Supported by grants from the BMC, Mount Everest Foundation, and the Alpine Club Climbing Fund, a four-member British expedition has made first ascents and ski descents in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan.
Thomas Coney, Richard Jones, Mark Thomas and Susanna Walker, four climbers and skiers based primarily in the Chamonix valley, originally planned first ski descents in the Rushan Range, north of Khorog in the province of Gorno-Badakhshan.
However, nearer their departure time in late April they learnt that the safe snow level was going to be much higher than originally estimated and decided to change venue to the Academy of Science Range (Akademii Nauk) somewhat further north.
The Academy of Science Range is more well-known massif that culminates in the summit of the highest peak in the CIS, now formally referred to as Ismail Somoni (7,495m), but still far better known as Pik Communism.
The British expedition planned to climb in the less frequented southern sector of this region, west of the head of the huge Fedchenko Glacier, considered the longest single glacier in the world outside polar regions.
This southern part of the Academy of Science mountains is dominated by Pik Revolution (6,940m), but from an access point at the head of the Vanj valley the immediate area offers many unclimbed 5,000m peaks and great potential for first ski descents.
Using the infrastructure of the relatively newly inaugurated Pamir Alpine Club, the team used an old Soviet truck to reach the top of the Vanj valley and the start of the Royal Geographical Society Glacier.
Setting up base camp at 2,400m, the four decided to establish an advanced base at 2,800m on the Bear Glacier.
On a reconnaissance trip higher, they found the top section of glacier to be completely impassable and started to descend to advanced base.
At this point Walker fell, tore an ankle ligament, and unfortunately had to spend much of the remaining time in base camp.
The next foray was to move further south, up the Abdulkahor (Abdukagor) Glacier. This leads, after a long shallow ascent to the Abdulkahor Pass (ca 5,050m) and the upper Fedchenko.
Camp 1 was stocked over a three-day period, and from there Coney, Jones and Thomas made the first ascent of a 5,315m peak on the north side of the Abdulkahor Glacier.
The route involved technical climbing on a snow/ice arête, and the subsequent ski descent of the Abdulkahor Glacier may well have been a first.
Putting the coordinates 38°36'15 N, 72°13'42.1 E into Google Earth will show you the location of this peak, which has unofficially beeng named Abdulkahor I.
Later, after establishing a camp on the RGS Glacier, Coney and Thomas made a two-day ascent of a 5,105m peak. This proved to be a more difficult ascent than the previous, with 80° mixed at ca 4,800m.
The pair then skied an 800m, 45° couloir off the peak, a first descent.
The team experienced mixed weather conditions throughout its three-week stay. One day they would wake up to 20cm of fresh snow, the next would present them with searing temperatures and harsh sun.
The snow was extremely unstable below 4,500m, making it paramount that most activity took place before noon.
This area has been chosen by at least two British expeditions over the last two decades.
In 1992 an Imperial College London expedition reached the upper Fedchenko via the Abdulkahor Pass and made several ascents.
A team associated with Bristol University Mountaineering Club repeated this access in 2005 and from the upper Fedchenko made a number of first ascents of peaks up to 5,900m. They may have been the first western climbers to visit this area since the members of the 1992 expedition.
At the end of the trip, two of the Bristol University team set out to make an ambitious five-day traverse Pik 26 Bakinskish Komissarov (6,834m) and Pik Revolution. Sadly, the weather deteriorated badly and they were never seen again.
Revolution was first climbed in 1954 via the northeast ridge. It was the scene of the first major face route in the Pamir, when in 1962 Myshlyayev's party climbed the 2,000m northwest wall.