Muztagh Ata – Tibet

At 7546 meters tall Muztagh Ata is ranked the third tallest peak in the Eastern Pamir Range – (after two peaks on the Kongur Massif located nearby). It sits on the common boundary of Aktou County and Tashkorgan County in Xinjiang, Northwest China not far from the Tajikistan border. Muztagh Ata consists of four major ridges and contains more than 10 glaciers. The name “Muztagh Ata” means “Ice Mountain Father” in the local Turkic languages.

The first recorded attempt at mountaineering on Muztagh Ata was in 1894 by Swedish explorer Sven Hedin. He reportedly rode yaks to 6279 meters. The summit was not reached successfully until 1956 by a joint Chinese-Russian expedition. Three years later, in 1959, the mountain was climbed by a team of Chinese men and women in preparation for an Everest climb. For about 20 years there was no climbing activity on Muztagh Ata. In 1980 an American party, led by Ned Gillet, summited Muztagh Ata on mountaineering skis. The Gillet climb of Muztagh Ata set a record for the highest ascent and descent of a mountain on skis.

Since 1980, when China began allowing foreign expeditions to climb peaks within its borders again, Muztagh Ata has attracted many climbers. For a peak in excess of 7500 meters elevation, Muztagh Ata presents a challenging, but technically simple climb via the standard southwest ridge route. It has been characterized as one of the easiest 7000 meter peaks to climb in the world.

Regarding the standard climbing route, conditions change and the most recent climbing accounts should be consulted. There is a small icefall between Camps 1 and 2 which may or may not have fixed ropes and wands. It is possible that one expedition may fix ropes and leave them behind, allowing subsequent expeditions to utilize the same route through this icefall. Because several expeditions may be on the route at any one time ascending and descending multiple times to establish camps and summit, caution needs to be exhibited and routes through the icefall and in crevassed areas checked and rechecked by each expedition for safety. Skis and climbing skins or snowshoes are commonly used to ascend and descend. Descent can also be done by snowboard if snow conditions permit.

Though technically “easy”, acclimatization and changing weather patterns can never be overlooked nor underestimated on Muztagh Ata. Perhaps one of the biggest hazards in climbing this mountain is not allowing for enough time to acclimatize and attempting to climb too high, too quickly. If planning a climb of Muztagh Ata, days must be factored-in for acclimatizing (ascending, setting up higher camps and descending), as well as extra days factored in to wait for adequate climbing if  weather/conditions are not conducive. It just so happens that the most popular months to climb, July and August, occur during a time of increased precipitation in the Pamir Range. This may be related to the monsoon season on the Indian Subcontinent. It is not unusual during July and August to get 20cm to 30cm of snowfall overnight. It might also be noted that the elevation of Muztagh Ata BC (4500m) tends to be at about snowline during the summer months which means that precipitation there will alternate between rain and snow making soil conditions somewhat muddy at BC.

Example Muztagh Ata Climbing Expedition itinerary (may be customized):

Day 01 – Enter China via Torugart Pass which is on the border of China and Kyrgyzstan. Your Kyrgyzstan vehicle meets the China vehicle on top of the pass at the border. Drive 170km from Torugart Pass to Kashgar OR enter from Pakistan via Khunjerab Pass and drive to Tashkorgan. Accommodation in a hotel.

Day 02 – In morning make last-minute purchases. Drive 204km from Kashgar on the Karakorum Highway to Subash (3650m), camp OR (if coming from Tashkorgan) drive about 100km to Subash, meet camels and trek to Muztagh Ata Base Camp.

Day 03 – Camels arrive, load up expedition equipment on camels and trek to Muztagh Ata Base Camp. The trek to BC is about 4-5 hours. Muztagh Ata BC is at about 4500 meters elevation.

Days 04–22 OR 03-22 – Climbing (19 to 20 possible days climbing on the mountain). As with any climb on a big mountain with several higher camps, you will need to acclimatize and begin ferrying food and gear to establish Camps 1 (about 5200m), Camp 2 (about 6100m), Camp 3 (6600m), and perhaps a Camp 4 (about 6900m) Summit attempts from Camp 3 are possible. Actual climbing strategy is your responsibility. We recommend consulting with past Muztagh Ata climbing accounts, logs and journals for more information.

Day 23 – Pack up BC and trek with camels from BC back to Subash. Meet vehicle and drive back to Kashgar OR to Tashkorgan (if exiting to Pakistan via the KKH – another option is to fly back to Islamabad from Urumqi). Accommodation in a hotel.

Day 24 – Guided tour of Kashgar, an ancient Silk Road oasis city inhabited mostly by Uighurs, an ethnic minority people in China. Outside the urban area and in the Kashgar “Old Town” life goes on in many ways as it has for hundreds of years. There are daily “bazaars”. The family vehicle for many households is the donkey cart. Good souvenirs are locally crafted/manufactured silk, jade, carpets, copperware and musical instruments.

Day 25 – Drive to Torugart Pass and meet Kyrgyzstan vehicle at the pass. End China services.

Please contact us for current information on climbing Muztagh Ata or a price quote for your expedition.

Typical services that we organize and provide:

– Lodging and meals off the mountain.

– Meals when climbers are at BC: includes use of mess tent, tables, stools, dishes and eating utensils, and drinking water.

– Vehicle transportation: To and from the expedition trailhead.

– Camels: 1 each per climber for gear hauling to and from BC. Load limit per camel is 80 kilograms.

– All permits and fees to climb the standard route on Muztagh Ata.

– Required Chinese guide/liaison officer for the duration of the trip/expedition. This includes his salary and meals. Chinese guides/liaison officers do not climb and do not go higher than BC.

– Group Letter of Invitation (LOI) if requested.

Typically Not included in a price quote:

– Guide or driver tips.

– Emergency evacuation or medical services

Additional notes:

– From BC to Camp 1 local Kirghiz may have donkeys for hire by the kilogram. If you wish to use this service, you hire and pay cash to the Kirghiz at the time of service.

– From Camp 1 to the summit and back many expeditions prefer to use snowshoes or skis (with skins) to climb and descend. For the descent from the summit, snowboarding is also and option depending on snow conditions.