Inspired by impressive photographs of Pik Granitsa, provided by Paul Knott, who visited this area in 2005 (AAJ 2006), Michal Kasprowicz, Wojtek Ryczer, and I attempted peaks around the head of the Fersmana Glacier in the central section of the Western Kokshaal-too. We were aware that with limited time and finances our chances of success were modest, but we took the risk in order to have an adventure.
On August 20th we reached the snout of the Kotur Glacier, which was as far east as our driver would take us, and set up base camp. On the 23rd we reached the foot of the divide between the Fersmana and Sarychat Glaciers, where Michal twisted his ankle so badly that he was unable to walk. We established a temporary camp, and Wojtek and I spent the next few days ferrying loads from base. On the 30th we moved camp onto the Fersmana Glacier, and the following day Wojtek and I climbed the northwest face of Pik Plaza to its virgin north summit. [Editor’s note: In 2008 two Slovenians made the first ascent of this peak, which lies on the east side of the glacier opposite Byiely, by the southwest couloir and west ridge. See AAJ 2009. The peak has two distinct tops: the Slovenians reached the south top, which is separated from the north by a deep col] Our new route, which we named Z-K, is 600m high, with snow and ice at 60°, two pitches of 70° hard ice on the rightward diagonal traverse, and an 80° gully. We descended our line by rappel, mostly from Abalakovs.
In order to meet our return transport at Kotur base camp, we had to leave the Fersmana no later than September 5. We decided to attempt Pik Granitsa immediately, planning the line by studying a photo on our camera’s display. On September 2 we woke at 3 a.m. to heavy snowfall. However, by 6 a.m. the weather seemed perfect, so we hurried to the base of the climb and began the route at 11 a.m. As we had time for just one attempt, we opted for a line much farther right, which we felt offered greater chance of success. We climbed until dark, overcoming the two hardest pitches (AI5/5+), then after a memorably cold and windy bivouac without sleeping bags, continued up moderate ground (AI4 and M4, with a short section of M5) to reach the corniced ridge, which we followed to the summit. That second day snowfall was heavy, so we stayed on top just 15 minutes. We downclimbed the ridge and then rappeled directly to the glacier using Abalakovs. We regained the tent just before midnight on the 3rd and returned to Kotur base camp with Michal over the next two days.
This was the first ascent of Granitsa and we named our route Nordic Walking, as this activity seemed to be our main occupation during the expedition. The north face is 800m high, but our route was far longer due to its convoluted line. The Fersmana still offers ample opportunity for worthwhile first ascents. We thank the Polish Mountaineering Association (PZA) for financial support, and all the good people who helped with information on the area.
Rafal “Waldorf” Zajak, PZA