OverviewThe Progrebietsky Route climbs Khan Tengri from the Southern Inylchek Glacier, which flows to the south of the mountain. This route is the easiest ascent of the mountain and consequently the most popular. The more technical climbing is higher up the mountain but there should be fixed rope for these sections. The climb shouldn't be underestimated and isn't a 'snow plod'. Khan Tengri is a serious mountain to climb due to potentially lethal weather conditions and it is probably not the best choice of mountain to start your high Asian climbing on. It’s also not a mountain to be under equipped with warm clothes else you risk frostbite.
There is also a section exposed to cornice avalanche but this does not stop people climbing this beautiful mountain.
The climb offer good variety and also provides some great vistas, in particular of Pik Pobeda a short distance to the north. The window for climbing this is relatively short between mid-July and the end of September and bad weather is not uncommon even during this time.
From the commercial base camps it is a few hours trek east along the South Inylchek Glacier to camp 1 (4000m) at the base of Khan Tengri. It’s initially easier to follow the moraine that extends east from the base camps then cut on to the glacier at approximately the halfway point and head directly for the mountain to the north-east. The glacier is broken up by a number of deep glacial streams that require a snow bridge to cross.
Camp 1 has a small strip of moraine where climbers pitch their tents. Water runs nearby but this tends to reduce to a trickle by the morning so it’s prudent to fill bottle the evening before climbing.
The lower slopes of the Southern Route are a gentle incline of around 30° but there are some big crevasses. These are usually marked with pink wands making navigation easier.
The route swings to the left hand side of the glacier beneath the neighbouring Pik Chapaeva where there is usually avalanche debris to cross. After approximately 900m of climbing above Camp 1 the glacier becomes significantly broken by gigantic crevasses and the route is forced to the far left edge of the glacier beneath the huge cornices of Chapaeva. These regularly collapse on the route below so it pays to move quickly through this section and keep an eye on the roof above. This is by far the most exposed section of the whole climb and lasts around 300m. We made the mistake of camping immediately before the broken crevasse section feeling it was too dangerous to climb directly beneath the cornices so late in the morning. Two days later while descending we were avalanched at the very same spot proving our ‘safe’ spot wasn’t so safe to camp after all! We also found a half buried walking pole here suggesting that we may not have been the first. Because sections of the cornice regularly break off, avalanches are not usually big enough to be too threatening but every so often a bigger one will collapse and there have been fatalities at this spot over the years and as recent as 2004. To limit the risk it pays to take a few simple precautions:
• Start climbing early (although it will be cold). Many climbers start around 6 or 7am which doesn’t really allow enough time before the sun starts to soften the snow on Chapaeva.
• Don’t climb if there has been significant snow the night before. This might sound obvious but most climbers do climb regardless but my advice is not to temp fate.
• Acclimatising on another peak nearby may be prudent to reduce the number of times that you have to pass through this section.
• Finally, move quickly!
Once above the vulnerable section the route broadens out on to snow slopes that extend all the way to the col. This section would make for a lovely ski descent although the pitch is only around 30°. Camping is possible anywhere between here and the col as objective danger is minimal assuming snow pack is consolidated. Camp 2 is located directly above the broken crevasse section at 5200m. Above camp 2 there are hardly any crevasses during this part of the climb but going can be difficult if the snow is deep.
Below the saddle (5900m) ice caves can be made. There may be vacant caves or you have to dig a fresh one. Tents can be pitched either below the saddle near the ice caves or on the saddle itself. Most people who approach from the south stay in the vicinity of the caves as it is more sheltered than the saddle which is exposed to the wind from the north. It will be warmer to sleep in a snow cave than in a tent believe it or not!
Nearly everybody makes their summit push from Camp 3. Camp 4 is located at 6300m. Few people use this spot as lugging a pack up this far over difficult ground won’t be much fun and a poor night’s sleep due to the additional altitude is likely to remove any advantage gained from starting at a higher point. This is generally used as the last toilet which is a particularly good reason not to camp here! It's also an exposed, windy spot with a shear drop down on the Kazakh side.
Immediately above the caves at 5900m there is a steep section (20m, c60°) of fixed rope to climb to the saddle. From here it is a short traverse/climb to where the west ridge begins and the fixed rope starts. The West ridge makes for great varied, mixed climbing. Gradient is generally 40-45°. The crux pitch is a short rock wall around 6700m that is probably around a UK 5a and not too difficult with fixed rope to haul up on. Above this stretches a snow field that will be problematic in poor snow conditions.
Rope is fixed on the West Ridge yearly between 5900m and 6800m. Look for the brightest, newest looking rope as rope from previous years will be unsafe to load having been exposed to the elements through the winter. Sometimes there are bottlenecks on fixed rope sections but this isn’t Ama Dablam and usually only a handful of climbers head for the summit each day. The climb is over 1000m and the fixed rope will make progress slower if in a big group. It’s worth staggering your start times with other groups climbing the same day as this will give all of you a better chance of summiting.
The West Ridge is a bad place to be in bad weather (for which I speak from personal experience!) and it is vital that a sensible turn around time is adhered to. It's also vital that you are suitably equipped with warm clothes.
Essential GearKhan Tengri is cold! You need warm clothes for this mountain, which is considerably colder than peaks of a similar height in the Himalaya for example. I climbed the West ridge wearing my down jacket for the entirety in addition to four other layers. Some people have even worn down pants. Equipment-wise little is needed due to there being fixed rope on the West Ridge. This is a brief run down of what I consider to be key essentials:
• Plastic boots are strongly recommended if you like having ten toes. Many people climb in Everest-style gaiter boots
• One set of warm gauntlets and one set of warm mittens if you like your finger and thumbs
• A warm down jacket, Goretex outer jacket, middle layer and base layer plus another layer for good measure
• Jumar-style ascender with hand grip
• Descending device - Figure of 8s are best in my experience for fixed ropes as they are quick and easy to attach to frozen rope and smooth to descend on. Belay plates on the other hand are a bad choice. Prussics are recommended
• Walking axe – Probably the best choice for this route, even on the West Ridge where climbing is slightly more technical.
• Reliable crampons
• Walking poles – Blessing for the long snow slopes between camp 1 and 3. Also handy for locating crevasses and testing snow bridge strength.
• Snow Shovel – Unless you want to spend 5 hours digging a snow cave with the ad of your axe bring a lightweight shovel!
• Tent – A well acclimatised party will be able to climb from camp 1 to 3 in a single day meaning that it may be feasible to leave a tent at camp 1 and use only a snow cave on route to the summit. Else bring a tent for camp 2 at least.
• 4 season Down Sleeping Bag
• One Ice Screw per person for crevasse rescue
• Rope for moving together between camp 1 and 3.
• Screw gate karabiners for crevasse rescue and as a back-up descender
• Radio receiver – These are provided by the base camps. I wouldn’t normally use one but with a number of teams usually on the mountain at the same time they are often useful for finding out conditions elsewhere on the mountain and for sounding the alarm if someone is injured. Often there will be other people in vague reach that will be able to respond.
• Glacier Glasses