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Asia, Krygyzstan, Tien Shan, Kuilu Range, Kuilu, Various Ascents; Sun Kul Canyon, Various Ascents

Kuilu, various ascents; Sun Kul Canyon, various ascents. This was the International School of Mountaineering’s second trip to the Kuilu range, the first being in 2000, when we explored the Karator Glacier and its surrounding peaks. Our 2009 trip focused on the Bardytor valley immediately to the east, where records showed that only one peak had been climbed.

We set up base camp at the start of the valley and explored both branches of the glacier. We then split into two teams: Dean Clifford, Tomasz Dudek, Laura Plackett, and Stephen Taylor, with guide Adrian Nelhams; and Roger Elmer, Neil Lindsey, Brad Smith, John Vlasto, and Cindy Walters, with guides Vladimir Komissarov and me. We established two advanced base camps, Adrian’s team at 4,020m on the eastern branch of the glacier and my team at 4,050m on the western branch.

Adrian’s team was first to move up. Poor weather worsened to a heavy dump of snow. In spite of this they climbed to a shoulder at 4,500m on Pik 5,020m. Next day, in clearer but blustery conditions, they reached the summit, which they named Ak Sakal. It was a fine effort in difficult snow conditions. After a day’s rest, they climbed a lower but more technical summit (Bakshi, 4,434m), before returning to base camp.

Meanwhile, my team climbed a small peak above advanced base in poor weather, after which a fine day gave us Pik Koopsyz (4,755m). Koopsyz means “safe” in Kyrgyz, and it was the only objective without serious avalanche danger. The plan was then to attempt an unclimbed 5,000er, but further heavy snowfall made conditions even more hazardous, so we decided to return to base camp and undertake the second part of the plan: Son Kul Canyon.

Son Kul was opened as a climbing area in 2008, when ISM teams climbed four routes from British HVS to E2, the longest being ca 10 pitches. This year we achieved bigger and better things, both ISM and the British team of Dave Barlow and Geoff Hornby. These ascents established Son Kul Canyon as the prime area for rock climbing in Kyrgyzstan.

Adrian’s team climbed the north ridge (British HVS) of the 3,450m peak forming the east side of the canyon. This ridge links with a ridge he had climbed previously, making a route of more than 800m. Cindy, Brad, Neil, and I, followed by a second team of John and Roger, climbed the 600m ridge of Friendly Buttress (UIAA V-), a potential classic taking the easiest route from the canyon floor. The next objective for Adrian’s team was the steeper, more compact buttress to the left of Friendly Buttress. This gave the fantastic Manaschi Rib (British HVS), a 14-pitch route, which Adrian declared was the best rock climb he had ever done. John, Neil, and I now turned to the untouched east-facing side of the canyon, wading the river to climb the huge spur running up to the highest point. Though not sustained, Eastern Spine gave some interesting British 5a pitches and serious climbing on a loose headwall.

Vladimir had been exploring another canyon to the west of Son Kul, and this gave John and me our final route, the impressive groove of Striker (E2 5c), while Adrian rounded off the trip by climbing a small pinnacle in the canyon, on immaculate limestone, at E1. We left more impressed than ever with Son Kul Canyon and eager, as always, for our next trip to Kyrgyzstan.

Pat Littlejohn, Alpine Club