The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Kyrgyzstan 2012

The mountains of Kyrgyzstan form the back drop to this wild & beautiful country. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s busy capital to the north, is surrounded by snow covered mountains only a couple of hour’s drive away.
A short distance away from Bishkek, the landscape has shaped & preserved the nomadic Kyrgyz lifestyle & culture for centuries.

The nomads say ‘a man should move, because the sun, animals, fish – everything moves & only the land & dead creatures stay where they are’

Life in yurts, galloping horses, grazing livestock, kids playing & the simple subsistence lifestyle, pictures day to day life here away from the city.
Kids playing

A local shepherd herding horses up the Kokgrim Valley
Herding cattle in Son Kool

Daily life in Son Kool
It’s late August & leaving Bishkek street sellers line the road selling fresh melons, apples, grapes & a whole array of fresh vegetables grown locally. These great bursts of colour give a refreshing change to an otherwise drab dusty road & looking out to dry brown foothills.
Street selleres
Our journey isn’t conspicuous; we’re in a huge, orange, six wheel drive, ex Russia army vehicle, the locals don’t seem that bothered though, they just get on with everyday life in the same slow & easy pace that most Asian countries seem to go about their business. A refreshing change from the manic pace of life I left behind.

Sasha the driver & our transport for the trip!


Yurts or as the locals call them bozuys, old rusty metal trailer caravans & some mud brick built houses with tin roofs dot the various flat spots & valleys as we head into the mountains. Away from the flat lands the street sellers now sell, sheep’s fleeces, eiran (mares milk), cumous(a type of yogurt made from cow’s milk) & small dried fish caught from the local rivers.
Eiran - fermented mares milk
 Life away from Bishkek is all very hand to mouth. The Kyrgyz people live off the land & sell the surplus to buy food or clothes they can’t grow or make for themselves. It’s humbling to see & understand the life & culture here from 75 years of Soviet rule to now an independent nation & people fending & thinking for themselves.

The dusty trail now turns into tarmac & then back into dust again. The Chinese are full steam as we pass through this year, building a road from the Torugart Pass (the Chinese border), through the town of Naryn & on to Bishkek – this will change the place over the coming years I have no doubt of that.
Off the road & into the hills time stops, wisps of smoke rise up in the distance as you approach small yurt camps surrounded by sheep, horses, dogs barking & piles of stacked up bricks of dried out cow & horse dung. Nothing goes to waste, even the bones of sheep make for a tasty stock or soup.

Inside the yurt the circular walls are lined with bright, colourful felt rugs depicting, the changing seasons, the hunting of Marco Polo sheep & their traditional way of life.
Great Marco Polo horns & skull found on the descent from one of the peaks in the Kokart Valley
The felt which is just compressed layers of sheep’s wool is made by layering handfuls of washed wool together on a reed mat & then rolling the mat up & tying it tightly together in a long tube. Boiling water is then poured over the outside of the reed mat which seeps through into the wool & then stamping & jumping on the rolled mat mulches the layers of wool together to make one tightly knitted layer – simple but really effective in making a thick layer of wool (felt) used to insulate & keep warm.
A very ornate yurt which we stayed in for a couple of nights in Tash Rabat
They dress the outside of the yurt with three layers of felt, which both insulates & keeps out whatever the Tien Shan weather throws at it (the wool isn’t washed in this process of making felt for yurts, which keeps the lanolin in the wool making the shell more waterproof & repelling of the elements. The lattice wooden framework supporting the structure is fixed with rawhide straps & lined with a mat of woven reeds called a chiy. The whole yurt can be erected & dismantled within a couple of hours following livestock & the weather to warmer pastures.

A traditional working Kyrgyz yurt

A traditional felt yurt in Son Kool

Inside the bozuy or yurt the space is allocated according to tradition – the lefthand side for the man, his horse & his hunting gear & the right hand side for the women, the stove & her domestic utensils. At the back of the bozuy lie the brightly coloured folded felt blankets or shyrdaks & thick straw filled beds – the higher the pile the wealthier the family!

The traditional Kyrgyz hats called ak-kal-paks are also felt, made from some of the best white wool edged with black velvet embroidery. Felt boots, jackets & slippers are also standard Kyrgyz ware & seen in great abundance when visiting the many markets in the surrounding towns on the way, to & from the mountains.

The horses are the ‘wings of the Kyrgyz people’ & for over 2,500yrs this valuable beast has been at the heart of the Kyrgyz nomadic life. Still today, outside of Bishkek the horse plays a valuable role in everyday life.

We see a snap shot & only scratch the surface in our 3 week trip but it’s amazing how much a part of the country you feel in that short space of time. Life passes by but you seem to have plenty of time to take it all in, stop & enjoy. After all it’s only part of why we’re here!

A Griffon Vulture circling over head in Tash Rabat

Since the Soviets pulled out Kyrgyzstan has opened up for climbers like ourselves to venture in & explore, taste the culture & explore the unexplored mountains. A treat & such a rarity on such a busy planet we live in today.
Two great mountain ranges embrace over 90% of the country - The Tien Shan mountains which stretch for 2,500km from east to west & the Tajik Pamir mountains which spill into southern Kyrgyzstan. Over 30% of the country is covered in permanent snow & ice! The Tien Shan host peaks such as Khan Tengri (the Prince of Spirits) at 7,010m, & the highest peak Jengish Chokosu or Peak Pobeda at 7,439m. In the Pamir Peak Kuh-i-Garmo or Peak Lenin’s summit is 7,134m which is one of the easier 7,000m summits in the world.

