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Eric Gilbertson

[TR] Pik Pobeda, Kyrgyzstan - Abalakov 08/09/2021

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Posted (edited)

Trip: Pik Pobeda, Kyrgyzstan - Abalakov

Trip Date: 08/09/2021

Trip Report:

 

Pik Pobeda (24,406ft) via Abalakov route (VI,5.6,WI2/3,60 deg snow)

 

20210805_085004.jpgPik Pobeda viewed from South Inylchek basecamp (note the big avalanche on the north face)

Highest Mountain in Kyrgyzstan

Aug 9, 2021

Eric Gilbertson and Andreas Ritzau

Aug 6 – leave bc climb glacier in snowstorm to 5200m
Aug 7 – climb left side of triangle over massive 50ft cornices, 5.6 mixed rock ice pitch and ice pitch to 5800m passing Russian team on their descent
Aug 8 – climb more huge cornices, rock pitch, ice pitch, dig platform under serac at 6600m
Aug 9 – tough steep trailbreaking in snow then ice climb to summit ridge and true east summit. Descend to 6600m camp in wind and whiteout
Aug 10 – rap and downclimb to 6000m in extreme wind
Aug 11 – rap, downclimb cornices, descend all way to BC by 10pm
Aug 12 – helicopter out, ride to Bishkek

Pobeda-Route.jpg

Our route

I originally posted a call for partners on cc for this trip, so figured I'd put up a report for it now that I'm back. 

Pik Pobeda is considered the northernmost 7000m peak in the world and the most difficult of the famous snow leopard peaks (the five 7000m peaks of the former soviet union). Pobeda has notoriously bad weather and all routes to the summit are technically difficult and dangerous. The peak lies on the Kyrgyzstan-China border near the Kazakhstan tri-border point and is affected by the weather of the Taklamakan desert to the south and glaciers to the north.

The normal route on Pobeda requires climbing over technical terrain to 7000m on the west ridge and then following the ridge for a full 6km to the summit, then returning the same way. The technical sections up to the ridge are usually fixed each year so don’t pose problems. But the 7000m ridge is quite dangerous because it could take all day or multiple days to move along the ridge and back if snow conditions are bad. If the weather deteriorates, which is common, retreat is very difficult.

1027310.jpg

Route overview (photo by Markus Gschwendt, summitpost, some camp locations different than ours)

An alternative route, and the route of the first ascent, is the Abalakov route. This route follows a steep and more technical ridge up the north face directly to the col between the west and east summits and allows nearly direct access to the true east summit. This route has two main advantages. Most important is it does not require a long and dangerous ridge traverse because it is so direct. Thus, if the weather turns bad on the summit it is easy and quick to bail to a lower elevation. Second, it allows direct access to the true eastern summit, with no temptation to bail early on the false summit.

20210812_103603.jpgHelicoptering to basecamp

Andreas and I were in Kyrgyzstan climbing snow leopard peaks and our top priority for the summer was Pobeda. Pobeda itself is not a great peak to use for acclimation so we started the summer with a three-week climb of Lenin Peak, a relatively easy 7000er. Next we helicoptered to south Inylchek to climb Khan Tengri, another 7000m peak and the highest mountain in Kazakhstan. By climbing two 7000m peaks with low altitude Russian rests in between we hoped to be very well acclimated for an attempt on Pobeda.

We arrived in south Inylchek base camp in late July and by August 2 had climbed Khan Tengri and made it back to base camp. By then the first few teams of the season had just started up Pobeda. Interestingly the season for Pobeda tends to be very short. Teams generally don’t start up til early August (having spent July acclimating on other peaks), but then by late August the season ends with the last scheduled helicopter flights out.

20210804_082159-2.jpgGood views of Khan Tengri from the other side of camp

We talked to lots of other climbers over a few days at the dinner tent and I came away with the impression that almost everyone there is some sort of elite athlete. There were Piolet D’or winners going for a new route on Topographers Peak, the president of the Moscow Alpine Club who’d already climbed Pobeda twice, K2 guides, the owner of Summitclimb guiding company, Swiss guys who’d skied Dhalguiri, and I’m sure everyone else had crazy mountaineering resumes too. We spent some time hanging out with an Iranian team planning to climb the normal route on Pobeda, and a Hungarian team working to fix lines up Dicky Pass.

