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The Unclimbed Peaks of Tian-Shan - Kyrgyztan

There were only two things I knew about Kyrgyzstan before signing up for this expedition. One, I couldn’t spell it, and two, it was hard to find on the map.

After several months of squinting at pixelated mountain ranges we identified several unclimbed peaks in the Tian-Shan Mountains that offered potential for an exploratory expedition. The Kuiluu valley and East Bordlu glacier lay unexplored and would be the team’s primary objectives. We hoped to climb these in a light and fast alpine style with minimum support.

Already delayed by a year, the team agreed to proceed with planning the expedition, despite the overwhelming uncertainty the trip would go ahead.

Finally, after 18 months of planning we made it to basecamp in August this year.

After establishing camp and advanced basecamp, the team slowly began to ferry equipment up the mountain, acclimatise and conduct further probing missions into the surrounding valleys for access points to our objectives.

After several days of reccying the glacier, we identified two potential lines to our summits and prepared to climb the next day.

It was snowing the next morning and big heavy flakes settled on the team as we ate by headlamp.

We had no reliable weather reports for climbing. It was a matter of sticking your head out of the tent and eyeing the sky. Another team had warned us the weather often deteriorated in late afternoon and not to rely on weather reports. 

We set off and blearily trudged up the steep moraine by the glacier before reaching a saddle to gear up.

We were to climb in two teams. Each team had packed light and brought only a small PD rack and 60m rope between them. This was an exploratory climb and we didn’t expect anything serious.

We took to the snow and slowly wound our way up a steep incline to gain the ridge at 4357m. The team were in good spirits and climbed well. The excitement was palpable, and with every new ridge crest we ascended, our expedition leader Tom was hassled to confirm if we had bagged our objective.

After five hours of climbing we finally reached our virgin summit at 4788m. It felt cool to stand in a spot where no one else had been before. After much handshaking and picture posing we retraced our steps along the ridge before descending an adjacent glacier to ABC.

The new peak was graded PD+ and named Pik Perseverance in honour of all the trouble we had suffered getting to Kyrgyzstan.

That night the air was filled with the hiss of gas canisters as we prepared dinner. The dehydrated meals were easy to prepare; just pour boiling water into the bag and stir well before leaving for 5 minutes.

Most of the team had brought 800 calorie meals, but I found myself eating two 1000 kcal meals a day. The Beef & Potato Hotpot was a team favourite and each member wished they had brought more of the Custard with Apple for pudding.

My climbing partner, Sam and I debated what gear to take the next day. It was another exploratory climb, we did not intend to spend the night. We packed lightly taking a small set of cams, some nuts and ice screws (climbing equipment) in addition to our own personal gear. The route would hopefully top out on the ridge we had climbed that day.

The next morning we set off up the glacier and after a two hour scramble reached our first pitch. Roped up, we made our way up a beautiful patch of ice and the team were stoked believing this to be a precursor for the route. I stuck some gear in and brought Sam up before leading along a narrow ridge to a steep vertical section.

It turns out that was the best part of the climb. We soloed the rest of the route over extremely loose ground. The rock was chossy, and one of the team quipped that if you found a handhold you didn’t like, you could just pick it up and throw it over your shoulder before choosing another.

We topped out on our ridge as hoped, took a few snaps and ate lunch. The views were fantastic. Snow capped mountains surrounded us. Dark clouds gathered on the horizon and a cold wind began to blow forcing us to quickly descend tired and hungry, but happy the primary objectives of the expedition had been met.

We graded the route AD+ and named it ‘The Argen Spur’ after a local horseman we had met.

Unfortunately, our planned number of climbing days had to be reduced from twelve to two forcing us to retire early and return to the capital Bishkek.

In all, it was a successful expedition. A new peak was climbed, and two new lines established. But there was so, so much left undone. I still pull out the maps we made and look at the objectives we missed.

In moments of consolation, I think of the advice an old friend gave me before heading out on the trip.

“Go for an adventure, any climbing is a bonus.”