By Kristoffer Szilas, Denmark
Pik Alexandra (5,290m), Pik Pernille (5,190m), Pik Lea (4,950m), Pik Kathryn (4,885m).
Our seven-man team was inspired to visit the Djangart region after reading a report in AAJ 2011 by the Anglo-American expedition that climbed in the western part during 2010. We were six Danes (Sune Buur, Carsten Cooper-Jensen, Jakob Fisker, Anders Hedeager Pedersen, Simon Lund Jensen, and I) and one British, Jim Broomhead. We explored the area from July 17 to August 3 [Editor’s note: This group of mountains on the Chinese border is split into three sectors. The western is referred to as Kaichi, the central as Djangart, and the eastern as Sauktor. While a Russian expedition inspected the Sauktor area in 2008, they did no climbing.]
To save time and to reach the previously unclimbed-in eastern area, we chartered an old Russian helicopter to fly us to base camp. However, on our first day in the valley, it looked as though we would not be going anywhere: the gas canisters, essential for melting snow on the mountain, had not been loaded on the helicopter. We then discovered that our satellite phone was not working.
This remote region has been visited less than a handful of times, yet amazingly, the very next day a family from Moscow trekked through our base camp. They had a working satellite phone, called the helicopter company, and requested it to deliver the missing gas, thereby saving the expedition.
We split into three teams and explored four glacier basins. Jim and I made the first ascent of a 5,290m summit above the west side of the Chulaktor Glacier. We climbed the 700m east ridge over two days, with a night out at 5,000m. The lower section featured sound granite, with climbing to 5.4, while the upper section gave snow and ice up to 70°. We named the mountain Pik Alexandra and the route (rated D) Bivouac—French for Mistake.
We then hiked 15km west into the neighbouring N2 valley to attempt the east face of Pik 5,318m, the highest summit in the range and unclimbed. This aspect of the mountain presents a serious technical challenge, with a 500m vertical wall of good granite leading to 1,000m of ice and mixed. It was too hard for us with the gear we carried, and the weather was too warm. Peak 5,318m has now been the goal of four expeditions.
We returned to base camp and climbed a 4,950m peak visible to the east, naming it Pik Lea. The 500m route on the southwest face, named Mermaid, gave tricky Scottish-style climbing in mostly white-out conditions (D, M4 and 70°). While we had found Chamonix-style granite on Alexandra, Lea was poor marble. On our way down the sun came out and started to warm the face. We soon found ourselves downclimbing a dangerous avalanche trap. We were hit several times, but luckily on steep ice slopes where we could place solid screws. We were not swept off the peak and made it safely down to base camp, reuniting with the rest of the team. Carsten and Simon had made the first ascent of Pik Kathryn, west of the Kichik Sauktor Glacier, via a line on the icy northeast face they named Russian Roulette (700m, AD, 60°). Sune, Jakob, and Anders climbed Pik Pernille, east of the Kichik Sauktor, from the south via Waiting for the Tide (700m, AD, 55°). Members also made unsuccessful attempts on two border peaks, 5,112m and 5,025m, at the head of the Kichik Sauktor.
We found late July to be too hot. Glacier surfaces failed to freeze, even at night, and we often sank up to our hips when breaking trail. This area, and in particular an attempt on Pik 5,318m, would probably be better in September or even October. Nevertheless, we managed four first ascents in a remote region of the world and had a real adventure. What more could you ask?