ISM West Kokshal-Too Expedition, 2008

Our regular expedition to the Tien Shan mountains of Central Asia was a great trip and successful despite not achieving the hoped-for objective of Pik Byeliy (or Grand Poohbah as it is widely known).

Guides: Pat Littlejohn, Adrian Nelhams, Vladimir Komissarov
Members: Anthony Froud, Leif Iversen, Simon Liebling, Jacki Liebling, James Bruton, Neville Howarth, Stephen Taylor, Gareth Read

The journey into the West Kokshal-Too went smoothly and we set up Base Camp below the Kotur Glacier in same spot we had used ten years earlier, a perfect campsite at 3950m. Over that period the glacier recession was very striking – it appeared to have retreated by several hundred metres.
Our plan was to set up an ABC as far up the Kotur Glacier as possible, to climb a couple of peaks to acclimatise then traverse the head of the next glacier to the west (Navlikin) to reach the base of Grand Poohbah.

Our high camp was set up at the base of an attractive unclimbed ridge on Pik Judith-Brian, and this became one of our first objectives. Pat’s team made the first ascent by the easiest line at PD+ while Adrian and Vlad headed up to the Kotur pass to climb the prominent peak which overlooks it – Pik Pyramida (5140m). Soon after this Adrian’s team climbed the South Ridge of Judith-Brian by a more direct line, going straight over a huge gendarme where Pat’s team had traversed around. This gave a stiffer route at AD+. The weather was deteriorating however and Pat’s team had to work hard for an ascent of Pik Pyramida in hostile conditions, with severe crosswinds on the summit ridge.

We were then pinned down by bad weather for two days, the snow gradually building up to a depth of half a metre around the tents. The weather then cleared and we began to make plans while waiting a day for the snow to settle, but then it closed in again and ABC began to be well and truly engulfed. Young Blood Gareth and Mad Dog Anthony got rid of excess energy by constructing a ‘royal commode’ with snow shovels and a spooky ice cave beneath the glacier surface. Their next project was an outdoor ‘conference room’ which was ideal for the council of war which had to follow the huge dump of snow. By now it was doubtful that conditions in the mountains would improve sufficiently to achieve any of our planned objectives, so we decided to visit a couple of lower-lying destinations where we could guarantee some climbing.

The first of these was Nomad Domes near the hot sulphur springs of Arashan. This area was opened for climbing by ISM in 2001 and is a lovely climbing spot in an area of ‘classic’ Kyrgyz nomad life – open pasture land dotted with yurts. We feasted on local produce (fresh flatbread, cream, yoghurt and cheese balls (your favourite guys!) and enjoyed some excellent rock climbing with routes up to 3 pitches long. There are still many first ascents to be done here and we managed 3 on this visit.

The next area, Son Kul Canyon, is in a range of limestone hills about half way back to Bishkek. The routes here are much bigger, truly ‘alpine rock’ routes up to 700m long. The longest we climbed were 10 pitches, but we were very excited by discovering this area which has the greatest potential of any rock climbing venue yet found in Kyrgyzstan. An idyllic campsite beside a river added to the experience and guaranteed that we will be back to Son Kul again on our next expedition.

So another excellent trip, some of the team have already booked for next year and I’m already excited about it. There is something very special about the Tien Shan and Kyrgyzstan, they get into your blood!
Pat Littlejohn

48a Kotur-Glacier
48b Climbing-Pik-Pyramida-photo-Neville
48c Pik-Pyramida-summit-ridge-photo-Neville

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