At the start of this month Luka Lindic (Slovenia) and Ines Papert (Germany) made the first ascent of the spectacular southeast ice couloir on Kyzyl Asker (5,842m), the highest summit in the western sector of the Western Kokshaal-too.
Since its first sighting in 1998, this 1,200m couloir has been tried by numerous parties, which have included Americans, Canadians, British and Germans. Until this year it remained the most attempted, and most coveted, major line in the Western Kokshaal-too, if not throughout the entire Tien Shan.
The Western Kokshaal-too straddles the border between Kyrgyzstan and Chinese Xinjiang. The southeast face lies on the Chinese side of the mountain and although several parties have approached from the depths of Xinjiang, most have established a base camp on the Kyrgyz side to the north, and then approached via a (long) crossing of the glaciated Window Col.
Papert had come this way in both 2010 and 2011, when she attempted the couloir. On her second try in 2010 she reached a point just 300m below the summit before having to retreat. Until October this remained the all time high point on this feature.
After good acclimatization, Lindic (28) and Papert (42) set off at 5 a.m. on the 30th September with a limited weather window, knowing they would have to use their combined talents to climb fast and efficiently.
As night fell and a thunderstorm set in, the two continued in the dark to reach a point two pitches below the summit ridge, where they bivouacked.
The night was hard, as it proved extremely cold and they were beaten by spin drift.
However, next morning, the 1st October, was fine, and they continued to the summit ridge, which they then followed to reach the highest point at a little after midday.
Returning the way they had come, they rappelled the route entirely from Abalakovs, and reached the glacier at 7 p.m., just after a massive thunderstorm struck the range.
They have named the route Lost in China (1,200m ED WI5+ M6). Neither Lindic nor Papert felt they previously climbed such a perfect ice route at altitude.
The problem with this ephemeral line, as the first party to make a serious attempt found out, is that in any sort of bad weather it quickly becomes deluged in spindrift avalanches, while in any sort of good weather the sun quickly melts the ice.
That first party was Guy Robertson and Es Tresidder, in 2002. Kyzyl Asker had been photographed by the 1997 Anglo-American-German party that were the first foreigners to climb in the western section of the range. The following year one of these members returned as part of an American-Canadian group, and during a few exploratory days crossed the border at Window Col (a pass first reached and named in '97), descended onto the Chinese glacier. There, they immediately noticed, and photographed, the superb ice couloir on Kyzyl Asker's southeast face.
Robertson and Tresidder returned for a second attempt on the feature in 2004, but conditions were too poor. Instead, they turned to the line of huge granite walls to the south, dubbed the Great Walls of China by the '97 party, and climbed the first route there, a steep icy chimney to the watershed ridge; Border Control (650m, 13 pitches, ED2, WI5 Scottish VII/VIII mixed A1). In 2011 Papert climbed a parallel recessed line immediately to the right; Quantum of Solace.
On the 21st September, as a "warm-up" for Kyzyl Asker, Lindic and Papert made the second ascent of Border Control, climbing it free at WI5 M7.
When they turned to Kyzyl Asker they found the couloir in perfect conditions, with continuous excellent water ice all the way to the summit ridge.
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