American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, China, Kashgar Range, Complete Crossing of the Southern Section of the Chinese Pamir and First Ascents of Pts 5430m and 5975m

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

Complete crossing of the southern section of the Chinese Pamir and first ascents of Pts 5,430m and 5,975m. Andrei Lebedev (leader), Otto Chkhetiani (assistant leader), Mikhail Babich (Saint Petersburg), Tatiana Belyaeva (Saint Petersburg), Yura Maksimovich, and Oleg Yanchevsky (both from Kiev) flew from Moscow to Kashgar via Urmchi. This was our third visit to the Kashgar Range.

We traveled south down the Karakoram Highway and turned east into the Tashkurgan Gorge. We found that a new road was currently under construction to Yarkand. After 20km we stopped in the Tadzhik village of Shindi (2,900m), where we bid farewell to our escorts and began following a path to the north.

For the first 20km of our journey we hired two donkeys to carry part of our load. In two days we crossed the straightforward Kok-Muinak Pass (4,515m) and descended to the Chikchiklyk Plateau, where there were many nomadic camps. It was through here that the legendary Syuan’ Tszan traveled from India to China in the 6th century. From here we crossed the easy Yangi- Davan Pass (4,830m) to the picturesque Yangi-Kel lake. We continued to the upper reaches of the northern source of the lake and descended a stony path to Kengshibers, where we got a glimpse of the Koksel glacier flowing down from the eastern slopes of Muztagh Ata and Mount Tuyuk. We then crossed a 5,155m pass to reach the Southern Chat glacier, all the while having behind us a foreshortened view of the North and Main summits of Muztagh Ata, strangely reminiscent of Elbrus’s twin peaks. Six pitches down an icy 45° slope led to the glacier and then the Teresaz-Su valley, heavily populated by Kirghiz.

It was three years since we had passed this way and we continued through a familiar canyon to the Chimgen glacier, which flows from the south east flanks of Kongur. In 2002 this isolated place was finally united with Yarkand via a motorable road across mountains to the east. From a moraine ridge on the Chimgen we were able to see Koksel (6,740m) and Kysylsel (6,605m), which we had crossed via an east to west traverse in 2000. An icy barrier blocked the way to the Gez-dar’ya gorge. We climbed upward, spending a night on a narrow arête, then traversing 60° ice slopes and carefully crossing a band of rotten cliffs to finally reach the crest. Here, we were able to ascend an unnamed summit of 5,430m, all the time to the sound of avalanches cascading down the eastern side of Kongur. To the north lay the unclimbed rock tower of Gez (5,696m), which is clearly visible from the Karakoram Highway. To reach this spot had involved 24 roped pitches.

From here a crumbly ridge ran south to Pt 5,975m. The traverse wasn’t difficult (we roped for four pitches) but was exceeding tiring due to deep snow. On the morning of August 19 we reached the summit of Pt 5,975m, which we named Mt. Nikolaev in honor of the famous Russian high-altitude traveler and equipment manufacturer, who was lost in the vicinity of Pobeda (Tien Shan) during the winter of 1993. The grade of our route using the Russian system was 5A mixed climbing.

Descending 400 meters via a glacier flowing down from a col on the eastern side of Kongur, we climbed down a ridge line where, on a tricky band of cliffs, we found scraps of light-blue colored rope, apparently the remains of a Japanese attempt to climb Kongur via its east ridge in 1981. Twenty four roped pitches were required to complete the descent and we were not helped by inclement weather; snowfall and poor visibility. As the glacier appeared covered in avalanche debris from the slopes of Kongur, we took to the west ridge of Karatash, descending an ice slope in 12 pitches to reach the northern tributary of the Koksel Glacier.

Here, we found only green hills and spent the rest of our time exploring the western sources of the Koksel glacier, which had not been visited before by any European. The dominating summit in this region is Kongur Tybe and we continued past its heavily-gendarmed north ridge to begin our approach to the north ridge of Aklangam (6,995m). This peak was climbed from the south in 2002 by Andrei Lebedev and party. The northern route looked attractive, making Aklangam one of the most accessible peaks in this region. From an altitude of 5,400m we were once again able see the northern slopes of Kongur (7,719m). However, a snow storm that night pinned us down for 24 hours at ca 5,700m and after this cleared we were forced to descend in very dangerous avalanche conditions. On September 1, in the village of Gez, our 235km, 31-day unsupported journey ended and we had completed a crossing of the entire southern section of the Chinese Pamirs.

Otto Chkhetiani, Russia

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.