Kyrgyzstan Mountaineering Expedition September – October 2006
Mark Weeding and Dave Molesworth traveled to Kyrgyzstan in September for a month’s climbing. Generally this is considered too late for reliable weather for alpine routes but in fact we enjoyed Scottish spring weather of sun and snow making for an excellent trip in this beautiful mountainous country.
After a few days acclimatizing in the Ala Archa national park we headed for the Borkoldoy Mountains in the south east of the country, a long two day journey on increasingly deteriorating tracks, and close to the Chinese border just north of the Kokshaal-Too. En route we met Pat Littlejohn, Adrian and other members of an ISM trip and, following their generous advice, went to a previously unvisited valley in the south western corner of the range.
A base camp was established just beyond the narrow entrance at 3300m. The first day’s activity ascended the steep ridge on the southern side. This was followed for 3 hours to a distinctive whaleback plateau visible on the drive in, marked with a distinctive set of gullies in the shape of a chicken’s foot on it’s front face. The flat glaciated plateau led onto a narrow snowy ridge with a line of sharp peaks linking to the highest summits in the valley.
The long day limited us to an ascent of the first of these, a sharp peak marked 4608m on the map, and which we called the Chicken’s Head.
We pushed an advanced base camp 5 miles further up the widening valley to a delightful spot near the foot of the main glaciers at 3800m. The following day we climbed the distinctive snow peak on the south side of the valley, the main summit on the ridge from the Chicken’s Head. A long, snow slope led to a sting in the tail with a steep snow-covered ice slope (AD) leading to the shapely summit and the pick of the summits from the valley. Our maps gave the height as 4778m and which we named Hamish’s Peak. Fantastic views spread out in all directions, especially to the south and the Kokshaal-Too mountains.
The north side of the valley was our next target. Interestingly, the southern slopes are mainly snow free and covered in vast piles of scree: the northern slopes, in very sharp contrast, were entirely covered in snow and ice with glaciers spilling down from summit ridges. Steep scree scrambling (stumbling might be a more descriptive term) brought us to some loose and steep rocky slopes with 2 pitches of grade 3 to a summit at 4661m named the Bear’s Paw. This gave extensive views over the Borkoldoy range, looking down into the main wide valley running from the western edge of the range right into the centre and surrounded by many other valleys, rocky ridges and glaciers.
This offered a romp along the narrow ridge, ascending steep little summits and continuing the excellent views all around. At one point, at about 4500m, a line of large animal tracks were encountered - their large size (as big as size 10 boots) inclined us to say they were bear tracks. Eventually Misha, our Russian camp manager, had had enough of our seemingly insatiable progress and declared he’d had enough, leaving us with a long scree run descent.
The next day, we headed up the valley in deteriorating weather to a distinctive long hump-shaped shaped mountain splitting the valley in two and with large glaciers on either side. This turned out to be much further than we estimated providing a demanding slog up the ridge and onto the summit with a triangulation point at 4,705m - where the presence of a cairn and large wooden posts clearly revealed we didn’t even have the satisfaction of precedence. Puzzled at the size and weight of these wooden posts later enquiries of Vladimir Kamassarov suggested these may have been deposited by the military in the days of border tensions and more likely dropped by helicopter - so perhaps we could still claim the first ascent by foot.
We decided to have a rest day after heavy snow and then followed with an ascent into the cwm to the south above our camp site, crossing to the south east corner and went straight up fairly straightforward snow slopes, crossing some awkward little crevasses, to the summit at 4690m name Pik Damdjjegs.
Perfect clear weather revealed further summits and ridges still waiting for ascents. This included a distinctive peak connected by a long ridge from this peak or more easily from the back south wall of the cwm (dangerously avalanche prone on our visit). Both the north and south sides of the valley have distinctive summits and ridges leading to the valley head with it’s own summits. None of the peaks was obviously higher than any other so probably 4800m will be the highest. Placing a camp further up the valley either on the moraine or on the glacier (the southern ridge offers the more challenging routes through steep snow and crevasses) would give more manageable days.
We left the valley to the somewhat surreal sounds of Igor singing ‘Pretty Woman’ and moved further west to the At Bashi range making the first full exploration of the gorge and valley above the village known as Akalla. The Russian built WAZ 4x4 van took us high up into the valley where we placed a camp at 2885m. However, we underestimated the size of the mountains and failed to push our camp high enough into the valley to ascend some of the peaks we were after. Our first trip explored a hanging valley above a gorge heading for some distinctive sharp summits at it’s head. Poor snow conditions led to a retreat after a small slab avalanche gave a clear warning at 3780m. We will be returning to some unfinished business in this area.
The following day saw us scramble up the ridge to the east of our camp in perfectly clear skies. However, heavy snow conditions amongst large blocks limited us to a prominent top at 4100m with even more distinctive peaks reaching about 4400m a kilometer further along.
Attempting to improve our chances of success we bivvied the next night at 3350m on the other side of the valley hoping that the extra height and an early start would allow us to reach a more satisfying summit. Deceptively large distances and hidden drops took us to an attractive sharp ridge that provided enjoyable scrambling reminiscent of the North Ridge of Tryfan. However, general tiredness with at least one member of the party limited progress to a height of about 4200m at a prominent top, the ridge continuing to a final distinctive summit at about 4600m.
ITMC provided all our support while in the country. Especial thanks to Vladimir Komissarov and Julia Sunchaleeva for organizing our trip and to Igor Prasolov, Micha Suhorukov and Dmitry Sosedov for their devoted and unstinting support, which included Dima ascending his first 4500m peak, Micha being towed along an apparently unending and bear-infested ridge by two crazy English guys and Igor for his own inimitable approach to driving and keeping us safe for the month.