Korona group
(In the foto to the right) Korona group, seen from the West side.
Ala-Archa region of Western Tien-Shan
Ala-Archa region of Western Tien-Shan is situated only 45 km to the west from crowded Asian markets in Beshkek city. It takes only one hour to get to "White silence" of popular Aksay's glacier "shoe" from Ala-Archa camp, where during a lot of time used to be cottages of Soviet Kirgizia leaders.
Peculiar Aksay's glacier "shoe" is formed by rock towers of Korona (4860 m) group and severe overhanging rock North face of Svobodnaya (Free) Korea (4740 m) with extra class combined routes along it and two ice-climbing routes along two icy coloirs to the left of it. During sun set time 1000 meters vertical rocks are coloured in gold, which warm your soul up from the terrible pictures around.
The Ak-Say crest, the highest part of the chain, is covered by a thick mantle of perennial ice and blocks the warm southern winds, thus conditioning the weather in this region. The harsh weather, which is stormy in summer and better and more stable in winter, has discouraged mountain climbing expeditions and made this a rather isolated area. The highest mountains are in the upper part of the Ak-Say glacier: Semionova-Tienshanskogo Peak, dedicated to the famous explorer (4,875 m), Mt. Korona (Crown) (4,860 m), the Allam-edinskyja Stena (4,720 m) and Svobodnaya Korea (Free Korea, 4,740 m). The most interesting and difficult routes lie on the northern face of Free Korea and on the western slopes of the Korona towers - monoliths that precipitate almost vertically for 1,000 meters.

Korona group

(In the foto to the right) Korona group, seen from the West side.
The Route up the First Tower of Mt. Korona from the West (4,81 0 m, 3A)
- 1-st Tower (detail)
Starting off from the Korona refuge, go up the long snow slope in the direction of the col between the First and Second Towers, up to 4,500 m. The condition of the snow may require an ice axe and crampons (3-4 hours). There is a gendarme between the First and Second Tower. The shortest, and slightly more difficult, route passes over the col between the First Tower and this gendarme and goes over a four-meter wall (rope and pitons are necessary). Or you can go up to the col between the First and Second Towers and proceed by clambering up a yellow wall of rock seven meters high (80° incline; pitons are needed) until you reach the little col on the gendarme. Then follow the rock ridge which leads to the top of the gendarme, from which you rappel down the col between the gendarme and the First Tower. From the col, go over the rock wall to the right (4 meters, 90° incline, pitons needed), continue along the slabs (60 meters, 30° incline) and then along the ledge until you arrive at the top (2-3 hours from the col). The descent is made by rappelling down the same route. From the col between the First and Second towers, an easy climb up the rock leads you to top of the Second Tower (4,750 m; 6-8 hours all told, 2 hours for the descent). Here you need rope, crampons, an ice axe, ice poles, and some pitons and ice pitons (2A).
Peak. lziskatel ("Researcher") Peak (4,400 m, 2A)
From the Korona refuge there is a wonderful panorama of the huge Korona group amphitheatre. To the right of the Mt. Korona towers is the little spire of lziskatel Peak, a fine viewpoint (2A). Go up the snow and ice slope in the direction of the col between lziskatel and Korona. Rope and crampons are needed; the last 100-150 meters arc very steep. At the end of the slope a terminal crevasse opens out; this is the most difficult passage and requires the use of two ice axes and ice pitons. For group climbs it is a good idea to set up a permanent rope (2-3 hours from the bivouac). From the col it is an easy climb up the northeastern rock ridge to the top (1-1 1/2 hours). The view of Korona and Svobodnaya Korea is lovely. The descent follows the same route (1-2 hours, depending on the condition of the snow). If from the Korona refuge you go around Iziskatel on the southern side and proceed in the upper basin of the Ak-Say glacier (one hour), you will be able to admire the striking vertical rock faces on the western and southwestern sides of the Fifth and Sixth Towers of Mt. Korona. Korona group
(In the foto to the right) Korona group, seen from the North side.
The route along the Northern Ridge of the First Tower of Mt. Korona (4,810 m, 4A)
From the base camp at Ala-Archa, take the path heading southeast in the Ak-Say valley. The slope is rather easy climbing until you reach a waterfall; here you proceed on the right hand of the moraine up to the Ratsek refuge (2 hours), a two-storey cabin where you can sleep rather comfortably, Continue heading southwest in the Uchitel (Teacher) valley until you reach the beginning of the First Tower of the Korona group (one hour). The classic route passes over the col that separates the First Tower from Semionova Tienshanskogo Peak (4,875 m). You must cross over steep snow slopes to arrive at the col, and an ice axe and ice pitons are needed here (2-3 hours), At this point you can take one of two passes: the col to the right is nearer but more difficult to reach; the one to the left is farther but less steep. Korona group from the south
(In the foto to the left) Korona group, seen from the South side.
From the col, which is at an altitude of 4,000 meters, proceed in a southwesterly direction on the rock ridge up to the top. Rope and pitons are necessary. The climb up the rock is not very difficult, but rather long (6 hours). The descent winds along the ridge between the First and Second Towers, where in certain parts you will have to rappel. After the ridge, proceed on the snow to the Korona refuge (2 hours), opposite the forbidding northern face of Svobodnaya Korea
Mt. Korona from from South side

