Werthum Pass
Duration7 days
Distance 52.4km
StandardVery demanding, technical
SeasonMid-June-September
StartChina Camp
FinishRaminj
Zone and Permitopen, no permit
Public Transportyes
SummaryWerthum Pass offers a rugged mountaineers’ route between the Batura Glacier and Chapursan’s Lupgar Valley through unvisited areas with scope for climbing and watching wildlife.

 

Werthum (‘millstone’ in Wakhi) is an infrequently crossed nonglaciated pass (5147m) linking the Batura Glacier to Chapursan’s Lupgar Valley to its north. The pass offers an alternative exit from the upper Batura Glacier, especially attractive for those climbing in the Werthum Valley. This rugged side valley north of the Batura Glacier has some easy nontechnical snowy peaks, and several technical peaks ranging from 5400m to 5900m at the valley’s head and along the Shireen Maidan (sweet field) Glacier. The views from the pass include the six Batura peaks and Shishpar. Crossing Werthum Pass isn’t technically difficult, but requires basic mountaineering skills.

PLANNING

What to Bring

A rope, ice axe and mountaineering equipment necessary to cut steps in the ice cornice on the north side of the pass are required (see Mountaineering Equipment,). Crampons aren’t necessary when crossing from south to north, but are when crossing from north to south. When trekking with porters bring a tarp or tent for their use because no huts exist for the two nights between Kukhil and Harkeesh.

Maps

Refer to Maps under the Batura Glacier trek (p). The Swiss map incorrectly marks the trail between Shireen and Maidan and Werthum Base Camp (unmarked), and misrepresents the confluence of the streams that form Werthum Nala. The actual trail is on the opposite side of the river from where the trail is drawn on the map; the map has it backwards. Unsuspecting trekkers have dangled on nasty scree slopes and cliffs trying to follow the trail depicted on the map. Werthum Pass isn’t marked and the glacier on its north side is much smaller than the map shows. Harkeesh isn’t marked either. It’s on the south side of the Lupgar River along the first side stream west (left) of the place name Purzin.

Guides and Porters

Hiring a local guide and porters is unavoidable. Only four Passu men-Qamar Jan, Sanjar Beg, Ali Aman and Safdar Hussain- know the route over the Werthum Pass, although more will learn the route after the authors’ crossing and opening of this route in July 2000.

When crossing from north to south, hire men from Raminj or Khaibar. Ghulam Sar- war from Khaibar and several men from Raminj also know the route. It may, however, be difficult to find any porters willing to do it, because of the steepness and difficulty from this direction.

Stages

Passu porters ask for 11 stages total between Passu and Raminj, although it’s only 10 stages. Passu to Guchesham or Shilmin is 4½ stages total, but porters usually charge five stages for this distance (see the Batura Glacier trek, for more details). They also ask for one stage between Shilmin or Guchesham and Shireen Maidan, which should be half a stage, thereby effectively inserting an additional stage, much to their benefit. The five stages beyond Shireen Maidan are: (1) Werthum Base Camp; (2) Werthum High Camp; (3) Shikar Gah; (4) Harkeesh; and (5) Raminj.

GETTING TO/FROM THE TREK

To the Start

See the Batura Glacier Trek for a description of how to reach China Camp.

From The Finish

See the Lupgar Pir Pass trek for a description of where to go from Raminj.

The Trek

Days 1-2 : China Camp to Yashpirt

2 days, 16.6km, 872m ascent

See Days 1-2 of the Batura Glacier trek for the description between China Camp and Yashpirt.

Day 3 : Yashpirt to Shireen Maidan

6 hours, 16.9km, 586m ascent

See Day 3 of the Batura Glacier trek for a description of the 4½- hours walk between Yashpirt and Shilmin. From Shilmin, the trail up the Werthum Valley leaves the Batura Glacier’s north margin bending 90 degrees and follows the Werthum Nala’s true right (west) bank north-east. Massive scree slopes on both the valley’s east and west walls guard its entrance. Stay close to the hillside (on the left) 15 minutes to the place where dwarf willows (chikor) grow. Begin a steady climb over scree on a faint trail. Early in the season, when snow is melting, be cautious for extreme rock-fall danger. After 30 minutes, the trail reaches the top of the scree and continues level for 15 minutes to Furzeen. The predominant birches (furz) and scrub junipers shade this attractive grove where a seasonal stream trickles. Ibex frequent the opposite rocky slopes as they migrate between the Batura Glacier and Khaibar Nala via the Shireen Maidan Glacier. The trail descends steeply a short distance to the river, and follows the river bed to the confluence of the Werthum Nala and the Shireen Maidan Glacier’s outwash Stream. Cross the Werthum Nala via two enormous adjacent boulders that bridge the torrent 300m upstream from the confluence, or ford the river when water is low. Along the true left bank at the confluence is a level camp site, sheltered from the wind, with six stone circles. A spring trickles near the river’s edge. Shireen Maidan (3888m) is a preferable camps site to Shilmin, well worth the additional 1½ hours’ walk. The peaks above the glacier offer climbing possibilities (see the boxed text ‘Peak Possibilities’,).

