KAZAKHSTAN - The Marble Wall and Khan Tengri Traverse

11 Aug 2011 - Epic Descent


All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2011. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.


Highlighted area shows today's climbing

Today was one of the most physically, mentally and emotionally trying days of my life. By now almost all food was gone and we were very low on gas. I was low on energy too. It began snowing and visibility dropped. We had to cross a steep and heavily crevassed glacier to reach a nearby ridge. A Lord of the Rings style labyrinth of ice bridges, this was the bridge of Kazad Dum on steriods. It was very trecherous crossing this ice labyrinth on a dodgy ice screw. We then climbed steeply to the ridge which was no safer than the glacier. We proceeded to do a harrowing decent of a bergschrund on the ridge and some other extreme moves to get to a safer spot on the ridge. The guides wanted to continue to the endmost pinnacle of the ridge which looked like an ice cream cone about to topple. I refused. It looked like an impossible situation. We turned back along the ridge and now we were running out of options. At 1pm we began abseiling off the side of the ridge and it got steeper and steeper. With only one 70m rope and 3 ice screws, descent was slow, scary and very risky. We depended on those 3 ice screws and there was no margin for error. Snow fell. Hours later it began getting dark. Still we were on the steep ridge abseiling 30m at a time. Mini avalanches buried us and obscured our anchors which had to be dug out. Cracklingly cold, it was finally after 10pm when we finally crossed a bergschrund and reached the bottom of the ridge. Pitched the tent in the savage cold. Totally exhausted and it was well after midnight by the time we had settled into the tent. We had eaten barely anything all day, and now we had a little tea, chocolate and light snacks. Gas almost finished. 16 hours of intense effort with virtually no food. Altitude here is 4800m. It was 2am by the time I turned in for what was left of the night.

The bridge of Kazad Dum. This was the labyrinth of perilous ice that we had to get through in order to reach the small ridge, which itself was not much safer.

If you don't know what the bridge of Kazad Dum is, then here's a YouTube clip of the relevant scene from The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring. The Bridge of Kazad Dum.

After crossing the bridge of Kazad Dum we climbed steeply onto the ridge. Then, to get further along the ridge we had a very steep descent. Here Danat is belaying Edik down the ridge. Edik is about to step down a vertical section and across a bergschrund that is hidden in this photo.
This photo shows where we went from here. After carefully descending the bergschrund we continued along the ridge until it became impossibly steep and dangerous. We then retraced our steps to a more level spot and at this point we had no alternative but to start abseiling down the side of the ridge as shown, to the glacier far below. We started abseiling at about 1pm and reached the bottom at around 11pm.
Here we are retreating back along the ridge, retracing our steps to safer ground. Further out it was too heavily corniced and dangerous.
And thus we began abseiling. Edik and I look up at Danat who is doing something with the ice screw before he abseils down to where we are. He will abseil the rope on the right. Then when he reaches us he will pull on the left rope, which hopefully will unscrew the ice screw so that it and the rope come down and we can reuse it.

Sometimes a rock was used as an anchor instead of an ice screw. I cannot remember how many abseils like this we did, but due to the fact that our 70m rope was hung double, we could only abseil about 30m at a time.


It was cloudy, snowing, and as the hours wore on, it began getting dark. Still we abseiled, pitch after pitch, and it seemed like we would be doing this forever.

Here is another rock belay. After this photo was taken it began to get dark, and we continued long into the night before finally we reached the bottom. The heavy snowfall triggered powder avalanches which covered us and all our equipment which we then had to dig out. There was no margin for error. Everything became frozen and iced up. We could not afford to lose an ice screw or a carabiner in the deep avalanching snow in the dark, as we clung to these tenuous belays.



All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2011. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.

Page created 29 Nov 2011, last updated 7 Dec 2011.