Jon & Nick on Peak Lenin during their successful attempt & 1st British Ski in 2014

The Snow Leopard Award 2014

Full Expedition Report

In July 2012, MONTANE® athletes Nick Valentine and Jon Gupta attempted a mountaineering project called The Snow Leopard Award (to read their 2012 expedition profile, click here). The aim was to climb five 7,000m+ peaks back-to-back in under 42 days and gain the 1st British completion of this challenge. By completing in less than 42 days, Jon and Nick would also set a world record for the fastest completion of this inimitable award.

After having to descend after enduring a brutal storm at 6,400m on Peak Lenin (7,134m) the pair went on to successfully summit Peak Communism (7,495m), Peak Korzhenevskaya (7,105m) and Khan Tengri (7,010m) in less than 30 days. They were 100% self sufficient, unsupported and independent on the mountains.”

Incomplete, the British Duo returned in 2014 to finish of what they started…

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Expedition dates: July 10th – August 16th, 2014
Authored by: Jon Gupta
Supported by: MONTANE®, DMM, Whitedot Skis, Trek & Mountain
Location: Pamirs and Tein Shan, Kyrgyzstan. Central Asia
Expedition name: The Snow Leopard Award 2014
Peaks to be climbed/skied: Lenin Peak 7134m, on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border. Peak Pobeda 7439m in Kyrgyzstan.
Climbers/Skiers: Jon Gupta and Nick Valentine

Jon Gupta

Mountains, Skis, High altitude expedition leader and owner of Mountain Expeditions. Notable ascents in Scotland, Alps, Himalaya, Alaska including Everest, Denali, Ama Dablam (6 times), Solo speed ascents on Elbrus, Ama Dablam and Kilimanjaro. Peak Communism 7495m, Khan Tengri and Peak Korjenevskaya (in 30 days as part of The Snow Leopard Award 2012).

Nick Valentine

Rock, ice and snow. Ski instructor and alpine climber. Climbed all over the world from a young age. Part of The Snow Leopard Award expedition in 2012 – Peak Communism 7495m, Khan Tengri and Peak Korjenevskaya (in 30 days as part of The Snow Leopard Award 2012).

Abstract

On 10th July 2014 Nick and Jon returned to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan for five weeks with the hope of finishing what they started in 2012 and finally gaining the 1st British completion of The Snow Leopard Award. The two remaining peaks lye in Central Asia in the Tien Shan and Pamir mountain ranges of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Here they established 2 different base camps and attempted to climb the two peaks, both at over 7000m. Over the course of 25 days, the team successfully climbed and skied Peak Lenin (a British 1st ski descent!) and reached a high point of 6100m on Peak Pobeda before rock fall to Jon’s head caused an emergency evacuation with helicopter assistance.

Research

Once again we used a logistical company to help arrange helicopters etc called Ak-Sai who were very good. We had all the prior knowledge of Peak Lenin having been to 6400m 2 years before and all the basic knowledge of Peak Pobeda having been to Basecamp and spent 10 days around the area again in 2012.

Expedition Diary

The following is a brief daily account of what we did day-to-day during the expedition. (Written by Jon Gupta)

9th July – Depart the UK. (Travel details below)

10th July – Arrive into Bishkek and then transfer (1 hour flight) onto Osh and then 6 hour bus ride onto Base Camp! This was along day but it was ok. Its mainly due to the days that are available for the transfer into Basecamp. We had a quick stop in Osh to buy some snacks, chocolate, biscuits etc

11th July – Acclimatisation hike on Peak near Basecamp to 4600m. Electric storm near the summit and everything was static…quite scary!! Ice axes, poles and even my ears were hissing!! Ran back down super fast!

12th July – Rest day. We have all our kit for the two mountains and we only need kit for Peak Lenin so we sorted out our kit and left the rest in storage. We sent the skis up with a horse today.

13th July – BC – ABC. A beautiful long trek takes you from the green fields of Basecamp right up to the mountain proper to Basecamp. Basecamp for Ak-Sai is on the old moraine to the side of the Lenin Glacier. NB. The main river crossing below Basecamp was very deep so we used horses to cross this 5m wide river.

14th July – Acclimatisation Peak near to ABC. We skinned up to 4900m and skied down. First time on the Whitedot Ski’s and they felt amazing! Light, strong and beautiful to ski on. Spent the afternoon relaxing at ABC.

15th July – ABC to Camp 1 5200m. Early 04:00 start from ABC across the glacier. Nick dropped a glove somewhere and we searched for it but to no avail. Headed up the onto the main Lenin glacier and made good time into Camp 1. Weather was good, and we felt ok. Tent up, water on, food in etc. Watched some films on the iPad. Nick found his glove in his pocket.

