Previously mentioned in these reports, a Slovenian expedition has made the highly-coveted first ascent of the outstanding prize in the Western Kokshaal-too; 5,697m Pik Byeliy.
As noted in British first ascents in Kyrgyzstan, Byeliy is a well-defended mountain that has been the goal of many expeditions since first being attempted in 2000 by a strong American team.
Byeliy was the highest major unclimbed summit in the Western Kokshaal-too, a spectacular range of alpine peaks that straddles the Kyrghyzstan-Chinese border. Much of the central and western parts of the chain are composed of largely excellent granite.
Prime developer of the central sector has been Pat Littlejohn, who over the years has organized many successful ISM expeditions to the region, some with the aim of climbing Byeliy.
A number of probes had been made on Byeliy from various directions but by far the most significant took place in 2008, when Arne Jeglic and Jaka Ortar, from a large Slovenian expedition that climbed a number of new routes in the Fersmana Glacier basin, discovered a reasonable line up the South Ridge.
These two made a long ski ascent to the head of the glacier and climbed the ridge to the summit snow slopes, where 300m below the top they were stopped by avalanche conditions.
Given stable snow and weather, this appeared to be the most logical route to the summit. But the approach is very long and subsequent parties to the Fersmana have found the moraines particularly hard going.
This year's Slovenian team comprised climbers with a wide variety of age and experience, and had multiple aims.
The main goals were: to give younger members their first experience of higher altitude glaciers and mountains; to ski from summits up to 5,000m; to climb new routes up to 5,000m; and to make the first ascent of Byeliy.
On their first outing, a day after setting up base camp north of the Kotur Glacier, Peter Bajac, Ursa Erman, Alenka Klemencic, Miha Lapanja and Tina Leskosek climbed Pik Alpini (4,578m) on the east side of the entrance to the Kotur, and continued south to Pik Lvitsa (4,631m). Klemecic and Lapanja skied from the summit.
In the meanwhile the experienced Tajek Golob with Blas Grapar ascended the easy Pik Lyev (4,710m) and camped the night on the summit for acclimatization.
With this first phase complete, Klemencic and Lapanja walked into the next glacier system east, the Nalivkin, and set up camp below the east flank of Pik Obzhorny (5,156 m). At the same time Bajac, Erman and Leskosek skied up the Kotur to a camp on the west side of Obzhorny.
Over the next few day various members from both parties made ascents, and often ski descents, of Pik Greta (4,725m), Pik Lencka (4,621m), a likely new route on Pik Oleg (4,859m) dubbed Arbuz (450m: 60°), and Obzhorny.
They returned to base camp at around the same time that Grapar and Golob had completed a taxing two-day, 30km walk (with 2,000m of height gain), at first east along the top of the range and then south up the arduous Fersmana Glacier, to the Chinese border. There, they established a camp at c4,900m on the col immediately south of Byeliy.
Next day they completed the line up the South Ridge attempted in 2008. On only two pitches did they belay. Although much of the climb was relatively straightforward, there is significant climbing below a large serac barrier. The 600m route was grade V/4.
Bad weather then settled on the range, and despite one or two attempts, the only subsequent successful ascent was another (and ski descent) of Pik Alpini.
However, in brief gaps of sunshine the team did find excellent bouldering before their six-wheel Ural truck arrived to transport them back to Bishkek.
Thanks to Blas Stres for help with this report