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Khan Tengri Edge of risk

The edges of risk converge to the top.

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Khan Tengri climbing program - here!

Deep in the heart of the Tien Shan, at the crossroads of the borders of China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, there is a mountain of a fantastically regular shape - the slender seven-kilometer pyramid of Khan Tengri... At sunset, the summit dome of this mountain reflects the crimson light of the setting sun. Perhaps due to this phenomenon that the mountain owes its name - Kan-Too - (Bloody Mountain). Another version of the name - Khan-Tengri – can be translated from Chinese as the Lord of the Spirits...

North Face of Khan Tengri

For the first time, the existence of this mountain is mentioned in Chinese chronicles of the 6th-7th centuries. The first attempts to approach the foot of Khan Tengri were made in the middle of the 19th century, and the first ascent was made by a Soviet expedition led by Mikhail Timofeevich Pogrebetsky in 1930.

Expedition of Mikhail Pogrebetsky to Khan Tengri Peak in 1930

For mountaineering of that time, this was an event of exceptional importance, opening a new era in the history of this sport. Today, Khan Tengri, despite its inaccessibility and technical complexity, is an extremely popular among climbers from all over the world as a desired high altitude mountain.

Mountaineering in the first half of the 20th century - a mixture of heroism and a desperate will to win


Just the same moment as the helicopter touched with its wheels the surface of the glacier than the pilot hospitably opened the door of the flying machine, actively inviting us to quickly get out into the cloud of snow dust raised by the propeller. Having thrown our backpacks out, we plopped down on top of them, and barely had time to bend our heads - the helicopter howled, and, somehow sideways, clumsily broke away from the glacier and went towards the snowy pass.

Helicopter transfer to the Northern Inylchek glacier

The noise of the propellers subsided, and an unreal, ringing silence returned to the wide glacier - ringing literally - somewhere a silver bell rang barely audibly - quietly, but stubbornly, a tiny stream began its long journey to the ocean...

A little away from us, on the side moraine of the glacier, one could see the tents of the Base Camp, lightly sprinkled with snow - a place ready for the next three weeks to become for us the center of world civilization, or simply a home...

Arrival at the North Inylchek Base Camp

Well, we trampled among the scattered backpacks and dragged them towards the Camp. It seems close, but once you speed up your step a little – immediately you find out that there is nothing to breathe - the altitude, until you acclimatize, immediately hits your head, ruthlessly and viciously, and there is no salvation except for frank resistance. Altitude pushes you down, but you climb up, and whose stubbornness is more stubborn, they won, otherwise there is no way but to return home.

On the way to the Northern Inylchek Base Camp

Base Camp Northern Inylchek at the foot of the Northern Wall of Khan-Tengri is an extremely inaccessible place, all communication with the outside world is carried out by helicopter. Only by air all the equipment is brought here, food and fuel, because apart from diesel and gas, there is nothing to even warm a cup of water here.

Base Camp Northern Inylchek

The season here is short, only one month - August allows you relatively safely approach to the summit, whose capricious disposition and changeable mood are known to the entire climbing world. During this single month, climbers from many countries come here to challenge a worthy adversary. On average, 300 people visit the camp during the season. Of these three hundred, luck will smile at less than half, and for some of them it will not smile at all, but even vice versa.

An avalanche from the Khan Tengri saddle and Chapaev peak is a common sight from the Base Camp

On our arrival, about fifty tents were already standing on the elongated moraine. We search aoung the rocks and found a relatively flat place. Here is our camp. Somebody's tent was set nearby, obviously an expeditionary kitchen. Let's go get acquainted with the neighbors. Well, what do you think?! All the faces are quite familiar! The guys from Moscow, last year, in the Moskvin glade in the Base Camp of Communism Peak, also had their tent close to ours. The world is great, but small, especially in the mountains. Several people returned from the mountain after successful summiting… Really there was a joy in the camp!

Looking at the black faces, happy and shining, you envy this happiness with black envy. After all, they already have something that cannot share even with their best friends. That can only be in absolute personal property - fabulous, inexhaustible wealth - a feeling of personal victory over the Mountain Summit!

