American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Karavshin Region, Ak-Su and Kara-Su Valleys, Various Attempts and Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1997

Ak-Su and Kara-Su Valleys, Various Attempts and Ascents. As part of our Kyrgyzstan itinerary, Brady Van Matre and I traveled to the Karavshin region of the Pamir Alai mountains in early September and made camp in the Ak-Su valley. (There are many Ak-Su, or “Pure Water,” valleys in Kyrgyzstan; our base camp in the Ak-Su valley of the Karavshin region is not to be confused with the Ak-Su valley in the Laylak valley two valleys to the west.) We had hooked up with a German climber, Matthais Engelien, who joined us on our first foray, a climb up a 1,000-foot granite pillar at the base of the magnificent Slessova Peak. At the top of the first pitch Brady called down that he had clipped in to two shiny Simond bolts. The climb continued up fun cracks for six or seven pitches of moderate (5.8-5.9) climbing that varied from incipient to sphincter-tightcningly wide (we had only two number four Camalots). I got my head wedged in one womblike feature as I tried to chimney when I should have thrutched. We made the top by late afternoon, and hid our dislike of lycra on the way down with our gratitude for the convenience (if not the unnecessary placements) of the anchors.

After a rest day we began our approach into the neighboring Kara-Su valley for an attempt at Piramidalni, at 5509 meters the highest peak in the area. We had hoped to climb the mountain via the east ridge, but as the serac fall thundered its way to the valley floor during the night we switched our objective to the more benign west ridge. The next day we began early, only to top out on what we had thought would take us to the top by noon. To our dismay we were on a sucker ridge, and further vertical progress would have necessitated far more work than we had planned. We bailed.

We then tried the least-steep of the wild formations that form the jagged walls of the Ak-Su Valley: Peak “1,000 Years of Russian Christianity” (4507 m), a Patagonianesque formation with a doable-looking north ridge. A brunch of mystery meat stayed with us up the 2,000-foot scree slog to the north col, which we achieved at dusk. Mathais, who was meant to bring our water supply, was nowhere to be seen, and after a putrid meal of Russian pasta we zipped ourselves into our tent. An hour later I was clutching at the zippers, attempting to empty my stomach of the morning’s meal. I continued in that undignified position for the rest of the night, and in the morning Brady graciously took all my weight and we stumbled back to camp.

After a day of recovery we did one more route to the right of our first, finding again the shiny bolts of French persuasion. The weather had been stellar, and what climbing we had done was good, though the granite had not been as nice as what we had found earlier in the Ala Archa.

The walls of the Ak-Su valleys were discovered in 1982 by an aerial reconnaissance, and climbers began exploring them a year later. Though we were only the third or fourth American party to the region, Russian climbers (in respectable numbers) have been plucking the plums since 1983, and Europeans have been climbing there since 1991. It seems that our September stay was a bit off-season, for we saw no other climbers; reportedly, as many as a few hundred had been in the area during June and July. Still, the region is magnificent, featuring numerous 2,000-to 4,000-foot walls, no peak fees, and splitter weather.

Christian Beckwith, The Wayward Mountaineers

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