Khan-Tengri (7010 m) - Pobeda (7439 m) peaks region in Central Tien-Shan (map)
The two branches of the Engilchek (Little Prince) glacier, the longest in Tien-Shan (65 km), are separated for forty kilometres by the Tengri-Tag mountain range. Here, between Severni (Northern) Engilchek and Juzhniy (Southern) Enghilchek are Pobeda Peak and one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, Khan-Tengri. The starting point to reach this area is the International Mountaineering Camp of Karakara, which lies in an enchanting valley surrounded by verdant mountains and covered with woods and flowery meadows where horses roam freely. At 2,000 meters altitude, this camp has tents, a canteen, a cafe and a sauna. It can be reached from Alma-Ata in eight hours by car or a half hour by helicopter,
Khan Tengri (7,010 m)
"The grandiose Tien Shan mountain system extends from the ends of the horizon with its glaciers and snowfields. This entire region is illumined by the gold, orange and red of dusk, while Mt. Khan-Tengri towers from on high, like a gigantic faceted ruby stone mounted on a dark turquoise sky" (M. Pogrebetskiy, 1931).
(In the foto to the right) Khan-Tengri peak, seen from the south.
One thousand two hundred years ago Khan Tengri (Lord of the Spirits) was first mentioned in Chinese chronicles. Many famous explorers and mountaineers such as Semionov and Merzbacher tried to reach it. The Ukranian alpinist M. Pogrebetskiy was the first person who succeeded in climbing it (1931). Passing from the south, he managed to solve the difficult problem of getting enough provisions for his long-term expedition in such a wild area by taking a caravan of horses to the foot of the mountain. He then found the most logical way up to the top, which is now considered the classical route. In 1964 B. Romanov and K. Kuzmin opened the northern rib on the side of Northern Engilchek, on what is called the Marble Rib, along a series of marble chimneys from 6,000 to 7,000 meters altitude. The eastern face was first climbed only in 1988. The most difficult routes from a technical standpoint are on the northern face, which rises up for 2,000 meters. They were opened in 1974 by E. Mislovskiy and B. Studetin. The climb up Khan-Tengri is difficult indeed because of the extreme conditions: the frequent bad weather, the hurricane-like winds and the extremely low temperature. On an average the ascent up the normal route takes twelve days. The record for the base camp-summit-base camp course is fourteen and-a-half hours, set by Gleb Sokolov, who won the contest held at Khan Tengri in August 1992.
(In the foto to the right) The Marble Rib of Khan-Tengri, seen from the south.
The normal route up Khan-Tengri from south (7,010 m, 5A)
The starting point for the ascent of this mountain is the comfortable International Mountaineering Camp. It is advisable to move to the base camp from here, and not directly from the capital of Kazakhstan; both camps belong to the same organisation. Nowadays this trip is made by helicopter. There are mountain climbers who recall having gone to the base camp on foot, accompanied by fifteen horses that transported their gear; in order to enable the horses to get over the glacier, they had to cut steps for part of the way. What today takes forty minutes by helicopter, was a three-day trip at that time.
The base camp has a permanent kitchen, a sauna and comfortable tents; it lies at the junction between the Southern Enghilchek glacier and the Zviozdochka (Little Star) glacier, at 4,000 meters altitude. After a few days of acclimatisation, climbers usually leave in the early afternoon to reach Camp I in 2-4 hours over the moraine and then over the snow. The camp (4,100m) is situated at the foot of the long gully that is the first part of the route up Khan-Tengri. The view of the upper part of Mt. Voennikh Topografov (Military Topographer) (6,873 m) and Mt. Pogrebtskogo (6,527 m) is splendid: a vast expanse of blinding white enclosed in an amphitheatre of very high mountains with impressive glaciers.
(In the foto to the right) Khan-Tengri peak from the south base camp.
Camp 2 (5,200 m) is situated in the middle of the Semenovskogo glacier icefall. You must start off from Camp I very early because in the afternoon avalanches from the top of Mt. Chapaeva (6,371 m) are frequent. The route then becomes very tiring along the icefalls, where you may find a permanent rope, up to the steep climb up the snow (100 meters) under the col. In this part of the route the temperature usually rises in the afternoon, the sun is quite hot and the air suffocating; but despite the fatigue, in order to avoid the risk of slides it is advisable to continue along this route up to the col, where you can set up Camp 3 (3,900 m) in a tent or, in case of strong winds, in a snow cave. From here you tackle the western ridge. At first you walk on snow, then the route is interrupted by short climbs over two or three meter-wide couloirs. In the most difficult parts there is a fixed rope that can be climbed with the aid of ascenders and clamps.
Camp 4 is on the ridge at 6,400 meters. The route goes up a small path on the right and then there is the most difficult part of all, the large 150-meter dihedral, where there is a permanent rope. A snow ridge leads to the top.
(In the foto to the left) Western ridge of Khan-Tengri peak from the saddle.
