Pik Lenin is the third highest peak in the former Soviet Union and is considered to be one of the easiest mountains over 7000m. Because of this fact it has become one of the most popular peaks in the world and annually recieve hundreds of climbers from all over the world.
Famous for its Soviet era summit artifacts and infamous for its bad and unpredictable weather. The former consisted of a head of Lenin, some small statues of Communist leaders, a triangular metal cone of the same type you can still find on the eastern summit of Elbrus.
Unfortunately, most of those cool monuments of past times got stolen some years back.
Pik Lenin is a border mountain between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, but ascents from the Tajik side are very uncommon. Easier access and easier routes are the main practical reasons why a vast majority choose the Kyrgyz side. The fact that Tajikistan had one of history's most brutal civil wars some years back and still has a very bad reputation of being a dangerous place is another factor.
Additional reasons for the peak's popularity is the hospitable surroundings. The green, lush meadows and relative warmth at base camp, makes a big difference compared to equivalents in the area. Many climbers also come back with fond memories of having "camped with nomads" and great horse-back rides on the grasslands. The nomadic culture on the pastures of Kyrgyzstan is still very much alive.
A very popular peak
Looking at climbing history and number of ascents, Pik Lenin is by far the 7000m peak which has recieved most ascents.
The only contender of being the most popular 7000m mountain is Muztagh Ata. The Chinese peak has even easier access, is higher and also considered less dangerous than Pik Lenin. The last couple of years it has had even more visitors than its Kyrgyz neighbour, but since the requirement of peak fees were dropped in Kyrgyzstan and Muztagh Ata for some seasons was under control of an investment company (which charged high fees) Pik Lenin is now back in first place as the most popular 7000m mountain.
The peak has seen a lot of things going on over the years. A tragic accident where almost 50 persons lost their lives, a world record try in high altitude mountain bike riding, to mention some. Every year climbers from both ends of the extremes come to Pik Lenin - complete novices who have never set foot on a mountain before and the extreme elite like Shamalo, who described the climb as "stealing candy from a baby".
The official grade is 5A Russian grade.
As the Russian grading system takes altitude into account, the mountain's normal route has the same grade as a really technical climb. So, a 5A may sound very scary to some mountaineers, but the route is straightforward and mostly non-tech. Exposed stretches on ridges, avalanche danger, some easy glacier travel and most important, the high altitude and the weather are the main concerns on Pik Lenin.
The mountain is one of the five summits included in the Snow Leopard Trophy.
The name of the mountain
Pik Lenin has like many of the other Soviet era peaks officially been renamed. The problem in this case is; it has gotten many new names.
Some says Peak Kaufman is the new official name. It was also the original name before it was called Pik Lenin.
The Kyrgyz authorities claims the new name is Pik Sary Tash and the Tajik president's official site declares the official name is Abu Ali ibni Sino (Avicenna).
Pik Lenin in the center of the picture. All the different approach routes to the mountain shown. Places or mountains mentioned in the below text in this section marked with red boxes.
The by far most common way to arrive in Kyrgyzstan is by air and a large majority land at Bishkek's Manas international airport. Tashkent in Uzbekistan and Dushanbe in Tajikistan also have airports with international connections. All these cities have companies or agencies which can arrange the red tape, transport etc.
Bishkek is well served by railway and the prices arriving from capital cities in Europe, usually via Moscow are very low, but travel times are long and quite complicated visa regulations in Russia makes you think twice if it's worth the extra hassle.
For last minut shopping for provisions or gear, Osh is the only city of any size close to Pik Lenin. Count on 6-8 hours travel(230km) in between Osh and BC.
Flying to Central Asia
The cheapest alternative is usually Pulkovo Airlines, which serves Bishkek, Almaty, Tashkent, Dushanbe and Samarkand. Usually you have to overnight in St. Petersburg. Transfer hotel is paid by Pulkovo.
Some years back Aeroflot was the given alternative, but nowadays their prices are not as good as for example Pulkovo.
Icebat.eu adds (April 2015):
"It is now possible to fly directly to Osh. Most flight search engines do not detect this connection. Turkish Airlines offer flights from their Istambul hub.
Though 3 Italians on my flight lost their luggage - I have no information how it was resolved.
