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FINNISH ULUGH-MUZTAGH - 2003 EXPEDITION

In September - October 2003 we carried out a very successful Finnish expedition to a very remote peak in the Kun-Lun Mountains - Ulugh-Muztagh.

Located near the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau Ulugh-Muztagh is the highest peak in the eastern section of the Kun-Lun Mountains. Due to its location, Ulugh-Muztagh is easily one of the most remote and inaccessible mountains in the world. Only two expeditions before us could reach Ulugh-Muztagh and summited it. The first was a Sino-American expedition in 1985, the second one was a Japanese expedition in 1989. Both expeditions reached the mountain from the eastern side and climbed it along the South-East Ridge. Many books and maps show 7723 m as a height of Ulugh-Muztagh but the Sino-American first ascent expedition gave it a height of 6973 m.

The western side of the mountain was unexplored and unclimbed. A few climbing teams tried to reach Ulugh-Muztagh from that side but without any success. The last attempt was done in 2001 by Johan Heersink (ALPEX firm, Holland) but his expedition stuck in quicksand about 90-100 km from the mountain.

So, our expedition had to solve two main problems: to reach the bottom of Ulugh-Muztagh from the West and to climb it from the western side along the virgin West Ridge.

our way from Bishkek to Ulugh-Muztagh
our way from Bishkek to Ulugh-Muztagh

The expedition was organized by Mr. Kenneth Nordstrom (Finland), Mr. Antero Vartiainen (Finland) and Mr. Andrey Ershov (Ersh Travels, Russia). In Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang our expedition was served by Mr. Nikolay Shchetnikov (Dostuck-Trekking, Kyrgyzstan) and Mr. Kong Baocun (Aktao Mountaineering Association, China).

There were 19 persons in our expedition:
Mr. Antero Vartiainen - expedition leader, Finland
Mr. Andrey Ershov - organizer and manager, Russia
Mr. Heikki Karinen - expedition doctor, Finland
Mr. Marko Aho - climber, Finland
Mr. Jari Ahtola - climber, Finland
Mrs. Johanna Alitalo - climber, Finland
Mr. Istvan Galfi - climber, Finland
Mr. Petri Kaipiainen - climber, Finland
Mr. Antti Maenpaa - climber, Finland
Mr. Toni Niiranen - climber, Finland
Mr. Kimmo Puoskari - climber, Finland
Mr. Mika Seppanen - climber, Finland
Mr. Mikko Valanne - climber, Finland
Mr. Alexandr Petrov - driver, Kyrgyzstan
Mr. Nikolay Budarin - driver, Kyrgyzstan
Mr. Nikolay Gopka - driver, Kyrgyzstan
Mr. Ye Bing (David) - liaison officer-interpreter, China
Mr. Zhao Ziyun - guide-expert, China
Mr. Wang Yubing - cook, China

We took two very powerful 6WD Russian army trucks (Ural), crossed Kyrgyzstan, the Takla-Makan desert and the Kun-Lun Mountains, reached Ulugh-Muztagh from the West and summited unclimbed Western Ulugh-Muztagh Peak (6925 m) along the virgin West Ridge and six unclimbed 6000-m peaks not far from our BC.

our route through the Kun-Lun Mountains to Ulugh-Muztagh
our route through the Kun-Lun Mountains to Ulugh-Muztagh

