ISM West Kokshaal-too Expedition, 2002

In early September an International School of Mountaineering expedition reached the West Kokshaal-Too range on the Kyrgyzstan/China border.

In early September an International School of Mountaineering expedition comprising Pat Littlejohn, Adrian Nelhams, Vladimir Komissarov (guides), Julian Duxfield, Peter Kemble, Nigel Kettle, Ursula Mulcahy, Mark Pontin, John Porter, and Dr Jane Whitmore reached the West Kokshaal-Too range on the Kyrgyzstan/China border. This was the fifth visit to this area by an ISM team. Recent snowfall and waterlogged ground stopped them approaching their intended base camp beside the Aytaly glacier so they decided to acclimatize by exploring the At-Bashy (Horse’s Head) range – limestone peaks immediately north of the Kizil Asker group of the West Kokshaal-Too. Having no peaks above 5000m there are no records of anyone having climbed in the At-Bashy range before.

Base camp was established at 3800m in the valley of Aksu-lu-tor above a wrecked ex-Soviet military base. After a couple of easy peaks to acclimatize ABC’s were established at 4054m and 4200m. Peaks ascended included the snow dome of Ak-Kalpak (PD, 4673m), the long West Ridge of Pk Troika (AD), a traverse of the impressive Berkut (beak) (AD+, 4717m) and the icy dome of Kenesh (PD+, 4630m).

More settled weather prompted a move across the valley to the Kokshaal range and after an exciting 25km off-road drive up a river bed the Ak-bai-tal valley was reached. This is the third valley to the West of Kizil Asker and it had probably never been visited by mountaineers. ABC was established on the edge of the Ak-bai-tal glacier at 4200m and attention focused on the twin-summited snow peak (4981m) which dominates the glacier. The easiest routes to each summit involved arduous trail breaking (PD+) then the steep and rocky West Ridge was climbed to give a mixed climb at AD+.

A big team traversed the elegant snow fan (Pk Belyi Veer, 4757m) which bounds the left side of the glacier and is a prominent landmark for the area, then with the weather again ominous the expedition struck camp and drove for a day to a series of limestone rock domes which Littlejohn had spotted on earlier trips. These were christened Nomad Domes (being surrounded by the people living in yurts) and a number of routes were climbed, mostly 3 pitches and up to British E2. Very little rock climbing has been developed in Kyrgyzstan so far and this area will be of interest to anyone climbing in the West Kokshaal-Too, either to acclimatize on the way in or as a fun stop-off on the way out.

Pat Littlejohn

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