Approaching the Torugart-too on the Kyrghyzstan-Chinese border. The highest peak in the range, Mustyr (5108m) received its first ascent this autumn from Barney Harford and Pat Littlejohn, the latter on his 14th expedition to the Tien Shan. [Photo] Pat Littlejohn collection
Few commercially organized expeditions leave the UK with ambitions to undertake original projects. One of these exceptions is the International School of Mountaineering, actually based in Leysin, Switzerland, but with an English director, Pat Littlejohn. For many years ISM has run exploratory expeditions to Kyrghyzstan and last autumn made no exception, with Littlejohn (on his 14th trip to the Tien Shan) leading Barney Harford, Max Gough, Leif Iversen, Helen Griffin and Peter Mounsey, and accompanied by the Bishkek guide and director of ITMC, Vladimir Komissarov.
This time Littlejohn concentrated his efforts on the Torugart-too, a range close to the Torugart Pass that connects China and Kyrghyzstan. Toward the end of their stay the team transferred to the Western At Bashi. Both venues are remotely located yet fairly accessible ranges that have seen virtually no exploration by mountaineers. The Torugart-too exceeded all expectations, being equivalent in size to the Swiss Valais Alps, some 35 kilometers in length. After establishing base camp just one hour from the road, and advanced base some three hours above that, the team was presented with three different glacier systems to explore. After a reconnaissance of Mustyr (5108m), the highest peak in the range, the climbers explored the Teke-Lutor Glacier to the west, where Iversen and Komissarov made the first ascent of Pk Shumkar (4925m) via the north ridge (PD).
Harford, Gough, Griffin and Littlejohn completed the first ascent of Pk Helen (4700m) via a snow/ice couloir on the west flank to the south col and then a steeper couloir to the summit (AD+). Next Harford and Littlejohn made an exhausting ascent of Mustyr via a long couloir on the west flank followed by a cunning leftward traverse to snow slopes below the summit, thereby avoiding the difficulties of the south ridge. Snow conditions were just good enough, and the two emerged triumphant on the highest point at around mid-day. The route was rated AD and Littlejohn remarked that the peak was definitely in the top six best he has climbed in the Tien Shan. Meanwhile Komissarov took Griffin and Iversen to the head of the Teke Lutor and climbed a large snow peak at PD+. Astonishingly the team followed snow leopard tracks all the way to the summit and were therefore only able to claim the first human ascent. This settled the name: Pik Bars (snow leopard in Kyrghyz, 4800m).
Harford, Gough, Littlejohn and Mounsey then visited another glacier directly above base camp, where they climbed Pik Kumay (4830m) via the northwest col and over a foresummit to the main top (AD+). Again, they were baffled by footprints on the summit–until they realized they belonged to a giant vulture.
The team then moved to the next venue, on the way passing the Tash Rabat Caravanserai, one of Kyrghyzstan’s most important historical sites. Right next to it are impressive 400-meter-high limestone cliffs, which have the potential to be a significant rock destination in the future. The British-based guide Andrew Wielochowski made the first recorded visit to the Western At Bashi earlier in the year and had spotted a “Matterhorn-like” peak named Topoz. On Littlejohn’s first attempt, via the pinnacled south ridge (AD+), his party arrived at the summit dome too late in the day. The second attempt, via the west flank, was successful and one hour’s rock climbing on the dome led to the 4600m top and a wonderful panorama of numerous attractive unclimbed peaks receding into the distance.
On the very last day of the expedition, Iversen and Komissarov climbed the east ridge of a nice little peak next to Topoz that they named Inek (PD, 4560m). Then it was back to the fleshpots of Naryn for saunas and folk music.