ISM Virgin Peaks Expedition 2022 - Fergana Range, Kyrgyzstan
ISM trip report of our trip into the Fergana Range in the Tien Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan
Trip Leader & IFMGA Guide: Adrian Nelhams (AN)
IFMGA Guides: Carlo Cosi (CC) Enrico Mosetti (EM) Marko Prezelj (MP)
Climbers: Jason Sheldrake (JS) Stephen Taylor (ST) Phil Croxford (PC) Paul Morris (PM) Ed Brown (EB) Ed Docwra (ED) Laura Shaw (LS) Toby Harward (ToH) Thaila Harward (TH)
The big wheel turns slowly, high on the Tien Shan step, for these gentle nomadic communities.
Their yurts rest during the summer grazing months, in a place generations before them chose.
horses and cattle graze quietly whilst a rabble of sheep and goats
fight over places in the small corral outside, as Maddersbeck marks each
one of his flock.
Chickens scatter hurriedly as Zatgul walks out to hang up the washing.
The kids are playing with a 3 week old long-haired black puppy
Smoke from their yurt top hangs motionless in the cold morning air, like a silvery thread of silk pointing horizontally towards the unclimbed summits we want to explore
A strong smell of burning dried cattle dung fills the air.
The rich grass tundra glows, as the new dawn appears. Icy dew on a stream edge, shimmers with the first rays of light.
Two horses saddled up and tied to a post, stand motionless awaiting their instructions and a random array of dogs at their feet are half asleep.
Above the yurt, snowy summits and a huge wide, flat glacier turns a corner and heads off into the far distance.
Zatgul motions us inside.
By the door, a mesh box mounted and lashed with old rope to a wooden post catches my eye. I open one side of the box and see the drying meat inside. Above it, cheese balls suspended and drying on wide reed matting under a thin piece of blue plastic.
We head inside, take off our shoes and sit down on the felt rugs, as Zatgul hands us some chai.
Fresh cream and homemade jam fill bowls on the very low wooden table that we sit cross-legged around.
Zatgul then pushes some kneaded dough into a pan, upturns it onto the hot metal hearth where the kettle had been boiling, and makes bread.
We look around, and bright coloured felt rugs or shyrdak’s, fill the intricate trellis walls that form the framework of the yurt. Coloured sleeping mats folded up and stacked neatly to one side under a colourful throw to keep them clean and hidden away. Everything is clean and well ordered.
I smell fresh cooked bread and look towards the hearth. Zatgul taps out the cooked bread from the hot pan and carries it over. She rips it into three or four pieces and puts the steaming hot bread into a basket on the table and we feast!
Maddersbeck enters, we smile and make basic conversation. English to Russian and then to Kyrgyz.
This country is so rich in culture and history and it’s a real treat to be sitting here unscripted or organised speaking to these very happy and gentle people who hadn't seen tourists before. They spoke of Soviet times and then life afterwards.
The sun burns through the opening of the yurt, and I hear the dogs barking. Maddersbeck heads out to take a look.
The shyrdak (felt rug) we're sitting on took Zatgul 3 years to make. I sit and wonder.
Time passes and we get up.
Our backpacks are by the opening, and I see Maddersbeck looking and then feeling the foam sleeping mat I have strapped on the side
We're on our way to an ABC (Advanced Basecamp) camp higher up the valley as we explore the beautiful mountains of the Fergana Range, high above the Arpa Valley.
The mountains here in the southern and western parts of the Tien Shan, consist principally of sedimentary metamorphosed (structurally changed by heat and pressure) rock. A new development (25 million years ago!) has been characterised by sudden movements of the earth’s crust. Loose fragments of rock, over time, have slid into the valleys and formed accumulations almost 5 miles (8 km) thick here in the Fergana.
Walking up into the mountains you can see first-hand these this amazing geological landscape of sedimentary black rock, punctuated by snowy ridges, icy faces and huge glaciers sweeping down wide open ‘U’ shaped valleys.
Our attention is focused on the two main valleys on the western most end of the Fergana Range before it drops down into the Arpa River, which is flanked to the north by the Jalamantor Range.
Before arriving at BC (Basecamp), we spend two days exploring, acclimatising and climbing in an unexplored deep rocky ravine called Char Canyon, close to the market town of Naryn.
CC, LS & EB climbed a 6-pitch rock route which they called ‘Like A
Butterfly’ up a rightwards slanting corner groove system, grade British
We also had more of a cultural day visiting the National Nomad Games which was being held in the Naryn hippodrome, close to where we were staying. The Nomad Games celebrates the traditional sport of Kok Boru.
The sport originates directly from the Kyrgyz nomadic shepherds celebrating the kill of a wolf within their close-knit communities (Kok Boru – Bleu Wolf). The carcass would be thrown in the centre of a large grass area and the shepherds on their horses in teams would challenge another team also on horseback to wrestle the wolf carcass by hand and drag it, or try and carry it, without getting off their horse, into the oppositions goal, which would traditionally have been a large hole in the ground.