Regarding agencies - I used Ak-Sai in August 2014 - sometimes difficult to communicate in English in camps but otherwise good service".
Hautecima adds (July 2015)
"Pegasus Airlines (www.flypgs.com) offer flights from Istanbul(Sabiha Gökcen), Dushanbe, Delhi and several Russian airports to Osh.
Furthermore they offer flghts between Bishkek and Osh.
Their fares are mostly very interesting."
Getting There - From Kyrgyzstan
There are two main routes from Bishkek to Pik Lenin.
Via Toktogul and via Naryn.
Regardless of which route you choose, there are some high passes along the way and minor high altitude symptoms may occur.
National Highway 41 takes you first over the Töö-Ashuu Pass (3586m) to Toktogul which is roughly 300km from Bishkek. Beautiful mountainous scenery and pasturelands along the way. The next leg is a long gradual downhill to Osh via Jalalabad. Roughly 330km. Osh have one of Central Asia's largest markets and can be a nice place for a stop-over.
The leg to Sary-Tash is a scenic experience amongst a mix of green pasture lands, karst areas, high passes and finally the first views of the High Pamirs. Road conditions can in places be pretty rough and two switch-back passes have to be negotiated.
The ride from Sary-Tash is mostly over the huge grassy valley of Alau before it finally climbs up towards BC on a rough road.
A very busy stretch of industrial wastelands takes you east to the foothills of a small range and further to the shores of Ysyk Köl Lake. The 3000m Dolon pass give you great views of the lush countryside and probably it's here you first see nomads. After Naryn (360m out of Bishkek) the road condition deteriorates step by step and after Kazarman (560km from Bishkek) the rough climb up the steep 3100m Kaldama Pass can be a taxing and bone-shattering experience. The rest of the way to the lowlands and Jalalabad is an easy ride on many dozens of switchbacks. The rest of the way to Pik Lenin is the same as the above route via Toktogul.
Getting There - From Tajikistan, Pamir Highway
Get a "Gorno Badakshan O.A. Permit" in Dushanbe. There is no public transport that goes all the way and a combination of mini-bus rides is the most common way of travelling. If you charter a vehicle for your group, be sure the driver knows the area. The Pamir Highway was long considered the most dangerous road in the world, but lately the situation has improved and there should be no danger travelling it nowadays.
After the first high pass (Khaburabot 3252m) the road drops into the beautiful Kalaikhum Valley. The road mostly follow the border river Pandzh and on the other side you can see the rugged landscape of Afghanistan. 550km out of Dushanbe you arrive in Khorog, the only city of any size before Murghab which is another 320km away. If you climb some hills after Khorog, you may be able too see the extremely spectacular peaks in the Shakhdarinskiy Range. Pik Karla Marksa and Pik Engels are the most prominent. Be sure you are acclimatized before leaving Khorog as the road will stay on a high altitude for a long time ahead.
Murghab is a small Kyrgyz settlement with a few hotels and when continuing north the highest pass en route is encountered. Ak-Baytal at 4655m give you great views of lots of high surrounding peaks.
You'll pass the deep blue Kara Kul Lake and this is the place from where you get your first glimpses of the Pik Lenin Massif. The border pass (Kyzyl Art) takes you down to the Alau Valley and Pik Lenin BC is less than an hour away.
Getting There - From Tajikistan via Garm and Alau Valleys/A372
A much more direct route from Dushanbe to Pik Lenin is to travel via Dzhirgatal. You avoid the mountainous parts of Tajikistan and travel most of the way in valleys. The only negative aspect with this route is the local uprisings and ungoing blood feuds which have plagued the area since the dawn of time. Also here the situation has improved a lot lately and the road is now considered safe.
After 160km, just after Komsomolabad, you leave M41 and head for Dzhirgatal which is 140km away on A372. You cross the border to Kyrygzstan another 80-85 km away. You are now in the wide and open Alau Valley and the rest of the way to the turn-off to Pik Lenin BC is a beautiful, but bumpy ride.
