The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

The Sorcerer, Ghost Valley

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Kyrgyzstan Virgin Summits Expedition 2016

ISM Kyrgyzstan (Pamirs) Virgin Summits Expedition 2016

Trip Leader, ISM Director and IFMGA Guide Adrian Nelhams (AN)
Guides Paulo Intropido (PI), Paul Swail (PS) and Vladimir Komissarov (VK) Climbers – Stephen Taylor (ST), Jason Sheldrake (JS), Will Boxall (WB), Rob Meijer (RM), Marc Lambert (ML), Finlay Shaw (FS), Rob Maysh (RMy), Justin Mash (JM), James Robinson (JR)

Area visited – The Eastern Zaalay Range at the Eastern end of the Trans Alai Range.  

Great flights via Istanbul into Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan. The city is located in the Fergana Valley and is often referred to as the ‘Capital of the South’. The city dates back over 3000 years ago and is located close to the borders of China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan which is where it gets its ethnically mixed population of over a quarter of a million people. Osh marks the midpoint on the historic ancient Silk Road, the overland trade route taken by caravans between Europe and Asia and is home to the sprawling Osh ‘Silk Road Bazaar’ which bears the hallmark of that bygone era and is the largest, most crowded outdoor market in Central Asia and a great place to hang out!

We spend the day in Osh while the ITMC team head to the markets to buy the final fresh foodstuffs before we head off into the mountains the following day.

We head up the only World Heritage Site in Kyrgyzstan, the Sulayman Mountain, which offers great views of Osh and the surrounding mountains. This mountain is thought by some to be the famous landmark of antiquity known as the “Stone Tower”, which Claudius Ptolemy wrote about in his famous work Geography. The National Historical and Archaeological Museum Complex Sulayman is carved into the mountain and contains a collection of archaeological, geological and historical finds. Then we hit the markets!

The following day we loaded our bags into the ITMC 6WD Kamaz truck and headed south to the small hamlet of Taldyk. Here we camped and recci’d the rocky limestone summits of Urch Terbur both for climbing possibilities and to help with everyone’s acclimatisation as Base Camp (BC) will be around 3500/3600m

The next day we headed on through the small border town of Sarytash and on to the hilly grasslands and foothills of the Pamir Mountains and towards the Eastern Zaalay Range where we had come to explore. Great views on the way over the pass to PK Lenin 7,134m in the Western Zaalay, Trans Alai Range a little further west.

We passed the river delta, which fed down from the glaciers and summits we explored last year and carried on another 11km to the Kurumdy River. Here we drove up its wide delta with the truck forcing its way through fast moving rivers, over rocks and up steep banks until we found a lovely flat grassy area next to a clean water supply on the west bank of the river at 3600m which became BC. 
The following day we went off in three teams to explore the surrounding valleys and glaciers. It’s such a beautiful area of high peaks in a very quiet but accessible part of the Pamir Range. During this first day of forays, one team found a great Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 4000 m, which would access a few great looking summits over the coming days, so on day 3 we all headed up into this high alpine basin to explore the surrounding summits.

We climbed –
PK 4318m we named ‘PK Curperluk’ (Kyrgyz for ‘Butterfly’)  
Climbers – AN, RM, JM, JR, JS, VK, WS

PK 4629m we named ‘PK Tereze’ (Kyrgyz for ‘Window’)
Climbers – PI, PS, RMy, FS, ML, ST, RM

PK 4736m we named ‘PK Chogurlush’ (Kyrgyz for ‘Coming Together’)
Climbers - AN, RM, JM, JR, JS, RMy, FS, PI, PS, ML, ST

The team then headed back to BC for a much needed rest and wash before heading out on another recci day but this time in another parallel valley and main glacier/drainage system into the Karumdy River. We established a second and third ABC to explore this huge glaciated valley. ABC 1 was established at 3850m and ABC 2 at 4100m.

We had our eyes set on a number of options which included a couple of peaks on the East side of the valley and a couple to the South, all with slightly different access and possible routes on them, hence the different ABC options and attack points. The following day it snowed heavily although both teams went out to explore the various options and peaks close to them. High points were achieved but poor visibility and heavy snow stopped progress. That night the cloud cleared, the wind died down and it was a beautiful starry 

The following day both teams had success on their peaks –
PK 4760m we named ‘PK Kanzaada’ (Kyrgyz for ‘The Prince’)  
Climbers – AN, JM, JS, JR

PK 4685m - we have asked the listeners of BBC Radio Cumbria to name this peak.
Climbers – PI, FS, RMy, RM
(The team first climbed ‘PK Jolborz’ 4624m FA - AN, ST, DR, BT in 2015 to access the connecting ridge to this summit)

The next day we broke camp, loaded the vehicle and headed out of the main range, back through the town of Sarytash and towards Taldyk where we camped the night.

The following day we travelled up into the limestone crags and boulders of Urch Terbur for some rock climbing and bouldering….a very refreshing change from being in the high mountains! The warmer weather and lower altitude made for a fun day climbing and last active day on the expedition.

That night we continued 2 km to a small village called Kyrkol where we stopped at the Alai Yurt Camp. Here everyone had the chance to sleep in a traditional yurt, taste some traditional Kyrgyz cuisine and enjoy some local Kyrgyz music both through the storytelling from the Manas script and some incredible strumming on the Komuz both over the shoulder, between the knees and upside down….! It was a great night, which rounded off a fantastic trip.

