Nearly a month since the last post! Unfortunately I’ve been busy with some important deadlines at work. Hopefully I will get all the posting done by Christmas. Anyway, as you may have guessed we managed to get across the river with an incident-free pendulum traverse the following morning and set off up the Aydemsi glacier, which we had come to explore. The glacier extends all the way down to the Bozbaital river but for virtually all of its length (from its snout up to the point where it splits into 2 smaller glaciers) it is completely covered in rubble so can be walked up without a rope. Locations to pitch a tent on the rocks for an uncomfortable nights sleep are plentiful. As we walked up the glacier unclimbed mountains at the top came into view…
Walk up Aydemsi glacier
As we walked and scrambled further up we started to form the plans of what to climb, and where to camp. We resolved to attempt a traverse of the 2 principal peaks at the head of the valley, shown in photo below. Starting up the north-east facing snow-slope to the left of the triangular rock face in centre of the photo, then continuing on the snowy ridge to the summit (about 5,600m), then across to the rounded summit towards the right of the photo, then down. The tent was pitched, gear was sorted and we set our alarms for just before daybreak the following morning.
Sorting gear ready for the climb
The next morning dawned fine and we set off up the climb. Beautiful frontpointing up crisp neve…
A few photos of our ascent
Beautiful frontpointing, but interminable. All in all we did about 1,000m of ascent that day, starting out at 4,600m and finishing at 5,600m. A long day, as you will see. It was (I think) 11am-ish by the time we emerged onto the snowy upper ridge in the centre of the second photo. Snow conditions here were not as good as on the ramp leading up to the ridge so progress was slower. The views were getting good though, with a spectacular panorama to the north showing the rest of the Muzkol range and mountains in the Pamir Alai towards the Kyrgyz border.
Looking north towards Kyrgyzstan
Jonathan nearing summit.
We topped out onto the summit, the LH summit in the second photo above. Further spectacular views towards the Peak of the Soviet Officer and peaks surrounding the top of the Bozbaital valley.
View looking east from summit; Peak of the Soviet Officer and peaks surrounding the top of Bozbaital valley on R.
But the view looking in the other direction (west) was not so encouraging. Our mountain had a twin peak to the south-west which was slightly higher than the summit on which we were stood! And, more pressingly, we could see our proposed traverse to the rounded summit further to the west to be riddled with large crevasses and seracs; not looking like a pleasant outing. This left us with the need to find an alternative way down – the way we had come up was pointing roughly to the east so had now been in the sun for a long time. Most likely the snow would be soft and avalanche-prone by now. The clock was ticking; it was early afternoon now. Certainly no time to tick off the slightly higher summit to the south-west, we had to find an alternate way down. We traversed along the ridge to have a look at the west-facing slope in the next photo – leading down to the western branch of the Aydemsi glacier. Being west-facing the snow would not have been in the sun for so long, and we set off down towards the glacier.
JP beginning the descent
Unfortunately however, this is where the photo collection ends as we had to prioritize moving fast over stopping to take photos! At first the descent was very fast, especially on sections such as that in the last photo where we could nearly screerun down the sections of scree next to the rocky rib on the right. But as we descended, the terrain grew less accommodating. At first the snowy sections has been moderately angled so we could walk down them, but as we descended they became steeper. We didn’t relish the prospect of nearly 1,000m of downhill frontpointing. At times we had relatively open snowslopes to descend, sticking near the rocky ribs at one side to minimize avalanche risk. And at times we scrambled down relatively narrow couloirs, placing gear as we went. We ploughed on downwards as afternoon turned into evening. During mid-evening possibly the most alarming moment of the entire trip occurred: Rockfall. I have to be honest, taking us completely by surprise! During mid-afternoon (usually worst time for rockfall) there had been nothing, so it was a shock to have rocks tumbling towards us now, when the temperature had turned much cooler and stuff should have been starting to freeze back into place. A block the size of a microwave oven passed just a few feet away from my head. Quite unnerving. Anyway, moving swiftly on.
Darkness fell as we scrambled down, and down, and down, growing somewhat tired. I was in favour of bivvying and continuing the next morning, but Jonny persuaded me that we should carry on. Then, eventually, a feeling of enormous elation. The couloir in which we were descending started to open out, the angle started to ease, and we were safely onto the glacier…. Once we were safely on the flat glacier we packed away most of the gear and set off down the glacier towards the tent. But it was as if the mountain was having one last laugh with us as, to reach the junction with the eastern branch of the glacier where our tent was pitched we found ourselves having to find our way through a maze of penitentes. Not steep enough for us to have to worry about them falling over onto us, but steep enough to form an unfathomable maze through which we had to thread our way. The last photo is a photo I took of the penitentes the following day.
Penitentes (on left) through which we struggled to find our way in the dark.
So, that was our great adventure! The minor peak we did climb is going to be called “Peak SimSim”, after one of the principal locally brewed beers available on draught in Dushanbe. SimSim is the more expensive one, at 65p ($1) per pint. The cheaper one, Dushanbinski, costs just 50p (80 cents) per pint. The ascent route will be called “north rib”, the descent route is not deserving of a name. It is going to be recorded in American Alpine Journal etc.
Last post about this trip (hopefully some time next week!) will feature our return to Dushanbe (more taxi driver stories, and what holds Gorno-Badakhshan province together). Then I may mention something about next year’s plans…
– All photos are copyright © Jonathan Davey and John Proctor