Outside Online Archives

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

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

The Unexpectedly Unexpected
Elev.14,000 ft.
Barometer 18.40
3:43 A.M.
Mike Libecki
Dream Climb: a 3000-foot challenge beckons as Libecki and crew continue to shuttle gear up the glacier

Cold, cloudy, with a hint of sunlight—those God-like beams.

Since we have been shuttling loads the beautiful, unexpectedly unexpected, and interesting have become our reality. The glaciers seem to go on forever, twisting and turning through the valleys; some look smooth as silk rippling in the wind, others contorted and spiked like a giant dragon's back (this is the year of the dragon expedition, after all). We have, in the last several days, shuttled our loads many miles into the mountains, and our camp now rests at about 14,000 feet. All of our supplies lay next to us, and yes, the insane amount of salami and cheese are quite nice to have.

The monstrous walls, towers, ridges, and peaks peer down with inviting, but warning eyes—so many choices for a climber to drool over. According to our map, amazing formations lie hidden just around the corners and over high glaciers that we have yet to meet, and hope to soon. We have considered many routes, and will have to commit to one soon. Patience: soon we will begin our first objective in the steeper, more exciting world, hard to think it could be a better view, though we know it must be. The climbing route selection is so vast—kind of like a super-high-quality buffet, mostly offering dessert.

The unexpectedly unexpected that took place a few days ago, slapping us in the face, leaving a scar even, was thievery. In the last small village near the road where we loaded the animals, or so we are pretty sure, some local Kyrgystan people decided they would help themselves to our gear. They stole two of our virgin ropes—actually they cut in half two of our virgin ropes and took a half of each—getting away with over 500 feet of the seven-mm cord that would be our tag line, some haul bag tie-up/lower out line and cordelets, a pair of Mountain Hardwear Windstopper gloves, Jerry's tape recorder, Doug's point and shoot camera, a Nalgene bottle, playing cards, deodorant, chapstick, and a couple other miscellaneous items. We were sabotaged while dreaming of tall, pristine, Chinese peaks. Considering how hospitable and kind these people are, it was probably a couple bad apples tempted to desire by these foreign objects. We even feel somewhat responsible, and look at it as a lesson to be learned. We were actually really careful with security as we've experienced this sort of thing before, not only on our own expeditions, but also through many stories and warnings from friends and in books.

A couple of days of tormenting rain has soaked everything, leaving us cold and damp through to the bone. The rain has now turned to snow; visibility has been minimal and load shuttling miserable. Rock and snow avalanches crash throughout the night, from what direction we cannot tell. We hope for more sunshine and vertical living soon.

Team morale is as good as it gets. The only recent friction between partners occurred when Jerry, trying to squeeze by in the cook tent, accidentally kicked Jed's full bowl of tea (with milk and sugar) all over him—from his fleece hat, beard and face, to his chest and legs; comedy for Doug and I, innocent tension and guilt for the others.

by Mike Libecki

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