavy, as I had enough food for 5 days. But as I started to eat my food and lighten my load, everything went pretty smoothly.
On my return trip, I managed to hike from Bozai Gumbaz to Borak in a single day (it did take me 12 hours, though) – that’s 45 kilometers. It definitely wouldn’t have been possible if I was with a donkey.
Food & Water
If you’re planning on trekking in the Wakhan Corridor, you should do a bit of planning regarding food.
On the low route to Chaqmaqtin Lake, you’ll need enough food for at least three days (one-way).
If you decide to trek with a guide or donkey, this is less of an issue. You’ll be able to carry plenty of rice and possibly even some veggies.
As I decided to trek unsupported, I had to carry all my food and cooking equipment. I did some meal planning when I was in Dushanbe and picked up all of my supplies there. You can also get supplies in Khorog, but your options will be quite a bit more limited.
Don’t count on being able to purchase many supplies in Ishkashim, although there are a few things you can get here.
Wakhan Corridor Permits & Registration
The permit/registration system in the Wakhan Corridor is always changing – this info is based on my experience in late June 2019. Don’t worry too much though, it’ll all sort itself out when you arrive.
Passport Copies & Photos
You’ll need around 6 passport-sized photos, and 10 passport/visa copies to arrange permission to travel all the way to Sarhad-e-Broghil.
There’s a copy shop in the Ishkashim bazaar – you can get copies and photos done there.
Foreigner Registration Card
In Ishkashim, the first thing you need to do is get a tourist registration card.
The tourist registration card basically has your info (name, passport number, where you’ll visit) written in Dari. At checkpoints, they’ll want to see this card.
You can get this card from the “Tourist Administrative Centre” marked on maps.me.
It’s free, although you’ll need to provide two of your passport photos and one or two passport copies here.
Ishkashim Police Registration
There are three types of police (normal police, border police, and military police) you need to register with while you’re in Ishkashim. They’re all located on the main road that runs through the bazaar, and will want a passport photo and passport copy each. They’re easy to find, ask a local if you’re having trouble.
On the way to Khandood there’s one checkpoint just before the village of Qazideh. You just need to show your tourist registration card here.
In Khandood, you need to arrange permits to travel further. I arrived at 3 pm on a Thursday and was told that the officials had already gone home from work, and they wouldn’t be working on Friday either (Friday is a holiday in Afghanistan).
I got a bit angry, as I didn’t want to spend two nights waiting around in Khandood. Getting angry worked – someone called the officials and got them to come back into the office.
In the government office, they’ll print you four permits. Each permit requires one passport copy. They’ll keep one of them, and give you the other three.
I was then taken to give one of the copies to the police next door to the government office. They also wanted a passport photo along with the permit.
The third permit is for the police checkpoint on the way to Qala-e-Panja.
The final permit is for the police checkpoint as you are entering Qala-e-Panja.
I wasn’t required to have any permit or anything for the police in Sarhad, the commander just took a quick look at my tourist registration card and that was it.
When to visit the Wakhan Corridor
Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor can be visited year-round, but probably don’t want to be embarking on a trek to the Little Pamir in the winter (unless you’re a masochist).
The best time of year for trekking is late summer and early autumn, meaning August and September. August also seems to be high season – so if you visit at this time of year you’re likely to run into a few other tourists. When I was there in June, I only saw a few in Ishkashim – none in the Little Pamir.
Spring (May/June) and early summer (July) are also good times for trekking, although not quite as good. In the spring, there will still be snow blocking the high passes. In July water levels are at their highest, making some river crossings quite challenging.
I was there in late June/early July and had fairly good weather. At the top of Daliz Pass, there was still a tiny bit of snow. During the daytime when the sun was out, it was quite hot. At night I slept very comfortably with my -6 degree quilt. Most mornings were clear with sunny skies, and in the afternoon some clouds would form and the wind would get stronger.
During my return trek from the Little Pamir, some river crossings had gotten quite difficult. The crossing near Showr had water levels above my knees. The water was flowing so fast that it was brown, meaning that I couldn’t even see where I was stepping. It took me about thirty minutes of freezing my feet in the water to find a suitable path to wade across.
Safety in the Wakhan Corridor
The Wakhan Corridor hasn’t seen war in recent history. This isn’t to say it’s perfectly safe, but relative to the rest of Afghanistan, it is.
You should do your own research and decided for yourself if you’re comfortable with visiting.
All I can give you is my personal experience – I never felt unsafe, at all. I was treated with incredible hospitality, and locals often expressed their hate of the terror groups that plague other parts of their country.
Wakhan Corridor Budget
You’ve probably read that visiting the Wakhan Corridor is expensive. I’m happy to report that this isn’t necessarily the case.
If you pay $300 each way for tourist transport to/from Sarhad-e-Broghil, hire an Ishkashim guide for $50 per day, and take a few horses along to carry your bags, then yes, it will be expensive.
During my two weeks in Afghanistan, I spent a bit under $400. I could’ve done it for cheaper, had I not hired an Ishkashim guide to help me with permits. ($400 not including the $130 for my Afghan visa in Islamabad, Pakistan)
Here are a few sample costs to help you calculate a budget for your trip:
Guesthouses in Wakhi villages – $20-$25 per night (including food)
Kyrgyz guesthouses in the Little Pamir – $5-10 per night
Afghan Visa – From $100 to $220 depending on nationality
Taxi from the Afghan border to Ishkashim bazaar – $10
Permits – Free (or $50 if you pay for help)
Tourist transport – $300 one-way from Ishkashim to Sarhad-e-Broghil
Local shared cars – $35-$60 one-way from Ishkashim to Sarhad-e-Broghil
Donkey – 500A ($6.20) per day, including owner
Horse – 1000A ($12.40) per day, including owner
Guide – $20 to $50 per day, Wakhi guides are cheaper than Ishkashim guides
What to bring to the Wakhan Corridor
You should be properly prepared with warm clothes and camping equipment if you plan on going trekking. Even during summer, it can snow in the Little Pamir. Here are a few things that I highly recommend bringing with you to the Wakhan Corridor:
Pens and notebooks, if you can. Almost every kid in Sarhad-e-Broghil was asking me for these, but unfortunately, I didn’t have any with me.
Books to read before you go
Here are a few books I recommend you pick up and read before your trip to the Wakhan Corridor:
The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk – An incredible account of the struggle between the British and Russian Empires for control in Central Asia. The conflict between the two empires is the reason that the Wakhan Corridor even exists, and the book talks about the area in detail. I highly recommend this book for anyone planning to visit Central Asia.
Trekking in Tajikistan – Mostly covers trekking routes in Tajikistan, but also has a chapter on the trek to Chaqmaqtin Lake. I used the maps and descriptions given in this book a lot while I was on my trek.
Lonely Planet Farsi Phrasebook – The common tongue in Afghanistan is Dari, which is a variety of Farsi. A Farsi phrasebook will help you out a ton with communication in the Wakhan Corridor.
Other Wakhan Corridor Resources
I did a ton of research before visiting the Wakhan Corridor, and I’m sure you’re doing the same thing. Here are a few of the things I found most useful:
I hope this post has been useful! Planning a trip to Afghanistan isn’t easy, so props for even considering it! Feel free to ask any questions that you may have. If this has given you an appetite for exploring Central Asia then let’s get going! Wildfire is offering scheduled organised trips to different regions around Central Asia, for something a bit different check out our Aksu-Sabakh Trek!