American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Commonwealth of Independent States, Kyrgyzstan, Kyokkiar and Sarybeles Mountains, First Ascents

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

Kyokkiar and Sarybeles Mountains, first ascents. In August-September John Allen (UK), Peter Berggren (Sweden), Hilda Grooters (Holland), Tim Riley (UK) and I all climbed in the Gori Sarybeles and the Khrebet Kyokkiar of the far Western Kokshaal-Too. We were almost certainly the first mountaineers, either local, Soviet or Western, to visit these ranges of 4000m peaks on the Chinese border. We traveled by truck in one long day from Bishkek to Chatyrtash, an abandoned settlement in a border valley. Two local soldiers rode by to check us out and we discussed approaches to our range We had to cross the Ak-Sai river, then kilometers of foothills into the Kyokkiar. We decided to drive along an established road south of the range to get a different view. Three hours later the track petered out but there in front of us appeared another ridge of steep sided, snowcapped summits, rising straight out of a broad grassy valley.

We made camp and spent the next few days climbing four peaks in what was labeled on the map as the Gory Sarybeles. Three routes were straightforward and the easiest to their respective summits, while the other reached one of the two most strikingly sharp summits along the ridge. We never touched the numerous rock faces, which offer countless more routes.

We then decided to shift venue back to the Kyokkiar to give us enough time for xploration. Half a day after leaving the Sarybeles, we were guided to a yurt on the banks of the Ak-Sai, where there was a family with horses for hire. With a price agreed and a number of horses gathered, we were guided into the range along hunters’ trails and left at a camp which clearly wasn’t the one we’d intended.

The next two days were spent scouting a route to transfer our camp to the main valley, where we found a clear mountain stream. Our tents were surrounded by steep limestone walls hundreds of meters high. After a reconnaissance up the main valley toward the higher summits, Pete, Tim, and John moved camp to below a 1300-meter face, while Hilda and I climbed an easy summit up a side valley in a day trip from the main camp.

Tim, Pete, and I made an attempt on the high face, failing at 4600m due to lack of daylight. During our retreat we had to abseil 100 meters down glacier-smoothed slabs, which would block an ascent to the upper glacier.

With Tim and Pete keen to explore the valley that Hilda and I had previously visited, we transferred camp in poor weather, pitching our tents below one of the combes we had viewed while climbing the mountain in this valley. The next day a late start and higher than anticipated difficulties prevented a planned ascent of a couloir, which I had estimated at Scottish III/IV. Instead we climbed an easy gully to the plateau, Hilda and I retreating just before we reached the top due to an electrical storm.

The following day Tim and Pete made an early start for the couloir while John, Hilda, and I descended. Tim and Pete reached us just before dark, big smiles on their faces after completing the best technical climbing of the trip.

The Kyokkiar does not compare in size or seriousness to the main area of the Western Kokshaal-Too. The peaks are on average 1000 meters lower, but the weather seems considerably better.

Climbing Summary:

Gori Sarybeles:

Pt 4435m, northwest slopes, August 31, Gerrard and Grooters, Alpine F

Pt 4550m, northwest Face and north ridge, August 31, Berggren and Riley, AD+

Pt 4275m, northeast Ridge, September 3, Gerrard and Grooters, F

Pt 4375m, southwest Ridge, September 3, Gerrard and Grooters, F

On September 3 Berggren and Riley retreated in poor weather 200 meters up the obvious narrow couloir in the valley face of Pt 4275m (Scottish V)

Kyokkiar:

Pt 4445m, Southwest Ridge, September 11, Gerrard and Grooters, F

Pt 4200m, Left-hand gully ascended to summit plateau, September 17, Berggren and Riley, 300m, Scottish 1

Pt 4200m, Couloir climbed to just below the summit plateau, September 18, Berggren and Riley, 500m, TD, Scottish 5

An attempt on the northwest face of Pt 4765m via the obvious ramp-line to a shoulder and then the upper snow slopes to the summit ridge was halted at 4600m.

David Gerrard, United Kingdom

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