Box Peak (4,240 m, I B)
From the Ratsek bivouac, go south along the path to the left of the Ak-Say glacier. After about half an hour, turn east until you arrive at the Korona refuge (one hour); by going west you arrive at the base of Box Peak. The normal route is quite easy. Cross over the Ak-Say glacier (one hour) and then go up the wide rock gully to the summit, where you have a marvellous view of the entire Ala-Archa region (2-3 hours). You must have rope to cross over the glacier. The only danger in this route is possible rock fall (IB). The route (2A) that goes up Box Peak from the pass between the peak and the snow-capped dome of Teketor Peak is more beautiful. From the pass (1-2 hours from the end of the glacier), head north and go up to the summit along the easy snow ridge (2-3 hours). This ridge may have cornices, so rope will be needed. You should use your ice axe or ski poles as well. For the descent, go down the gully (1 1/2 hours).
The Northern Ridge of Teketor Peak (4,441 m, 3B) From the pass between Box Peak and Teketor, you can go up Teketor Peak across the northern ridge (3b). This route is long, and rope, an ice axe and ice pitons are necessary. Snow cornices protruding from the ridge fall into the Ak-Say valley. The climb is four to five hours from the pass, and it takes two to three hours to descend by the same route.

Mt. Svobodnaya Korea

Mt.Svobodnaya (Free) Korea (4740 m)
(In the foto to the right) The North face of Svobodnaya Korea peak, seen from Aksai glacier.
The Low Route up Svobodnaya Korea ("Free Korea", 4,740 m, 5A)
Opened in 1976 by the American D. Low, who climbed it alone, this route goes up to Svobodnaya Korea peak along the wide snow gully that opens to the right of the middle bastion, on the northern face of the mountain. This snow and ice route is about 800 meters long, with 40-50° steepness, and takes ten hours of very tough climbing with ice axes and hammers, rope and ice screws (5A). You must start off very early, about 3 a.m., in order to get over the first part of the gully before daylight, since there are slides during the day. Once out of the gully, it takes about a two hours' climb along the western ridge to get to the top, but this part of the route is not very interesting and most climbers descend from the top of the gully.
There are two possible return routes. The first passes by the southern side along the wide snow slopes in the direction of the western summit and the Top-Karagay valley. This is a very easy route, but it takes about twelve hours because it crosses a wild, deserted area without any tracks or paths. So you cannot climb up the Low route gully and return to the Ala-Archa base camp the same day; you have to bivouac, which means bringing along all the necessary gear. The alternative route consists in crossing up to the northwestern ridge (I hour) and descending on the northern snow and ice face between Mt. Svobodnaya Korea and Aktoo Peak (4,620 m). Rappelling down the steep snow slopes is rather demanding, but you will reach the Ak-Say glacier in three or four hours. Another possibility is to make a crossing along the snow and ice domes of Aktoo Peak (and Teketor Peak) and then descend by means of the pass between Box and Teketor peaks. This route is long but rather easy; it takes five or six hours to return to the Korona refuge or Ratsek bivouac.

To be continued...