The Lord of the Spirits


The Fascination, Geography and History of Khan Tengri

Khan Tengri is without hesitation one of the most beautiful peaks in the world. Shaped like a child’s drawing of a mountain, its summit and sharp ridges form an almost perfectly symmetrical pyramid covered in snow and ice. Khan Tengri’s name means “Lord of the Spirits” or “Lord of the Skies” in the Uighur and “Ruler of the Skies” in Turkic as the mountain was worshipped in the indigenous shamanistic culture. Khan Tengri is located on the Kyrgyz-Kazah border, 7 km west of the China border in the remote heart of the Central Thien Shan Mountain Range. The mountain forms the highest point on the Tengri Tag sub-range that lies between the Northern and Southern Inylchek (or Engilchek) Glaciers. The latter is the third largest glacier outside the polar regions after the Siachen Glacier in the Indian-Pakistani border region and the Fedchenko Glacier in the Tajik (SummitPost, 2015).

Khan Tengri is the second highest mountain in the Tian Shan Range after Peak Podeba (7439m). Moreover it is considered to be the third hardest Snow Leopard mountain after Pobeda and Pik Kommunizma. Being the most northerly 7000 m peak in the world it can be subject to treacherous weather. The northern latitude also makes the climbing season very short (mid-July to end of August).

The first European to explore the Thien Shan Range was Piotr Seminov, a member of the Russian Geographic Society. In 1856 he carried out his first expedition to the Lake Issyk Kul region. The following summer Seminov, at the head of an army of 1500 individuals, crossed the Santas Pass and proceeded east towards the Chinese frontier arriving in the highest area in the mountain range. Here he counted at least thirty high mountains, the highest of which he believed to be Khan Tengri. Others later visited the region, among them famed explorers like Swedish Sven Hedin, Italian Cesare Borghese, accompanied by Swiss mountain guide Mattias Zurbriggen, and a whole set of Russian explorers (SummitPOst, 2015).