American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Pamir Alai, Western Kokshaal-Too, Fersmana Glacier, Pik Neizvestniy, First Ascent, and Various Attempts

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 2006

Fersmana Glacier, Pik Neizvestniy, first ascent, and various attempts. In July and August I traveled with Grant Piper and Graham Rowbotham to the central part of the Western Kokshaal-Too. We climbed in the previously unexplored Fersmana Glacier basin, where we were delighted to find granite columns and steep walls, rather than the friable limestone prevailing immediately to the east. However, the walls of the highest peak, Byeliy (a.k.a. Grand Poohbah, 5,697m), were mostly overhung by seracs, and we saw no suitable routes on the northeast, east, or south sides. The route substantially climbed by Mike Libecki’s party in 2000 appears to have been the southwest ridge (not southeast as captioned in AAJ 2001, p. 401). Contrary to maps, spot height 5,481m in the same massif turned out to be a quite separate and equally precipitous summit.

We focused our climbing efforts on the smaller but still challenging peaks at the head of the glacier. We made the first ascent of Pik Neizvestniy (Unknown in English, 5,240m) via the northeast arête. A sharp corniced ridge high on the route required delicate à cheval technique and in places vibrated as we climbed. We graded this route Alpine D or New Zealand 4. Our descent via the west ridge was straightforward.

Next we attempted Pik 5,370m, a symmetrical peak at the head of the glacier. We named this Granitsa (Border in English); it sports several impressive granite walls on the Chinese side. We retreated low on the west ridge when confronted by monolithic gendarmes that we could not bypass. Our next attempt was on the peak in the southeast corner of the glacial cirque. We named this Pogranichnik (Border Guard, 5,220m). Climbing the north ridge, we reached the granite “head” at 5,180m but could not see a way around the steep rock above. The next day deep hanging powder on the north-facing slopes of a small peak we named Zastava (Border Post, 5,010m), prevented us from summiting on its otherwise straightforward west ridge. This summit lay between Neizvestniy and Granitsa. Our peak names reflect the close border control in the area.

We experienced squalls on almost every day of our visit and were unable to climb during an eight-day period of very unsettled conditions. In early August we waded through melt streams and slush on the upper glacier. Two weeks later the streams were frozen and powder snow covered the surface. On our return truck journey there was snow on the already marginal 4,000m passes.

Our approach to base camp up the Uzengegush valley was affected by a little-known change to the border between Kyrgyzstan and China (see below). As a result we had to complete the last 60-65km on foot, with our luggage on horseback. Previously it had been possible to drive off-road trucks up the braided river as far as our base camp at Pt. 3,392m and on to Pt. 3,425m (though definitely not beyond). We also lost time because our vehicle experienced a blown radiator and because we had our border zone permit rejected at Kara-Sai. The colonel who authorized the permit had been ousted following the March coup. We had the permit revalidated in Karakol. During our exit from the mountains, a misunderstanding with our agents left us stranded for three days at the Uzengegush border post. We avoided missing our flights only by persuading the border guards to relay an emergency message via their military telephone system.

Paul Knott, New Zealand

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