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Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Pamir Alai, Karavshin, Kara-su valley, Asan, Northwest Face

Kara-su valley, Asan, northwest face, The Hammer and Sickle and a free ascent of an existing aid line. During July and August, a team of four Australian climbers, Steve Anderton, Julian Bell, David Gliddon and Kent Jensen, spent 40 days living and climbing on the huge northwest face of Asan (4,230m). While climbing lines on the wall, we raised money for the charity Project Dare. Members of the public pledged cash, based on the number of hours the team spent on the wall. For the duration of our climbing period we were supported by three Australian climbers and two locals, who tirelessly brought food and water to a camp a few pitches up the face.

The approach, in an ex- Soviet truck via the dusty town of Osh, was incredibly taxing. The team faced endless roadblocks by gun-toting soldiers demanding bribes. These ranged from money to vodka and cigarettes. A washed out road extended the approach and caused the team to spend three days on horseback before arriving at base camp. However, a clever maneuver by an interpreter avoided the $10 per day protection fee administered by a wandering contingent from the Kyrgyz army.

The four of us initially summited the wall in a relaxed style, taking 16 days and using plenty of fixed rope. Our climb was rated A3+ 5.10+ and we established a rappel route with the aim of free climbing and filming the line. To our surprise, it was not an original route, as we discovered an array of decrepit Soviet hardware [apart from a more direct start and a couple of variation pitches along the way, the line was the same as the 1986 Pogorelov Route, with the 1986 Moros finish, 6A—Ed.]. The climb featured excellent bivouac ledges every 200m, with each able to accommodate at least five people. Portaledges were only used for comfort and convenience.

After a few days’ rest at our advanced base camp on a vast, comfortable ledge at 150m, we began free climbing and filming the route. To our surprise we managed to free most pitches first try. The climbing was of excellent quality, with soaring cracks and plentiful features. The solid pinkish granite sucked up natural gear and only nine protection bolts were used during the entire climb. After nine or so pitches the angle increased, giving six steep, wildly exposed pitches of 5.11+ crack and face climbing. After a rest at the luxurious Camp 4, we traversed right and climbed another 10 or so pitches of mainly 5.10-5.11 to the summit.

The resulting climb is a superb 25-pitch (many 60m in length) line at 5.11d. The quality is excellent, the rock good and the bolted belays provide a continuous rappel line. With fantastic bivouac ledges and a sustained level of difficulty, this is surely one of the best, moderate, big wall free routes in the world. Oh, and did I mention that it hardly rained and the temperature hovered around 25°C?

Later, over eight long days, Julian Bell and David Gliddon climbed a steeper line on the face to the right. The Hammer and Sickle (VII A4 5.11) was completed in capsule style, featured a 30m pendulum, and had two huge roofs, including a 70m A3+ arch that I felt was the greatest pitch of my life. The route featured substantial sections of hooking and copperhead- ing up a very steep section of the wall [the route uses a few of the lower pitches of the 1988 6B Russiaev Route, before a pendulum left leads to the left slanting arch. Higher, it rejoins the Russiaev for two more pitches. Where the original route swings left, a direct line is followed to the summit ridge]. The route gave around 1,300m of climbing and a small video of the ascent can be found on YouTube at: http://youtube.com/watch?v=SUWSx2x9FgE

Our base camp manager, Glen Foley, and Kyrgyz climber “crazy” Alex climbed a line up Yellow Wall on the opposite side of the valley. Over three days they retrieved bullet-riddled gear and a portaledge abandoned by the Caldwell-Dickey-Rodden-Smith party in 2000, when they were kidnapped. In the last week of the expedition Steve Anderton went back to the summit of Asan with “crazy” Alex, and on our 40th day jumped from the top in a wingsuit.

Julian Bell, Australia