The Altai

Exploration in Southern Siberia, 9th-28th August 2012

Looking down at the start of the rock section of the N ridge.

Irbistu N Ridge (3967m) - AD (III)

Date: 19th August 2012
Climbers: G. Cave, C. Conlon
Duration: 7 hours to summit, 5 hours return to valley
Status: First British Traverse, Possible 2nd ever Traverse

Route Description

Starting from the summit at 3633m to the NW of Irbistu, traverse the ridge SE on rock and ice to the subsiduary peak at 3879m. From here, head S along the ridge to the summit of Irbistu. Major difficulties lie in this final section, some short sections of Scottish III on the climb up to the final snow slope. Significant loose rock.

The final corniced snow slope to the summit of Irbistu.

Route Details

The approach was easily accessible from basecamp, the initial 900m of ascent to the first summit (3633m, not shown in the photo below) taking around 2.5hrs. The descent route from the final summit takes the simplest line down the mountain across the SW slopes, a route climbed by Eleri and Greg a few days earlier.


This climb was one of the most interesting routes of the trip. The ridge crescendos well, getting gradually more sheer and harder as you near the final summit.

The major unknown for us was the significant break in the final section of the route, clearly visible from inspection in the basecamp valley but very unclear on the map. The descent into this was steep, with rock significantly fractured and prone to collapse, but the greatest difficulties came afterwards on the ascent back towards the final corniced snow slope.

Soft snow over steep loose rock presented a couple of hairy moments on the final scramble up, but after soloing the entire route we were rewarded with magnificent views from the summit across the whole of the Altai range.

Previous Known Ascents

We are very confident that our traverse was the first British crossing of this ridge. Since returning we have been in contact with a Russian climber Max Luchko, who believes he made the first traverse of this route in May 2009. We suspect there have been few, if any, other ascents since this time, thus we tentatively propose that we made the second ever traverse. A report is available at


A selection of images taken from the route. Captions to follow...

Setting out across the ridge shortly after sunrise. The first half of the route consisted of easy scrambling.

Looking across the whole ridge line to Irbistu in the distance.

Blessed with perfect weather for soloing across snowy plateaus.

Some exposed scrambling dropping down the final step in the ridge before the summit climb.

George, shortly after completely the most difficult section of the climb. Loose powder on loose rock gave us a few sketchy moments.

The final corniced slope to the top.

On the summit - compulsary flag shot and a quick satphone check.