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Asia, CIS, Khan Tengri, International Speed Climbing Competition, Kirghizstan

Khan Tengri, International Speed Climbing Competition, Kirghizstan. In order to compete, Conrad Anker and I were graciously hosted at the climbing camp on the South Inylchek Glacier in mid-August. This unique event is essentially a high-altitude race, but it is much more than that. It requires not only aerobic strength but also solid mountaineering judgment, high-altitude experience and all the diverse skills needed to climb on high peaks safely. Although enthusiastic, I immediately realized the potential for accidents if the competitors fail to understand the individual nature of the event. One needs to temper the desire to win with sound mountaineering judgment. The competition took place on the west ridge of Khan Tengri (6995 meters, 22,950 feet) between August 16 and 19. The eighteen competitors were given a four-day period over which to begin the ascent. Each one determined when he would leave and was timed round-trip from Base Camp at 4100 meters. The elevation gain is 2895 meters or 9500 feet. Tents or snow caves were available with water at 4300, 5800 and 6400 meters. The previous record of 14:30 (14 hours, 30 minutes) was held by Russian Gleb Sokolov. I won the race in a time of 10:08 and Conrad Anker was second in 12:13. Third and fourth places went to Russian Andrei Kuznetsov (12:30) and Kirghiz Sergei Penzov (13:06). Ten out of 18 starters finished the event. Conrad and I have been invited to return next year and plan to do so. Three other Americans have also been invited. The Kirghiz hope to see strong Western European climbers attend next year.

Alex Lowe