Afghanistan’s Highest Mountain Accessible to Climbers Once Again
Trail to summit of Noshaq now open to mountaineers as WCS and others
anticipate return of tourism to mountain.
(August 10, 2011)—Closed off from the outside world for decades due to regional insecurity, Afghanistan’s highest
mountain—Mount Noshaq—is once again accessible to the mountaineering community,
according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Australian Geographic Outdoor,
and other groups.
Located in the Hindu Kush Mountains
of the Wakhan Corridor, an isolated panhandle of land connecting Afghanistan with China,
Mount Noshaq stands at 7,492 meters (24,580
feet) in height. The region is home to many species of wildlife, including
Marco Polo sheep, urial, ibex, and snow leopards.
reopening of Mount
Noshaq was commemorated
by a recent mountain climbing expedition involving Anthony Simms, the Wildlife
Conservation Society’s Afghanistan Program Technical Advisor, and supported by
The North Face/AG Outdoor Adventure Grant for 2011. Launched on July 25th, the
expedition reached the summit of Noshaq on August 4th. The
other members included: Tim Wood, who became the first Australian ever to reach
the summit; Aziz Beg, who became only the third Afghan national to reach the
summit; Abdul Hakim, a local ranger trained by WCS; and Malang Daria.
expedition was made possible by The North Face/AG Outdoor Adventure Grant and
supported by WCS. It was organized to help raise awareness of the beauty of Afghanistan’s natural resources and
usher in a return of the tourism industry to this war-torn nation.
expedition marks the revival of a once popular tourist site that was forgotten
during the country’s political unrest,” said
Peter Zahler, Deputy Director of
WCS’s Asia Program. “Despite the turmoil that continues in some parts of the
country, Wakhan is just one of a number of areas in Afghanistan that are very safe from
a security standpoint, and where tourism is
already providing jobs and improved livelihoods for local people while providing
an incentive to protect the country’s fragile environment and wildlife.”
Afghanistan was once a
major draw for international tourists through
the 1970s. After the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, mountaineers stopped
visiting Noshaq because of the dangerous political climate. The laying of
landmines in Noshaq
Valley during the
country’s civil war in the 1990s further isolated this enormous mountain. In
recent months, however, with the support of USAID (United States Agency for
International Development), the trail to Noshaq base camp has been repaired by
WCS and local communities and now provides safe passage around the minefields.
Combined with improved security conditions in the district, Noshaq is now again
open for climbing.
The reopening of
Noshaq is one of many projects undertaken by WCS to help the government of Afghanistan
promote and protect its natural wonders. In 2009, the government gazetted the
country’s first national park, Band-e-Amir, established with technical
assistance from WCS’s Afghanistan Program. Since its creation, Band-e-Amir has
become a significant draw for both national and international tourists,
averaging some 4,000 visitors every Friday (the first day of the weekend in Afghanistan).
In 2011, WCS researchers working in the Bamyan Plateau discovered another
potential tourist destination: the Hazarchishma
a massive natural arch measuring more than 200 feet across its base.
Hazarchishma is the 12th largest natural arch in the world.
With funding from
USAID, WCS has been working since 2006 with more than 55 local communities
to better manage their natural resources, helping them conserve wildlife while
improving their livelihoods. WCS now works with every community found in the
Wakhan Corridor, building community governance structures for natural resource
management and working to create a suite of co-managed protected areas in the
region. WCS is helping to study and conserve Afghanistan’s abundant wildlife;
recent surveys have revealed healthy populations of snow leopards in the
region. In addition, WCS has trained 59 community rangers to monitor not only
snow leopards but other species including Marco Polo sheep and ibex while enforcing laws against poaching. WCS has
also initiated the construction of predator-proof livestock
corrals and a livestock insurance program that compensates shepherds, though
initial WCS research shows that surprisingly few livestock fall to predators in
the region. Conservation education is now occurring in every school in the
Wakhan region, and WCS has been providing English language lessons and
ecotourism job training for local villagers in expectation of the increase in
mountaineering and adventure tourism.
information about the WCS Afghanistan Program, go to: www.wcsafghanistan.org
John Delaney: (1-718-220-3275; email@example.com)
Stephen Sautner: (1-718-220 3682; firstname.lastname@example.org)
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