American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Tien Shan, Ak Saitan

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Ak Saitan. After a difficult journey through Kyrgyzstan in August, Iñaki Cabo, Elena de Castro, Ferran Latorre, and I finally arrive at base camp on the Komarova Glacier. The potential of the area is immense. One formation in particular draws our attention: a rock pillar reaching between Carnovski and Zukerman peak. But we have come to climb and make a movie of Kizil Asker, located in nearby China north of the “Great Walls of China.” We file away the image as one of many first ascent possibilities in the area. After five days on the Komarova, we head to China to see Kizil Asker. It is immense. We dream of the route possibilities: lines of ice, rock, and mixed sections on a wall almost two km. wide. While we examine our objective, a storm moves in and soon snow is blowing horizontally around us. We begin the return trek to Komarova.

Upon arriving at base camp we debate if we have the time needed for a successful ascent. With many doubts concerning relinquishing our dream, we decide instead to attempt a first ascent on the rock pillar above base camp, and afterward to attempt the Chinese Wall, a four-hour hike from base camp. We make the first carry to the base of the pillar and begin climbing the obvious line.

On the fourth pitch there is an eight-meter blank section and we place six of the route’s eight bolts. For four days we are busy on the lower pitches—up and down the ropes, back and forth the hour between basecamp and the pillar, jumaring, rappelling, frustration, and cursing the continuous blasts of snow. It does not stop. A meter of snow covers camp. Each flake that falls convinces us it is best to focus on where we are and forget the Chinese Wall.

“As a distinguished one said, Hell is white, no?” jokes Ferran, “and the Devil too, at least in China. That’s what we could name the route. Ruslan, how would you say that in Kyrgyz?”

“Ak Saitan,” our liaison officer Ruslan responds.

As a courtesy to us for dedicating the route to him, the Devil gives us three days in a row of good weather. We can’t believe it.

On the fifth pitch my fingertips split and after four hours when I arrive at the belay I am shaking. The flaring crack is dirty and I move slow and blind. The same happens in the dihedral pitch that Elena begins and Iñaki finishes, and also in the beginning of the ninth pitch that Ferran opens. The granite is similar to Corsica: very eroded, large granules, and flaky in places.

Then the tenth pitch and three more pitches that Elena and Iñaki free climb. After 15 days we have fixed lines all the way to the top of the tower. This is the moment to launch for the summit. We worry that the stable weather won’t last long. Early the next morning we jumar up the fixed lines and Inaki begins the final four pitches that separate us from the summit, which we reach late in the day.

The granite on the wall is a bright orange color and is very solid and abrasive. Most cracks are rounded and flaring, requiring much work in engineering placements. The Ak-Saitan route is 600m in height, VI, 5.10+ A3+ 85°. It begins with a 450m rock tower and continues via an airy ridge where we encountered steps of UIAA grade IV rock, snow, and 65° ice with occasional short sections of 80°.

Cecilia Buil, Spain (translated by M. Loomis and Oriol Solé-Costa)

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