It’s a tough and very physical sport, as players lean off their horses picking up a 30kg to 40kg dead weight goat carcass off the ground with one arm and dragging it across their saddle as others collide into them, trying to steal the carcass back. It’s also a real show of horsemanship but also the downside seen through western eyes, the tough deal the horses get as they are driven to collide into one another.
It was a fantastic day though and an amazing window into another part of tradition Kyrgyz life.
We then spent the next day navigating some tricky off-road terrain in the Kamas, and as the day came to a close, we decided to camp having not made BC yet.
Arrived BC 3,250m.
The team explored the two main valley systems in the north-western most part of the Fergana Range that we’d come to visit.
AN,CC, LS, EB, ToH, PM & TH explored up the ‘Chong-Kara-Karmin- Soo’ (‘Big Black Rock’ river) and valley system fed from the long ‘Chong-Kara-Karmin’ mengoo (glacier) above.
EM, ED & PC explored the next valley system further east, which was directly above BC, following the ‘Kichi-Kara-Karmin’ Soo (‘Little Black Rock’ river) and glacial system above.
MP, ST & JS from BC climbed a broken rocky ridge grade F+ to a high point 4,700m and descending down similar terrain completing a ‘horseshoe’ shaped feature at the entrance to ‘Kichi-Kara-Karmin’ valley.
EM, PC & ED headed into the ‘Kichi-Kara-Karmin’ valley and up to ABC 3,800m.
CC, LS & PM headed into the ‘Chong-Kara-Karmin’ valley and up to ABC 3,300m.
AN, JS, ToH, TH headed into the ‘Chong-Kara-Karmin’ valley and up to ABC 3,300m.
EM, PC & ED made the FA (First Ascent) of Peak 4,654m, climbing the main glacial system to the north, grade PD and then returned to BC.
CC, LS & PM made the FA of Peak 4,715m, climbing it’s northeast ridge and then returned directly to BC.
AN, JS, ToH, TH made the FA of Peak 4,400m, climbing it’s north-east ridge naming the peak ‘Japayi Attar’ (Wild Horses).
MP, EB & ST headed into the ‘Kichi-Kara-Karmin’ valley and made the FA of the highest summit in this part of the Fergana Range - Peak 4,900m named ‘Uch Zeid’, climbing it’s north-east ridge, grade PD, which was completed in a round trip from BC in the same day.
AN & JS explored the ‘Chong-Kara-Karmin’ mengoo (glacier) to its highpoint and pass, at point 4,178m.
EM, PC & ED made the FA of Peak 4,461m, climbing steep glacial terrain and over an awkward bergschrund to access a col and the base of its north-west ridge. The team then climbed the north-west ridge and traversed its summit continuing onto making a FA of Peak 4,502m, grade AD, which was completed in a round trip from BC in the same day.
CC, LS & PM made the FA of Peak 4,650m climbing a large glacial system on the peak’s north and north-east flanks. The team then continued east along the ridge to make the FA of Peak 4660m named ‘Kichi-Kara-Karmin Peak’ (Little Black Rock Peak) descending back down the glacier and returning back to BC in the same day.
MP & EB explored down the valley, as far as the confluence of the rivers running out of the two glacier systems
Everyone came together at Zatgul and Maddersbeck’s yurt for lunch!
MP, EB & JS made the FA of Peak 4,500m, climbing up its north flanks directly south from BC and on the eastern side of the entrance to the ‘Kichi-Kara-Karmin’ valley.
MP & EB then continued along the north ridge and climbed Peak 4,690m, grade PD. The team found a cairn and plastic tube on the summit detailing that a Ukrainian team first climbed the summit back in 2008.
AN, ToH & TH had a glacier skills day high up on the ‘Chong-Kara-Karmin’ mengoo (glacier).
CC, LS & PM headed into the ‘Chong-Kara-Karmin’ valley and ABC 3,300m.
MP, EM, PC, EB completed a high mountain journey, traversing previously climbed peaks with an additional FA of Peak 4701m (in the area’s SE corner) linking a huge 10km of ridge line above 4500m in altitude, climbing 5 summits, and completing the journey down easier slopes back to BC, grade AD.
CC, LS & PM made the FA of Peak 4,650m climbing a long rocky rib, leading to a high glacier below the northern slopes of the peak. The route then took the team up snow and rock onto the east ridge and then the summit, retracing their route back to ABC and then back to BC.
BC to Tash-Rabat.
Tash-Rabat to Lake Issyk Kul and enjoyed some wonderful swimming in the lakes warm waters and an incredible sunset.
After a beautiful sunrise across Lake Issyk Kul, we left for Bishkek.
Many thanks to…
Elena for some amazing cooking at BC.
Victor for the safe pair of hands driving in and out of BC.
Semok and Artor for helping porter loads up to ABC.
Vladimir and Rita at ITMC for their on the ground support whilst we were in Kyrgyzstan.
Happy Days! Adrian Nelhams
Many thanks also to Jason Sheldrake and Marko Prezelj for their amazing images