Kara-Su Valley, north face of a ridge east of Piramidalny summit. The Karavshin Valley in southern Kyrgyzstan was eerily deserted in the fall. There were no large groups of climbers on the towering granite faces (as in the Soviet era), and no fighting between Islamic rebels and Kyrgyz troops. Even the local farmers and families that used to live in stone huts were gone. In the whole area, there were only two climbers, a cook at base camp, and one hunter who sometimes stopped by.
We (Irena Mrak and Garth Willis) arrived in Karavshin on October 1 after a three-day drive from Bishkek and a two-day stay in Batken (where we gathered the necessary documents and signatures). At the end of the last dirt road along the Karavshin River, we met soldiers at a small group of dirt buildings they’d made into a fort. We paid eight soldiers $5 each to help us carry a month of food and gear to our camp at the base of the Yellow Wall.
Our first climb was a diagonal route on the Yellow Wall (mostly 5.8, with an overhang that went, for me, at A0—although it has been reported as 5.10c). This 500m route had everything you really don’t want in a climb: a wet start, long sloping pitches, an awkward overhang, and a grassy finish. But the panorama from the top gave us a great feeling for the region, with views of Asan-Usen, Piramidalny, and Pik 4,810.
After sitting out some bad weather, we headed for the dramatic Peak Piramidalny (5,506m). This peak’s north face has been climbed by soviet teams and by a solo Italian climber in 1991 (Ed note: also by French and partially by British). We did not climb the peak itself— our goal was a route on the north face of a ridge east of the summit. We started from our advanced base camp, at 4,100m. The route went up an ice gully (50°-60°) for 250 meters. It was a bowling alley of falling snow and ice, so we climbed out over a rock wall to the right. In a time consuming battle, we climbed over 150m of 5.8 loose rock covered with snow, then continued up a snowfield to a bivy at 4,600m. The second morning was clear, cold, and windy. The first pitch was a snow-filled rock couloir, followed by a 120m ice gully of 70° to 85° black ice that broke into plates with each swing. The wind blew stinging pellets of snow into our faces all day. Wind-blown snow built up on the route above, pouring down on us constantly. More snow and ice pitches followed, until we finally reached the ridge (5,200m) at 7:00 p.m. We began our descent as the sun set.
Returning to our bivy, we decided to continue the rappel in the dark. With a clear sky and cold temperatures, we hoped the avalanche danger would be minimal. We kept our eye on the ridge as the wind-blown snow flowed down over our feet like a river. Twice avalanches hit us as we rappelled, but they roared on by in the steep gully, leaving us behind. At 9:00 a.m., 50 hours after we had started the climb, we reached the base. We named the route Russian Roulette, because we doubted we’d survive it a second time. We rated it 1100m, V+, M3-M5 WI4 50–85°. The dramatic Italian line (AAJ 1992, p. 35) seemed to have much less ice than before. The ice visible in the picture only extends halfway down the face now. Either the climate has changed, or we were much later in the season than when the picture was taken.
Irena Mrak, Slovenia, and Garth Willis