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Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008
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Victory Peak
Victory Peak

Peak Pobeda, is one of three 7000-plus meter giants in Kyrgyzstan.  At 7439 metres, it is the highest mountain in the Tien Shan range which straddles Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and North-western China.  

The mountain lies in the Kokshaal Tau subrange (= “Forbidding Mountains”) of the Tien Shan, sitting astride the border with China.  The South-eastern slopes of the mountain are actually in China, the border itself running over the summit, and along the ridges spreading to the East and West. 

Like most giants, Peak Pobeda maintains a grand reputation – and a number of mysteries:  

One such mystery revolves around the name of the mountain – and its identification over the years.  

Sixteen kilometers to the North East, separated from it by the South Inylchek glacier, is the mountain Khan Tengri (7010 meters).  Over the course of history these two giants have often been confused with each other.  

This is probably understandable given the remoteness and difficulty in reaching the mountain – and the fact that whilst Khan Tengri is often clearly visible, Pobeda is more often than obscured by the clouds.  Also, Khan Tengri looks more impressive with its pyramidal shape whilst, although it is called a “Peak”, Pobeda has a “massif” form with several summits along the length of its ridge, (only one of which actually reaches over 7000 metres).  Another reason might be that Peak Pobeda was further from the valleys which provide the main access routes to the region, and so appeared smaller. 

It was the Russian explorer, Pyotr Semyenov, who made the most famous misidentification of the two mountains.  He had heard local accounts of two very high, slendid and terrifying mountains called Khan Tengri (=”Lord of the Spirits” – the highest of the two) and Khan Tau (=”Blood Mountain”).  In his account of his expedition he recorded that he had seen Khan Tengri, and wrote how he was struck by the distinctive pyramid shape.  Peak Pobeda does not have a pyramid profile – and it seems that he was refering to the neighbouring peak Kan Too. Because of this misidentification – Kan Too has ever since been known as Khan Tengri.  In fact, Semyenov may not have been mistaken after all as there is some confusion in the historical texts and some people think that both peaks may have been known by the name Khan Tengri by different peoples at different times.

In 1938, the first attempt to ascend to the summit of the mountain was made by a team of mountaineers – but it is not clear if they actually succeeded.  They named it “Peak 20 years of Komsomol” – in honour of the Communist youth movement.

It was only in 1943 that a somewhat surprised survey team ascertained that Pobeda was the higher than Khan Tengri and it regained its rightful place in the record books.  (It didn’t help that, apparently, the mountaineers were using an aircraft altimeter which kept giving erroneous readings.  It was only later following subsequent expeditions that the readings were verified.) 

Anyway, the matter was settled in 1946 when the peak received the name by which it is now known –in honour of the victory over Fascism in the Second World War (“Peak Pobeda” means “Victory Peak” in Russian). 

However, to confuse the unwary still further, it is now officially known as “Jengish Chokusu” – which is a translation of “Peak Pobeda” into Kyrgyz, although it is still referred to everywhere by the Russian name. 

The Chinese, however, still know the mountain by its Chinese name: Tomur Feng.

Peak Pobeda is a notoriously difficult mountain to climb, and it has claimed many lives of mountaineers that have attempted to do so.  In 1955 two teams attempted to conquer the peak, (one, from Kazakhstan, from the Chon Tern Pass – and the other, from Uzbekistan, along the Zvezdochka glacier). The Kazakh team met difficulties as a result of worsening weather conditions – and having reached 6000m they decided to descend. Only one of the 12 member team survived, and he was rescued by chance. From this moment on, the mountain acquired a fearsome reputation. 

The following year, 1956, saw what is considered by many to be the first generally recognized succesful ascent by the 30-day expedition led by Vitaly Ablakov.  Other milestones in the history of the mountain include: 1970, when an expedition made the first successful transit of the complete massif, from East to West and 1990 which saw the first successful winter ascent – in February.
It is not a mountain for the inexperienced climber.  Covered by huge masses of ice and snow. … Weather conditions can also make ascents difficult as persistent, strong, cold winds (called “Thousand Devils”) can whip up snowstorms – and have been known to rip tents to shreds. 

Several expeditions, however, make attemps on the summit each year – supported by local firms which maintain base camps on the Inylchek glacier.  There have even been several expeditions to ski down the impressive slopes.


     

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #9

 

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