Muztagh Ata stands at 7545m and is located in far western China, it’s often called one of the easiest 7000m peaks because of the lack of technical difficulties, but an 18% success rate suggests that it’s not that easy.
We called it a 7000m Kosciuszko, but you could also call it a poor mans Cho Oyu, partly because it lacks the height but also because it’s a far cheaper trip to go on. We paid a little over $2000 USD per person for the fixed date departure expedition base camp service. A similar trip to Cho Oyu would be more in the vicinity of $10,000 USD. So for anyone looking for an affordable high altitude experience it's not a bad option.
I’d wanted to climb a 7000m peak for a while, I’d climbed quite a few 6000m peaks but high altitude is one aspect of climbing I’d never experienced.
A lot of climbers who like technical climbing hate the idea of trudging around snow slopes and pulling on fixed lines, and it’s not my ideal either, but fortunately you can climb and descend Muztagh Ata on skis, that makes it way more fun! Also because of the lack of technical difficulty there are no fixed ropes, so no queues. I was happy that despite the large number of expeditions on the mountain you were often on your own, I guess the 3000m of vertical between the summit and base camp thins everyone out a lot.
We flew into Kashgar to start our expedition. It’s an old city that has had a makeover as the “old town” has been knocked down and rebuilt but is still an ornate woven maize of little streets and alley's. In town you can find hand made ice-cream to keep you cool in the 35 degree heat!
From Kashgar it’s only a 5 hour drive and you're at Subashi, a nothing town where the 16km trek to Basecamp starts. We were lucky enough to have a really nice bunch to share base camp with, 2 Dutch, 2 Italians and one odd but quiet French man.
We arrived at Basecamp at 4500m on the 3rd day of the trip which is a really fast and easy approach for a big mountain. Fortunately because of our previous acclimating in Peru we felt really good and where able to go to camp 1 at 5500m the next day and leave the tent and some gear before skiing back down to base camp.
The next day we rested and got ready to head back up to spend some time up high and further our acclimating. We spent 2 nights at camp 1 then headed up to camp 2 for 1 night at 6200m before skiing back down to base camp for 2 nights.
We’d felt pretty good most of the time so we felt ready for a summit bid. We took it very easy and spent a night at camp 1 then camp 2 before we headed up to camp 3 at 6800m. I was always expecting a rough night sleep at 6800m and it was, but I managed to keep on top of things by drinking water every hour or so. I woke up at 3am and got the the Jetboil going and started the whole process of making water for the day.
At 5am I left the tent, 2L water, some snacks and not much else as I was wearing everything I had. The route to the summit was incredibly over-wanded, the snow pack was moderately deep to mid boot level skiing, although there were no tracks in that day, there was no way you could get lost. Dawn was clear and I went to take a photo but I couldn't turn on the camera with my thick mitts, so I had the idea of just using my teeth, the camera body was metal and my lip and tongue stuck immediately, I panicked and pulled away. As I stared at the frozen skin stuck to the camera my mouth filled with blood, I just had to get on with it, spitting blood up Muztagh Ata.
In general you move pretty slow at altitude, but the last few hundred meters of Muztagh Ata were particularly slow, as you near the summit it gets flatter and flatter and you can't actually ever see it. The rounded slope creates an endless false summit, but eventually it flattens right out and there in the distance is a mound of prayer flags that mark the summit. The weather was clear and moderately windy, but not enough wind to blow you round or over. A few quick photos and it was time to clip in and ski down, I'd get a few hundred meters then I'd have to stop, gasping for air skiing down 3000m above the plains below was really awesome.
Soon I was back at camp 3, we packed up and headed back down to the warm thick air.
July 03- Day 1-Arrive Kashgar, go to hotel.
July 04-day 2- Travel to Subashi (3900m)
July 05-Day 3-Trek to base camp (4450m)
July 06-Day 4-Carry to camp at (5500m)
July 07-day 5-Rest in base camp(4450m)
July 08-day 6-Carry to C1-sleep C1 (5500m)
July 09-day 7-C1 acclimate - rest C1 (5500m)
July 10-day 8-Carry and sleep C2 (6200m)
July 11-day 9-Return rest BC (4450m)
July 12-day 10-Base camp rest (4450m)
July 13-day 11-C1 (5500m)
July 14-day12-C2 Sleep (6200m)
July 15-day 13-C3 sleep (6800m)
July 16 -day 14- Summit (7546m) return to base camp
July 17 -day 15- Leave base camp (4450m) return to Kashgar
July 18 -day 16- Fly Home
The trip to Peru was very useful, there's no way we could have climbed it in such a short time without some prior acclimating.
The route on Muztagh Ata faces west and it seemed like there were two temperatures on the mountain, really hot and really cold, you could start at the bottom in shorts and t-shirt and finish in a down suit. No exaggeration. Layers that can easily be added and taken off are really handy.
The sun is really intense, be prepared for the equivalent of New Zealand summer mountaineering conditions and you should be ok.
Hydration is King! Because of the hypoxia theres increased output of bicarbonate. This will make you urinate a lot at altitude and this actually helps with acclimating, but because of this you need to drink much more. A lot of our time was spent melting snow and drinking tea. Make sure you have a large variety of tasty teas etc..
There is a big supermarket in Kashgar, we brought a lot of our food from home however, especially freeze dried meals, snack bars, long life cheeses, peanut butter etc.... you can find loads of local nuts, seeds and fruits in Kashgar.
We were able to buy threaded gas canisters for our jet boil at our base camp as they had a supply.
Moving really slowly seemed to be a key to success. When you go to a higher altitude even your resting heart rate will be elevated, so pushing yourself hard while ascending is a bad idea as it will just create extra unnecessary stress in your body while it's trying to adapt.
Big brother is watching. China is a highly policed state, alot of websites are blocked, such as google, gmail, Facebook, messenger, twitter etc.. its impossible to use most search engines, so come with specific website addresses that you need, assuming you do get to use the internet! i.e.: your flight company's address, weather sites etc
We used Mountain forecast - www.mountain-forecast.com for some pretty reliable weather info. ....
Early season - end of June - you could ski almost to basecamp - at the end of July you can almost walk all the way up to camp one on rock and dirt.
Kashgar is a cool place.