Saturday, November 26, 2011

Climbing the Moutain

For a bit of local adventure, I joined one of my DEA counterparts this morning to climb the mountain ridge located behind our compound in Kabul. Locally, the Asmai and Sherdawaza mountain ranges dominate the landscape, ringing the city of Kabul in all directions.
 
A view of the surrounding mountain ranges reveals a staggering number of peaks already covered in snow. Surprisingly, more than 49 % of the total land area in Afghanistan lies above 6000 feet elevation. Here in Kabul, the elevation averages just over 5,800 feet, with the mountain crests adding to the total. The average elevation in the state of Virginia is only 950 feet, which certainly requires a temporary adjustment period that one definitely feels when engaging in physical activity.

The mountainous areas are mostly barren, or at most remain sparsely sprinkled with trees and stunted 
bushes. True forests, found mainly in the eastern provinces of Nuristan and Paktiya, cover barely 3% of the country's area. Even these small reserves have been disastrously depleted by the war and through illegal exploitation, with less than one million acres surviving today.

During our climb, we passed several rock walls and 
hand-dug gun emplacements that were once used for cover by the mujahadeen during their fight against the Soviets. The ground remains littered with all types and sizes of rifle casings, while signs warn of the dangers of straying off the trail as you climb toward the crest. A local goat-herder discovered the unfortunate result of straying too far from the path when one of his goats stepped on an unexploded land mine and blew itself up. I am unaware of anyone human doing the same thing.
 
Along the way, I stopped numerous times to take in the view of Kabul, hardly believing that the city I was seeing was the same one I'd driven through. From 6,000 feet, it looks like a typical sprawling city spread out over thousands of acres, a thin layer of smog hanging heavily above it. From my vantage point, I could clearly make out the Kabul International Airport and saw at least a half dozen jets, both military and civilian, climbing slowly toward us as we continued our ascent.

From atop the ridgeline, the view of the surrounding area quickly deteriorating as the morning progressed. The haze seemed thicker the higher we climbed and obscured the higher mountain tops in the distance. On the opposite side of the ridge, a vast expanse of desert plain lay before us, apparently an unfriendly area to our coalition forces.

The previous night’s rain had made the usually dusty climb more tolerable than normal, however, resulting in a number of other adventurers braving the cold to reach the peak. Joining us at the top were several Brits, one Lithuanian, a team of FBI agents, and several contractors, many of whom were also on their first trek up the mountain. Although some of the climbers had dressed in PT gear, I noticed most were armed, with some even wearing their armored vests. By the time I had reached the top, I was certainly glad I’d left my vest behind.

While taking in the view, we noticed several individuals climbing an area of the mountain that was unmarked and without trail. Using the magnified scope atop my rifle as a makeshift set of binoculars, I determined the people were simply collecting firewood and placing it in cloth bundles strapped across their backs.  I had no idea where they came from and even less of an idea where they were headed to after reaching their limits. 
 
The walk down the mountain proved tougher than the walk-up, at least on my knees. Regardless, it was much quicker than I anticipated, with plenty of time left for breakfast. Unless the weather fails to cooperate, I'll likely make this a routine event.

6 comments:

LtCol P said...

Craig:

Now you're making me homesick for Kabul!

Enjoy the deployment, but keep your head on a swivel, especially as you drive around.

We just linked to you--
http://op-for.com/2011/11/vmicraig-in-kabul.html

SF

jpp 89

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luxury handbags said...

I've never seen bullet on any mountain. Those bullets remind me of the cruelty of wars.

Rolex Montres said...

Thanks for telling me how to do it as soons as we lay our feet on the first rock of the mountain.

Repliche borse said...

Sometimes climbing the mountain just feels so tressful that my nerve can't ease for a while!

Manoj Kusshwaha said...

i love to be there man