American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, China, Kun Lun, Unsupported Crossing of the Western Kun Lun and Attempt on Pt 6,903m

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Unsupported crossing of the Western Kun Lun and attempt on Pt. 6,903m. In September a Russian team jointly led by Boris Malakhov and me, with Michael Bertov, Paul Demeshchik, and Sergey Zajko, made a northeast-to-southwest crossing of the Western Kun Lun. In this report we use the names that appear on old Russian maps from the end of 19th century We have been on expeditions to Xinjiang since 1998, and our experience is that these names are much closer to local nomenclature than names on other maps. When it comes to glaciers, we have used names given by Chinese glaciologists.

We first traveled along the southern Taklamakan road to Keria (Yutian on Chinese maps) and then went south 75km to the village of Polu, which has been known to the outside world since the visits of Grabczewski and Przhewalsky. We hired donkeys and on September 9 left for a two-day journey to reach the Kar Yagde tributary. For the next month we did not meet a single person. The continuation through the Kurab-Darja Gorge involves approximately 50 river crossings and is described by Mark Newcomb in his article “Ultima Thule” (AAJ 1997 p. 129).

This was our second expedition to this remote area. In autumn 2003 Andrey Lebedev, Malakhov, Alexander Zazhigin, and I left Goubauluk and travelled southwest over the Kudzhik-Bulak Pass, then on down alongside the Zejlik-Darja River to Yurung Kash. At this point we could neither travel along its banks nor ford the river. We retreated north, crossing a 5,880m snow-covered pass and passing through two canyons before we regained civilization. We had to descend waterfalls, climb cliffs, and negotiate huge boulders. Steep walls towered 150-200m above us. We finally reached the large settlement Nur (southwest of Yutian).

Our 2005 way led much farther south than our 2003 explorations. After reaching a 5,140m pass, we headed south for 1.5km to visit an old volcano some 5,280m high. Below us lay the gravel floor of the Goubailyk Valley with its salty lakes, Achik Kel, Segiz Kel, and Ulug Kel, surrounded by a ring of 6,000m peaks and smaller volcanic cones. Later we climbed the 4,904m volcano, Achik Shan, which erupted in May 1951: we saw fields of volcanic ash and some freaky stone figures on the western banks of the Ulug Kel lake. Beyond, our route went down the left bank of the Yurung Kash (White Jade River), where we were lucky to find beautiful pieces of this fine stone on sandy terraces. This area is a paradise for animal lovers: we saw numerous herds of mountain sheep, goats, and yaks, while packs of wolves passed close to us.

We had planned to ascend the Middle Yurung Glacier, but it was obviously in surge. The badly fractured tongue had advanced 1.5-2km, cutting off the river valley. As far as we could see, travel up this glacier did not look feasible. Instead, we moved to the adjacent Western Yurung. This was also badly broken in its lower reaches, but we managed to ascend between the right edge and the moraine. Above 5,460m we continued on the glacier, where farther up we found fresh snow. This allowed us to use plastic sledges, but as we were often breaking trail through 60cm of snow, progress was still slow.

Finally, we reached the northern flanks of Pt. 6,903m and managed to climb to a height of 6,500m on this snowy mountain. Above was 300m of ca. 40° ice, accessed via a short snow slope. Unfortunately, fresh snow, the onset of stormy weather, and a resulting high avalanche danger forced us to retreat. [Pt. 6,903m is situated some distance west of Qong Muztagh, climbed by Japanese in 2000. The Russians believed Pt. 6,903m to be virgin, but it was climbed by Japanese in 1988; see AAJ 1989, p. 289 and AAJ 2001, p. 406—Ed.]

We continued through a 6,360m col between Peaks 6,775m and 6,840m and began our descent (toward the Lingzu Thang Plains) via the East Chongce Glacier. This was a fantastic journey with snowy peaks to the south and the impressive mountains of the Aksai Chin to the north. Close to the waters of the Gozho Tso were herds of Orongo antelope, yaks, and small groups of kiang. On October 7, having traveled unsupported for 28 days over a distance of ca. 400km, we reached the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway

Otto Chkhetiani, Moscow, Russia

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