Aksu region with reflection of a mystery of Russian soul.
In a memory of those, whose souls remains to fly not visually in a silence of Mountain's Grandeur.
Aksu region - the Kingdom of Pimiro-Alai in the gorge of Liayliak, is situated in the centre of Turkestanskiy range in Pamiro-Alai mountain system which is situated around 120 km to south from Khodzhent town. It has a special interest that attracts the climbers during the last 15 years with the similar rock face relief as in famous El-Capitan but even 500 meters higher.
As usual the weather of the region is warm enough and stable, but some times a terrible storm can cover all region with a lot of fresh snow during only a few hours. The routes come basically along faces of rocks about 1000 - 1500 meters high and demands from the climbers very good ability of rock climbing. The rocks are very smooth and composed of huge stone blocks with a few clings for free climbing and crags for belay.
Usually all routes are coming along vertical crags and chimneys, that some times are filled with snow and ice. There are a lot of cornices and pendulums to overcome. It is necessary to use all technical equipment for climbing and belay, such as various pitons, stoppers, camalots, specially "friends" comes very good, sky-hooks and so on. A speed of climbing could be limited only within 100-200 meters high during the day.
In 1983 it was the first championship in this region, that move away the "Halo of the mystery" from this region. Our team successfully took part in 1992 in technical class Championship, that follow new formula of maximum climbing breackless during 15 days long, but in spite nine years of this region development, some routes have been climbed only once before us and did not loose their charm.
Our base camp was situated in the level of 2800 meters high near to Aksu river stream, that from Kirgisian means "clean water", with the fascinated view over triangle rock face of Aksu group, which burning in gold during the sunset over the darkness of narrow gorge.
It is a good job if you make at least one good climbing, spending a few days, to say nothing about long term series of climbing, which we made up our mind to do after some "training" climbing of 5-6 degrees.
Easy and beautiful valleys and passes create in this region ideal conditions for trekking and even riding. Here we are coming with heavy sacks to Aksu face direction to east, coming up the valley through wild forest (1,5 hours) and then by the moraine of Aksu glacier to the place, where it makes right turn with a breathtaking view on the whole North face of Aksu. Further we make left turn and coming to foot slopes of North face Alexander Block massif (5229 m) with 1000 drops in a height, where there are a lot of serious technical routes comes up. During the time we are coming to our camp, we manage to watch all of them out. They are logically threaded up on the face one after another, as usual rising up by directissima, lying like on the palm.
It is "golden" route along Central bastion begins from left side the gallery of routes of North face first climbed by Sergey Efimov in 1983, who became a peculiar "Maestro" of Russian mountaineering, who was the winner five times one after another in various Soviet Union mountaineering Championship. Unusual monolith block relief with gigantic inside corner in low part of the route, coming up with overhanging and then smooth rocks pouring with frozen ice. In upper part there are vertical couloir, series of cornices and vertical monolithic stones. All these features makes this combined 6A difficulty route very interesting for climbing, especially in the conditions of North face micro climate. The snow in the middle of the face is melting in the midday, pouring climbers with showers, and are frozen in the morning, covering the rocks with the icy crust.
Then little bit to the right there is the route of Vladimir Bashkirov along the "pillar" of North face with vertical part of 800 meters high -5B. Lower part of the route is bitten by the falling ice from the right side in the second part of daytime, that crash we hear even from the distance, so it obviously danger to spend a night here. A peculiar feature of this route is that it has high technical difficulties all face long with absence of any places where it is possible to get rest. The route begins from so called "finger", that forms giant inside corner, very strength for free climbing. The low part of "mirror" and also exit from so called "book" to left side are next problem parts, which are completely smooth without any crags. It is good idea to use pendulum to speed up horizontal traverse.
Then more to the right there is George Aygistov's route, that we have chosen for us to make its second climbing -5B.
Further to right there is Evgeny Klinetskiy' route coming up along directisima over the bastion, that has some advantages, such as stone fall dangerless, monolithic, logical relief with combination of various inside corners and chimneys, filled with snow and ice, with a lot of overhanging parts and only a few shelfs for good relaxation. It has peculiar low part of two steep icy belts with a huge cornice between them.
