Nowshak (Noshaq or Nowshakh) – At 7,492 meters (24,580 feet) high, Nowshak is the highest mountain in Afghanistan and the second highest independent peak of the Hindu Kush (after Tirich Mir in Pakistan which reaches heights of 7,690m or 25,230 feet). Nowshak is located in the northeastern corner of Afghanistan, along the Durand line which marks the border with Pakistan. The north and west sides of the mountain are in Afghanistan whereas the south and eastern sides are in Pakistan.
Nowshak was a popular destination for international climbers during the 1940s-70s. The first successful ascent of the mountain was in 1960 by two members of a Japanese expedition. However, during the war in Afghanistan, tourist numbers declined to almost zero. In the 1990s, the Qozideh trail leading to Nowshak was also heavily mined by Afghan Mujahideen fighters to stop possible infiltration of the Taliban from Pakistan.
Over the past 10 years, tourists have gradually started returning to Afghanistan and Wakhan in particular. Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) tourism data show that over 300 tourists visited Wakhan in 2009 and that number is steadily increasing. In fact, the first Afghan ascent of Nowshak was in July 2009when two members of a team of four Afghans finally reached the summit.
Besides the tourist attraction of the beautiful Nowshak Mountain, Qozideh Valley is also one of the key destinations for wildlife in the country. Since 2009, Wakhan community rangers have been patrolling Qozideh Valley, with the help and guidance of WCS, to ensure protection of its wildlife and other natural resources. As a result, the valley now appears to have relatively healthy populations of ibex, urial and snow leopard.
In early 2010, the Wakhan community (through the recently formed Wakhan Pamir Association or WPA) requested WCS to help them improve the trail to Qozideh Valley that leads to Nowshak base camp. Taking up the challenge in November 2010, WCS, the WPA and local community members set to work improving over 2 km of the alternative climbing trail, skipping the mined area halfway to Nowshak. More than 38 community members worked on the improvement and repair of this trail for one whole month. Then In May 2011, WCS helped the community again to improve another part of the trail extending to the base camp and also repaired a footbridge at Mandraz stream to allow easy access to the mountain for tourists, rangers and community members.
WCS believes that this project will increase tourist access and visitor numbers to Nowshak, and will be helpful in improving the livelihoods of the communities living in the nearby villages of Wakhan.