Typically a 7000m mountains of these characteristics is climbed with no support from above basecamp for a period of approximately four weeks. This means that climbers spend all time moving from basecamp to higher points to build endurance and transport gear a and food required to do a final push up to the summit. Climbers on high altitude expedition can opt for three different styles of climbing:
Alpine – were climbers move all the way up with absolutely all gear required to summit, and they take everything down leaving no trace of this activity, witch is consider the most pure and demanding way of climbing.
Heavy expedition – were climbers move through a number of high altitude camps that are already set up by third parties to facilitate the progression carry only personal gear. The route is normally prepared with fixed lines, aluminum ladders, bamboo markers, etc. Sherpas and High Altitude Porters are typically the ones doing the hard work while climbers focus only on moving up without the hassle of carrying heavy loads and setting up the camps.
Capsule – Is a combination of both, were climbers work on setting up camps, cashing food and gear, and leaving the route ready for a summit push where alpine style techniques can be used from higher camps. Normally lower camps are dismantled and taken up as the team moves higher
In all these three scenarios, climbers normally spend half of their time in the mountain going up and down to assess the conditions of the mountain and preparing the body for the stress of the extreme conditions and high altitude. This process is known as acclimatizing.
In our case we chose a very ambition strategy. Acclimatizing by climbing alpine style for ten days in Jetim Bel Mountain Range, a remote area of the country full of virgin peaks ranging 4000 to 4800m and never climbed before by humans, and moving from there right away to Khan Tengri Base Camp in the North Inylchek Glacier to attack the mountain on capsule style.
Description of the approach route, basecamp logistics, climbing route and climbing strategy
The base camps on the Northern and Southern Inylchek glaciers respectively are generally accessible by helicopter. “Generally” means the weather will be the main decisive factor to leave the Heli base at Maidadir, but I believe the rhythm of business for the company operating the flight is also determining .
In the north side of Khan Tengri there are actually two basecamps, one in the Kyrgyzstan side and the other in Kazakhstan. They are about 1km away from each other, a very pleasant walk trough the glacier on rest days when you want to socialize or trade with your foreign basecamp. The Kyrgyzstan camp (4005m) is sensibly smaller and colorful, and I would personally define it as boutique style, while the one in Kazakhstan is big, chaotic, gray and military style. However the gray camp is very well provisioned with a huge mess tent featuring bar with alcoholic drinks and DJ mixer, small shop were to buy soft drinks, candy and home made marmalade, as well as Banya, the Kazakh version of a sauna. Our beautiful Kyrgyz camp had huge yellow tents were you can easily stand up, an almost new mess tent with separate quicken, shower tent with hot water for 10$, and a small toilet tent located far away from the camp and with the best views you can imagine. All tents including the toilet are set on top of wooden platforms that you have to adjust regularly to cope with the physics of the glacier. The mess tent in the gray Kazakh camp was sitting right on the icy and rocky glacier surface.
Both camps have easy access to the first slopes on both easy North climbing routes.
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 were looking to climb 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 climbers chose the first one which is considered the Normal Route, and that is what we decided to do. This route follows snow slopes and the NE ridge to Camp 1 (4500m). The ridge continues in a spectacular position with a couple of rocky steps to Camp 2 (5400m) 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 (6400) 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.
This was the initial strategy
- Phase one: Base Camp (BC) > Camp1 (C1) > sleep BC > Camp2 (C2) > Sleep C1 > BC > Rest
- Summit push: BC > sleep C1 > sleep C2 > sleep Camp3 (C3) > summit day > sleep C2 > BC
This was what we eventually did
- Phase one: BC > C1 > sleep BC > Cashing at interim camp between C1 and C2 > Sleep C1 > BC > Rest
- Summit push: BC > sleep C1 > sleep C2 > abort and down to BC
This is how we provisioned ourselves during the climb
My climbing partner and I teamed up to carry all required stuff for two men, but we considered sharing with other team members if required
- Climbing day 1 (BC > C1)
- 1 tent
- 1 stove, 1 set of pans
- 4 gas cylinders
- Freeze dried food: 12 breakfast, 12 dinner, 6 desert
- Lunch pack for two days two men
- 4 chocolate bars, sweets and energy gels and tablets
- Personal and technical gear (no ropes)
- Climbing day 2 (BC > Cashing at interim camp between C1 and C2 > Sleep C1)
- Additional freeze dried food up to cash point: 2 dinner, 2 desert
- Additional 2 gas cylinders up to C1 + additional 2 gas cylinders up to cash point
- 2 toilet rolls
- Lunch pack for four days two men
- 20 chocolate bars, 8 teabags, nuts, sweets and energy gels and tablets
- Personal and technical gear (reduced by half after assessing the route) + high altitude gear
- Climbing day 3 (C1 > C2)
- 1 tent
- 1 stove, 1 set of pans
- 6 gas cylinders
- Freeze dried food: 8 breakfast, 8 dinner, 4 desert
- Lunch pack for four days two men
- 16 chocolate bars, 6 teabags, nuts, sweets and energy gels and tablets
- Personal and technical gear + high altitude gear