Zigzagging in the Fann Mountains

August 8-23, 2006


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I returned to Central Asia in August 2006 for the third summer in row. I wanted to hike in the Central Pamir around the Fedchenko glacier in Tajikistan. But a last-minute permit problem forced me to change plan. Instead, I ended up trekking in the more easily accessible Fann mountains, which I had partially visited in 2004 (see Central Asia 2004). These are beautiful mountains, with a few summits above 5000m, culminating at Chimtarga peak (5489m). They are located in Western Tajikistan, near the Uzbek border (and Samarkand). They usually enjoy sunny, stable weather during the summer.


My guides for this trip were Slava (center) and Mishra (right).

Copy of IMG_0909

Slava had already been my guide in 2004 and 2005. Both are great and reliable companions. Like in 2005, the logistics for this trip was arranged by Boris Karpov of Elena Tours.


Since the Fann mountains cover a relatively small area and we had a lot of time (due to the change of plan), we ended up zigzagging in the Fann mountains for a couple of weeks, from North to South as shown on the map below. After the trek, I spent 3 days in Samarkand and Shahrisabz.


Remark: The Fann mountains have recently been "discovered" by European (mostly French) trekking agencies. The northern part (lakes Kulikalon and Alaudin, but also Chimtarga pass and lake Big Allo) is now visited by large groups (and their porters). This would not be a major problem if these groups were mindful of the environment. Unfortunately, I have seen them wash their clothes directly in the lakes using large amounts of detergent. Their toilet paper flies all around the main camping sites and abundant trash can be found in many areas. For some reasons trekkers in Nepal or Morocco seem to behave more responsibly. Why?


Trek area



Itinerary: Click here for a full-resolution map.


Red dots: 2006 itinerary; blue dots: 2004 itinerary.
Orange dots: Artuch mountain center (start of trek); Green dots: Gazza village (end of trek).

Yellow dots: intermediate camps.

x (black crosses): passes/cols.


This aerial photo (provided by Boris Karpov) covers a large portion of our trek. The red and blue dots show our main itinerary (red: visible; blue: hidden). The orange dots show side trips. The beginning and the end of the trek are outside this photo.



August 8: We left the town of Penjikent in the morning after buying fresh food at the bazaar. We drove to Artuch mountain center, a comfortable hut where we spent the night. In the afternoon, Slava and I hiked up to lakes Chukurak and Ziorat above Artuch.


Lake Chukurak seen while ascending lake Ziorat. Artuch (not visible) is further down.



The clear water of lake Ziorat.



August 9: We hiked up over an easy pass to reach lakes Kulikalon, where we set our first camp (2800m). These lakes are dominated by two huge rock walls that attract many Russian climbers.


Main Kulikalon lake, with one rock wall behind. The highest summit on the left is peak Maria (4970m).



Our campsite near another lake (Dushakha), with the second rock wall in the background.



The same rock wall at sunset and sunrise. (This picture is a collage of a photo taken at sunset, the leftmost third, and another photo taken the next morning, the other two thirds.) Picture2

August 10: We crossed Alaudin pass (3860m) to reach Alaudin lakes. These are arguably the most beautiful lakes in the Fann mountains.


The main two Alaudin lakes seen while descending from Alaudin pass.



A smaller Alaudin lake.



August 11: In the morning we hiked up to Mutnyi lake (3600m) below Chimtarga peak, where we established our camp for two nights. In the afternoon, I went to VAA pass (4100m, SE of Mutnyi lake), which dominates the Kaznok river on its southern side. A few days later we will be hiking along Kaznok river.


Early morning reflection over an Alaudin lake.



Cup lake (I cannot remember its local name, but it means cup).



Climbing toward VAA pass. Lake Mutnyi can be seen at the bottom (center left of photo).



VAA pass viewed from the ridge above it (North is on the left side). It is quite steep on both sides.



View of Chimtarga peak (5489m) from VAA pass. Chimtarga peak is the highest point in the Fann mountains.



August 12-13: On the 12th we did a carry to our camp at 4500m below Chimtarga pass and on the 13th we moved to that camp.


Energia peak (5120m) on the left and Chimtarga peak on the right at sunrise. Chimtarga pass (not visible on this photo) is between the two peaks.



Another view of peak Energia while climbing toward Chimtarga pass.



Looking East while climbing toward Chimtarga pass. The big peak on the left is Big Ganza (5308m).



Another view toward the East in the late afternoon sun.



Slava (left) and Mishra (right) at our camp below Chimtarga pass.



Chimtarga pass (4740m) viewed from our camp.



August 14: We crossed Chimtarga pass (4740m) and made a long descent into a large canyon (Zindon river) leading to Bolshoi (Big) Allo lake (3180m) where we established our camp for two nights.


Descending from Chimtarga pass into the mineral Zindon canyon. Slava is visible at the bottom of the photo.



Further down into the Zindon canyon.



Reaching Big Allo lake. We will continue our trek toward the South along the canyon visible on this photo.



Big Allo lake viewed later in the afternoon from its southern end.



August 15-16: On the 15th, while Slava and Mishra were resting, I did a reconnaissance trip South of Big Allo lake by climbing Amshut Ninji pass (4380m). This pass faces Dvoinoi pass that we were to cross two days later. On the 16th I partially retraced the same path with Slava and Mishra to bring our camp just below Dvoinoi pass.


