|Zone and Permit||open, no permit|
|Summary||Trekking to Shimshal’s broad Pamir highlands takes you to the Shimshalis’ favourite place, where lakes sparkle on the Central Asian watershed and herders call melodiously across the hills.|
Almost 1000 yaks and several thousand sheep and goats graze in the Shimshal Pamir, an extensive alpine grassland above 4500m. In late May, women and children leave Shimshal village for Shuizherav. In June, they move to Shuwerth, the main summer settlement just beyond the Shimshal Pass. In early September, they move back to Shuizherav, and in early October, they return to Shimshal village.
Two-trails from Shimshal village join at Purien-e-Ben. One, known locally as tang (gorge), goes by the Pamir-e-Tang River. The other, known locally as uween (pass), crosses two arduous passes (Uween-e-Sar and Shachmirk, both above 4500m). The uween trail was the standard way until 1997 when an all-important footbridge across the Pamir-e-Tang River was built and the tang trail was widened. Both routes have serious exposure. Shimshalis continue to improve the tang trail and hope one day to be able to take yaks along it rather than the uween trail.
For an authentic Pamir experience, try going via the tang trail and returning via the uween trail (see alternative Route A,). Another highly recommended alternative is to combine this trek with the Qachqar-e-Dur and Shpodeen Pass trek (p) returning to Shimshal village via Shpodeen Pass. It’s also possible to combine this trek with the Boisum and Chafchingol Passes trek (p), joining it at Shpodeen.
The Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research 1:250,000 orographical map Karakoram (Sheet 1) covers the trek. It doesn’t label Zardgarben, Shachmirk and Uween-e-Sar Passes, nor any place names along either route to Shuizherav. Shuwerth is labeled as Shuwari.
Guides and Porters
Local assistance is indispensable crossing exposed trail along the Pamir-e-Tang River, massive scree slopes on the uween trail, as well as the difficult trails into and out of Purien-e-Ben. Porters may ask for higher per-stage wages or for reduced weight of loads when going via the uween trail.
Traditionally, it’s six stages one way (12 stages round trip) between Shimshal village and Shuwerth via the uween trail, and five stages one way (10 stages round trip) via the tang trail. The stages via the uween trail from Shimshal village are: (1) Zardgarben; (2) Yarzeen; (3) Purien-e-Ben; (4) Arbab Purien; (5) Shuizherav; (6) Shuwerth; and (7-12) six stages to return via the same route. The stages via the tang trail from Shimshal village are: (1-2) Purien-e-Ben (two stages, not three); (3) Arbab Purien; (4) Shuizherav; (5) Shuwerth; and (6-10) five stages to return via the same route. The tang trail has always been one stage shorter in each direction than the uween trail.
Now that the tang trail is the standard way, villagers, in theory, earn one less stage in each direction. Not happy with this perceived loss of revenue, some Shimshalis say the de facto stages of the tang trail starting from Shimshal village changed from five stages one way to these six stages one way (or from 10 to 12 stages round trip): (1) Gar-e-Sar; (2) Past Furzeen; (3) Wuch Furzeen; (4) Arbab Purien; (5) Shuizherav; and (6) Shuwerth. However, the improved tang trail is significantly easier and shorter than the uween trail, and stage inflation of 20% hardly seems justified. Shimshalis actually have an opportunity to earn more money now that the easier trail enables more trekkers to make it to the Pamir. The village still needs to address and resolve this issue, so discuss this with whoever you hire before starting out.
Day 1 : Shimshal Village to Wuch Furzeen
7-9 hours, 15.1km, 685m ascent, 320m descent
Follow the Shimshal River east (upstream) from Shimshal village (3000m) and fill water bottles at the spring before Michael Bridge, which is the only water for hours along this trail. Cross Michael Bridge, built in 1984 with money donated by Canadian Dr Michael Pflug, to the river’s true right bank. Avoid the trail to Zardgarben, which climbs beyond the footbridge. Instead, veer right following the wide river bed 1½ hours, or 5km, to the confluence of the Shimshal and Pamir-e-Tang Rivers.
