WHY ALL THIS ATTENTION ON THE AREA, AND WHY A PARK?SWAT is close to the big cities of the Pakistani plains. Thanks to recent road development work, it can now be reached within a few hours from Islamabad. This might seem an advantage, and certainly will be in the short term. However, looming over the region is the danger, as has happened in other valleys around the world, of haphazard and aggressive anthropisation. The risk is to lose forever these extraordinary alpine environments, rich in forests and unspoilt nature, known as 'the Switzerland of the Indian continent'. These are the damages of hit-and-run tourism, of a frequentation devoid of culture, and of a local mentality that pays little attention to the environment because it is caught up in other priorities. Unfortunately, where so many people live and where large masses of local tourists arrive, it is not easy to maintain an acceptable level of cleanliness and respect for the environment.
Mountain Wilderness strongly believes that only the establishment of a protected area can preserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of SWAT. In this way, tourism can become more conscious, and environmental protection will have an impact on the livelihoods of mountain people. It is a virtuous circle, an ambitious project.
FROM ZERO TO NATIONAL PARK, WHAT ARE THE PROJECT PHASES?Mountain Wilderness is training local trekking guides, who are responsible for environmental protection, with great success. At the same time, it promotes the exploration of treks and trails along the main valleys. The idea is to create a hiking guide for the region to be submitted to the Pakistani government together with the national park proposal. Also this summer there will be courses for hiking guides, some focusing on mountains and environmental protection, others on archaeology and cultural skills. From the very beginning SCARPA has actively collaborated in this phase of the project, supplying and continuing to supply all students with suitable footwear.
WALKING TO MARK ROUTES AND WRITE A GUIDEBOOK: WHO'S IN CHARGE?
Since 2019, small groups of Mountain Wilderness members or sympathisers, as well as numerous members of various European alpine clubs, have been exploring these valleys. Together with them, the best local alumni of companion courses have been involved, serving as guides, facilitators and organisers. This made it possible to map a series of itineraries and update the cartography of the area using GPS.
WHAT IS LEFT TO EXPLORE THEN?
The first exploration has not exhausted the hiking potential of the upper SWAT and volunteers are needed to carry out new explorations. In addition to hikers, we need mountaineering teams interested in identifying access routes to the main peaks and describing the ascent routes. The idea of Mountain Wilderness is that the drafting of a hiking and mountaineering guide, as detailed as possible, could be an important step in convincing the Pakistani authorities to establish the park.
WHO IS THIS APPEAL ADDRESSED TO?
Mountain Wilderness is looking for self-reliant and independent poeple, able to move in the mountains and willing to venture into unknown places, for a duration of about 7-10 days. Given the proximity to Islamabad, the total commitment of the trip can be contained to 12-20 days. Although it is a monsoon area, from the end of August the weather is mostly fine and stable, although afternoon thunderstorms are still possible. The recommended period is therefore between the last week of August and mid-September.
The treks offered by SWAT have very different commitments and lengths: some routes involve climbing mountain passes above 4,700 metres, or crossing glacial terrain. The main peaks were climbed by normal routes in the 1960s, and therefore present opportunities for engagement on steeper and more severe routes and walls. There are also many secondary peaks, both easy and challenging, still awaiting a first ascent. Each group of trekkers includes between four and six foreign participants, plus organisers, porters and facilitators.
HOW TO GET MORE INFORMATION?
To find out what treks are on offer and get more details about the SWAT project, just visit the Mountain Wilderness or Italian Academic Alpine Club websites.
The organisation is the responsibility of ATP (Adventure Tour Pakistan), a historic company in the field for over 30 years, which provides the full service from Islamabad. Bearing in mind that the cost of the trek depends on the length and complexity, to obtain a complete estimate (from which only the flight is excluded), contact must be made directly with ATP . In general, the cost ranges from 1400 to 1700 euros. Mountain Wilderness is offering a contribution of 100 euros to the first ten enrolled. Registration will open on 4 April and will end at the end of May.
Mountain Wilderness also guarantees the assistance of a local guide or facilitator at no extra cost.
Passion and solidarity, environmental protection and exploration. These are the ingredients of an adventurous journey that is looking for protagonists for summer 2023.
If, after reading this article, you think you are the right person, you can contact Carlo Alberto Pinelli (firstname.lastname@example.org), Honorary President of Mountain Wilderness International, head of the Asian Desk and living soul of the SWAT Project.
Have a good travel and enjoy the adventure!
Don't forget that....
No place too far!