The Kyzyl Asker, a bare and hard to access mountain on the border between China and Kyrgyzstan in the Xingjang Region has seen very few ascents so far. In 2010, I attempted to open a new line on the southeast face of the mountain but had to retreat just 300m shy of the summit due to heavy snowfall and avalanches. A second attempt a year later was also futile due to health problems of my team.
Words by Ines Papert – Five years later, the force of attraction of Kyzyl Asker lead me to a third expedition to the uninhabitable terrain of the mountain. The line I had in mind before had seen over ten attempts over the course of the past years but so far no team had managed to climb this route to the peak. After failing to finish my project on Kyzyl Asker for the second time in 2011 I tried to forget about the mountain. I didn’t want it to become my purpose in life. I was actually hoping another team would climb the route. But this was not the case. The idea to climb Kyzyl Asker grew again inside of me. Failure is part of climbing. In addition, so is patience and sometimes a third attempt.
When I spoke to Luka Lindič about the line, it quickly became clear that he was just as enthusiastic about the project as I was. It was exactly what I had missed from my team in 2011. I like his attitude towards climbing and life. His skills as well as his sincerity and reliability are traits I truly treasure. We decided to take on the line fast and light, in classical alpine style.
September 30th, 5am – ABC
The day began cold but very clear with stars above us. We simul-climbed the first few hundred meters in the dark. We knew we had to make progress quickly to reach the summit ridge that same day. Otherwise, the predicted good weather window would close and we would have to retreat or be caught in a snowstorm. We climbed regular rope lengths here, stretching them out sometimes to gain height quicker. Very soon the sun touched the face of the mountain, just not warm enough to melt the ice yet.
I lost sight of Luka as he lead a pitch. All of a sudden I heard a piercing scream. It was an excited yell, not one of fear. I wasn’t sure what was going on, he was too far away from the summit. Luka let out a howl of joy when he saw what lay before us: perfect ice lead our way to the summit ridge. Neither Luka nor me had climbed such a perfect ice and mixed route at an altitude this high before. The same route had cost us incredibly much time in 2010 because of the difficult conditions. This time it seemed almost easy.
The only problem I had was climbing with our backpack. We decided to only climb with one pack with everything we would need for a bivy in it. The person following the lead carried the pack. We continued while a thunderstorm hit the mountain. Hail went down the gully, making it impossible to keep climbing for a few minutes. Thankfully the spectacle was soon over. Only a few more difficult mixed pitches were left before the summit ridge. Luka managed to find the easiest line and climbed this part with focus on getting higher. He pushed on hard while I started to feel the altitude and the heavy pack on my shoulders.
We climbed a few pitches into the night until it got too cold. After some searching we found a spot for our bivy around 10pm, about two pitches below the summit ridge. Two hours of shaping a ledge with our ice axes – and we had built a seat for a short night. We were protected from the wind but still exposed and far from comfortable. A bit of spindrift spiced things up a little. It turned into a terribly long night with endless thoughts of the warming rays of the sun. Luka said it was one of the toughest bivys. I had already experienced nights like these twice here on Kyzyl Asker. We stayed put when the first light began shining until the first rays hit us and helped us warm up. We began our ascent to the main peak around 10am. The peak itself is a few hundred meters east, not west as described in some reports.
We untied from our ropes at the summit ridge, left them and the pack behind and made our way to the peak. Luka gave me a wink and let me lead: After your experience and hardships on the mountain this is how it should be. I climbed the last meters to the cornice-covered peak. I was speechless and simply happy to experience this moment. Luka arrived and I could see joy in his face as he stands next to me. It is 12.10 local time. We realized that we are probably one of the few rope teams that have reached the highest point of Kyzyl Asker.
We quickly decided on the name of the route. The experience that have made this climb, this expedition distinctive. The language, the culture, the time spent and the vastness of the country often gave us the impression of being lost. If we didn’t have Rocker, our Chinese photographer at our side we would simply be Lost in China. We are aware of the short weather window and so we quickly rappel down over the route, solely using Abalakov anchors. We were back ABC at 7pm, just in time before a massive thunderstorm sweeps over the mountain, chasing spindrift avalanches down the face. We are more than happy to be safe and are sure, our climb could not have lasted an hour longer.