American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.), Kyrgyzstan, West Kokshaal-Tau, Kizil Asker Area, Various Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1999

Kizil Asker Area, Various Ascents. In 1997, I traveled with an international team of five to the West Kokshaal-Tau range, the southwestern-most part of the Tien Shan mountains on the border with China (see 1998 AAJ, pp. 342-3). In 1998, supported by funding from a Mugs Stump grant, I returned with Carlos Buhler and Mark Price from the U.S. and Sean Isaac and Guy Edwards from Canada, traveling one valley to the west to the Kizil Asker region. Research indicates we were the second climbing team to visit this area, after Kazbek Valiev’s team of 1984, which succeeded in making the first recorded ascent of Kizil Asker (5842m). (We have heard rumors of a 1960s ascent of the same mountain, but they remain unconfirmed.) Bad weather prevented us from achieving two of our objectives—the north ridge and east face of Kizil Asker—but we did manage to climb ten new routes on eight new mountains. Four of the routes and three of the mountains were climbed from the West Komorova Glacier, which we reached in half a day from our Base Camp. One of them was a pyramidal peak I had tried with teammates two times the year before. Carlos, Mark and I climbed the peak via the north face in 23 hours (V AI4, ca. 650m) while Guy soloed the mountain via the west ridge (ca. 650m), a route we used for descent. Guy reached the top first and named the peak “Butterfly Peak” (Pik Babuchka, ca. 5220m) for all the butterflies he found in the snow as he climbed. (All peak names are tentative. An account of the expedition has been submitted to the Russian Mountaineering Federation.) Guy then soloed a new route via the southeast ridge of “Peak Jerry Garcia” (ca. 5083m) before returning to ABC. Guy met us as we returned at 3 a.m. with water and clothes, then, after accompanying us back to ABC, soloed an ice couloir (AI4, 600m) on the east face of the Ocher Walls and traversed the tops of two peaks before descending a broader couloir roughly half a kilometer to the north. He was back in camp by mid-morning, and named the peaks “Zuckerman” (4750m) and “Carnovsky” (4700m) after the Philip Roth book, Zuckerman Unbound, he was reading.

After a return to Base Camp, on July 10, Sean, Guy, and I went to a peak across the valley from Kizil Asker. The west face was approximately 3,500 feet high; the bottom half was rock, while the upper half looked to be broken mixed climbing. We climbed nine pitches of rock up to 5.10+ Al, one of moderate mixed and two roped traverses/scrambles before finding a scree-covered ledge at 8 p.m., which we managed to even out just as a storm converged on us. A lightning-ridden night ensued. In the morning the storm continued, so we rapped down through waterfalls, reaching ABC in the early afternoon.

On July 14, all five of us were back in ABC. Sean and Guy began up the route again, while Carlos, Mark and I started up the north ridge of Kizil Asker. We climbed some 800 meters, including three pitches on the ridge proper (5.9 AI3), before we found a slanting ledge to bivy on. A storm moved in that night; when it showed no signs of letting up, we descended the next morning, leaving behind four days’ worth of food. We reached ABC in the storm to find that Guy had taken a 25-foot fall onto a ledge, hurting his back. His rope had been nearly severed by rock fall. The two had managed to descend, but Guy spent the next two days on his back in the tent, unable to move.

By the 20th, he had recovered, and I joined him and Sean for another session at ABC. By now, we had grown accustomed to the very small windows of reasonably stable weather and decided to concentrate on some day routes. Guy soloed “Peak Bagger” (4600m) in an hour and a half on the evening of the 20th, noting what looked like a cairn on top. The next day, the three of us climbed “Peak Ecstasy” (ca. 4700m) and “Peak Yumos” (ca. 4725m). The three pointy, picturesque mountains were not technical, but offered fun routes to the tops, from which the views undoubtedly would have been impressive had there been any.

The next day we were slated to climb a pointy mountain at the foot (north) of Kizil Asker. I was sleeping at a camp half an hour from theirs, and when my alarm failed to go off, the two climbed “Peak Ljosha” (ca. 4600m, named for our cook) via the north face (III ABM 5.8, 600m), finding some steep ice and loose rock on their ascent.

After resting in BC for a day, we returned to ABC for a try at the north face of Kizil Asker. On the 25th we ascended to ca. 4800m via the glaciated slopes and bivied in a crevasse. The next morning we began climbing, encountering a 400-meter traverse on 50° snow that brought us to the col between the north ridge and the summit. White-out conditions forced us to wait in an ice cave and then later at the col for two hours. When visibility ceased altogether, we decided to descend, and continued down to ABC, arriving in the evening. That night, a storm deposited a foot and a half of snow. I returned to BC the next morning, followed by Sean a few hours later. The others remained at ABC.

The weather the next day was the calmest we had seen on the trip. I remained in BC with illness. Guy had started out to solo the west face of Panfilovski Division, but had felt ill as well and returned to his tent. (Bad mutton remains the suspect.) Carlos and Mark began up a mixed line on the west face of Peak Carnovsky. When Mark lost the bolt from the head of one of his tools, the pair, who had only three ice screws, began moving quite slowly, and endured an open bivy in a chimney on a small ledge. The next day they continued the one and a half pitches to easy terrain which they followed to the top of the ridge. On the descent, they rappelled near the line of ascent, getting their ropes stuck twice and reaching ABC at 8 p.m.

That same day, Sean and Guy climbed the peak we had tried at the beginning of the trip, reaching the top (ca. 5000m) via the west gully/north shoulder and naming the mountain Peak Gronky. They returned to BC that day, followed by Carlos and Mark the next morning. The truck had already arrived, and we loaded it for departure and left by 5 p.m.

Christian Beckwith, The Wayward Mountaineers

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