Following Lenin Peak, I travel to the icy heart of the Pamir. Located in Gorno-Badakhshan, an autonomous province bordered to the east by China and the Kunlun Shan, and to the south by Afghanistan’s narrow Wakhan Corridor, the Pamir are known as the Roof of the World.
Getting to Nowhere
From Lenin Peak, I will travel overland to the Kyrgyz-Tajik border at Karamyk Pass. This is probably one of the most difficult ways to enter Tajikistan, which is already the world’s 3rd least visited country with only 4000 tourists per year. Traveling with a few other climbers who are attempting the same trip (at this point, I think it’s just me, a Russian, an Austrian and a team of Kazakhs), we’ll drive down the Vakhsh River to the small town of Djirgital on July 26th. On the 27th we hope to fly (on Tajikistan’s only helicopter!) to the Moskvin Glacier at the base of Peak Korzhenevskaya (7105m, 23,311 ft) and Peak Ismoil Somoni (formerly Peak Communism, 7495m, 24,590 ft), the world’s 50th highest mountain. Located in the Academy of Sciences Range, these peaks rise over 10,000 ft above the surrounding glaciers, including the 90-km long Fedchenko. These remarkable places are sadly facing critical threats from climate change and it will be an incredible opportunity to see the home of the snow leopard while these glaciers still exist. The Fedchenko, the longest glacier in the world outside the polar regions, is shrinking at a rate of 15-20m per year, and it is estimated that 30% of Tajikistan’s glaciers could disappear by 2050.
As I’ll arrive with the enormous benefit of prior acclimatization on Lenin Peak, I’ll have ample time in my 21-day climbing window for Korzhenevskaya and Communism. Korzhenevskaya is certainly the easier of the two. The route is fairly direct, ascending rock and gentle snow slopes past a series of camps to the popular 5800m (19,000 ft) camp located on a well-protected snow ledge beneath a rock overhang. From there, the route traverses snow slopes before reaching the crux, a 50m vertical rock band protected by fixed line. Following the rock cliff, the route follows the moderate meandering snow ridge past two camps to the summit. The upper mountain is famous for its spectacular views of Peak Communism and the neighboring peaks.
Now named for the Tajik national hero, Peak Ismoil Somoni is a giant. The normal route to the summit, the Borodkin Spur, presents few major technical difficulties, but it’s a huge, committing and complex. Ascents often last 6-7 days. The route begins from the Walter Glacier and can be threatened by serac fall from a hanging glacier thousands of feet above. Typically, this short section is climbed quickly in the middle of the night. The route then ascends some steep rock sections and moderate crevassed snow slopes to the enormous Pamir Firn Plateau at approximately 6000m (20,000 ft). The route then crosses the broad, blank white expanse before ascending a rib of Peak Dushanbe, a 23,000 ft shoulder. Finally, steep snow slopes and a knife-edge ridge lead up the last 1500 ft to the highest point in the former Soviet Union.