By Vladimir Komissarov PhD, Adrian Nelhams
The Range is located in the South-West part of Kyrgyzstan on the border of Tajikistan and China. It is part of the northern Pamir which is called the Pamiro-Alay. The Zaalaisky Range administratively refers to the Chon-Alay and Alay districts of the Osh oblast of Kyrgyzstan. The length of the Range is more than 200 km in an east-west direction. The border with Tajikistan and China extends along the axial watershed part of the Range.
The Zaalay Range is one of the most famous climbing areas in the world because Lenin Peak (7134m) is located here. Lenin Peak is one of the most accessible and technically easy peaks in the world with an altitude of more than 7000m. However, despite the easy access, this region is largely unexplored in general, with the exception of the Lenin Peak area. This is the one summit which is more than 7000m in this region, a further 57 summits are more than 6000 in height and there are many peaks in the range of 4000-6000m, with most of them still unclimbed (virgin). The paraxial (central axis) part of the Range consist of metamorphic rocks, which changes to sediments in the lateral part of the Range such as limestone, dolomites, sandstones and conglomerates. The northern slopes of the Range, which face Kyrgyzstan, are ice covered. Glaciers flow from the tops and ridges widely covering the lower slopes. There are many snow-ice climbing routes in the Range. The best season for climbing is the period from July to October when the weather is the most stable. The climate of the Zaalay Range is considerably less harsh than that of the Tien-Shan. The mid-temperature in the Achiktash base camp (located at an altitude of 3600m) in the period of July – August is +10°С.
Precipitation is greatest in the period from April to early June; the least rainfall being in August – September
We can divide the range into four parts according to the level of exploration, landscape features and accessibility. The central part of the range is the place of two regions location:
1) Lenin Peak and Achik-Tash Valley;
2) Korzhenevskiy Glacier; the next is
3) the eastern part of the range located to the east direction from Kyzart Pass and
4) western part of the range located to the west direction from Achiktash Gorge. The approach from the Osh City (which has an international airport) to the Alay Valley goes along high quality asphalted highway through the Taldyk Pass (3615m) up to Sary-Tash Village. The distance is 180 km takes about 3 hours. From here the various approaches to the different regions of the range are accessed.
The exploration of the Zaalay Range started in the beginning of 19th century with various Pamir expeditions from the Russian Empire led by Fedchenko, Mushketov, Korzhenevsky, and Severcev and these were continued into the first half of 20th century by Soviet expeditions. Lenin Peak was discovered in 1871 by the Fedchenko expedition and called Kaufman Peak (who was Governor General of Turkestan Region of Russian Empire at that time). Climbers of a Russian-German-Austrian expedition, Karl Wien, Eugene Allwein and Erwin Schneider made the first ascent in 1928 and renamed the summit Lenin Peak. Exploration of climbing in the region commenced then and was initially concentrated around Lenin Peak
and the Korzhenevsky glacier. In 2000, alpinists started a more intensive exploration of the eastern part of the area from the Kyzart Pass eastwards.
As of 2018, the western part of the region remains unexplored by climbers. This is reflected in the list of first ascents below. However, it should be noted that mountain tourists commenced an intensive exploration of this region after 2000 using long trekking tours through mountain passes, although these itineraries avoid the more technically difficult summits.
There are only a few tour companies operating in Kyrgyzstan (mentioned in AAE-N #30, http://asian-alpine-e-news.com/asian_alpine_e-new_issue_no30.pdf ) which can provide the necessary services and support for independent expeditions to the Zaalay Range. In the immediate area of Lenin Peak there are six tour companies operating who can provide all the needed services.
Transport. Please take into consideration that a cross country (off-road) vehicle is required to access the gorges of the Zaalay Range, while there is an asphalted highway to Sary-Tash village and further along to the Zaalay range to the east and to the west, you can only reach the base camps of Achik-Tash valley by this road. There is no possibility to hire a cross country vehicle in the Alay valley and there is no such type of transport available in Osh. Consequently, it is necessary to hire this type of the vehicle in Bishkek.
Horses. It is not a problem to arrange horses for an expedition; these are widely available in the Alay villages through the CBT Association (http://cbtkyrgyzstan.kg/ ). Also, there is in Achiktash Valley possivle to find horses from local nomads for deliver of load or riding.
