During the week beginning July 17 Ken Krebs and I climbed a direct line up the north face of Naran, via a prominent ice ramp, the north ridge, and the summit snow face. Earlier that week we had ascended several surrounding peaks, including Huiten (Khuiten, 4,374m), and then descended from a high camp on the Potanina Glacier to the foot of Naran. The north face is a proud, prominent statement to the entire valley, a contender for an Altai and Mongolian classic. Sustained 50-60° ice rises 600m before reaching a ridge leading to three or four pitches of packed snow on the short upper face. The overall grade was US IV.
Circumstances were not optimal. The face was very dry and much of it exposed to rockfall. This was not solely due to a dry season in the Altai. Locals have noted how far the Potanina Glacier has dropped below the lateral moraine that the trail to base camp follows, and it is also evident that the toe of the glacier has receded far beyond the lake. During our week in the area conditions changed dramatically. It snowed a little on our arrival, but warm weather then toasted the fresh snow and a 30cm more below. Reports indicate that earlier in the year a group of ski mountaineers rejected skiing Naran due to icy conditions. Perhaps this was prudent. The direct route on the north face follows a straight, narrow line between small hanging glaciers and rock buttresses; from these there was rock and ice fall due to high midsummer temperatures. While we scoped other attractive but less evident routes west of the ice ramp, the objective hazards of a direct line up the ramp appeared manageable. Unexposed crevasses and a small bergschrund were present on the ridge and small snow face above. Looking at early summer imagery on the Internet, it’s clear that Naran, like most peaks in the Altai, is best climbed late spring to early summer, but, even in midsummer, an early morning departure resulted in excellent front- pointing on the ice ramp and an amazing view of the sunrise. Getting off Naran also provided a routefinding challenge.
We descended the rocky south ridge to the lowest point of the saddle, then plunged down a 40° face to the west, crossing multiple crevasses and a bergschrund. It appeared that this descent had the least amount of exposure, and would likely form the best normal route. However, crevasses are significant and clever route finding is in order for a safe return to base camp. Altogether, we had a brilliant day.