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Peru with Mountain Madness

Solid Attempt of Mustagh Ata!

Some of you have been fol­low­ing the updates of John and 13-year-old Alex on Mustagh Ata with guide Shayan Rohani. Shy just got out of Kash­gar and had a moment to share with us how the trip went. Here is his story: 

Mustagh Ata

I have been climb­ing with the Smith fam­i­ly for almost 10 years. I first met Alex in Peru when he was 9 and climbed Tocllara­ju (a 6,000m peak in Peru) with him. At that point he was the youngest to have climbed that moun­tain by 6 years! So when he and his dad con­tact­ed MM about Mustagh Ata I was­n’t sur­prised. John, his dad, was inter­est­ed in the geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion and it seemed Alex was excit­ed because it is the 50th high­est peak in the world, it was an expe­di­tion style climb (some­thing he had nev­er real­ly expe­ri­enced) and it was rel­a­tive­ly non-tech­ni­cal” so he could focus on the alti­tude and cold man­age­ment and not wor­ry about the expo­sure. He gets a bit gripped” in exposed places. :)

So, I agreed, and we met up in Kash­gar along with my part­ner Claire who agreed to be on the radio at BC to sup­port and encour­age our team.

The flight was long and it took us a bit to get our clocks straight. Kash­gar is a fas­ci­nat­ing place, tru­ly a cross­roads of cul­tures. An Oasis town on the silk road it has been a key trad­ing and stopover loca­tion for thou­sands of years. It is in the Uigher autonomous area of Chi­na where the major­i­ty of the locals are Mus­lim. We ate deli­cious mut­ton kebabs, polo, nan, and mel­ons of all sorts of vari­eties there. It was hot, about 100 degrees. We toured the mosque, the famous bazaar and Ship­ton’s Arch, the high­est arch in the world.

Final­ly we had all our per­mits and oth­er expe­di­tion mem­bers in order and head­ed off to Karakul Lake for our first acclima­ti­za­tion stop. Karakul is at about 12,000 ft and at the base of Mustagh Ata. It is where most of the pho­to’s of the moun­tain you see are tak­en from. Quite a stun­ning spot and was our first expe­ri­ence inter­act­ing with local Kyr­gys and Tagik peo­ples liv­ing in yurts for there sum­mer graz­ing sea­son. We rest­ed there and allowed our bod­ies to begin the long process of acclima­ti­za­tion to this high moun­tain for 3 days. In the mean time we took a side trip to Tashkur­gan, an ancient fort town very close to the bor­der of Pak­istan. It was a beau­ti­ful spot too.

We then loaded up camels with 300 pounds of gear each and head­ed for our base camp at 14,700 ft. It was an easy hike but we could feel the alti­tude once we got there. We took anoth­er 2 days rest before we even start­ed mak­ing car­ries up the mountain.

Local yurts

Moun­tain Mad­ness uses a dif­fer­ent route up Mustagh Ata than the nor­mal route. It is just as non-tech­ni­cal but less crowd­ed, more scenic, and bet­ter for ski­ing; although, we were on snow­shoes. A few days lat­er we began mak­ing car­ries, hik­ing high­er and high­er on the moun­tain. The weath­er was unset­tled with dai­ly after­noon snow showers.

We were now final­ly ready to sleep at Camp One. It took us six hours to reach the camp at about 18,300′. We chose to use one of our extra days to bet­ter accli­ma­tize at this alti­tude and so spent two nights here. The morn­ing after the sec­ond night Alex woke up a bit sick and we descend­ed quick­ly to show­ers and the bet­ter Base Camp food. He quick­ly was him­self again and was the reign­ing chess cham­pi­on of Base Camp.

We took a rest day at BC and then fired back up the moun­tain. The weath­er had now sta­bi­lized and the skies were clear all day and all night. It was hot on the snow and a mas­sive melt cycle had begun. We brought a deck of cards up this time which was key for all the sit­ting around we had to do at Camp One and Two. We spent a night at Camp One and then chose to again alter the itin­er­ary and spend two nights at Camp Two at about 20,000′. The weath­er was so good we were tempt­ed to go high­er on the moun­tain so we all went for a hike for camp 3 and it became obvi­ous we weren’t ready yet. So we descend­ed for anoth­er cou­ple days rest at BC.