Our way was about 5200 km from Bishkek to Bishkek. Around 1200 km we drove through the mountains without any road, on the altitude about 4000-5000 m, through the passes above 5000 m, rivers and quicksand. Our itinerary was the next:
September 11
Drive from Bishkek to Naryn.
September 12
Drive from Naryn via the Torugart Pass on the Kyrgyz-Chinese border to Kashgar.
September 13
Drive from Kashgar to Yecheng.
September 14
Drive from Yecheng to Minfeng.
September 15
Drive from Minfeng to Qiemo.
September 16
Qiemo, rest and preparation.
September 17
Drive from Qiemo via the pass of 2948 m through the Altun Shan Range to Yanbulak (Stop 1, 3039 m) near the Cherchen River. Difficult pass and bad road. See photos of September 12 - 17 .
September 18
Yanbulak, acclimatization.
September 19
Drive from Yanbulak via the pass of 4648 m to Stop 2 on 4407 m. The Pass was crossed without any road along dry riverbeds with very big stones. Very difficult way.
September 20
Drive from Stop 2 to Stop 3 on 4809 m near the big salt lake. Bad road with several passes around 5000 - 5200 m. The first view of Ulugh-Muztagh. See photos of September 19 - 20 .
September 21
Drive from Stop 3 to Stop 4 on 4682 m without any road. Both trucks got stuck in the mud and quicksand. One of the trucks was broken.
September 22/23
Stop 4, attempts to free the trucks and repair one of them. Istvan Galfi had HAPE and it was necessary to transport him down to Qiemo. See photos of September 20 - 23 .
September 24/30
Drive with one truck to Qiemo and back along the other way (via Stop 5 on 4844 m) with the sick Finnish climber and for taking spare parts for the broken truck and additional fuel. Eleven persons with the broken truck were at Stop 4. The second truck was broken on the way to Qiemo and was repaired there.
October 01
Drive from Stop 4 via the pass of 4786 m to Stop 6 on 4784 m without any road. Both trucks got stuck in the mud and quicksand. Very difficult way.
October 02
Drive from Stop 6 to Stop 7 on 5136 m along the river without any road. Nice views of Ulugh-Muztagh. Very difficult way.
October 03
Drive from Stop 7 to BC on 5175 m near the tongue of the Yulin Glacier without any road. Pitching BC. See photos of September 23 - October 03 .
October 04/14
Pitching altitude camps: Depo Camp (5470 m) on the northern side of the Yulin Glacier, Camp 1 (5700 m) at the bottom of the West Ridge, Camp 2 (6440 m) on the shoulder of the West Ridge and climbing virgin West Ulugh-Muztagh (6925 m) along the West Ridge. The first ascent of West Ulugh-Muztagh was done by four young Finnish climbers Marko Aho, Jari Ahtola, Antti Maenpaa and Kimmo Puoskari. They overcame steep enough snow slopes of the West Shoulder, very long West Ridge, steep and icy summit pyramid (about 40-50 degrees) and reached the summit on October 12. Besides that Andrey Ershov (Russia) and Alexandr Petrov (Kyrgyzstan) did the first ascent of Peak 5986 m on October 06 and our expedition doctor Heikki Karinen did the first ascents of Peak 5993 m, Peak 6060 m, Peak 6094 m, Peak 6146 m and Shetou Peak (6285 m) during October 08 - 13. See photos of October 03 - 15 .
October 15
Drive from BC to Stop 8 on 4702 m without any road. A lot of frozen rivers and very nice views of Ulugh-Muztagh.
October 16
Drive from Stop 8 to Yanbulak (Stop 1) with crossing the Ulugh He River. Numerous herds of antelopes and wild yaks.
October 17
Drive from Yanbulak to Qiemo.
October 18
Drive from Qiemo to Minfeng.
October 19
Drive from Minfeng to Hotan.
October 20
Drive from Hotan to Kashgar.
October 21
Kashgar, rest and sightseeing. See photos of October 15 - 21 .
October 22
Drive from Kashgar to Naryn.
October 23
Drive from Naryn to Bishkek.

All expedition members were very happy because we reached Ulugh-Muztagh from the West and summited its virgin west peak (and several unclimbed 6000-m peaks) - none of climbers has been there and nobody could do such expedition before us!

Andrey Ershov
December 21, 2003

  • EXPEDITION PHOTOS, PART 1 (September 12 - 17)
  • EXPEDITION PHOTOS, PART 2 (September 19 - 20)
  • EXPEDITION PHOTOS, PART 3 (September 20 - 23)
  • EXPEDITION PHOTOS, PART 4 (September 23 - October 03)
  • EXPEDITION PHOTOS, PART 5 (October 03 - 15)
  • EXPEDITION PHOTOS, PART 6 (October 15 - 21)
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