Over the next few days while resting we watched  two teams on the Abalakov route through a telephoto lens and saw them get above 6000m on the ridge. All teams are required to check in with Dima every two hours on the radio for status updates. I could listen in on my own radio but unfortunately all other teams generally speak Russian so I couldn’t understand what was going on. But we talked to Dima and he said the teams on the  Abalakov route reported stable snow and they planned to summit on Thursday Aug 5. The teams on the normal route were a bit lower still at 6400m. We planned to take the Abalakov route, given the safe snow conditions reported.

Our meteorologist friend Chris Tomer was sending us daily weather forecasts and it looked like Monday morning would be clear with low wind. That could potentially be perfect timing if we left soon.

20210806_101451.jpgHiking up the Zvezdochka Glacier looking back towards basecamp

Aug 6

Friday morning we were packed and moving by7:30am. 

Out of camp we followed a decent trail through the moraine marked by cairns and flags. Our packs were pretty heavy since we were carrying our big Olympus mons 8000m boots and hiking in our smaller hiking boots plus a week of food. After a few hours we reached the edge of the glacier ice and stopped for a break. We switched into our Olympus mons boots and glacier gear and our packs got a bit lighter. We hid our small hiking boots under a rock and were soon moving on the glacier.

20210806_120943.jpg

The route was icy and a bit tricky to follow. Unfortunately the fresh snow from a few days earlier had melted so it was hard to see tracks, and the occasional flags en route had all fallen over. In general we crossed to the west side of the Zvezdochka glacier, then followed it due south. We wove around quite a few crevasses and eventually climbed high enough to reach fresh snow and find some tracks to follow. We soon reached a flowing meltwater stream to top off our nalgenes, and then the intersection where our route diverged from the normal route.

20210806_111037.jpgLooking towards the apron on the left

From there we headed towards the northwest corner of the big apron at the bottom of the Abalakov ridge. I could actually barely make out the tracks from the Russians on that corner. That was kind of surprising since it had been a week since they’d gone up, but I guess it hadn’t really snowed much in the past week. I could also make out an old avy crown on the broad north face of the apron, but the route avoided the face and looked safe.

We stuck to the icy melted out section of the Zvezdochka glacier for a while, then jumped a melt stream. From there we postholed a short ways then met up with the Russians tracks. The tracks were badly melted out and in the heat of the afternoon we still sunk through them but they at least provided a little support and helped us navigate. It looked like they must have triggered the top few inches of snow to slide off from there tracks but it was very stable by now.

20210806_160257.jpgClimbing up to the pedestal in a snow storm

We marched up steeply with Andreas breaking trail first then me taking over. As predicted by mid afternoon the clouds rolled in and it started snowing. Our progress was a bit slower than hoped for with the soft conditions but finally by 5pm we crested the flat plateau (the “pedestal”) at 5200m that is the traditional camp location. We found a flat spot that looked like it was the sight of the Russians camp and pitched our tent there.

At 6pm I radioed Dima and asked if he knew where the Russians were. I was surprised we hadn’t seen them coming down. But he just said “problem” and wanted us to get off the radio so he could talk to other teams. (I would later learn the Iranian team on the normal route had lost a climber around this time and the Russian team had had an accident and Dima probably wanted to hear updates from them – see article with full details on Iranian climber accidents https://explorersweb.com/2021/08/12/pobeda-peak-fatalities-timeline/.)

20210807_063745.jpg?resize=800%2C189

Camp 1 at 5200m the next morning, looking up at the triangle

Aug 7

The next morning we started up at 8am under sunny skies. From 5200m there are two options – you can either go up the right or left edge of the giant triangle to gain the narrow Abalakov ridge in the middle. Markus on summitpost recommends the right side but this is steeper and looks more prone to slide. The Russian tracks went up the left (east) side, which looked narrower and more technical but probably safer from avalanches.

We followed the Russians route, reasoning that they reached the summit so their route must work. As we wound onto the ridge the tracks soon disappeared, covered by the previous night’s snow, and trailbreaking became difficult. We also started to get a bit more intimidated by the route above us. The ridge was covered in massive cornices bigger than I’d ever seen before. Some were at least 50ft tall and must have taken years (decades?) to form.

20210807_105418.jpgClimbing the left side of the triangle

One section was so steep, though, no cornices covered it and it looked like a rock cliff we’d need to climb. This looked a lot tougher than the right side but we continued, reasoning it must go and be safe if six climbers just made it up a few days earlier. They would certainly have implicitly tested snow and cornice stability by their passage, so following their route was probably one of the safest ways up the mountain.