Upper Allo lake, 3km south of Big Allo lake.



Dvoinoi (double) pass (4260m) seen from Amshut Ninji pass. We will not cross this pass at the lowest point, but on the left (North) side near the small vertical rock band.



Our camp below Dvoinoi pass. The path to the pass is on the left of the sharp gendarme.



Slava looking for water.



August 17-18: We crossed Dvoinoi pass and descended along the Kaznok and Arkh rivers to eventually reach the village of Sarytag, which had been the starting point of my 2004 trek in the Fann mountains. During this descent the scenery changed quickly from austere rocks to lush green grass and trees. We spend one night near a place called Maslokhatepe. We then set our next camp along the Karakol river, a couple of kilometers upstream from Sarytag.


Slava reaching Dvoinoi pass above the rock gendarme. Amshut Ninji pass is the leftmost pass in the background. The other pass is Vierkhni Amshut pass (4480m).



Slava crossing a scary snow bridge over Kaznok rive.



Further down along the Kaznok river.



Kaznok river merges with other rivers to eventually become Arkh river seen in this photo.



Lush green scenery along Arkh river.



Mountain cherries. They are delicious, but have big pits. Bears seem to like them too, but unlike us they do not mind swallowing the pits!




Sarytag village (2400m) along the Sarytag river (formed by the confluence of the Arkh and Karakol rivers).



A last view of Chimtarga and Energia peaks from Sarytag through the Arkh canyon.



Cattle crossing Karakol river in the late afternoon near our camp.



A small kosh and a girl near Karakol river.



August 19-20: We went up the long and wide Karakol valley, crossed Sarymat pass (4160m) and descended into the valley of Kaznok river. This Kaznok river is not the same as the one we followed a few days earlier. Many rivers (peaks, passes, tec) in Central Asia have the same names (e.g., Aksu, Karasu, Karakol, etc), which can be quite confusing. This Kaznok river flows South to North, while the former one flows West to East. Karakol river, which we followed during most of those two days, flows West to East at the southern end of the Fann mountains. In its valley we met very hospitable shepherds (and their much less friendly dogs).


Slava crossing a tributary (Dikondara) of the Karakol river.



A Tajik man on the trail.



View of Karakol valley (looking toward the East, hence toward Sarytag).



Another view of Karakol valley (toward the West), with Mishra and Slava hiking ahead of me.



A shepherd settlement. These shepherds generously offered us a great lunch with the meat of a goat they had just killed. They were from Penjikent, spending several consecutive weeks in the mountains to watch over several herds of sheep and goats. In the top-right photo the two bags made of sheep skin are used to ferment yoghourt. The dogs of the shepherds are not very big, but they are very mean and totally fearless, as they have been trained to protect herds against bears and wolves. Slava, Mishra, and I were always courageously staying closely together in the presence of such dogs.




This is not grass fire in the mountain, but a herd of sheep and goats rushing down to Karakol river in the evening.



Sunset over our camp site below Sarymat pass.



Looking East while ascending Sarymat pass on the next morning.



Slava on the last stretch of slope below Sarymat pass.



Mishra at the pass. Actually, there are two successive passes at about the same elevation. This is the first. The second (not visible on this photo) is to the left (the path leading to it is visible).



The second pass seen from below near Kaznok river



August 21: While Slava and Mishra stayed at our camp set near Kaznok river below Sarymat pass, I spent the day exploring the upper part of Kaznok valley and a side canyon leading to a peak called Aksu peak.


Kaznok river flows South to North. This is a North-looking view of its valley.



An almost perfect cone of dejection.



A lonely juniperus.



Looking South to the end of Kaznok valley. The border with Uzbekistan is on the ridge two kilometers away.



August 22: We hiked Kaznok river down (toward the North). It soon becomes Sarymat river, until this river merges with Archamaidan river. We then followed Archamaidan river further down to Gazza village, which is accessible by car. We spent our last night near this village. At the beginning of the day we crossed the path of my 2004 trek between Munora and Tavasang passes. This is roughly where Kaznok river becomes Sarymat river.


The canyon of Sarymat river.



Khumorigung village.



Conluence of Archamaidan and Sarymat rivers. Sarymat river is the one with clear water on the right.



Gazza village. We spent our last night near this village. In the evening, children from the village brought us bread and dried apricots.



On August 23 we waked up at 3am and started walking. We had arranged a car to pick us up on the 24th, but we were one day early. So, we walked for a few hours until we found a car that took us to a busy farmer market where we found another car to Penjikent.




Slava and Mishra returned to Tashkent after this trek. I had a few more days before flying back home. I spent them in Samarkand, my favorite city in Central Asia, which I had already visited in 2004. I used this opportunity to rent a car and visit Shahrisabz, the birthplace of Amir Timur, some 80-90 km south of Samarkand. I was not expecting much from Shahrisabz, but I was wrong. It has a number of impressive monuments, while its lively and colorful bazaar is more interesting than the more modern bazaar of Samarkand.


The old Ak Saray Palace and the modern statue of Amur Tinur in Shahrisabz form an impressive ensemble, where one can still feel the power of Timur.



Dar Ut-Tilavat complex in Shahrisabz.



Dor Us-Siyodat complex in Shahrisabz.


Bazaar scenes in Shahrisabz: bread,




yellow carrots finely cut for pilav,


and hats.


A last photo shot near Samarkand bazaar.