In August, as part of a Mammut Team Trip, I joined Austrian David Lama and Swiss Giovanni Quirici and Stephan Siegrist, and with photographer Rainer Eder, filmmaker Christoph Frutiger, and expedition organizer Robert Steiner (Germany) made a trip to the Karavshin.
After flying to Batkin and continuing by road, we trekked three days to reach base camp in the Kara-su, where we found other expeditions, mostly Russian and Ukrainian. We wanted to open a new free route on the 900m northwest face of Asan and spotted a potential line in the middle of the wall. However, after two pitches we retreated. As one of the Russians later explained, all possible routes on this wall have been climbed; away from existing lines the rock is shit. But the man gave us good advice on possibilities for free-climbing established routes, so we changed our objective to the Timofeev Route. [Editor’s note: It was first climbed during the 1988 Soviet Championships, as primarily an aid climb, and given the hardest Russian grade of 6B. Later it became relatively popular and was downgraded to 6A. Some of the aid was eventually eliminated to give technical difficulties of F7a and A3 on sound rock.]
After two-three intro pitches, the next four pitches, on steep slabs, were hard, and had originally been climbed with Bathooks. Old Soviet 5mm bolts were in place. As there were no real cracks, we added new ones, side by side. With one exception there was no additional drilling on previously unbolted ground (bolts were added at belays and the route equipped for a rappel descent, but the standard of aid climbing will not have changed). This section proved to be the crux. Above, we continued up a fantastic series of cracks, fixing a total of 10 pitches before making our final attempt.
At base camp the alarm sounded at 1 a.m. We made the one-and-a-half-hour approach to the foot of the route, jumared 500m, and at 6 a.m., first light, we set off on the remaining pitches. Our idea was to redpoint every pitch, and this proved not to be so difficult, as the maximum grade was 7b, and the cracks and protection were supersolid. Lama, Quirici, Siegrist, and I reached the summit at 2 p.m.
We walked east to the Ak-su valley, where a large group of climbers from Geneva was based. Leading through on the Perestroika Crack, Giovanni and I on-sighted every pitch. Stephan teamed with one of the Geneva climbers, Sébastien Pochon, as David had returned home, led the entire route, and on-sighted every pitch: the first one-day on-sight. We reached the summit in about eight hours, an effort that left me destroyed. There is still much potential in this region for aspiring free climbers, due to the climber-friendly granite—a climber’s Eldorado as Saladin once described it.
Nina Caprez, Switzerland, with additional material from Robert Steiner, Germany
[Editor's note: The single crack splitting the west face of the Russian Tower is one of the world's classic big-wall free routes. Put up in 1991 by four Frenchmen at 7a and A2, with much of the climbing at around 6c, it can be climbed in anything from 18 to 24 pitches. Two years later it was climbed by Francois Pallandre, with only one pitch of aid, at 7a/7b. In 1995, in a single push of 28 hours, Greg Child and Lynn Hill freed it at 7b. The first on-sight was likely made in 2006 by Adam and Pawel Pustelnik, with Slawek Syndecki, though in a much longer time than the Swiss.]