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EWP Virgin Summit 2000 Expedition Report

Muzkol and Eastern Sunrise

 

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Introduction
The Pamir mountains are geologically fairly young and result from the Indian sub-continent tectonic plate pushing up against the Asian plate. The Trans-Alai ridge is the northernmost of the Pamir ridges, it is composed mainly of sedimentary rocks such as limestones and sandstones of the late Devonian and early Carboniferous age that overlie the triassic older rocks to the north. It presents a chain of 6000 summits whose north faces form a dramatic and generally inpenetrable wall of ice. Cornices, seracs and avalanches threaten most of the 120km length of the north faces. South of Sary Tash (yellow stone) township lies the Kyzyl Art pass, the only pass over which a road has been (or could be) constructed.

West of the Kyzyl Art pass the chain has been better explored, in particular the Peak Lenin area. To the east it is still mainly unexplored and the main summits of the Trans-Alai are unclimbed. The most noteworthy of these are Kurumdy, 6613m, and Zoria Vostoka, 6349m, on whose summit the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tadjikistan and China meet. Just north of Kurumdy and Eastern Sunrise a minor range of mountains of a more Alpine size and character guard access to the giants themselves. These mountains are breached by the Kurumdy Glacier which thus provides access to them from the north. The more western part of the Alpine mountains were partly explored in 1999 by a British group led by Mark Deegan.

The aim of this expedition was to explore the Zoria Vostoka area and make an attempt on the summit itself. The Russian name Zoria Vostoka (Eastern Sunrise) was given to the mountain by Russian topographers. Local people call it Kyzyl Su Bashi (red river head). As we were on a tight schedule two Russian climbers went directly to the Kurumdy area to explore access routes and to find a location for the base camp.

The first part of the expedition was devoted to an attempt on the ascent of Zartosh in the Muzkol Pamir. Various previous attempts on Zartosh have been made in the past details. Considerable amounts of fresh snow hampered the ascent of the group to the Zartosh - White Pyramid col. Despite this an attempt on Zartosh was made but powder snow on rocks in the final steep couloir forced a retreat. Several group members the ascended White Pyramid (FA EWP 1998): Iain Bryce, Klaus Friewald and Colin Sprange. A plaque was placed on Ulf Carlssons Grave (EWP VS 1999 report).
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An interesting change to our usual trips was the presence of a travel-hardened group of explorer-horseriders organised by Dr. Raymond Bird. All in their seventies they often put the rest of the group to shame by their ability to put up with all the hardships of travel with a smile on their faces and a tumbler of whisky in their hand. At both base camps they carried out mini-expeditions to neighbouring regions and were rewarded by visiting areas which almost certainly no other western tourists had seen.

EWP August 2000 group:
UK : Andrew Wielochowski (guide / leader), climbers: Michael Feliks, Colin Sprange, Kevin Turner, Giles Cornah (assistant guide), horseriders: Philip Horniblow, Suzan Rae, Philippa Treadwell, Raymond Bird.
Hong Kong: Iain Bryce (climber)
Austria: Klaus Friewald (climber)
Russia: Sergei Semiletkin (climbing guide / leader); Valery Reznik (climbing guide); Volodia Lebedev (doctor - climber); support / climbers: Valery Smutin, Valery Morozov), Igor Gavrilov; Ira Logacheova (assistant / horserider); Michal Kan (guide / horserider),
Kyrgyzstan: Liudmila Kolieshova(cook) and her son Oleg, Amridin Negov (driver),

Report
10th August dawned clear and warm in the Muzkol, in the night the truck had arrived and we packed in the morning sun. We were ready to leave at 9 am. We set off and crossed the ridge back to the Kokubel river. At the Kyrgyz yurt we left a bag of flour and continued on to the first check point at Lake Karakol. The is a Russian controlled post whose main purpose is to intercept the movement of narcotics. A little black dog (called Roy) sniffed around our vehicles, our personal luggage was looked through politely. Luckily the checks were completed just before a storm of dust followed by hail hit us. For the rest of the journey up to the Kyzyl Art pass the weather was cloudy. After a rather friendly but slow passport and customs check at the pass we said goodbye to Tadjikistan and descended the rough road down to three Kyrgyz checkpoints at one of which one dollar was paid for our vehicle to be optionally disinfected. We opted against disinfection and quickly passed through the customs and immigration posts - no doubt the steady cold drizzle urged the officials to get us processed speedily.
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Now only two checkpoints remained, both at Sary Tash. It was after 5pm by the time we finally set off on the dirt road east up the Alai Valley in a gentle drizzle. Grasslands spread to our right, blending into snow covered foothills then mist. To our left (north) occasional yurts with associated cattle and horses broke the monotony of the grasslands in the foreground, however beyond jagged snow-covered hills and tantalising glimpses through the mists of higher mountains attracted our attention. 36 km from Sary Tash (about 50 minutes drive under prevailing conditions) we reached Taunmurun Pass - 3536m. Igor and Valery Morozov were waiting for us here in a tent. It was getting late and the cold wind and drizzle chilled us quickly. Two kilometres beyond the pass we stopped in a hollow where there was a yurt and the first water. We just managed to put up the tents before dark.