We took turns breaking trail steeply up the cornices, trying to stay in the faint traces of the old track. It’s a tricky balance – we wanted to be far enough from the left edge to not risk breaking it off, but far enough from the right edge not to slide off the steep slope. We were generally able to find a safe balance and eventually climbed to the base of the rock cliff.

FHD0266.jpgBreaking trail up the cornices (photo by Andreas)

There it looked like two tent platforms dug out on the ridge. Maybe the Russians had had even more challenging trail breaking conditions than we did if they had only made it there after camp 2. We stopped at the platforms to assess the cliff. It was about 30m high, nearly vertical rock, luckily with plenty of cracks for me to get gear in. There was a rotten ancient fixed rope in the middle that likely wouldn’t even hold body weight which I didn’t plan to touch. At the top of the cliff was a small broken cornice and what looked like a thin, unprotectable snow climb about 30m more back onto a deeper snow ridge.

FHD0268.jpgClimbing the rock pitch (photo by Andreas)

It looked doable, probably around 5.6, and I was encouraged by the gear options, so I decided to give it a go, but it would be tough. I’d be climbing around 18,000ft in crampons and gloves in single digit temperatures, carrying an ice ax in one hand and a week of supplies on my back. And the exposure was about 3000ft. I decided to first lighten my load and give Andreas a few heavy items since he’d be on toprope for the climb. Then I pounded Andreas’s ice axe and picket into the snow to make an anchor and he put me on belay.

I tiptoed out on a small snow finger then reached my left frontpoints out to balance on a narrow ledge. I quickly got in a small cam before looking down at the immense exposure under my legs. From there I delicately worked my way up, balancing frontpoints on thin ledges and hooking other ledges with my ice tool. I got three solid cams in before reaching the ridgecrest and the end of the rock.

There I crossed to the other side and carefully made my way up the thinly snow-covered rock. Luckily there was a patch of ice I could get a screw into, but that was my last gear option. Near the top I made a tricky move over a rock bulge then finally reached lower angle deeper snow. I was at the end of the 60m rope by then so dug down to firm snow and made an anchor with my picket and ice ax.

20210807_144203.jpgApproaching the mega cornice

I belayed Andreas up and we were soon both on flatter ground. The terrain eased considerably above the rock step and Andreas took the lead breaking trail. The cornices soon ended and we spent the next few hours working our way up to 5700m. We eventually reached the top of the triangle where the east and west routes converge, and then the route got difficult again.

A mega cornice blocked the route with a wide vertical ice cliff spanning the width of the ridge. The one weakness was a steep snow ramp led up to the left to meet the wall where the vertical section was only about 10ft tall. We kicked steps 2/3 of the way up the ramp, then I had Andreas pound his ice tools into a solid snow section for an anchor to belay me up higher. I kicked steps up to the wall but then realized the wall was actually dense snow, not ice.

20210807_184004.jpg?resize=800%2C179

Camp 2 at 5900m

This made things a bit more difficult. I couldn’t get ice screws in and tool and crampon placements would be less secure. I managed to get a solid picket placement halfway up the wall but it was so steep and my pack so big that I kept rotating off whenever I stepped up. Finally I just pulled out 15ft of rope, tied a bite in it, then took my pack off and clipped it to the bite. I then wriggled and kicked my way up the wall without wearing the pack. There was a ton of slack in the rope but that was the only way it would work. Once over the lip I dragged the pack up, then kicked steps a bit higher in the low angle deep snow. I then built an ice ax and picket anchor and started belaying Andreas up.

I looked up then and saw the team of six russians coming down. This was great news for us since it meant a freshly broken trail above us. The first man built an anchor near mine and started belaying the others over. I asked him about the problem Dima mentioned and he just said one person had fallen but there was no problem. Everyone seemed to be doing fine so I guess there was no problem. We continued up and made camp at 5900m.

20210808_063655.jpgGood views towards Khan Tengri the next morning

Aug 8

We hoped we were past the technical crux of the route but knew there was still some rock and ice climbing above us. Our goal for the day was to skip one more camp and make it to the highest camp at 6600m to put us within striking distance of the summit for the monday window. 

