Kara-Su andAk-Su Valleys, Various Ascents. (The following account is a combination of three individual notes by Doug Byerly, Stephanie Davis*, and Patience Gribble*.) Jimmy Surette and I arrived at the Kara-Su fork of the Karavshin Valley in the Pamir Alai range in Kyrghyzstan on August 10. We had come to central Asia with hopes of applying Yosemite speed climbing tactics to the higher rock peaks of the world. We were part of a six-person team, but logistical problems conspired to prevent all of us from meeting in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Jimmy and I had only a 72-hour transit visa, so we forged on alone, without the aid of the interpreter, who would wait for the others. The trek was very hot and physically demanding, especially with a stomach illness and diarrhea. The horsemen, with whom we communicated via gesticulation, were surly with discontent upon arrival in the Kara-Su. They had not eaten enough on the trek and demanded $320 for their services, for which they had already been paid by our host. We spent a tense night deliberating before giving in to their threats of violence. We parted ways in the morning, ending a shaky alliance based in equal parts on trust and betrayal, money and greed, and poor communication. Everyone was a victim as well as an antagonist.
At last it was time to climb! After a few rest days we set out to do the first one-day ascent of the beautiful west face of Asan peak. We chose the 1988 British route, which is predominantly freeclimbing. On August 14, we climbed the 850-meter route in 11 and a half hours, finding excellent crack climbing on sound granite. We suffered through a long bivouac at 4000 meters before descending the scary east face, which had been the scene of a huge rock- fall the previous night. Back at base camp we met our interpreter, who informed us that the others were in the fantastic Ak-Su valley to the east, so we packed up and joined them. Then, on August 18, Jimmy and I set out for the first one-day ascent of Perestoika Crack on the Russian Tower (a.k.a. Peak Slesova). Eight sessions of diarrhea on the two-hour approach left me exhausted, but we carried on. We completed the 850-meter route in 13 hours, finding fabulous crack climbing up to 5.12. It was hard to imagine a better alpine rock climb anywhere. On August 23, we climbed Peak 4810 via the south face, finding tricky route finding and runout climbing up to 5.10+. The 750-meter route took us seven hours to complete. We both free-climbed this route rather than having the second jumar as we did on the first two routes, which were technically more difficult. This was a very special climb for me, for I was able to spread my friend Doug Hall’s ashes about the summit.
After our only period of poor weather, we climbed the 1300-meter northeast buttress of Peak 4520, simul-climbing the entire route in seven and a half hours, likely the first one-day ascent of the mountain. We stopped to exchange gear only five times on the 4,500-foot climb. Although Jimmy and I were in the mountains for only two weeks, we climbed over two and half miles of granite in 39 hours. Perfect weather and relaxing rest days were a key to our success. The rock climbing in the Pamir Alai is undoubtedly the least stressful and most user-friendly we had ever done. It was a refreshing change from spending months in a tent in Alaska and Patagonia. (Doug Byerly)
Kennan Harvey, Topher Donahue, Patience Gribble and I hiked into the mountains from the village of Katran with seven horsemen, a week behind Jimmy and Doug. When our horsemen heard about Doug and Jimmy and how they paid double for their horses, they promptly went on strike and demanded more money. We had a translator, but dealing with the horsemen kept us in a high state of excitement throughout the rest of the approach.
We got to base camp at last, sent our cook/translator off to find Doug and Jimmy, and settled down to climb the beautiful granite peaks around us. Sunny, cloudless days and the complete lack of snow or ice around the peaks made us feel as if we were in a free climbers’ paradise. Kennan and I freed a 15-pitch French aid route on Peak 3850, placing two bolts on the 5.12a crux pitch. We spent much of the descent dodging rockfall and creeping down a loose gully.
We also climbed two short six-pitch routes on small peaks on each side of the valley, took a trip up to the glacier to check out the Bird, and then went over to the Kara-Su to climb the Diagonal route on the Yellow Wall. We then returned to do the Perestroika Crack on the Russian Tower, one of the best routes I’ve climbed.
I finished the trip by soloing the French route on Peak 4520 (a.k.a. Peak 1000 Years of Russian Christianity), which was 30 pitches of beautiful granite. I spent one cold night on the route and was glad I hadn’t decided to climb any later. August offered much better free climbing temperatures than early September, and our base camp was now getting only six hours of sun each day.
Overall, we found that there are many aid routes with free climbing potential, but few completely new lines to do unless one is interested in placing a lot of bolts. (Steph Davis)
Topher and I warmed up on the French route on 1000 years of Russian Christianity. We both carried backpacks, ascended the 4,000-foot face over two days and spent one full day on the descent. The climb averaged 5.8, with a crux of 5.10, and made its way up many low angle dihedrals on the right side of the peak. The second peak that we climbed, The Middle Pyramid, was the most beautiful climb of all. Toph and I fixed the first four pitches and finally went for the summit. The route, The Totem, had been climbed by a French team; our goal was to do the first free ascent. We did the climb in big-wall style, hauling while the second jugged. For me, it was incredible because we were able to swap leads almost the whole way, with Topher leading the hardest pitches, and I pushing myself to the limit as well. We completed the first free ascent after 24 rope-stretching pitches (60-meter rope highly suggested). This climb basically followed crack systems up the middle of the face. The last climb we did was the famous Perestroika Crack, on the Russian Tower. Magnificent climbing as well! For this climb, I had the luck to lead the first eight pitches, which meant the four pitches of splitter hands to offwidth granite crack visible from the ground. Topher led the last eight pitches, and when we summited, we knew that would be the last of our Kyrgyzstan climbing. We were saddened but joyous to have had the trip of a lifetime. (It was also reported that Harvey and Donahue climbed a 500-meter new route up the right side of the west face of the Middle Pyramid, Black Magic, 5.12a.)
Doug Byerly, Steph Davis* and Patience Gribble*
*Recipients of AAC Mountaineering Fellowship Grants