Ortochasma Valley, Exploration, and Ascents in the Karavshin. On our latest climbing trips we have always tried to visit unpublished sites. This conies with the high risk of making a deep blunder. This year our attention was hooked by an unknown valley between the well- known Karavshin and Laylak regions of the Pamir Alai. We (Paolo Vitali, Sonja Brambati, and Eraldo Meraldi) had an excellent first contact with locals, hearty and expansive people who opened up their houses to us as they would to friends. With these good beginnings, we started our trip in the Laylak Valley, then crossed the Aktubek Pass (4300m) to reach our objective: the Ortochasma Valley. Unfortunately, we were unlucky—we found no granite there at all, only pudding-stones and loose rocks. After our initial disappointment, we had to make a demanding decision: go back? Do a trek only? What else could we do?
Consulting the Cyrillic map with Ranger, our best horse driver, we understood that with two additional long walking days we could reach the Karavshin region, where the granite is certain. After ten hours’ walking for five days, we finally reached the nice grassy Karavshin Base Camp. Lots of great routes have already been climbed here by Russian and Western climbers, but still a lot remains to be done. For the second time in a few days we had to change our goals to meet the actual conditions: maybe because of El Niño, this year the weather of the range wasn’t exactly the “clear blue sky” for which it’s famous. The rain came every day. So, instead of new big wall routes, we spent our time climbing enjoyable shorter routes close to the Base Camp.
On the lower section of the Russian Tower, we followed a nice crack system that we christened The Missing Mountain (F6a/b, 580m), while on the lower section of the Central Pyramid we first climbed the slabby A Better World (F6a/b, with one pitch at F6c, 380m), and then the mixed Take It Easy (F7a, 360m). All of them are excellent free climbs on red granite with knobs and chickenheads; the difficulties are mostly obligatory.
We looked very carefully for any signs of preceding ascents during our climbs, but we found nothing. Regarding The Missing Mountain, we know of a route to the left of it, more in the center of the wall, just right of the white rock- fall scar, that we joined in the penultimate pitch. We found one piton on that pitch, the only signs we could find.
We’ll surely remember the ascents from this trip as much as the wonderful time spent with Artyk, our guide/cook, and our horsemen and their families, who gave us a great lesson in kindness and humanity.
Paolo Vitali, Italy