So we chose logical Aygistov's route, that begins from bergshrund along the steep ice slope to the direction of narrow ice gutter, where there is no way out from. We climbed along this gutter and then over cornice arriving to the middle part of giant rocky "banana", where overhanging stones were covered with thin ice. After we did rather difficult inside corner to get to "red face" and then finally to summit crest.
There are no any normal places for bivouac to place tent to sleep in and we have carried our tent useless. To spend our four nights each of us made a personal hole in ice falling asleep, moving down during the night and waking up in hanging position.
A member of our team Timmer Egor remembers that evens with a lot of humour mixed with tension of difficult job:
"It was already during first night, that our primus stove together with pot for food preparation in high pressure were blowed up. I was turned away when suddenly heard very strong explosion and some radiance. I thought that I was bitten with some stone to my head and my soul is flying up to heaven. But sudden shouts "A-a-a!" turns me back to reality. It proves to be that all our stove is explosed and with accumulative stream of prepared food aimed to one of us to the face and even cover all huge stone behind him. We washed his eyes with prepared hot tea and get scraped cold food from the stone to eat it. We lost our primus and only gas burner with the only balloon left.
It is a peculiar feature of this route that it comes in a shadow in a kind of gutter or inside corner in 1-2 meters from the sun shine and warm, but did not get to them along all route long. You are climbing completely frozen, trying to reach for the sun successlessly.
We used to climb a lot of "cunning" places, where there were steep rocks, then layer of air and finally thin 3-4 sm. pouring ice. And it the feature of all route. We made two styles to climb it. Either to climb over the crusted ice which were rather dangerous, making half deep ice screw belay, or cut out all ice away trying to make piton or stopper into stone. We faced with problem "wizarded" place in upper part of the route. It was very steep face covered with thin "breathing" ice. I was very afraid to follow climbing in ice style. The ice layer get more and more thin and then suddenly with peculiar "gnat's squeak" deformed ice began to be cut through by my chacal. I felt that I am slowly moving down and further I fall head side down. Oh my God, the ice piton screwed only 3 sm. in deep stands my fall, but bent its form. One more attempt - second fall, third one... I managed to climbed it only from the fourth attempt."
We made descent from A. Block peak completely "wrecked", along the "duty" route of N. Petrichenko through the col along South-west crest 5B, along "the head of the cheese", which is named after peculiar stone relief, similar to cheese holes.
Having one day rest in base camp returns us back to championship schedule and here we are coming up again to our next purpose - the "pillar" of Admiralteets peak (5090 m). We have seen it from the summit of A. Block, where from it looks rather small compared with grandiose North face of North Aksu (5217 m) peak itself. Even now, when we make right turn along Aksu glacier, we are coming during long time along it which is a dominant of all this region, that rising up with 1500 meter high with smooth almost vertical rock face, where there are no any easy routes at all. It's like peculiar "forge of Soviet Union Heroes".
One of the most classical 6A degree extra route and rather safe from stone fall is Leonid Troschinenko's one along the right bastion. After the huge rock stone named "Utiug" (Iron), there are two splits of I-st and II-nd "Integrals" with shock stones in a form of "pancake". It's rather easy orientation along this route, as it has some logical relief for self orientation during 1000 meters approximate 75 degrees steep bastion.
Left bastion route - 6A, first climbed by Vladimir Kavunenko has the same climbing difficulty as previous one, but with rather poor micro relief. The "key" part is central "mirror", 300 meters vertical granite pillar with overhanging and a few crags to climb.
Central part of Aksu North face is a kind of gutter, that collects all mass of stones, ice and water, which are falling down the face. This part should be climbed within morning time before midday to be safe and sound. This Central part, climbed first time by V. Popov (6B) is very difficult and tension for climbing and takes about 10 days - that is the reason it was repeated only three - four times. Central part of the face is possibly to climb only be the narrow vertical crag, which time by time is filled up with ice or snow.
A huge ice very steep coloir, that begins in the centre of the face and comes to the summit of right rock bastion presents another 6A extra route, climbed first by A. Moshnikov. It's here that you can combine extreme ice and rock climbing together.
It is a splendid view around from the summit of the Aksu over so called "horse-shoe", which is formed except for Aksu itself by Iskander (5120 m) group, peak Petrogradets (5163 m) and peak Admiralteets (5090 m).
