Kongur East (proposed name for the 7300 elevation on the east ridge of the mountain)
At 7719 m, Kongur is the main summit of the Kun Lun range, in the south western part of China.
This mountain has seen few ascents although several expeditions operated in the area. It is a complex massif and, being constituted by a long range of elevations over 7000 m running west to east, the only direct access to the main summit is from the north or from the south. From the west or the east, climbing on Kongur involve tackling some difficult and long ridges eventually leading to the top.
So far Kongur has been climbed only three times. First ascent took place in 1981 by a strong English team led by Chris Bonington, which climbed a difficult ridge on the west side without reaching immediately the top. A second effort led a strong party (Bonington, Rouse, Boardman and Tasker) to the top via the west ridge, easily reached from the western slopes but involving a long stretch at high altitude and a technical section on a sharp rocky ridge just before the summit.
The second ascent is due to a Japanese team from the Kyoto Karakoram Club, led by Ryuichi Kotani, which climbed a prominent and difficult ridge in the center of the north face in1989.
Another route from the north has been recently climbed by a complex Russian expedition in 2004 (Valery Shamalov and fellows). They followed slopes to the right of the Japanese line, eventually joining it on the upper part of the mountain.
Since the south face is huge and bordered by slopes which seem to be prone to avalanche danger, what remained to us was the east ridge. Thus, in the occurrence of the 100 years anniversary celebrations of Club Alpino Accademico Italiano (1904-2004), an expedition was organised with the objective of climbing Kongur via the nort-east side of the mountain, where a prominent ridge (north-east) is leading to an intermediate summit at 5975 m, which is connected to the upper plateau by another long stretch of ridge (east) ending at an elevation of about 7204, marked on the Chinese map.
We got a good picture from Daniel Waugh, who trekked a few times around the mountain. From this a relatively safe line was identified, although not yet clear in the first part.
The expedition team was constituted by 9 people, Armando Antola, Donatella Barbera (doctor), Giovanni Ghiglione, Massimo Giuliberti, Carla Marten Canavesio, Claudio Moretto, Ezio Mosca, Beppe Villa and myself as team leader.
We started from Milano on July 18th, via Doha to Islamabad on 19th. Next day we took a flight for Kashgar, where we met our liason officer, and had a first look to the impressive east ridge of Kongur. What you see from Kashgar is only the upper part of our climb, from 5800m upwards.
Base camp was set on a green valley bordering the Tugralkuluxi Glacier, at about 3850 m, on July 22nd. Operations started immediately, and we placed camp 1 at 4600 m, fixed ropes through the steep (60°) slopes leading to the ridge and placed camp 2 at 5600 m, in about 1 week. Weather conditions were strange, with high temperatures during the day, and usually snowfalls during the late afternoon and night. The mountain was deeply snow covered and in general in wet conditions.
A first trial to reach the first peak at 5950 m was frustrated by bad weather. This waste of time forced decision towards a climb in alpine stile from camp 2.
On August 7th we were camping at the foot of the east ridge of Kongur at 5800 m, after descending the 5950 m peak: the look of the 1400 m high part of the ridge was impressive. The next two days were passed climbing relatively easy ridge slopes in deep snow, up to a rocky tooth at 6600 m. It took half a day to climb past this difficult section, on rotten rock and unconsolidated snow. We could not fix more than one rope on the difficult stretch thus there was no chance to place a higher camp. On August 11th, at 17:00, Giuliberti, Villa and myself were at the end of the ridge, at about 7300 m, on a small elevation that we called Kongur East, higher with respect to the point quoted 7204 m by the chinese maps. Having no experience of snow caves and in worsening weather we decided to put an end to our adventure.
This route, although long and challenging, is mostly safe and protected from avalanches. From BC it is 3600 m of vertical gain (due to a 200 m loss below point 5975) with a much longer development.
Unfavourable snow conditions were experienced regardless of the weather: almost every night a 10-20 cm snowfall kept the slopes hard to be climbed, and even during sunny days the snow was never transformed into more comfortable terrain.
From the higher point reached, that is from Kongur East, an additional climbing day is required to get to the main summit at 7719. It is long stretch (about 3 km) but only 400 m have to be climbed and snow conditions on the upper and windy part of the ridge are much better.
We entitled the route “Ridge of the Centenario CAAI”, in commemoration of this important event.