The mess tent was rigged between two trucks for shelter and Ira and Luda soon had a much wanted hot meal ready for us all. With all 22 of us in the tent and a few drops of vodka we were all soon warm and happy.

During the night the weather cleared and we set off the following morning with superb views of rocky summits to the north and the glistening formidable north faces of the Trans-Alai Range including Kurumdy which had already been ascended and Zoria Vostoka - Eastern Sunrise - which was our objective.

Igor and Valery had spent a few days exploring the area and had got as far as 5100m on the NE ridge of Kurumdy. Here they found a message left by a group led by Moshnikov that had attempted Kurumdy in July - they had reached 6000m on the main Trans Alai ridge but failed to get further as a result of bad weather and poor snow conditions. See footnote.

After seven kilometres drive along a grassy ridge we drove part of the way down to the Kyzyl Su (Red River - this one drains east into the Kok Su and China). The last few hundred feet we walked down carrying the equipment for base camp which was established on a grassy meadow at 3500m by the river.

A debate ensued over a distant rock tooth, bearing 60 degrees, approximate distance 100 km possibly 5000m high. (On later inspection this turned out to be a 5300m summit NW of Kashkar in China).

The local Kyrgyz came down to visit us to negotiate horses for our horse riding contingent. Amongst them was the 77 year old patriarch, Sharif Bey. He chatted long with us telling us about his father who was sent in Soviet days to China - evicted as a kulak (rich man). At 23 he married his wife who was then 13 and together they raised a family of 10 - 5 sons and 5 daughters.
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11 August. After a leisurely breakfast we started up the Kyzyl Su valley. After 50 minutes we turned off right and walked up a side stream draining the right side of the main valley. Soon we were walking through flower filled meadows. In a further 50 minutes we reached a camp used by Moshnikov in July at ca.3750m. In 20 minutes we reached a steepening at about 3850m. We climbed this to a higher level of meadows and streams in a most magnificent ablation valley. In a further 40 minutes this was blocked by a massive landslide and here our Kyrgyz horseman turned back leaving us with full loads to carry. Beyond the 400m landslide a small blue lake was trapped in the continuation of the ablation valley. We continued up the meadows for another 30 minutes to a final small meadow beside a tiny stream at 4100m. We set up our camp here directly across from the north face of Eastern Sunrise and Kurumdy. While most of us relaxed Klaus climbed point 4830m to the north of the campsite.

12th August. A few small clouds appeared over the highest summits at dawn then evaporated while we had breakfast. The altimeter did not change - maybe the weather will last. Igor guided us across the glacier - this took 40 minutes and involved quite an easy and safe route.

Above us and to the right rose scree then snow and broken rock slopes towards one of the few safe looking routes to Kurumdy via a knoll and possible campsite at 5015m. Igor and Valery Morozov had reached this point during an initial exploration of the routes. To our left a horrific looking icefall barred our way. We now proposed to skirt round this in order to reach the NW ridge of Eastern Sunrise. Giles, Klaus, Iain and Andrew had brought up all their equipment in order to set up a high camp on the ridge. The remainder of the group carried some of their equipment up with the plan to go back down and come up with the rest of their equipment the following day.

The west bank of the glacier was followed till it flattened out and could be easily crossed to the east side, from here easy scree slopes led to the NW ridge which was followed easily from 4200 to 4600m. Here on a flat section of the ridge camp was established.
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13th August. Banks of cloud and a haze obscured visibility as at 10am Giles and Klaus set off to continue up the ridge. Andrew and Iain followed for short way but turned back when the visibility became too poor to watch the progress of the others. The weather deteriorated further and it began to snow gently. When Giles and Klaus returned to the camp it was decided to abandon the attempt on the summit. The descent to advanced base, where it was raining rather than snowing, took less than 3 hours. They were met with hot soup and tea. Just after nightfall the rain eased off.