In the base camp we celebrate a joyful event - the successful climb of Khan Tengri

But we don't have it yet. And who knows if we will, because everything depends on Luck, and she is a windy girl. Here we are all sitting together, celebrating someone else's joy, admiring the Mountain. And it is right opposite us - a huge rock pyramid, with a coquettish streak under the top. North Face. And on the right from the Summit – that is our crest, the classic route. All can be covered with the palm of your hand, what is it that three weeks to do here?!

The summit tower of Khan Tengri at sunset is an enchanting sight of the 2-kilometer North Face

You know, in the mountains it is impossible to estimate the scale of objects that, due to their remoteness, are easily captured by the eye, but do not even give a hint of their real proportions. And yes, the sizing changes a lot. Here, for example, what is the highest in Moscow? Naturally, our favorite broadcasting tower, Ostankino, from which they hang noodles to the people ears throughout the country and even to the neighboring countries as well.

Ostankino TV tower in Moscow, height 540 meters

You look at it, and the your spirit is already captured by this view. Take this broadcasting TV tower, and, for example, put it the side of Khan-Tengri. Then you will look for it with a magnifying glass, as it turns into a needle. Or tt will be like a blade of grass compared to the Mountain. Here's your eyeball score. And the mountain does not seem that big, there is just nothing to catch the eye, for your eye it is an object of indefinite size.

Approximate proportion of broadcasting tower compared to Khan Tengri

In the photographs, for example, many people look at the mountains, and even remotely do not imagine that there is no human greatness there, that a person cannot even be compared with an ant on the slope of such a giant. Natural mountain cosmic philosophy.

Mountains around base camp Northern Inylchek

Initially, when thinking about the plan to climb Khan, we still planned to fly to the "South" Base Camp. But someone's phrase, accidentally caught on the ear at the moment of hesitation, changed the decision in favor of the North Base Camp. Although I already knew perfectly well that as much as the option of the route from the South was easier, it was just as dangerous. People were constantly dying there. In the North, they also die, but in a different proportion and for different reasons.


Wisps of clouds over the peak of Khan Tengri - a sign of a strong wind

A few days before our arrival at the Base Camp, a climber from Germany died while trying to descend from Chapaev Peak. What had happened remained only between him and the Mountain. He made the ascent at the limit of his ability, after several days of waiting for the weather. During this time, the group with which he came went down, abandoning the idea of summiting. The most stubborn participant decided to stay and wait a little longer and try his summit attempt alone. Luck smiled at him, and the weather gave him a chance to climb, but this chance turned out to be a trap, and Luck's smile was a mockery. The elderly climber (he was over 60), exhausted by a long stay at high altitude, lost almost all his strength on a difficult many hours ascent on the 7000 meter mountain. Completely exhausted by the ascent, he decided not to descend to the southern side of Khan-Tengri - from where he climbed to the last camp, but go down to the unknown North side.

Avalanche tracks on the slope of Chapaev Peak

Strange as it may sound, the decision was quite sensible. During the few days he spent in the High Camp, heavy snowfalls had loaded the slopes with a huge amount of snow, and descending to the South side would have been a very risky undertaking. But the climber could no longer stay at the altitude camp. And in the difficult conditions of bad weather, he desperately tried to climb Chapaev Peak, from which began a long, steep, but safe from avalanche path to life. Already at the very summit, extremely exhausted, the perishing man could not find the key to his salvation - the guiding thread - the beginning of the rope, fixed at the summit. The rope was covered with snow, and the death trap got shut.

The descent of the body of the climber to camp 5600 in the north route of Khan Tengri

In the meantime, the Khan Tengri climbing season was waning - the strongest teams were already celebrating their successful ascents in the Base Camp, while the climbers, who overestimated their strength, sadly removed and lowered the upper camps. Less and less people wandered along the fixed ropes, tightly stretched and sprinkled with snow - they had worked out their season.

