American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Tien Shan, Khrebet Kyokkiar and Gory Sarybeles, Seven First Ascents

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

Khrebet Kyokkiar and Gory Sarybeles, seven first ascents. After visiting this interesting and unexplored range in 2001, I organized another expedition in August, 2002. Karl Baker, John Cuthbert, Graham Sutton, and I (David Gerrard, as leader) made eight ascents, including seven first ascents. These mountains—only visited twice by mountaineers—offer classic mixed alpine ascents on peaks below 5,000m, plus many hard mixed lines on faces up to 1,000m high. Also, good quality limestone walls, from 500 to 1,000m high, offer an immense amount of rock climbing on cracks, corners, and towers, where snow can usually be avoided on the descent.

As before, we camped near the foothills of the Khrebet Kyokkiar—a small but perfect group of snowy peaks and limestone walls. The approach to the Khrebet Kyokkiar, which is on the Kyrgyz-Chinese border at the end of the Kokshaal Too Range, was easy. We hired a truck and driver from ITMC, a Bishkek based travel company (who also helped with the permits and paperwork). First we went to Naryn, then over the hills through Ak-Muz, skirting the At-Bashy range before a long downhill track took us to the border region. In the lush open valleys, we saw farmers living in yurts for the summer, and an occasional military border post. Everyone we met was friendly and welcoming.

Wet weather had caused dangerously high river levels, so while we waited for them to subside we crossed another pass to the Gory Sarybeles: a smaller range of snowcapped 4,500m mountains with fine alpine ridges and rock walls. After surviving a night of local hospitality, Karl and I climbed a 4,300m peak (PD) for acclimatization, then moved to a higher camp, where we traversed two other unclimbed peaks (AD), getting chased off by an electrical storm that had been brewing all day. Meanwhile, John and Graham attempted a prominent unclimbed peak (to the right of another peak that had been climbed the previous year), but retreated after reaching the main ridge.

Returning to the Kyokkiar, we rode horses for one day, then carried loads for two more days to reach a base camp surrounded by 1,000m unclimbed limestone walls. The next day, Karl and I continued up the valley to a glacial basin, near most of the alpine-type summits, while John and Graham went into a different cwm to attempt a stunning face on another unclimbed peak.

With two days of good weather, Karl and I made three more first ascents. First, we climbed a 4,600m peak by a couloir and rock ridge (AD). The following day, we traversed from the highest peak in the range (4,760m) to its neighbor (AD) on a fine mixed ridge, down- climbing a steep face of snow and ice to the glacier. The next day, we went to another high cwm, then climbed through seracs to a steep snow slope which led to the main ridge of the range. From there we made an easy traverse to a 4,600m (PD) summit, with fine views of some impressive mixed faces.

Then, although the weather turned bad, we still managed to climb a 400m rock route, and fit in a day of load carrying before John and Graham joined us again. They had made a spirited attempt on a stunning ice line on one of the large faces before being turned back by difficulties. Then they had done some exploring and reached the upper glacier before the weather turned bad, forcing them down again.

Since the Khrebet Kyokkiar and Gory Sarybeles Ranges are lower in altitude than the surrounding higher ranges, we probably had better weather than other expeditions in the area. The next day, temperatures fell as we carried loads to meet the horses. We had a beautiful ride out of the range in six inches of new snow.

Our expedition was generously supported by the Mount Everest Foundation and British Mountaineering Council.

David Gerrard, U.K.

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