14th August. The day dawned almost cloudless. Slowly the group dried out their equipment and packed, with only four days left the majority decided to descend to base camp and explore other areas. Iain, Michael, Andrew and Valery decided to explore the group of mountains west of peak 5368m. They crossed the glacier without too much problem and established a camp at 3900m.

15th August. The above 4 climbed 4729m which they christened "The Pulpit" approaching it by a straightforward glacier from the west and then by the easy NW ridge. The ascent took 3? hours. The rest of the climbing expedition went for 20km. walk to a group of rocky summits and outcrops called Ailama located to the north of the main road to China.

16th August. A rope traverse was constructed over the Kyzyl Su. The rope was fixed to a high rock on the camp side but sloped down to about 1m height on the other. Ideally the lightest member of the group should cross first, this could generally be achieved without the person getting wet. This person would then hold up the rope as the second person approached the low end.

With the help of this group members ventured east. First Klaus explores a snowy rib leading up to 4850m, a point on a ridge composed of several summits running from 5368 north then NE towards Pik Chierny (4923m). Giles, Kevin, Valery Morozov. Valery Smutin and Igor set off towards these mountains but with the intention of camping beneath them.
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17th August. Giles and Kevin start off early and gain Klaus' Point in about 3 hours. From there they turn S to climb point 4892. This involved a 1 km. long, steep-sided corniced ridge. Part of the way they followed large cat prints which at one point appeared to leap down onto some snowy ledges below the cornice.

Iain and Michael got left base camp and also made for Klaus' Ridge but at the top they turned left and followed the ridge 700m east to summit 4905m. At a few points they skirted around rocky outcrops before reaching the summit in gradually deteriorating weather. On their descent they dragged their rucksacks and ice axes behind them when everything around them started buzzing in the gathering thunderstorm.

Igor and the two Valerys also climbed Klaus' Ridge but turned back at Klaus' Point. By the time they reached camp at after 6pm rain was falling steadily at base camp.

18th August. Overnight snow fell steadily, gradually weighing down the mess tent till finally it gave way. By morning the skies had cleared and a frost settled over the snowy site. Gradually the sun warmed up the valley and soon the tents started thawing out and drying out. However our 6 wheel drive bus still had to climb 200m up a steep, rough, grssy track to get out of the Kyzyl Su valley, beyond that gentle grassy slopes led down to the main China - Osh road. We had lunch by the bus watching the upper slopes thaw out and dry out enough for the bus to tackle them. By th time we got out of the valley and transferred the main luggage to a truck that came to meet us from Osh it was 4pm and we were informed about a flare up of fighting between Uzbek mujahadin and Kyrgyz forces. The road to Osh would be closed at night. The tired group reluctantly camped on a meadow in the Alai mountains south of Gulcha.

In the following two days the group returned back to the UK with no further major set backs.

Conclusion
In fact the possibility of these problems had already almost stopped the expedition leaving in the first place. In the summer of 1999 a group of Uzbek mujahadin based and supported by Afghanistan tried to infiltrate Uzbekistan with the intention of destabilizing the Uzbek, Karimov, government. To do this they had to pass through Tadjik and Kyrgyz territory. In the Alai mountains they captured a group of Russian scientists, 4 Japanese geologists and a Kyrgyz official. The Russians were released almost immediately but the Japanese were kept as hostages. Whilst in Kyrgyz territory the Kyrgyz army intercepted the group. The Uzbeks offered air support which was turned down by the Kyrgyz. However the Uzbeks did attempt to bomb the mujahadin in the process damaging a Kyrgyz village and provoking a deterioration of relationships between the two countries.

Later the mujahadin negotiated a safe passage back to Afghanistan in exchange for a release of the hostages. The summer 2000 problems were similar but involving a bigger group of mujahadin and ended up with a group of American climbers in Kyrgyzstan being kidnapped by the mujahadin. They escaped by pushing a guard over the edge of a cliff.

Footnote: Anatoli Moshnikov's group: left the following message at 5105m:
On the 27th July 2000 4 British and 2 Russian climbers ascended the ridge directly southwards. We slept at 5600m and then reached approximately 5800m on the ridge, before snow conditions forced a retreat. We believe this is the best route to reach the 6000m peaks and hope you have better weather than us.
Best of luck,
Tom Avery, George Wells, Patrick Woodhead, Nicholas Stopford.
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ALW 13/04/02