In camp 5600, ascent of Khan Tengri peak

It so happened that this year we arrived a little later than the others. However, mountaineering and adventurism are concepts of the same root. Why not try where others have not been so lucky? The mood of Luck is constantly changing - who knows, maybe this time we will be in favor?


Do you know what is important in high-altitude mountaineering?! If you don't know, don't guess. It is patience. Throwing cargo to the first camp, descent, overnight, again to the first camp, overnight, descent, short rest, climb to the second camp ... So, very gradually, we are approaching the moment when it becomes possible to make a sharp breakthrough and take the mountain by surprise - to get to its holy of holies - to the Summit.

Camp 6100 on the saddle of Khan Tengri

After ten days of monotonous hard work, everything was ready for the decisive push - at an altitude of 5600 there was a tent stuffed with food and fuel, the second tent was also there. It was waiting for its moment to be installed in the high camp 6100 - the decisive border between a safe altitude and a death zone – the altitude level where the lifetime of a person is limited to a few days.

After resting and almost die from boredom for two long days at the Base Camp, playing 1000 card games, reading Playboy to holes and getting to know all the neighbors, we decided not to postpone any longer the moment of truth.

In the Northern Inylchek base camp at the foot of Khan Tengri

The most important moment in the mountaineering is when a hard decision is made internally to go to the summit. A difficult psychological trick, but the feeling of a decision to start climbing to the top is the most crucial moment in mountaineering. If there is a little hesitation or doubt - all is lost. There will be no success, no luck. Also it might end badly. The main thing is to fully accept that all the forces, all the will and capabilities of the body will be gathered in one effort - the summit attack.

On the climbing route of Khan Tengri from the North

Details are just technique. In the entire world, there is only you and the Mountain, your opponent. Your advantage is skill, experience, perseverance and reason. A mountain is an element that a person cannot resist on an equal. It neither can be overcome nor conquered, this is absurd. The mountain can be outwitted or its respect can be earned. The first is dangerous, the second is incredibly difficult and only a few succeed with it.

Waiting out the bad weather in camp 5600, climbing Khan Tengri

This time it was the second day we have been on the route, we need to continue this attempt to the summit, there was no time left for the second attempt. We spent one night in the camp 5600, took a tent and food for two more days of the summit attempt, then traversed the summit of Chapaev Peak, adjacent to Khan-Tengri. Then we went down to the Khan Tengri saddle, a bit higher we pitched the Camp 6300 - a cold place, without any hint of convenience, a tiny patch between the rocks, where several tents could hardly fit. From here there was only one way up - along the steep rocks of the ridge, to the Summit, which seems to have become closer, but in fact was still inaccessible, as it was from the very bottom, from the Base Camp.

Вершина Хан Тенгри - вид с пика Чапаева


An hour before the alarm, I woke up from the grinding of rocks under someone's crampons. By the corner of my eye, I looked outside through a narrow hole - the hood of the sleeping bag was very tightened, there was really cold in the tent. Dawn broke. Dodging like a snake in my sleeping bag, I checked the time – 6 a.m. Who got started at such an early hour, when the air rings from the cold of the night?!

- Hey, good morning!

- Don't speak English...

The beginning of the rocky ridge of the top tower - a classic climbing route of Khan Tengri

These were two Iranians who, despite the severe night frost, left the camp on the Saddle before dawn - an act quite desperate, taking into account that the night temperature dropped below -30 that night ...

But the others example is contagious. After tossing for another fifteen minutes in a sleeping bag, I decided to start packing. But it was easier to say than to do... When I tried to get out of the sleeping bag, I was almost covered by a collapse of snow, a thick layer of which had frozen over the night on the inner walls of the tent. As usual, the largest piece of snow naturally fell behind my collar dissolving the last remnants of drowsiness.

Passing the saddle of Khan Tengri

Angrily shoving my partner with my elbow, from a tightened downy cocoon I received in response a categorical statement that he would not go anywhere today, and in general - what he had forgotten up there? It was useless to insist, everyone makes the decision for himself.

