Day 49 to 72 - Khan Tengri

We made it to the Tien Shan mountains where we planned to spend a month attempting to climb Khan Tengri (7010m). This part of our trip began in the Karkara Valley on the Kyrgyz side where we met up with our friend Malcolm Airey before flying into the North Inylchek Glacier on an old Soviet military helicopter.

 A night shot of Khan Tengri and Peak Chapayev.

A night shot of Khan Tengri and Peak Chapayev.

Khan Tengri is commonly climbed from both the North or the South. The South side is by far the technically easier of the two options but involves passing through a very dangerous section that is regularly the site of fatalities due to massive and relatively unpredictable avalanches. For this reason we chose to attempt Khan Tengri from the North, via peak Chapayev (6120m).

The route on the Northern side of the mountain follows a steep ridge line virtually all the way from the Glacier floor, minimising any time spent exposed to serac and rock falls. The technical nature of the Northern route means that the majority of it is spent on fixed ropes to allow climbers to move up the mountain quickly. The ropes however are not 100% secure and, especially in the warmer conditions we encountered, can vary in their safeness from day to day. For this reason extreme caution is required when using the ropes and we opted to use them only as a back up - attempting to climb as independently of the ropes as possible. We found however that most climbers pulled with all their might on the ropes and trusted their lives completely (and sometimes blindly) to these less than perfect anchors.

From the first day of arriving at the Inylchek BC temperatures were way higher than the seasonal average and we were continually witnessing large avalanches and running water as high up as 4500m! The only safe option to move up the first section of the route was to leave before first light at 0430 while the air temperature was marginally cooler. This decision seemed obvious to us yet several teams did not do this and left well after the sun was up resulting in some incidents of people being swept of their feet by avalanches on the lower slopes - thankfully none resulted in any fatalities but there were numerous cases of people being badly bruised, sprained ankles and generally shaken up.

Camp 1 is located on a comfortable spur of the ridge at 4500m. The area is not huge but can accommodate approximately 10 mountain tents. There is another site (camp 1.2) 100m higher up but there is not much flat ground here and can site a maximum of 5 tents.

Above camp 1 the route starts to get interesting with three relatively steep rock bands that are tackled directly, interspersed with narrow snow ridges. Camp 2 is on a large and comfortable shoulder beneath peak Chapayev and is 1000m of height gain from camp 1 (camp 2 - 5500m).

From camp 2 we made an ascent of Peak Chapayev (6120m) as an acclimitisation trip before planning a move to camp 3 beneath the summit ridge of Khan Tengri. The climb from camp 2 to the summit of Chapayev was very demanding and Mairi in particular was beginning to feel the affects of the decreased oxygen levels at 6000m. Once back at camp 2 we made the decision to descend to base camp while Malcy continued to camp 3 in order to take advantage of a small weather window for a summit attempt. Unfortunately Malcy also suffered with the altitude as he ascended higher and began throwing up his breakfast very near to the summit. Considering he has attempted the final section of Khan Tengri solo it was very impressive and unfortunate that he didn’t manage to reach the summit.

In summary it was a very successful trip, Mairi’s first 6000m peak and our first together! The weather conditions seemed to be against us for the duration of our time on the mountain so all things considered we are very pleased with the outcome. We are now in Almaty, Kazakhstan, enjoying a well earned rest and trying to regain the lost body weight from 3 weeks climbing at altitude. Malcy spent two nights with us here and is now on his way back to the UK to start his new job as the Rothera Winter Station Leader for the British Antarctic Survey. Mairi and I will spend a couple more days here before starting North through Kazakhstan and onto Mongolia where we will head back into the mountains!

Photographs

  1. We made it to Khan Tengri!
  2. Packing kit at the Karkara BC on Kyrgyz side
  3. Ready to go!
  4. “Get to the chopper!”
  5. Cockpit of old soviet helicopter
  6. Arriving at base camp on the North Inylchek Glacier
  7. The mess tent at base camp, Khan Tengri looming above.
  8. Fine dining in the mess tent at BC.
  9. Poor weather at base camp, thankfully snowing and not raining this time!
  10. Luxurious facilities for doing your business. This one was the most sturdy of the 3 available long(ish) drops!
  11. Setting off from BC on our first carry of kit to camp 1
  12. Snow slope up to camp 1
  13. Road to camp 1
  14. Last section of fixed ropes through the steep headwall to camp 1
  15. Malcy arriving at camp 1 (complete with wan*ker cam on helmet!)
  16. Camp 1 - 4500m
  17. Looking down on camp 1
  18. More bad weather, this time raining at 4500m!
  19. Sorting kit at camp 1 before moving higher
  20. Maz looking after us by making dinner!
  21. Airing sleeping bags at camp 1
  22. Alpine starts to hit the lower slopes before the sun comes up and water begins to run down the ice...
  23. A rare day of good weather for our trip.
  24. The (semi)fixed ropes on Khan Tengri should not be relied on!
  25. A mess of fixed ropes…surely one will hold?!
  26. As temperatures continued to increase alarmingly many of the snow anchors were being pulled out by over-trusting climbers!
  27. Acclimitising between camp 1 and 2
  28. Fixed ropes above camp 1
  29. Strong winds coming off the summit of Khan Tengri (7010m) with Peak Chapayev (6120m) to the right.
  30. Mixed terrain between camp 1 and 2
  31. Technical section through one of the rock bands en route to camp 2
  32. Standard weather conditions for our trip, snow showers high above camp 1
  33. Preparing our defences around the tent at camp 2!
  34. A rare glimpse of Khan Tengri’s summit from the comfortable location of camp 2 (5500m)
  35. Very sociable at camp 2 with some atmospheric evening light.
  36. Mairi’s ingenious weight saving plan of doubling up her mitts as tent boots…
  37. Messing around during a rest day at camp 2
  38. Camp 2 (5500m)
  39. Setting off from camp 2 to Peak Chapayev (6120m)
  40. High above the North Inylchek Glacier
  41. Some steep mixed sections high on Chapayev
  42. Camp 2 shrinking into the distance beneath us.
  43. Hard work in the thin air as we approach 6000m.
  44. Team photo on the summit of Peak Chapayev!
  45. 6120m! The high point of our climb.
  46. Success! Mairi’s first 6000’er and our first together!
  47. Back at camp 2 after a hard day to the top of Chapayev.
  48. Large bags as we pack up to return to base camp.
  49. A combination of abseiling and down climbing as we descend.
  50. Safely back to the Inylchek glacier as the sound of large avalanches echo around us.
  51. Writing an entry into our expedition diary during a day of lie up at BC.
  52. Malcy’s photo from the summit ridge shortly before he threw up his breakfast and had to give up on the summit.
  53. The whole team beneath Khan Tengri and Chapayev before helicopter uplift.
  54. The helicopter arrives at BC to take us back to Karkara.
  55. Back to the lush green Karkara valley
  56. Re-united with the car before heading to Almaty for some R&R.