American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, China, Xinjiang, Kun Lun Mountains, Mustagh Ata, The Golden Eye, New Route with Ski Descent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

Mustagh Ata, The Golden Eye, new route with ski descent. On July 18, “Sneaky” Pete Lardy, Chad McFadden, and Tom McMillan completed a route to the summit of Mustagh Ata (7,546m). The team then descended the route on skis and snowboard. The trio climbed from Camp 2, skipping Camp 3, in an 11-hour push. Pete Lardy set the record for the highest descent with a split snowboard. The route was named Golden Eye for a prominent region of yellow talus located near Camp 1.

The slopes of Mustagh Ata were made for ski mountaineering. In 1955 a joint Russian/Chinese team made the first ascent of the regular route. Ned Gillette, Jan Reynolds and Galen Rowell completed the second ascent and first ski descent in 1980. Since then, this route has become very popular, seeing about 75 ascents a year. In 2001, Dan Mazur, Walter Keller and Jon Otto made the first ascent of the east ridge, which involved technical ice climbing. [Editor’s note: ascents of Muztagh Ata by lines other than the original route have been reported since 1981, though the exact lines are unknown to us.]

Located on the western slope, north of the Kartomak glacier, Golden Eye provides a moderate ascent, which was completed mostly on skis. It offers stellar turns down one of the highest descents in the world. Avalanche danger is minimal and crevasses are easily negotiated. The route was skied mostly unroped. This allowed for a rapid ascent of 14 days from our arrival at BC, most of the time in good weather. The lower part of the route shares the same approach as a French route on Mustagh South.

Mr. Guo Jin Wei, member of the 1985 U.S.-Chinese Ulugh Mustagh expedition, organized the trip. Total expedition cost was less than $3,000 per man Beijing to Beijing. This was approximately a 50% discount compared to list prices. Checked baggage allowances were a hardship (20 kg for economy air tickets). It costs about 50 Yuan/kg for excess baggage Beijing to Kashgar. We were surprised to find that Xinjiang has equal or even higher quality substitutes for most of the food that we brought from the U.S. We could have saved several hundred dollars by sending a shopping list to our agent in Urumchi.

Our Chinese agent from Xinjiang Mountaineering said that this was a first ascent. However, after some research I believe this route may have been first climbed in 1982. The evidence is not clear. But it makes no difference: it was a wonderful trip and a great life experience.

Chad McFadden, AAC

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