The West Ridge is almost always subject to a dangerous north wind that is sometimes so violent it can make you lose your balance. Here you must have good crampons, an ice axe and telescopic ski poles that are useful for going up the less steep snow slopes. Along the return route the snow ridge is quite dangerous and you must be very careful, partly because fatigue makes it harder to concentrate; many mountaineers have fallen in this part of the route. The descent takes two days, including a one night stopover at Camp 3.
The North Face of Khan-Tengri peak
(In the foto to the right) The North face of of Khan-Tengri, seen from the north.
(In the photo to the left) The mystery of Pobeda groupe seen in the sunset from the base camp.
Up to the late 1930s Khan Tengri was thought to be the highest peak in Tien Shan. The ice mass that constitutes Pobeda Peak, which is almost always hidden behind thick clouds, had escaped the notice of mountaineers and explorers such as Semionov, Cesare Borghese and Gottfried Merzbacher. Even in those rare days when it was visible, Pobeda seemed to be smaller than Khan Tengri because it is more northerly, hence farther from the valleys that afford access to this region, as can be seen in the panoramic photographs that Merzbacher took at the beginning of this century.
And yet the local inhabitants' accounts and stories speak of two very high, splendid and terrifying mountains - Khan Tengri and Khan-tau. Semionov had no precise indications con-rerning the location of the two mountains, so he identified Khan-Tengri with the fantastic icy pyramid he saw during his second expedition. But the natives most probably identified Khan Tengri, the "Lord of the Spirits," as the roof of the Celestial Mountains, while the mountain we now call Khan-Tengri was called Khantau in Kyrgyz - "Blood Mountain," because the pyramid becomes red at dusk.
(In the photo to the right) Pobeda peak seen from glacier Zviozdochka.
The first persons to attempt to climb up Pobeda were a three-man team of mountaineers led by L. Gutman. They went up the northern side of the Zviozdochka (Little Star) glacier in September 1938, when the temperature was -30 °C. To this day there are serious doubts as to whether they really succeeded in conquering the peak. In any case, the three alpinists were not aware they were trying to climb up the tallest peak in the Tien Shan system. The true geographic "discovery" of the peak was made only in 1943. The first successful climb dates from 1956, when an expedition headed by V. Abalakov reached the summit after a 30-day climb. Abalakov called it Peak Pobeda, or Victory Peak, as a tribute to the Red Army's triumph in the war against the Nazis. Many mountaineers had attempted to climb the forbidding peak before Abalakov and the outcome was often tragic, as in the case of the 1955 Kazakh expedition: eleven of the twelve members of the team died in their tent at 6,900 meters during a violent snowstorm. In 1958, I. Erokhins expedition made the first climb via the Chon-Teren glacier. The complete crossing of the massif from east to west was made in 1970 by A. Riabukhin's expedition.
Set amidst the Kokshaal-Tau (Forbidding Mountains) chain, Pobeda Peak is the northernmost peak over 7,000 meters high in the world. The weather conditions during climbs are extremely rough. The rare days with good weather are separated by long periods of bad weather in which the icy wind from the Takla Makan desert - significantly called "Thousand Devils" - often buffets the mountain, making it impossible to climb.
(In the photo to the left) Panorama of Kan-Tengri peak seen from the summit of Pobeda peak >
Pobeda Peak from China side has the name of Mt. Tomur
The normal Route up Pobeda Peak (7,439 m, 5B)
The base camp is on the Zviozdochka glacier, which converges with the Southern Engilchek glacier. The climb up to Camp 1 (5,200 m) on Dikiy (Wild) pass is very long and there is no
possibility of setting up an intermediate camp. You must leave early in the morning at a pre-established time, because huge avalanches are likely to fall from the northern face of Western Pobeda and sweep over the Zviozdochka glacier. The route crosses a sort of ice and snow canyon. Before reaching Dikiy Pass there is an icefall with ice towers; in the most difficult parts there is a fixed rope on which you can use ascenders.
(In the photo to the right) Pobeda peak seen from base camp.
Set up camp 2 on the snow plateau that opens out onto the pass. The best place for this is higher up on the ridge, just before the rocks (5,800 m). You should dig a snow cave: because of the wind coming from the west it is extremely cold in a tent. The route continues towards West Pobeda Peak (6,918 m), along the snow, ice and rock ridge. There is a fixed rope in the difficult passages. In this part of the route as well it is not possible to set up an intermediate camp; the only exception might be at 6,400 meters, but this should be done only in case of an emergency, as the night wind is so strong it can tear your tent to shreds. It is advisable to go to West Pobeda Peak and dig an ice cave on the Chinese side, which is sheltered from the wind, and set up Camp 3.
Lastly, there is the very long twelve-kilometres ridge at 7,000 meters, which leads to Pobeda Peak (7,439m). Before reaching the summit, climbers usually set up Camp 4 at 7,000 meters. The highest point of the peak itself lies 400 meters after you have reached the top plateau. The descent follows the same route and takes two days. The brief climb from the ridge to West Pobeda Peak is very taxing.
To be continued...