Qong Mustagh massif, circumnavigation, reconnaissance. Our five-man team of Vasilyi Ivanov, Edmundas Jonikas, Alexander Moiseev, Tadeush Schepanyuk, and I arrived in the village of Polu on September 9. Polu is situated on the Kourab-darja River, a tributary of the Kerija on the northern slopes of the Kun Lun. With a team of donkeys and two local guides, we moved south through the Kourab Gorge, after which we crossed two high passes to the east, the Is-dawan (5,140m) and Tourpaata-dawan. We then traversed the large dry plateau of Goubaylkk, and, after six days and 100km, made a camp next to the clear waters of the Aksu, a major tributary of the Kerija. The passage through the gorge was well-described by Mark Newcomb in AAJ 1997, p. 129. I had also traveled through it on my 2003 and 2005 expeditions (AAJ 2006, pp. 438-440). Our feelings about overcoming this obstacle were no different from those of the old explorers who had passed this way: Grabzhevskyi, Przhevalskyi, and Stein.
The two guides said goodbye and left for Polu with the donkeys. Our plan was first to acclimatize in the ice-capped rocky massif to the north (5,964m or 6,198m on Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission data), then move northeast to the northern slopes of the Qong Mustagh (a.k.a. Muztag) massif. However, Moiseev suddenly developed characteristic signs of altitude sickness, and it was imperative that he descend. Moiseev’s illness came as a surprise, considering his considerable high altitude experience. Jonikas accompanied him back to Polu, leaving only Ivanov, Schepanyuk, and me to continue. We had to split the essential equipment and food between the three of us, resulting in the initial weight of our rucksacks being around 55kg (28-30kg at the end of the trip). We abandoned the idea of inspecting the territory to the north and proceeded directly to Qong Mustagh.
The Kun Lun Range to the west of Qong Mustagh takes the form of a huge arc. Maps and space shuttle images depict large glaciers. This remote range has rarely been visited, but in 2000 a Japanese expedition climbed the west (6,920m) and lower top of Qong Mustagh, a double-summited peak situated northwest of the main crest (AAJ 2001, pp. 406-407). According to SRTM, the east summit is 6,950m. The Japanese approached from the north and the village of Kyantokai, following the footsteps of Captain Deasy, who came this way in 1898.
Hidden farther to the east lies the unclimbed Pk. 6,946m. The map shows a valley leading southeast into the heart of the range toward 6,946m, and we decided to investigate. However, the river led to a narrow gorge, which we penetrated as far as 5,000m before being stopped. We retreated and moved around the northern and then eastern side of the range, crossing a pass of 5,800m, which we named after the Russian Geographical Society and which gave splendid views north to the 6,743m Lushtagh Ridge. We then turned south. The going was quite straightforward, but there were constant dust storms and nighttime temperatures of -22°C.
We then worked our way west around the southern slopes of the range, seeing at close quarters peaks of 6,300m-6,600m, which appeared straightforward climbing objectives, though we had no time to make any attempts. We crossed our highest pass, 5,890m, just south of the westernmost extremity of the range, and headed north, crossing a snow-covered glacier and more passes, before reaching Aksu and the Kerija River. Here we joined our outward route, which we retraced to Polu, meeting local people only when we were 5km from the finish. The three of us had spent 35 days making a clockwise circumnavigation of the Qong Mustagh massif, a roundtrip from Polu of 550km. We had only caught glimpses of the hidden 6,946m, but I plan to return in the autumn of 2007, as I now know the way to reach it.
Otto Chkhetiani, Russia