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WINTER TRAVERSE Karlytau - Marble wall

So the circle is closed. Some hundred steps on wadded, knocked down legs and Uncle Fyodor and I will come to a small pile of stones, which, seven and a half days ago, became the starting point of an intense ascent.
Tomorrow is a full moon, and today, the moon shines so that all the slightest flaws in our snowy path are visible. This is very handy, because we are slightly swayed from side to side. We have been descending for more than 12 hours. A couple of hours ago we set up our skyscraper at the Chinese Pass, at the very beginning of the classic route to the Marble Wall. The eastern slope of the tent was illuminated by the moonlight reflected from the Chinese six-thousanders, and to the north-west, spruce valleys of Kazakhstan went down.
There was no wind, it was surprisingly quiet, and we quietly rejoiced, brewing the final couple of tea bags in a boiled saucepan. The last radio communication session for today, a little more hot liquid and it will be possible to sleep wonderfully, since it is warm, even and there is no wind.
But life-villain constantly makes its own adjustments, not wanting to so easily agree with our desires and decisions. A voice from the base camp said that the rest of the groups intended to go down to the last, to the end, to the base located at the artisanal mine Zharkulak. Everyone wants to start early tomorrow in order to get to Alma-Ata in time for the holiday. It will turn out that if we stay to spend the night on the pass, then we will let down our friends who are eager to go home. To the base, given our condition, at least another five hours of walking along a winding path in a dry channel overgrown with giant thorns. The cheerful voice of Dan Urubka, running somewhere in the night, about seven kilometers below us, also said that in a couple of hours he would be at the base. With great regret, we rolled up our tiny tent and ran to catch up with the others.
There was little strength left, dimensionless one-sports, adapted for walking in the snow, on river pebbles and frozen ground, mercilessly knocked down the feet. Our miss on the descent from the Pogranichnik peak, just a few hours ago, had a strong effect. There we decided to shorten our path, going down the huge firn-ice fields, but, having dropped 300 meters of height, we found ourselves on bare ice and decided not to risk it. I had to climb up again. So we are descending from a height of 6100 meters, where, after climbing the main peak of our traverse, we woke up safely. The moon, of course, helps a lot, slowly floating above us, grinning to herself at our labored attempts to add speed.
The dream Team
As soon as we spread out our frozen sleeping bags near the miners' trailers, it seems as if someone turns it off and, with a wink at us for the last time, hides behind a wooded ridge that looks like a fence. And satisfaction from what has been done and fatigue will come. And we will fall asleep, finally peacefully, for the first time in seven and a half days. And it seems that we dreamed it all.
- The main thing is to get out on Karla, we’ll run further, the comb should be simple! The voice of Dmitry Muravyov sounds confident and calm.
- Let's not guess anything, guys! our experienced captain, the leader of the upcoming ascent, Rinat Khaibulin, shows prudence.
Which ridge ahead, behind the peak of Karlytau, none of us knows. Nobody ever really looked at him.
True, once in a lifetime they still passed it. 36 years ago. Six persons. Almaty Spartak team led by Boris Studenin. 1965 Ten-toothed cats, cotton puffs, wooden ice axes - iron people.
They say that high-altitude mountaineering is not life, but continuous survival. And this takes some getting used to. Spend a few nights wrestling with yourself and an icy tent. To force yourself, every morning, to stick your nose out of a frozen, icy sleeping bag and knocking down the condensate hanging from the walls of the tent with your body, to move towards the rise. Climb out into the prickly wind, and start moving, warm your body and still sleepy soul. At altitudes above 5000 meters above sea level, there is practically no other way. Height leaves its mark on the physical and mental state of the climber. Every day at such heights, a person loses strength, even if he just sits in a tent, the body does not know how to recover in conditions of constant oxygen hunger. Practice shows that in order not to die here, you need to work no more than 5-6 hours. Few can afford it. Light day, usually squeezed out completely. It's a pity to lose every second. Especially in winter when the days are so short. And we, thanks to the gloomy imagination of Dima Muravyov, ended up on the 5,000th crest at the very end of winter. In addition, the ascent schedule, and, accordingly, the distribution of food and fuel was calculated without taking into account the peculiarities of the upcoming route. Subsequently, in order to fit into the planned eight days, we had to work 9 - 9.5 hours daily.
