Muztagh Ata (July-August 2000)

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I traveled to Pakistan and Xinjiang (western China) in July-August 2000. The main goal of this trip was to climb Muztagh Ata (7546m), a relatively isolated mountain located in southern Xinjiang north of the Karakoram (Pakistan) and east of the Pamir (Tajikistan). It is the second highest peak on the northern edge of the Tibetan plateau, behind the much more difficult Kongur Tagh (7,649m). The trip was organized by Adventure Consultants and led by Mike Roberts (from New Zealand). The other two members of the team were Ghulam Hassan (Pakistan) and Andrew Stone (Australia). All of us summitted on August 9th, on the morning of the 13th day spent on the mountain. 

 

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Mike

Ghulam

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Me (at the summit)

route

 

The ′classic′ ascent route of Muztagh Ata is technically easy. The main difficulties are high elevation and bad weather. The crevasses are also a significant hazard, as the shape of the mountain causes them to be longitudinal (parallel to the ascent route) and difficult to spot, rather than transverse and faster to cross. Mike and I had brought our randonnee skis and we skied up and down the mountain (above Camp 1). Skiing up the mountain was relatively comfortable and much more energy-efficient than using snowshoes. Ski flotation also provided greater security over crevasses. Skiing down had some fine sections, especially near the very top and above Camp 1. But we also had some bad stretches, especially on the steepest section between Camps 2 and 1, where we had crusty snow and low visibility among many crevasses. We had to be very careful not to fall over snow bridges. Overall, Muztagh Ata is clearly far more enjoyable on skis than on snowshoes.

 

To reach the base of Muztagh Ata, we drove from Rawalpindi/Islamabad in Pakistan along the so-called Karakoram Highway. The road is often in terrible shape, but the landscapes are stunning, especially in the Hunza region, with views of Nanga Parbat (8125m) and many other summits above 7000m, including Rakaposi, Diram, Ultar I and II. In Hunza, we did several short hikes to acclimatize before reaching Muztagh Ata (Base Camp of Ultar I and II above Karimabad, and glacier above Gulmit). After the ascent of Muztagh Ata we drove further north to the old city of Kashgar before returning to Rawalpindi.

 

These are the elevations at which we slept before reaching the summit of Muztagh Ata. (But during most days we hiked up to greater elevations before retreating back to our successive camps).


- 1 night at 2400m (Karimabad

- 1 night at 3200m (Ultar BC)

- 1 night at 2700m (Gulmit

- 1 night at 3600m (trek above Gulmit)

- 2 nights at 4050m (trek above Gulmit

- 1 night at 3100m (Sost

- 1 night at 3200m (Tashkurgan)

- 3 nights at 4400m (Muztagh Ata BC)

- 5 nights at 5400m (Camp 1) 

- 3 nights at 6200m (Camp 2) 

- 1 night at 6700m (Camp 3)

 

In Pakistan I especially liked the Hunza region around Karimabad. The Hunza people are very friendly and hospitable, and their apricots are delicious. In southern Xinjiang local people (Uyghurs, Kyrgyz, and Tajiks) are also very hospitable. However, larger towns like Tashkurgan and Kashgar felt much like occupied territories. In the streets of Tashkurgan loudspeakers broadcasted strident Chinese propaganda, uninterrupted from dawn to dusk. In Kashgar, the demolition of the beautiful old Uyghur city had already started and the modern Chinese city was quickly taking over. I heard several Uyghurs expressing hostility and deep sadness for Chinese presence.

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Along the Indus river on the lower section of the Karakoram High way (between Besham and Chilas).

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View of Nanga Parbat (8125m) from the junction point of the Himalayas, the Karakoram, and the Hindukush.

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A closer view of Nanga Parbat.

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Landscape south of Gilgit.

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In Gilgit. (Guns were ubiquitous in Northern Pakistan. Here, a shop sells dry fruits, as well as arms and ammunitions.) 

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Left: View of Karimabad and the Hunza Valley. Right: The Baltit fort overlooking Karimabad (photo on the left), with Ultar I and II in the background. The architectural style of the fort indicates Tibetan influence over Hunza when the fort was built. The difference of elevation between Karimabad and the summit of Ultar II (7388m) is approximately 5000m. This summit  was first climbed in 1996. 

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Impressive water canal above Karimabad.

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Left: View during the climb to Ultar B.C. Right: View from Ultar B.C.

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Ultar I and II seen from their Base Camp, with Lady Finger (sharp needle in the center-left of the photo).

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The "sheep pen" glacier descending from Ultar II.

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Other mountains around Karimabad.

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Landscapes near Gulmit.

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Acclimatization trek over a glacier above Gulmit.

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Between Gilmit and Khunjerab Pass.

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Sost, the last Pakistani town before the Pakistan-China border.

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At Khunjerab Pass (4693m), the Pakistan-China border.

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At the base of Muztagh Ata, near the main road, there is a small Kyrgyz village. Friendly local people (and their camels) helped us carry our loads to Base Camp. It was the first time that I had my skis carried by a camel!

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Views of Muztagh Ata from the Kyrgyz village and during the hike to B.C. (The second picture below shows the village cemetery.)

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At Base Camp (4400m) there were only a few other groups. Mike and Ghulam are sorting gear.

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View from B.C. with mountains of Tajikistan in the background.

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View during the climb to Camp 1. The ascent was on dry terrain almost until Camp 1 .

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At Camp 1 (5400m), just slightly above snow level.

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Mike in the kitchen tent.

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Crevassed terrain between Camps 1 and 2.

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At Camp 2 (6200m). Above B.C., I was sharing tents with Ghulam.

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Mike above Camp 2.

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Andrew and Ghulam further up toward Camp 3 (6700m), with Tajikistan in the background.

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At the summit (7546m). Mike is at the center, Andrew on the right, and me on the left. Hassan took the photo. The photo may not show it, but we were all very happy. 

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Mike during the descent between Camps 3 and 2. The snow at this high elevation was quite good.

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During the descent between Camps 2 and 1, with almost no visibility.

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Celebrating our success and drying gear at B.C.

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View of Muztagh Ata above Karakol Lake (photo taken on our way to Kashgar).

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Landscapes north of Muztagh Ata on our way to Kashgar.

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The tomb of Khoja Afaq (religious and political leader of the 17th century) near Kashgar.

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Street and market scenes in Kashgar.

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Patterns of Kashgar.

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