A four-member expedition from King’s College London Alumni Mountaineering Club, supported by the MEF, has made the first ascent of the fine snow pyramid, Fers III (5,210m) in the central part of the Western Kokshaal-too.
This range of often-dramatic alpine peaks forms part of the Tien Shan, straddling the border with China.
In 2009, also supported by the MEF, Gareth Mottram and Ed Lemon, with Martin Jones and James Wrathall, became the first climbers to enter and explore the lower and middle reaches of the Sarychat Glacier, the upper section having been traversed in 2003 by a group of Russians, who crossed a high pass from the parallel Fersmana Glacier to the west.
This year Mottram and Lemon returned to the Sarychat with Charlie Evans and Hannes Granberg (Sweden). They acclimatized with an attempt on Sentinel Peak.
This first involved climbing a new route up a gully on the east flank of Pik Lyall (4,864m), a mountain 2009 expedition had summited from the south.
The 600m gully (Scottish II/III) was climbed unroped, as no meaningful protection was available. Once on the summit they were dismayed to find the continuation ridge adorned with spires of unstable chossy shale, and they retreated.
Their ascent of Fers III began at 4:00am from the western side of the Sarychat Glacier, with the group splitting into two pairs to follow different lines.
Granberg and Mottram climbed a continuous icy ramp to the main ridge, while Lemon and Evans hugged the rock further right. Both routes then crossed the final rock band on the summit ridge by mixed chimneys at AI4 and M5.
All climbers then followed the same line up the final 300m; snow steepening to 55/60°, passing the summit serac on the left.
The pairs descended their lines, regaining camp 28 hours after leaving. Both routes were c1,200m in length and provisionally graded ED1, as the main technical difficulties occurred high on the mountain, and the risk of avalanche and rockfall significant.
Before leaving the area, Granberg and Mottram were able to bag two adjacent tops above base camp; Georgina (4,631m) and Annika (4,685m). The route involved scree gullies and then a ridge in poor condition (PD-).
Temperatures in the area were hot, and conditions worsened while Fers III was being climbed, so team members were unable to make a second trip up the Sarychat for further objectives.
At the time of writing the four are on their way home, but they report that just prior to arrival in the Kokshaal-too, a Slovenian party made the coveted first ascent of the outstanding prize in the range, 5,697m Pik Byeliy.
Sometimes referred to as Grand Poobah, the named given by Americans who made the first serious attempt, Byeliy is a well-defended mountain that has been the goal of more than half a dozen expeditions.
In 2008 Slovenians discovered a long but relatively straightforward route via the South Ridge from the upper Fersmana Glacier, but were stopped on the summit snow slopes, 300m below the top, by avalanche conditions.
This time the team approach from the Kotur, the next valley west, and two members climbed the South West (frontier) Ridge, which they described as not too hard, but overhung by a large serac. More details when available.