Food. Basic foodstuffs such as bread, sugar, flour, cereals and fresh meat can be purchased in the Alay Valley villages. However, the range of the food here is limited and not sufficient to support an expedition and therefore it is recommended that, as all the tour operators operating in the Alay region do, the majority of foodstuffs are purchased in Osh.
Expedition Staff. Cooks to work up to the altitude of 4000m, low level porters, local guides and horsemen for trekking can be hired in Alay Valley through the CBT Association. Other more specialized staff such as high mountain guides, alpinism instructors, high altitude porters and cooks etc. to work at the altitude more than 4000m, can be hired through the local tour operators
Expedition equipment. This specialized sort of equipment – tents (base camp and high altitude), mobile kitchens, kitchen equipment, electric supply, USB-stations, satellite phones, replacing missing climbing equipment (for instance, by reason of lost baggage) – can be rented from the tour operators mentioned above.
Communication. The mobile phone network of most of the Kyrgyz providers is available almost everywhere. However, for some remoter parts of the Range, a connection is only possible via a satellite phone.
Formalities. All climbing areas of the Zaalay Range are located in the border zone and consequently a border permit is required. It is recommended that passport registration (if required) is arranged in one of the big cities upon arrival (e.g. Bishkek or Osh). Passport registration is also possible to arrange through tour operators in Darautkurgan the capital village of the Chon-Alay district.
13.1. Achiktash Gorge
The Achiktash Gorge is one of the most famous climbing areas in the world. It is here that, what is widely considered to be the most technically easy summits over an altitude of 7000m, Lenin Peak (7134 m) is located.
This area is located on the northern slopes of the Zaalay Range, on the Tajik border, 32 km to the south of Kashkasu Village. The area is widely snow-covered, with the slopes and mountain tops covered with ice and snow. The base altitude is in excess of 3000m. Typically the routes here are on snow and ice and are not technically difficult. It provides an opportunity to undertake a high altitude ascent without requiring a high level of technical climbing skills.
The road to the Achiktash base camp from Sary-Tash Village by vehicle goes along an excellent asphalt road up to Kashkasu Village (65 km) and then across the Kyzylsuu River bridge and along a 32 km dirt road up to the location of the Lenin Peak base camps.
The Lenin Peak massive is located between the Razdelny Pass (altitude of 6080m) from the west and the Krylenko Pass (altitude of 5820m) from the east. Overall, the length of the massive from pass to pass is some 9.5 km, and the length from the western shoulder of the summit (6442m) to the eastern shoulder (6601m) is 6.5 km. The northern slopes of the massive are ice covered and these flow down to form the Lenin Glacier in the Gorge.
There are now 19 itineraries to the summit of Lenin Peak; 10 routes go from the northern side (Kyrgyzstan) (Pic. 13-5) and 9 of them go from the southern side (Tajikistan). The safest and most popular itinerary is the route from the north, going from Achik-Tash through the Razdelnaya Summit (6148m).
The summit was first described in 1871 by the Russian geographer and traveler A.P. Fedchenko, who called the summit Peak Kaufman after the local governor-general of that time. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkestan). In 1928, the first ascent to the summit was done by a Pamir Russian-German expedition, the climbers being the German pair of Karl Wien and Eugene Allwein and the Austrian alpinist Erwin Schneider. They renamed the summit Lenin Peak. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Lenin ). Two further ascents to the summit were done before the Second World War. A new stage of exploration of the area started after the Second World War and went through until the end of the 1960s, with the latter part of this era being marked with organization of numerous mass high altitude ascents. Mass international jubilee mountaineering competitions took place in 1967 and these were unprecedented for a summit of such an altitude. Competitions were dedicated to 50th anniversary of Soviet revolution, when 301 persons, including 60 climbers from other countries, reached the summit via a number of different routes (4 routes were climbed first time). More mass ascents to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin took place in 1970. Regular ascents to the summit started in 1972 when the first Soviet Union International Mountaineering Camp (IMC) was arranged in Achiktash. This camp received tourists from across the world.
Today, hundreds of mountaineering tourists from the different parts of the planet come to the area to attempt an ascent of Lenin Peak, to undertake trekking or to just enjoy the high mountains. Six Kyrgyz travel companies set up their own base camps to provide services and support for climbing and trekking. In addition, the local government administration together with the Kyrgyz Alpine Club (www.kac.centralasia.kg) and Kyrgyz Mountain Guides Association (http://mguide.in.kg/) arrange annual ethnic-folklore festivals for local people and foreign climbers. A photo report of one of these festivals, which took place on August 5, 2018 and was dedicated to 90th anniversary of first ascent to Lenin Peak, can be seen below in Annexe 2.
