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.
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.
When I spoke to Slovenian climber 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.
On September 29th, the night before we left for project, the sky was clear and the stars were so bright it seemed as though you could touch them. When a shooting star fell onto the mountain we knew we just had to take our chance. The weather forecast by Charly Gabl predicted unstable weather and very little snow for our first day but the rest was perfect: the conditions, the clear sky, our spirit and our motivation.
We knew we had to take the chance because of all the signs. I also knew from my experience from my first two expeditions here that the window for this route is so small. If it's too warm, you find bad conditions, if it's too cold you might freeze in the bivvy.
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. Failure is part of climbing. And so is patience and sometimes a third attempt.
Luka and I had to rethink our logistics since getting there via Kyrgystan is a lottery game this time of year. But the line we had in mind is only climbable this time around. I learned these details the hard way during my last two expeditions there. So we decided to take the route through China. This would also benefit our acclimatization phase since we would be ascending from 2900m by foot.
China sure had it coming for us! Without the support of our photographer Rocker, a Chinese native, we would have already failed at our arrival. We also had to learn that details in China seem to come up surprisingly or change fast.
We were told, for example, that we would have camels available for our transport to base camp. Or motorcycles. Maybe a traktor. In addition nobody could tell us where our basecamp would be. We felt a bit lost already.
September 30th, 5am. 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 get caught in a snow storm. When we reached the steep water ice, surrounded by huge roofs of ice, the day greeted us with first rays of light. 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. It kept us warm during the day, we we quickly gained more pitches.
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 me nor Luka 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. Our calves were suffering a bit but we continued while a thunderstorm hit the mountain. Hail went down the gully like hell, 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. We were protected from the wind here but very exposed and far from comfortable. After shaping a ledge to sit with our ice axes for about two hours we thought this was enough to spend a short night. But 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. A bit of spindrift spiced things up a little.
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 hundered meters east, not west as described in some reports.
We untied from our ropes at the summit ridge and left them and the pack behind and made our way to the peak. Luka lets me lead with a wink, saying that after all my experiences and hardships on the mountain this is how it should be. I climb the last meters to the cornice covered peak. I am speechless and simply happy to be able to experience this moment. I can see then joy in Luka's face as he stands next to me, at 12.10 local time.
We realized that we are probably one of the few rope teams that have reached the highes point of Kyzyl Asker.
We quickly decide on the name of the route. The experiences 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 at our side we would simply be "Lost in China."
We are aware of the weather window and so we quickly rappel down over the route, solely using Abalakov anchors. We reach the ABC at 7pm. Right after touching base a massive thunderstorm sweeps over the mountain, chasing spindrift avalanches down the face. We are more than happy to be safe. Our climb could not have lasted an hour longer.
Route: Lost in China (First Ascent) 30th Sept. and 1st Oct. 2016
Mountain: Kyzyl Asker, China, southeast face
Difficulty: ED, WI 5+, M6, 1200m
Acclimatisation-Route: Border Control (First Repeat and First Free Ascent); 21st September 2016; Mountain: Great Walls of China, China, northeast face; ED, WI 5, M7, 650m
Gear we brought: bivvy sleeping sack, thin foamies, stove, 1 gas, some bars, soup, cheese, speck and coffee, 2 half ropes, 10 ice screws, 1 set of cams up to N0. 2, 1.5 set of nuts, 3 titanium pitons, runners