American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Tien Shan, Jamantau and Fergana Ranges, Crossings and First Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Jamantau and Fergana ranges, crossings and first ascents. On the 5th of July Katya Ananyeva, Dmitry Martynenko, and I left Osh, heading to explore the Jamantau and southern Fergana ranges. Neither place had any record of previous climbing activity, even during Soviet time. After a day-long drive from Osh, we started our trek from the small village of Jergetal. Hiking from west to east along the northern side of the Jamantau Range we acclimatized by climbing the snowy peak Chontash East (4,553m, N 40°54'59.64?, E 74°25'48.60?), approaching the upper slopes via the small glacier coming through the gate between rock walls (III, 50–60°, Russian 3A). The bergschrund was still filled with snow. We tired of waiting for good weather under challenging Mt. Kamasu, but several days later we climbed rocky Mt. Kremen (4,351m, N 40°54'36.24?, E 74°39' 17.70?) via the broad east ridge. This day-long route had a single 5.9 crux, with the rest rated 5.5/5.6. We had to belay the first four pitches up to the crux, and then moved simultaneously, placing pro every 10–20 meters. We descended along the same east ridge. All the mountains in the Jamantau Range are composed of good rock with a rough surface. The peaks are in the 4,500–4,800m range, with climbing starting around 3,700–3,900m. There are lots of small glaciers and smooth ice tongues, providing numerous moderate (50–75°) routes to the summits from their northern sides. Climbing one of them took Dmitry half a day. Eight pitches of 60–70° ice, followed by big crevasses, led two of us to the broad summit of Peak Ak-Jaman (4,488m, N 40°54'24.78?, E 74°49'43 20?). One more hour of walking east down the scree slopes, and we were back to our tent. The southern side of the range doesn’t have glaciers, instead consisting of rock faces and extensive fields of scree. The name “Jamantau” comes from the great difficulties of crossing seemingly simple passes. The valleys become narrow and canyon-like in the middle, while their lower parts are wide, flat, and green, with occasional summer yurts of Kyrgyz, happy to ply anybody with kumis (fermented mare’s milk) until delirium sets in. After crossing the Jamantau Range, we found ourselves in the vast expanse of the Arpa Valley. We had to walk south for 50km to reach the Torugart-Too. As it sits near the border between Kyrgyzstan and China, a special “frontier spirit” makes the local population less friendly to visitors. Even with valid papers from the Kyrgyz border authorities, we had to argue for two hours with locals to continue farther. The mountains in the southern part of the Fergana Range consist of brittle schist, producing large fields of scree and making rock-climbing out of the question. Luckily, there are lots of glaciers of different steepness and size, due to moist air masses regularly coming from the west. (We had rain every second day.) Standing on a crest of the range, one sees green hills of waist-deep grass on one side and brown dry desert of the Arpa Valley on other side. Profuse vegetation makes an unused trail soon disappear. We climbed only two summits here, the first being Peak 4,818m (on the Russian military map). The climb along the east ridge was an unroped walk in knee-deep snow, deposited the day before. We named the peak Haokan North (4,848m by GPS, N 40°32'51.84?, E 74°37'26.70?). Then we approached Peak 4,893, which apparently is the highest in the Fergana Range and, according to a geographic encyclopedia, is named Uch-Seit. The glaciers were big and fat, reminding us of the Zaalay Range. We set up camp at the base of the icy north face (4,350m). There was a bridge over the bergschrund, then a strip of rocks that kept us from getting lost in the fog while we climbed seven pitches of 70° ice alongside it. The upper ridge was not steep, but crevassed, and I managed to fall through before reaching the corniced summit of Uch-Seit (4,905m, N 40°42'26.04?, E 74°21'14.10?). After crossing the Fergana Range by an easy pass (Russian 1B) to the north of Uch-Seit, we had to reach well-populated Oital Valley. It took five days and involved another two passes, and we built a suspension rope-traverse over the Karakulja River and a driftwood raft to cross Lake Kulun, whose rocky banks are too steep for walking. The raft held no more than two people, so we pulled it in shifts, with occasional rock climbing up to 5.7 or swimming in 10°C water where the rocky banks overhung. This 5km took us a whole day and was the most difficult and scary passage in the entire 26-day, 300km journey.

Dmitry Shapovalov, AAC

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