Arriving August 28th in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Andres Marin and myself intended to attempt new routes in the western Kokshaal-Too. The plan was to coordinate and share the logistics required for such a remote destination with the german alpinist Ines Papert and her partners who also traveling to the same region at the same time. Upon arrival there appeared to be much confusion about who, when and for how much we would all be traveling together with the outfitter Ak-Sai travel. With prices doubling and then tripling with no guarantee of a coordinated departure or even a way back without a helicopter Andres and I bowed out of the operation and found ourselves left to our own devices.
We had not prepared for a Plan B to this extent only thinking of alternate routes in the region not an entirely alternate range. With much scrambling and internet surfing we settled on options south of the small town of Naryn. With 300 pounds of gear and food in tow we high-tailed it south at an alarming rate of speed considering our suspiciously young driver and the dilapidated state of the highway. Upon arrival in Naryn we narrowed our final desination to the relatively unexplored but exceptionally remote Torugart-Too range just west of the border crossing with China and a heavily guarded region. Without an outfitter to coordinate with arrangements were made independently and on-sight with obtaining permits being a particularly curious process. However, within days we were on our from Tashrabat a small jailoo or summer pasture next to a 14th century stone caravanserai. Our departure from this ancient landmark was auspicious as we were in a sense traveling back in time, on horseback with all our supplies over mountain passes along a timeless Silk Road route to China.
Three days later we entered the range from the north and immediately fell for the relatively unclimbed Mustyr Massif. This 5000 meter formation had five prominent summits connected by a steep ridge which split the valley in half. As far as we knew only two of the summits had been climbed by relatively easy routes. Immediately after arriving at BC at the head of the valley, we got sick, then it snowed. We scouted the valley and chose an obvious unclimbed summit at the head of the valley to acclimatize with. We climbed the north face to the west ridge and then onto the 4600m summit naming it Bean Bowers Peak in honor of the late Bean Bowers. Our ascent coincided with his memorial being celebrated in Ridgway and we completed the route in a day at 60 degrees M4, AI 3.
We then selected an unclimbed west facing buttress of rock to the middle summit of Mustyr for our next route. The route began in a broad couloir which we climbed for several hundred meters before gaining a ridge to the right and then beginning a series of steep rock steps. Pitching out the upper two-thirds of the route we found poor quality limestone which offered challenging climbing connected with thin ice and unconsolidated snow offering very little protection. All in all it was an endearing route with challenging route finding and spectacular position. We summited in deteriorating weather and discovered that our anticipated ridge descent offered absolutely no security and instead began traversing north. Reaching a col we began a series of low angled rappels down what looked like steep avalanche terrain. Knowing there were cliffs below us we then traversed the face with a running belay of ice screws. As anticipated two significant point releases barreled towards us hitting our rope between us and caused some concern for the team. After what turned out to be 8 horizontal pitches of 45-60 degree avalanche terrain we were able to gain safer ground and finally arrived at our ABC relatively unscathed.
A week passed under a sustained low pressure system. The following week we prepared for an assault on the unclimbed North face of the North Summit of Mustyr. However, we were given poor conditions on our one attempt with excellent thin ice and mixed climbing gaining us the halfway point on the north face before the next series of low pressure systems closed in on us. We rappelled in abysmal weather conditions after finding deep unstable snow high on the north face. With updated weather forecasts texted to us by crack weather guru Brian Gilmore we realized that without a clear sustained weather window to alleviate the persistent avalanche conditions virtually any alpine route on the massif would be subject to extreme avalanche danger.
With two new routes on two unclimbed summits in hand we called in the horse team and barely returned to Tashrabat with one last memorable descent of the high 3500m pass resulting in us short-roping our horses down the north side in deep and dangerous new snow. A series of short but somehow still arduous vehicle journeys brought us all the way back to Bishkek and the conclusion of the first American Expedition and fifth known alpine exploration of the Torugart-Too. As we navigated the logistical and language barriers of Kyrgyzstan we often asked ourselves ‘what would Mugs do?’ For this opportunity we are indebted to the Mugs Stump Award Committee and offer our sincere thanks for their assistance on our expedition.
While it was not what we had initially anticipated the Torugart still gave us exciting and technical alpine climbing with a truly adventurous exploration of remote Kyrgyzstan complete with guns, vodka, horses, yurts, wolves, and untrodden summits.