American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Commonwealth of Independent States, Kyrgyzstan, Western Kokshaal-Too, West Komorova Glacier, New Routes

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

West Komorova Glacier, new routes. During the month of July, Scott Decapio (USA) and I (Canada) traveled to Kyrgyzstan and climbed in the remote, military-restricted West Kokshaal Too range in the Tien Shan Mountains on the border with China. I had visited this area in 1998 and had wanted to return to attempt the stunning unclimbed southeast face of Kizil Asker. Constant storms kept us from even trying our main objective. However, the high precipitation created excellent summer ice conditions. We managed to climb three new alpine ice and mixed routes in three weeks. All three routes went completely free in day-trip-style without bolts. Our warm-up climb was the first ascent of the east face of Pik Gronky (second ascent of the mountain). Silent Bob (700m, IV WI4) began with a 250-meter strip of grade 4 ice then finished on a 50-degree ice face and elegant snow arête to the 4950m summit.

Next, we made the second ascent of the 600-meter Ochre Walls. A long couloir with 70-degree bulges split the lower section of this vast, orange-hued rampart. Where the couloir pinched off, we found three stellar mixed pitches consisting of narrow ribbons of thin ice lacing smooth granite slabs. South Park’s chubby second-grader, Eric Cartman, provided the inspiration for the name; Beef Cake (600m, IV M5 WI4).

Our last climb was the type of line that I had always dreamed of finding: a 700-meter goulotte of ice slicing an unclimbed granite buttress. We cruised up into the gully on easy snow, moving together until the ice steepened. I took the first lead up grade 4 water ice. Scott followed through negotiating thin runnels pouring over short, steep steps. Above his belay, a meter-wide vein of gray foam was smeared in the back of a vertical corner. I stemmed up this strenuous pitch placing stubby ice screws in the frothy ice. More moderate terrain led to a body-width pillar tucked in the back of a chimney. Scott gently tapped up the loosely adhered column and pulled over a scrappy chokestone capping the slot. Above this last crux, we simulclimbed five pitches of 50- to 60-degree ice, punctuated by a few short-lived cruxes over rock steps plastered with sun-rotted snow-ice.

We tagged the top of a small, unclimbed peak on the jagged ridge of The Unmarked Soldier Group, then immediately began the descent. A long traverse put us above a broad couloir that looked like it would deliver us down to the glacier. Scott made the first of many V-threads just as the dark storm clouds began to boil overhead. Multiple rappels spat us out on the opposite side of the mountain from our highcamp. We slogged around to our tent arriving 17 hours after leaving. We named this last route Royale with Cheese (700m, V M6 WI5) and christened the minor summit Pik Mikhail (ca 5100m) in honor of our guide and base camp cook. The expedition was supported by the Polartec Challenge Award, Mugs Stump Award, AAC Lyman-Spitzer Grant, and the Canadian Himalayan Foundation.

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