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Home » Issyk-Kul region nature. Climbing the peaks Pobeda and Khan-Tengri.

History of peak of Khan-Tengri.

Phototours to peak of Khan-Tengri.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” 

John Muir. «Our National Parks».

Kyrgyzstan phototours.

The stories of heroic explorers who ventured into previously uncharted territory has always held readers or listeners spellbound. Amundsen, Stanley are household names in reference to the North Pole and Africa. In Central Asia, the names of two explorers, both fascinating personalities, spark immediate recognition for having “discovered” the Tien-Shan mountains - Piotr Petrovich Semenov Tian-Shanskiy and Gottfried Merzbacher.
P.P. Semenov geographer and geologist, botanist, entomologist, expert in statistics and economics, traveler par excellence and historian. In the Summer of 1856, accompanied by a small team of Cossacks, he started out from the town of Verniy (Almaty) for an expedition to the Central Tian-Shan, as a little-known member of the Russian Geographical Society.
He returned in 1857 an internationally celebrated scientist. Indeed, P.P. Semenov was the first European to reach the Northern Tien-Shan and his findings put an end to all popular hypothesizes of A. Gumboldt. Semonov confirmed that there are no volcanoes in the Tian-Shan and that the main ranges have a latitudinal direction.
The first to describe the alpine glaciers, he rebuted the opinion that the Chu river flows out of the Salt Lake Issyk-Kul. And, of course, once there, in the Tien-Shan, the unconquered peak Khan-Tengri, at that time believed to be the highest point of the Central Tien-Shan, beckoned him. 
Where today a main road leads over the Ak-Tog pass, lies the watershed of the Terskey Ala-Too range. Vehicles drive back and forth between the Karkara gorge and the Saryjaz Valley. A most beautiful panorama opens from here over the Saryjaz range, overshaddowed by the even higher peaks of the Tengry-Tag range. 
From about here Semonov must have gotten his most memorable view in 1857 of the enigmatic Central Tien-Shan. He described the moment with the following words:“… Directly to the South of us glistened the most majestic mountain range I had ever seen.
The entire range, from top to bottom, consisted of snowy giants, about 30 to the left and right of me. These giants were covered with a solid blanket of eternal snow. Exactly in the middle of these giants, one snow-covered steep pyramid towered over the others, standing out for its colossal high altitude, which from my vantage point seemed twice as high as the other peaks…”
“It is a Khan-Tengri!” he exclaimed and right then and there … ...made one of the erroneous geographical assertions never corrected to this very day. In vain his local Kyrgyz guide voiced that the Kyrgyz called that peak Kan-Too - Blood Mount. Blinded by the dazzling view Semenov did not listen.
P.P. Semenov had acquired his geographic knowledge about the Tien-Shan from the works of K. Ritter and A. Gumbolt and they, in turn, had used as their own sources Byzantine missionaries and Chinese envoys.
Knowing that the highest point of Tian-Shan was Khan-Tengri, P.P. Semenov concluded erroneously that the highest peak before his very eyes must be one and the same. The discovery made by P.P. Semenov was noted not only within scientific circles but at the highest political level.
He was rewarded the IRGO gold medal and the order Vladimira 4th degree but the highest honor he received was to have his surname changed to Semenov Tien-Shanskiy and that, right there and then… resulted in the second error in an otherwise highly successful and impeccable chain of scientifically accurate findings.
P.P. Semionov's description of Khan-Tengri made the rounds and caught the attention of the famous German mountaineer and geographer Gottfried Merzbacher who, much intrigued, decided to go find the legendary peak.
As a result of two expeditions in 1902-1903 and 1907-1908 he managed to reach its foothills and make a detailed map of the Tengri-Tag ridge. The route he chose for the second expedition led from the Saryjaz valley by way of the Tuz (“Straight”) Pass to the Inylchek Valley.
Ascending the glacier of South Inylchek from that side, Merzbacher had no way of knowing that he was the first European to find himself on what turned out to be one of the largest high-altitude glaciers on earth with a length of 59km.
