Guy Robertson and I returned to Kyrgyzstan’s Western Kokshaal-Too in late August, intent on finishing what we had started in 2002 on the unclimbed southeast face of Kyzyl Asker (5,842m). With us we brought extra firepower in the form of Pete Benson, and base camp conviviality in the form of Robin Thomas and Matt Halls. Matt and Robin planned to climb anything that took their fancy, while Guy, Pete, and I planned to tackle the southeast face as a three. In 2002 the problem had been the line thawing at the slightest hint of sunshine. Although it was colder this time around, thawing still proved a significant problem, and we left without having attempted our intended route. It is difficult to know the best time to attempt this route. You could go in September and get lucky, or you could simply try it in badweather when it is not thawing but the likelihood of heavy spindrift is very high. February March is a good time for climbing in the Ala Archa and might be an option on Kyzyl Asker, but it will be very cold and getting to the mountain would be very difficult. Instead we added four new routes to the surrounding walls, and a new route on Kyzyl Asker to make the second ascent of the mountain. We stayed in the area till September 21.
Guy, Pete and I climbed a technical icy line on the south face of Panfilovski Division (ca 5,400m), the neighboring peak to Kyzyl Asker, early in the trip. In bad weather and continuous spindrift we climbed four fine technical pitches of pure ice and mixed. Higher up on the route we moved together up moderate but insecure ground before reaching easy ground approximately 200m below the summit. From here we descended a broad gully on Abalakov threads. We named the route Haggis Supper (500m, WI5+). After this the weather cleared for five days. Matt and Robin added a new gully line to the south face of Pik Jerry Garcia (ca 5,200m), climbing the crux ice before the sun hit them.Guy and I made the first ascent of the Great Walls of China, finding a superbly sustained icy mixed line, which provided 13 long pitches, only three of which were easier than Scottish V (WI4)! The crux pitches involved thin ice, with some rock climbing on the more discontinuous sections. Border Control (WI 5, Scottish VII/VIII, A1) was born [thought not to the summit—Ed.].
On this wall there is massive potential for high standard icy mixed lines. The rock climbing also looks superb, but on closer inspection anything that gets the sun is very dangerous due to rockfall. This may be why routes have not been climbed before (people who have expressed an interest have thought of doing them as big wall aid/free rock routes. The Great Walls face east, but because there are pillars you can climb on northerly aspects. Each pillar has several stellar north-facing lines; ours was perhaps the easiest. The climbing might not be any harder on the others, but it would certainly be more sustained! Parties wishing to repeat our route would be advised to take bivouac gear, as there is the world’s best bivi cave at the top of the hard climbing. This would make bagging the summit feasible and complete the route (we climbed for 20 hours with no water after bursting our water container on a crampon at the base of the route, so by the time we reached the ridge we just wanted to get down).
While we were recovering, Pete and Matt climbed a devious route to make the second known ascent of Kyzyl Asker. They avoided the problematic seracs on the north face by traversing onto the face above them from the east col, gained via a gully on the south flank (one pitch of Scottish VI). From the top of the gully there was a steep icy traverse above a big drop to reach the north face proper, after which it was quite easy-angled and was more or less skied in both directions apart from the summit slopes, which were too steep.
Last up, Pete and I added a route to the Ochre Walls, climbing an obvious ice smear to the left of the DeCapio-Isaac route Beefcake (600m, IV, M5 WI4,2001). This offered superb icy mixed climbing up to Scottish VII on a bitterly cold day. We reached the unnamed summit at dusk. After a night out at a notorious Bishkek nightclub, Fire and Ice seemed an appropriate name.
It would seem that late August/early September offers the best chance for stable weather in this region. In July/August 2002, as two teams, we made four attempts on routes. This year, as two teams, the weather allowed us to make eight new route attempts!
Es Tresidder, United Kingdom