Outside Online Archives

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

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

Mike Libecki
Kiva Camp: an advanced base camp with the proposed route in the background

Mike Libecki
The team breaks to hydrate en route to the The Grand Poo-Bah

Modern Day Dragon Battling

Off to climb the Grand Pooh-Bah, or at least that's what we call it. On the map the peak is 5697 meters.

Such a wonderful feeling to be outfitted in the artillery for modern day dragon battling: big plastic boots, spiked, ice axes, climbing gear, a burdening pack with the essentials for our attempt on this monstrous, rocky tower. Our synthetic clothing impregnates with sweat and grease as we slug up the never ending glaciers and hanging seracs. Hidden crevasses lurk below as we probe for the mouths that could swallow us into infinite digestion.

Hours of falling onto our feet, step after step, breath after breath, we have gained over 2000 feet in elevation—that much closer to our destined climb. The whole way the snow and sun tag-team us. The weather seems to change at least every four hours, if not less, and is totally unpredictable.

As we get to our camp, heavy, wet snowflakes attack, without any sign of retreat. We set up our one pole Mountain Hardwear Kiva shelter for the four of us and fire up the stove—chicken gumbo again, and green tea; quite satisfying. The wet flakes slap our fragile tether as we one again clean the stove that has been clogged by our supply of dirty fuel. We melt water, drink, and melt and drink some more. Hydration is the key to happiness up here. The snow falls relentlessly, about ten inches has fallen by the time we start to doze off to dream land. The moisture builds in the Kiva and drips onto our faces like Chinese water torture. The heat from our bodies melts coffin like spaces in the glacier below us. We huddle in our bags and bivy sacs hoping for warmth.


I slowly emerge from my dream. I was sailing in a small boat with my fiancée Natalie in the middle of the ocean, circled by whales and dolphins, when I awoke to a damp bivy sack, and the wind and snow attacking us in rage.

We all finally come to an awakened state—not much to do but listen to the rage of the weather outside. We fire up the XGK stove and soon slurp down our tofu Chinese soup. We dig our material cave free of the snow that is trying to bury us and suffocate us by cutting off our oxygen.

Total white out, freezing cold, cramped space, and a lot of time on our hands. Sunday afternoon, and we are obviously stranded here. We all worry about the storm wiping out our shelter, though nobody talks about it. We move through time the best we can. Jed makes a chessboard and pieces, also backgammon set. This holds us over for several hours as the storm screams terror outside. We talk about songs and bands from the 80's, MTV style, food we would like to have—eggplant parmesan for me—and hope that this storm finds someone else to torment.

Fettuccini for dinner, more torturous moisture dripping in the tent, and hopes of sunshine in the morning.


Sunshine drenches our shelter; heat wakes us from our dreams. Green tea, hot and sour soup, and several layers of sunscreen application start our day. We pack up our camp in hopes of getting near The Grand Pooh-Bah.

As we pack, the heat is so intense that we all have headaches by the time we are about to start humping our loads. Only a few sweltering hours later we have a new camp at about 16,500 feet. Peaks we have looked up for days now fall below us. Soon, all of the peaks will be below us.

We build a weather haven—a wall of huge snow bricks around our one-poled shelter—and settle in. We know the weather cannot be predicted as our barometer is ever changing with the elevation, and we lash every part of the tent down to the glacier. Clouds move in by evening, and a gray and gold sunset takes us into darkness. Tamale pie for dinner. Alarms set for 3:00 A.M. for a summit attempt on the peak that is now only a few hours away. The peak lies just across a glacier surrounded by hanging seracs that look like they could fall and crush us on the approach. If the path across the glacier does in fact go through these hanging-death time bombs—some the size of apartment buildings—we will have to find another way (which does not look possible), or cancel our mission of climbing this mountain of virgin granite.

by Mike Libecki

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