We had a very successful early acclimatisation, with the long walk-in to Advance Base Camp from Ashik-Tash basecamp going smoothly, followed by an ascent of the North ridge of Petrowsky as far as the non-technical ground extended to 4150m. Then, after a rest, it was up to summit Yukin Peak at 5140m, which was a fantastic viewpoint for the whole route. It is there that we started to get an appreciation of the scale of this massive mountain.
Nothing in the Alps compares to the immensity of the Himalaya, and this area, the Pamirs, is no different. The standard convention of not ascending more than 3-500m per day simply will not allow sufficient progress here, and the camps are strung out in 'safer' areas on the mountainside with around 1000m of ascent each time. This, along with the fact that you carry loads above ABC mean that the days are physically challenging, and acclimatisation is at a premium. Finally, as there are various commercial companies operating on the mountain, the bottleneck that is Camp 2 has become an unsanitary and rather sketchy place to be or longer than necessary.
My 10% luck really ran out on the day we were due to do our first load carry when I came down with diarrhoea. This meant another rest day and plenty of antibiotics. It is always important to follow stringent camp hygiene, and I have always been fastidious with washing, eating and drinking, but unfortunately here you are somewhat at the mercy of the camp cooks etc, and stomach upsets were rife around the whole mountain, let alone at our camp.
I felt a little better after 48hrs, and managed to eat, so we set off at 2am, the first party to do so. We made good time across the moraines and up the glacier, tackling the crevasses and ladder steadily and safely. We were in no rush, as we would be able to cross the 'Frying Pan' (where the snow and ice reflects the UV light and heat and provides exceptionally hot temperatures and debilitating levels of UV) to Camp 2 before it got really hot. Unfortunately, as each hour went by, I got weaker, the lack of food and rigours of the illness telling on me. We slowed, and eventually got to C2 by around 1pm. We had to find and erect the tents stored there by the porters amongst the relative chaos of far too many people, in various states of exhaustion through heat and effort and of course the altitude, as were were at 5400m by now.
The only place we could pitch was right at the top of a steep stony area, exposed to rockfall, but 'thankfully' close to the melt-water supply and the precarious balcony path to the quite disgusting latrine area. I would need to make countless visits during the night, tottering along the icy, gravelly path in the dark, and could keep no food down. It was pretty miserable and very difficult to remain hygienic, so the decision was made to descend the next day, which we did.
I did feel a little better with the drop in altitude, but the lack of sustenance in over four days was telling, and so we knew we had to rest more days. The problem was that the weather window was slipping by, and to make things worse, there was a guide and his client killed in an avalanche just above C2, a Swiss climber found dead on the summit ridge and various parties missing/trapped up at C3 and C4. All of this affected the 60% factor, that of attitude. We assessed our options, and contemplated getting a local guide to assist, but the weather, the fatigue, the interrupted acclimatisation programme and the ever-increasing serious nature of the mountain was nibbling away at our resolve. After a lot of debate and mulling over our options, we decided to abandon the trip.
It is/was very disappointing and sad, but it's all part of mountaineering. A 7000m summit is a real challenge in itself, without some of the other physiological and psychological issues we were facing. You need to be in prime physical and mental condition, otherwise the higher you go, the more dangerous and consequence-ridden it all becomes. Peak Lenin truly is a wonderful mountain in an outstanding area, and more than lived up to my expectations. Some of the conditions on the mountain not so.
But it is huge. It is very high. It does not suffer fools. Everything needs to be stacked in your favour, otherwise things can become very serious indeed. The nominal success rate is between 20-25%, and anecdotally we had it suggested that this year it has been in single figures - That was certainly reflected at our camp.
You win some, you lose some. Yes, We were very disappointed, but all of us know we made the right decision. Will I be back? Certainly a possibility.............it's a cracker of a mountain!