We’re heading to the Tien Shan & a range right on the Chinese border called the Western Kok-Shal-Too. There’s an area of valleys & mountains unexplored & unclimbed here. We’ve seen from a distance on past trips steep faces, rock ridges, glaciers & snow faces & lofty summits all waiting to be explored & climbed.

We pull into the last military check point which gives us access to this no-mans land between both the borders & see the mountains rising steeply up from the flat plans & small yurt camps.This military camp/border checkpoint called Orto Kashkasuu which roughly translates to ‘Middle Quick Water’ is a familiar sight to both Pat & myself having been through here a good number of times over the years.

Juma comes out in his military uniform, all smiles & handshakes & offers us in for drinks & a nights rest before we continue on into the range. Juma’s been stationed here in the middle of a very remote region for over 12years!
My Diary or routes/peaks which I climbed with my team -

The following day we headed up the Kokart valley to our first BC in the western Kokshal-Too which was at 3495m & acclimatised on a close peak which was 3805m

Heading into BC!
BC in the Kokart Valley
30 Aug – Headed up the valley & set up an ABC at 3665m

ABC in the Kokart Valley Western Kok-Shal-Too

31 Aug – We climbed the N/Face of peak 4230m which we called Shakhemat Peak which translates to ‘Check Mate Peak’ & graded it alpine AD

'Check Mate' on the North Face of Shakhemat Peak 4230m
1 Sept – We climbed peak 4177.9m which we called Chaban Peak which translates to ‘Shepherds Peak’, then traversed the long & high 4000m ridge to peak 4415m which we called Merghenchi Peak which translates to ‘Hunters Peak’ we graded the whole traverse & ascent of the peaks at grade PD minus

Descending from Merghenchi Peak 4415m

We found the whole area very inaccessible, steep towers & marble limestone which was difficult to climb & protect.
2 Sept – We returned to BC, packed up BC & headed out to the main Aksia river system in the trucks
3 Sept - Drove in the trucks to the At-Bashi range & set up BC at 3892m

The At-Bashi Range

4 Sept – We climbed a peak 4486m which we called Chaghylgan Peak which translates to ‘Lightening Peak’ grade alpine AD

Me topping out on Lightening Peak
A few minutes later on the summit the whole place was alive with electricity & we had to make a hasty retreat!
Descending Lightening Peak
 5 Sept – We climbed along with Pat’s team peak 4556m which they called Okno Peak which translates to ‘Window Peak’
The team enjoying a great day on Okno Peak 4556m
6 Sept – We climbed peak 4725m which we called Idyn Tolgon Kezi Peak which translates to ‘Full Moon Peak’ Grade PD minus
Great early morning colours on the surrounding peaks & our line climbing Full Moon 4725m the highest peak in the area

7 Sept – Rest day at BC & then packed up BC & head out to the main Aksai river system in the trucks
8 Sept – Drove around to Tash Rabat in the trucks & settled into the Yurt Camp there.
The great Silk road was once one of the world’s richest exchanges of trade & culture. Caravans of camels, men & horses bore lazurite, silver & spices across thousands of miles & Kyrgyzstan stood at a crossroads to China’s gateway to the west. Tash Rabat played an important part in the puzzle of travelling safely through these mountains with the Tash Rabat caravanserai dating back to the 15th century acting as a resting point & safe haven for these travellers along the route. Bandits & slave traders would stake the valleys & attack passing travellers & the caravanserai would act as a safe overnight stop.

The huge limestone ridges & faces here act as natural barriers to the mountains but also offer fantastic climbing on immaculate rock, with the added value of living in yurts!

9 Sept – We climbed a great 400m ridge line just up from the yurt camp which we called ‘Spine Line Ridge’ grade alpine AD+

10 Sept – We drove on to Son Kool Canyon in the trucks & explored a new unexplored limestone canyon to the south called Kokgrim Canyon which translates to ‘Blue Bend’ which was just fatastic & offered endless possibilities for single & multi-pitch rock routes at all grades.

11 Sept – We climbed a 5 pitch rock route in Kokgrim Canyon which we called ‘Escargot’ & graded E2 5b

Me leading the 1st pitch on the 1st ascent of Escargot E2 5b
Me high up leading pitch 3 on Escargot with the Kokgrim valley below
The line of Escargot , Kokgrim Canyon, Son Kool
 12 Sept – We climbed a 5 pitch rock route in Kokgrim Canyon which we called ‘Slab & Tickle’ & graded Hard Severe (HS)
The line of Slab & Tickle up some fantastic slabs & walls on immaculate limestone
The beautiful night sky in Son Kool
 13 Sept – We climbed a long alpine style rock ridge which was about 350/400m long which we called ‘Little Switzerland’ & graded alpine PD. We also climbed a single pitch rock route down in a quiet gorge off the main Kokgrim river valley & to the north of ‘Little Switzerland’ which we called Triassic Crack & graded E2 5c
The long 400m line of Little Switzerland & Triassic Crack
Me making the 1st ascent of Triassic Crack E2 5c
Me climbing Triassic Crack
14 Sept – We returned to Bishkek in the trucks via the town of Kochkor
15 Sept - A day in Bishkek
16 Sept - Home

Awesome - all the routes & peaks we did were all unclimbed & 1st Ascents
Next year’s trip already planned & booked! A new range we saw on this trip, unclimbed, unexplored & amazing looking peaks……….can’t wait

Thanks again to Jay Sheldrake for some greast pictures

Safe climbing

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