Lenin Peak 7134. Description of ascent to Lenin Peak along the classical route through the summit Razdelnaya.
By Vladimir Komissarov, PhD,
Lenin Peak (7,134m) is one of easiest of the World peaks over 7000m. It’s situated in Zaalaisky Range of Pamir mountains on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. There is in biggest City of the region Osh International Airport. There is a 290 km road from Osh City to the Base Camp (BC) in Achiktash region. It goes via Osh – Gulcha village – Taldyk pass – Sary–Tash village – Kashka-Suu village – Achiktash district. 255 km of 290 are paved highway and 35 km is gravel road. Travel time by car is about 5-7 hours.
At 2018 is Anniversary jubilee of 90 years first ascent. At 2018 July will be held by Kyrgyz Alpine Club Mountaineering Festival consecrate of the event .
Route description. (Pig.1 and 2)
- 3600m – ABCamp, 4300m.
It is possible to get from BC to Lukovaya polyana (onion glade) by foot or by car (6 km). From Lukovaya Glade the trail goes southwest along the rocky ridge up to the Puteshestvennikov pass (Travellers’ pass). The ascent takes about 1 – 1.5h. Further the trail goes downhill for 15-20 min and then for about 30-60 min it goes along the same ridge with a slight climb up to the crossing point. The crossing of the river is usually not a problem in the morning when the water level is not high and it is possible to cross by jumping over the stones. However, in the hot afternoon the water level is increasing and river crossing can become very difficult and dangerous. After the river the trail follows for 1.5 – 2 h on the moraines till ABCamp. In total it takes about 3-5 hours to get from BC till ABC.
АВС, 4300m – Camp 1 (С1), 5200m.
The trail to Camp 1 first goes in direction to the centre of the northern slope of Lenin peak then up to Lenin glacier and follows up to the beginning of ascent. This part of the glacier and moraines is rather flat. There are some scours and cracks which can be easily avoided. It takes about 45-60 min from ABC to the beginning of the ascent. The ascent follows icy northern slopes covered with ice with the angle of 15º -30º which at some parts become 40º. There are some deep wide crevasses which can be traversed. Narrow cracks can be jumped over or crossed by the snow bridges. After this part of the trail the path goes along the slope into syncline (5000m) and further along the slope in southwest and west direction into C1. Starting from the ascent and up to C1 it is necessary to proceed in rope team. The ascent time is 5-9 hours.
C1 (5200m) – C2, Razdelnaia (6148m)
From C1 the ascent goes to the left of rocks up to the shoulder of the range to Razdelnaia. The steepness of the slope is 15º-30º. C2 is situated on the left side in 100 meters from the Razdelnaya summit. The ascent takes up to 4-7 hours.
С2 (Razdelnaia). 6148m – the Lenin peak, 7134 m – С2.
Taking the climbers have good acclimatization it usually takes 1 day to hike from C1 up to the summit and back. First there is a short descent to the saddle between Razdelnaya and C3 of Lenin peak range. The ascent goes from the ridge up the snowy slope with occasional access to the rocks and narrow flat ridge up to the summit. To guarantee the successful ascent usually C3 is set up here at the altitude of 6400m. Further the trail takes up the ridge to the narrow 100m long ascent with 20º-30º steepness called “the knife”. It is compulsory to use harness at this stage. Follow the ridge up to the pre-summit plateau (6900-7000m) and continue up to the summit along the flat snowy slopes and scree. Tour in the shape of Lenin bust is located a little bit lower of the summit, which is 100 m to southeast. The descent follows the acsent trail. It is strongly recommended for ascent to start off from C2 as early as possible, not later than 5 am. The time of ascent and descent is 10-14 hours.
Technically the route is not difficult, but summiting depends on the choice of tactics. Among the main difficulties and hazards are the altitude, crevasses, avalanches and bad weather. Proper acclimatization becomes of the main significance. Climbing experience of the Lenin peak proves that the most appropriate acclimatization is 2 goes with 1-2 nights in C1 and C2 and descend to the BC for good rest. The ascent during acclimatization should be consecutive to the increasing altitude (Fig.3). Acclimatization hikes should start very early – before 5 am. Start from C2 to summit is recommended don’t later 3 AM. Acclimatization is often combined with transporting and setting up of intermediate camps. If mountaineers lack climbing experience at the altitude it is strongly recommended to go on acclimatization climbs with experienced mountain guides or instructors. Also if climbers do not feel confident in their strength and experience it is advised to set up additional camp at the altitude of 6400m. Below are principal versions of ascent diagrams. Its, of caise, could be corrected, but at any case is recommended to keep acclimatisation with two climbing. Also, is recommended to foresee 1-3 days for bad weather.
