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Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Western Kokshaal-too, Kotur Glacier, Pik Judith-Brian, South Ridge; Nomad Domes, Various Ascents; Son Kul Canyon, New Rock Climbing Area

Kotur glacier, Pik Judith-Brian, south ridge; Nomad Domes, various ascents; Son Kul Canyon, new rock climbing area. The International School of Mountaineering (ISM) organized its regular expedition to the Tien Shan. It proved a successful trip, despite our not achieving our main objective, Pik Byeliy (Grand Poohbah, 5,697m). With guides Adrian Nelhams and Vladimir Komissarov and members James Bruton, Anthony Froud, Neville Howarth, Leif Iversen, Simon Liebling, Jacki Liebling, Gareth Read, and Stephen Taylor, I set up base camp below the Kotur Glacier in the same spot I had used 10 years earlier, a perfect campsite at 3,950m. Glacier recession was striking; in the intervening period the retreat appeared to be several hundred meters. Our plan was to establish an advanced base as far up the Kotur as possible, climb a couple of peaks to acclimatize, and traverse the head of the next glacier to the east, the Nalvikin, to reach the base of Byeliy.

The camp was on the east side of the Kotur below Pik Judith-Brian (5,050m), a nice snowy summit climbed on the 1999 ISM expedition. Its south ridge was unclimbed and looked attractive, so my group made the first ascent via the easiest line, at PD+. The remaining climbers reached the Kotur Pass at the head of the glacier and climbed the adjacent Pik Pyra- mida (5,140m) via the northwest ridge, repeating the line of our 1999 ascent (PD), and almost certainly that of the Russians who made the first ascent in the 1980s.Not long after, Adrian’s team climbed the south ridge of Judith-Brian by a more direct line, going straight over a huge gendarme that my team had outflanked. This gave a stiffer route, at AD+. However, the weather was beginning to deteriorate, and my group had to work hard for an ascent of Pik Pyramida in hostile conditions, experiencing severe crosswinds on the summit ridge.

Repeated heavy snowfalls then pinned us at camp, until it became unlikely that conditions in the mountains would improve sufficiently to achieve any of our planned objectives. Instead, we retreated before deciding to visit a couple of lower-lying destinations, where we could guarantee some climbing. The first of these was Nomad Domes near the hot sulfur springs of Arashan. The Domes were opened for climbing by ISM in 2001 and are in a lovely area of “classic” Kyrgyz nomad life, open pasture dotted with yurts. We feasted on local produce (fresh flatbread, cream, yogurt, and cheese balls) and enjoyed excellent rock climbing. Existing routes were up to three pitches long, and we added three more from British VS to E2, but many unclimbed lines remain.

We then continued toward Bishkek, and, after covering around half the distance, discovered Son Kul Canyon, with limestone hills with the potential for alpine rock routes up to 700m long. We put up four routes on good rock, from British HVS to E2, the longest 12 pitches. We were excited by the discovery of this area, which has the greatest potential of any rock climbing venue yet found in Kyrgyzstan. An idyllic campsite beside a river added to the experience and guaranteed that we will re-visit Son Kul on our next expedition.

Pat Littlejohn, Alpine Club