Pamir Snow Leopard Peaks Expedition Breakdown: Lenin Peak

First off, I’d like to make a sales pitch for climbing and traveling in Central Asia. It’s a spectacularly beautiful part of the world, and the logistical difficulties aren’t quite as imposing as one would imagine. There are very professional tour operators, and I’ll be traveling under the care of a company that will handle all of my logistics and support up to the base camps.

Kyrgyzstan is a remarkably mountainous country—nearly the entire country is inhabited by major peaks. In the north stands the Tien Shan and to the south, the Alai and Pamir Mountains. Just to the north of the Alai Mountains lies the ancient city of Osh and the fertile and politically volatile Fergana Valley of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The Trans-Alai Range above the beautiful Alai Valley

Ibn Sina Peak, more commonly known as Lenin, is located on the Kyrgyz/Tajik border in the Trans-Alai Range. The Trans-Alai is a stunning ridge of snowcapped peaks which rise out of the broad grassy Alai Valley marking the northern extent of the Pamir.

Lenin Peak

Lenin is considered perhaps the easiest 7000m (23,000 ft) peak in the world. Of course, this is a relative term, and climbing anything of this size presents some pretty serious physical, mental, and logistical challenges. For me, Lenin itself is a perfect way to start the expedition. One of the things I’m trying to do this trip is to gain some experience with running my own expedition. A wise climbing axiom is to never change too many variables at once. In this sense, my trip to Lenin will give me complete autonomy over my decision-making and style on the upper mountain, while the elevation and technical demand of the route are well within my limits.

I’ll arrive in Bishkek on July 9th. I’ll need to buy food and supplies for the entire course of the expedition, as re-stocking in Djirgital, Tajkistan (the only town I’ll visit during the climbing period) is just as difficult as it sounds. The next morning, I’ll fly to Osh, a city older than Rome in the Fergana Valley of southern Kyrgyzstan and make the rugged 8-10 hour drive to Lenin’s Achik Tash base camp at about 3400m (11,000 ft).

The road to Achik Tash

Once at base camp, I’ll have a relatively short 16-day window for climbing. I’ll spend the first few days shuttling loads up to advanced base camp at 4400m (14,400 ft) and acclimatizing. Acclimatization is probably the most important component of high altitude climbing. It can be tricky to provide both the stimulus of high altitude and the rest necessary to grow the red blood cells required to function with so little atmospheric oxygen available. Atmospheric pressure at the 7134m (23,406 ft) summit is only 40% of that at sea level, and adaptation takes weeks.

After approximately 4 days, I’ll be ready to begin establishing camps on the upper mountain and sleeping higher. The precise schedule will certainly vary with mountain conditions, weather and my acclimatization. The route itself will place constraints however. Above ABC, there is an easy slope followed by a crevassed section of the glacier leading to camp 1 at 5300m (17,400 ft). I will make one or two trips through this section when acclimatizing and establishing camps. From camp 1 to camp 2, the route travels up a long snowy ridge to Razdelnaya, a subsidiary peak of Lenin at 6148m (20,171 ft). Camp 2 is located on a saddle on the windy summit ridge at approximately 6100m (20,000 ft). I would like to spend at most one night at this extreme location and may consider a summit attempt from lower on the mountain. I’ll need to budget adequate time after the summit push to return to ABC and shuttle my loads back to base camp before leaving on July 26th for Tajikistan and the second portion of the expedition.

OK, enough of the details. Some awesome things about this portion of the trip: it has a spectacularly beautiful base camp, with lakes, marmots, wildflowers and local nomads living in yurts. Lenin Peak is the highest point on the northern flanks of the Pamir, and the Alay Valley lying just to the north adjacent to base camp is spectacularly beautiful. On a clear day from high on the mountain, I’ll be able to see well into China, Afghanistan and, of course, the rest of the Pamir.

Some acclimatization plans for my 16-day climbing window

Microbe Collection

On the climbing portion of this expedition, I’ll assist geoscientists working on weathering and nutrient cycling by high altitude microbial communities. This work is part of a partnership between the nonprofit Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, of which I’m a member, and the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2. By understanding how climate change will affect the production of living matter in these extreme environments, we can better contextualize the impacts of global environmental change. I’ll sample rocks from a series of altitudes on each of the peaks I climb this summer.