20210808_090631.jpgBreaking trail up more cornices

Unfortunately it had snowed and been very windy overnight, and the russians tracks had filled back in, so we had more tough trailbreaking on cornices to a rock step at 6200m

The ridge soon narrowed and we were in a similar situation of traversing massive cornices. We stayed on the traces of the russians tracks, striking a balance not getting too close to the cornice edge but also keeping distance from the steep snow slopes to the right. We occasionally had to kick steps and use ice axes on steeper sections, but then the ridge broadened and flattened again as we reached a big rock step at 6200m.

 I decided to scramble to the edge of the rocks to meet the russians route halfway, then climb the snow slope. Trail breaking was tough, but I eventually reached the rocks. I scrambled a brief 4th class section to the snow above, then belayed Andreas up on an ice ax anchor and broke trail to the top.

20210808_132931.jpgThe ice step

I knew there was no rock climbing above this point so clipped my rock rack to the anchor to retrieve on the descent. We broke trail a bit higher and soon reached the base of the serac ice climbing section. Unfortunately I’d only brought four ice screws and hoped it would be enough. 

I started kickng steps in the steep snow, then soon got to continuous ice. I got my first screw in there, then climbed up another 20ft for my second. The grade was WI 2/3 ice and it was very brittle since it was glacier ice. I made it up higher and the difficulty dropped as snow started mixing with the ice. I had to run it out a ways on steep snow before getting another screw in, then traversing hard left. By the time I ran out of rope I’d reached continuous snow and dug down to make a solid picket – ice ax anchor.

20210808_184333.jpgCamp 3 at 6600m above the ice step

I belayed Andreas up and the terrain looked much easier above us. Andreas broke trail up varied snice and powder terrain to around 6600m. It was apparent there was no level terrain anywhere, as Markus reported, so we stopped below a big serac to look for camp. I noticed the wind was generally out of the west, but that if we went to the side of the serac we could find some shelter. We ended up digging out a big platform in the leeward side of the serac and pitching our tent there. We went to bed early that evening in anticipation of a big summit push the next morning.

Aug 9

Based on our trailbreaking speed the previous few days we estimated a pace of about 100m elevation gain per hour. The wind was supposed to be lowest (15-20mph) in the morning increasing by late afternoon (30-40mph) and the temperature at the summit starting at -13F rising to around 0F by early afternoon. We decided to leave at 4am to reach the summit around noon to have a compromise of navigating mostly in the light and not too cold summit temperatures and not too strong winds.

We were up at 3am and soon moving under clear starry skies. I would end up leading the way most of the day on the ascent. I picked up a faint trace of the russians tracks going up the left side of the serac but it soon got into steep ice climbing terrain. So I backed down and found a lower angle route on the right side. The route still briefly required climbing with two tools but was short enough we didn’t bother pitching it out.

20210809_052146.jpgLooking back towards Khan Tengri

Above the ice the skies got brighter and we could see a very long but gradual snow slope above us. I broke trail slowly and meticulously, saving my energy in anticipation of many hours of that. I would sometimes sink to my shin and sometimes to my knee and it was quite tiring. There was no trace of the track from the russians.

I eventually hooked right around a serac and kicked steps left to a weakness in the s-shaped rock band at 7000m. There we easily crossed over to the left side and took a break. It had been five hours of challenging trail breaking to then with me in the lead the whole time.

Andreas took over as the slope steepened. We generally hugged the left side of the narrow rock band kicking steps steeply up the snow towards the summit ridge above. It was amazing getting a brief break but after 30 minutes I took over again. As we got higher the slope got steeper and I was comforted that the russians had tested its stability just a few days earlier.

20210809_090946.jpgCrossing over the rock band

At the steepest section we found traces of the russians tracks and followed those up. That steep section at 7200m was some of the most difficult trailbreaking I’ve ever done in my life. I was basically swimming uphill with no purchase on my feet. It didn’t help that I was totally worn out and there was hardly any oxygen in the air. 

When I finally crested a small ridge I found a small flag left by the russians and laid down to pant like a dog. It was surprisingly difficult to catch my breath but I eventually relaxed enough to get back up.

From there we could see tracks all the way to the summit ridge and the snow looked firm enough to require minimal trailbreaking. We could even see a small flag planted at the ridge. It looked like we were almost there! Andreas took over the lead and we decided to ditch our second ice tools there to save weight. We continued up toward the ridge, but after an hour I noticed the route was just a thin layer of snow on top of ice, with decent exposure below. The terrain sketched me out and I didn’t feel comfortable proceeding without pitching it out and climbing with two tools.

