Karakol region, Pik Slonenok, north face; Pik Karakolski, north face; Dzhigit, north face. The Terskey Ala-Too runs for 300km along the southern edge of Lake Issyk Kul. Its highest summits are located by the Karakol Valley. The range used to be a venue for mountaineering championships in the former Soviet Union, but the Soviets weren’t so keen on climbing ice and escaped onto rock faces wherever possible. Today there are many incredible virgin ice lines.
The range is also well known for rapid changes in weather. Although the majority of the annual precipitation falls at the end of spring, and the weather in July and August is considered relatively stable, frequent thun derstorms with snowfall are common during summer. September is the most stable month but is cold, with short days. The town of Karakol is the starting point for climbs in the Karakol Valley, with relatively good 4WD roads leading into the massif.
I first visited the area in 2004, trekking around Karakol and admiring the 1,500m north face of Pik Karakolski (5,280m), which became the main objective for Simon Slejko and me in 2005. However, bad weather forced us to change plans; large quantities of fresh snow on the north faces of Pik Karakolski and Dzhigit (5,170m) forced us to acknowledge that climbing would be too dangerous. When the skies finally cleared, we decided to go for a consolation prize, the north face of Pik Slonenok (4,728m). This gave a potentially classic ice route, with 700m of good névé, vertical steps, and an exposed, corniced summit ridge. The climb took nine hours on August 7. We required a further four hours to downclimb and rappel the Normal Route. We named the new line Amor Therapeutica and graded it TD+ (V/5).
Unfinished business saw my return in 2006. This time Simon and I were accompanied by Andrej Erceg and Dejan Miskovic. On our first acclimatization trips we found that, even in the Tien Shan, global warming has changed proud ice faces into a burial ground for seracs. But ice conditions on Pik Karakolski and Dzhigit seemed good, and we turned our attention to our first goal, the north face of Karakolski.
We traveled light, not taking a tent or making food dumps above base camp. A few minutes after midnight on August 11 we started up the obvious 900m snaking couloir on Karakolski’s north face. We found excellent 60-75° ice and climbed unroped, except for the last 100m, which were quasivertical. We descended the Normal Route on the west ridge over tricky ground, reaching base camp that evening. We named our route Expresso (900m, TD+ V/5).
The next day Andrej and Dejan climbed a parallel line to the left on the same face, a long icefield cut by two vertical ice steps, each one pitch long. Toward the top they worked right to finish at more or less the same point as we did. Around midday they joined the west ridge, which Dejan followed to the summit. The pair bivouacked on the On Tor glacier and returned to base camp on the 13th. They named their route Frappuccino Kir- gizzo (900m, TD+ V/5+). The same day Simon and I inspected the north face of Dhizgit and were amazed by the number of continuous ice runnels on the right side of the wall. However, access to the headwall appeared to be threatened by a 300m-high serac barrier.
The weather now became unstable for the rest of the trip, but on the 22nd all four of us left a relatively comfortable bivouac at On Tor Pass and started up a huge couloir, which promised a relatively safe passage through the far right side of the serac barrier on Dhizgit’s north face. By early morning we had made an exit from this ice trap, had a short break on the mid-height snowfield, and begun the steep headwall. Although the entire runnel on the headwall is steep, major difficulties were presented at mid-height by a 60m vertical corner with unconsolidated snow and poor protection. In the upper section the weather rapidly deteriorated, and climbing became a run for life through spindrift avalanches. After almost 17 hours of nonstop climbing, we reached the corniced ridge, dug a small ledge, and survived an uncomfortable freezing bivouac. In the morning we climbed the final few meters to the summit, where in excellent weather we enjoyed breathtaking views over countless peaks, many of them still unclimbed. We descended the Normal Route. We named our route Tretje oko (The Third Eye; 1,200m, ED2 VI/6).
Andrej Magajne, Slovenia