16th July – Acclimatisation up to Camp 2 6100m. We left Camp 1 at around 08:00 with a few other folk around the camp and made good progress up the first steep slope to the main ridge. From here we put our new Whitedot skis on and skinned up towards the upper steep slope below camp 2. (Overtaking everyone with less effort – skiing is 100% the way forward!). This slope however is around 45 degrees and with heavy packs on we both chose to put the skis on our packs and boot pack up. After leaving a deposit of food and kit and taking some time out we clipped into our skis and rode all the way back down the glacier as far as we could and then walked out back to ABC. A GREAT DAY!

17th July – Jon’s Birthday! Rest day at ABC. We washed some kit, sorted out some kit, dried some kit and played with some kit. We also read a lot of harry potter to each other and watched some films on the iPad.

18th July – Rest day at ABC. More of the above and packing for our summit attempt.

19th July – ABC to Camp 1. This time we were a lot quicker and we both found it easier. Again we left at 04:00 but arrived into Camp 1 at 09:00 loving life! We enjoyed a lazy day resting, faffing about, eating, drinking and reading Harry Potter to each other!!

20th – Camp 1 to Camp 2 to Camp 1 (sleep). Today we took our skis and a light bag with a few more things to leave at Camp 2 and headed up the slopes. Again much easier that a few days before (acclimatisation really does work!) and the weather was amazing. There was also a foot of fresh snow so Nick and I were really looking forward to skiing back down. Whilst at Camp 2 we watched a snowboarder coming back from the direction of the summit descend down the steep North Face through the seracs and ice bands. To our horror we stood and watched as the boarder lost control on some ice and fell 300m+ to his death. Feeling rather subdued. We left our stuff and skied back to Camp 1 to tell some local guides who then instigated a rescue party to collect the body. It was a very sober feel in camp that evening.

21st – Early start to pack everything away and into our packs. We were moving up to Camp 2 with the hope of summiting the next day. We made good time but were slowed up by our heavy packs. Once in camp we put our tent up and began sorting everything for a 04:00 start the following day. Of course – we managed a little bit of Harry Potter before dinner and an early night!

22nd – We left Camp 2 at 04:00 with light packs and our Whitedot Skis on our backs and began our ascent. It was pretty uneventful other than Jon need an emeregcy toilet break after 30min and feeling much better for it! The sunrise was incredible, and the view across the Pamirs is really something. We reached the summit at 12:00 midday, 8 hours from setting off, feeling great. The weather was perfect, hardly any wind and it wasn’t cold at all. Video and photos done we put our skis on and a skied amazing soft snow for 300m down to the col. The ridge was a mixture of down climbing and skiing all the way back to Camp 2. Some friends had arrived that day so we decided to stay the night and talk to them and enjoy some tea together.

23rd – Lazy morning and packed everything up by 08:00. Bags are REALLY heavy!! We gave away as much food and gas as we could and began skiing down. It was really hard work with 20kg on our backs! We skied Via Camp 1 to pick up a few things and then all the way down the glacier as far as we could, to around 4600m.

24th – ABC to BC to OSH. Feeling in good moods, we smashed this section mostly running all the way back to Basecamp, before boarding a minibus and ‘enjoying’ the 6 hours journey to Osh. It was great to be back in a hotel for a proper wash and a beer! We ordered loads of food as we were starving but our stomachs had shrunk!

25th / 26th – After a short flight and transfer to Bishkek the following day we were back to civilisation. Clothes washing, shave, haircut, eating good food! We sorted out all the logistics for Peak Pobeda and took the long bus ride to the Ak-Sai Basecamp about 8 hours away. The same day we took the helicopter to Basecamp on the South Inylchek glacier at 4000m.

27th – 1st August – The weather was generally awful and we still needed some more rest. We spent 6 days here at base camp not really doing much. Playing cards, reading more Harry Potter etc. Looking at the weather forecast…which was always completely wrong.

2nd – BC – Camp 1. We decided to go for it. Leaving base camp after lunch we made the 4 hour journey along the glacier directly towards Pobeda to Camp 1. This involved some interesting route finding to navigate through the maze of huge crevasses. Camp 1 was cold and serious, everything around is steep, high and plastered in ice.

