The trophy & the challenge
In the old Soviet Union times, one alpinist goal had a very high significance; to climb all Soviet peaks over 7000 meters. Those who managed to summit the five Central Asian giants could claim to be an elite mountaineer and take a place on the short list of high altitude climbers who had endured the ultimate test within the country's borders.
Also after the fall of the Soviet Union the Snow Leopard Trophy is of great significance and accomplished climbers from all over the world are attempting to ascend the five highest summits of "the Russian part" of Central Asia.
Three peaks are located in the Pamirs and two in the Tian Shan mountain range.
The names of the peaksA lot of things has happened in the former Soviet republics in Central Asia lately. The new regimes have gotten rid of many “communist related” names and whole cities and areas have been re-named. The Snow Leopard peaks as well as many other mountains in the area have also been given new names. Unfortunately, some of the peaks have been given more than one new name and there’s a lot of confusion what the new official names really are.
I have therefore choosen to use the old, well known names of all the peaks to avoid confusion.
For example; how many knows the peak Abu Ali Ibni Sino?
Or what about Jengish Chokusu?
The five peaks
| ||Pik Kommunizma – Pamir - Tajikistan – 7495m|
Reputation: A huge monster of a peak. The highest of them all in the old Soviet Union.
| ||Pik Pobeda – Tian Shan - China/Kyrgyzstan – 7439m|
Reputation: By far the hardest of the Snow Leopard Peaks. Considered a dangerous peak with bad weather.
| ||Pik Lenin – Pamir - Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan – 7134m|
Reputation: Arguably the easiest 7000m peak. A trekking peak with a high number of fatalities.
| ||Pik Korjenevskoy – Pamir - Tajikistan – 7105m|
Reputation: Basically, none. The unknown of the five.
| ||Khan Tengri – Tian Shan - Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan – 7010m*|
Reputation: A mountaineers mountain. Many technical routes and speed climbing competitions.
* - Some info about Khan Tengri’s elevation.
A brief on difficulty and costs
The difficulty of the peaks
No mountain over 7000 meters can be considered an easy climb.
Pik Lenin holds the title (in fierce competition with Muztagh Ata) of being the easiest peak of that altitude. Still it’s one of the peaks which has claimed most mountaineers lives and an attempt shold not be taken lightly.
Pik Kommunizma is and Pik Korzhenevskoj are both quite un-technical via their respective normal routes, but both are considered a bit unsafe in terms of avalanche danger.
Khan Tengri’s two most common ascent routes moderately technical. The easier one is very prone to avalanches and the other is more difficult, even if it’s safer.
The main problem for all Snow Leopard climbers is the fearsome Pik Pobeda, which is considered a very hard climb by all categories of climbers. Many aspiring Snow Leopards have made four out five, but have had to throw in the towel when taking on Pik Pobeda.
The cost - permits
Peak fees are low or non-existent in the Central Asian republics, so that part is not a big problem for any budget. A standard $100 for peaks is Tajikistan, plus a small nature preserve conservation fee is all. In Kyrgyzstan there’s no peak fees and only a border permit fee of $30. Climbing Pik Pobeda from China (only done once or twice) is a little more expensive. The permit is $1080 for a group up to 12 persons. In China the Pik Pobeda goes under the name Tomur Feng.
The cost – logistics
Pik Lenin is the only Snow Leopard which is cheap and easy to reach. $25 takes you from the last major town all the way to BC. To reach Pik Kommunizma and Pik Korzhenevskoj is another matter. Helicopters take you to the two peak’s shared BC and it’ll cost you at least $600 + local travel costs. You can walk to the peaks, but it’s a really tough option. Khan Tengri and Pik Pobeda can both be reached by walking. A 3-5 day trek on glaciers and moraines and you’re in BC. Most climbers use the helicopter option. At a minimum this is $400 one way.
Climbing Pik Pobeda from the Chinese side is at least $2000, but that’s on a group basis up to 12 persons.
For all the peaks travel costs within the area are not included above. There are usually two options; going with a rented minibus or jeep organized by an expedition company or going by local buses. The difference in price is large, but so is the convenience. Travelling with the local buses can be a nightmare and departure times are erratic.