Day 4 : Shireen Maidan to Werthum Base Camp

3 hours, 3.8km, 475m ascent

Recross the river to the Werthum Nala’s true right (west) bank and immediately ascend the steep scree slope on a yak trail to the grassy slopes above. Traversing high above the river gorge, the trail crosses three small ravines, the last two of which offer clear water. Before the second stream, 1½ hours from Shireen Maidan, a difficult section of trail rounds a yellowish rock face called Dzug Band (literally, ‘difficult yak trail’ in Wakhi). A few minutes farther ahead, a house-sized overhanging boulder offers shelter and marks the beginning of the huge area Known as Werthum, which extends all thye way to the valley’s head. Fifteen minutes past the third stream the going gets a little easier, and a cauliflower like edible plant (yamush) and purple flower (bozlunj), whose dried petals can be used to make a tea that assists with acclimatization, pop up between the shale, ephedra and patches of grass.

The trail descends to the river where it disappears among rocks and boulders along the river’s true right bank. Stay close to the water’s edge, hopping rocks and scampering across boulders 15 to 30 minutes. This section could be difficult in the afternoon when water levels are typically higher. The route then fords the Werthum Nala to its true left bank shortly beyond the confluence with a side stream. This is the outwash stream coming from the unnamed glacier to the east. Once across the river, a trail ascends the steep rhubarb- dotted scree slope five minutes to a cairn at the top.

A lone stone circle, which is used as a porters’ shelter, marks Werthum Base Camp (4363m) in the middle of an exposed, broad grassy plateau above the confluence of the two unnamed streams that join to form Werthum Nala. The stream from the north-west issues from the glacier lying at the base of Werthum Peak, whose summit dominates the valley’s head. The other is the outwash stream from the sizable unnamed glacier that descends from several 5000m peaks east of Werthum Base Camp. Water is accessible in a small ravine east of the stone shelter.

This is a relatively short day, but the 475m elevation gain is an argument for stopping. When previously acclimatized, it’s possible to move up to Werthum High Camp. Otherwise, enjoy an afternoon spent strolling in the meadows. It is possible to climb Werthum Peak or one of the other peaks in the area (see the boxed text ‘Peak Possibilities’).

 

Peak Possibilities

Werthum Valley is a climbing destination with many peaks accessible to trekkers with mountaineering experience. Here are a few options.

Peaks above Shireen Maidan Glacier

Accessible from Shireen Maidan

(Day 3)

A dozen jagged 5000m and 6000m summits encircle the Shireen Maidan Glacier, beckoning climbers to this picturesque side valley. Most climbs are along the glacier’s north side and are mostly mixed ice and rock. These technical routes are more difficult than those accessed from Werthum Base Camp (Day 4). Beneath the Shireen Maidan Glacier’s terminal moraine, 10 minutes east of the confluence camp site on Day 3, is an extremely clear and deep blue- green lake. The grassy area nearby is the base camp.

Werthum Peak

Accessible from Werthum Base Camp (Day 4)

Werthum Peak (peak 5844m on the Swiss map), the valley’s only named peak, is a technical peak north-west of Werthum Base Camp. The three-day climb involves an ascent/descent of 1418m each way. On the first day, move from Werthum Base Camp upvalley to the high camp called Deposit Camp, where porters ‘deposit’ climber’ loads. The route to Deposit Camp stays low along the true left bank of the Werthum Nala’s north-west branch, and crosses the stream descending from Werthum Pass. Continue past the confluence of outwash streams from two glaciers, the southernmost of which ends in an icefall from peak 5539m. Cross the northern glacier’s outwash stream and move onto the black rocky moraine between the two glaciers. Deposit Camp is at the west edge of the northern glacier. On the second day, summit and return to Deposit Camp. Climb steeply to the ridge, staying far to the left (south), and then head right (north) to make the long traverse of the corniced north-south ridge to the summit. A rope, ice axe and crampons are essential, and anchors may be necessary depending on snow conditions. Return to Werthum Base Camp on the third day. It’s a fairly serious route, not recommended for novices.

Unnamed Peaks around Werthum Base Camp

Accessible from Werthum Base Camp

(Day 4) North and north-east of Werthum Base Camp are several unnamed, rounded snow- covered summits. These non-technical ‘walk-ups’ range from 5300m to 5500m, easily engaging most trekkers for a day or two. A rope and ice axe are necessary, but crampons are optional.

