In 1940, a Soviet military officer visited the Muzkol range’s AkBaikal valley, gazed up at the five peaks of the ridgeline and declared “the passage of this route would have done credit to any master mountaineer”. In the intervening years just one expedition had attempted any of the peaks and so our team of five set out to try and prove ourselves as master mountaineers.
As it turned out, 75 year old Russian climbing beta is not always of the highest quality and whilst we successfully climbed four new routes a traverse of the ridgeline itself eluded us for its chossy, fractured mess was more suited to master levitators than climbers.
With only two and half weeks for the trip we eschewed a traditional approach to acclimatization and instead adopted the policy of “climb very high and then sleep there”. For the most part this gamble paid off although we were sad to part ways with Al after only a few days as he was unable to shake off a bout of traveller’s diarrhoea caught in Osh. We flooded our 4x4 in a river on the drive-in and then established a basecamp at 4700m followed by an ABC on the glacier at just over 5000m. James ticked off a solo repeat of the 2014 Latvian team’s peak via a new route and then a few days later put in a sterling effort to summit on the main ridgeline at 5700m, soloing across the serac threatened face on hard, brittle ice
and then completing the 10+ abalakov abseils on the descent in a twelve hour round trip. More routes followed, including a repeat of James’ first route by George and Clay, a solo of a different route on the same peak by Emily, and a musical mix-tape fuelled route by James and Emily which was halted by a steep, loose wall of rock.
The return journey was just as eventful with an impromptu sports day for the Tajik children, a game of hide-and-seek with a dodgy park official looking for a bribe and then having two of the team being denied travel home through Russia due to visa issues. Tajikistan is a great country to visit, easily accessible by road from Osh and playing host to stable weather, tremendously friendly locals and interesting routes (on terrible rock). We are most grateful to the MEF, BMC, Alpine Club Climbing Fund, Austrian Alpine Club and Alpkit for helping to make our little adventure possible. By George Cave