By Bas van der Smeede, Holland
Oibala Range, first ascents.
In July and August, Saskia Groen, Vincent van Beek, Bas Visscher, and I explored a little-known range in the eastern part of the Pamir Alai, close to the Chinese border.
This compact collection of steep alpine peaks, on a ridge running northeast to southwest, is located north of the Irkeshtam Pass at 40°07’22.79″ N, 73°55’31.69″ E and was noticed in 2007 by two Russian mountaineers from Omsk, who referred to it as the Oibala (Oh Boy!). Their reconnaissance trek revealed few signs of human visitation, just tracks from shepherds. It is known that the area was inspected by Soviet geologists in the 1930s, but extensive research showed no previous visit by climbers.
We accessed the mountains through Osh, though we first had trouble with our border permit and had to wait two days before the army eventually gave us permission to access the border zone. A military jeep track enabled us to drive most of the way to the mountains in a 4WD bus. A short day’s walk with horses then brought us to base camp. At base camp we were enthused by the number of possible objectives. The generally stable weather allowed us to climb most of the time, and we made six ascents of previously unnamed, unclimbed peaks. The rock is limestone and mostly not good, but the peaks are steep and beautiful.
Our first climb, on July 17, was 4,750m Pik Brokkel (Dutch for Very Loose Rock). Van Beek, Visscher, and I climbed the west buttress (D UIAA IV 60°). On the penultimate pitch Visscher was hit by a rock that injured his leg. We carried on to the summit hoping for an easy descent on the far side, but there was none. We were forced to rappel our ascent route, leaving several expensive cams. Due to its loose nature, we called the route Guns of Navarone.
Next all four of us climbed Camakchay Tower (4,215m). This is not in the Oibala Range but a little to the northwest, across a small wild river named Camakchay. The peak was close to base camp and appeared to offer good rock. We climbed the south pillar with one bivouac over July 24 and 25, arriving on the summit at noon the second day. The rock was good, the climbing enjoyable, and we recommend this route, which we named Yellow Submarine (900m, TD+ UIAA VII-).
On the 28th Visscher and I climbed the northwest face of Pik BasBas (4,785m), via a line we dubbed Natte Neuzen Show (785m, D+/TD- UIAA VI- 50°). This route was hard to grade, as it was mostly steep snow but had a demanding finish on thinly iced loose rock. There was occasional poor weather, and on the 30th, during a three-day rainy period, van Beek and I climbed the easy Pik Pewi (Peter-Wim, 4,310m), naming it after our dads. We followed the south ridge, at PD.
On August 1 van Beek and Visscher climbed Pik Marian (4,450m) by the north face and west ridge, at AD (55°). When we returned to Osh, Visscher learned that a friend had died in the Alps, so he named this peak after her.
On August 2 Groen and I climbed Pik Oibala, the highest summit in the range, via the northwest face, naming our route Elektroshock Blues (700m, TD- AI3 75°). On the Russian map it is given a height of 4,950m, but our altimeter showed only 4,830m. Next day van Beek and Visscher made an attempt on the massive west face but retreated after 400m. On the 6th all four of us tried again, this time climbing 700m before being beaten by a blank section. We feel the Oibala range still has potential for more first ascents.