Ford the Pamir-e-Tang River to its true left bank, marveling at the immense gorge. When the water is too high, cross via a footbridge some minutes upriver. Ascend the steep spur between the two rivers for 2km, or 1½ hours. On the ascent, Shachmirk Pass is visible to the north-east. After the initial climb from the river, round a bend and enter a basin. The climb continues steadily through artemisia steppes, passing lots of igneous rock. Just above the basin, the trail splits; take the right fork to Gar-e-Sar. The left fork is a deceptively well-established trail that leads to Nogordum Uween (Bear Pass), a junipers stand in the canyon below Yarzeen. Several cairns mark Gar-e-Sar (3502m), which means ‘top of the rock’. Here you have superb vistas of the Yazghil Glacier, Adver Sar and these hard-to-see 7000m peaks of the Hispar Muztagh: Kunyang Chhish and Yukshin Gardan.
From Gar-e-Sar, follow level galleries passing eroded cliffs on the canyon’s opposite side. Reach Shanj in 15 minutes, a scree-filled gully where an unreliable trickle of water flows below the trail in an awkward spot. Shanj are the boards uses to frame the place in a Wakhi home where you leave your shoes, which someone apparently got from this now-barren place. The trail and galleries deteriorate, although Shimshalis have worked to improve a dangerous Class 2 section here called Dhurik Purien. Traverse 450m above the river on exposed trail 1½ to two hours, then descend a steep 130m scree slope to Past Furzeen (3517m, ‘lower birch grove’). A clear side stream provides the first reliable water since Shanj, but there are no level tent sites.
From Past Furzeen, the trail climbs along the clear stream, soon leaving it to ascend the tricky section of trail known as Guldin Purien. The route climbs steadily and traverses high before descending a scree gully to Wuch Furzeen (3365m, ‘upper birch grove’). Above the Pamir-e-Tang River is a hut named Charra Khun. Just west of the hut is a small spring, which, if dry, necessitates an awkward trip down to the river for silty water.
Day 2 : Wuch Furzeen to Shuizherav
6-8 hours, 18.5km, 985m ascent
Descend to the Pamir-e-Tang River in 15 minutes and cross the footbridge to its true right bank. Continue along the river for 30 minutes, climbing a short scree slope to a flat area with stone rounds 60m above the river. Follow the trail, built by Khyal Beg, climbing 150m along galleries and descend into Purien-e-Ben (3596m) in another 45 minutes.
Cross the Pamir Mai Dur River over a footbridge. Climb 320m on the steep 30-degree trail up the canyon wall out of Purien-e-Ben, through the doorway (darwaza), and up the juniper staircase (purien) one hour to the level plain above, called Purien-e-Sar (3916m). Mungalig Sar is the prominent peak to the east, and Adver Sar the one to the west. The striking Chat Pirt massif, which rises south of the Pamir-e-Tang River, supports a blue sheep population on its grassy lower slopes, which can be reached only via faint, difficult hunters’ paths.
From Purien-e-Sar, the walk to Shuizherav becomes much easier. The trail traverses dry artemisia-covered hillside high above the river (called Shuizherav above Purien-e-Ben), crossing several tributary streams in their narrow gorges. Traverse gently to a rocky rise and reach the first side stream, Kushk Yarzeen (dry juniper) in 1¼ hours. Arbab Purien (3931m), the nicest of these side valleys and a good spot for lunch, in 30 minutes farther where a clear spring flows near the small hut next to the rushing stream beneath distinctive red rocks. Just beyond Arbab Purien is the grave of Ghulam Nasir, a young man who died in the Pamir in 1995 of appendicitis. In one hour, pass above Miter Kishk (where a man named Miter tried to cultivate) and descend towards the river. Follow the rocky trail along the river for 45 minutes to the confluence of the Gunj-e-Dur (in Wakhi, gunj means ‘a distant treasure/store house’; dur, ‘a valley where sheep are kept’) and Shuizherav rivers. Cross a sturdy wooden footbridge to the Gunj-e-Dur River’s true left bank. Pass the few huts at Qerqazi Kishk (where a man named Qerqazi tied to cultivate) and follow the Shuizherav’s true right bank two to 2½ hours to the large summer settlement of Shuizherav (in Wakhi, shui means a ‘place with a lot of rock where it’s hard to walk’; zherav, a ‘glacial river’), with many huts on both sides of the river. Below Shuizherav (4350m), along the true right bank, is a grassy area for camping amid quiet mountain splendour.
Day 3 : Shuizherav to Shimshal Pass
3 hours, 8km, 385m ascent
Cross the wooden footbridge to the Shuizherav’s true left bank and ascend a side stream’s true right bank. The easy climb to Abdullah Khan Maidan (4600m) takes one hour. These pastures are the precincts of women and children who have a rule; one cannot enter the pastures in a sad mood. Everyone must be happy and it’s best to enter the pastures singing!