We regretted leaving our tools but we couldn’t proceed without them. We turned around to see if we could find a way around the ice patch but it appeared to span the whole face. The thought of bailing crossed my mind but there was still plenty of daylight left, so we decided to go get the tools and continue the route. We dropped back down, picked them up, and returned to the edge of the ice.

We’d lost two hours from that error but hoped we could still beat the wind. I put a screw in and clipped Andreas in, then he belayed me as I led up. I got two more screws in as I did a rising traverse, then I reached the end of the ice and hit continuous snow and snice. I belayed Andreas up on a picket ax anchor, then he led an easy section to a boulder and body belayed me up.

20210809_163021.jpgHiking to the east/true summit

Andreas then body belayed me up another rope length as I kicked steps up the steepening slope. Then I belayed him from an ice ax anchor as he crested the summit ridge at the flag. We soon both made the ridge at 4pm and luckily it wasn’t too windy. It was also still sunny and we were poised to tag the summit.

We had topped out at the col between the east and west summits and luckily we had had done our homework to know which one to tag. The east summit is the true summit. Most climbers on the normal route stop at the west summit simply because that’s the first one they hit and it is significantly farther to get to the east

summit. But the east summit is slightly higher and thus the true highest point in Kyrgyzstan, so we turned east. (We had read that famous mountaineer Denis Urubko made sure to go out his way to tag the true east summit after his Piolet D’or – winning climb of the dollar rod route on Pobeda in 2011.)

FHD0284.jpg

Andreas led the way staying clear of the cornices on the north side of the ridge. Luckily the snow was firm and travel fast. We were walking directly on the Kyrgyzstan-china border and I noticed the slope looked much gentler on the china side. But I’m sure it got more difficult lower. The ridge eventually got very narrow and rocky, and we passed what looked like a jumbled up old tent on a ledge.

By 4:45pm we crested the summit. It had been a tough morning and I immediately laid down. The skies were sunny, wind low, and views were amazing to china to the south and kygyzstan to the north. We could see basecamp way below on the south inylchek glacier. We quickly snapped a few pictures and videos. I had planned to send an inreach message and take out my sight level to measure the height difference between east and west summits, but it was just too cold to want to take my hands out of my mittens. We were also much later than hoped for and wanted to get down as soon as possible to beat the incoming wind and darkness.

20210809_163942.jpgHeading back

So after about 3 minutes we started down. We carefully followed our up tracks back to the place we’d gained the ridge. It was steep enough to warrant rappelling off the ridge but I didn’t really want to leave any gear. I already had plans to leave our pickets lower down for other rappel anchors. So I ended up belaying Andreas as he downclimbed, then he built an anchor and belayed me down. We inch wormed down this way, then simul downclimbed the ice section until we were back to snow.

Light was fading and clouds rolling in and we were happy to have our tracks to follow in the waning visibility. As a backup I had also recorded a GPS track on my watch in case our tracks got blown over. We quickly simul downclimbed the snow, reaching the rock band at sunset. By then we were engulfed in clouds and stuck in a whiteout. Unfortunately the wind had filled in our tracks below there with snow and navigation became difficult.

I was able to follow our rough route, verifying on my watch every few minutes that we were still on track. By the time we reached the ice section just above camp we finally needed to turn headlamps on. We each got our tools out and very carefully downclimbed the ice. It seemed more challenging this time and we probably should have rappelled it, but we were soon down and back to the tent by 9pm. We radioed Dima and he sounded relieved we were back at camp.

It was my turn to melt snow that night so I stayed outside another hour. I think we were both dehydrated that day and appreciated chugging a bunch of warm water.

Aug 10

The wind picked up significantly soon after we got to camp and didn’t relent all night. This made sleeping difficult. To save weight we had brought Andreas’s tent, which lacked a vestibule. But this meant to get any ventilation we needed to unzip the door. With all the wind , snow invariably blew in all night. The result was I got hardly any sleep.

Another consequence of the wind was snow was drifting up against the tent all night, and even on the slope above the tent. By 7am a small sluff released above the tent and slid into the side of the tent. It wasn’t dangerous, but I was still startled enough to immediately jump out of the tent and start digging it out with my bare hands. It was still extremely windy as I was digging and this would not have good long term consequences for my fingers.