Without much appetite, I had a quick breakfast of dried apricots and barely warm tea from a thermos. Then pulled on my down pants, put on the heavy boots. Folded and put away the sleeping bag - so that it would not get wet when the sun, coming out from behind the summit, warm the tent, and the frost inside it began to melt. Then carefully unzipped the frosted zipper of the tent entrance. A stream of sharply cold air hit my face. Compared to the temperature outside, -10C in the tent turned out to be just a resort. While I was getting out of the tent and fastening the crampons, another two climbers came up to our camp, this time they were French.

The 7,000-meter Pobeda Peak neighboring Khan Tengri

They walked with a gap of a hundred meters, at a rather fast pace, and soon they were confidently out of sight among the chaos of the rocks of the ridge. The feeling of national pride was the last drop of energy, which was not enough to make an effort, fasten the jumar to the shaggy rope and start climbing.

The normal condition of the fix ropes on Khan Tengri

The black mass of the mountain above my head was illuminated by the radiance of a solar halo - the sun was rising from the opposite side of the mountain, and one could not even think about warming in its rays at least until noon. Muttering to myself the words of a stupid song stuck in my head, I slowly moved the jumar along the rope and rearranged my heavy boots, like those of a diver. Five steps, no more, until the body wakes up and adapts to the altitude load. Five steps more. Breathe. Five more. And so on. Soon it really got easier. The need for respite disappeared, just a measured, unhurried step.

Sunrise from behind Khan Tengri peak

Yep, here are the French. One sits, resting his head on his knees, it’s bad for a person. I woke him up. I explained to him, that it is better to sleep in the camp, here that was not the right place. The Frenchman nodded his head and did not seem to listen to my words very much. Okay, he has a partner higher on the mountain, it's okay, in the extreme case, we'll pick him up on the descent.

I move on slowly. Some time later, I saw a second French guy. It even became funny to see how the altitude kills the brain. The Frenchman was hanging on the very bad fixed rope on a sheer cliff, under a rocky cornice, scratching the rock with his crampons. And why he climbed there, he can’t even explain.

Passing a steep rocky section of the Pogrebetsky ridge, climbing Khan Tengri

The fact is that from the normal gentle trail the wind threw the ropes onto the rocks to the right, you just had to throw them back left and go safely. But for some reason this climber got into his head the idea to climb just as the rope hang… Well, I had to help the tourist to get out of this complication. He rappelled down, moved the rope, let me pass. I gave him a sip from my thermos for this - we need to take care of the others, for this God helps us.

And the ridge was getting steeper, above I could see the beginning of the Pogrebetsky couloir - there the trail went sharply to the right. Then the ridge passes into the sheer cliffs of the summit tower, you can’t climb there, and on the right the slope is more gentle, and you can climb it almost to the very top of the rocks.

Pogrebetsky Ridge - Khan Tengri climbing Route

The weather, by all the signs, gave, maybe not 100%, but still, a fairly high chance of a successful ascent. The horizon was still clear, but in some places small elongated clouds began to gather – and this was alarming.


The incredibly long snow summit dome began immediately after the rocks. Six hours of continuous climbing, plus altitude of seven kilometers - frankly, I didn’t want to move anymore, the body felt waves of drowsiness and apathy.

Almost at the top of Khan Tengri - a snow summit dome

There was only a hundred meters left to the summit, and, despite the completely spoiled weather, there were only a few steps to success. At least an hour had passed until something loomed ahead, expressively standing out with its strange shape against the background of a harsh alpine landscape.

A pitiful sign of human presence - the remains of geodetic triangulation on the top of Khan Tengri

A geodesic triangulation half-covered with snow, hung with shreds and fragments of flags. The Summit! Right at the moment the visibility went out totally – began snow hail. Moral and physical strength was left for only one experience - the joy that the endless ascent is over, now only go down, and there I will get this pleasure more thoroughly.

