A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

My Photo
Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Up the Ghar

First light, after climbing in darkness the first few minutes...

It turns out that even here in the (prison-) camp confines of Kabul, there are ways to climb mountains.  Well, one mountain, anyway.  All you need to do is forgo the only sleep-in morning of the week, pull together a convoy (minimum two-vehicle movement, minimum two armed service members in each vehicle), get on the road before 4:30 am, and make sure that someone can navigate you to the trailhead through the vast military training area you must traverse to reach it.  Only then are you set...and in the end, very fortunate to start your day in such a way.

More first light: A craggy silhouette looms as the grade increases...

Vertical!  No, wait...Vertigo!

Colorado?  Utah?  Mexico?  Nope...Kabul.

Fellow Devil Dogs take their turn in one photo op spot...

I pose in another, breaking in a new boonie lid.

Loose-foot rock is routine when heading up Mt. Ghar.

As sunrise neared, more figures could be seen on the highest ridge.

Allllllllllllmost there...!
A pause to watch the sun appear.

It didn't take long -- only a few minutes of rising angle, in fact -- before we knew what we were in for.  My first mountain climb in Afghanistan since 2006 didn't feel so hot for a while.  Actually, it felt plenty hot, and that was part of the problem.  But the body's cooling system works magnificently sometimes, and I was soon drenched in sweat, which works effectively in early morning high-altitude air (it helped to carry some hydration along...a surprising number of climbers skipped that day in survival class, I guess).  My lungs became grateful as the trapped dust and humidity of the city became less and less of a factor in breathing.  Overall, it became exhilarating as the valley floor fell away below, and the air got crisper and cooler in that moment just before sun up.  And then, to see it from such a vantage point...for someone who hates getting up before he has to (that's right -- even military life never stood a chance of changing my night owl habits), it was a spiritually brilliant moment.

And there it is, nicely finding the nook designed perfectly for its appearance.

With Lindsay, my fellow PAO and mountain enthusiast.

My favorite...the point in any climb when all four monkey limbs are consistently required!

From whence we came was starting to look very far down by now.

The scene at the top looked a lot like lemmings heading for their chance to jump -- but I couldn't wait to get up there, anyway.

Self-styled master of the range.
Finally, the top ridge has been crested.

Looking north over a massive training ground, ringed in like everything else here by peaks...

The north side drop-off is even steeper than our trail.

Flag #1: A Scottish signal unit celebrates its climb of the ridge.

Slanted, sharp shards (of shale?) extend towards the real summit as the sun climbs the sky beyond. The geology is fascinating here, even for a science-challenged guy like me.
The small saddle got increasingly crowded with climbers by 7am.

Not for the faint of heart: traversing towards the summit.

But it's so worth it to plant your boots on either side of the jagged edge and take in a sight like this!

At the top, and feeling so fortunate to be there.

Flag #2: Unfurling one Old Glory that I brought up...

Flag #3: New Afghan friends asked if they could join in the fun.

Ah, pocket-sized flags! That's the way to go!

Sun now drenching (and drying) us, it was a hard spot to leave. If not for the mandatory evacuation of the range by 8am -- they've got to start firing, you know -- I'd have stayed for hours.

Flag #4: Bayern! My friends work with police mentors at EUPOL.

The Four Toppers.

Linds deliberately chooses footing on the way back over...

And finds an unusual perch when I call for incessant photos.

This soldier clambered well down the slope to retrieve an old sign: 


I'm damn glad the bosses changed their minds on this one, at least!

My roommate plays Canuck King of the Mountain, while 2 paparazzi snap away.

All it took after five months of a shared room was a mountain climb to get us in the same frame.  It's a wonder he even speaks to me.

I don't think this is the "Descending" my Black Crowes were singing about, but it worked well as a tune in my head then, anyway.

Picking our way through the crags, surfing on loose rock...

This was key terrain during the battles for Kabul during the civil war period of 1992-96.

One last look at purple mountains across the horizon.

Just bring up a few cases, some stogies, and I'll camp out here for the next couple months.

Staff Sgt. Martinez tries running the loose stone wall gauntlet.

It looked like a regular patrol coming down behind me -- 
and for a minute I thought I was at war.

Although my throbbing knee and bloody toes welcomed the flattening, I wanted badly to turn around and head right back up for a second round. Another time...

The "PA & Friends" posse.

For a thorough examination of the current training picture -- much of which goes on in the area seen so many times from above in this post's photos -- and how it translates to the operational fight downrange, I recommend this story.  Chris Chivers has earned respect from many in the field for his relentless reporting and knowledge of areas he covers as much as he has from his own service in the Marines.

And PEACE to you too, Combat Mercedes!


Anonymous Bridman Goo-man said...

As I posted on your FB album, AWESOME pics!! Looks like the climb to see those views was definitely worth missing that once-a-week sleep-in (easier said that done- I know!)
That's a fresh boonie cap you were sportin, too...All the best, Jagran!

October 22, 2010 at 11:27 AM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Thanks, Bridman! Btw, some joker trying to show off his Dari called me "Bridman" in front of my Afghan colleagues the other day and I berated him for demoting me multiple ranks. They enjoyed it. Good times.

October 24, 2010 at 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your pictures are amazing and I love that you had the American flag with you!!! Keep posting my friend and be safe!!! xo G

October 24, 2010 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger yomistast said...

Hey Jagran Half Brain-

Was there a "Hearts on Fire" montage playing in the background while you were climbing up the mountain?

As for the pics, they were simply "Breathtaking!"

October 24, 2010 at 8:20 PM  
Anonymous Tim Heffernan said...

Major Dan, this is an awkward way to intro myself, but I couldn't find direct contact info. I'm an magazine editor and writer working on a project for which I'm contacting military bloggers; I'm at if you want to drop me a line so I can explain.(I see that you moderate all comms; post or don't post this as you see fit.)

Either way, I'm enjoying reading through your posts. And FWIW, I think the USGS map linked here (first PDF download) is saying that Mt. Ghar is composed of a type of rock called gneiss - rock type "Xgn" on the map's key. Yours -


The link:

October 26, 2010 at 11:24 AM  
Anonymous The Ornery Driver said...

"We can do without the Black Crow."

November 2, 2010 at 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MAJ Dan, I was stationed in Kabul July 09 to July '10. My job was to write for reports on my observations of military operations. The first 6-months I was in uniform - got shot at and IED'd once without injury. The second 6-months I wore a sharwar khameez and passed as a Kabuli. I traveled the entire country, took 4000 pictures and wrote volumes for the military and for my own personal journal. I attended a wedding celebration, ate and slept in Afghan homes. Met folks from MOD, MOI, UN, plus a few provencial governors. I could not put in a blog what I was doing there, but I am able to talk about some of it and it was an adventure. Someday we should compare notes.

March 4, 2011 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Anonymous - I appreciate the post, and would indeed like to compare notes. Unfortunately I have no contact info for you...please write again with an email address. I won't post it, but will get in touch.

March 20, 2011 at 11:07 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home