American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, USSR, Pik Lenina Tragedy and Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991

Pik Lenina Tragedy and Attempt. Ken Nolan, Jean Aschenbrenner, Dan Smith, Canadian Ian McLagen and I attempted to climb Pik Lenina by the standard northwest ridge in July. We were participating in the Soviet International Mountaineering Camp in the Pamirs, held annually since 1974. Particularly cold and snowy weather prevented our departure from Base Camp. We finally occupied Camp I on July 13. That evening, an earthquake with its epicenter in Afghanistan dislodged séracs that swept Camp II. The resulting avalanche killed 43 of the 45 climbers in that camp, probably the greatest number of fatalities in a single mountaineering accident in history. The dead included 23 members of the Leningrad Climbing Club led by Leonid Troshchinenko, 4 other Soviets, 2 Swiss, 1 Spaniard, 6 Czechoslovaks, 3 Israelis and 1 Italian. The two survivors, a Russian and a Slovak, were helped down the following day. Another top Leningrad mountaineer, Vladimir Balyberdin, saved his life deciding at the last minute to move with some friends to Camp III. A group of six English climbers, led by Mark Miller, escaped by establishing their bivouac some distance from the main camp. Lengthy and dangerous rescue efforts failed to yield any other survivors. After several days, the Soviets again allowed attempts on the mountain. We occupied a relocated Camp II at the base of the ridge of Pik Razdelny at 5500 meters on July 18. Camp III on the saddle between Pik Razdelny and Lenina was reached on July 21. After two days of high winds and snow, the attempt was abandoned. The early season weather made climbing dangerous and took the lives of five more climbers while we were in the Pamirs.

Charles Huss, M.D.

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