The view from Base Camp

We took our rest seri­ous­ly this time and made some slight alter­ations of gear and food. We then shot back up the moun­tain to Camp One with ease. Although the air felt bet­ter there were omi­nous after­noon snow­storms again. We arrived at Camp One with ener­gy to enjoy a heavy meal of rice with sala­mi and cheese, some­thing we nev­er would have con­sid­ered on ear­li­er trips.

Dur­ing the trip I had also been bat­tling a fes­ter­ing bug bite I had got­ten on a pre­vi­ous MM tip in the ama­zon. On the way up to Camp One, John (Alex’s dad who is an ER doc) and I had talked about all the hor­ri­ble trop­i­cal ail­ments that could be afflict­ing my foot. Short­ly after we arrived at our camp I quick­ly removed my boot. It seemed my worst night­mare had come true. I peeled the band aid off my foot and low and behold the tail of a worm was vis­i­ble. I almost passed out and called John over to con­firm my worst night­mare. Indeed he did, and much to his cha­grin, he grabbed a pair of tweez­ers and began to apply del­i­cate con­stant ten­sion to the rear end of this lit­tle white worm. After about 15 min­utes of me scream­ing in hor­ror he had the worm out and on to a piece of paper for full inspec­tion and pho­to doc­u­men­ta­tion. Boy, I was relieved and had a great nights rest after that event.

We awoke the next morn­ing to even worse weath­er but decid­ed to ascend. We arrived to Camp Two after an easy 3.5 hours walk­ing. Call­ing to Base Camp for the cur­rent weath­er report, it did­n’t look good. Giv­en the fore­cast our group decid­ed to con­tin­ue up and make a go of it rain or shine”.

We left for Camp Three about 10 in the morn­ing and spent a sol­id sev­en hours reach­ing Camp Three 22,000′. The snow was deep and we were in a white out most of the way nav­i­gat­ing wand to wand. We arrived to half buried tents and wind with more snow on the way. Jumped in the tent and imme­di­ate­ly began the process of melt­ing snow and hydrat­ing our­selves. It was a rough night with wind and snow pound­ing our tents con­stant­ly. Near­ly a meter of snow fell that night and the next morn­ing it was ugly. We con­sid­ered our options and decid­ed to stick to the plan and go for a high point any­way because the sum­mit was most like­ly unat­tain­able even under bet­ter skies because of the deep snow. We geared up and took off — wand­ing as we con­tin­ued upward with a GPS in the white­out. Wind, snow, clouds. At one point we wait­ed on the edge of one of the only crevass­es that must be crossed on the upper part of the route for a half hour for enough vis­i­bil­i­ty to find safe pas­sage. It was a long and slow process break­ing trail and nav­i­gat­ing in the thin air. After three hours we had just crossed the 7,000m mark and while we still had ener­gy it seemed the weath­er was­n’t inter­est­ed in improv­ing. We took Baba out (Alex’s lucky sheep), snapped a few pho­tos, and returned to Camp Three for a brief rest.

As we peered down the moun­tain it seemed the weath­er was bet­ter below and we packed up our things and began descend­ing at 3 pm. I brought a rub­ber duf­fel for drag­ging equip­ment which turned into a sled for Alex and soon his pa as well. We slip-slid­ed our way to Camp Two in about 1.5 hours with hard­ly any ener­gy expend­ed. With the thick air and a bit more ener­gy we decid­ed to head for Camp One. We arrived there after anoth­er quick hour and Alex could smell the piz­za at Base Camp. We packed up and head­ed down which turned into a gru­elling three hour hike back to BC. We arrived there exhaust­ed and starv­ing after eat­ing lit­tle more than GU through­out the day. The piz­za was there as promised and we snarfed it down with bliss. We were sad to not achieve our entire goal but hap­py that we felt we had the ener­gy had the weath­er giv­en us a chance. We had returned to camp stronger than when we left and with lots more insight as to the dif­fi­cul­ties and rewards avail­able on big mountains.

On our way out I asked Alex what was next… He very mature­ly said, oh, a house boat on lake Pow­ell for a week.” I thought that was entire­ly appro­pri­ate and I am sure he will be back for anoth­er adven­ture when he is 15.

My foot has healed all­ready and I am off to explore oth­er moun­tains in Sichuan while I am here.

- Shy

Stay tuned for some pho­tos from John and Alex’s trip!