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Phoenix Route

 
Phoenix Route

Page Type: Route

Location: Kyrgyzstan, Asia

Object Title: Phoenix Route

Route Type: Mountaineering

Time Required: Expedition

Difficulty: TD

Grade: V

Route Quality: 
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Page By: AlexJB

Created/Edited: Oct 14, 2011 / Oct 15, 2011

Object ID: 754039

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Page Score: 77.48%  - 8 Votes 

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Overview

The Phoenix route was the route used on the first ascent of Pik Laetitia in August 2011. The name derives from the fact that it was completed after the initial attempt had failed. It offers a superb quality and a wide range of climbing and can be attempted in alpine style. The route begins by ascending a steepening couloir (The Phoenix Couloir), presenting a 70m traverse on 70 degree snow and ice to exit. The second part of the route involves climbing the NW face (Phoenix Face), which offers superb and sustained mixed climbing up to Scottish Grade 5. The summit is really spectacular. A "must do" if you're in the area!

Phoenix Route, Pik Laetitia
Route
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Getting There

From the Base Camp in the Kaichi Valley, walk south along the river for an hour until you are level with the screes that lead up to the couloir. Turn in from the river and ascend the slopes until you reach a spectacular waterfall that shoots the water upwards from a ramp before it drops to the stream below. This provides a convenient location for an advanced camp. There is a flat grassy area just up and to the left. If you intend to make the climb from this point with no further bivies (which is logical), you will need to make an early start. It is a long way and the snow can become so slushy that progress is impossible by 11 a.m.
 
Advanced Camp
Advanced Camp

Route Description

Stage 1:
Sorry, not much fun this part. It takes about 2 hours to scramble up scree slopes to reach the couloir itself. The lower section is on sound rock and even offers a little of class II/III, but thing soon become tedious as the rubble becomes more and more loose.

Stage 2:
The Phoenix Couloir. A great way to start the route proper. The couloir is set in a fantastic ambience and begins gently before steepening and requiring the use of a second axe. It is never intimidatingly steep, though the odd screw might be appreciated if conditions are icy. This section should take about an hour. The rocks at the top present a good bivy site if you want a shortened summit day (a good option).


Low down in the Phoenix Couloir.

Higher in the couloir.

Bivy at top of couloir.
Stage 3:
Exiting the couloir presents the first difficult section of climbing. A faint arete rising to the right gives access to a steep snow and ice slope that must be traversed leftwards. This slope is at an angle of seventy degrees and lasts for approximately seventy meters before a rock platform is reached. The exposure is sensational and your calf muscles will be crying out for the rocks! Half an hour.


Climbing the arete out of the couloir.

On the traverse.
Stage 4:
Easier ground. Climb directly up from the rocks on a moderate snow slope before dropping left over a gentle snow arete. Carry on up moderate ground until you reach the base of a sixty meter rock step. 20 minutes.

Stage 5:
The rock step makes for a very nice section of climbing. The rock is good quality, mostly class III with some class IV. We climbed this in the dark and I'm unsure of exactly how we did it. I seem to recall starting to the right, traversing left and then back right. There was a slightly awkward move near to the top, which involved moving back left and squirming up an icy chimney for two or three meters. There must be a number of ways through this obstacle though. Half an hour. All good fun!

Stage 6:
Easy ground across to the summit block and upper section of the climb. The snow can become very soft here. We were caught out by it twice; once on our first attempt at the route (it was this soft snow that stopped us in our tracks and forced an unplanned night in the open) and then on our descent after making the summit. Energy sapping stuff. Aim for the second lick of snow up into the summit block. This is the entrance to a couloir that splits the rocks and gives access to the upper face. 40 minutes.


Stage 7:
Couloir that splits the summit block and gives access to the NW / Phoenix Face. Sixty degrees and atmospheric. A fun section that brings the summit within reach. 20 minutes.

Summit block

Couloir to upper face
Stage 8:
The upper face is the most complex part of the climb and presents the most technically difficult sections. From the top of the couloir go twenty meters up the ridge until confronted by a large block. We tried continuing up this ridge on our first attempt but were eventually turned around. Drop left off the ridge onto steep snow (becomes very soft and dangerous later in the day) and traverse left under a large rock. There is a spike that provides an excellent opportunity to place a runner (sling over the top) after fifteen meters, and from here another ten meters of climbing up and out of sight of your second brings you to a reasonable stance. From here there is a possibility of climbing the steep snow slope above, aiming for the top left corner. If soft snow conditions, as we experienced, this would not be advisable. Alternatively, hug the rocks and cut inside after ten meters. The mixed climbing here is of Scottish grade 5. Cross the snow ridge and aim for the tongue of snow that leads up into a rock step directly ahead. Go to the highest point of this snow tongue and climb up the rocks on the left hand wall. From here continue up the snow slopes and move left into a bay after forty meters. The rocks above are awkward, though climbable on either the left or right. Climbing up the left wall requires a bold step back over to the right. There is now only one rock section to negotiate before accessing the summit slopes. This section of ten meters involves climbing a chimney that pushes you off balance through the narrowest section. 2 hours.

Stage 9:
Summit slopes for 50 meters to a beautiful summit.

8 hours from Advanced Camp, 5 from bivy at the top of the couloir.


Mixed section on upper face.

First Ascent

First Ascent
Stage 10:
Getting down!

We didn't go all the way back to the couloir that splits the upper block because of loose snow. Rather, at the short snow ridge mentioned above, we turned left and downclimbed / rapped the summit block. The rock is quite loose, though not terrible. The easy snow is eventually reached about 150 meters to the right (if looking at the photo of the summit block) of the couloir through the block.

Once back to the top of the first rock step, don't down-climb it. Rather, down-climb the glacier (steep) all the way to its end. This avoids the whole lower part of the climb (rock step, 70 meter traverse, Phoenix couloir), which would be anxious in soft snow. Once you hit the moraines at the bottom of the glacier there is a stream for you to replenish water bottles. Stop. Relax. Refresh yourself for the tedious rubble skate back down to the Kaichi.

Essential Gear

Can be climbed in alpine style, though light bivy kit would be recommended even if not intended to be used. The snow can become very soft and makes progress impossible. If this happens, a bivy will be required.

Two technical axes

A light rack will suffice:
Two screws each
Five or six nuts
Two slings each

Descending the top part of the glacier is steep and a snow stake could be handy.

Enthusiasm, sense of humour etc. etc.

External Links

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Images

70m TraverseCouloir exitLower Phoenix CouloirCouloir to Upper FaceHigh in the Phoenix Couloir on the first AscentPhoenix Route, Pik LaetitiaSummit
SummitHigh in the Phoenix CouloirUpper SectionAdvanced CampBivy at the top of the couloir.Summit