Khan Tengri peak: first ascent

Khan Tengri (7010m) was first climbed on September 11, 1931 by alpinists Mikhail Pogrebetsky, Boris Tyurin and Franz Zaubrer. The expedition was organized by the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, and it included both mountaineering tasks and scientific investigations in the Central Tien Shan. The scope of work preceding the ’31 expedition was huge: there were no maps by that time, therefore the approaches were reconnoitred in advance during preliminary trips in 1929 and 1930. The crew included cameramen to shoot a movie about a climb. Equipment like insulated boots, sleeping bags, tents, ropes were brought from Austria, and special sublimated products were prepared for high-altitude staying - soups in tablets, canned meat, etc. Horse-drawn caravan carried all cargoes to the foot of Khan-Tengri mount. To support the logistics, 3 base camps were established on the South Inylchek glacier, and the route was marked with flags. Advanced camp was set on the right side moraine of the Southern Inylchek glacier, at an altitude of 4600m ASL under the south-eastern slopes of the peak.

Along with the scientific work on mapping the slopes of Khan-Tengri, studies of the geology and geomorphology of the area, two high-altitude camps were established. One was at a height of 5600m in the upper part of the Semenovskiy glacier (the name suggested by Pogrebetsky, in honour of the USSR tourism founder), the second was at 6040m on the north-western ridge. Climbers Shimansky, Golovko and Barkov worked on installation of those camps. High-altitude porters, specially hired in Przhevalsk, helped them to carry stuff up to 6040m: foodstuff, fuel and tents. Porters also helped the film group to climb to the 1st camp at 5600m.

Boris Tyurin with few porters and cameramen started the ascent from the camp at 4600m on September 5th at 6:00 pm. On 6th morning, Porterbetsky and Zauberer followed him with rest porters. It is worth noting that alpinists of 30s had limited high-altitude experience, but they already applied some useful acclimatization tools: a) the climbers' backpacks at the start were lightened up to 10 kg, b) the rate of ascent was chosen so slow that each step accounted for 2-3 inhalations and exhalations, c) in the second camp at 6040m they planned a break to complete adaptation, d) transitions between the camps were performed at night to reduce the avalanche risks. The whole group reached camp 2 on 7th September. The next day the porters were sent down. Daytime mountaineers decided to spend in tents to get acclimatized, and in the evening they packed the rucksacks and went up to the top (it was on night of September 8-9). Initially, the plan was to follow the north-west ridge up to the summit, but due to the strong wind they had to deviate to the western slope and continue climbing by the snowy couloirs. The route of the group of pioneers is marked on the photo. Finally, on September 11, at 12 o'clock in the afternoon, a trio of pioneers reached the top of Khan Tengri. They descended to the camp at 6040m on 12th only.

This was the first ascent of the Soviet climbers to the peak above 7000m. Their success was preceded by preliminary work on the exploration of the area and weather conditions, tactical planning and hypoxia response methods. All this allowed the participants of the expedition of 1931 reach the top at the first attempt.

Source of information and photos: M.T. Pogrebetsky "Three years of struggle for Khan-Tengri", publishing house UKRAINSKY ROBITNIK, Kharkov, 1935.

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