Ak Su, north face, new route in winter. Before climbing Ak-Su (5,355m), we already had expedition experience on big walls in winter, which proved very useful. We decided to climb a new route because Balezin had seen the possibility of an interesting variation. The dream turned real. At the beginning of February, we settled at an excellent base tent 6km from the mountain, which became home for a month. On February 3 we started to climb fixing six ropes in two days. The weather was excellent, and on February 7 we started climbing to hang a portaledge. Then Ak-Su showed itself. The wind reached such force that when Evgeniy hauled the portaledge, it was not clear sometimes who was dragging whom: it “hung” ABOVE him.
That day Andrey climbed one pitch and looked like a snowball in glasses. As a result we hung the portaledge at pitch 13. A “white river” fell down the wall and visibility sometimes was no more than a meter. That evening all of us ran away to base camp. The bad weather continued a day longer, and after that we could see Ak-Su in all its magnificence, decorated with fresh snow. By this time we had already climbed 19 pitches and had come to the route’s crux: five pitches of A3/A4, 70-80°, with lots of hooking. Reaching this site had taken five days, and now the weather became disgusting: daily snowfall, sometimes with a strong wind, stopped our progress. But our tactics and a good mood allowed us not to waste time during the bad weather; during the entire ascent there was only one day of forced rest. After that we decided to change two-man teams every day, giving ourselves rest after working on the route.
When only one pitch was left to the ledge under the “Nose” (also called “Snot”) we decided that it was the time to drag up all our gear (10 pitches higher). In the morning Malygin and Litvinov left to fix the ropes, and we hauled our belongings. That day the weather tested our durability. The force of the snowfall that day was maximal, and we moved slowly. By 2 p.m. we had made five pitches, and it became clear that we could not reach the ledge before darkness; therefore I decided to hang the portaledge at the beginning of the crux. Finally we got inside after it had already been dark a long time. It was the decisive day of our ascent. That’s when our firm confidence appeared: we would make the ascent in any way, sooner or later, because we could climb in such conditions.
Up to the “Nose” we had climbed a new route, but then we went out to Popov’s route with an excellent relief. We could make only four pitches in two days. Above, there was a cascade of serious cornices and the overhang. After 5-6 pitches on the “roof,” we found a bolt. It meant that Shabalin had descended the Nose somewhere around here. All this time the weather still was disgusting.
Every evening Zaharov encouraged us by radio: “Guys, you have to suffer a day—a change of moon phases will pass.” And it was like this all 10 days. We must give due to modern Thinsulate insulation. Then there was our portaledge. Its roof had some patches because of falling stones, and a 1.5-meter hole along its external edge. By the end of the climb the platform looked pitiful: every possible patch and plug, from polyethylene packages and insulating pads, the tubes deformed by a wind. Going down we took only the tubes.
On February 23 the group successfully summited and the weather took pity on us: there wasn’t any snowfall for two days, and we could enjoy fantastic views of wintered mountains from the top. It was too pleasant to see the sun, having lived for 10 days on the wall during bad weather. The next day the next snowfall let us know who was boss here. But it did not stop us any more. At 4 p.m. all of us already sat in a cave under a bergschrund, having descended the route.
Thus, for 20 days we managed to lay a new route on the north wall of this tremendous summit. In my opinion, it appeared the logical route in 34 pitches. There were no special technical difficulties on the route, though it is difficult to imagine how we would climb if we did not have anchor hooks and fifi hooks, which allowed to make reliable points on rocks in thin, bottoming cracks [Russian “fifi” hooks are something like giant skyhooks.—Ed]. And, without Evgeniy, who climbed the first 80% of the route as the leader, we would climb much longer. About the weather: in February there are plentiful snowfalls here, but the temperature during the ascent did not fall lower than -25°C. It was usually between -15° and -20°C.
Expedition members: Eugeny Dmitrienko, Dmitry Tsyganov, Sergey Cherezov, Andrey Litvinov, and Pavel Malygin. Reservists and assistants: Jury Glazyrin, V. Saveljev, and Viktor Tsygankov. Doctor: Alexander Kuharev. Trainers and heads: Zaharov Nikolay and Balezin Valery.
Anton Pugovkin, Russia (translated by Anna Piunova, www.Mountain.RU)