American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Tien Shan, Borkoldoy, Khan Tengri, Multiple Deaths

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Khan Tengri, mulitiple deaths. Sometimes referred to as one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, 6,995m Khan Tengri in the Tien Shan claimed the lives of no less than 12 climbers last summer. Its most formidable aspect is an almost 2,000m-high north face with many formidable mixed routes of the highest grade; apparently none have been climbed by non-CIS parties. On July 18 top Polish mountaineers Janusz Golab and Grzegorz Skorek were retreating in a storm from a probable new route up the center of this face. Skorek appears to have rappelled to a ledge and called to Golab that the rope was free. When Golab arrived there was no sign of either Skorek or the ledge. His body was later found at the foot of the face. Golab made a further nine rappels with minimal gear to escape the mountain, three times being hit by avalanches that seriously injured his leg. The talented Skorek was the son of the equally renowned Janusz Skorek (first ascent Thalay Sagar’s northeast ridge), who had been a regular climbing partner of the famous Jerzy Kukuczka.

Traditionally, the classic route to Khan Tengri ascends the trough of the Semenovski Glacier from the South Inylchek to gain the west ridge at a 5,800m col east of Pik Chapiev (6,371m). Unfortunately, between ca 4,500 and 5,200m it is threatened by serac fall from both sides. In August 1993 an enormous avalanche, emanating from a huge serac band on Chapiev, obliterated this section of the glacier, killing the celebrated Soviet Valeri Khrischaty and two British climbers. Since that time it has become more usual to reach the west ridge from the north; this is longer but objectively much safer. However, ascents from the south have still been made on a regular basis.

Almost exactly 11 years to the day from the time of this accident a large group of climbers (reportedly 40–50) from many different nationalities set off up the Semenovski Glacier. At 6:00 a.m. a huge ice avalanche swept down the flanks and into this group. Five Czechs, three Russians, and three Ukrainians were killed and many others were injured, some seriously. Casualties were evacuated by Kyrghyz helicopter pilots who were forced to carry out rescue operations at night to minimize further risk from avalanche.

Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO Editor, CLIMB Magazine

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