 

Day 5 : Werthum Base Camp to Werthum High Camp

3-4 hours, 3.4km, 612m ascent

From Werthum Base Camp, it’s advisable to set a high camp below the pass. Follow a faint yak trail for 1½ hours, staying very high above the true left bank of the Werthum Nala’s north-west branch. The route traverses north-north-east over stable slate and talus heading towards the rounded peak (5426m on the Swiss map) whose dry slopes are capped by snow. Werthum Pass lies on the ridge that runs south-east between this peak and peak 5315m. The route to the pass is via the side valley immediately in front of peak 5426m. The last reliable clear water flows in the second side stream before the highest grassy patch where yaks sometimes graze.

Cross a dry gully 30 minutes beyond the grass, then head north another 30 minutes up a relentlessly steep rock- and scree-covered hillside. The angle steepens to 25 degrees towards the ridge top, which separates the main Werthum Valley from the barren, snow-filled upper basin beneath the pass. A stream flows through this upper basin and down a steep ravine to meet the Werthum Nala’s north-west branch far below. Traverse scree 45 minutes to one hour to Werthum High Camp (4975m) on a level rocky terrace high above the true left bank of the stream descending from the pass. Water trickles from afternoon snow melt.

It’s possible to break up the Knee-pounding 1658m descent from Werthum Pass to Harkeesh by forgoing a high camp on the south side and crossing Werthum Pass in one long day. This also avoids sleeping at high altitude. The 6.9km between Werthum Base Camp and Shikar Gah Camp can be covered in 6½-8½ hours, with a 784m ascent and 862m descent. The following day, the 1190m descent to Raminj takes 5-5½ hours (8.2km; see Days 6-7 for a description).

Day 6 : Werthum High Camp to Harkeesh

6-7 hours, 6.1km, 172m ascent, 1658m descent

Continue up the snow and scree slope to reach the Werthum Pass (5147m) 45 minutes from the high camp. The pass has 20- to 25- degree slopes on both sides and a permanent 3m to 4m vertical cornice on its north side. Use a rope belay while breaking through the cornice and cutting steps in the ice to reach the talus below the pass. The pass is more difficult before mid-July when there’s more snow and a larger cornice.

Descend the talus and scree slope, then cross a tiny bergschrund onto a small unnamed glacier. Cross the glacier in 15 minutes to moraine and a stream. Cross to its true left bank, and follow the stream down 30 minutes to a level area (4694m). It is possible to make a high camp here when trekking from north to south.

Cross to the stream’s true right bank where the valley begins to drop steeply. Reach the confluence with another stream coming from the south-west in 15 minutes. The route stays along the main stream’s true right bank as the valley turns northward and narrows. When trekking from north to south, take caution to stay to the east (left), and follow the true right Bank of the easternmost (left) stream.

The stream plunges steeply between two enormous reddish rock walls into the canyon-like area called Shikar Gah (4285m) 30 minutes below the confluence. (Some people also call this area Bayeen Shikar Gah, a hunting place named after Bayeen, a man from Chapursan). The level stream bed here has some grass, flowers and rhubarb amid the curious conglomerate boulders that dot the valley floor. Fifteen minutes farther, at this area’s north end, is an overhanging boulder with a level rocky area nearby that offers a reasonable lunch spot and possible camp site. Ibex droppings indicate these wild mountain goats roam the cliffs above.

Begins the steep descent of the boulder choked gorge immediately below Shikar Gah on the stream’s true right bank. The only way down the gorge is literally right at the water’s edge. In very high water, the difficult route might be impassable. For the next 1½ to two hours it hugs the banks. You clamber over boulder after boulder and cross the torrent as needed. Steep scree slopes on both sides of the valley make this the only route.

Eventually you reach the highest pastures along the stream’s true right bank, and pick up a faint, but obvious, livestock trail. The going becomes easier, and in 15 minutes the trail descends to cross a convenient boulder to the stream’s true left bank. Pungent junipers dot the slope. From a ridge five minutes beyond the natural bridge, Harkeesh (‘place of cultivation’ in Burushaski), a level grassy area, is visible below. Descend the steep slope on a poor trail past junipers, wild roses and abundant birches 30 minutes to a log footbridge. Pause to marvel at the colourful sculpted rock cleft which the stream emerges. Follow the path along a canal 15 minutes to Harkeesh (3489m). Water from the canal flows to Harkeesh in the afternoon, but can be dry by morning.

Day 7 : Harkeesh to Raminj

2½-3 hours, 5.6km, 394m descent

See Day 6 of the Lupgar Pir Pass trek for a description between Harkeesh and Raminj (3095m).

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