Mike Dobie: Developing in Keketuohai

Keketuohai has always held a special place in my heart. It isn’t just its peaceful setting, nomadic peoples and camels, or the untouched granite comparable to the sierras. It was a dream for me while still living in America.  Way back in 2009 I heard rumors of this valley of rock and the lure of first ascents was a catalyst for moving to China.

That was four years ago, and this last month I finished up my third trip to this wild part of the province of Xinjiang. 

Keketuohai Valley (Keketuohai Valley) photo ana pautler
Keketuohai Valley. Photo: Ana Pautler
Mike Dobie on the First Free Ascent of Bewildered 5.11+ Photo: Nicole Ponta

On a previous expedition I tried to tackle a route ground up and on the first ascent attempt I found myself balancing on a foothold trying to get some sort of reliable protection. There was nothing that I would actually want to fall on and ended up down climbing and bailing on the route, not willing to risk broken legs way out in the middle of Asia. I came back at it with a bolt this trip and it opened up a great corner pitch of the route that would be named Voices of the Deep. The corner climbing was such a pleasure and my climbing partner, Ana Pautler, who is one of the authors for the guidebook “Climb China”, agreed that it was worth the bolt. 

Ana paulter on the first of of VOTD
Ana Pautler following the first pitch of Voices in the Deep. Photo: Mike Dobie

From our belay ledge we  looked up and were blown away with what we had discovered. An overhung finger crack! A holy grail for those into the challenge of climbing trad routes that make you go for it. It took me 3 real goes to send it and it clocked in at 5.12c/d.

The spectacular crux pitch of Voices in the Deep 5.12+. Photo: Ana Pautler

In the same area we opened another route that was a sort of test piece for me on the trip. We called it Diamond of the Witch House and it features three pitches that are 5.12- or harder. Making it the hardest and most sustained route in the valley. The crux roof pitch did not go completely free for me. Only one move away going around the lip of the roof, but it was very close. Probably will be 5.13b/c. 

Diamond of the Witch House 5.12. The changing cracks pitch to access the roof pitch. Photo: Ana Pautler
Diamond roof (Feeling great on the inversion section of the roof) Photo Ana Pautler
Feeling great on the inversion section of the roof. Photo: Ana Pautler


Failure on a route is all a part of the journey in climbing. Completely excited and motivated to head back to this area for more first ascents and a revisit to this project. 

Local ladies (A short stop to pick up some ladies on the way into the Valley) photo Ana pautler
A short stop to pick up some ladies on the way into the Valley. Photo: Ana Pautler
Bread Baker (A Local Kahzahk baker dishing out some Nann) photo ana pautler
A Local Kahzahk baker dishing out some Nann. Photo: Ana Pautler
Noodles (Handmade noodle dish) photo ana pautler
Handmade noodle dish. Photo: Ana Pautler