Pik Lenin & Achik Tash
The Pamir Alay is one of the most remote and rugged parts of Central Asia – this is one place where you can’t just head off with a 1970s Soviet map and a handful of Snickers bars. In theory you need a border zone permit to go within 50km of the CIS-Chinese border and the Alay Valley. Permits are rarely checked these days but it’s still a good idea to ask your tour operator for the latest developments.
Under the old regime, mountaineering parties from the USSR and other socialist countries made a beeline for Peak Communism and Peak Lenin. Nowadays, most trekkers come from the West, Japan and South Korea and tend to focus on Peak Lenin, aka Kuh-i-Garmo(Warm Mountain), this mountain is still referred to as Lenina by most locals and climbers alike. At 7,134m, Peak Lenin is the third-highest mountain in the CIS, and has a reputation for being a relatively easy climb. This is not to make light of it, as climbing Peak Lenin is hardly a stroll in the park, and many climbers have died attempting to reach the summit.
This is one of the most popular and accessible 7,000-metre peaks in the world. There are a number of routes to the summit, but the most popular go through the Lipkin Rocks, named after the pilot who crashed here at 5,200 metres and strolled down the mountainside, along what is now the standard (Razdelnaya) route to the mountain.
Despite being considered relatively straightforward for a 7,000+ m mountain, Peak Lenin is by no means a trekking peak and a successful ascent requires all the essential equipment of ice axes, crampons etc and, most importantly, a great deal of mountaineering experience. The greatest dangers are avalanches and suddenly changing weather. In 1974 an eight-woman team perished on the mountain in a storm, and in 1991 an icefall trapped 44 climbers, leaving only one survivor.
Peak Lenin is essentially a broad-based pyramid with a northern face that is far steeper and more difficult than its other slopes. Attempts on the peak are invariably made from the southern, Kyrgyzstan side, although there are many variants of the approach, with 16 different routes to the summit. In keeping with its reputation as a relatively easy 'walk up' summit, Peak Lenin is one of the world's most frequently climbed peaks above 7,000m.
ACHIK-TASH Achik-Tash at 3,600m is the main basecamp for climbing Peak Lenin, but it can be visited in its own right for lower-level trekking. The terminal moraine below the basecamp is now lush pastureland used by local herders. Something of an oasis amid the rubble and ice of the surrounding peaks, the camp also holds many reminders of climbers killed on Peak Lenin. The most significant of these were in 1974, one of the first years foreigners were allowed on the mountain, and in 1991 when an earthquake touched off an avalanche that wiped out Camp 11 on the standard (Razdelnaya) route, killing 43 climbers in the worst accident in mountaineering history.
Nearby is Lukovaya Polyana (Wild Onion Meadow), which is a relatively easy hike from the basecamp. The Bishkek-based IMC Pamir trekking company (www.imcpamir.netfinns.com) maintain a basecamp at Achik-Tash that has accommodation in wooden huts, in addition to tents. The same company organises a 24-day expedition to the peak from Osh that builds in plenty of time for acclimatisation.
Several other Bishkek companies also operate basecamps here in the summer months. These include ITMC Tien Shan, Dostuk Trekking and Top Asia from Bishkek, Alptreksport from Osh, Asia Travel from Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Kan Tengri from Almaty (Kazakstan). To get there you’ll have to fix arrangements in advance. Any of these companies can arrange as much or as little support as you need for an ascent of Peak Lenin. If you plan to trek independently around the basecamps you will need to bring camping equipment and provisions from Osh. Staying here independently requires total self-sufficiency, so stock up on fuel, food and other supplies in Osh before setting off. Because of altitude and an unpredictable climate, the trekking season here is naturally a fairly short one - from mid-July to early September.
There are weekly farmers markets in Daroot-Korgon (on Monday), Kashka-Suu (Tuesday) and Sary Moghul (Sunday), where you can buy basic foodstuffs. Several trailer shops offer the usual kiosk fare in Sary Tash. Beyond this bring all your own food. If you can time your visit, try to be here on the first weekend of August, when festival and horse games are organized.
Getting there & away - You should be able to hire a 4WD from Sary Moghul to Achik Tash (17km) for the cost of US$30 return. A hired 4WD from Osh to Achik Tash can be negotiated down to US$150 if you ask around the Argomak 4WD stand. Trekking-agency vehicles come at about US$160 to US$200 one way.