With the continuing wind we didn’t feel safe staying where more snow could accumulate and slide. It would have been great to just ride out the storm in the tent, but we reluctantly started packing up. We then roped up and started looking for a new spot. Unfortunately there was zero shelter up there at 6600m. Behind the serac had been the only sheltered spot, but that likely contributed to the snow drifting there. We knew it would likely be sheltered lower below the ice pitch, so we started descending.

We made it to the top of the ice but then I noticed Andreas was missing a crampon! This had happened on Khan Tengri and I’d fashioned an extra strap to keep it on but it had fallen off again anyways. This was a big problem with so much ice to descend. We started back up to look for it but with so much deep snow we’d descended through we eventually decided it was futile. Andreas would just have to try to get down with one crampon. That meant I’d have to lead the way making good steps and setting good rappels on the icy sections.

At the top of the ice I found a V-thread anchor left by the russians and backed it up with a screw. I belayed Andreas down to the anchor, then I rappelled first. Luckily the doubled 60m rope was just barely long enough to get down to continuous snow. Andreas followed and we were soon roped back up descending the steep snow.

We descended through deeper snow, needing to break trail in many places. We soon reached the top of the rock step and I retrieved my stashed rock rack. I then rigged up another rappel at the slung horn and descended 30m down the steep snow slope. At the bottom I slung another horn as Andreas followed. From there we rapped over the rocks to a boulder sticking out of the snowfield. We then roped back up to downclimb the snow.

With all the wind overnight I was a bit concerned about shallow fresh windslab on the slope, though, so I looped the rope over a rock to belay Andreas. Indeed, once he got 10ft out he triggered the top 6″ of slab to slide off. He managed to jump out of the way and I also had him on belay so there was no real danger, but it was certainly startling. With the slope now stable we easily marched across.

At the bottom of the slope around 6100m we found a broad flat area far from any snow slopes and decided to pitch camp there. The weather was supposed to improve the next day and we thought it best to ride out the wind in the tent and save the big descent for better weather. We quickly got the tent up and started melting snow.

Once in the tent I realized I had been neglecting my hands all day and my fingers were all numb. I guess I had been so concerned with setting up good rappels quickly and making sure Andreas could get down safely with one crampon that I had just ignored my cold hands. I knew there was a risk of them getting cold again the next day, and refreezing is the worst thing you can do to cold hands. But leaving them cold all night seemed like a bad idea. So I stuck them in my arm pits to rewarm them and vowed to keep them warm the next day.

The wind picked up that afternoon and night and we had a lot of trouble keeping the stove going outside. I really wished we had a vestibule. As a result we probably didn’t make as much water as we should have. And, like before, snow was blowing into the tent all night through the small opening we needed for ventilation. As before, I got very little sleep that night.

The forecast was for dry weather the next day, but then storms rolling in the next day. We definitely wanted to make it the whole way back to basecamp Wednesday if possible.

Aug 11

By morning my hands were mostly warm though still a little numb. The morning was clear but cold and we got moving by 9am. Unfortunately I needed to lead to kick Andreas good steps, and needed to hold onto my cold ice ax since the terrain was very steep. I found it very difficult to keep my hands warm and for the most part they just got cold again. Unfortunately this would have bad consequences later.

20210811_111217.jpgBelow the rappel down the mega cornice

We downclimbed the steep cornices, vaguely seeing our old tracks sometimes but mostly I had to break trail again downhill. This was surprisingly difficult. We soon reached the mega cornice we’d need to rappel, and unfortunately couldn’t find any anchor from the russians. I suspect they rapped off a picket, but it had since been buried in new snow. So near the lip I built a picket – ax anchor, then rapped over the edge. Andreas then removed the ax and rapped off the picket, which we left there when we pulled the rope. I had my email written on it so maybe someday someone will return it to me (but not likely).

FHD0295.jpgDownclimbing the cornices (photo by Andreas)

We belayed each other down the rest of the snow slope in case of a slide, then I continued breaking trail down the ridge. We soon reached the top of the rock step, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a fixed rope there! I was prepared to leave a picket and sling a horn to make multiple rappels down, but apparently the russians had decided to leave a 60m rope there for all 6 of them to make a single full rappel.

We backed up the anchor with a picket and I went down first. Unfortunately the rope was about 5m too short, so at the bottom I had to detach myself and downclimb the final snow arete unprotected. But then I made an anchor and when Andreas reached the bottom I threw him the end of my rope and belayed him to safety.