The ascent to Karly-Tau in the forehead turned out to be not so much difficult as very long. The hope that we would make it all the way to the top in a day flickered on and off. As a result, having passed a small icefall in the upper part of the mountain, we, tired of waiting to see the top behind each vertical bend, began to cut down the sites necessary for life. It got dark quickly. The installation of tents was completed in the dark and with a rising wind. We felt that the summit was somewhere very close, and tomorrow, if there is at least some visibility, we will see our traverse.
The first high-altitude overnight stay on the route, except for the night on a huge frying pan in the Marble Wall Circus. Another roll of thunder forced me to burrow deeper into my sleeping bag. The touch of frozen nylon with every movement burns the exposed parts of the face. In addition, large crystals of frost fall on the sleeping bag, mask, cap, slightly pricking and invigorating. Thunder sounds almost continuously. The super-strong Silver fabric, from which the side slopes of our skyscraper are made, is a little silver-plated, has become stiff from frost and now rattles from gusts of wind, like tin, if you hit it with a stick. It didn't get any better in the morning. If it goes like this, we won't last long. We climbed to the top of Karla (really there was quite a bit, 150 meters to it) with a very strong wind. I want to capture this wind on video. I take off my mittens and gloves, work with the camera for fifteen or twenty seconds and then beat my thighs with my hands for a long time to force the blood back into the capillaries of my fingers.
The storm stopped abruptly, as if someone had flipped a switch in the sky. We stood on our descending crest, the sun was shining, there was not a breeze, the Khan Tengri pyramid hung over the entire central Tien Shan with its terrible eastern wall. What opened before our eyes did not cause much enthusiasm. Up to plateau 5400, located under the classical ridge on the top of the Marble Wall, a sharp firn ridge, all in cornices raised to the sky, with gray bald patches of ice, stretched. To the north, it was cut off by a six-hundred-meter wall, and to the south, to the Northern Inylchek glacier, it went a little less steep slope, 40-50 degrees to a depth of 6-7 pitches. Cornices of 10-15 meters hung on the north side and seemed simply huge. One night, for example, we, having firmly drilled into a bedrock ice slope, fit our entire small camp of three tents on a small part of such a cornice.
The way along the ridge
So, our pink dreams of running a traverse on a comfortable terrain dissipated like a haze over the Khan. It became clear that more than one day of rather monotonous technical work lay ahead of us to traverse the ridge sideways along its southern side, overcoming its ice curtain folds and bypassing, fortunately not numerous, rocky gendarmes. Given the steepness and frequent outcrops of bare winter ice, at the same time, only small sections can be passed. Basically, you will have to rail all the way - fix the ropes so that the whole team can safely move forward. Rinat picks up a pair of Camp jackals and goes ahead, now the main thing is to give him ice screws for ice and long ice axes for snow insurance in time. It doesn't always work out right away. The team is not quite grounded and there is some discrepancy in speed and interaction. Everyone passes fifty meters of the railing at their own speed, sometimes slowly. This forces the leader and the others to wait, hanging on a lanyard. We have to work, to squeeze more speed out of ourselves. You can rest later. In the speed of our movement, our safety. As long as normal weather is established, there is no wind, it would be necessary to overcome this technically difficult section of the ridge. If bad weather starts here, there will be no way to sit it out. We'll have to rappel down the northern wall. Dima Muravyov, philosophically noting that the peaks of Karla-Tau and Mramornaya will stand for at least a few more years and will not go anywhere from us, looked at the option of a fairly safe descent along a long ice board descending directly onto the snow pan of the northern circus.
By night, they didn’t really get out anywhere. The same steep and sharp ridge, the same cornices standing on end for some reason, ice and firn. We cut small areas again. We are trying to make it below the line of separation of the cornices. It turns out bad. Below the line, the slope becomes steeper - unpleasant. Just in case, we pass a rope fixed on ice screws through the tents.
Same job since morning. Rinat with two coils climbs first in four cycles. With a side step, practically without losing or gaining height, he continues to move forward. The team is working faster today - no one wants to spend the third night on the cut-down sites, everyone is straining on the ropes, trying not to arouse the righteous wrath of their comrades. When there are eight ropes left before reaching the plateau, Rinat, saddling the ridge, leans back against the rocks of the tough gendarme who blocked our way:
Come on guys, who's next! Something I'm a little tired.
Tired after three days of work first at an altitude above 5000 meters on winter ice! I wonder what kind of team they used to be?!
