18 pitches in South Kyrgyzstan | Toni Lamprecht

Words by Toni Lamprecht.

Before our trip to South Kyrgyzstan, we decided to go to the Aksu range in the upper Lajlak Valley, despite the fact that this area does not have the reputation of being a freeclimbing eldorado. Since the 80s, it is basically the mecca of Russian-speaking alpinists, who make their pilgrimage with large haulbags, portaledges, pitons and aiding-climbing-gear to the north-facing, challenging, technically difficult and combined rock-ice-bigwalls on Iskander, Aksu or Pik Alexander Block. Storms at 5000 meters are the rule rather than the exception, so free ascents of classic routes are probably countable on one hand.

Paul Sass photo

Our plan was either to climb a free ascent on the existing technical routes and/or to open up a new free-climbing line on one of the numerous 600 to 900m high walls with their potential freeclimbing possibilities.

Toni Lamprecht photo

Our crew was Benno Wagner from Munich, the crack-climbing-specialist Paul from the Elbsandsteingebirge, Henry from Sheffield and me (also from Munich). This completed our ‘fantastic four’ team.

After the flight to Osh and a minibus trip we started from the mountain village of Ozgurush with a 25 km long hike to the foot of the glacier under the Aksu north wall.

Paul Sass photo

In the first week it was initially very warm – with temperatures well above zero at 4000m, even at night. So many of the walls were out of the question because oft the constant rockfall. In the interest of finding the safest and best rock climbing line, we decided to go for a new route on a compact pillar at the peak 4800m, just to the west of Peak Alexander Block.

Paul Sass photo of The Wall.

After two days of acclimatization and carrying gear to the start of the route, we took turns in teams to establish the first pitches. The lower half of the wall had the character of hard face-climbing and regarded to drill regularly bolts. In one week, we climbed, equipped and cleaned the first 10 pitches. After just two thirds of the total of 800m, we reached the upper part of the route, which was considerably steeper, and the numerous crack systems required much less bolts. The orange granite, illuminated in the afternoon sun revealed a “Joshua Tree”-like climbing experience with perfect hueco structures.

8th pitch. Benno Wagner photo.

Unfortunately, the constant warm weather of the first days did not last long. The first half of the west-facing pillar changed in the second week into “severe-frost-climbing” in the morning. And in the afternoon, the cold wind, clouds and snow made the constant use of a down jacket necessary, even while climbing. Storms on the bivy with a snowfall down to the base camp during the next days stopped us a few times on the free-climbing ascent – and the time was running away.

Paul Sass photo.

In the last 4 days of our stay we luckily got again some sunny days and after the route dried amazingly fast we could finally free the whole route.

15th pitch Paul Sass photo

We called it “Alexandra Supernova” to give the poet of the neighbouring Pik Alexander Block pleasant new company. The difficulties ranged from 6a to 7b on the French scale.

Alexandra Supernova

After three weeks, our strength and food supplies were dwindling and the day of departure drew near. The return trip to the valley after the successful ascent turned out to be a pleasant hike through beautiful alpine meadows.

In addition to the climbing experiences and the beautiful scenery, the overwhelming friendliness of the people in Kyrgyzstan remains as a warm memory.