Stroll two hours through flowery fields amid herds of yaks and sheep, skirting the two large lakes that lie on the watershed between South Asia and Central Asia to the Shimshal Pass (4735m). The most pleasant camp sites (4700m) are in the level area just north of (below) Shimshal Pass, in view of the lakes. It is possible to climb Mungalig Sar from here if you are properly equipped (see the boxed text ‘Peak Possibilities’.
Side Trip : Shuwerth
1 hour, 2km, 170m ascent, 170m descent
Fifteen minutes beyond the almost unnoticeable Shimshal Pass is the main summer settlement of Shuwerth. Women here are constantly busy with milking, herding and converting the milk to qurut (cheese). If you want to camp close to Shuwerth, ask the villagers to suggest a suitable spot. Most trekkers enjoy at least one day visiting Shuwerth.
Days 4-5 : Shimshal Pass to Shimshal Village
2 days, 41.6km, 2055m descent, 320m ascent
Retrace your route along the Shuizherav and Pamir-e-Tang Rivers to Shimshal village, camping at Wuch Furzeen on Day 4.
Alternative Route A : Shimshal Pass to Shimshal Village
The more difficult uween trail offers a challenging alternative to retracing your steps along the tang route.
Alternative Day 4 : Shimshal Pass to Purien-e-Ben
6-9 hours, 16.7km, 1104m descent
Leave the Shimshal Pamir by following the trail back to Purien-e-Ben (3596m), where the uween trail leaves the tang trail. This camp site is in a narrow box canyon amid fantastic eroded loess towers. Water is very silty in the afternoon, but generally settles quickly. A hard-to-reach hot spring is above Purien-e-Ben. Crossing the two passes on the uween trail the next day is somewhat easier if you can go 2.5km beyond Purien-e-Ben and camp in Targeen (see Alternative Day 5).
Alternative Day 5 : Purien-e-Ben to Zardgarben
8-10 hours, 15.6km, 1764m ascent 1285m descent
This day illustrates why the term ‘hardihood’ aptly describes Shimshalis. Crossing the demanding Shachmirk and Uween-e-Sar passes with more than 3000m of total elevation gain and loss is one of the toughest nonglacier days anywhere in the Karakoram. Starting early is essential.
The trail starts with a 240m scree ascent out of Purien-e-Ben, followed by a more gentle traverse one to 1½ hours to the stream at Targeen (3795m). With Rockfall danger, no fuel for porters, and only room for two tents along the stream’s true left bank or room for three or four tents a few minutes above on the true right bank, it’s not an inviting camp site. A difficult-to-access hot spring is below Targeen.
It takes two to 2½ hours to ascend 765m over scree to reach Shachmirk Pass (4560m). Its name means the place where the dog (shach) died (mirk). Hopefully, you’re not feeling like that dog, and can enjoy the fine views of Destaghil Sar, Adver Sar, the snowy Yazghil Glacier, Kunyang Chhish (7852m), Pumori Chhish, Yukshin Gardan (7530m), and east to Chat Pirt and Mungalig Sar.
The 1½ hours to two hours’ and 710m steady descent to Yarzeen begins immediately. The trail is clearly visible, steep and, in a few places, loose. The rushing stream at Yarzeen (3850m; ‘the place of juniper’) makes a great, and the only, lunch spot. Years of cook fires, however, have eliminated almost all the juniper that once grew here. Yarzeen is a possible camp site, but has room for only one small tent and no more than four people, including porters. Larger trekking parties must continue over the second pass the same day.
The 810m scree ascent to Uween-e-Sar (4650m) begins immediately from Yarzeen. It’s even more arduous than the ascent to Shachmirk, and takes 2½ to three hours. The first 30 minutes or so on a faint path is extremely steep, loose and exposed, so take care not to knock rocks onto anyone below. Views from the pass extend from Destaghil Sar, Kanjut Sar and Yukshin Gardan to Chat Pirt.
The one to 1½ hours 575m descent to Zardgarben (4075m), visible west of the pass, is on a comparatively good trail. Head for the welcoming grassy expanse below.
Accessible from Shimshal Pass (Day 3)
For those equipped and motivated, an ascent of the 5931m (elevation as per the Russian map J-43-128) snowy peak Mungalig Sar (the peak above where yaks graze on a grassy place), first climbed by Nazir Sabir in 1988, is possible from the lakes north of Shimshal Pass. Mungalig Sar (peak 6050 on the Swiss map) is also known as Mingli Sar. Climbing Mungalig Sar requires travelling in roped teams. It’s a one-day climb, with 1480m ascent and 1480m descent.
