A two-man expedition, supported by the MEF, makes first ascent of Chinese-Kyrgyzstan border peak.

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 23/09/2015
Vaughan Snowdon on the Palgov Glacier, West Kokshaal-too. Behind him lie Pik 5,602m (left, suggested name Pik Palgov) and the lower Krylya Sovetov (5,480m, in the sun). Paul Knott
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Supported by a grant from the Mount Everest Foundation, Paul Knott (formerly UK, now resident in New Zealand) and Vaughan Snowdon (NZ) have made the first ascent of unnamed Pik 5,602m, one of the highest remaining unclimbed summits in the West Kokshaal-too region of Kyrgyzstan.

Knott, who has climbed in the West Kokshaal-too on several previous occasions, visited the region with Snowdon in July-August, when they were probably only the third party to climb from the Palgov Glacier.

The two previous teams, both from Moscow, operated from this valley, which lies in the central section of the range, in 1998 and 2003, the former making first ascents of seven summits, including Krylya Sovetov (5480m).

It took two days from the capital Bishkek, travelling in a Gaz-66 truck, for the NZ pair to reach the nearest established vehicle access, at 3,900m by the Kotur River.

From here the two spent several days ferrying loads via the Aytali and Sarychat valleys to a base camp by the confluence of the Palgov and Grigoriev rivers, a distance of 20km.

For acclimatization, and on the last day of July, they made the first ascent of Pik 5,190m on the east side of the valley. Scree and dry glacier led to snow runnels on the west side of the north ridge.

They descended from the summit over Pik 4,973m to the north, then had to wait out intermittent rain at base camp for several days.

When conditions allowed, a week later, they ascended the Palgov glacier to its upper névés at 4,600m, to tackle the main objective, Pik 5,602m.

There is a suggestion this be named Pik Palgov, since its striking pointed summit is the highest of the border peaks at the head of the glacier.

The most aesthetic route, the west ridge, looked exposed with sustained technicalities. Instead, on the west face, Knott and Snowdon found a twisting snow/ice couloir right of disintegrating rock buttresses and left of the most threatening seracs.

On the first attempt an overnight electrical storm and persistent heavy snowfall forced them back to base camp, wary of avalanche risk in the upper cwm.

A clearance to cooler, and seemingly settled weather persuaded them to use their last available days for a second attempt.

On August 14, they climbed up the couloir and onto easier west-facing slopes, which led to a rounded foresummit and the exposed but straightforward upper north ridge.

As they gained height, wind gusts increased in ferocity, keeping the two climbers focused as they traversed undulations and climbed around rock features on surprisingly good névé.

The summit was a spectacularly sharp point overlooking the impressive southern buttresses of Pik Kosmos and striking unclimbed peaks on the Xinjiang side of the border.

Partly due to the high winds, they moved fast, summiting in less than three and a half hours from high camp and returning in under three.

Knott and Snowdon had previously formed a two-man expedition to the Fairweather Range of Alaska in 2011.

A number of other teams have been, or are still, operating in the West Kokshaal-too area, including:

Alaskans Benjamin Erdmann and Samuel Johnson, who made yet another valiant attempt on the prize line up the southeast face of Kyzyl Asker towards the western end of the range;

four young Slovenians who were also heading to the same area and by mid September had climbed three hard ice/mixed routes on the north side of the range;

a group of Russians who made many first ascents from the Fersmana Glacier - including a hard line on the previously virgin Byeliy East - a little  west of the Palgov Glacier;

and a British team led by Emily Ward who were operating in the Kosmos area. This all-female expedition received grants from the MEF, BMC, the 2015 Alison Chadwick Award, and Julie Tullis and Shipton-Tilman awards.

More on these ascents in due course

However, the most worrying news from this area relates to an unconfirmed rumour that two Russians were arrested and detained in jail for a month.

The West Kokshaal-too straddles the Kyrgyz-Chinese border, and in the past several parties have crossed high glaciated cols at the heads of Kyrgyzstan valleys to attempt some of the south (Chinese) faces.

The two Russians are rumoured to have crossed over to the Chinese side via the Kotur Glacier, and were then arrested, eventually requiring the assistance of the Russian government to get home.



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Anonymous User
10/12/2015
Where can I found relation or photo from peak? All Article say about climbed mountain in kokshal tau and show photo from ridge. Sorry it is not enough for me.... I would like to see a photo and full relation.

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