Because the Pamir is the world’s second highest highway, it was obvious that it would lead us right through the mountains (more information about roadtrippin' the Pamir). And in fact, all around the road, mountains of 6000m or even 7000m rose to our sides. So it was clear that we would love to see the Pamir by hiking through these peaks!
A couple of them were obviously named during the Soviet time, for instance there is a Lenin Peak and a Karl Marx Peak. Karl Marx’s buddy, Friedrich Engels, got the smaller peak next to it, and this Engels Peak was also the destination of our two-days hiking adventure.
There was a lot of confusion about the trek beforehand: Originally, our driver had planned a trek from a village called Dirch to the Engels Peak basecamp. But apparently the basecamp was situated at 5000m and no one from our group dared to try that. But it was not clear whether there would be camping opportunities before the basecamp or if the trek would even give us great views.
Here is the thing: From Dirch, it takes about four hours to hike to the Engels Peak Meadows at around 4000m. There are awesome views along the entire trek (maybe the best we had so far on our entire journey). We camped at the Engels Peak Meadows at a well-sheltered place but we could have easily done the trek as a day hike, going up and down. We walked quite a bit further after the meadows but didn’t reach (or find) the basecamp.
But first things first:
The trail starts at Dirch, a mountain valley situated in the Wakhan valley. A narrow and extremely uneven 4WD trail leads to Dirch from Zong, which is one of the “bigger” villages in the valley with homestays, next to other villages such as Hisor and Langar. It is a pretty generic destination in every Pamir tour, which made the Engels Peak hike very accessible for us.
It would have been well possible for us to start the trail in Zong, but because we were unsure about how far we had to go up, we were happy for the little motorized assistance in the beginning. It came at a cost however: Our driver charged us USD 30 to bring us to Dirch and pick us up the next day. Already from Dirch, the view over the Wakhan valley was breathtaking!
The first disaster happened right on the beginning of the trail. When Kevin unpacked his camera and wanted to take some pictures of our amazing surrounding, the camera just wouldn’t work! It turns out that Kevin has taken the camera with him but forgotten to put the battery inside, which he has left charging in our homestay overnight. Kevin was so angry he was seriously considering walking all the way back to the homestay to get his battery.
Hiking towards the Engels Peak Meadows
Only few meters after the start in Dirch, the trail makes a steep ascent along the stony slope of a hill. The way gradually eases and turns greener before merging with a larger path also used by local shepherds. From there, the trail stays almost flat and gently curves along the hillside. Apart from the occasional animals and shepherds we passed, we were absolutely the only ones here. On the right hand side, the snow-capped giants of the Hindukush were rising on the other side of the valley.
We crossed a small waterfall and shortly after that the trail actually leads to the left to a steady ascent.
However, we missed the turn and stayed on the lower trail which more or less went into the same direction. But shortly before the trail made another turn, we had to make a steep and hard climb over loose ground. This ascent was pretty challenging for Kevin, who was still struggling with a light injury on his left knee. While walking, the Wakhan valley opened into a lush and green delta, with one arm of the delta flowing into Afghanistan and the other one into Tajikistan.
After the climb, the trail went along a man-made canal and made the sharp turn left. To our right hand side, the Wakhan valley disappeared and turned into another stonier valley with a gushing river streaming down from the mountains. After the turn, the Engels Peak suddenly rose in front of us in the distance! To be already able to see the peak really lifted our spirit and gave us new motivation for the rest of the trail.
Again the trail meandered on the side of the hill. We followed the one-meter broad path for maybe a little under an hour before the path crossed the river. From there we basically followed the river up until a small meadow, before the trail made one last steep ascent. After curving around another green hill we suddenly arrived at our destination, the Engels Peak Meadows. What relieve! Kevin’s knee was already almost giving up on him and he was glad for the break.
Community Based Tourism
By the time we reached the meadows, we were joined by another group. We first thought that it was a tourist group led by a local guide, but it turned out that these were actually employees of the Kirgiz Community Based Tourism organization (CBT) who were on a field trip to Tajikistan to explore hiking opportunities in the Pamir! (To CBT: If you are reading this and have job offerings, here are two takers)
We sat down with the CBT group for lunch and talked about hiking in Tajikistan and Kirgizstan. Apparently, winter has already come in Kirgizstan, which might limit what we can do there in the mountains. But in any case, if we get employed by CBT we will have more opportunities in the future ;-). Our lunch spot had a perfect view of the Engels Peak and all of us were eagerly waiting for the last clouds around the peak to depart.
All around the meadows, people before us had already built small fire places and shelters using stones, so we dropped our backpacks at a place that would be our camping spot later on. We decided to walk a little bit further towards the Engels Peak.
After a little while, the river which we followed all the way up from the valley turned into a pristine alpine lake with almost surreally pure water. Walking around the lake, the trail goes alongside the river again, crossing stone fields and grasslands. Our goal was to walk towards a junction below the Engels Peak, from where we hoped to also be able to see the nearby Karl Marx Peak.
Maybe half an hour later, we came upon two boulders so huge, they looked like they were put there by giants. By that time however, the sun was already setting and it was starting to get cold. Kevin’s knee was hurting badly again. The junction seemed still to be far away. After some hard thinking, we decided to head back towards the meadows. Karl Marx Peak, we’re going to come back for you!
Overnight on the meadows
In the night, the temperature went below zero so that when we woke up, half of the smaller streams feeding into the river froze. Even our tent had some ice on the inside because the humid air froze as well. So this was the first real test for all the equipment we have accumulated and we didn’t do too badly. Inside our sleeping bags, we felt quite warm despite the chilling air all around us.
And we were rewarded with views! Although we went to bed at around six, both of us had to leave the tent at some point in the middle of the night to loose some water and we have never felt closer to the stars than in this moment. The milky way was right there, breaking the otherwise moonless night.
In the morning we woke with the sun at around six. Opening the door of our tent, there it was: The snow-capped Engels Peak, with the sun blazing at it in full force and no cloud whatsoever near the peak. This view alone made it worthwhile to freeze through the night.
We put down our tent (Nicole’s hands were freezing because she couldn’t work with gloves) and made the descent in about 3,5 hours with some little breaks. Going down, we gradually said goodbye to Engels Peak, the mountains of the Hindukush and our aerial view upon the Wakhan valley.
But hopefully not for the last time!
Kevin and Nicole, written somewhere on the Pamir