Outside Online Archives

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Reaching the Untouched Wall:
The Kok Shal Tau Climbing Expedition
Summer 2000

En Route to China

Finally, after the arduous task of packing and planning our gear, food, and mentality, we are finally in the air over the Pacific Ocean on our way to a totally unknown expedition. As far as our research, and what we have been told by our Chinese contacts, we will be the first people to explore this pin-pointed area of the Kok Shal Tau mountains in the Tien Shan range, just a few miles from Kyrgystan in northwest China.

According to some old Russian military maps from the 1940s, and some rumors floating around in the mountaineering world, huge, amazing granite walls lie unclimbed, and even unphotographed. Our appetite grows constantly to find these pristine alpine walls, and we are ready for the feast of first ascents up clean, solid granite. Our goal, to shuttle our gear through an untraveled valley of dry glaciers to the base of possibly some of the last incredible unclimbed granite monsters, becomes closer every day.

Jerry Dodrill, from Berkeley, California, is here mainly to photograph the journey, though he's just as excited to climb. He has his huge artillery of camera gear, including 300 rolls of film, and is psyched to capture the journey with his pure and professional approach to photography and sharing of his passion. As for myself—Mike Libecki, and other team members Jed and brother Doug Workman, all from Salt Lake City, Utah, we're fully caught up with the visions of amazing granite formations and wonderful splitter cracks dancing through our heads. Unfortunately, our fifth team member and one of the best climbers and partners I know of, Jim Haden, was unable to make the expedition. Just two weeks before our plane was scheduled to leave he came down with a serious illness and had to drop out of the adventure. We will have him in our hearts everyday, and will miss his humor, strength, and tremendous energy he would have offered to this journey.

Time to find some sleep, we have about thirty hours of flying and layovers until we arrive in Urumqi, China. From there we have one short nights rest, with little or no time to deal with jet lag, and then we are shipped off immediately to the mountains.

by Mike Libecki

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