Getting There - From Uzbekistan
The road from Tashkent to Qoqand/Kokand is mostly in good condition and there are lots of bus, mini-bus and shared-taxi alternatives. There are small border crossing at various places along the way east, but in order to avoid hassles with confused border guards who see a foreigner for the first time, aim for the main crossing at Andijan/Osh. Even this border crossing can be taxing as the Uzbek immigration (also the Kyrgyz, but to a muss lesser degree) sometimes really fish for "Schtraff". Schtraff - translation: Pocket money, fine, bribe, gift, penalty, give me your money, give me your gear etc.
As long as you know you have all documents in order, stand your ground and be adamant but polite.
The route is 400km easy ride to Osh.
Getting There - From China
There are two options:
From Kashgar/Kashi via Torugurt Pass or Irkestam Pass.
This option have some hassles attached. The road is going through a sensitive military zone on the Chinese side and special transport has to be arranged. This can be very expensive if talking to the "wrong" people.
A reliable contact in Kashgar (Xinjiang, China) is Steve Larson in the Caravan Café. It's located next door to the Chinibagh Hotel. Steve and his partners run a little tourist company and can help you with all the arrangements for the Torugurt crossing.
Asian Explorations is also run by the same people.
Usually, you pay for a trip all the way to Bishkek and with an overnight stay in Naryn. If you want to go straight to Pik Lenin and get the permits in Osh, make sure the travel agent knows about this before departure.
This pass was closed until year 2000, but now it's completely hassle-free.
If shooting for the Irkestam option, be sure you have bought everything you need before leaving Kashgar as you will not pass any settlements of size before arriving in Pik Lenin BC.
Transport to BC
Any of the below mentioned organizers can arrange the transport.
From Osh to BC it's about $25 and so is the pick-up service cost from Irkestam Pass/China border.
When To Climb & Weather Conditions
The mountain is climbed during all seasons. The highest temperature and best snow conditions is from early July to mid August. The latter month is supposed to hold the most stabile weather.
The area gets frigidly cold in the winter, even though it's not as bad as at the Pik Pobeda area, which holds many records in the extreme climate criteria.
The spring is beautiful and extremely green and even if the weather in general is quite good, sudden violent storms hits the peak. More important though, is the deep snow which make attempts very hard and the avalanche danger is generally higher. Melt off from the glaciers and snow fields also makes access hard.
In the main climbing season the weather is usually quite stable and until you reach 5000m it can be really hot.
In the end of August storms appear with higher frequency, it fast gets colder and the first autumn snowfalls hide dangerous crevasses and makes progress on the peak harder.
During the normal climbing season there are always guides, tour operators and expert climbers who knows the area's weather patterns very well. This is by far the best source of information as the local weather forecast station is located a bit too far off to take local weather of the peak into account. On the other hand, the forecast is good to have as base information and for planning for days ahead. The local advice you use for the daily plan.
A very experienced Tajik climber I met, told me the old sailor's rule could be applied very well in the Pik Lenin area.
"Red sky in the morning sailors take warning, red sky at night sailors delight ".
The whole range attracts clouds and many times it's overcast. This does not has to mean the conditions are too bad for climbing. Many times you can climb the peak even if cloudy, but you'll miss the great views from the summit.
To enter Kyrgyzstan you need a visa. Make contact with your local Kyrgyz Embassy and talk to them about the latest visa requirements which have changed from time to time the last couple of years.
Nowadays many nationals (including the EU and many other "western" country's nationals) can get a visa upon arrival in Bishkek Manas International Airport. Be sure you're from one of the privileged countries, or you will be barred from entering the country and put on the next flight back home again.
Application form (UK)
Some nationals need a visa support letter or letter of invitation. This invitation has be made by a governmentally aknowledged company in Kyrgyzstan. Most travel agencies in Kyrgyzstan can arrange the invitation.
Ak Sai is one of them.
The country have very few embassies and the visa requirements varies a lot from place to place. I applied in the Ankara embassy, Turkey. In 2 minutes I had the visa in my passport and had $80 less in my pocket. Usually this visa is easy to get, but quie expensive.
Call one of the Tajik Embassies for more info.
There are NO CLIMBING OR TREKKING permits in Kyrgyzstan since the beginning of season 2003. The situation can be changed for next year, but now you do not have to pay any money for climbs or treks!
You still need the a border zone permit which is $20.
The easiest way to get the permit is to go via a travel agency or expedition company in Bishkek or Osh.
