Kuilu & Son Kul Expedition 2009

This was ISM’s second trip to the Kuilu range, the first being in 2000 when we explored the Karator glacier and its surrounding peaks. This trip focussed on the Bardytor valley immediately to the east, where records showed that only one peak had been climbed.

Guides: Pat Littlejohn, Adrian Nelhams, Vladimir Komissarov
Members: Stephen Taylor, Roger Elmer, Brad Smith (doctor), Cindy Walters, Neil Lindsey, Dean Clifford, John Vlasto, Laura Plackett, Tomasz Dudek.

We set up base camp at the start of the valley and explored both branches of the glacier, after which we split into two teams (Adrian with Steve, Dean, Laura & Tom; Pat and Vlad with Roger, Brad, Cindy, Neil & John). We set up two ABC’s, Pat’s at 4050m on the western branch and Adrian’s at 4020m on the eastern branch. Adrian’s team was first to move up, in poor weather which worsened to a heavy dump of snow after 24hours. In spite of this they climbed to a shoulder at 4500m on Pk 5020m. Next day in clearer but blustery weather they achieved the summit – Ak Sakal, 5020m, a fine effort in difficult snow conditions. After a days rest a lower but more technical summit was climbed (Bakshi, 4434m) before their return to Base Camp. Meanwhile Pats team climbed a small peak above ABC in poor weather then a fine day gave them Pk Koopsyz 4755m (meaning ‘safe’ in Kyrgyz – it was the only objective without serious avalanche danger). The plan was to attempt an unclimbed 5000’er but after more heavy snowfall made conditions even more hazardous it was decided to return to BC and bring forward the second part of the plan – Son Kul Canyon.

Son Kul was opened up as a climbing area in 2008 when ISM teams climbed 4 routes from HVS to E2, the longest being approx 10 pitches. This year bigger and better things were achieved, both by ISM and by another British team of Geoff Hornby and Dave Barlow, firmly establishing Son Kul Canyon as the prime area for rock climbing in Kyrgyzstan.

Adrian’s team climbed the N Ridge of the peak forming the east side of the canyon (which links with a ridge he had climbed previously to make a route of more than 800m) while Pat, Brad, Neil and Cindy, followed by a second team of John and Roger, climbed the 600m ridge line of Friendly Buttress (V-), a potential classic taking the easiest route from the canyon floor. The next objective for Adrian’s team was the steeper and more compact buttress to the left of Friendly Buttress. This gave the fantastic Manaschi Rib HVS, a 14-pitch route which Adrian declared was the best rock climb he had ever done. Pat now turned his attention to the untouched east-facing side of the canyon, wading the river with John and Neil to climb the huge spur running up to the highest point. Though not sustained, Eastern Spine gave some interesting 5a pitches and serious climbing on a loose headwall. Vladimir had been exploring another canyon to the west of Son Kul and this gave Pat and John their final route – the impressive groove of Striker (E2, 5c), while Adrian rounded off with a fine E1 route climbing a pinnacle in the main canyon.

We left more impressed than ever with Son Kul Canyon and eager as always for our next trip to Kyrgyzstan.

Pat Littlejohn

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