American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mur Samir (5,035m), Northeast Ridge, Pik Karyshkyr (4,836m), Ten Pin, False Peak (4,801m), West Face

Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Tien Shan, Torugart-Too

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Adam Russell
  • Climb Year: 2010
  • Publication Year: 2011

The Torugart-Too is a range of glaciated peaks rising to 5,000m on the border between Kyrgyzstan and China. There have been few expeditions, but the highest peak, Mustyr (5,108m), was first climbed in 2007 by Barney Harford and Pat Littlejohn. From July 22-August 12, John Proctor, Robert Taylor, and I from Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club visited Kyrgyzstan, spending 12 days in the range and making three first ascents.

We knew that the recent revolution and riots in Kyrgyzstan might cause problems, and when we boarded the flight to Bishkek in July, it was suspiciously empty. On our first day in the capital we were picked up by local police and taken to the station, but they only wanted to check our paperwork and search us for knives. Soon, with the help of our agency, ITMC, we were driving south. A few days later we established base camp in the Mustyr Valley opposite Middle Sister.

While two of us climbed, the third would remain at base camp the entire time to guard against inquisitive locals, who showed a keen interest in our gear. I took the first shift while John and Robert headed up the Three Sisters, first climbed in 2008 (AAJ 2009), for a reconnaissance of the unnamed glacier east of Mustyr. Next day I made a quick ascent of the Sisters while John and Robert packed for a bivouac below their objective at the head of the glacier.

John writes: “Mur Samir was climbed by the northeast ridge. Prior to the ascent the only information we had about the mountain was the map, and a few glimpses through partial breaks in the cloud while acclimatising on Big Sister. We observed that the main north face had a number of séracs, so opted to climb a broad couloir at the eastern edge, and then follow the ridge above to the summit. Easy ground in the couloir led to the ridge, and in the mist we chose the wrong couloir, resulting in a long traverse to reach the summit. Most of the crest was pleasant and spectacular, but in places we had to negotiate thin and rotten (but thankfully not steep) ice, and scramble over rock like Weetabix. By the time we neared the summit the weather had cleared, and we could see down the north face. It was obvious that there was ample space toward the eastern end to climb the face while staying clear of the séracs, so we descended this way over easy ground. With a GPS we recorded an altitude of 4,419m at the base of our route, and 5,035m (slightly higher than the 5,008m recorded on the Russian Military Map) on the summit.” The ascent was AD and Scottish II, while the easier descent PD and Scottish I.

Mur is a Kyrghyz word for marmot (the range is overrun by these rodents), while the full name is a play on words; Mir Samir is a peak in the Nuristan region of Afghanistan, made famous by Eric Newby in his classic book, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.

On the next day, I walked with Robert to the foot of a fine northwest face on a peak immediately north of Mustyr. There, we watched sizeable rock- fall sweep the entire lower section of the route. We changed plans and the following day attempted a couloir on the eastern side of the mountain. This gave several hundred meters of technically easy but tiring climbing through wet snow. Rocks bounced down frequently as we “ran” from one sheltering rock to the next, eventually skirting the cornice and landing on the col. At first we moved north, climbing on thin ice over scree, but then decided to attempt the south summit instead. We climbed up snow slopes and ice runnels, and past chossy towers, to reach the top. With the cloud closing, we raced back down the now very slushy gully, and wandered back to the tent for a brew before walking out. We named the summit Pik Karyshkyr (Kyrgyz for wolf), and the route Ten Pin (PD+ and Scottish I).

For our final climb John and I wanted to try the unclimbed 5,000m peak northeast of Mur Samir, but the river had risen significantly, forcing a rethink. Instead, we moved up the Teke-Lutor Glacier, looking for an objective. On the east rim an ice field swept up to a summit south of Pik Helen. It looked promising. After a night on the moraine, an alpine start saw us trudging up the lower snow slope for what we thought would be a quick route. The early sun soon turned the surface ice to slush as we moved together for another 550m (Scottish II) to the ridge. We skirted a melting cornice to reach the “summit,” but then saw the ridge continuing to a slightly but definitely higher point (Pik 4,850m on the Russian map). Without adequate gear to bivouac, we made the tough decision and headed down—a time consuming, cold, and tiring affair, given our lightweight approach. We named the summit False Pik and graded our route on the west face AD. We walked out the next day, planning to look at a possible 300–600m rock route on the west face of Big Sister, but the weather closed in, and we were left to develop the limestone boulders at base camp instead.

Locals converged to celebrate our departure, determined to get us to hand over kit. Despite our friendly but firm refusal, we woke next morning to find that seven meters had been cut from the end of my rope. Photographs from the British expedition [see next report], gave evidence that it had been recycled into horse reins. We were supported by a Mountaineering Council of Scotland Bursary from Sport Scotland, and the Scottish Mountaineering Trust/Sang Award. They made this expedition possible.

Adam Russell, UK

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