13/August/2019: With Luuk Karmarker ‘20, we summited Pik Lenin 7,134m just after noon on 12 August, having left Base Camp only five days earlier. The summit area had another 3-4 climbers in the ferocious wind, and we concluded our visit to the top after some hugs and photos in less than ten minutes. The ascent had started at 03:40 with an initial descent from Camp III of about 150m, which we knew would be particularly painful upon return to that final camp at 6,100m. The descent was followed by an exposed ridge which tested our equipment, as the 25km/hour wind made the ambient temperature feel like -25C. Luuk’s gloves quickly proved on the thin side, and he had to spend much of the time “shaking down” his arms, to keep the blood flowing to the fingertips. I removed my right (windward) high mountain glove at one point and made the amateur error of not securing it to my wrist, which saw it fly off out of the reach of even Luuk’s desperate lunge (and guide Evgenii’s exasperated admonition!). After considering for a moment a return to Camp III, we improvised by putting my left glove on my right hand and using a regular climbing glove on my left (leeward) hand, and kept pushing for the peak. An hour or two later brought another moment of doubt, as Evgenii, thanks to his many years of mountain rescue work, noticed my nose becoming white in the brutal wind. After initially considering a return to camp, he massaged the nose enough to confirm a return of blood flow, and again we pushed on as the light began to emerge over the next ridge.
The summit has a flag of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the countries which share the border. It also features, more famously, a life-size bust of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. It is probable that the bust has been “renewed” every year or two, for which self-respecting cleptomaniac alpinist wouldn’t want a cheap metal bust of the architect and operator of the world’s greatest political experiment adorning the living room?! The summit provides excellent vistas of other 7,000m+ peaks such as Pik Komunisma, part of the “Snow Leopard Five” which many alpinists attempt after, or with, a Pik Lenin ascent.
The descent to Camp III was, as anticipated, arduous and I had to resort to a repetitive numbers game in my head to maintain the correct balance between the number of steps and breaks to breathe. We spent another cold night at Camp III and ate a small amount of borrowed freeze-dried food from Denali, Alaska specialist Dave and proceeded through the crevasse fields below Camp II to reach Advanced Base Camp (ABC) the following afternoon – as exhausted as we have ever been, but proud and delighted to bask for a moment in the congratulations of fellow climbers and guides.
We had formed strong connections with many of the other multi-national mountaineers in the camps on the way though, and much of the conversation centered around the pace at which we completed our summit attempt. On arrival at base camp on 5 August we already noted a drastic deterioration of the forecast from 13-16 August, and although long term forecasts are usually unreliable, this pattern remained more or less locked as the week progressed. Winds of 60-70-90km/h make a summit attempt impossible, and already winds of 30km/h make it dangerous enough to abandon a climb, such as happened to most, if not all on the morning of 13 August, the day after our successful bid. We therefore decided on 6 August with Evgenii to adopt on 7 August an unusually tight “Alpinist style” ascent of only five days from Base Camp to summit, a self-imposed dare which worked. The usual time is typically 12-15 days. Our agreed safety valve was (aside from Evgenii carrying, as is standard, an Acetazolamide injection to treat Acute Mountain Sickness) to go down if at any time one of us felt worse.
Luuk and I are dedicating this expedition to a scholarship for a student from Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, which share this magnificent mountain. We are very grateful for the incredible support to date – please consider adding yours on the campaign page
A “return to civilization” (including seeing one’s ravaged face in the mirror and delivery pizza) and post-expedition thoughts will follow shortly here.