The Wakhan Corridor Journey - Afghanistan to Pakistan

The Wakhan Corridor Journey - Afghanistan to Pakistan

Across Dilisang Pass to Misgar

The Kyrgyz in Wakhan had historically used the Dilisang Pass to trade with the Burusho people of Misgar in the upper Hunza Valley but had stopped using the Dilisang about 25 years ago. The old Dilisang route was now in front of us.

We rose at 3:15 a.m. on August 6. By 5 a.m. we were heading up the firm snow covering the glacier's surface and crevasses. The sun was already touching the tips of the snowy summits visible to the south, so we moved quickly. We ascended nearly 740 meters up 5 kilometers of snow-covered glacier to reach Dilisang Pass (5,290 meters) in just 2-1/2 hours. On top the pass, we found numerous tall rock cairns. We had made it!

From the pass we saw the obvious and prominent summit of Qarun Koh (7,164 meters) in the distance. The initial 150-meter descent from the pass was steep, and although we encountered a snow-covered slope, it was most likely a scree slope in late-summer conditions. No glacier lay on the Pakistani side of the pass. Once down the initial steep slope, we followed the rocky basin that descended another 600 meters to Misgar Uween-e-Ben, the highest grassy spot in the Dilisang Valley.

Looking back at the pass, it was far more difficult to identify it from the Pakistani side than from the Wakhan side. The pass we had crossed did not appear to be the lowest point on the ridgeline. That seemed to be to the northwest or left as we looked back from the Pakistani side. But that, too, seemed to be a trick of perspective, for the seemingly lower ridge actually lay farther away, making the nearer pass we had crossed seem slightly higher in perspective. Approaching from the Wakhan side, we had no doubt that the pass we crossed was the actual low point on the ridge. Perhaps it was Burusho from Hunza who had first pioneered the pass in order to trade for livestock with the Kyrgyz, and the Kyrgyz had learned of the pass from the Burusho. Whatever the case, the true Dilisang Pass is actually at the northern end of the ridge, several hundred meters farther east than what from the Pakistani side appeared to be the low point on the ridgeline. The numerous large cairns we found at the top the pass had likely been raised so that anyone approaching from the Pakistani side would not be fooled by the perspective. The pass was also visible farther down valley from Misgar Uween-e-Ben, deceptively to the right of what seemed the lowest saddle. Crossing at that point on the ridgeline would give the unpleasant surprise at the top. The descent on the Kamansu side is a steep, fluted snow chute with avalanche danger and a significant bergschrund before reaching the relatively level glacier below.

At Misgar Uween-e-Ben we found abundant grass and water and decided to camp. Misgar was less than 2 days' walk away. The next morning we were reminded that we were back in the Karakoram. We had to make a 240-meter descent across a massive scree slope to the Dilisang River, which we forded to its true right bank. Upstream, we could see Dilisang Sar, a prominent snowy summit with hanging glaciers along the ridgeline. The next 20 kilometers of the upper Dilisang Valley were relentlessly dry, barren, and rocky.

Relief came when we reached a green grotto, where numerous springs watered grassy willow groves. Below this was the highest summer herding settlement in the valley, apparently no longer much used by Misgar villagers. A short distance below the settlement we halted for the night at a very unsteady footbridge spanning the raging Dilisang River. We pitched our tent on a not-so-level patch of grass near a cascade several minutes' walk beyond the footbridge. In the morning, the river proved still too tumultuous for our horse and yak to swim, and we led them one by one, unloaded, across the shaky bridge.

Once everyone was safely across the river, we proceeded down valley across seemingly endless scree slopes. This was our last day on the trail, and it remained rigorous until almost the very last step. By midday we reached the confluence of the Dilisang and Kilik rivers where we met the jeep road to Misgar. We finally relaxed as we walked the last 7 kilometers to the village. We'd completed a journey that had once been a dream and was now reality. We'd found our way back home.