"You wanna swim to the mountain?"
We tromped out a platform and spent the rest of the afternoon eating and napping and sunbathing. Up at four the next morning, we reached our 16,000-foot assault camp on the Purwakshan Glacier by ten. We dropped our packs and did a fast recon up to the base of Koh-i-Bardar to find our line: a steep couloir to a knife-edge ridge to the summit. We were back by midday and had our tent up before we once again became castaways in an ocean of snow. We couldn't take one step off our tent platform without drowning.
"We'll have to climb it entirely at night," said Doug. We were inside the oven of our tiny two-man tent, baking to death.
Already Doug was one of the best partners I'd ever had. He was fast, funny, could sleep anywhere, in his clothes, farted like a horse, never whined, and, most important, simply loved the mountains. He was the epitome of parsimony—carrying the right, light gear and absolutely nothing extra, except Peet's French-roast coffee, of course.
We watched snow squalls come and go, trying to scare us, took sleeping pills at 6 p.m., got up at 11, and were crunching up the glacier before midnight. Headlamps burning, we blazed over the glacier in crampons, found the right couloir, front-pointed straight up, catwalked along the knife-edge, both fell into crevasses on the summit glacier, and swapped leads postholing right to the 19,941-foot summit of Koh-i-Bardar.
It was 6:45, 48 hours since we'd left base camp. Standing atop the summit block, we saw the whole world spread below us—jagged, pale pink, chaste. There hadn't been another first ascent in the Wakhan since 1977.
AFTER SAFRAZ and Greg met us at base camp, we drove farther into the corridor. Greg had another school meeting to attend in Sarhadd, a Wakhi village 15 miles down the road.
At the welcoming ceremony all the children lined up, looking like brilliant, unidentifiable flowers in their rags and robes of reds and maroons. The little girls wore strings of lapis lazuli, and the little boys blue Chinese Wellies. Once again Greg gave a speech to the assembled elders, but this time, for this crowd, it was different: more emphasis on the economic benefits of education, less on Allah. How one of these children right here, once they learned their three R's, could go to a trade school in Kabul and return home to fix the village tractor.