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Diarrhea and Sunstroke in the Kokshaal-Too

“This big wall must prepare for the impending onslaught of three Belgian climbers and their photographer and cameraman,” Evrard Wendenbaum joked on his blog last month. He and partners Nicolas Favresse, Stephane Hannsensand and Sean Villaneuva were preparing for what would be a successful ascent of the Southeast Face of Kyzyl Asker (5842m) in the western Kokshaal-Too range on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan. Over 15-plus frigid days, the four men worked their way up in capsule style by a new direct start to the 2007 Russian route. From their base camp Wendenbaum wrote, “Sean has bad case of diarrhea, Nico has bit of a sunstroke and is vomiting, Stephane has bad headache and Evrard has sore back. So nothing unusual to report really.” Perhaps it was the Belgians and their photographer, they must have wondered, who should have prepared for Kyzyl Asker. [Photo] Evrard Wendenbaum

Nico Favresse approaches Kyzyl Asker with the last load. It took the team six days to shuttle all their gear from base camp to the base of the wall. In the 2003 British Alpine Journal, Guy Robertson wrote of the peak, “Viewed head-on from the glacier it forms an almost symmetrical triangle of vertical rock, composed on either side of monolithic towers rising towards the apex at the mountain’s summit.” [Photo] Evrard Wendenbaum

During a storm on September 14, the team enacted a multi-instrument portaledge jam session, improvising a drum set from kitchen equipment. Once their music appetite was sated, the four climbers napped while the storm outside raged on. [Video] Evrard Wendenbaum

Villaneuva attempts to onsight the hardest pitch of the route, just above Camp 2 around 5000m, while Hannsensand belays. During this portion of the climb, Favresse lay sick in the portaledge, and at the urging of his climbing partners, “he finally agreed to take antibiotics because [he] has sore throat, headache, the shits…” [Photo] Evrard Wendenbaum

Favresse climbs one of the 5.12 crux pitches on the route, with Camp 2 down below. The climbing was “superb,” but the team spent cold nights in camp, having only cheap sleeping bags they’d purchased in China. “The cold is intense but does not undermine their motivation and enthusiasm,” wrote Wendenbaum. [Photo] Evrard Wendenbaum

Jugging the lines up to Camp 3. “Hidden amongst the rich climbing treasures of the western Kokshal Too, with an unspoilt view over the vast wilderness that forms the western fringes of China, lies the awesome Southeast Face of Kyzyl Asker. I desperately want to climb that face…” Guy Robertson wrote in the 2003 AJ. Robertson traveled to the mountain in 2002 with Neal Crapton, Blair Fyffe and Es Tressider to attempt their dream of climbing the 1300m northwest face alpine-style. “Dreams are a bit like sugar. They’re a great source of energy. They’re an integral part of what makes us ‘alive,'” Robertson wrote of the expedition. [Photo] Evrard Wendenbaum

Favresse sets up Camp 2 after a long day of hauling. The team reached the summit at 10:00 pm and spent the next day recovering in their high camp before descending. “Ouch ouch ouch, it hurts the aftermath of push!” Wendenbaum wrote of the descent. “It is earned. We are frozen but happy.” [Photo] Evrard Wendenbaum

Sources: Anna Piunova, Evrard Wendenbaum,, Alpinist X, 2005, 2008 and 2013 American Alpine Journals, 2003 British Alpine Journal