MEMBERS: Pat Littlejohn, Adrian Nelhams, Vladimir Komissarov (guides), Ben Box, Steve Brown, James Bruton, Dr Tom Fox, Phil Naybour, George Ormerod, John Porter, Nick Wheatley.
It has been travelled by a few trekking groups in recent years but other than one (unsuccessful) attempt by a Russian team on the highest peak (5170m) there are no known records of previous mountaineering expeditions.
We expected to have to approach on foot using horses for camp equipment, however with all our manpower we were able to open up an old geologists’ road made in Soviet times. This led to a broad river delta which was driveable for 20km to a base camp at 3570m where all the main glaciers terminate (making it a fantastic base for exploration).
After reconnaissance ABC was set up at 4240m on the right hand branch of the double-headed glacier running southwards (later named Ilbirs Glacier after snow-leopard tracks were discovered here). Ascents were made of Pk Ilbirs (5017m, PD+) the big dominant peak on the R side; the obvious rock pyramid on the E side (Zoob Barsa 4685m PD+), and traverse of Trident Peak (AD) just N of Pk Ilbirs. One team explored the glacier to the W and climbed Pk 4857 by its W ridge.
Overlooking base camp were rock walls between 100-500m high. These proved to be made of excellent solid limestone and gave 2 fine routes (E2 and HVS). For the second ‘foray’, ABCs were set up on the E branch of Ilbirs glacier and the base of Pk 5170m. Several summits above Ilbirs E were climbed including the excellent Dvoinay Vershina (‘Twin Peak’, 5041m). The forepeak of Pk 5170m gave a pleasant excursion to 4915m (named Sakchi – Sentry) then a serious attempt was made on Pk 5170m via a couloir on the W flank and N ridge. At c.5000m the ridge became seriously knife-edged and corniced and the attempt was abandoned. Three smaller summits on the opposite side of the glacier gave easier days before the expedition decamped. All in all a very enjoyable trip to the most remote mountains any of the team had visited (c.200km to nearest proper village). Sightings of the rare Marco Polo sheep and seeing prints of the exceptionally rare snow leopard were a great privilege.