American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Terskey Alatau, Kuilu Range, Exploration and Various Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Kuilu Range, Exploration and Various Ascents. The Terskey Alatau Range extends along the southern shore of Lake Issyk Kul. During Soviet times it was one of the most popular climbing venues in the Tien Shan, having three mountaineering camps based in high valleys on its northern side.

Tucked away to the south of the Terskey Range and west of the Inilchek Valley/Central Tien Shan is the compact and distinct range known as Kuilu. Its highest peak, Constitution Peak (5281m), dominates the eastern part of the range and has several demanding routes on it as a result of a Soviet competition event. Several other peaks accessible from the same base camp were also climbed in the Soviet era. There were no records of any climbing in the western part of Kuilu prior to our expedition.

In early September, a team consisting of Pat Littlejohn, Victor Saunders, and Vladimir Komissarov (guides) with David Bowden, Ingrid Crossland, Morrie Erickson, Tony Gold, Diarmid Hearns, Ursula Mulcahy, James Stephenson, Jane Whitmore, and Andrew Wilkinson, approached Western Kuilu from the north by six-wheel-drive vehicle along the Kuilu River Valley. After an exciting river crossing that left the vehicle damaged and immobilized for two weeks, Base Camp was established at Karator (Black Rock) on a grassy site at ca. 3300 meters. In poor weather, two Advance Base Camps were then established, one at the snout of the Karator Glacier at 3700 meters and one on a lateral moraine at 4000 meters. The bad weather dumped 30 centimeters of snow and made conditions difficult for a while, then the weather cleared and was perfect for ten days. Teams led by Komissarov and Littlejohn made ascents of seven moderate summits running along each side of the valley (heights ranged from ca. 4200 to 4860m) culminating in the pointed spire of Tsarevitch (4920m), while Saunders’ team climbed the interesting Humani Peak (AD-, 4800m) and discovered a route to Karator Peak (5203m), the highest of the group. Eight climbers then reached the summit of Karator Peak via a fine snow climb of PD standard.

Littlejohn, Crossland, and Hearns then made an attempt on the impressive Peak 5088m, gaining its north ridge via a 400-meter wall of 50-degree ice. Conditions on the ridge were too poor to continue, forcing a long and tricky descent of the face. Saunders then led a reconnaissance to the south side of the peak and discovered an easy couloir line leading to the more straightforward south ridge, which eventually provided the route of ascent for Littlejohn’s team. In honor of the team’s female member, the peak was named Matarshinitsa (which translates as “woman who uses bad language,” the nickname given to her by camp staff).

With the major Karator peaks having been climbed, attention was turned to the glacier systems immediately to the west in the Ashutor Valley. Three peaks, including Krenintor (4732m), were climbed and many other more technical possibilities noted.

The area has much to offer for climbers seeking exploratory mountaineering in a range not much higher than the Alps but with a remote and pristine ambience. The Ashutor glaciers are surrounded by easily accessed and appealing objectives, and the region of peaks and glaciers south of Karator Peak is apparently untouched and could be approached from the south.

Pat Littlejohn, United Kingdom

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