I was never asked for this permit, but if you don't have it, the risk of being sent back is large.
I have not heard of any change in Tajikistan, i.e. the permit fee is still $100/peak and some new and ever-chaging rules about the need for a nature conservation fee applies. The fee is a few US Dollars a day.
In Tajikistan, try to get hold of Mr. Wladimir Razykov, who can be contacted in any of the top end hotels in Dushanbe. Just ask for "Alpinist-Wladimir" and the person you ask will know.
The only way to reach Pik Lenin from central Tajikistan is to travel on the Pamir Highway and for this you need an additional permit. You'll get in the ministry of interior and it's free, or $20, again depending on whom you talk to. Be sure it's written Gorno Badakhshan A. O. on it.
The following agencies have been around for a long time and are supposed to be some of the more reliable. They can help out with everything from support letters/invitations before take-off to transport, BC-services and guides on the mountain.
Sergei Dudashvili (director)
1, Lineinaja Str., 720021, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Tel.: +996 312 694075; +996 312 694073
Fax.: +996 312 694074
65, Sovetskaya str
Phone: 996 /312/ 54 42 77
Fax: 996 /312/ 54 42 19
Asia Travel Group
97, Chilanzarskaya str., 700115, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Tel.: (+ 998 71) 173 51 07; 173 26 55; 277 27 31
Fax: (+ 998 71) 173 15 44
6/1 Vorontsovskaya Str., 109004, Moscow, Russia
Tel.: + 7 (095) 911 77 32; 911 77 73
Fax: + 7 (095) 911 77 73
Tour Asia Travel Agency
Vadim Khaibullin (director)
Radostovtsa str., 359
050060, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Tel +7 3272 497936
Tel/fax +7 3272 482573
The Base Camps
The Base Camps
The normal BC is called Pamir Base Camp or Camp Achik-Tash and is located at 3500 m. It's in nice settings and one of few BC's for 7000m peaks which are on grass, in quite warm surroundings. There are camps higher up in the valley on the so called Onion Field at 3800m. If arriving on a sunny and calm day the atmosphere can be deceptively harmless, but pin down your tent properly as sudden strong gusts occurs now and then.
There are many small rivers close to the camps. The water is clear, but you better boil or treat it in some other way before drinking it as there are plenty of life stock in the valley.
A bumpy road leads to the Onion field camps and if you don't want to walk, it's easy to get a ride with a jeep. If going with the local nomads; always ask if you have to pay for the ride! I met one climber who had been charged $100 for the 20 min ride.
The different expedition organizers have their own camps in the area. If you are not a part of a pre-arranged expedition and arrived in the area on your own, you can camp in any of the company's BCs for a small fee. You can also eat in their dining tents for a set fee and if you do so, you're usually allowed to camp for free on their grounds if you use your own tent. Most companies charge 2 Euros/night for a night in their spacious two men tents.
Most companies offer satellite phone calls, but they tend to be quite expensive.
Gear storage is available for free for expedition members and for a small fee for those climbing alone.
You are allowed to camp anywhere in the area.
Base Camp Safety
Many stories about thefts in the BCs are in circulation. If you camp alone, away from the organized camps; never, ever leave your tent unattended. If staying in the camps, try to camp close to the dining tent of the administrative center. If you have any valuables you want to leave while higher on the peak, ask the camp boss to take care of it.
Unfortunately there are some shady individuals lurking around looking for "free stuff".
I do not know situation this year, but I had similar experiences in 1999-2001, when we had visited this area. I agree that majority of thefts are made by local youngsters, but no all as adults had to take part in too. In our groups, exposed films, chocolate, caps, etc. had been stolen.
Here's a Warning I found on a page about Pik Lenin.
The Disasters of Pik Lenin
The 13'th of July 1990, an earthquake triggered an avalanche that wiped out Camp II on the Normal (Razdelnaya) route. In total, 43 climbers out of a 45 die. This is still the the worst accident in mountaineering history.
Another very sad episode in the mountain's history is from 1974 when a Soviet all female team was trapped high on the peak in bad weather.
A Snow Leopard MountainWithin the borders of the old Soviet Union, there are five mountains measuring over 7000m. They are all located in Central Asia. If you climb all of them, you get the title Snow Leopard, which is considered an indicator you're a top rank climber. For many Russian alpinists the completion of the snow leopard peaks is an important goal.