Selfie against the backdrop of a stunning view of the entire Tien Shan from the top of Khan Tenri

...I hold on to the fixed rope - Ariadne's thread - with my mitten. Let it go for a second and that's done - you will forever stay in that white whirlwind. There are no traces, not even hints of any landmarks around, only a dense stream of blizzard rushing in gusts, pushing me backward. But no, now my way is only down, to there, where at the no longer dead altitude, a yellow tent is attached to the rocks, and in this tent there is a warm sleeping bag, hot tea and my friend Sergei. Most probably he already ate up all the food for the whole day, sitting in his sleeping bag, and won’t even take care of a cup of tea for me...

Bad weather came to Khan Tengri

But after all, strong friendship is not based on the petty everyday life! And I'll make a tea, taking care of myself is not the first time for me...

Closer to the rocks, the density of the snow hail decreases, and I could see that one of the Frenchmen who was the first to climb out onto the snow dome. Really he was a stubborn man, and he will probably be rewarded for this. Although there were some more work to be done - I, too, when I got out to this place, thought that the Summit was very close...

We exchanged a few words, but there was not enough power left for more. He congratulated me for the summiting, and I wished him good luck. Although little could change - if he got here, then he will crawl to the top anyway, the stake in the game was too high. And I, with a lightness in my soul and wild fatigue in my body, continued to descend.

Rocky section of the Pogrebetsky ridge, hung with old fixed ropes, climbing Khan Tengri

The rope burned the mittens, but there was no desire to fasten the figure eight fpr more safe descent - pushing a disheveled and icy rope into the descender was beyond my possibilities. Just in case, I fasten myself with a carabiner so as not to fall down completely. Run, faster down, to the life and warmth. Clinging to the rope, I slide down to the beginning of the couloir. It's interesting, when I was resting here on the ascent, it seemed that there was very little left to the summit...

But what is it?! A head in a helmet appeared among the rocks, and an Iranian guy climbed onto the ice shelf. I already stopped thinking about them, they climbed so slow and badly in the morning, so it really was no chance for them. However, their chances have not increased even now. Taking a closer look, I was convinced that both were climbing no longer even on their last physical power, but completely exhausted, they were pushing themselves up on the pure power of will...

Endless spaces of the Tien Shan mountains

The guys fell on the ice and were breathing heavily, they had no strength to speak. And then I saw something from which I got seriously frightened. One Iranian climber did not have a crampon on one of his foot. Probably he got lost it. Crazy people, they kept climbing anyway. Without a crampon, it’s like to walk without a leg, and it is eve worse on the descent. I tried to explain the situation to them - that the weather is getting worse, the time is already very late, it is very far to the summit. AND ONE OF YOU CLIMB WITHOUT A CRAMPON!!! All was useless. On their petrified faces was the decision to go to the end, no matter what would be the cost. Two barely alive crazy dead men. I was the last one to see these guys. They did not come down that day or the next. And they were never found.

Pobeda Peak - a neighboring mountain to Khan Tengri

My pessimistic forecasts did not come true – my dear friend Sergei was sitting in a tent at 6300 and preparing hot tea for me. After a whole day of idleness, he rested and gained back his strength. But there was no way to say this about me - I couldn’t even say hello properly, and, only taking off the crampons, I plunged into the nirvana of my down sleeping bag, from where in the next few hours I could not be lured out even by all the wonders of the world!

After 12 hours of sleep at camp 6300, after a successful ascent of Khan Tengri

Our group was the last one to climb Khan Tengri in this season. Having passed the empty intermediate camps, we went down to the empty Base Camp without any problems. There were only staff, guides, and a few late climbers waiting for the next helicopter flight.

The yellow tent of our base stood lonely on the moraine and insed it there were simple, but still long-awaited, gifts prepared for ourselves. Few cans of beer, a banal, but such a welcome dried fish and a Playboy magazine ... What else is needed for the tired winners?!