20210811_130742-1.jpg

Downclimbing the last of the big cornices

From there I led the way across the final lower cornices. I tried to follow the vague hints of the russians tracks though mostly I couldn’t see them. As before it was a balance staying as far from the edge of the cornice as possible without getting on too steep of a snow section on the left. There were a few steep downclimbing sections but we eventually made it below the triangle at 5300m. We then breathed a huge sigh of relief because we were finally below the danger zone and could rest easy for the remainder of the descent.

Since it was no longer steep and didn’t warrant crampons I finally took a break from leading and let Andreas lead. It was then I realized how truly worn out I was. I think breaking trail 90% of the way on summit day had taken a lot out of me, and leading the way and breaking trail all of yesterday and all of today had zapped my remaining energy reserves. I really needed a break. It was great to have Andreas breaking trail down, but by then I was only moving half his speed at best.

We made slow progress down, by now following the visible tracks of the russians. By 4pm we reached the flat icy section of the Zvezdochka glacier at 4500m. We radioed Dima and he told us congratulations. He knew we were past the danger zone and now had a relatively easy walk back. Interestingly, the russians tracks seemed to simply disappear in the middle of the glacier. Unfortunately we later learned they had had an accident up on the cornices Aug 8 and a helicopter had to come evacuate them there lower on the glacier (see full account here https://explorersweb.com/2021/08/19/how-valentin-mikhailov-died-on-pobeda/).

I led the way on the ice weaving around crevasses until we met up with the normal route. It was pretty hard to stay on the route since most of the flags were missing, but I eventually found it and followed it back to the moraine. In the last few hundred feet I had to belay Andreas a few times on ice screw anchors so he could get through sections without a crampon, but we eventually got off the glacier.

We found our stashed hiking boots but someone had stolen Andreas’s stashed hiking pole! I’m not sure what would possess someone to do this. I suspect it is the same person who stole the crampons a hungarian team stashed nearby also.

We were soon changed into our hiking boots with our Olympus mons strapped to our pack and started hiking out. In general it was straightforward following the cairns out, but got more difficult when darkness set in. I was still moving extremely slowly, and I can never remember ever being that worn out from a mountain. Luckily Andreas was nice enough to slow down and hike with me. We actually got passed on the way by the Piolet D’or team coming back from stashing gear for topographers peak.

By 930pm we finally staggered back to camp and let Dima know we were back. Luckily the generator was still on and the cooks had saved some mushroom pasta and corn for us. Some of our friends – Paul and Felix – were still in the dinner tent, along with two new climbers Jon and Rob. They all congratulated us for our climb.

At dinner I finally dared take off my gloves to survey the damage to my hands. It was bad. Most of my fingers had blistered and they were all numb and tingly. I knew I had frostbite. I kicked myself for taking such bad care of myself. I’d been so focused at having efficient safe rappels and getting down quickly that I hadn’t bothered to take care of myself when I was doing so much cold ropework in my liner gloves. It had also been very cold and windy at high altitude, which certainly didn’t help.

Luckily everyone at the dinner table had experience with frosbite and gave me good advice what to do. Jon was nice enough to bring me to the basecamp doctor, who gave me some medicine and had me soak my hands in warm water. Then Paul, Rob, and Felix helped me bandage up my fingers to protect them. I talked to Dima and he said there was a helicopter the next morning we could get on so I could visit a hospital as soon as possible. We all went to bed soon after.

Aug 12

The next morning we had breakfast and Dima said we were officially the 13th and 14th summitters of Pobeda this season. (I think 6 russians did the abalakov route, then 3 Iranians and 3 ukrainians did the normal route before us).

Afterwards we hung out with Rob and Jon, who had just arrived to basecamp after guiding K2 and were waiting for a window to climb Pobeda via the normal route. Pobeda is Jon’s last snow leopard peak so I hope he makes it!

The helicopter came on schedule at 10am and we had a spectacular ride out to karkara, then shuttle back to Bishkek that night.

20210812_114621.jpg

Link to more pictures: http://www.countryhighpoints.com/peak-pobeda-kyrgyzstan-highpoint/

Gear Notes:
Rock rack to 1", four screws, two pickets, two tools, overnight gear

Approach Notes:
Helicopter to South Inylchek basecamp

Edited by Eric Gilbertson
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Sounds like quite the summer, would be great to hear about your other 7000m peaks too. I'm also curious how it was to setup logistics and what the cost of this sort of trip looks like?

