American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Pamir Alai, Karavshin, Kara-su Valley, Asan, Alperien Route, Variant Finish

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2007

Kara-su valley, Asan, Alperien Route, variant finish. Through friends in China who had contacts with local Kyrgyz, I acquired permission to visit an area in Uzbekistan. I got the idea from photos taken from a helicopter by an Austrian friend. Our goal was to reconnoiter and then climb some of these granite formations. The backup plan would be the Karavshin. When we reached the Uzbek region, our hopes were quickly shot down. My brother Andy and I looked at valleys close to those I had seen in the photos and saw finger-like spires encased like children in a family of snowy peaks, but access was impossible in the time we had available. With all the river crossings and bushwhacking, it would have taken a few weeks just to get our gear to a base camp. I still felt blessed: it would be an area for future adventure in a virgin amusement park of climbing.

So we proceeded with a back-up plan. We headed to the Karavshin and spent four days scouting the area, while indulging in boiled goat, horse milk, and pungent yogurt curds. We were accompanied by beautiful local people, through a landscape that fueled enthusiasm and appreciation for life. This was when our first bout of sickness began. If you’ve walked from sunup to sundown while “it” is coming out both ends, you’ll know the agony. Antibiotics had to be unleashed like warriors to kill demons ravaging our digestive systems. Five weeks later, at the beginning of September and after another dream trip of culture, reconnaissance, and climbing mayhem, the antibiotics were still being sent in for battle. I had to go through four courses to sustain vertical progress.

In our weakened state we scoped beautiful, enticing granite towers and slabs in two valleys, but, once we got up on a ridge and looked down into the Kara-su valley, where Asan and Usan emanate grand majesty, we could not resist temptation. We set up base camp with our sights on the 900m golden-granite northwest face of Asan.

We battled intestinal aliens while climbing easy pitches to a big ledge 250m up. That’s where the spiciest part of the route began. Four consistent ropelengths of off-width challenged my old skills, learned when I was living in Yosem- ite. Nothing better than being 25m above the belay, walking a fully spread cam that is probably only good enough to hold itself. Although my brother had jumared before, he’d never had to deal alone with logistics. I led all the pitches; he belayed, cleaned, and dealt with hauling issues for the first time.

On two pitches we found ancient rivets and remnants that could have been hemp rope. Once we got higher, we traversed left to splitters. From this point the climb appeared to be on untouched stone. There was some basic A2 coral digging, but two of the pitches were among the best 5.11s I have experienced. We fixed six pitches, then took a few rest days through rainy weather. We still had around 450m to go to the top.

We started just before dawn, taking only one liter of water each. After 20 hours we found a nice ledge, where we each ate two inches of summer sausage, curled up in fetal positions, and shivered like cartoon characters until dawn. We had no bivouac gear, and the temperature was below 0°C. Next day we made the summit a few hours after the sun reached us. When we reached the top, where we took pictures in our Year of the Dog masks, we had been gone 35 hours from our high point.

It was clear that trying to rappel the route would be too risky. Ropes would inevitably get stuck and pull loose flakes onto us. Late that night, 15 hours after we had reached the top, we found ourselves in a gully that led to the valley floor. From the summit we’d made 17 new rappel stations down an untouched section of the wall on the side of the mountain opposite to that we’d climbed. I was in a paranoid state for the entire time. I knew if we got our ropes stuck, we were basically fucked. It was Russian Roulette every time we pulled the ropes. From our high point it had taken us 50 hours to summit and get down. Our climb had 21 pitches and rated 5.11 A2.

Mike Libecki, AAC

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