Morning at North Inylchek Base Camp


Two days later, in the best restaurant in Alma-Ata we already were scaring the waitresses with the blackness of a terrible high-altitude tan. Alma-Ata – the city where are proportionally mixed the Asian heat, the coolness of shady squares, the freshness of fountains and the shining smiles of the beautiful girls – all that is surprisingly and harmoniously intertwined in a motley pattern. All that was so bright and impressive for us after three weeks of harsh altitude black and white conditions… The mountains above the city were frowning with thunderclouds. But it didn't matter anymore. Something else was important.

Farewell selfie with the top of Khan Tengri, on the descent via Chapaev Peak

We were taking the mountain with us... A banal, slightly awkward sense of ownership. And sense of pride. Pride of insignificant, non-existent reason... Just think, you've been somewhere, so what?! But the feeling of inner enrichment and the joy of victory prevails. Doesn’t matter that the victory was only over yourself, and all the wealth is inside, and it does not worth a broken penny for the others... But still we have a Mountain. You begin to relate to the mountain in a completely different way if you have been on its Top...

Edelweiss (noble white - German) - a flower symbolizing the purity of the mountains.

Leader of the ascent, author of text and photos - Alex Trubachev



Our Principles

AlexClimb Rule #1 - Safety First

From the very beginning of our activity, here nearly 16 years, the first Principle of work of School of mountaineering and rock-climbing of MCS AlexClimb is the Safety Priority. On the basis of this Principle all process of training is based, all programs and rounds are developed and carried out only within this main principle. We consider that at professional approach to development of programs, at personal discipline and correctly put motivation - occupations by mountaineering and rock-climbing are COMPLETELY safe. And from the return - all troubles and accidents in our sport come from nonprofessionalism, from ignorance or neglect by elementary standards of safety, from irrational motivation, from revaluation of own forces and opportunities. All these prerequisites we COMPLETELY EXCLUDE in our work - ours Rock-climbing, Ice climbing and Mountaineering are based on one Principle - the Safety Priority. In rock-climbing, mountaineering and ice climbing, the Priority of Safety of MCS AlexClimb-is your personal security and comfort irrespective of, than we are engaged - we train muscles and we work technology of the movement in the sports hall and on the rock climbing wall, we make the way through snowstorm to top or we relax on golden sand of the Caribbean beach after hot day of trainings on rocks. The Safety priority - the main credo of School of mountaineering and rock-climbing of MCS AlexClimb.

AlexClimb Rule #2 - Leave No Trace

Closely interacting with Nature, working with the active programs in mountains, woods, lakes and rivers, we perfectly understand the importance of carefull and respectfull bahavior towards the Nature, for its resources. From the very beginning of our outdoor-activity we adopted rules of  Leave No Trace technique - the standard of behavior of the person accepted in all the civilized world in relation to environment and especially - to the wild nature. After all on the relation of people to the nature near which they exist, itself can draw dalekoidushchy conclusions on the relation of these people to... Where and as we didn't travel - we don't reserve any garbage, we try to reduce whenever possible our influence on environment to a minimum. We clear earlier zagryazyonny tourist parking of the left garbage, we take out and we take out to utilization places that to us other people left there. We consider that only thus, at personal individual consciousness of each citizen, each tourist, climber or autotraveller, we will be able to keep the nature surrounding us in its state, natural, suitable for life, - in it pledge of the healthy future for ourselves and our children.

AlexClimb Rule #3 - Sober Concious

The position of AlexClimb Mountain and rockclimbing School regarding healthy lifestyle is quite clear - we consider that only sober consciousness is capable to fill sincere emotions,  to sympathize, to enjoy life in all its variety. Bright various enjoyable life is possible only on condition of keeping the absolute sobriety and purity of consciousness. Any way of obscuring our perception of reality is intended to do harm to our consciousness and bring harm to our physical health, to replace the true values by false ones, to destroy us physically - to turn us into flabby, weak, senseless, gray herd with empty hazy eyes. We don't force anybody to our point of view, everyone has a God's gift of making his own choice and to destroy himself if that is what he wants... But in AlexCilimb Mountain Climbing School we accept quite certain and very simple set of rules: neither alcohol, nor drugs.