Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jetim-Bel Range- Women`s Kyrgyzstan Expedition

Molly, Jaime and I are just a few days back from an excellent trip exploring the remote Jetim Bel Range, located in Eastern Kyrgyzstan. We were thrilled to get into the mountains after the initial delay due to the political turmoil that unfolded upon Jaime and Molly's arrival in Kyrgyzstan. Our departure was mark with a multitude of absurdly hilarious difficulties mostly involving money. After spending a night in Barksoon, we hired a local driver, Mischa, who dropped us off on the north side of Sueok Pass at 3800m.

In our nine days of exploration we found incredible terrain, but it was blanketed in one of the scariest snowpacks any of us had ever seen. With safety being forefront we still managed to ski- exploring and linking five different glacial drainages from two camps. The relief of the Jetim Bel is not immense, but it is beautiful for ski touring a multitude of steep ridges and baby glaciers filling in all the north facing valleys. We had beautiful weather all days but one. Despite the strong solar radiation, temperatures stayed cool from steady winds and strong diurnal cooling. The long spring days were greatly appreciated.

We had planned to attempt a repeat descent of Sari Tor, a peak climbed and skied by the female explorer Ella Maillart in 1932 on wooden skis. Only days before our departure from Bishkek, we became informed of the presence of two Sari Tor peaks in the Jetim Bel area. Unfortunatley, the Sari Tor indicated on maps and the one we had planned to ski was not the Sari Tor that Ella skied. That Sari Tor is located about 45 km away and is currently off limits as it is part of the Kumtor Gold Mine complex. Many locals did not seem aware of these Sari Tor's existence and it is not indicated on any historic USSR maps. However, following in the spirit of Ella Maillart, on our second day we were able to ski the NW face of our Sari Tor (4481)m, a first descent.

Our descent of Sari Tor marked the beginning of our relationship with descents on western slopes. Almost every east slope we inspected we found to be wind loaded with extremely poor structure and high energy. Due to high hazard and large consequences, we turned away from many beautiful descents. In lieu of making a multitue of steep descents, we were able to complete numerous traverses and ski more conservative lines in all of the central drainages of the Jetim Bel. Our tours included several long ridge traverses, 4 summits over 4500m, one +24km day tour over Sari Pass.

Despite thre remote location of the Jetim-Bel, on a dirt track bisecting the range we encountered over 100 head of horses headed towards their summer pastures already. It was repeated our last day with a herd of cows on the main road, when Mischa was picking us up.

Our hesitations about the snowpack were confirmed when we remotely triggered a Class III avalanche setting up our camp in valley bottom. We had been in the location for over an hour, when we suddenly felt the snowpack collapse and listened to the failure propagate through the entire valley. Within moments, we were watching the entire eastern slope above us come roaring down into the valley. Fortunatley, we had picked our site carefully- even Jaime had measured the alpha angles (the runout distance of an avalanche). The slide stopped about 200 ft from camp and the resulting debris were big enough to bury a car (3-10m). The crown was over 1/2 km long and the slide ran 400m downslope. Our last day, we hiked up the slide path which ran to the ground. We did a crown profile, the culprit was depth hoar on a crust just above the ground. In addition to the poor structure (from examining the layers) there was very poor strenght and a great deal of energy in the snow as indicated in stability tests we conducted.

Reminded why we had been cautious in our descent lines, we headed out to meet Mischa and head back to Bishkek. Molly and Jaime headed back to the states and I departed for Kyrgyzstan for a short hiatus.

Thank you to the Hans Saari Memorial Ski Fund Exploration Grant for their support. The grant is designted to support and expand the boundaries of ski mountaineering and provide a better understanding of mountain cultures.

Jaime, Ann and Molly


The ubiquitous Lada, along Issky- Kul LakeThe last road sign....
The Jetim Bel Range

The team after first descent of Sari Tor (behind)

Molly Speed racing down a glacier Jaime relaxing Molly descending one of the many unnamed glaciers View of Jetim Bel Jaime ascending
View of camp and the slide that sympathetically released in camp from valley bottom

Crown of slide The facets kept getting bigger and bigger...

Molly and horses heading over Sueok Pass

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Part of my designation as a Fulbright Grantee is to promote exchange and knowledge between the United States and Kyrgyzstan. The recent events have brought attention to this little landlocked country, but not in the most positive light. Many people, especially in my home valley of Montana, were highly interested in the events unfolding. I hope in my relaying of information about the violence and disorder that occured I was still able to convey the incredible hospitatlity of the people here, the beauty of the land and the young nature of the country. It is too early to say what the new government will bring, but there is already talk of the same corrupt tactics just with different players. Russia's involvement and comments continue to be an source of interest as a new great game continues.

- The Daily Inter Lake Front Row to Revolution
- The Flathead Beacon Amid Political Upheavel, Solace in the Mountains
- I also did an interview with Emilie Ritter of Montana Public Radio which aired on April 11th