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Great Walls of China, East Face, Quantum of Solace

After two failed attempts with Wolfgang Russegger and Thomas Senf during our 2010 expedition to the southeast face of Kyzyl Asker (5,842m), I knew I’d go back. I would not have chosen the steep 1,200m line, with a variety of difficult ice and rock sections tried by many alpinists without success, were it not a real test of both my climbing skills and mental strength. But after a long winter trip to Scotland, months of endurance training, and a fast ascent of Mont Blanc, I felt perfectly prepared for the endeavor.

On our trip through Kyrgyzstan to base camp, I was accompanied by my 11-year-old son Emanuel. We lived modestly with nomads for several weeks, which was such a fulfilling experience. My friends Wolfgang Kurz and photographer Franz Walter accompanied us on our travels. Exploring Kyrgyzstan while riding on a horse with my son was a wonderful, intense experience.

In my luggage I brought a paraglider, flying recently having become a new passion. Getting a bird’s eye view of the landscape, after climbing a mountain, and peacefully gliding down to the valley like a soaring bird is a wonderful combination. Wolfi and I climbed many mountains just so we could paraglide and land in front of our yurt camp.

We met my climbing partners, Charly Fritzer and Wolfgang Russegger, at the start of September. Already acclimatized, I was euphoric when they arrived, due to the joy of seeing them plus the anticipation of climbing the mountain.

Just before reaching base camp our enthusiasm came to a halt when our truck got stuck in swamps for several days. Intense rainfall had soaked the tracks, and there was no possibility of continuing our ride. Twenty km and 1,000m of altitude separated us from our proposed base camp site below Kyzyl Asker. Transporting our gear to the base of the mountain on foot would be an enormous challenge, but at the last minute our driver managed to free the truck. Wolfi and Franz left with my son; the pain of parting was almost unbearable. It’s a pain that normally fades when the task at hand begins, but I was condemned to idleness.

My two partners became sick at camp. At an altitude of 4,000m and with the cold preventing a speedy recovery, we began the tiresome job of transporting material to advanced base. It took 10 days.

A weather check with Karl Gabl in Innsbruck promised a few days of stable high pressure, so at 4 a.m. on September 12 we began our ascent of the steep ice route. At 10 a.m., at nearly 5,300m, we reached the only feasible bivouac site. With the sun starting to melt the ice and the threat of severe ice fall, we decided to wait till the following morning, but when Charly showed signs of cerebral edema onset, we rappelled immediately.

He recovered at advanced base, but with health problems weakening the whole team, I had to accept that another attempt on the mountain of my dreams was not practicable. Should we quit and go home? No! We looked for an alternative, a reward for all our efforts. We found solace on the Great Walls of China, which rise 600m from the unnamed glacier south of Kyzyl Asker. There we discovered a very steep ice line. Wolfi and I began at first light. Steep and overhanging sections of ice and rock, with tricky protection, required all my psychological strength and climbing skills. Fragile ice pillars, overhanging rock/mixed sections alternated with waist-deep powder, where we found little stability With great concentration I reached the crest of the watershed ridge shortly after 11 a.m. Satisfied, I belayed Wolfi, who emerged smiling. We named our route Quantum of Solace (14 pitches, WI7+ M7).

On the 29th, just before the onset of winter, the truck reached us. We drove back to civilization through a fierce snowstorm, back to a long-awaited warm shower. Franz Walter made a film of our trip to base camp: Tyndýk, Reise durch Kirgistan. See tyndyk.com for background information and trailers.

Ines Papert, Germany, ines-papert.de

[Editor’s note: The highest point of the Great Walls, 5,186m, is its northernmost summit. The only previous route climbed on the east face is Border Control (13 pitches, ED2, WI5 Scottish VII/VIII mixed, A1, Robertson-Tresidder, 2004; see AAJ 2005). This lies on the more southerly, lower section of the walls, following a steep, icy chimney and two snow patches to the end of the hard climbing, where the pair terminated the route just below the watershed ridge. It was dark, they had dropped their water at the base of the climb, they had no stove, and the main summit on this section of the Walls was a long way up to the left.

Quantum of Solace, which reached the ridge, starts up the same initial snow slopes as Border Control but then takes a recessed line to the right, facing more or less east. Border Control faces more northeast. The prize of reaching one of the main summits of the Great Walls awaits future parties.]