Ak-Baital Pass is the highest road pass in the former Soviet Union

Ak-Baital Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 4.670m (15,321ft) above the sea level, located in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan. It’s the highest road pass in the former Soviet Union.

Ak-Baital Pass

Set high in the Pamir Mountains, the road to the summit, also known as Pereval Akbaytal, is the defiant M41 road, known informally and more commonly as the Pamir Highway. At this altitude it's the highest point of this infamous route, sometimes referred to as “The Road from Hell”.  This section of the road is barely passable. Throughout the area, the land is typically rugged and dry. Construction and maintenance levels vary substantially along the highway. The roadway is paved is some areas, but is mostly unpaved. The pass will get you closer to the moon than perhaps you’ve ever been, and not just because of the head-swimming altitude – the landscape is lunar barren and otherworldly, though a little wetter than the earth’s orbiting rock – beautiful blue water lakes bejewel the area, the best being the haunting deep of a lifeless Lake Karakul. Travelling through here is like a trip to a parallel world, where the landscape is bigger, bolder and infused with the eerie, all under the high, wide presence of a brilliant blue sky.

This is a hard climb even for 4-wheel drive vehicles and can produce headache and difficulty breathing. The dusty roads and constant wind mean that you get a bunged up nose which makes it harder to breath and the just getting in and out of the vehicle is hard work. This part of the Pamir Highway (M41) heads to Murgab through the Muzkul Mountains and it is the highest pass in the former USSR. Along the way you may be lucky and see a few yaks wondering around by the road. The road is heavily damaged in places by erosion, earthquakes, landslides, and avalanches. The road was built during Soviet times, to connect parts of their imperium in this region. Since the breakdown and Central Asia’s independence, not much coherent maintenance has been done to the road, only in spots, where damage has been caused by flash floods or scree.
Pic: Gareth Williams