American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, China, Karakoram, Chinese Tien-Shan Range, Reconnaissance

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

Chinese Tien-Shan Range, reconnaissance. Four of us—Anatoly Dzhulie (leader), David Lekhtman, Vladimir Leonenko, and myself, Otto Chkhetiani—explored the remote Tien-Shan mountains of China, on the other side of the Kok-Shaal-Too Range. We covered a total of 270km and traversed seven high passes during a 36-day trek in July and August, 2002.

Beginning with very little information—just old Soviet maps (1:100,000) and satellite photos—we crossed into Irkeshtam on July 12, struggled with the red tape, and traveled across Kashgar to Aksu. Then we drove across a rocky plain toward the Kirghiz village of Talak, where we registered with the military authorities and met our Kirghiz guide. Accompanied by a caravan of four horses, we crossed a low pass at Kok-Yar-Davan into Chon-Teren-su, a deep forested valley. There, we found traces of Chinese expeditions from the late 1970s, the remains of a road, and a large wood hut at the mouth of Sajlyn-su.

We left our caravan and guides at the convergence of the western and eastern branches of the Chon-Teren glacier (3,462m), and headed into a completely deserted area. Since there was almost no vegetation, there were no local shepherds—nor any hunters, since hunting is forbidden in China.

Originally, we had planned to travel west to visit the Tomur Glacier, which lay beyond a range of rugged mountains. But heavy snowfall and avalanche danger slowed us down, so we diverted to the tributaries of the west fork of the Chon-Teren Glacier. We crossed three technical ice passes to bypass icefalls, then crossed a plateau (5,600m) south of massive Peak 6,435 (cf. Koxkar Feng, attempt, AAJ 1990, p. 347), and north of Peak 6,050. From the plateau, a wide ridge with several rocky peaks led to the highest point. This area is dominated by the impressive southern wall of Tomur 7439 (Peak Pobeda). To the east we could see a lot of alpine terrain and Peak 6,571, an impressive unclimbed mountain.

After completing Western Chon-Teren circuit, we climbed the eastern branch of Chon- Teren. We had no information about this part of the glacier, since it was not explored during the 1970s. From the right moraine, we saw grassy meadows and small lakes. The 2,000m southwestern wall of unclimbed Peak Voennykh Topografov towered over the glacier. Combined with Peak 6,747, this wall makes the Southern Inyl’chek Glacier inaccessible from the north.

We encountered high winds and waist-deep snow on the pass Chon-Teren (5,488m), which is well known to climbers approaching from the north—the side of the Zvezdochka Glacier. But we had no information at all about its southern slopes, where we found large cornices overhanging a 55°, 300m ice slope with protruding rocks. To the left loomed Vostochnaya Pobe- da, which frequently avalanches, covering the glacier with snow dust and ice debris.

From the upper reaches of Southern Inyl’chek, we continued across a pass (5,300m) between Peak Druzhba and Peak Richarda Zorge. We decided to name the pass after the outstanding Russian and Kazak alpinist Valerii Khrishchaty, who in 1990 made an unprecedented traverse from Peak Vazha Pshavela—crossing Peak Pobeda, Peak Voennykh Topografov, and the Meridional Ridge—to the Vostochnyi (Eastern) Schater.

A huge cornice overhung east of the col, so we decided to descend the north end of the ridge, where an 800m long, 40° to 55° ice slope led to a small plateau that ended at an ice-fall. We finished the descent by sidestepping the ice-fall by going through a 700-meter ice couloir, then onto the Tugabed’chi Glacier. As far as we know, we were the first people to visit this glacier, which is very different from the Inyl'chek area and the Chon-Teren. The air was much drier, and the glaciers were covered with seracs.

To the northeast, we saw an unknown, yellowish 6,000m peak, which was part of the eastern extension of the Tengri-Tag range. We headed onto the first southern tributary, under the southern slope of Peak 6,342. The satellite photos had not been able to foretell the difficulties we encountered there: and very complex ice-fall, which took two very tense days to get through. Then we spent the next 24 hours in a blizzard!

At our final pass, Tugabel’chi (5,200m), we had to descend 350 meters of vertical granite to get out of the cirque (the map showed only ice slopes, and the satellite photographs were no help). At the same time, we had to deal with avalanches from Peak 6,342.

Finally, on our long march out on the Kichi-Teren glacier, then through woods at 3,200m, we encountered a group of surprised Kirghiz locals, who had never seen Europeans before.

Otto Chkhetiani, Russia (translated by Henry Pickford)

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