American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Laylak Valley, Pik Alexander Blok, Stairway to Hell

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1997

Pik Alexander Blok, Stairway to Hell. In August, we made an ascent of a Russian 6B route on Pik Alexander Blok (5239 m). We camped under the formation and examined the blank, southwest face. Disappearing in a granite ocean, a thin scar marked the route. As we bent our heads back we spotted a smudge against the right skyline: rescuers, carrying a climber with a broken leg. They were one pitch from the top; it took them half a day to get down to where we were standing. The injured man silently smoked; with the other hand he explained the start of the route to us. He looked OK. Twelve men took him on their shoulders and disappeared among the snow bulges of the glacier. Later we would learn he almost died.

Positively tuned, in an exultant mood, we set out. Ten pounds heavier I was crawling around in my slippers on wet, greasy edges looking for a belay. Russian belays are marked by a scrap of white, rotten webbing. They call it “strachovka,” which means something like “take care, man!” I did.

The day ranneth over. Too fast. We only managed five pitches, though we weren’t climbing slow. Second day, same scenario. The only difference was that we had to hook. The dream of an all-free ascent dissolved as we looked up the perfectly compact wall with only invisible, shallow, drilled holes in it. I couldn’t believe how slow we were going as I belayed my partner for long, long stretches.

All around the world the calendars showed the start to a new day, but to us it was just one long continuation. Sore fingers were on fire from the sharp granite. It looked like it had to be over at every moment. Each pitch seemed to be the last. But it took eight more pitches on the final day before we could go no higher. After four days linked up into one, we had completed a great climb. We called it Stairway to Hell (it wasn't really evil, but it was strenuous, grueling and awkward) and rated it 5.12 A3, since the Russian “blind” rating tells you nothing. The remaining two-day journey to base camp was only a sweet dream, a dream that eventually became reality.

Filip Silhan, Czech Republic

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