The last day on the way back to Osh we stopped at a small shop selling Kyrgyz felt goods. We had fun buying things and hoped this helped to give something back to the local community as a group of women had recently set up this small working co-operative selling their handmade felt goods. I am sure we will be part of their advertising in the future!
Thanks to Sasha our driver for getting us into base camp, Artur our cook, for some fantastic culinary delights and our two porters Mika and Pasha for helping with some heavy loads up to advanced base camp. 

A fantastic trip....already making plans for next year!

Safe climbing

Adrian Nelhams 

Images courtesy of Jason Sheldrake - many thanks

Thursday, 18 August 2016

 My article as part of the Arcteryx Lakeland Revival......

Why we love British trad climbing!

British Mountain Guide and Lakes local Adrian Nelhams tell us what he loves about British trad and his approach to going climbing…

“I approach a crag or climb as I always have done, through aesthetics, grade, word of mouth and adventure. I’ve got to like the look of the splitter crack, the barrelling steep overhanging wall, the pocketed face or the exposed delicate slabs. Climbing is so much more than just a sequence of delicate moves, burly under-clings or hands jammed in an awkward off width. It’s the journey to get there, the friends you’re with, the shared experiences and the adventures along the way – that’s why we love British Trad climbing!

Photo credit: Adrian Nelhams and Marko Prezelj

Almost throw away your guidebook for the day and just go out and enjoy the adventure that is British Trad Climbing. The grade isn’t important, without the guidebook you won’t know the grade anyway and it won’t matter. If you’ve not been there before everything will feel more exciting and adventurous. The routes will feel harder, mentally, you’ll be more challenged and you’ll come away with the riches that climbing has to offer. It’s easy to go to the ‘known’ but by doing so it’s also easy to lessen the overall experience and adventure.

The Arc’teryx Lakeland Revival is great because it understands the grass roots nature of what we all love about Trad Climbing. The route cards will help inspire and give many people the confidence to try somewhere new. A new crag or route that may not have been climbed for a while but is still a real classic may be lost in this modern era of sport climbing. These gems once unearthed will become classics for many in the future. The more open you are to try something new, doing something different and pushing yourself that bit harder, the richer the experience.

I had great day last year guiding a client in the Lakes. The weather was wet but we still decided to head out and try some climbing. The client was relatively new to the game that is Trad climbing and we ended up on Gimmer Crag in the pouring rain. Waterproofs on and hoods up we were enjoying the solitude, adventure and seriousness of climbing the wet slippery rock in the rain. The cloud was swirling around and the rain was constant but we pushed on. The climbing, even for me, was totally absorbing.  I was aware of every feature the rock was gifting, careful with every foot placement and timely with every upward move so not to upset my delicate balance on the wet rock. Our ascent was slow but so rewarding. We were becoming more and more involved and excited by the feeling of adventure. I was soaked through, as was my client. We had the crux on the next pitch, 2 pitches up Gimmer. I set off up the wet rock, which was now under a torrent of running water. It felt more slippery than ever and I was mindful of every move, holding on more tightly than I would normally, my feet slipping on the slabby rock. I reached up the overhanging wall, found a good in-cut hold and pulled on it. My feet became light on the slippery slab and started to slip. I quickly pulled up on the hold and my feet left the ground. I felt a foothold out of sight which helped as an intermediate until I reached higher and found better handholds. It felt steep and overhanging. I could hardly see for the rain and running water in my face. I clipped off another nut, hung a sling for my client and pulled up and on to easier ground. I made a belay and brought up my client. She was glad of the sling! We topped out late in the day when it was almost getting dark. It was the end of March and had been one of the best days climbing I’d done with a client that year. The client was hooked and we’d only climbed a VD! It wasn’t just the climbing; it was the spirit that underpinned the experience. We’d climbed three routes that day, nothing above VD and had a real adventure, everything that a harder route in the dry would offer and possibly more! That shared experience has seen us climbing together on many occasions since then and we still joke about it now.

Photo: Jordan Manley

Climbing in the rain isn’t for everyone, but it brought us the riches on that day, memories that will stay with us and our minds full of Rigby, Sandison and Thomson who made the first ascent in 1902. It was probably the sort of adventure they were having but in hobnail boots and ropes tied around their waists….I bet it felt adventurous edging their way up that chimney pitch back then! It’s the journey you take that gives you those memories and if you keep taking new ones you’ll grow as a climber and also get the rewards that British Trad climbing has to give.

April 1907 – Crescent Climb on Pavey Arc. FA Botterill and Palmer ‘starting only a few yards right of green gully, we climbed over grass and loose material until we reached a little pitch which was awkward owing to its rotten state. About this time, to make matters worse, we were visited by a storm with thunder and lightning. It was impossible to take shelter, so we proceeded in the rain to a point where the gully finished out on the face. So far the climb had every appearance of being a first ascent…….’ Fred Botterill, F&RCC Journal 1907.

Check out the route cards and try something new, and if you want an even greater adventure either visit a new crag and leave your guidebook at home or climb an easy route in the rain!

Safe climbing