Summer 2012 Part 2: Pamir Snow Leopard Peaks Expedition

Lenin Peak from Achik-Tash base camp

The Pamir, known as the Roof of the World, stand at the center of many of the world’s great ranges. To the Northeast are the Tien Shan, to the south and east stand the Kunlun Shan, the Himalaya and the Karakoram, and to the south and west rise the Hindu Kush. In the former Soviet Union, there are five peaks over 7000m (23,000 ft). Those who have climbed all five receive the prestigious Snow Leopard award. To date, only two Americans have achieved this elite peak-bagger status. Two of the Snow Leopard Peaks stand in the Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan: Pobeda (At 24,406 ft, certainly the most difficult and dangerous of the Snow Leopards) and Khan Tengri, which I climbed last summer (click here for my expedition report on Khan Tengri). This summer, I’ll attempt the three Snow Leopard Peaks of the Pamir Mountains. Following my fieldwork in Mongolia, I will travel to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. After a day buying food and supplies for the upcoming five week expedition, I will travel to Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan, and then make the rough 8-10 hour drive to the base camp for Lenin Peak (23,406 ft). I have allotted a 16-day window on Lenin Peak, which is a relatively short time to acclimatize, carry loads up the mountain to establish camps, rest and wait for the weather window for a summit bid. I will be alone on Lenin, or as alone as one can be on the standard route of large commercial peaks.

Peak Korzhenevskaya above the Moskvin Glacier

Following Lenin Peak, I will travel overland, crossing the Kyrgyz/Tajik border at Karamyk Pass. This is a seldom traveled route, and I will likely be the only American crossing it this year. After arriving in Djirgital, Tajikistan in the heart of the Pamir, I will fly via the only helicopter in Tajikistan to the base camp for Peak Korzhenevskaya (23,310 ft) and Peak Ismoil Somoni (At 24,590 ft, the highest peak in the former Soviet Union). Here I will join three elite Russian climbers who I met and climbed with on Khan Tengri last summer. These guys are pretty amazing, having climbed extensively in the great ranges of Asia, including big walls in Kyrgyzstan, 8000m peaks, even a new route on K2’s West Face in 2007. I have 21 days on the Moskvin Glacier at the base of these peaks. With the benefit of my prior acclimatization on Lenin Peak, I hope to make fast single-push style ascents of these two peaks. On each of these climbs, I will also be collecting rock samples for a project with the University of Arizona/Biosphere 2 and the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.

The upper slopes of Peak Ismoil Somoni

Need to brush up on your central Asian geography? I did too. Here’s a Google map of my Pamir Snow Leopard Peaks Expedition:

View Pamir 7000ers Expedition in a larger map
Many more details on the process, style, equipment and strategy necessary to pull this trip off will follow. But for the time being, I’ll say this: mountains have captivated me from a young age. It’s easy to get caught up in the details, perceived danger, or strangeness of this trip…after all I’m new to central Asia too. But on all of my trips, I have been consistently blown away by the richness of the local culture, the stunning scenery and the adventure. I’m just a grad student living the dream. It’s gonna be awesome.

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