In late July, after climbing the Ibex Horn [see Afghanistan section], I flew from Kabul to Urumqi, then on to Aksu, where I met local Chinese friends (liaison officer and driver). We drove for a full day to a final military check point at Akqi. I had been here a few times before, so the logistics were simple. Or so I thought. The checkpoint refused my stamped, official permission papers that I had obtained. Because my chosen mountain area is close to the Kyrgyzstan border, they would not allow me to continue. I was told I would have to meet the military person in charge of the region, an eight-hour drive away Major frustration; eternal optimism; all good things in all good time. I had a little over two weeks for the entire trip.
We drove to the military leader, but he denied me permission. But my friend, the liaison officer from previous expeditions, had married recently, and his wife happened to have family in the military, and they happened to be from this same area. He called his wife, she made some calls, and the next day I had permission. The story is long and has to do with the Chinese Secret Service. Amazing how things work out with optimism.
We returned to Akqi, and the same day I trekked toward the mountains, using a horse to carry my equipment. I now had nine days left. Two days later I was at 4,250m, with the primary aim of reconnoitering a couple of valleys I’d seen on a previous trip. I spent two days cruising dry glaciers up to 4,900m and, yes, found endless granite alpine towers. Five days before I had to meet my driver, I decided to give Pik Byeliy a shot. It had denied Jerry Dodrill, Doug and Jed Workman, and me in 2000, when we attempted the southwest spur (AAJ 2001).
From a camp above 4,900m, I ascended a dry glacier with easily navigable crevasses, then reached and climbed easy terrain up the northwest ridge, the border with Kyrgyzstan. Above 5,300m I had to traverse a series of steep slopes to gain the main ridge leading to the summit. Avalanche conditions and scary seracs above made it too risky, and although tempted, I forced myself to turn back. A few hours later it started snowing, hard. I reached my tent by headlamp as the wind kicked in.
Snow continued for almost three days. This was worrying, as I was surrounded by crevasses. But on the first sunny day snow cover on the glaciers quickly began to melt. I managed to find a way through, setting only two anchors as a precaution. Embarrassingly, I fell into one narrow crevasse, though with no serious consequence. I admit it was quite frightening walking among the giant, lurking monster-mouth crevasses, which were ready to swallow me whole.
Mike Libecki, AAC