Merzbacher pitched his camp on a slope of green grasse on the left side of the Shokalsky Glacier, now known as Merzbacher's Glade; his description of the high altitude lake right by was the first ever of the lake covered with floating icebergs off the glacier.
Little did he know that there were 2 such lakes. From the same spot, Merzbacher also first set eyes on the purpose of his expedition the Khan-Tengri Peak. It took the team much hardship to reach the foot of the huge white pyramid.
Its predominant position and its established reputation for being the highest peak in the region missled Merzbacher into not paying attention to another even higher neighboring peak although this second summit is identified very clearly on the panorama of the Kokshaal-Tau range that he presented to the Russian Geographic Society.
That peak was later “discovered” by Soviet topographers and was named Peak Pobeda Victory Peak.  On the descent, Merzbacher noticed to his tremendous puzzlement that the water had drained from the lake and blocks of ice lay in the emptied pool. He never found a reasonable explanation to this mystery.
This particular part of the Tian-Shan is extremely difficult tof access, and for the longest time no one came as close to Khan-Tengri and Pobeda Peaks as Merzbacher. The latitudinal location of the Kokshaal-Tau and Tengri-Tag ridges block the view and make it impossible to take in both peaks simultaneously.
It is quite a phenomenon that the 2 highest peaks located in close vicinity were known for centuries to 2 different Turkic nations as Khan-Tengri (“The Master of the Sky”). We have not seen the last of the history of discoveries in the Central Tien-Shan and probably never will.
New people undertake to penetrate into these partly uncharted amazing lands, to arrange their own expedition and make their own discoveries. And although high altitude mountaineering has come a long way the adventurous spirit required in the Tien-Shan does not differ from that of the very first explorers, some 150 years ago.
Nowadays it is no longer necessary to start an expedition by camel caravan from Almati, as way back when. A flight to Bishkek and from there onward by car will get you to the village of Jergalan. Following the tracks of the pioneers, you pass through the Terskey Ala-Tau range and down to the Saryjaz valley.
In front of you, the very same panorama that once put a spell on P.P. Semenov. From there, it is over the Tuz Pass crossing the Saryjaz range and down to Inylchek valley to the tongue of the South Inylchek glacier.
Here everything has remained quite the same as during Merzbacher's time with the only additions of a stone inscription (Chon-Tash), a memorial to the climbers who have perished and the occasional tire marks. What Merzbacher never knew, about the vanished lake you will soon find out when the gigantic fountain of water, regurgitating from beneath the tongue of the glacier is pointed out to you.
To reach the base camp of Khan Tengri, it is necessary to cross the glacier by foot. Following the South Inylchek moraine you soon find yourself treading carefully, step by step, in a vastness of ice and frozen snow.
By late afternoon, you reach the small Green Glade where you pitch your tents. The real Merzbacher Glade is located near the confluence of the Shokalskiy and South Inylchek glaciers, from where the shortest (2 days) hike to the base camp of both peaks lead over central, sealing wax-red moraine.
No one knows the exact location of G. Merzbacher's camp. Every July and August though, Kyrgyz and Kazakh tour companies set up camps where the Zvezdochka and South Inylchek glaciers converge. Mountaineers from all over the world get the same stunning views from here as Merzbacher and as an additional bonus a breathtaking glance of the Central Tien Shan from above during the 30min Helicopter ride back to civilization.
A car ride later plunge into the warm, deep blue waters of Lake Issyk Kul, glancing back up to where they just came from, the fabulous mountains, mountains, mountains.

Mountain Khan-Tengri group. Kyrgyz of the Big Horde. A river Charyn exit from Zailiyskiy Alatau. An illustration from the first edition "Picturesque Russia".A glacier at Khan-Tengri. An illustration from the first edition "Picturesque Russia".Graphics of the member of the Union of artists of Kyrgyzstan Afanasiy Lazarevich Chubin. "The bridge from ice". Graphics of the member of the Union of artists of Kyrgyzstan Afanasiy Lazarevich Chubin. Graphics of the member of the Union of artists of Kyrgyzstan Afanasiy Lazarevich Chubin.

Nicolai Schetnikov.

Artist-climber Afanasy Lazarevich Shubin (Kyrgyzstan).