Expedition report #2 - Meeting an old friend

By Gijs Schuurhuis

On arrival in basecamp the sky was clear but everything was covered in snow. The first thing you do is to check-in with the ‘big-boss’. This older, experienced Russian climber knows everything there is to know about conditions and other team activities.

Peak Pobeda has five camps, leading up to the shoulder on 6.918m. This marks the beginning of a very long traverse to the summit pyramide. The big-boss: Dima (short for Dimitri) told us there where multiple teams going for Pobeda this year (in 2017 when we were there it was only one other team), but snow conditions where tough. So far only a team of 10 Russians made it to camp 2, from there they went back due to unstable layers of snow. We talked to the Russians. Their faces looked burned from the high mountain sun, but they were certainly enjoying their rest days – like real Russians do – with a appropriate amount of vodka.

Pobeda looked white and we figured the mountain could use some alone-time and let the fresh snow settle. We turned around and there she was: Khan Tengri – Lord of the skies. Back in 2017 we summited this 7.010m high peak. We knew the camps and the mountain, so quickly decided to go there for acclimatization. The next day we made the trek to ABC. The trek is long and the backpacks where heavy, I remembered the feeling settling in at camp. Let’s just say that this is my least favorite place on the mountain. Nevertheless the views where amazing and it felt good to be back!

The next day we woke up early and began climbing to C1. It’s a long way from ABC (4.200m) to camp 1 (normally at 5.200m). We passed through the dangerous icefall before the sun could hit the avalanche prone south face of Mt. Chapaev. At 5.460m, the camp was situated higher than two years ago. The last three hundred meters where painstakingly slow and - just freshly out of the helicopter – we could certainly feel the altitude. There was a lot of snow and the weather quickly got worse. We spent the first night constantly digging out the tent from the snow and the wind was constantly battering the tent making us feel quite vulnerable and not giving us much sleep that night.

The next day Allert was not feeling that well, the high altitude headache stopped him in his tracks. Martin played around with his drone, getting great images of Khan Tengri. I climbed alone towards C3 and getting there at 5.800m felt great. The wind was blowing hard and I quickly made my way back to camp. That night was the worse night ever. It was a constant fight against wind and snow. Digging out the tent in the middle of the night multiple times. We are sleeping in a very small single wall tent leaving each other virtually no space to move around. Due to the ferocious winds and snow, we often closed the ventilation holes to avoid a snowstorm inside. Then waking up hot feeling suffocated, because of the lack of oxygen in the tent (on top of the already existing lack of oxygen at this altitude), quickly opening the ventilation holes and accepting the snowstorm in our tents.

The next day the wind didn’t subside. Allert made his own plan and got to about 5.600m before returning to camp. Martin and myself climbed together to C3. The visibility was zero. We were the only one’s moving in between camps. The wind was biting at our faces, but the sun was somehow still penetrating the thick fog resulting in sunburnt faces at the end of the day. In the end we reached C3 and felt alive.

After yet another horrible winy in snowy night, this time almost completely burying the tent, we decided it would be better to take some rest days in BC to get ourselves together and make new plans. We descended in the morning through the icefall under the big face of Chapaev, which always scares us. This morning we saw dozens of avalanches coming down from the face and to our surprise people were still climbing up to camp 2, way to late during the day!

We safely reached camp 1 and during the same day tracked back over the glacier all the way to basecamp.

Gijs Schuurhuis