John Mock & Kimberley O'Neil
Excerpts from Mock & O'Neil Oprang Expedition
Grant is awarded by W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc.
|Year||Places John & Kimberley Visited in Shimshal Territory|
|1989||Shimshal village, Shimshal Pamir, Ghuzherav (John only)|
|1990||Shimshal village, Yazghil (John only)|
|1991||Shimshal village, Shimshal Pamir; two separate visits (John only)|
|1992||Shimshal village, Shimshal Pamir, Ghuzherav, Boesam and Chafchingol passes (Both)|
|1996||Shimshal village, Shimshal Pamir; three separate visits (Both)|
The Oprang and Sher Ilaq Valleys are used by Shimshalis as winter pastures for their large yak herds. These areas are known to and visited by Shimshali people only, and they tell stories and sing songs that recall their adventures in this remote region. We have a long-standing relationship with the people of Shimshal and our Shimshali friends support this endeavor.
The Oprang Valley is territory that Shipton was drawn to as a "blank on the map". Shipton wrote about planning the 1937 Shaksgam expedition, that:
"The most interesting of the many unexplored areas of the Karakoram was that lying in the basin of the Shaksgam river on the frontiers of Hunza and the Chinese province of Sinkiang" (Upon That Mountain, 1943; reprint 1985, 437).
The 1937 expedition, however, did not reach the Oprang Valley, and Shipton wrote that:
"[after] the Shaksgam expedition of 1937 there still remained to be explored the mountains stretching to the north-east of the Shimshal pass across the Oprang river" (ibid., 452).
Today this large expanse of mountain terrain remains an imaginative vacancy. Apart from Schomberg's brief travelogue, we have no description of the landscape and no idea of how it has changed since his visit. Of the Sher Ilaq Valley, we have no description at all. The same is true for the upper Ghuzherav and Mai Dur Pass, visited only by the Visser-Hooft expedition of 1925.
But these areas are not unused. The region is regularly visited by Shimshali herders, those people that Shipton described as the epitome of "hardihood". About Shimshal and its inhabitants, Shipton wrote:
"The community of Shimshal is remarkable for its isolation and independence of support from the outside world They are a happy community leading an ideal existence in magnificent surroundings. The country is sufficiently difficult, and conditions sufficiently severe, to foster in the people that hardihood without which it seems to me impossible for mankind to be content" (Blank on The Map, 1938; reprint 1985, 296).
We propose to travel through this vast landscape with Shimshali friends whose "backyard" it is. John's fluency in Wakhi, the language spoken by Shimshalis, will enable us to come to know it from the Shimshalis' point of view. Our adventure is to turn a "blank on the map" into a palpable place by traveling through it and crossing new passes, and by coming to understand how the people who have lived there for generations perceive and relate to their mountainous landscape. Shipton, too, found travel in this part of the world an incomparable experience:
" no experience of mine has been fuller, no undertaking more richly rewarded than those few months among the unknown mountains beyond the crest of the Karakoram. The vast scale of the country, its complete isolation from any source of help or supply, demanded all our ingenuity and a wide range of mountaineering technique. Striving to traverse and understand such a world, and thus to absorb something of its peace and strength, was at once our task and our reward" (Upon That Mountain, 1943; reprint 1985, 450).
We became interested in exploring the Oprang Valley through reading Shipton and Tilman, who mention it as the most interesting country they did not visit. We were further tantalized by the brief account given by Schomberg. We read the Visser-Hooft expedition report of the Mai Dur Pass and realized that these routes could be combined to form a spectacular route through unexplored regions along the Central Asia watershed, a route that epitomizes the adventurous spirit embodied by Eric Earle Shipton and Harold William Tilman:
"There is nothing in my experience more fascinating than finding and crossing an unknown pass across a mountain range. The more important the watershed, geographically speaking, the more satisfying the achievement " (ibid., 413).
We have had many discussions about these valleys with Shimshalis, who have repeatedly invited us to travel there with them. Now, for the first time in over 50 years, the government of Pakistan has opened the area to foreigners and we can accept our Shimshali friends' invitation. Without the Shimshalis' trust and cooperation, it would be unrealistic to think of visiting this remote and inaccessible area.
We are outfitting our own trek, and are not hiring a local trekking company. This is a choice, not for reasons of economy, but for reasons of style and simplicity. We prefer traveling as a small self-sufficient party comprised of a few local people who can share their experiences and knowledge with us as we travel as guests through their territory. We will have no staff, other than four Shimshalis who will be our companions and porters. We will do our own cooking and camp chores. We are committed to the principles of minimum impact, environmentally-sound travel in remote mountain regions as evidenced by our previous work on ecotourism in northern Pakistan. We are providing all of our own food, gear, clothing and equipment, and are not seeking any corporate sponsorship. This trekking style is one that we have used successfully throughout the Karakoram for many years, and matches well with that of Shipton and Tilman.
We are recognized as experts on trekking in northern Pakistan, having coauthored the 1st edition of Trekking in the Karakoram & Hindukush (Lonely Planet Publications, 2002, 1996). We have visited more places throughout the Karakoram and Hindukush than anyone else we know of still active today. On our numerous treks in Pakistan over the years, we have crossed more than 40 different passes, traversed almost 50 different glaciers, and visited many more valleys than we have counted.
John has a Ph.D. in South Asia Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. His doctoral research, for which he was awarded a Fulbright fellowship, was on the oral traditions of the Wakhi community in Gojal. His academic expertise includes the languages and cultures of northern Pakistan. He speaks fluent Urdu, the language spoken throughout Pakistan, and Wakhi, the language spoken by the Wakhi people living in Gojal, among other languages. He has also worked as a consultant on the Khunjerab National Park for the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), and as a guide and translator in northern Pakistan for National Geographic magazine. John first trekked in Pakistan in 1977, and many of his early treks are mentioned in the out-of-print guidebooks written by the late Hugh Swift. John has made 13 trips to Pakistan spanning 23 years, and totaling four years and nine months in country.
Kimberley has over 12 years experience in the adventure travel industry having worked for a tour operator designing and operating trekking and mountaineering expeditions throughout the Himalaya and Karakoram. She first trekked in South Asia in 1984. Kimberley has made seven trips to Pakistan spanning 11 years, and totaling 23 months in country. We have also worked together as joint consultants on ecotourism in northern Pakistan for The World Conservation Union (IUCN). We were married in Kathmandu, Nepal in 1991.
We have the physical capabilities to succeed with our proposed endeavor. John is an
experienced rock climber and we both have mountaineering skills and vast experience trekking
in rugged terrain at altitudes up to 6,000 meters. For example, we demonstrated these skills
when we traversed the Biafo and Hispar glaciers, and crossed the 5,940-meter col, called the
Gondogoro La, between the Baltoro and Hushe Valleys. We have proven ability to successfully
reconnoiter Karakoram routes, having "rediscovered" the Lupgar Pir Pass (5,190 meters) in
remote Chapursan in 1994. Our friend and renowned mountaineer Nazir Sabir, who is from
Chapursan, later told us we were the first people to cross the pass in more than 50 years. John
has made similar crossings such as the Naz Bar and Zagar passes between the Yasin and
Yarkhun valleys. We have demonstrated in varying capacities - John as a scholar, and both of us
as consultants, guidebook authors and trekkers - that we can accomplish what we set out to
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