The female team from Krasnoyarsk climbed Box Peak along the Mikhailov’s route, 5B. We publish Maria Dyupina’s story about this ascent.
Text: Maria Dyupina
Photo: team archive
Dates: March 14–16, 2021.
Area: Ala-Archa State Nature Park is a popular area among climbers and tourists in Kyrgyzstan, located 40 km from its capital, Bishkek, on the northern slope of the Kyrgyz ridge at an altitude of 1600–4860 m. It starts from the high center of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too and extends northward to the Ala-Archa gorge. The Ala-Archa river flows through the park. It is a beautiful and fantastic place.
Mikhailov’s route, 5B, on Box (altitude 4,240 m) is the most challenging line of this category in the area. I know only one female team who climbed this route in winter – Olesya Babushkina and Sasha Mentovskaya in 2014 – in 4 days with fixing lines from the ground to start. Hard route. Lots of exciting terrain with transitions from free to artificial climbing and back. A real big wall.
Route’s length: 1175 m (elevation changes 798 m), 16 hard pitches to the ridge. Then walk 300 meters to the summit.
Time: Three light days, or 27 hours of work. On the third day, we worked on the route for 10 hours—the longest and most challenging day.
Gear: Two and a half sets of camalots, 20 anchors—this is a lot and enough to specifically not “wait for the gear from below.”
The team list: Anastasia Kozlova, Daria Seryupova, and Maria Dyupina are Krasnoyarsk region mountaineering team athletes.
Lost on the glacier…!
That’s how the first climbing day began.
The previous day evening, we (Nastya, Dasha, and Masha) dropped gear and ropes under the route, beaten the path, fixed lines over the crevasse, and built stone tours, being sure that the route was within walking distance and in the morning we would quickly run across the glacier. If we walked with backpacks of 20 kg for two and a half hours, we could walk there light for an hour. The glacier, it should be noted, is incredible. It is just of cosmic beauty. Labyrinth of cracks. Old-age ice.
We left at 4:30 a.m. Darkness, fog, light snow (or it was rime?), and dead silence. In my head, I thought that we were moving slowly, in fact, almost running. Because of this, the actual distance is difficult to comprehend. I persuade Nastya to move down and cross the glacier in the moraine part without crampons. We go and face a wall. Wall? What the hell kind of wall? It shouldn’t be that close. We go along; the slope is getting steeper. We’re traversing; we’re going down. When we turned on maps.me, we were shocked that the glacier remained much higher, and we were down in the boulder area. After two hours of wandering, we came to our footprints. Not understanding at all what had gone wrong, we stood in absolute silence and fog in the middle of the glacier. It is not cold, but you stop moving and immediately freeze. There are either tiny snowflakes or frost swirling around. No visibility. They hope to make it to the ledge for the bivouac fades inside me. Nastya suggests we turn in the direction of the camp and wait for daybreak there. I have no solutions left. I do not even know whether we are more angry or tired. One thing is clear: we lost two cruising hours.
Soon the whitened fog revealed the silhouettes of familiar crags. I rushed toward them, toward one, then another at full speed, the girls behind me. There were no options; we had to work fast. Very quickly. Otherwise, the haulbaggirl would eat me in the evening, as she would have to drag our bivouac up and down and the next day up the same fixed lines again. That’s not much fun. I don’t like this plan. I’m also spurred on by the idea of climbing routes without fixing ropes the day before start: in my opinion, it’s classy.
At 8.10 a.m., I start climbing one pitch after another without noticing anything around me (Nastya and Dasha are yelling about snow and something else). My whole body rejoices. After all, I’m climbing, not walking under a backpack, not suffering physically. For the first time this day, I am happy. I’m so glad to climb. I’m delighted. I’m almost in heaven. I am overwhelmed with happiness. I realize that I am in my place and doing what I love. There are monolithic, excellent cracks in front of me. Climbing turns into a very quick overkill of camalots of all types. I put points occasionally to get rid of the gear. The terrain is as monolithic as possible. I am shocked that this happens at all in the mountains. I have seen other mountains. The only thing that holds my attention is the vast, departing “granite crust” (flake) from the main wall for the 4th Camalot. Deciding that this option is unreliable for belay organizing, I pendulum two meters to the right and climb through some shallow anchor fractures, swearing, because I don’t like anchoring in this section much. But all this is not important because I have one task – to get to “what the hell … ledge”.
