Ecuadorians Satisfy Craving without a Summit on Kyzyl Asker

Posted on: October 2, 2014


Kyzyl Asker, showing the Sal con Cebolla (5.12a C1 WI5+ AI2 M6+) attempt. In August, a four-person team from Ecuador worked their way up the wall, establishing a 5700-meter highpoint on their line. [Photo] Rafael Caceres

"Kyzyl Asker lies at the end of a 10-kilometer-long glacier, and it's surrounded by some of the most beautiful alpine faces we have ever seen," Esteban "Topo" Mena wrote in an email to Alpinist. The peak, located in the western Kokshaal-too range of the Tien Shan mountains, sits perched along the border of China and Kyrgyzstan. This August, Mena and an Ecuadorian team comprised of Rafael Caceres, Mena, Nicolas Navarrete and Carla Perez traveled to the mountain, intent on opening a new route up one of the peak's south-facing pillars. After their arrival, they climbed in capsule style and were met with impeccable rock, falling ice and wildly varying temperatures, all in keeping with the rowdy reputation of Kyzyl Asker. "[I]t's translation means the 'red soldier' or 'red rider,' and [the mountain] fits the name perfectly: defiant, provoking and wild," Mena wrote.

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Guy Robertson, who made the second ascent of the peak by a new route with Pete Benson, Matt Halls, Robin Thomas and Es Tresidder, wrote in the 2003 British Alpine Journal: "Hidden amongst the rich climbing treasures of the western Kokshal Too [sic], with an unspoilt view over the vast wilderness that forms the western fringes of China, lies the awesome Southeast Face of Kyzyl Asker. I desperately want to climb that face...."

The Ecuadorian team, who had first heard of the peak while descending from Tien Shan's Pobeda Peak in 2011, shared the feeling. After establishing a base camp on the glacier below Kyzyl Asker at 4100 meters, Caceres, Mena, Navarrete and Perez climbed the first pitches of their line on August 18, spending six days fixing 11 pitches and hauling equipment. "Those pitches are on great rock, mainly crack climbing with some face climbing to change between crack systems," Mena wrote. On Pitches 9 and 10, the climbers encountered overhanging sections with a plethora of good protection. These crux sections went at 5.12a.

(Top) The line's first 5.12 pitch. [Photo] Esteban Mena | (Bottom) Piss poor conditions in Camp 1. [Photo] Esteban Mena

The crew then spent two days fixing lines up four more pitches to the base of the last corner leading to the summit ridge. Fearing a change in weather, they made their summit bid on August 28, leaving from Camp 1 (5100m) at 3 a.m. During the climb, they hooked through impeccable mixed climbing, only diminished by icefall. Perez was knocked out by a tumbling icicle, but recovered and forged ahead. The foursome reached 5700-meters on the pillar 20 hours after they had begun. "We decided to declare that highpoint as our summit because a storm started to come in and the snow conditions on the true summit ridge weren't favorable," Mena explained.

(Top) A rare spot of sunshine warms the wall while the team works up the initial pitches of their line. [Photo] Esteban Mena | (Bottom) Nearing the summit ridge. [Photo] Nico Navarrete

After abandoning their attempt at 1100 meters and making an eight-hour descent, the team rated their line 5.12a C1 WI5+ AI2 M6+, naming it Sal con Cebolla. The name, which means "Salt with Onions," was inspired by their diet during the trip, a meal plan greatly influenced by Chinese customs. When crossing the border en route to the range, the Chinese authorities kept the majority of the food that the foursome had carried with them from Ecuador, leaving them with a surplus of onions, noodles and salt, which they subsisted on for the majority of the trip. Despite the saline diet, they left the Tien Shan having sated their three-year craving for Kyzyl Asker.

The Ecuadorians get cozy in their portaledge. [Photo] Esteban Mena

Sources: Esteban Mena, Alpinist X, 2003 Alpine Journal

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