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SPEED | 28.02.2018 | Michael Kalivoda

If you want to summit the highest mountains in the world in speed style, you not only must possess outstanding conditioning and great high-alpine mountaineering experience; you also must have an iron will. Indeed, during high-alpine mountaineering, physical and mental strength come together in situations on the mountain that could never be foreseen. That is what our climbing team experienced recently on Lenin Peak “We never imagined this,” said Beni Böhm after the ski expedition on Lenin Peak.

On all of the key tour portals and outfitter sites, the 7,134-meter (23,406-feet) Lenin Peak in Kyrgyzstan is described as the “ideal novice 7000er.” With our experienced four-man mountaineering team of Benedikt Böhm, Schorsch Nickaes, Michael Hasenknopf and my humble self Michael Kalivoda, this should not prove to be an all too difficult challenge. Or so we thought!

August, four men with touring skis at the Munich Airport: 30° Celsius!

When we headed out in mid-August 2017 for the Pamir Mountains with touring skis in hand to climb Lenin Peak in speed style, we were greeted all along the way with skeptical and at the same time inquisitive looks. Who wouldn’t be astonished? It was smack in the middle of the summer in Europe with temperatures hovering around 30° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit). Arriving in Kyrgyzstan, the situation was identical -- we were definitely the oddballs there. From Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, we headed directly out to Osch for the first night in this inland central Asian city. A little tired but excited too, an ancient-looking bus took us the next morning to the base camp at 3,600 meters (11,811 feet). The trip into the Achik-Tash high valley was more than an adventure.

High camp with full board

A maximum of 10 days is what we had planned for both acclimatization and our summit day. That is quite short! There was however no other choice since the ascent of this beautiful 7000er after mid-August is increasingly difficult due to unsettled weather. So we spent just two days at 3,600 meters and then climbed to Camp 1 at 4,400 meters (14,436 feet). This camp is already set and equipped with tents, a kitchen and sanitary facilities. The meals there with local cuisine were very tasty, and everything was prepared fresh. “What service!”

From Camp 1 on, we slowly got used to the altitude. For acclimatization, we first climbed loxhna Peak (5,096 m / 16,719 ft) on foot, then with skis we ascended Rasdelnaya Peak (6,148 m / 20,171 ft), plus a part of Lenin Peak up to 5,688 m (18,661 ft). We checked the weather daily for our planned summit attempt on Aug. 26. Indeed, every day the forecast was getting worse. We were forced to take action and moved the summit day two days earlier.

So it was now time to decide our summit strategy for Aug. 24. The weather forecast showed passable conditions overnight and for the morning. But also strong winds. After mid-day, hefty snow was the forecast, which would make an ascent impossible.

The summit route

• From Camp 1, we chose the approach over the steep Lenin glacier across side  glaciers with few crevasses and across the moraine with our skis on our packs.
• From the icefall then with skis and crampons to Camp 2 at 5,300 meters (17,388 feet).
• Above Camp 2, after that, through a steep couloir on a slope that goes from flat to 40 degrees of incline. From there, 300 meters of vert to Camp 3 on skis and crampons.
• Through Camp 4 up to 6,400 meters (20,997 feet) across the long ridge on skis to the summit of Lenin Peak at 7,134 meters.
• Then a ski descent down the same route.

After Camp 3, you are quite exposed to icy high-Alpine storms that are the most frequent reason attempts on Lenin Peak are aborted. And recently two Korean alpinists met their fatal destiny there. We had a good feeling, however, and we packed up our gear for our summit attempt in speed style.

Lenin Peak in speed style -- summit day

Aug. 24, 2017: At midnight the alarm went off, and at about 1 a.m. we started the long approach across the Lenin glacier on the classic route. We made quick progress. Up to Camp 2 at 5,300 meters, the wind with a  temperature of -20° Celsius (-4° F) was still mostly bearable. But not far above Camp 3 at 6,100 meters (20,013 feet) we were welcomed by a stormy northwest wind, as we had experienced in the last few days while acclimatizing. Since we were making good time, we took a short detour toward Camp 4 about 7 a.m. shortly after sunrise. Gusting winds continued to get stronger and stronger. We managed a short look over the descent that we had planned to follow our ascent route. The wind had blown away much of the snow on the ridge, and a ski descent appeared utterly impossible. So we decided to ski down along a rather direct line across the north face after reaching the summit. After a short “line check,” we quickly continued up and shortly afterward reached Camp 4 at 6,500 meters. The strengthening storm hampered us quite a bit. Our pace slowed noticeably. A quick summit attempt was no longer a real consideration. After a short huddle during which we had to literally scream at each other since the storm was howling, we decided with heavy hearts to turn back. In the meantime, the storm was blowing so strongly from the side that we lost our balance again and again. This made quick progress impossible and in fact dangerous. Now, quick: skins off, bindings into downhill mode, boot buckles snapped into place. Down we go!

Shortly afterward the sky completely clouded up, and we blazed our way down through the wafts of clouds rushing past us. And then shortly after that it started to snow lightly. We had made the right decision! Even a descent down the north face would not have been possible anymore in these conditions. Everything done right!

Back in base camp

With our full board back, in base camp, we warmed up our tired legs. After the first hot soup, we looked back satisfied on our expedition, despite our failed summit attempt. The summit of Lenin Peak is completely doable as a day tour from Camp 1. However, one must be appropriately acclimatized, which we definitely had not been. Also, we were thwarted by the poor weather forecast. “And we never could have imagined this,” said Beni Böhm. We will most certainly return, but then with at least three weeks time and a little earlier in the year. Late June through early August would be our thought on the ideal time to climb Lenin Peak in one push from Camp 1 in speed style.

Tour details

Goal: Lenin Peak (7,134 m / 23,406 ft) - second-highest peak in central Asia’s Pamir Mountains, and one of five summits that is part of the Russian Snow Leopard Trophy. This award is bestowed on alpinists who have conquered all five 7000ers in the former USSR region. The other peaks are Ismail Samani Peak (7,494 m / 24,590 ft), Korzhenevskaya Peak (7,105 m / 23,310 feet), Jengish Chokusu (7,439 m / 24,406 ft) and Khan Tengri (7,010 m / 22,988 ft).

 

Country: Kyrgyzstan

 

Capital: Bishkek

 

Route: Classic route

 

Participants: Benedikt Böhm, Schorsch Nickaes, Michael Hasenknopf and Michael Kalivoda

Lenin Peak Speed Ascent

Lenin Peak Speed Ascent

Lenin Peak Speed Ascent