Leaving to the back Aksu face, we are pleased to look over all "horse-shoe" with dominating of sharp pointed North Iskander peak (5000 m), with the route of V. Bashkirov 5B along North-East face, coming up along the series of vertical crags and is extremely interesting for free climbing, that we can easily see.
All foreigners visiting this region as usual prefer to climb Small Iskander (4520 m), that presents two route 5A degree - left or right one, which could be climbed up and down within one day long, spending a night before under overhanging huge stone to be safe from any stone fall.
Finally we get to the place of bivouac on the moraine beneath the "Pillar" of Admiralteets peak, where from we admire during a long time of sunset coloured South face of Iskander group - almost vertical monolith rocks, with the only shelf, looking like a bird, in the centre, where from it is better to make a development of the upside part of the rock face, climbing for example along the centre by V. Grischenko route - 6A.
It used to be like a "small Elf" compared with Aksu giant, looking from the distance, now the "pillar" proved to be 800 meters vertical monolith monument, inspiring the climber with the feeling of at least the respect and trembling. 6A degree route begins from the wide shelf coming to the face from right side and further along the centre by vertical crag, which time by time is filled with snow and ice. There is no other variants to choose by the smooth "mirrors" around.
We spent first day to develop lower part. There is snow-ice slope with bergshrund in the middle, that comes to the rock face, standing vertically right away. Obviously, everything is pre-fixed in this life, and again I have an evidence of this fact. A huge few meters stone is falling down along the slope, speeding up, moving to us. First of us could hide himself in overhanging rocks. Second is rather away from it, and I am standing the last, fixed to the rope two meter higher the bergsgrund, that could save my life if I managed to unfixed the rope and drop down. But I have no enough time. Automatically I am trying to calculate it trajectory and obviously see that it comes directly over to me. I have no the place to hide to, and the only thing I can do is to learn the art to be a "mole", digging in to the fresh snow, prepared myself to the worst. It was a miracle, that the centre of this stone block passed only half meter from my face, pouring and bared me completely with a snow and moreover packaged and pulled me deep inside, and then taking away all my horror and tension, looking like locomotive from the distance above.
After the time, when the only inclined shelf in the centre of the "pillar" and its top are touched with sun light, we have to stand the test of the ice falling down bombing on our heads and obviously it was some danger looking up side direction.
The last dramatical events remembers the Uriy Saveliev, who made his best to help us climb it up:
"Having spent two nights on the face, in the end of "pillar", when all of us were tired, each of us made his fall and has hurt hands or lags, when it looked that we have no enough power to climb hard, we have suddenly faced with serious test, which I had to climb already beyond my limit. I was climbed this part the last in the rope. The heavy sacks hurts my shoulders, cut them in, pulling me back, hanging on the rope. I get to the small shelf, where already all our team stands in with a hesitation. I met a glance of my rope-team friend, that was full of the pray. We understand each other with half-word: "Uriy, one bottle of vodka, just climb it up!". I see a small rising up crags for the same small number of stoppers for belay, which it is only two pieces left. I am climbing, placing one stopper up and then move another from myself again up. I watched the exit from this crags, leaving both stoppers beneath and started to climb free style only with a friction. I saw some blood streaming under my nails makes me to feel pain as a result of previous days long tension. I hold my breath and stretch up to a good clings for fingers from my last strength and ... fall down. It were already two men who made the same climbing and have fallen a few minutes before. I am hanging on the rope and watch on my rope-team friend, trying to express: "It is your turn, man. I have made already my fall!" I get his answer immediately in his two fingers, forming "V" sign and in his paying eyes, that means: "Two bottle - just do it!" And I started to climb again with the great tension inside, making myself to move up to the place where I fall from to the only way out, to success.
When we drop dawn from this mountain - my debtor gave us two bottles, which have been drunk in our company to be glad that everything has passed."
The third route we did in this Championship was to the same A. Block peak along the route of N. Petrichenko through the col along South-west crest 5B, along "the head of the cheese", that we already made during the descent. It has no any problems part, but still he made us to work hard.
We were third in this Championship, but the most impressive feeling we had was, that we are all alive!