Getting thereInternational flights serve the capitals of all the relevant countries. The best connections are unfotunately to the neighboring countries. Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Tashkent (Uzbekistan) are both easy to reach and to a slightly minor degree also Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). If you head for the two former destinations, remember you then also need visas for the respective country. Dushanbe (Tajikistan) can also be reached by air, but connections are not that good and tend to be more expensive.
For those who arrive overland from China, you have two options.
Torugurt Pass to Bishkek or Irkestam Pass directly to Pik Lenin.
More detaills about this on the Pik Lenin page.
Kyrgyzstan has dropped the visa requirement for many nationals and visas are available at the Manas international airport in Bishkek. Arriving overland, you still have to get a visa prior to arrival, but it’s easy to get from a Kyrgyz embassy.
Tajikistan requires visas by almost all nationals and it has to be picked up before arriving in the country. At some embassies a letter of introduction/recommendation is also necessary.
China visa procedures are nowadyas very straight forward and you can pick up a visa in a 1-3 days in any Chinese embassy.
A Kyrgyz border zone permit can be picked up by any travel agency in Osh or Bishkek.
A Tajik Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (province) permit is available in Dushanbe only. The ecological preservation fee also has to be paid for in the capital of Tajikistan.
When to climbThe peaks have been climbed off season, but it’s not common and not recommended. The conditions in the colder months can be extreme and the icy winds from Siberia, lots of snow makes any attempt a very hard venture.
The normal climbing period is from mid July to early September. You can start in June, but there’s usually a lot of snow and you can climb later in the season, but then count on cold weather and fall storms. Most people agree the best time is the first half of August.
Weather and mountain conditions
The central parts of the Pamirs, where Pik Lenin is located usually has quite stable weather patterns. Same goes for the area around Pik Kommunizma and Pik Korzhenevskoj. During the normal climbing period a normal day usually tends to be like;
Clear morning. No wind. Some clouds appearing at noon and during the afternoon the cloud cover gets thicker. The wind usually picks up during the day. Many times the sky gets clear again just before sunset.
If there’s bad weather coming in, you usually gets quite a lot of warning. Thunder clouds builds up and gets darker and larger. Sometimes this build up can take days before it really hits, but be careful; when the thunder or/and snow storm arrives in this area, it’s usually with ferocious power and it can certainly strike in a matter of half an hour as well.
In the Tian Shan where you find Pik Pobeda and Khan Tengri, the weather is infamous for being unstable and unpredictable. On the eastern side of the peaks the Taklamakan sand desert is close by, so the temperature differences can be huge. The peaks are the most northernmost 7000m peaks and possibly the coldest on earth in this category. Sandstorms from the desert can hit the mountains with very little prior warning and incredibly strong thunderstorms are common, even during the normal climbing season.
Snow LeopardsIf you've climbed all the five peaks, please let me know and I'll add you to the Summitpost list of Snow Leopards!
I know of only one Summitposter who has climbed them all:
Two Summitposters have made it to two of the summits:
At all the base camps there are "season-permanent" tents for rent. You can pre-book it or you can rent a place in a BC tent upon arrival. The cost is usually $2.
General camping on the routes or on the walk-ins are free and there are no restrictions.
Beware of theft from the tents in the Pik Lenin area!
The Snow Leopards are all high and serious peaks. Some organizors try to convince you “it’s only a high altitude trek” and in some ways some of the peaks are, but they are still very high and have a clear and present potential to kill you unless you’re properly equipped.
Here’s a very basic list of what I consider important.
This list is far from complete, but if you’re serious about going to any of these peaks, you should be able to put the rest of the list together yourself.
There are plenty of gear shops in Bishkek and Almaty where you can find everything you need for any kind of mountaineering. For rent and for sale. At the base camps a limited amount of gear can sometimes be rent, but don’t count on it.
RoutesSP member Vladimir Kopylov has made some good sketches of the routes on the peaks.
There are good mountaineering maps for sale in Bishkek. Many top end book shops have or can order maps for at least the Pik Lenin area.
LiteratureKopylov has written a book called Forbidden Mountains - The most beautiful Mountains of Russia and Central Asia.
A close to complete list of books that includes Pik Lenin.