We go around the gendarme on the left, along the northern wall. Kirill Barbashinov, sitting on the edge of the ridge, plays the role of a living station - a fulcrum. Ropes are fixed on it for those who come along the south side and those who are already working on the north. And now, finally, an unpleasant section of the ridge is passed. There remains a steep but snowy ascent to the plateau. Insuring through long ice axes stuck in a dense firn, we climb up in turn with Dima Muravyov and Sergey Samoilov. Once again I change Dima, I rise my fifty meters and suddenly I feel that it becomes easier to walk, and my gaze no longer rests on the monotonous snowy slope - I see the horizon and the panorama of the ridges stretching to China and the Kazakh steppes. I am walking on an almost flat field, and ahead of me is a huge, flat plateau. You can run on it, jump, play football. No need to cut down platforms, fasten the rope - beauty! I organize, as it seems to me, the final station for today, on an ice ax and a telescopic stick deeply stuck in the snow, and with a feeling of complete satisfaction I sit down on the snow. Everyone climbing next, approaching the end of the rope, shouts something joyfully and excitedly - everyone is pleased to be on a flat and reliable terrain, even if it happens at an altitude of 5400 meters at the end of winter.
The sun slowly set behind the sawtooth horizon, the weather was magnificent and our mood, to match her, was calm. A piece of a three-hundred-meter marble plumb line peeking out from behind the edge of the plateau slowly turned red, and we set up camp. Not without incidents. The inner canopy of our skyscraper with Uncle Fyodor was heavily iced over and so frozen to the outer fabric that we could not unstick them. The tent, in spite of all our efforts, remained a shapeless, frozen piece of red-green nylon. Kirill and Sergey, who abandoned the inner canopy at the very beginning of the ascent, in the base camp, now walked around us and openly mocked our futile efforts. When Uncle and I got tired of looking like complete idiots, we, having hardly penetrated through the entrance tubes into the tent, simply cut off the canopy, which had become heavy from ice. Then we buried this boring piece of white cloth not far from the camp, as if creating a monument to our high-altitude tents - we refused to drag one and a half kilograms of ice through the top.
Muraviev and Khaibullin
In the morning it turned out that the weather continued to hold. There was not a cloud in the sky, and even the usual wind did not disturb the tranquility of the high mountain plateau. The top of the Marble Wall floated high in the sky. The difference in height between our camp and the summit was about a thousand meters, and the distance was decent - you need to traverse the entire plateau and first go to the classic ridge in the area of the jumper 6146 and then go through this entire ridge. Thinking nothing in advance, we, having collected our camp, started. The snow on the plateau was not deep, it was easy to trail and we quickly climbed to a height of 6146 meters. Those who climbed the classical route should have reached this point as well. As far as we knew by communication, there were three of them left: Denis Urubko, Simone Moro and Maksut Zhumaev. The rest of the groups for various reasons stopped climbing. The remaining trio stopped for the night at an altitude of 5100 and in the morning planned to reach the summit with a descent into the valley. If they succeed, it will be a kind of speed record. Well, that's why he and Urubko!
Here comes the moment of truth. It's already 13:00, it gets dark in five hours. We are at an altitude of 6146. We need to have time to climb, descend, and even set up a camp - there seems to be enough space. Well, to be honest, we didn't think about it for a very long time. The decision was made quickly and unambiguously. We put on masks, picked up an ice ax and one telescopic stick and moved towards the top. The turning point of our traverse is the top, then only down. Not a breeze or a cloud at the top. This is probably a miracle for the central Tien Shan. At the center of this miracle is our seven on top of the Marble Wall. I don’t really want to go down - I would stand and look at the Tien Shan from a height. In one direction, the ridges go to China, in the other to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. You can look with your eyes for the outlines of familiar peaks that you once climbed, or wanted to climb.
Now down, to the warning cries of Dima Muravyov. Down is always a little more dangerous than up. Reminds me of being tired. There will be one more night on the ridge. Meeting early in the morning with Dan's group rapidly climbing up the classics, descending through the peaks of Pogranichnik and Uzlovaya towards the Kitaysky pass and a whole night of walking along the dry riverbed to the miners' village.
In the morning I woke up lying in a sleeping bag on the frost-covered grass. Andrei Barbashinov handed me a jar of hot compote. Tea was boiled in the trailers and sandwiches were made. Prospectors busy with their morning work bustled around. A marble wall hovered over the gorge. I wanted to eat, drink and dance (in order to keep warm at least a little bit).
And in the evening summer came. In Alma-Ata, a holiday was underway. It was the eighth of March. The city was painted with garlands of lights and girls dressed in summer. Slowly, we began to thaw.

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