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So amazing!!!  I'm glad you made it out OK, fingers doing well?

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1 hour ago, bedellympian said:

Sounds like quite the summer, would be great to hear about your other 7000m peaks too. I'm also curious how it was to setup logistics and what the cost of this sort of trip looks like?

Lenin was the first 7000er I did and it's a great acclimation peak. I would say it is similar to Rainier via Emmons but just everything shifted up about 9000ft. So you drive to 12,000ft and start the hike there up to 23000ft. The normal route is just standard glacier travel and it is quite popular (called the "easiest 7000er in the world"). But there is significant avalanche risk on the route. One avalanche ran 6000ft and completely wiped out a huge section of route between c1 and c2 just 5 hours before I passed through. It's a miracle it ran at 1am when nobody was there. But I watched two smaller avalanches near c2 whose debris just barely hit the route with people on it (unharmed luckily). Weather can be bad - I got delayed 4 days and one storm was windy enough to flatten my tent.

Khan Tengri was next and it's a very unique 7000er. The top 3000ft is a true rock pyramid on all sides. You generally helicopter in to the north or south side. I was on the south side. It's then a heavily crevassed glacier hike up to the summit pyramid. Then fixed lines the whole way up (though some are super sketchy, rock is 4th class with bits up to 5.7). It's actually very popular so trails are generally broken. I just about did it in a 24hr round trip from basecamp but had to bail at 6500m my first attempt when a storm came in. Got it next weather window though. 

For logistics I used ak sai. For about $400 you can get basic support for lenin which I recommend (shuttle to BC, horse carrying gear to c1, a few nights and meals at bc and c1, permits). For south Inylchek (BC for khan tengri and pobeda) it's around $2000 for full package which I'd say is worth it if you're going for both. That includes permits, shuttle from bishkek, helicopters, meals and tents. 

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1 hour ago, JasonG said:

So amazing!!!  I'm glad you made it out OK, fingers doing well?

Thanks! Doctor said fingers will likely make a full recovery over the coming months fortunately. 

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Posted (edited)

Great report! Krygyzstan is really an incredible place.

I think I speak for everyone here when I say the photos are impressive, and we'd love to see some from the other climbs and other lower down places.

Edited by Dylan Colon

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Thanks for the detailed answers. Two more queries if you don't mind... How was the rock you encountered? What elevation was freezing level during your trip (night vs day)?

Would also love to see more photos!

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On 8/21/2021 at 4:05 AM, Dylan Colon said:

Great report! Krygyzstan is really an incredible place.

I think I speak for everyone here when I say the photos are impressive, and we'd love to see some from the other climbs and other lower down places.

Thanks! I just put up a report for Khan Tengri with more pictures.  

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3 hours ago, bedellympian said:

Thanks for the detailed answers. Two more queries if you don't mind... How was the rock you encountered? What elevation was freezing level during your trip (night vs day)?

Would also love to see more photos!

The rock on the west ridge of Khan Tengri was some kind of crappy shale down low. Probably wouldn't hold a cam too well. But the upper 1000ft or so were better quality and solid. Surprisingly I hear the south ridge is higher quality, almost like marble. That's a pretty serious route that hasn't seen too many ascents. I took the west ridge.

On Pobeda the two short rock sections I encountered were surprisingly solid and held gear.

Freezing level often dropped to basecamp (4000m) at night. We had a handful of snowstorms down in camp. In the day it probably reached 5000m at the highest.  

I just posted some Khan Tengri pictures. 

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Wow!  I think this is the first time I have heard you write this: "Luckily Andreas was nice enough to slow down and hike with me."

Amazing trip!!!!

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Posted (edited)

Man, you get after it. Your winter ascents of the Bulgers, while just bumps on the map compared to your summer achievements, seem to have stood you in good stead. Congrats.

How many country high points to go?

Edited by rat

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9 hours ago, rat said:

Man, you get after it. Your winter ascents of the Bulgers, while just bumps on the map compared to your summer achievements, seem to have stood you in good stead. Congrats.

How many country high points to go?

Thanks! Yes I think winter Bulgers give excellent preparation for big peaks like this, with all the trail breaking, long approaches, challenging weather, mixed climbing, and other difficulties. 

I'm at 121 country highpoints so far, so 75 left to go (I consider 196 countries total). I would rank Pobeda as one of the five most difficult country highpoints in the world so it's a nice one to have finished. But there are still plenty of hard ones left. 

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