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Asia, China, Kun Lun, Koskulak (7,028m), First and Second Ascents by the West Ridge and Third Ascent by the North Face

Koskulak (7,028m), first and second ascents by the west ridge and third ascent by the north face. Koskulak is situated in the Muztagh Ata Range and can be reached by the same route and logistics as Muztagh Ata itself. Until 2005 it remained unclimbed, neglected as other lower-altitude neighbors of Muztagh Ata and Kongur have been. The easiest route to the summit is quite obvious and does not require technical skills.

During the summer several expeditions attempted the mountain. The first to summit were Russians Leonid Fishkis, Dmitry Komarov and Alexandr Novik, who reached the top on August 10 via the west ridge. Two days later their route was repeated by seven members of another Russian expedition, from the Moscow Aviation Institute (they climb mountains as well as make airplanes).

At the same time two Russian climbers, Valery Shamalo and I from St. Petersburg, were attempting a more difficult route on the north face, from the Kalaxong glacier. This route had three distinct sections: an initial glacier and snow slopes; a rock barrier; steep snow slopes, followed by a large cornice and summit plateau. It was obvious that the main technical difficulties would be found on the rock barrier, but it was not clear from below how or even if the capping cornice could be climbed.

Above base camp and the Kalaxong Glacier was a long, steep slope of deep snow. Progress was strenuous and slow, requiring physical exertion rather than technical skills. We spent two nights out on this section, sheltering in crevasses. Above this slope lay the rock barrier, with an angle varying from 60-90°.

The main difficulties on the barrier were caused by thin ice or snow over rock, which made the climbing insecure and finding good belays difficult. We did not find any good bivouac sites in this section and had to make three consecutive sitting bivouacs. This section could be climbed faster, but we were not properly acclimatized and also had to haul the leader’s rucksack. The barrier finished with steep snow slopes and scattered rock outcrops; here we established our last camp before the summit push. It was also our first comfortable night.

On our summit day, August 17, we had more strenuous deep snow before reaching the cornice, ascending only 100m per hour. The cornice was the last challenge. It was not possible to climb it with normal ice equipment, as the snow couldn’t hold the weight of a climber, so we resorted to aid-climbing it using two snow anchors with ice gear. The cornice took two hours to complete, but from its top the summit was just 300m across a large snow plateau, which we crossed in an hour.

Although there may be other possible routes on the north face, we felt ours was the most logical and direct. We were also lucky with the weather. The nights were not very cold, which allowed us to be relatively comfortable during our sitting bivouacs.

Alexey Gorbatenkov, Mountainguides.ru, Russia