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Removing Debris of War Opens Mountain Sanctuary

Noshaq peak, sitting at 7492 meters above sea level, is Afghanistan’s highest peak and the second highest peak in the Hindukush range. Between 1960 and 1978, Noshaq saw 32 successful ascents and the first winter ascent of a peak greater than 7000 meters. In recent years however, Noshaq has been absent of mountaineers; the route to base camp having been blocked by land mines laid by the Northern Alliance in 2000 to prevent Taliban attacks.

With a base camp that is otherwise easy to access, an approach route that offers views of several 7,000 meter peaks and a gentle and non-technical route to the summit, many believe Noshaq is ripe for organized commercial expeditions and therefore a sustainable source of income for local residents.

As such, two mountaineers, John Mock and Kimberley O’Neil, are teaming up with the HALO Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to “removing the debris of war” to remove landmines from three minefields in the Qazideh Valley below Noshaq. Named “Return to Noshaq Campaign”, the project will not only open access to the peak, it will also open traditional pasture lands for the 1,000 villagers and eliminate the everyday dangers the minefields pose. The mine clearing project will span 5 months and employ 54 Afghan staff.

According to many sources, Afghanistan is likely the most mined country in the world. In fact, the HALO Trust estimates up to 640,000 mines laid since 1979. In 2007 alone, landmines and other debris from war “killed 143 and wounded 438 people in different parts of Afghanistan,” according to the UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan.

Because of the minefield danger and nearly continuous war since the 1970’s, many advise against travel in the country. But, for the intrepid traveler, Afghanistan may have much to offer.

According to Kimberly O’Neil, “Today’s travelers to Afghanistan have the unique opportunity for their travel experience to bring a positive impact by contributing financially to urgent humanitarian needs and reconstruction efforts. In return, Afghanistan will offer its rich culture, history and natural beauty, and the Afghans will share their strong tradition of hospitality. Rather than waiting, visit Afghanistan now.”

For information about the Return to Noshaq project: .

To support landmine removal projects in Afghanistan or other countries, visit the HALO website: .

For a list of other landmine clearing organizations: .

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