Four mountaineers from Holland have become the first to climb in the Oibala Range of the Pamir Alai, making six first ascents up to TD+ standard
Situated in south west Kyrgyzstan, a little north of the Irkeshtam Pass and close to the border with China, this group of steep alpine rock and ice peaks was noticed in 2007 by two Russian mountaineers from Omsk, who referred to it as the Oibala (Oh Boy!).
A reconnaissance trek revealed few signs of human visitation, just tracks from local shepherds. However, it is known the area was inspected by Soviet geologists in the 1930s.
Accessed through the city of Osh, this compact range, running north east to south west, culminates in Pik Oibala. The Russian map shows a height of 4,950m but Dutch altimeter readings on the summit gave only 4,830m.
Being in close proximity to the border, a military jeep track leads to within one short day's walking from base camp, though the team met the usual security problems and were forced to wait two days for the correct border permission before hiring horses for the walk-in.
Their first climb was 4,750m Pik Brokkel (Dutch for 'very loose rock'). Vincent van Beek, Bas van der Smeede and Bas Visscher climbed the West Buttress (D: UIAA IV: 60°).
On the penultimate pitch Visscher was hit by a rock that injured his leg. The team continued to the summit hoping for an easy descent the far side. There was none, so they rappelled the route, leaving several expensive cams.
Due to the loose nature, the route was called Guns of Navarone.
Next was Camakchay Tower (4,215m). This is actually north west of the Oibala across the small Camakchay River but had obvious good rock. Saskia Groen, van Beek, van der Smeede and Visscher climbed it via the South Pillar over two days to create Yellow Submarine (900m: TD+, UIAA VII-). A thoroughly recommended route.
Groen and van der Smeede climbed the North West Face of Pik Oibala via Elektroshock Blues (700m: TD-: AI3 and 75°), mostly steep snow with mixed sections. Afterwards, two further attempts were made on this summit via the massive West Face. On the second all four climbers were stopped by a blank section after 700m of climbing.
Other ascents were: Pik BasBas (4,785m) by van der Smeede and Visscher via the North West Face (785m: D+/TD-: UIAA VI- and 50°), generally steep snow but with a demanding finish on thinly iced loose rock; Pik Marian (4,450m) by van Beek and Visscher via the North Face and West Ridge at AD (55°); and Pik Pewi (aka Peter-Wim, 4,310m) by van Beek and van der Smeede.
Although the weather in this region is generally stable, there was a three-day rainy spell, during which the two Dutch climbed the easy Peter-Wim via the South Ridge at PD, naming it after their dads.
The team the mountains to be steep and beautiful mountains, but composed of mostly poor quality limestone. All peaks were previously unnamed and there is great potential for more first ascents.
Those wishing to check out the range on Google Earth should use the coordinates 40°07'22.79" N, 73°55’31.69 E.
The photo shows Camakchay Tower, climbed by the curving ridge facing the camera.