As we made our way uphill, kids trickled out of mud-brick houses and fell in behind us, scarves wound around their wind-burned cheeks, thick wool socks under their flimsy plastic shoes. Before long there were two dozen of them, ages 10 to 15: Afghan boys carrying homemade skis—wooden planks with rubber foot straps on top and scrap aluminum nailed to the underside. I kicked the toes of my boots into the frozen mud beneath the snow, making stairs on the slippery ridge. To my left rose a gently sloping alpine face called Kasa Dugh, or the Yogurt Bowl. Across the valley, I could make out a crevice flanked by two steep snowfields. Locals call this the Open Book, for its resemblance to a Koran on a reading stand. Towering above the ridge to our south was the 15,500-foot summit of Mir Shah Khoja.