Roxanna Brock and Brian McCray brought home the bronze, placing third in the International Mountaineering Trophy big wall climbing competition. The event, hosted by the Russian Mountaineering Federation from July 25-August 20, took place in the Karavshin region. The pair was the only American team to compete with many of Russia’s best big wall climbers. Also present were teams from France, Slovenia, the Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. It was necessary for each team to climb two routes chosen from a list of approximately 20. Scores for each route were based on altitude, difficulty, number of repeats and length. The judges evaluated and scored new routes. Final scores were primarily based on the route scores and speed of ascent.
For their first climb, Roxanna and Brian established a new route, Stars and Stripes Forever (a.k.a. Free Willy, 5.9 A4). It ascends a dihedral system on the right side of Asan (4230m). A small, bottomed-out seam exits the dihedral and leads to the 70-meter, A4 crux, diagonalling up and left across a golden headwall. The 15-pitch route took the team four days to complete (with one day waiting out bad weather) and follows a crack system its entire length (900m). Only two bolts were added at belays.
The nine-day ascent of the Sakharov Route* on Peak 4810 involved 47 pitches and the climbers were inundated with rain and snow daily. The route climaxed in a snowstorm, which stranded the pair in their portaledge for 40 hours.
Radios were provided as part of the competition, allowing the team to report daily to base camp and the judges. After the storm, the pair was told, via the radios, that they were only three pitches from the top. With renewed psyche they were up early the next morning in below-freezing temperatures, peeling frozen ropes off the rock and hammering iced carabiners open. Seven pitches later the storm, lack of ice tools, fatigue, heavy haulbags and altitude caught up with them. Although they were able to see the summit only three pitches away, they gave in and descended the route. A two-day descent, culminating with ten rappels down an icy couloir, left them with a feeling similar to the intestinal funk they experienced often during their stay.
Winnings from the Moonstone Mountain Equipment People’s Epic Contest primarily funded the trip to Kyrgyzstan. Being notified only three weeks prior to the competition, the couple initially thought the “epic” involved planning such an expedition on such short notice. As the trip progressed and more hurdles were added, the two joked about winning an epic. At 14,000 feet in a serious blizzard, they struggled to speak with Russian judges who spoke little English. Each day of climbing was a race to finish as many pitches as possible before the rain, sleet and/or snow hit them. Immodium dosing was a daily ritual. The pair carried their entire iron pin rack up less-than-vertical terrain because they were not provided a gear list. Because the routes followed no crack system and no topos were supplied, the team was continually lost while climbing. They dropped their haulbag off the wrong side of the mountain because they didn’t have any trail information. On Asan, they climbed an extra 500 feet up and back down fourth-class terrain with haulbags because they had vague descent information. The descent rappel followed a 2,000-foot waterfall of snowmelt.
The two consider themselves lucky to have survived the experience and say they came back to America with a renewed sense of patriotism. Brian summed up the adventure well: “We were really psyched; it was the first epic that had ever been given to us.”
Roxanna Brock and Brian McCray
*It is traditional for routes in the CIS to bear the name of the leader of the first ascent party. It appears this route is known as the Kritsuk Route in the CIS (see topo on page 313).