Situated to the north of the Dankova group in the West Kokshaal-Too, the central area of the Borkoldoy Range is a group of superb Alpine peaks, which are well-defended on every side by chains of slightly lower mountains. In recent years it has been penetrated by a few trekking groups but other than one (unsuccessful) attempt on the highest peak, Pik 5,171m, by a Russian team in 2003 (see INFO January 2005), there is no known record of previous mountaineering. In September 2003 ISM had organized a successful expedition to the south eastern sector of this range (also in INFO January 2005).
The 2004 ISM expedition comprised Pat Littlejohn, Adrian Nelhams and Vladimir Komissarov (guides), together with Ben Box, Steve Brown, James Bruton, Tom Fox, Phil Naybour, George Ormerod, John Porter and Nick Wheatley. They expected to approach on foot using horses for camp equipment but with all their available manpower 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 3,570m, a point where all the main glaciers terminate.
After reconnaissance, an Advanced Base was set up at 4,240m on the right-hand branch of a double-headed glacier rising southwards (later named Ilbirs Glacier, after snow-leopard tracks were discovered). Ascents were made of Pik Ilbirs (5,017m; PD+), the big dominant peak on the right (west) side of the glacier; the obvious rock pyramid on the east side, named Zoob Barsa (4,685m; PD+), and a traverse of Trident Peak (4,715m: AD) just north of Pk Ilbirs. One team explored another glacier to the west and climbed Pik 4,857m at its head via the West Ridge.
Overlooking base camp were south-facing rock walls between 100-400m high. These proved to be excellent solid limestone and gave two fine routes at British E2 and HVS.
For the second ‘foray’, Advanced Bases were set up on the east branch of Ilbirs glacier and at the base of Pik 5,171m. Several summits above Ilbirs East were climbed, including the excellent Dvoinay Vershina (‘Twin Peak’; 5,041m). The forepeak of Pik 5,171m gave a pleasant excursion to 4,915m and was named Sakchi (The Sentry), then a serious attempt was made on Pik 5,171m itself via a couloir on the West Flank. The couloir led to the North Ridge, which was followed to c5,000m. At this point it became seriously knife-edged and corniced, and the attempt was abandoned. Three smaller summits on the opposite (west) side of the glacier gave easier day routes before the expedition decamped, having enjoyed a successful trip to the most remote mountain area that any of the team had visited (c200km from the nearest proper village). Sightings of the uncommon Marco Polo sheep and seeing prints of the exceptionally rare snow leopard were a great privilege. The Alpine Mapping Guild has recently produced a quality satellite image (no annotations) of the entire range and would like to make a 1:100,000 map in the future. As we go to press ISM have just returned from another highly productive trip, in which they found much better snow conditions and were successful on Pik 5,171m (via the North East Flank to South Ridge at PD+), naming it, appropriately, Pik Borkoldoy.
By Lindsay Griffin from notes supplied by Pat Littlejohn