Tajik Dream: High-Altitude Enlightenment in the Pamir Mountains

Curling west off the mighty Himalaya, Tajikistan’s snow-cloaked Pamir Mountains exist in relative obscurity. Reaching higher than 25,000 feet, they stand at elevations comparable to the world’s tallest range, yet, perhaps due to an absence of English guidebooks and documented ski mountaineering history, remain largely unexplored by the Western world.

The Silk Road once traversed these mountains and high-altitude plains, bringing countless riches across Central Asia and into Europe. But Tajikistan’s more recent history of Soviet rule, civil war and societal unrest provides an intense backdrop for a present-day ski mission. Then again, a mountain range with a total lack of information in today’s globalized, screen-dominated society tends to stoke the curiosity.

That unknown is what brought Ryan Taylor to the Pamir in 2016. A ski guide from Temple Basin, New Zealand now living in Japan, Taylor and his ski partner Elliot Smith set their sights on the Fedchenko Glacier, the longest glacier outside of the North and South poles. Equipped with dated Soviet military maps and printed satellite imagery, they ticked off a few lines in un-skied territory, but it was the wild spires of rock jutting even higher above them—and the accompanying library of jaw-dropping couloirs—that all but ensured a second trip…

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