Outside Online Archives

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

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

Mike Libecki
Some Kyrgystan villagers living above 12,000 feet

Onto the Glacier
Elev. 12,550 ft.

Barometer is dropping as I type, and the clouds are moving in-- I have to send this quickly before the bad weather terminates my satellite connection. The animals the Chinese Military, Police and Bureau of Lands made us hire finally arrived: we're now accompanied by four camels, four donkeys, and their owners—four Kyrgystan men on horses. The animals carried well over a thousand pounds of gear, as well as our liaison officer. Fortunately, the military officer decided to not come with us-- quite a relief to shake the constant monitor.

The animals and all of us walked slowly up the valley along a huge muddy brown river. On the way, we passed at least four small villages, each with about Kyrgy-- Kyergystan people. Their strong and weathered look goes along with the territory they live in. They wear colorful clothes of all kinds, and have bright blue and green eyes that seem to glow and hypnotize you. The people are quite happy to see us: they want their pictures taken, they offer their beds and food One of the most exciting parts was getting to the villages across the huge flowing mud river. Villagers sent their horses over so we could ride them across the river. We got a huge welcome when we got there, starting with the obligatory shaking of the elders' hands.

Mike Libecki
Rest stop: Beleaguered camels taking a break just before the first camp

As we move up the huge valley, the snow-capped peaks keep rising higher. Huge granite towers and walls are starting to come into view. Massive granite towers and walls are starting to poke out-- they're endless, and with every step and foot of elevation gained, new ones come into view. Not to mention the layers of glaciers laid out over miles of terrain, like a giant staircase. After gaining about 2000 feet of elevation over eight hours of walking with the animals, we have come to where our first camp will be. The animals leave, and we are almost alone, besides the small herds of horses and goats, and our guide, Guo Jin Wei, and his cook. We stare dumbfounded at the pristine mountains in the distance, knowing that suffering is about to begin as we will shuttle all of our gear up the ominous and twisted maze of glaciers. The glaciers, from what we can tell, go on forever, we can't wait to start to be engulfed by these serpentine monsters.

In the morning, the camels push on for about a half-mile on the dry and dirty glacier. From there the shuttling begins. A couple of the locals decide to carry some light loads for the rest of the day. We start with our 60-pound loads and get everything a couple miles up the frozen maze. All of our gear rests under tarps on the enormous glacier, where what looks like a flat section to walk in turns into steep edges of danger in black holes deep into the ground. We are definitely out of the tourist zone. Last night we took our bivy gear and slept just off the glacier, on flat dry ground, about a half mile away. We have several days of shuttling loads before we can start climbing, but we're looking forward to getting vertical soon.

by Mike Libecki

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!