Among the technical skills ensuring safety there are command of the language and skills on eliminating and minimizing different hazardous factors of the ascent. These are the following: 1) ice crevasses from ABC to C1 which require skills of climbing in rope team on the glaciers, crossing snow bridges over the crevasses, conducting search and rescue with disposed equipment and skills on self-rescue from crevasses; 2) skills of identifying avalanche hazard, crossing of the avalanche-prone slopes, search in avalanche, skills on operating avalanche trackers; 3) transportation of the injured person using disposed equipment; 4) first aid skills.
For ensuring the effective search and rescue operation it is necessary to register with the relevant rescue company (www.rescue.centralasia.kg) at least 1 month before the climbing and also possess the proper insurance policy (up to EUR30000) covering possible rescue works.
Neighboring mountains to Lenin Peak
There is a possibility to climb many other summits, other than Lenin Peak in this area. These peaks are recommended for both acclimatization purposes as well as for individual ascent. As soon as you arrive in Achiktash you can go from the base camp to Petrovskogo Peak (4830m) as the first stage of acclimatization. There is also an opportunity as part of the first stage of an acclimatization programme to do ascents of the peaks nearest to ABC such as Domashniy (4700m), Yuhina and 30th Anniversary of Uzbekistan.
There are a number of other summits located close to ABC in addition to the mountains mentioned above. As no information has been uncovered about any prior ascents of these summits they are considered to be virgin peaks.
The standard climbing programme includes an ascent to the summit of Razdelnaya (6148m), which is located on the way to the top of Lenin Peak, during the second acclimatization process. This has a certain logic: it enables an exploration of the ascent route and also facilitates the carrying of the necessary equipment and supplies required for the summit bid during the acclimatization programme. Alternatively, there is the possibility to complete the second phase of acclimatization by undertaking an ascent of XIX Parts’ezda Peak, 5920m and staying for one night on the top, as is typically done when climbing Razdelnaya Peak.
Korzhenevski Glacier area
The area of covering the Korzhenevsky Glacier is located from the west of the Kyzart Pass and from the east of Achiktash Gorge.
This area’s exploration started in the 1960s and was mainly undertaken by mountain tourists/trekkers rather than by alpinists. Mountain tours were undertaken not only through the passes, but also across the tops of the main ranges of the area where access is possible via simple snow routes. One of first climbers were alpinists of the Osh oblast, under the direction of V. Freifeld, arranged a high altitude climbing expedition in this part of the Zaalay Range in 1963. They climbed to the highest summits of the area: Kyzyl-Agyn Peak (6679m) and Korzhenevsky Peak (6005m); and did the traverse of VMF (5842m); Korzhenevsky, Belecky (6075m) and Simanovicha (5798) peaks. The area was frequently visited by Russian mountain tourists in the 2000s. They climbed to most of the summits of the watershed parts of the Zaalaysky and Ledyanoy Mys ranges in addition to crossing the passes. Many of the summits located on the spurs of these ridges are still virgin.
A Cambridge University expedition, led by James Lasseter, climbed several summits in 1999 – Nazarov Peak (5015) from the north, the southern part of peak 5525m, the southern summit (5845) of XIX Prts’ezd Peak, Korzhenevsky Peak (6008m) and Peak 6624 located on the southern part of the Zaalay Range.
Two Slovak climbers (Pala and Chadick) arranged a ski mountaineering expedition in 2005 to several summits situated in the Dzhanaidartaka Valley and Nazarov Glacier. Exploratory ascents were arranged to Todo Peak too.
Approach to the area of Korzhenevsky Glacier goes from Bordoba Village on the east side. This can be reached by the highway connecting Sarytash Village and the Kyzart Pass. The approach to the summits of northern slope of Ledyanoy Mys Range is accessible from Sarymogol Village via the bridge on the Kyzylsuu River or from the side of the Sarytash – Kyzart highway by cross country vehicle.