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Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Tien Shan, Western Kokshaal-Too, Kizil Asker, New Route Attempt

Kizil Asker, new route attempt. In July and August, Guy Robertson and I made two attempts on the most compelling alpine ice route either of us has ever seen: the 1300m virgin southeast face of Kizil Asker, the highest peak in the Western Kokshaal-Too area of the Tien Shan. The wall was steep and split by the dream line: a snaking couloir of ice, overhanging in several places, vertical elsewhere, ran nearly the entire length of the face. It petered out directly below the summit, leaving the crux where it should be: at the top! But both attempts were thwarted by rapid thawing when the sun hit the face. The first attempt ended at around 300m, before any of the real climbing had begun. We hid for most of the day under a small overhang from ice falling off the most wild ice smear imaginable. Then we abseiled off through the icy torrent that had formed down the middle of the couloir.

On the second attempt, we climbed the initial easy section in the dark, arriving at the foot of the first really steep section at dawn. Three superb pitches of mostly perfect ice, up to 95°, led to ominous hanging icicles. Here we skirted left, climbing overhanging, fluted, and thawing ice just as the sun hit. This led to a “non-belay” in a small bay and a very bold pitch of thin ice to reach a small hanging ice field. After rehydrating from the stream that was beginning to flow from the ice, we tried to carry on. But we were rebuffed at every option by sodden, thawing névé that wouldn’t hold a pick. Four hours earlier, what would have been a pleasant pitch of 80° Scottish V (WI4, I guess?), the easiest pitch encountered since breakfast—but now it was impossible. We abseiled off from just below the obvious snow ledge on the left, about 500m – 600m up.

This last attempt was at the very end of the trip, and we had to be back at base camp in three days. Too much time had been wasted sitting in advanced base, getting snowed on, and unable to see the face, but we usually were aware of its presence from the sound of avalanches sloughing off all around. We intend to go back in 2004 to finish the job.

Esmond Tresidder, Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club