The five Snow Leopard mountains are:
The last couple of years there has been a controversy about the height of Khan Tengri. The mountain is most likely lower than 7000m, but qualifications for earning the Snow Leopard title will probably always stay the same.
A page dedicated to the Snow Leopards
The really ambitious alpinists try to climb all the five peaks in one year and believe it or not, there are expedition companies which offers a package where all five peaks are included in the deal. Asia Mountains is one of the more well known organizers.
The colorful PamirMany mountain areas are dry, barren and without much vegetation and color. Some parts of the Pamirs are extremely rich in colors.
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BooksKopylov 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.
Gear - A brief
Any person attempting a mountain like Pik Lenin should of course have enough experience to put a suitable gear kit together. The reason I include this section is because I saw so many people bringing (my opinion) so much unsuitable gear.
As said above; this is not a technical peak and consequently very little technical mountaineering gear is needed.
* You can even do without crampons or axe, or even both. Some climbers do and make it to the summit, but then you're really playing high.
Nice to have
Clothing, camping gear etc.
Pik Lenin is infamous for its bad weather and don't take that fact lightly. You're very exposed on the higher reaches and the winds can be ferocious. Frost bite is lurking behind the corner and bring the best gear you can afford. I heard idiotic comments like; The weather should be good now, it's peak season and I've climbed many peaks in these boots (sturdy leather boots) and I think they'll do here as well. Man, it's summertime!. Right.
I saw quite a lot of frost bite on fingers, toes and faces. At least three parties had to give up because of messed up tents, which were light weight, but not strong enough.
If you go with a non-gas stove, be sure to check out the quality of the kerosene, gasoline or diesel. Sometimes the bad quality doesn't show until you're on high altitude. If you're not very sure about the quality, buy fuel in a couple of different places so you don't bet all on one card.
Gas canisters can be bought in BC for a high price.
Tomasz Swinarski comes from Kraków in Poland.
He is now working in London, where he was interviewed by Ivan Viehoff. Tomasz Swinarski believes that he may have ridden a bicycle at a higher altitude than anyone else. And first he had to take the bicycle there, entirely under his own power.
What is amazing is that this was not a feat born of experience, but rather of determination and ambition.
Tomasz is a strong all-round adventure sportsman. He took up mountain triathlon, a racing discipline involving mountain-bike, rock-climbing and white-water kayaking. He gained his enthusiasm for off-road cycling on the steep tracks of his native southern Poland. Here the hills and woods, although only foothills to the jagged Tatra along the Slovak border, are ideal mountain bike terrain. He tasted the pleasures of wilderness in a couple of exciting expeditions. He went awol from a white water expedition in Rwanda and Kenya to climb Kilimanjaro. Scarcity of funds pushed him to do this by the back door, with neither a Tanzanian visa nor a trekking permit. Later he climbed Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus. The truth is that Elbrus and Kilimanjaro are trekking peaks. Elbrus calls for ice axe and crampons, but nothing too technical. In this context, we can see the risk in Tomasz's next idea.
On the way up.
He wanted to cycle down from a really high mountain, higher than he had ever been. He had to wait three years for the chance to arrive. The opportunity came when friends asked him whether he might be interested in climbing Pik Lenin in the Pamirs. Indeed he was, but he wished to take his bike with him. I remain astonished that the invitation was not withdrawn. Amazingly he managed to get sponsorship for all his equipment, both for mountaineering and cycling. Ten years ago one could describe Pik Lenin as the third highest mountain in the Soviet Union. Today it lies on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, new states of central Asia. It is a mountain on which many Soviet mountaineers cut their teeth. The simplest route is not overly technical. But at 7,134m it can hardly be said to be a pushover in mountaineering terms.
Without any prior practice on lesser peaks, Tomasz wanted to ride his bicycle at over 7,000m. He prepared his bicycle for the snow and ice by fixing several hundred steel bolts into his tyres, protruding about 8mm. He packed it in a box, and with his 10 companions set off to Kyrgyzstan, an overland train journey of six days. They hired a truck to take them to the dour huts of Onion Field, the Kyghyz mountaineering base on the northern flank of the mountain. I once went there myself. It is a typical central Asian scene of yak pastures and high mountains, at an altitude of about 3,800m.
