This two part trip report was written by Mountain Fellowship Fund Recipients Kyle Amstadter and Martin Strasser. Kyle and Martin traveled to Kyrgyzstan to climb some big peaks and ski untouched faces. Read on for their exciting tale!
After warming up with a telemark descent of a subsidiary peak of Korona in Ala-Archa, Martin Strasser and I headed for the Kuilu range (see Pat Littlejohn’s description, AAJ 2001). We travelled to base camp (ca. 3300m) via a retired Soviet military vehicle, crossing the rivers without problem.
Base Camp was placed at the base of Pik 4290. We planned to climb and ski this peak so we could get a better view of our surroundings. We got our view, but not the summit – deep snow with poor stability forced us down about 50 meters before the top. The climb was not a total failure as we saw a suitable location for our first ABC and a route leading up Pik 4375 from the summit ridge.
One day after attempting Pik 4290 Kyle contracted a mysterious case of strept throat. I decided to give Kyle a chance to recover and solo Pik 4375 to the immediate southwest of Base Camp the following day. My plan was to ski a chute located on the SE face of the summit.
In order to avoid the soft snow that we encountered two days earlier, I started hiking at 4 am. First I headed straight up a steep scree slope that leads to the moraine fore summit of the Peak. From there on the climbing was straight forward up a mellow ridge that took me to a high part of the glacier at approx. 3900 m. I cramponed up the 45° hard snow slope to the summit and strapped my skis on at 8:15 am.
I found the chute that I had initially planned to ski to be very soft heavy snow despite the fact that the sun had just started to hit it. I traversed back to the main SE facing glacier and linked free-heel turns down the consistent 45° slope. The glacier took me down to approx. 3700 m.
The small glacier stream led back to the Karator Valley and I was back at base camp in time for breakfast at 10 am. Having hiked back down along the glacier stream, I would recommend gaining the glacier by the same ridge route that I chose for the ascent. All other potential routes leading to the glacier consist of very fine and steep scree which is great for hiking down, but ugly for an ascent.
ABC1 was reached by following the Karator River east to the next drainage. This we followed south to the base of a large, un-named glacier where we placed ABC1 at ca. 3800m.
From ABC1 we climbed and skied two peaks. Due to the climbing history of the area we believe these both to be first ascents. We climbed the first of these peaks on June 16th. It is located due south of ABC1 on the west side of the glacier. Starting at 4:30am we skinned up the glacier to the base of the slope we had to climb to gain the South Ridge that lead to the summit. Trading skins for crampons we climbed firm snow that gave way to post-holing up the 40 degree slope. Gaining the ridge improved things in general. We followed a series of steps with conditions ranging from ice to deep snow, sections up to 50 degrees. We reached the summit at ca. 4800m at noon.
We skied down the north-facing ridge of our ascent on cold, dry snow. Half-way down the ridge we dropped onto the East Face and threaded a line down through the seracs. The snow on this aspect was atrocious. Each turn we made set off a wet avalanche. We made it to the base of the face without mishap.
On June 17th we made an ascent of the peak on the east side of the glacier. Martin left an hour earlier than I to climb and then ski a new line on the approx. 50° steep face of Peak Milo (pik 4800) under harder snow conditions. We met on the glacier and skied up Peak Misha (pik 4750) from the southern col via its western slopes. Our ski descent took us down the NW Face and included a steep chute up to 50 degrees. The snow on this aspect stayed dry and firm until late in the day.
Note: We believe these to be first ascents and found no previous names. We are suggesting the names of Peak Milo and Peak Misha to the Russian Mountaineering Federation and to our outfitter in Bishkek.
We reached ABC2 by following the Kuilu River west on an animal trail until we reached the first river valley west of the Karator Valley. At this river valley, we hiked approx. 10 km south along the river until we came to the glacier. We established ABC 2 at 3750 m near a part of the glacier that we could start skinning from.
On June 26th we headed up the low angle glacier to a fore summit of pik 4750, which is the first peak that lies directly south of tip of the glacier. On this fore summit we scoped several possible ski routes on the surrounding peaks. However, we also found that the east faces of these mountains had very unstable snow layers shortly after the sun rose. For that reason, a possible ski route on the Northwest Face of pik 4750 caught our attention.
After one rest day, on June 28th, we skinned to the base of pik 4750 at 3:30 in the morning. We took the ramp that led from the low angle glacier to the slopes beneath the Northwest Face. We roped up due to the crevasses on the ramp and took the 40° slopes to the steep part of the face. We simul-soloed up the 50°-55° steep chutes of crusty snow, because the snow offered very poor protection, and the rock was worse. After three pitches of climbing up the steep snow we reached the rocky summit of Pik 4750. On the summit we set up a belay and skied the steep part of the Northwest Face on belay, due to the crusty snow conditions and several rock cliffs between the summit and the 40° slopes. After we got to the slopes we unroped and used the same route for the ski descent as we did for the ascent.
We spent most of the next two days inside of our tent at ABC 2 waiting for the snow and rain to pass. On July 1st, attempted another ski route on the East Face of pik 4750 that started from the North Ridge beneath the summit peak. We left camp early enough to get to the North Ridge right when the sun rose. Using the same route for the ascent to gain the North Ridge, we encountered atrocious snow conditions probably due to the warm weather and rain in those two days in camp. Hoping that the snow would be firmer on the continuously steep 55° East Face, we climbed to the North Ridge where we could evaluate the snow conditions on the East Face. However, the snow was even deeper and heavier on this steep face and we got back to the Northwest Slopes as quick as possible and skied back to ABC 2.