Outside Online Archives

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

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

Mike Libecki
Taking care of more permits near Akqi, with the mountains getting closer

Out of Red Tape and Into the Mountains

Transit from Beijing to Urumqi worked out smoothly in the end (though we're another $1,000 poorer after the extra baggage charges). I'm now squinting in the sun at the white peaks in the distance, listening to the Toxkan River humming on the other side of the hill. Guo Jin Wei, our Chinese contact, also liaison officer, interpreter, guide, and person that is making all of this possible, is a great guy. In Urumqi we did some last shopping for food and other necessities, then ran into another glitch. We went to get the special permits we'd been unable to obtain in Beijing and discovered the military police office was closed for two days. When the office did open, we acquired the permits without a problem, thanks to all of the work Guo had done. But we still have to get two more permissions in two more military stations on the way to the mountains where we'll be climbing. One in the town of Aksu, and one in the small town of Akqi. We finally got out of the 'five star' hotel, that offered braised ox penis, and sizzling pig ears as a couple of the menu selections. We opted for the street vendors, eating lamb kebabs and dumplings, and fresh Uykurs bread.

We spent two days driving the two 4x4s (one for the team and one for all of our gear and food) more than 1,000 km to Aksu. The drive offered beautiful views of rusty desert mountains with distant snow capped peaks. It was mostly cloudy—spectacular cumulous clouds reshaping and growing over head—and both nights the day would turn into black-gray spitting huge raindrops at us urging us to set up camp just a little faster. Camels stared back at us in the distance. In Aksu we took care of last minute supplies and had a visit with the military.

Two more days of driving brought us to Akqi. We had much better weather than the last two days, with the sun shining all day and clouds playing Twister over the snowy mountains. 5,000-meter peaks teased us the whole way, and we passed fields upon fields of 12-foot sunflowers circling with the sun. Camels, sheep, goats, lamb, horses, mules, and cows mixed in the foothills alongside ancient mud homes that seemed to crumble as we drove by.

Akqi was our last military check-in point, and all went well. Though it's restricted to foreigners, so they weren't too thrilled with our picture taking. We now have all the permits to visit and explore this completely virgin territory, now confirmed as totally unexplored by all of the Chinese we have met.

We drove through another small village, Karabulak, and stopped for lunch (spicy red noodles with lamb and peppers) to meet the active local military, and then proceeded toward the mountains.

Three cultures live in this area, the Chinese, the Uykurs, and the Kyrgystan people; they are all so different and distinct. It is quite amazing being with the people, it truly is fascinating. Right where I'm writing this, in a small village called Maran, two camels are eating, a woman is breastfeeding her child, a man is shaving another man with a razor, and a woman at a foot-pump operated sewing machine is making some amazingly colorful blankets. Now we're required to hire animals for about 15 km to take in our gear, as well as Guo's and the military watchman's gear. They're gathering 10 yaks and several camels to complete this task of gear shuttling, then from where the animals stop, we'll start to shuttle our gear for many miles up the glaciated valley. I cannot tell you how psyched we are to get into the mountains!

by Mike Libecki

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