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Asia, Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia, Caucasus, Mt. Shkelda, New Route in Winter

Mt. Shkelda, New Route in Winter. Shkelda is a well-known mountain in the Caucasus. Its “Majesty Fence” consists of five main peaks. From west to southeast, they are the First, Second and Third Western peaks, Central Peak and Eastern Peak, plus a few gendarmes. In the 1970s, a full traverse of Shkelda was considered a very serious ascent. Though the rock walls and ice faces of this beautiful mountain have been very well-mastered by climbers of several generations, an inquisitive eye will always find new routes. This happened with our team from Rostov-on-Don in the winter of 1995, when we put up a new route on the Central Peak of Shkelda by the left buttress of the North Wall (VI 5.10 A3).

From February 24 to March 1,1997, our team (Yuriy Koshelenko, leader; Vitaliy Polohov, Michael Astahov, Victor Nikitenko, Alexey Kniajev, Anataliy Popov) ascended another new route on the same massif, this time to the Western peak (4310m) from the Svanetia (Georgian Republic) side on the south-southwestern wall. We needed to cross two passes through the snow and blizzard to get to the route. We spent 54 hours total on the route (VI 5.10 A4); the entire endeavor took us 12 days. The total height of the wall is 450 meters; the average angle of the wall is 73°.

The beginning of the route was relatively uncomplicated, involving mostly free climbing (IV-VI) with some spots of aid (A0), then climbing up a steep overhanging section with several roofs. The main reference point is a black water streak, the beginning of which is the start of the key sections. From here, we progressed with very little free climbing and a lot of aid (A2 to A4, with most of it A3) to the roof. The climbing here was either monolithic with blank closed cracks or loose parts, sometimes in the overhanging rock of the roofs. It was risky to hammer a piton because the rock could be destroyed, so we used mostly stoppers, cams and sky hooks. There were a lot of traverses and pendulums on the route. We used 12mm bolts for belay stations.

We climbed capsule-style, using seven 50-meter ropes. Two people—the coach of the team, Alexander Pogorelov, and the doctor, Gariy Karbishev—remained at the Sredniy (“Middle”) Pass during the climb, acting as a liaison for the rescue team.

Yuriy Koshelenko, Russia