Friday, 29 July 2011

Peak Lenin - As slow as a pregnant snail

After three rest days recovering from the acclimatisation climb, and sitting out some bad weather, we were ready to make our summit bid. To be honest I was surprised I managed the acclimatisation, having found it really tough (2 months of overland travel through Asia had not been good preparation), so was under no illusions about strolling to the summit. I had packed as minimally as possible and was ready to go hours before Alexander and Jaroslav again. As I tried to stay warm I wondered about Andy and Bob. No one had heard from them since we had seen them heading to Camp 3. More worryingly another team had been to Camp 3 for acclimatisation and had seen them neither at the camp nor at the alternative camp at the col. I had been becoming increasingly worried about them.
Across the glacier we headed back into the maze of crevasses. Today we reasonable weather as we headed to Camp 2. I hadn’t actually expected it to feel easier but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was and the acclimatisation had made all the difference. At Camp 2 I managed to have quite a reasonable night’s sleep and felt ready to go the next day. After waiting a couple of hours for Alexander and Jaroslav to get ready I was bored and cold. It was not necessary to be roped between Camp 2 and 3 so I set out breaking trail up the steep slope. It was exhausting work and the others soon caught me up. A Swiss team was now in sync with us. A giant of a man, Marcus, selflessly dump his rucksack (or luggage as he endearingly called it) and broke trail until the slope eased before returning to his rucksack to repeat the ascent. I became very familiar with the front of my boots and the next footprint, as for hours I trudged on upwards to the sound of my rasping breathes. Alex drew something in the snow and asked me what the English word was. I eventually managed to decipher the drawing and asked if he meant a snail. 'Yes', Alex said, 'we are as slow as a pregnant snail'. As we reached our previous high point we saw two figures making there way down from Camp 3 to my relief it was Andy and Bob. I later found out from two Polish guys that Andy and Bob had moved up to the rarely used Camp 4 where their lighters had stopped working and they ran out of matches meaning that they could not light their stove and therefore melt snow for water to drink or rehydrate their meals. It wasn't until I was back in Osh that I also found out that Andy had suffered frostbite to his right hand. This had thwarted their summit attempt.
After alternating the trail breaking with the Swiss we eventually made it to Camp 3 (6100 m). That night I slept terribly. I kept waking up gasping, thinking that I was underneath the duvet and needed to escape for air, except I was not underneath a duvet there just was no air. At 5 am I tried to force down some porridge. It sat like lead in my stomach. There was no need to rope up again so I set off, ahead of Alex and the Russians, plodding up the snow slope. The Swiss team was in front and I used their trail. I was now on the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and could see across the mountains of Tajikistan to the south and Kyrgyzstan to the north. After an hour or so the Russians had caught up with me and we continued together.

At Camp 4 the gradient flattened and there was a long stretch of deep snow. At this point one of the Swiss guys decided to turn back. We continued taking it in turns to break trail and altitude slowed us even more. Looking at the time it was now midday and we would need to turn back at 3 pm. We were only half way so I knew there was no chance of summitting. As we started the next steep section I had slowed, needing 3 breaths for every pace. I was slowing the team down and I didn't want ot get blamed for them not summitting so I decided to turn back. I was at the altitude of 6650 m.

Alone, I took my time on the return to Camp 3 I really started to appreciate the view and stillness of the mountains. I followed the trail back to Camp 4 and then dropped down to the col. The killer was the 100 m of ascent from the col back to Camp 3 which seemed to take forever. Exhausted I gladly accepted a cup of tea from one of the Swiss guys and then organised the tents.

The others returned at gone 7 pm. They hadn't managed to summit despite continuing upwards until 4 pm.

So that was it. No one had summitted yet this season. It wasn't until the following day that we heard on the radio, as we descended that, using our trail, another Russian team had made the summit. That day I descended to Camp 2 alone as my Russian team mates were taking forever in the morning. At Camp 2 it was roasting hot and I then boiled as I waited 3 hours for them to catch up so we could rope up across the glacier. Back at Camp 1 the kit needed to be organised so it could be put on the ponies to get it back to base camp the following day.

Walking alone back to base camp I could enjoy the views of the mountains. One thing that was immediately obvious was the smell of the grass and flowers. After 3 weeks of camping on the moraine or in the snow it was completely unfamiliar. I just wanted to roll in it. A night in base camp and then we were heading back to Osh but not before a celebration with the Russian who summitted and the Tien Shan Team who were very pleased to have got the first person to the top this season. The base camp staff had made a cake in the shape of cake Peak Lenin to celebrate.
Camp 1 to Camp 2

Camp 2 to Camp 3

Looking back to Camp 3 from the summit ridge (Tajikistan on the left, Kyrgystan on the right)

Back at Camp 3

Deep snow on the descent from Camp 3

Looking down on Camp 2

Looking back towards Camp 1

Volleyball at Base Camp with Peak Lenin in the background

Celebration at Base Camp - the man in the red jacket was the first to summit in the 2011 season


  1. HI Becky,

    This is Lore, girl with altitude sickness on the Manaslu trek. And you gave us some laxatives too ;)
    I was wondering if you still have contact details of Gopal. A friend of mine is going to Nepal, for trekking, and since we didn't have the best experience with our guide, I wanted to make sure he does. And I remembered Gopal to be super nice and quite experienced... Thanks a lot!


  2. Unlucky Becky. Hope you have better luck with your Pamir climbs. Still, 6650 is good going in my book.