Pik Lenin Success- trip report from summer climb
Here at Mountain Madness, we staged our second trip to Pik Lenin, in the Pamir Range of Kyrgyzstan, last August. Where exactly is that, you ask? Well, that’s the first thing you will notice when going to a place like Kyrgyzstan; nobody knows where it is. Heck, I didn’t know exactly where it was before doing the research prior to my first trip over there. Kyrgyzstan is situated in a mountain-rich zone with the Pamir Mountains, known as “The Roof of the World,” forming a junction between the Himalaya and Karakoram with the Tian Shan. Sharing borders with Tajikistan, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Xinjiang (China), Kyrgyzstan is truly an untamed land and tends not to be a very popular place to visit — especially given its location in the “-stans.” Pakistan and Afghanistan are only one country away and I think many people assume it is a dangerous place to travel. However, I have always found Kyrgyzstan safe, yet wild and a starkly beautiful place to explore.
Stark landscape approaching Advanced Base Camp.
We had small team this year, only two climbers and two guides. This is not unusual for Mountain Madness trips, however. We tend to cater to smaller groups and it makes a huge difference in the way long expeditions play out. Luckily for us, not only was our group compact and more easily able to move per our own aspirations and health, but our team members were very strong. Working around weather early in the trip, we climbed strong for an entire week (reaching 5800m) before taking our first rest days, well earned and needed, as daily snow storms embattled Pik Lenin.
Climbing to Camp 2.
Waiting out the storms at Advanced Base Camp was an exercise in patience, but the staff there took great care of us, feeding us excellent food for each meal. The cooks at ABC were amazing, with some of the most impressive pastry skills I have seen (especially being at 14,000 ft). Three lazy days passed before the forecast looked favorable and we packed up in preparation for our summit attempt.
Basecamp staff taking care of us with a Lenin cake.
Unfortunately, in the beginning of the summit push, the weather was uncooperative. The climb to Camp 2, as with each coming day, began calm and clear, but by the afternoon clouds rolled in, snow started falling and the wind cranked up. We spent two windy nights at Camp 2, nylon fabric blowing into our faces, the tents temporarily collapsing with each blast of wind. We had planned for one night there.
Peeking out of the tent into snowy weather at Camp 2.
Day three of the summit push allowed us enough of a break in the wind to move to high camp at just over 20,000 ft. Upon arriving at Camp 3, it was very cold, windy and whiteout. We immediately jumped into a tent that had been abandoned by a retreating group in their haste to get down the mountain. After brewing up and warming up, we set up our tents and settled in for another long night. And then, yet another unplanned day waiting out poor weather.
Approaching 6700 meters.
High above high camp, visible on the dome of Razdelnaya Peak in the background.
Finally, the summit window arrived. It was not perfect — very cold and still windy. Building clouds through the day added to the pressure to get up and down this thing — far from what the weather forecasts were telling us. The morning was clear and crisp enough to see into Tajikistan and the Snow Leopard Peaks in that country: Pik Communism and Korzhenevskaya. Slowly, slowly we trudged on while watching the sky. Nine hours after leaving C3, we stood at 7134m, having climbed the first of five 7000m Snow Leopard Peaks.
Looking into Tajikistan and Pik Communism on summit day.
Summit day attire: puffy jackets all day.
It was certainly a struggle at times, but this expedition was one of the best I have had the pleasure of leading. In the true spirit of Mountain Madness, this expedition is exemplary of adventure travel — a big mountain expedition to a wild place which no one has ever heard of. I would like to congratulate our climbers, Bridget and Chok, and thank them for the great experiences we shared on that mountain. There are so many things to do and see in this world. But, I think if you ask Bridget and Chok, this type of climbing — into the wild unknowns — is challenging, rewarding and adventurous; it is what we are looking for.
On the summit with Bridget, Tino, Chok, and Lenin.
~MM Guide Tino Villanueva, text and images