3rd – C1 – C3. We left before sunrise and climbed the steepest and most objectively dangerous section of the route, soon arriving into the site for Camp 2. After a short break we headed up the exposed and steepening snow arête towards Camp 3 and the first rock band. At around 14:00 we arrived at Camp 3, took a short break and decided to continue a further few hundred meters. At around 16:00 I got hit by large rock fall and knocked unconscious with a head wound.

After managing the situation the bleeding and coming back to conscious. We headed back to Camp 2 and spent the night before descending to BC the next day and getting a helicopter. We were in a pretty serious situation but we did our best to down climb as safe as possible.

4th – Camp 2 – BC. Exhausted, dehydrate and tired we descended back to Basecamp. Somewhat deflated and demoralised. We departed just 40 minutes later by helicopter.

5th – After a number of Helicopter flights we finally arrived into Bishkek and went straight to hospital. The doctors checked me over and put some stitches in my head. Done.

6th / 7th – Fly back to UK.

Travel

We flew economy class to/from Heathrow to Bishkek with Pegasus who were awful. Baggage allowance was standard 23kg so we booked additional ski luggage and made the two bags 20kg each. It wasn’t cheap and trying to deal with Pegasus prior to departure was impossible. And trying to adjust our flights back to the UK at the end was completely impossible. We went to the head office in Bishkek – a large posh office and nothing could be done about our flights apparently. Totally rubbish.

All of our in-country travel was arrange by Ak-Sai. We took a short flight to Osh and back and flew on 4 helicopters and some very long private bus rides! They also helped negotiate my rescue and evacuation. They have dealt with everything really well and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Ak-Sai – they are excellent.

Travel by road is a bit scary in places, particularly at night, but generally fine. Worth doing a quick check of the vehicle before.

Environment

Both mountains have semi permanent base camps during the climbing season. These are well managed and run with some having showers and toilets tents etc. Generally these base camps are clean and well run, and a fun place to hang out with other climbers from all over the world.

None of the cities are that nice, almost sadly a little suppressive post soviet collapse. The landscapes however are breathtaking and spectacular!

Rock conditions

Lenin – Super loose shale on the day from base camp to Camp 1 along the steep traverse. Also small rocks tumbling down from above usually in isolated couloirs care to be taken. Otherwise all fine, and no problems/dangers from rock higher up.

Pobeda – First encounter with rocks at around 5800m when climbing though the ‘rock bands’. Rocks were incredibly loose every where and awful – careful climbing is required. All sizes of rocks and boulders, all pretty loose!

Snow and Ice conditions

Generally the snow conditions were quite good on all mountains. On Peak Lenin the conditions generally favourited skinning & skiing bellow 6000m. Above 6000m the conditions were not great, hard packed, wind effected snow was difficult to ski. However the final 300m to the summit were excellent and provided a superb first section during the ski descent.

Weather conditions

Peak Lenin – The weather was generally very good all the time we were there. Often very cold, some windy days and but quite settled. Clear skies in the morning would occasionally turn into misty, cloudy afternoons then snow, sleet or rain. Most days there were visible plumes of spindrift pouring from the upper slopes of the highest peaks. Many days saw precipitation of some sort. On occasion it snowed or rained heavily for the whole day and into the evening.

Peak Pobeda – The weather was very different – and generally very poor. High winds and daily snow. There were very few breaks if any in the weather during the time we were here. The mountain gets very strange weather as it is very close on one side to the huge Taklamakan desert.

Waste Management

All waste/rubbish/canisters was carried off the mountains and back to base camp and then disposed of via the agency (Ak-Sai) – either burnt or flow back out. Human waste was dealt with in the mountains as you would in most high altitude mountain environments.

Climbing/Technicality

Lenin – No technical climbing skills required other than glacial travel, self arrest and the obvious winter/high altitude camping skills.

Pobeda – More serious with lots of steep and some short vertical sections of ice and mixed ground.

Equipment

Both of us were sponsored by MONTANE®. All of the clothing lived up to the high standard that would be expected from MONTANE® kit. We also used MONTANE® rucksacks and duffle bags.

We had ski boots modified for high altitude with heated insoles and -40 below neoprene over boots. We as well as 8000m mountaineering boots for Peak Pobeda.

We both used MONTANE® Deep Heat sleeping bags which performed really well. Both of us were more than satisfied with the overall performance of the bags.

Jetboil stoves were used on the hill which as ever did the job very well.

All of the climbing hardware, axes, climbing harnesses were supplied by DMM. As ever and as expected the gear performed to a high standard.

The skis were supplied my Whitedot Skis, and the bindings by The Piste Office.

Thanks to MONTANE® for their support and generous supply of kit. Also thanks to Whitedot Skis and DMM both for the kit support.