Crossing a crevasse.
Pik Lenin is no Matterhorn. From here you see a daunting wide mountain nearly filling the view. A long, nearly level ridge forms the sky-line, wider and flatter even than Denali. The peak itself seems irrelevant in comparison with the bulk of the mountain. First they went through a series of acclimatisation climbs. These are an essential part of any high mountain climb, as they permit a later rapid assault on the final goal. So, without the bicycle, a group of four set off for some lesser peaks in the area. The last was Pik 19, at 5,900m already higher than Tomasz had previously climbed. But Tomasz had grander plans already.
At the second camp on Pik 19, Tomasz suggested carrying on to a direct assault on Lenin. A couple of days before, he had spotted a route on someone else's map, and made a sketch of it. Tomasz's enthusiasm took his reluctant companions with him. Soon they had burnt their bridges, when the warm sun turned their retreat route into an avalanche risk. With only the sketch map, they almost got lost on Pik 19, and the next day on Spartak (6,200m). Some difficulties nearly undid them. Tomasz fell through a snow bridge into a shallow crevasse, but had little difficulty climbing out. Technical pitches consumed another day for little progress. From a 5,800m col they finally started climbing a steep ridge which took them directly onto the long, long summit ridge at around 7,000m. Seemingly almost there, but with food running out, they determined to keep going all night over the endless false summits.
The altitude made it too much effort and they stopped. Tomasz was now ahead of his companions and bivouacked in a snow hole. On regrouping the next morning, they abandoned the attempt and took advantage of a direct descent route. Tomasz speared himself with his crampons while sliding down snow slopes, but was not badly injured. Now all that remained was to climb all the way back up again - with the bicycle. He would climb with a single partner, his brother-in-law. Using the straightforward direct route, it is normal to establish four camps. Bringing his bicycle to camp one at 4,200m, he could wheel and occasionally ride. From here on up, the bicycle was attached to the back of his rucksack as he climbed over steep slopes, ice, snow, and around crevasses. The bicycle was kept fully assembled, since he felt it would be too cold higher up to risk re-assembly work.
On his way to camp two, Tomasz suffered with the heavy weight of his pack. He managed to leave some luggage here, and they proceeded over ice and snow to camp three at 6,100m. But he still had too much to carry. He was sinking dangerously into snow that had borne the weight of his partner. He took the risk of leaving even more - his bike tools, some thick clothing, and amazingly his crampons. With excellent weather, they made a summit attempt from the third camp, but time ran short. Tomasz was able to leave his bicycle high on the mountain while they returned to camp three in deteriorating weather. The next day they walked through fresh snow to establish camp four.
Climbing on from there, it transpired that he had left his bicycle only minutes from the summit. So soon he was able to experience the ecstasy of making the top. And so into the saddle. Tomasz says the worst of it was the steepness. The metal studs in his tyres were essential for traction. His hydraulic brakes proved up to the conditions - almost. At times it was still difficult to control the bicycle to a safe speed. Tomasz was still quite near the top when he lost control over a curve in the ridge, and ended up sliding down the snow and ice towards a crevasse. He had no ice axe to slow himself down. The bicycle started to get caught in a soft patch. This slowed him down, but it took a second soft patch to stop him. He felt he was acting in a Hollywood thriller, though in truth he had not been far from death. On he rode. Frequently the front wheel sank into patches of soft snow and he went over the handlebars. At times he had to dismount and carry the bike. Without crampons or ice-axe, he was sometimes grateful for a steadying hand from his companion. With a mixture of riding and walking, they made the descent together in just two days.
So where from here? Tomasz has not so far made a habit of cycle-mountaineering. He has toured India with a bike, and South America without. He is looking forward to the diversity of travel options that cycling and his other sports have opened to him.
Reprinted and used by personal permission.
Tomasz Swinarski was interviewed by Ivan Viehoff, first published in The Rough-Stuff Journal 2001.
Credit for the photos and copyright in this section of the page: Grzegorz Kluszka, FOTOEXPERT, Kraków.
More world record attempts in the riding highest category:
There have been attempts on Cho Oyu and Everest, but they have been abandoned at an early stage.
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