Although forced to retreat from possibly the last remaining virgin 6,000er in the Muzkol Range, a four-member British expedition was able to make the first ascent of Peak 5,553m via a 1,200m route of Alpine D.
Supported with grants from the BMC, MEF, Alpine Club, Lowe Alpine, The Chris Walker Memorial Trust and the Austrian Alpine Club, Becky Coles, Rhys Huws, Simon Verspeak and John Vincent first flew to Kyrgyzstan, before travelling south along the Pamir Highway to Northeast Tajikistan and the Muzkol Range.
This collection of high arid mountains in the southeastern Pamir saw exploration in the Soviet era, and again in the mid to late 1990s and 2000, when it became the venue for a succession of Andrew Wielochowski's commercial EWP expeditions.
These teams picked off the major summits but Peak 6,123m, to the west of Dvuglavy (6,148m) and rather more difficult of access, remained unclimbed.
Coles attempted it in 2011 with James Kitson during an extended overland journey from Kathmandu to London. On that occasion technical difficulties in excess of the team's skill and equipment forced them back.
In 2012 and '13 it was again attempted by a Latvian-Russian team, which turned back on the north ridge only 150m below the summit.
Based on her previous visit to the mountain, Coles was this year able to devise a simpler approach, following the Muzkol River upstream to a base camp at 4,300m.
From there, with two camps, all four were able to cross a 5,200m col and make a slightly descending traverse below the north face to near the base of the west ridge.
Coles and Verspeak slanted up right on 50° snow to reach a col on the ridge. They then followed the crest to 5,900m.
At this point the already poor rock became so loose they had to retreat. To their high point the route had been AD+.
In the meantime Huws and Vincent had taken a more direct line up the north face at D+/TD-, finishing over poor snow to the ridge a little below the Coles-Verspeak high point.
All four descended by rappelling the slope directly below the col using Abalakovs.
While Coles and Verspeak made a reconnaissance up valley to look for other objectives, which turned out to suffer from severe glacial recession, Huws and Vincent climbed Peak 5,553m, opposite base camp, on their second attempt.
Fifty degrees snow led to a ridge, the summit was reached, and base camp regained in a 14-hour day. The pair named it Peak Buffy, in memory of a friend.
The two main problems the team faced when climbing in this region were the lack of snow (the snow line was 5,300m on north faces; south faces barely had any snow at all) and extremely loose rock.
With more snow cover on the universally poor rock, ascents - particularly the west ridge of Peak 6,123m - would be significantly easier.
However, various boulders in the valley proved marginally better, enabling a few new V3s to be climbed before the team departed for home.