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Virgin summit ascents in Muzkol (Pamir)

An EWP group of climbers (8 from western Europe plus 5 Russians) visited the remote and virtually unvisited Muzkol Range in the Eastern Pamir of Tadjikistan this summer. The main aim of the expedition was to climb virgin summits. This turned out to be a perfect region as most of the summits, including many six thousanders, were still unclimbed. A further attraction of the area is the relatively stable, dry weather enjoyed by the region which is located in what is almost a high altitude semi-desert.
A major problem of mounting an expedition to the Muzkol Range is access. The range is located near the Chinese border and is best reached via Kirghizstan. The 250 mile drive from Osh in Kirghizstan to Muzkol is rough and the road winds its way up and down several passes, many over 4000m high. It passes the eastern edge of the Muzkol Range but is separated from the main mountain area by a 5100m pass which has to be crossed by foot. The alternative involves flying by helicopter - a very expensive alternative. Further problems relate to special permits that are required to enter this sensitive area. In 1996 it was required that the group passports were taken to Khojand to have the entry permit stamped in to them.
Camp on the first day was established not far from the road at 4200m. The following day the group moved to a slightly higher camp located a short distance from the 5100m pass. After a further acclimatisation day the group moved over the easy snow and scree pass to descend into the Muzkol Valley were base camp was established at 4100m on a meadow by a spring several hundred metres away from the Muzkol river itself. In the following few days the Russian support group carried out the mammoth task of portering extra food and equipment supplies over the pass.
The group spent the first days exploring the base camp area. There was almost no sign of human activity in the valley and wildlife was plentiful, the most common animals seen were marmots, ibex, snow cocks and eagles. Snow leopard tracks were plentiful but these shy animals themselves were never seen.
The first problem was the crossing of the Muzkol River, at low water (4am-1pm) the river could be easily waded almost anywhere; however by late afternoon the crossing was dangerous and it was almost the cause of a disaster on the first day when one person tried to return across it too late in the afternoon. A rescue party went out to help him and in spite of a rope he was swept off his feet and had to be pulled across arriving on the other side slightly the worse for wear. For the rest of the trip all river crossings were timed for the low-water period.
After two days an advance camp had been established on a glacier at 5000m below two six thousanders. On the 6th August summit 5875m, a shapely snow and rock pyramid was climbed by the majority of the group. The summit, later named Snow Leopard Peak, was reached in 4 hours, in perfect weather, and provided climbing technically about ADinf involving snow slopes with a few steeper, slightly icy sections.
In the following days the group divided up and a variety of mountains were tackled including both of the six thousanders. A summary of the main ascents carried out is given below, Russian numeric grades together with UIAA grades are given:
6th August: Snow Leopard Peak, 5875m. 2b, III. First ascent. Bjorn Andersson, Vince Diamond, Paul Hampson, Andrew Hilton, Mark Richard, Colin Sprange, Norman Veitch and Andrew Wielochowski. South Face and East Ridge.
9th August: Shattered Point, 5320m. 1a, I. First ascent. Colin Sprange. By west ridge. Easy rocks and scree.
11th August: Dvuglavny, 6148m. 5a, V in ascent; 2a, III in descent. First ascent. Mark Richard and Andrew Wielochowski. NW face to west ridge and south face. Sustained icy slopes and two, short, steep chimneys led up the NW face to the easy upper sections of the west ridge and hence the easy glaciated south side of the mountain. The south side was descended to a point below and south of col 5550m which was then crossed to regain advanced camp.
11th August: Gipsovy, 5918m. 1b, II. First ascent. Vince Diamond, Andrew Hilton, Robert Krymski, Valeri Reznik, Norman Veitch and Zhenia Yemelianov. By the south face and east ridge. Scree, easy rock and snow.
12th August: Ximena, 5422m. 2b, III. First ascent. Martin Waldhör and Sasha Zamorujev. By the NE face of south summit. Snow.
13th August: Ximena, 5422m. 2b, III. Bjorn Andersson. By traverse of NW ridge starting from col 5100m. Mainly snow, several minor tops are traversed along the route.
13th August: Grud, 4937m. 1a, I. First ascent. Colin Sprange. From the NW. Easy scree slopes.The history of climbing in the Muzkol Range is short in time and content. The area was first properly explored by Russian geologists who identified the high and steep south face of Bitkaya as a top-quality challenge. In 1986 and 1989 routes climbed on the face gained first places in the Soviet Championships.

Summary of previous ascents (with Russian grades):
1986 Bitkaya, 6074m, SE Face, 6, Shak
1986 Chatagai, 6133m, East Face, 5a, Glushkov
1988 Bitkaya, 6074m, SE, 6a, Mochnikov
1988 Bitkaya, 6074m, SE Face, 6a, Ostanin
1988 Bitkaya, 6074m, South Face, 6, Semiletkin
1989 Soviet Officers, 6233m, S Face , 4b, Timoshenko
1989 Bitkaya, 6074m, South Face, 5b, Yemelianov
1989 Bitkaya, 6074m, South Face, 6a, Semiletkin
1994 summit 5647m, North Face, 6a, Semiletkin
1994 summit 5647m, North Face, 5b, Korotkin
1994 summit 5700m, W Face, 5a, Kolchanov.

The Budibugyo Route to the Rwenzori

Over Christmas and New Year 1995/96 a small EWP group visited Uganda. The first week was spent on Mount Elgon, located on the Kenya-Uganda border. This is a sprawling volcano which boasts the world's biggest caldera - a 30 kilometre ring of mountains all above 4000m in height. The group traversed the mountain visiting the exceptionally beautiful caldera floor. Sadly camping in the caldera was not possible at our chosen site (the Hot Springs) as a group of poachers had taken over the location for their annual Christmas visit. The director of Ugandan National Parks has promised us that measures will be taken to stop the poachers activities in this area!
The group then drove to the northern end of the Rwenzori to explore a route from Bundibugyo to the heart of the mountains. This was an exciting trip as we were almost the first tourists to visit Kakuka, a small village at the start of our trek. The walking was tough but very rewarding as part of it was along the main north ridge of the massif with dramatic views down to the plains below. By the time we reached Bigo Bog, time was running short and half the group decided to go down to Kasese to relax in the Margherita Hotel whilst those with some energy left climbed Mount Speke in perfect weather afer a night of heavy rain.

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    13/04/02 - ALW EWP