mountaineers who seek the horary title of “Snow
Leopard” have to climb all of the peaks over 7000 meters in
Central Asia. There used to be four such peaks, but now there
is fifth as Khan Tengri has been added to the list following
a recent survey when it was discovered that, rather than the mere 6995m
that was previously thought, the summit in fact stretches to a height
of 7010m above sea level. This newly acquired status as a
seven thousand meter peak is not, however, universally acknowledged,
and some mountaineers treat the claim with a little
error may have been made by a Russian topographical expedition in 1912,
which produced many maps of the region or the first, unsuccessful,
attempt to climb the mountain in 1929.
The height of the mountain is not just the mystery surrounding the
mountain whose name is variously translated as “Prince of
Spirits” or “Ruler of the Sky”.
It is a mountain clouded in mystery, just as, in reality, the summit is
often obscured by clouds.
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
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 in accounts dating back to 1200 and explorers searched
for an approach to the foot of the mountain. Semyenov
confused the peak and its neighbour, Peak Pobeda. It was the
German Gottfried Merzbacher who was the 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%.”)
universally known as Khan Tengri, 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.
Unfortunately, every climbing season seems to bring a crop of
fatalities. Despite the number of casualties experienced over
the years – many mountaineers still seek to make the
The first confirmed successful ascent was made in 1931, by a Ukrainian
team, following what was to become “the classical
route”- it was another 33 years before a different route was
opened but there are now nine recognized routes to the summit and a
range of facilities in place for logistical support, such as a number
of camps at the foot of the mountain.
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.
Buried on the peak is a capsule containing a message from previous
climbers who have ascended the mountain. Each new arrival at
the summit 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.
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.