After passing two more easy pitches (subjectively, the first half of the route seems to be the easiest), I got to the ledge. The time is 3.30 p.m. I waited for Nastya and climbed one more pitch for decorum. At 5 p.m., we were already dancing around the tent. At 7 p.m., we are melting the snow and eat.
The next day Nastya is leading. For her, it’s her challenge. At least she looks agitated and worried. Perhaps it is only in appearance. We have a special cocktail for the leaders. I pour water into a 0.5 Coka-Cola bottle, add ginseng, guarana pills, and a little cognac, and Nastya shoves it into her sinus. I do not remember the exact recipe, but who needs I can try to repeat it. It’s a hell of a drink.
Nastya has a similar task – to get to the next bivouac ledge. Otherwise, there is a risk of being eaten by a haulbaggirl. And today, it’s my job. So, in the end, there are no options. Nastya’s excitement transmitted to me; at one point, I shout: “Why so slow? Come on, get in there faster…!” It’s worth noting that you have to be careful with this kind of encouragement because, according to management theory, it has a perverse effect on some people. But in my case, I was lucky: they threw nothing at me. I am glad that my remark did not upset the leader. Sitting on the haul bag, I continue to rejoice.
On the second day, the terrain is more interesting: the chimney is filled with ice, the rock is disassembled in some places (loose, but not critically), the traverse (turned out to be not difficult). I saw a few holes for skyhooks. Just under the ledge itself, there is a big ruined chimney that you can sort of climb through, but there are such unreliable refrigerator-size blocks that it’s stupidly scary to hang for the second and third climber under this stuff.
To the end of the day, I was freezing wildly and begged Dasha, who was working second, leaving me as many anchors as possible so I could swing the hammer to warm up. I didn’t care about all sorts of pendulums anymore. I dismounted the last station, and with a whistle, flew the rope to the right, letting out a joyless shriek. Hunger and cold prevailed. I sincerely don’t envy those who agree to climb exclusively as a haul bag puller. It’s hard work.
Nastya (a leader on the second day) made me very happy and surprised me with her persistence. With her, I was now ready to go to any mountain. We got to the second ledge before dark, and at 4:30 p.m., we set up our tent. We did not try to work the additional pitch because we thought the rest of the route was straightforward. However, my intuition told me that the third day is always full of surprises. And so it was.
On the third day, I lead by circumstance. The terrain immediately made it clear that I would not be able to climb quickly. At first, the unstable blocks began to “leave” from under my feet, and I had to put them back in carefully. Then the devil carried me (or rather, comrades Lebedev and Stepanov, who had written various things in their route description) to make a traverse to the right and to go around the corner. Here we lost about an hour; the simultaneous movement scheme was ruined. Plus, the walkie-talkies sat down; it became impossible to shout down to the third one. Nastya belayed Dasha and me simultaneously. We had to organize top-roping to protect haulbaggirl from falling over the precipice during the traverse. Never do traverse without any particular need. You’ll freeze yourself and those behind you on ascenders. Traverses and steep angles are torture for the haul bag puller. He will remember you with a “good” word for a long time.
The following five pitches didn’t make much of an impression – the so-called pre-top “roof” of the mountain is about 50–60 degrees. We had to worry about the ice section because to lighten the weight, we took four ice screws and one ice tool instead of two. To climb firn with one tool is normal, but ice is uncomfortable. Then we moved forward almost simultaneously, straining for the rocks, but it wasn’t easy. We were losing power step by step.
We didn’t get to the summit until 7 p.m. – just in time for sunset. I consider ourselves lucky. It was a great joy for me personally to meet the evening at the summit. Incredible colors!
The descent by the easy route took 3,5 hours. In the end, our men met us: the coach Valery Balezin and Alexander Moroz. It was nice and allowed us to relax! They took our backpacks off our shoulders, accompanied us to the camp, and fed us with tea and Bishkek bacon! We arrived at the camp at 11:40 p.m.
That’s what Box was like: frosty, hard working, classy.