Asia, China, Xinjiang, Tien Shan, Xuelian Massif; Yi-ge Feng (4,420m), South Face; Kundi Feng (4,601m), North Face and Northwest Ridge; Huang Jin Feng (4,708m), Southwest Face and South Ridge; Xuelian Northeast (6,231m), West Ridge, Arête of Trust

Publication Year: 2012.

Xuelian Massif; Yi-ge Feng (4,420m), south face; Kundi Feng (4,601m), north face and northwest ridge; Huang Jin Feng (4,708m), southwest face and south ridge; Xuelian Northeast (6,231m), west ridge, Arête of Trust. On July 14, with all our climbing equipment stuck in Urumqi customs, Ales Holc, Igor Kremser, and I began acclimatizing in the Xuelian Massif. With only trekking shoes we were restricted to climbing lower snowless peaks from the south. Northwest from base camp (3,600m) there was a scree-covered peak overlooking the Muzart Glacier where it bends south. We scrambled up its south face to a steeper section and climbed it (UIAA IV) to the scree-covered ridge, which we followed to the summit, where we had a superb overview of the Xuelian Massif, particularly Xuelian Northeast, our main objective. We dubbed the peak Yi-ge Feng (The First Peak). That evening we learned that the cargo had been released, and our agent, Ye Bing (David), was to bring it to base camp in the next few days.

On the 18th we packed more than 30 kg each and moved slowly toward Xuelian Northeast, to set up advanced base. On the second day deteriorating weather stopped us short of our proposed site. On the right side of the glacier, a snow-covered peak, connected to another, higher peak by a long U-shaped ridge, lies north of Xuelian North and Main. Next morning we packed for two days of climbing and after a two-hour approach started up a north facing couloir on the right side of the lower peak. After two hours of climbing 60° snow unroped, we belayed the last, 70° pitch leading to a ridge. Just below the summit we negotiated a delicate, 80° pitch of snow and ice. We dubbed the peak Kundi Feng. (Kundi is Slovene for Smart Guy.) Snow and ice climbing was a smart choice for us after two weeks dealing with cargo logistics.

We pitched a tent just below the top and spent the night there for acclimatization. Next morning we climbed the scree and snow-covered ridge toward the higher, neighboring peak. From the low point of the ridge, we began traversing its left flank but, having no rock-climbing protection, were forced to stick to snow-covered terrain. The south facing couloir leading to the final ridge was completely dry and too steep for a safe ascent. We therefore descended the southeast face (600m, III) to the glacier below Xuelian North and followed it back to the Muzart Glacier and our camp.

On the 22nd, after establishing advanced base below Xuelian Northeast, we returned to base camp for food and rest. With empty packs we completed the 14km in only four hours. On the 24th we returned and moved across the glacier to a peak with a golden southwest face, situated north-northwest of Xuelian Northeast. We spent the night on the moraine and started up the golden wall at 7 a.m. Climbing unroped we reached the top in three hours. The 700m route had difficulties of M4 AI3. We descended a south facing 60°couloir, right of our ascent route, in two hours. We called the mountain Huang Jin Feng (Golden Peak).

Although snow was forecast for the night 26th-27th, there was less than expected, and, as the sun triggered no avalanches, we started up the west ridge of Xuelian Northeast at 3 p.m. The snow was compact and the slopes wide and steep. We simul-climbed 60m apart, using Ropemen on protection points. There was a vertical section before we reached the plateau at the base of the ridge. Another long section up the arête (80° max) took us to the top of a cornice, where we bivouacked. We had a good view of Xuelian Main and noted that the glacier was too broken to allow an approach from the northeast.

Next day we were forced to traverse left (M4), before regaining the ridge. It soon became a knife-edge, and we traversed the right flank, then climbed to a shoulder below the prominent rock section visible from base camp. Smooth slabs covered with fresh snow offered almost no protection (M5), but the overhanging pitch above had perfect protection and simply needed strong muscles (M5+). Ales led this section and the two pitches above to a small shoulder on a knife-edge arête, where we spent two hours chopping out an exposed perch for the tent. After 12 hours climbing we had to spend the night wearing harnesses.

Igor led the first part of the second rock barrier (M4), I led a weakness through the overhanging section (M5+), and Ales continued on mixed terrain and deep snow. The angle eased, and we progressed faster, stopping for the night below the last mixed section on the ridge. The stove failed, leaving us only half a day’s supply of water.

We started early the following day, bypassing the final rock section on the left, and reached the summit from the east at 1:20 p.m., after six hours’ climbing. We started down the unseen southeast face, already covered in mist. We moved together, using ice screw protection. At one point Ales lost a crampon on a 60° slope, but it stopped rolling after 50m. The cloud concealed a huge band of seracs, which we only noticed when we were well below it. In three hours we reached a plateau and were out of its range. We’d been on the go for 14 hours and were exhausted and dehydrated but were in a safe spot.

On our fifth day, again shrouded by mist and guided only by intuition, we rappelled over a serac, made a long traverse east, rappelled again, and finally reached a small but welcome stream on a 60° ice slope. At 4 p.m. we reached the glacier, covered with 30 cm of fresh snow. We embraced, and Ales cried. The 2,000m descent, on which we made only three rappels, involved difficulties of AI3, 60-80°. On the way back to advanced base, we took numerous falls into crevasses, though none deeper than our shoulders.

We called the route Arête of Trust (2,400m, ED2 AI5 M5+), as a tribute to a friend, Andrej Magajne, who had often visited the Kyrgyzstan Tien Shan and was killed the previous spring, skiing in Slovenia.

Peter Juvan, Slovenia