Khan Tengri is located in Tengri Tag Mountain Range of Central Tien-Shan also known as the Mustag (The Ice Mountain). The climate is sharply continental, dry and rigorous. The summer is short, average temperature of about 7 centigrade. The region is called “The Arctic of Kyrgyzstan”, though Central Tien-Shan is situated in the same latitude as the Mediterranean Sea. It is located on the China—Kyrgyzstan—Kazakhstan border, east of lake Issyk Kul, just across the South Ingelchek (or Inylchek) glacier. Its geologic elevation is 6,995 m (22,949 ft), but its glacial cap rises to 7,010 m (22,999 ft). For this reason, in mountaineering circles, including for the Soviet Snow Leopard award criteria, it is considered a 7000-metre peak. The name “Khan Tengri” literally means “King Heaven” in Uyghur and possibly references the deity Tengri. Khan Tengri is the second-highest mountain in the Tian Shan (after peak Pobeda, 7439m), the highest point in Kazakhstan and the third-highest peak in Kyrgyzstan. It is also the world’s most northern 7000m peak, meaning that the air on top will be as thinner as in some of the big eight thousanders that I’m chasing.
We’ll leave Karakol for Maidadir where an old Russian helicopter transport take us up the North Inylchek glacier for Khan Tengri with some good acclimatization already under our belts.
Karakol, formerly Przhevalsk, is fourth largest city in Kyrgyzstan, near the eastern tip of Issyk Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan, about 150km from the Kyrgyzstan-China border and 380km from the capital Bishkek. It is the administrative capital of Issyk Kul Province. The main road from Karakol continues past the Kuluu valley to the town of Enylchek and the first military checkpoint that is open. At the end of the valley stands peak Khan Tengri. At the military post there is a transit base camp, this area of the valley is known as called Maidadir, and most of the climbing expeditions to Khan Tengri start from here flying in soviet built helicopter, usually loaded beyond capacity with climbers and equipment, to one of the base camps at 4200m. Inylchek Glacier is the second largest mountain glacier in the world after Fedchenko Glacier, the biggest one in the Pamirs. The glacier river of Inylchek stretches for about 60 kilometers. Inylchek is the unique world of ice architecture, a huge museum of fantastic ice created by water, sun and wind. The Inylchek Valley like the majority of valleys and ridges of Tien-Shan extends in the latitudinal direction. Its length is 200 km.
The two base camps on the Northern and Southern Inylchek glaciers respectively are generally accessible by helicopter. Khan Tengri was first climbed by Ukrainian alpinist M. Pogrebetskiy in 1931, from the south side which is now known as Classic Route. Since then 21 routes on four aspects of the mountain have been explored, but possibilities for new routes has not yet been exhausted. Khan Tengri can be climbed from either South or North Inylchek Glaciers, on which separate base camps are located. The “northern normal route” is more difficult than the “southern normal route”, but it is much less exposed to avalanches. It has eight different routes opened up to date, but we’ll be looking at climbing either Solomatov Route via the north east Chapaev Ridge, which take us to the summit via the West Ridge, or the Belkin Route going through the East Buttress to the North Ridge. Both routes are Russian Grade 5b and were first climbed in 1974 and 75 respectively.
The route is to be chosen based on the conditions but most probably we’ll climb the first one which is considered the Normal Route. This follows snow slopes and the NE ridge to Camp 1 (4300m). The ridge continues in a spectacular position with a couple of rocky steps to Camp 2 (5200m) situated in a glacial basin below the final summit slopes. After traversing the summit of Chapayev an easy descent leads to Camp 3 (5800m) on a col below the West ridge of Khan Tengri. This is the site of Camp 4 on the now unsafe Semenvski Glacier route from the south. It is now normal to make summit bids from Camp 3. The ascent is initially on snow slopes that soon turn into steep broken ground that gradually gets steeper as progress is made up the pyramid’s face. Much of the route now consists of fixed line, although of variable quality.