Flow Of The Fedchenko: Crossing The Fedchenko Glacier On Ski

I unzip the tent fly and have a peak outside. It’s completely white, the wind is blasting snow into my face so I quickly pull my head back inside again and zip down the fly. As I’m curling back into my warm cozy sleeping bag I hear the voice of Holly, all bundled up in her sleeping bag literally one foot from my head. “So…what’s new out there?” Holly asks optimistically with some irony in her voice. “Nothing…” I answer not quite as optimistically with disappointment in my voice.

Day 8 of 29

Approaching the headwall of the RGS Glacier and finally about to step onto Fedchenko Glacier after 8 hard days of travelling and shuttling gear.

It is day 19 on our ski expedition crossing the Fedchenko Glacier in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan Central Asia. In our basecamp on the upper Fedchenko Glacier a storm roles in keeping us tent bound for four days. The wind has not stopped blowing for four days. I’m feeling antsy. I’ve tried to keep as occupied and stimulated as possible, but really there is not a lot to do in a tent at 4900m on a remote glacier in Central Asia. All we really do is hang out waiting for time to pass. After a few days of doing that it doesn’t matter how “in tune” you are with the elements, and how relaxed you feel or how much you like hanging out with your tent mates, it will drive anyone stir crazy spending so much time literally doing nothing. I can’t wait for the storm to pass and the sky to open up. So, anxious as I am, I get out of my sleeping bag once again, unzip the fly and have a peak outside. I know what to expect but I can’t help myself. Whiteness, there is nothing. So I slip back into my sleeping bag close my eyes and doze off into a half asleep state dreaming of warm summer days, green grass and birds singing, all those great things in life we all take for granted. 

Day 19 of 30

Our high camp at 4900m during a four day storm.

The Fedchenko Glacier is located in the Pamir Mountains and home to some of the highest peaks in the world. It is also according to some sources the longest glacier outside the polar regions with a length of 77km and covering over 700 square kilometers. Despite being one of the largest glaciers in the world, in the most impressive mountains I’ve ever been to, there are surprisingly few people who know about the existence of this mighty sheet of ice, let alone visit the Fedchenko Glacier and the Pamir Mountains. The remoteness and difficulties traveling to these wild and untamed mountains are reasons why it is so seldom visited. The area has seen some hard times over the years. With a civil war and times of unrest, and with poor infrastructure and lack of roads connecting mountain communities with the outside world, life in the Pamirs is very difficult. 

Day 12 of 30

Breaking trail after a short lived storm. Pulling sleds loaded with 150 pounds of gear is a tiring endeavor.

Back in our tents it suddenly becomes quiet. I can’t hear the wind blowing anymore so I jump out of my sleeping bag and get out of the tent. And there it is, much longed for sunshine. Finally by the end of day four the sky opens up with one week of high pressure awaiting us. At this point we’re all eager to get after it so we decide to ski tour up to the head of the Fedchenko the following day. Beautiful spires, steep couloirs, hanging glaciers, steep exposed ski lines, freshly dusted after the storm with the sun shining on it just asking to be skied. After a big storm in some of the highest mountains in the world, we feel pretty happy to be travelling on a huge flat sheet of ice far away from any avalanche exposure. We had grand plans and spent almost two years planning our trip to Tajikistan but with extremely touchy avalanche conditions now is not the time to ski big lines. The 6000-7000m peaks towering above us sure look enticing, but we admire it all from a distance and dream of coming back to this magical place one day. Instead we continue slogging up the glacier towards the head of the valley. Soon we get our first glimpse of Pik Revolution towering above our heads with an elevation of 6900m. Our goal is to make it to the head of Fedchenko. As we are approaching the head of the valley, surrounded by rugged peaks we decide to go for the ridgeline on the west side with a friendly highpoint. With our eyes set on the summit, we realize we are so close, close to the goal of our trip to make it to the head of the Fedchenko Glacier. 

Day 22 of 30

Group shot on the day reaching the head of the Fedchenko.

There is a feeling of satisfaction and happiness when we reach the summit at 5500m. Three years prior to this moment I had an idea, a dream about this place far away. A lot of work went into making it happen. From two years of planning to actually setting our foot in the country, travelling with off road trucks through remote valleys in search of an access route to Fedchenko, hauling gear over terrain that the Pamiri locals described as impossible. It’s been 22 days of travelling on foot and skis to get to this point. I have a hard time believing we are actually standing on the summit and about to start our journey home again. It’s been a grand adventure and the next eight days proves that the adventure isn’t over yet as we travel back down the Fedchenko eventually getting off the ice and spending five days traveling out the Tanimas Valley back to civilization.

Day 28 of 30

The long walk out the Tanimas Valley, hurting feet and aching backs after 400km of travel.

In May 2014 Emelie Stenberg together with her team Holly Walker, Selena Cordeau, Vince Shuley and Zebulon Blais travelled to Tajikistan Central Asia to cross the fabled Fedchenko Glacier on skis, entirely self-propelled and unsupported. The expedition was completed in 30 days.
This trip was sponsored by the ACC Jen Higgins Fund, Mountain Equipment Expedition Support and Polartec Challenge Grant.