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Asia, Western China, Shiwakte II

Shiwakte II. The Shiwakte mountains, which lie east of Kongur in Xinjiang, were first described by C.P. Skrine in The Geographical Journal in 1925. His photographs and the reports of the British Kongur expeditions of 1980-81 indicated that the mountains, though only just over 6000 meters, offered many exciting challenges. No climbers had ever visited the range. The Chinese insisted that we leave the road at Karakul Lake, the starting point for Mustagh Ata and Kongur. This meant crossing the 5000-meter Karatash Pass and going around the Kongur and Shiwakte groups to reach Base Camp on the Aq Tash Glacier. We paid a peak fee for Shiwakte II (c. 6200 meters, 20,342 feet), the highest in the group according to Skrine, and one other peak. From Islamabad we went up the Karakoram Highway. After a day’s landslide delay just past Gilgit, we crossed the Chinese frontier at Khunjerab on July 10 and were met by our liaison officer and interpreter. We reached Karakul Lake on the 11th, but were delayed for a week by the inability of our liaison officer to arrange animal transport. Finally we were provided with two horses and two camels and three local Kirghiz. The liaison officer and interpreter decided to stay behind at Karakul. Only with difficulty did we get the camels over the pass and it became increasingly clear that they would not reach Base Camp. On the fourth day, the Kirghiz abandoned us, having arranged with difficult bargaining for another Kirghiz, Hari Beg, to take us on. We descended to Chat, followed the Karatash valley north and then branched up the Chimghan Jilga, which drains the southeast side of Kongur and the Shiwakte peaks. Our “False Base Camp” was beside the glacier under the huge east face of Kongur. We then moved Base Camp to Aghalistan beside the Aq Tash Glacier. Our many delays gave us only 18 days to spend there. Grahame Nicoll and Stan Pearson climbed an easy 5400-meter peak in the Chimghan group close to Base, while Hamish Irvine, Barry Owen, Des Rubens and I attempted the east ridge of a peak called Shiwakte IIIa by Skrine, hoping to traverse to Shiwakte III. It was a very serious rock-and-ice climb for which we had taken too little gear. After 2½ days, we were still a few hundred feet below Shiwakte IIIa and a long way from Shiwakte III. With signs of bad weather, we retreated. After five days of cloud and snow, we had only seven days left. Nicoll and Pearson attempted Shiwakte I while Rubens and Owen tried Shiwakte II from the Aq Tash (eastern) side. The weather on that side remained cloudy, windy and unsettled. Dangerous snow prevented their getting beyond the first bivouacs at 5300 meters. Irvine and I went to the west side of Shiwakte II and climbed a line we had first seen from “False Base Camp.” We had better weather and found a route that was not too difficult, though exposed to objective danger from séracs. After 2½ days of climbing we got to the summit of Shiwakte II on August 8. From the top it appeared that Shiwakte III is slightly higher and much more difficult. On the last two days, we climbed two easy 5300-meter peaks in the Chimghan range. On the return, Hari Beg insisted on going from Chat over the Ghijak Sawan to the roadhead at Kizil Tagh, an area forbidden for foreigners, but easier. We had no choice. Rubens and I returned alone over the Katatash to inform the liaison officer what had happened while the other four accompanied Hari Beg and the baggage. We all met up again in Kashgar, but we then had to mollify the police for having entered a forbidden area, albeit not of our own choosing.

Geoffrey Cohen, Scottish Mountaineering Club