There are quite a lot of organizers who can set up an expedition to any of the Snow Leopard peaks. The list can be made very long, but I’ll only mention two which I have positive personal experiences with.
A normal package includes visa invitation/support, all internal travel arrangements including airport transfers, BC food, permits, hotel stays, food to and from the peaks and medical services in BC.
Address: 65, Sovetskaya str., 720005 Bishkek, Kyrghyz Republik
Phone:996 /312/ 54 42 77
Fax: 996 /312/ 54 42 19
ITC Asia Mountains
1a., Lineinaja Str.
720021 Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Phone: +996 312 69 02 35
Fax: +996 312 69 02 36
ProvisionsAll major cities have large super markets where you can find any kind of food you may need in the mountains. If you want freeze dried and special mountaineering food, it can be hard to find.
Gas canisters are readily available in the gear shops in the capitals and to a much higher price in the base camps.
Money matters[img:35393:alignleft:small:Pamir avalanche]
It’s easy to exchange money in the area. You can do it in the banks, in exchange offices or “on the street”. The rates are about the same everywhere, but ask about the commission as it can vary a lot. Big notes gives much better rates than smaller. Us dollar bills older than year 2000 is not very popular and can sometimes be hard to change.
Euros are gaining in popularity and sometimes you’re asked to pay in Euro instead of dollars.
ATMs are plenty in the big cities and they work well, but forget about this option in any smaller place.
Traveller's cheques are complicated to exchange.
First, most etc1961 – First snow leopard – Evgeny Ivanov
1966 – First climbers to summit all 5x7000ers – Kirill Kuzmin and Valentin Bozhukov
1970 – First woman – Ludmila Agranovskaya
1972 – First married couple together – Valery Bezzubkin and Rozalia Bezzubkina
1978 – First to end the program twice – Boris Studenin
1985 – First westerners – William Garner and Randall Starrett II (USA)
1985 – First brothers together – Serguey Bogomolov and Gennady Bogomolov
1986 – Youngest snow leopard (22 years old) – Andrey Tselishev
1988 – First woman to end the program twice – Elvira Nasonova
1991 – First snow leopards in one season – Malik Ismetov, Serguey Gritsuk, Valery Khrishchaty and Vladimir Suviga
1991 – Woman with most snow leopard titles (3) – Elvira Nasonova
1997 – First western woman – Brigitte Meloni (FRA)
1997 – Oldest snow leopard (58 years) – Lev Sarkisov
1999 – Speed record (42 days) – Denis Urubko and Andrey Molotov
2004 – Man with most snow leopard titles (9) – Boris Korshunov
Source: Rodrigo Granzotto Peron, Vladimir Shataev and "Dasha".
Some historyThe genesis of the program dates from 1956, when Ratzik suggested it. Khan Tengri was not part before 1984, then only considered 6995 meters high. From 1985 to 1989 Pik Pobeda was also out, due to border disputes with China. From 1990 the program stabilized with all 5x7000ers.
To date there are 552 snow leopards, 23 of them repeaters. Record-holder is Russian legend Boris Korshunov, with 9 titles in all.
Other great collectors are Nikolay Totmjanin (5x), Serguey Bogomolov (4x) and Valery Khrishchaty (4x).
The large majority of Snow Leopards are from Russia or countries part of the former Soviet Union (Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Estonia and so forth). Western countries with Snow Leopards are Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Iran, Japan, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey and United States (there are no Snow Leopards yet from South America, Africa or Oceania).
Source: Rodrigo Granzotto Peron
Vladimir Shataev & The list of all Snow Leopards!Vladimir Shataev (1937) – summits on Annapurna South, 1994; Everest, 1995; and Pharilapcha, 2003 – was former head of the Mountaineering Federation in USSR and secretary of the Mountaineering Federation of Russia.
These days, he is head of the Euro-Asian Mountaineering Association.
A Snow Leopard himself, Shataev collected data over the years, compiled the table with all climbers who completed the program and is still in charge of the certificate granting.
A first version of the table was translated to English by Elena Laletina, and published on RussianClimb in 2004. A more complete Shataev´s table, updated to 2009, with additions and corrections by Rodrigo Granzotto Peron and Elena Laletina, is now available on RussianClimb.
Source: Rodrigo Granzotto Peron