Two other 500m peaks, Kuz Sar (shady side peak) and Lup Zhui Sar (Big lake peak), are also single-day climbs done from the Pamir.
Alternative Day 6 : Zardgarben to Shimshal Village
2½-3 hours, 6.9km, 1075m descent
See Day 7 of the Qachqar-e-Dur and Shpodeen Pass trek (p) for a description between Zardgarben and Shimshal village.
Alternative Route B : Shimshal Pass to Shimshal Village
Returning to Shimshal via Pamir Mai Dur and Shpodeen Pass makes an unforgettable finale to the Shimshal Pamir trek.
Alternative Day 4 : Shimshal Pass to Arbab Purien
5-6 hours, 19.3km, 804m descent
Retrace your steps Downvalley to Arbab Purien (3931m).
Alternative Day 5 : Arbab Purien to Pamir Mai Dur
4 hours, 8km, 639m ascent, 222m, descent
Follow the stream north-west from Arbab Purien, cross the approximately 4570m ridge, and descend to meet the Pamir Mai Dur, north of Purien-e-Sar, in 1½ hours. The trail stays high above the Pamir Mai Dur River’s true left bank as it gently goes north-west upvalley. In one hour, pass Chashkin, a small maidan with a spring. In another 1½ hours, reach the confluence of the Pamir Mai Dur and Qachqar-e-Dur rivers. Ford the Qachqar-e-Dur River and camp along its true right bank north of the huts at Pamir Mai Dur (4348m). It’s one stage between Arbab Purien and Pamir Mai Dur.
Alternative Days 6-8 : Pamir Mai Dur to Shimshal Village
Day 6 : Pamir Mai Dur to Khush Dur-e-Gush
3-4 hours, 6.3km, 581m ascent
Climb the hill behind the huts and continue west well above the Pamir Mai Dur’s true left bank. Reach a mixed rocky and grassy area with a spring called Rana Kuk after one to 1½ hours. Cross a side stream in 45 minutes, then traverse the black moraine rubble coming from the north. Occasional cairns mark the 30-minute route over the shale-like rock. Staying along the true left bank, pass well above the confluence of a tributary joining from the south. The trail grows faint as you enter into a gorge. Cross to the Pamir Mai Dur’s true right bank after crossing a side stream coming from the north and before the confluence of two streams. The valley divides here and the route to Shpodeen Pass, which remains hidden from view, is upvalley to the south-west (left). Ascend along the true right bank of the left branch to grassy Kush Dur-e-Gush (4929m, ‘mouth of the happy valley’), reaching it within an hour of entering the gorge.
Day 7 : Khush Dur-e-Gush to Shpodeen
5-6 hours, 3km, 417m ascent, 875m descent
Work up the slope to bypass to the south (left) of spectacular cascades and a gorge. Shpodeen Pass becomes visible ahead. Above the cascades, cross the braided stream and continue up to where the stream emerges from a snowfield. Ascend the snowfield to reach Shpodeen Pass (5346m), two to 2½ hours from Khush Dur-e-Gush. From the pass, Adver Sar, Destaghil Sar, Momhil Sar and Lupgar Sar are visible. Shpodeen Pass can be snow covered and corniced early in the season, but there’s no glacier on either side.
Steeply below and 2km to the west is Shpodeen in the Zardgarben Valley. The west side of the pass is dry, but the route can be icy early in the season. The descent is over extremely steep scree ranging between 25 and 35 degrees for two hours until the angle lessens as you reach the valley floor. The Class 2 route down a limestone and shale gully (slightly to the left) is preferable to avoid a Class 3 limestone rock face (a little to the right). Jenny Visser-Hooft, who crossed the pass in 1925, described the descent thus:’… on all sides the rocks rose in superb structures with beautifully sculptured, bold outline and dolomite colours’. Continue another 30 minutes, following the stream, and then another hour to the flat, grassy expanse of Shpodeen (4471m) above the Zardgarben River’s true left bank. Water comes from an intermittent clear stream or tiny springs along the river’s edge.
Looking back to the east, the Shpodeen Pass cairn is distinguishable, but barely visible on the ridge. The route lies between the golden spur and black side spur.
Day 8 : Shpodeen to Shimshal Village
4-5 hours, 13km, 1471m descent
See Days 1-2 of the Boisum and Chafchingol Passes trek (p) for a description in the reverse direction.