Khan Tengri: lies in the Issyk Kul oblast near the border with Kazakhstan . (The name is translated variously as “Prince of Spirits” or “Ruler of the Sky”)
Until recently the summit was said to be 6995 m. a.s.l. but a recent survey announced that it is, in fact, 7010m – however some people treat this figure with an element of suspicion. (Perhaps one reason being that to achieve the honorary title of “Snow Leopard”, it is now necessary to climb five peaks over 7000m in Central Asia – not four).
The mountain sits astride the Kyrgyz Kazakh border – and near to the Chinese border. (There are many reports which suggest that it marks the junction of the three borders – but this is not strictly true – the three borders meet some 7 km to the west at the 6637m East Shaktor peak).
In the past, there has been some confusion between Khan Tengri and Peak Pobeda – Semyenov, “Tienshansky”, mistakenly identified the latter as Khan Tengri when he first reached the region in 1857. It was mentioned over 1200 years and explorers searched for an approach to the foot of the mountain. Semyenov confused the peak and it’s neighbour – Pobeda. It was Gottfried Merzbacher who first saw the entire peak having found a path along the Enilchek glacier. Merzbacher realized that any attempt on the peak would require a large and well organized expedition, (and in 1931, another member of the expedition wrote that the probability of ascending the mountain was “no more than 5%.”)
There was a Russian topographical expedition in 1912, which produced many maps of the region. An unsuccessful attempt was made to climb the mountain in 1929. The first successful ascent was made in 1931, by a Ukranian team, following what was to becme “the classical route”- it was another 33 years before a different route was opened – there are now nine recognized routes to the summit.
The next ascent was in 1936. This was followed by one more, led by Ambulakov, who had been the first person to climb Peak Communism in the Pamirs. At first, luck seemed to be with them, because the group of five climbers managed to reach the peak ahead their planned schedule … but on their descent they experienced difficulties and one climber died from frostbite, whilst two others suffered serious difficulties. It was eighteen years before another successful attempt to climb this unforgiving peak was completed.
The local name for the mountain is Kan Tau (= “Blood mountain”) – perhaps because of the burning red colour it adopts at sunset, or perhaps because of the numbers of climbers that have died in attempting to climb the peak. In July 2004 a Polish climber was killed on the peak and a month later about 50 climbers were caught up in avalanches about 5,000 metres up mountain, including a large party of Czechs, as well as groups from Russia, Ukraine and Estonia. Eleven people were killed, five Czechs, three Russians and three from the Ukraine – and others were taken to regional hospitals. Unfortunately, every climbing season seems to bring a crop of fatalities.
Buried on the peak is a capsule containing a message from previous climbers who have ascended the mountain. Each new arrival at the peak, digs up the capsule and adds a message in pencil – it is impossible to write in ink) with his name, and the date of the ascent, and then buries it again.
Despite the number of casualties experienced over the years – many mountaineers still seek to make the ascent. There are now several well established routes to the summit … and a range of facilities in place – such as a number of camps at the foot of the mountain.
In a sensitive border zone, special permits are required. In the Soviet period, even local mountaineers needed special permissions and foreigners were totally prohibited access until 1989.
The mountain makes for spectacular photos with its pyramid peak – and there are photos which appear to show a face in the snow on the mountain sides – The spirit of the mountain?
At the foot of the mountain lies the Enilchek Glacier and the mysterious Merzbacher lakes which appear each year in summer only to drain away in August when the ice bank breaks.
The Ak Togue pass marks the watershed of the Terksey Ala Too range. The highway passes through gorges covered in Tien Shan fir, and follows the valley of the Karkara tiver to the high mountain valley of the Sary Jaz river.