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  Mustagh Ata 2005: SummitClimb 2005 Mustagata New Route Final Dispatch by Leader Jon Otto


Update: Finally, Mustagata wrap-up. It was a great climb. As far as I know, we are the first team to have reached the top from this route. This is not 100% certain, though, and I would like to know about any other ascents and attempts from this line. To re-hash, we climbed up the slope on the right (or south side) of the Kartamak glacier. I now call this the traditional route, since it was the original line to be climbed by the Chinese way back but was given up for the present route (or normal route) that everyone climbs because of camel transport problems at that time.


Now I can admit that I was worrying about a few unknowns on the route. Although we did extensive research ahead of time there was still the question of possible large crevasses between camp 2 and camp 3 and just above camp 3 towards the summit at around the 7000-meter elevation. We hauled up hundreds of meters of fixing line just in case. None of it was used up there. The route simply flowed. Potential ice fields and obstacles never materialized. From base camp to the summit it was one beautiful line. (Ok, we did put in 100 meters of fixed line but that was right above camp 1 to make "perfectly" safe a short section where there were possibly some hidden crevasses.)


Because I was worrying about crevasses and ice fields, guide Jonathan Sullivan and two of our Tibetan climbers, Aden and Tseping, went to basecamp five days before the group. The idea was for them to push the route and summit early. However, a five-day storm hit when they were posed to make a summit bid, and they had to come down. Murphy's Law never fails.


It all started on July 12th as five of us (Aden, Jonathan S., Yang Wei, Urs, and Jon O.) pushed the route to camp 3, carrying one tent. The WEATHER hit a couple hours after leaving camp 2. White out conditions, heavy southern winds, and thunderstorms. As one storm suddenly thundered directly overhead Urs and me threw our packs on the slope and hunkered down for 20 minutes in the snow, hoping not to be hit by lightning. Visibility dropped from 400m to 20m. None-the-less, through heavy whiteout and whipping winds we kept pushing on. Finally the Garmin GPS read 6800 meters and we were on a relatively flat (15 degree) slope. We dug two tent platforms and had no idea what was around us. Winter wonderland.


Urs and me dropped our loads, wished Jonathan, Aden, and Yang clear skis for tomorrow, and then quickly descended by ski back to camp 2. The following day Urs and me had an incredibly fun time skiing back down to basecamp. High on the mountain the weather stayed socked in for the next 4 days.


By this time the rest of the team had already slept at least one night at camp 2, were super acclimatized, and resting at basecamp for a couple of days before the big summit push. On July 15 the entire remaining team (except the Norwegians) left for camp 1. The weather finally seamed to be turning for the better. A cold front had blown in, radically changing the snow conditions on the mountain. Prior to this the snow at camp 1 was wet and soft. When you stepped into the snow pack, you literary sank in beyond your knee. The whole mountain was melting off. Then one evening everything froze up. Around camp 1 it was an extremely hard frozen snow pack. Much better conditions to snowshoe and skin up. However, you had to walk carefully on the slippery surface. The snowshoes provided just enough bite, and the slope was gentle enough for the skins on our skis to work.


On July 16 we all made camp 2. That evening more extreme winds and large snowfall. Spindrift buried our tents. But in the morning it was perfect weather again. After our Tibetan climbers dug out the tents, everyone except Kristine and Gary made the trip to camp 3. Kristine had a throbbing headache and Gary had stomach problems. On July 18 at just after 6:00AM local time we were on our way to the summit. I headed out early with our two Tibetan climbers, Dorje and Tenzing, to find the route. We were hoping Aden could have found the way earlier, but after four nights at camp 3 in terrible weather he eventually had to descend back to basecamp for rest. So, unfortunately, Aden was not able to accompany us to the summit. The three of us skirted the lower right side of a line of huge crevasses that extended vertically up the mountain. These crevasses were the top portion of Kartamak Glacier. We had to find a way through this broken up ice field in order to get onto the summit slope. The route was stunning as it meandered along the lip of a huge crevasse, but did not offer much promise for passing over. Then, suddenly, all crevasses ended at 7050-meter elevation and we were looking at a straight line shot to the top. We stripped off our harnesses, left the ropes, and continued the climb to the summit. Dorje and Tenzing went ahead and tirelessly broke trail. The snow was again soft and deep. Then suddenly Dorje came running down the slope. What was wrong? "I have bad diarrhea", he said. It must have been pretty bad since he continued down the mountain.


The rest of us continued up. Soon, we were looking down on Mustagata's 7277-meter high sub-peak Kalaxong. Near the top it is so flat that you do not actually see the true summit until throwing distance. Everyone persevered. The snow shoeing and skinning up on skis was slow. Finally, the rock cluster and prayer flags popped into view. Success! Urs, Ron, Mathew, Leo, Tenzing, and Jon were on the top.


It was late in the afternoon when we reached the summit, the wind was whipping, and the air was clear. We were treated to magnificent views of surrounding peaks. After a short stay we all descended back to camp 3. It was almost a 12 hour day round-trip. The snow conditions for skiing were awesome. On the way down we found a better route with no crevasses. Urs continued down to camp 1 that same day. He was on skis and could fly, making it between camps in no time. The rest of us stayed at camp 3.


When we returned to camp 3 Kristine, Gary, Espen, Marius, Awang, and Tseping had arrived. On July 19 they left first thing in the morning for the summit and made good time. Gary was still having stomach problems but forged ahead none-the-less.

Out of our team of 17 climbers, 12 reached the summit this year. We were also the only team at the new basecamp, which everyone seemed to enjoy.


Outline of the new (traditional) route:

Basecamp (4500 meters):

This basecamp is about 50 meters higher in elevation than the normal route's basecamp. Basecamp is situated on a grassy, rocky area. It is quite comfortable, but the overall area to pitch tents is smaller than the normal route's.

Basecamp to Camp 1 (5400 meters):

Walk up left side of rocky slope. Snow line for snowshoers starts at around 5200 meters. There is easy access to the snow for skiers to start skinning up at around 5050-meter elevation. Camp 1 is on a gentle slope. From camp 1 back down there is a fun snow gully to ski.

Camp 1 to Camp 2 (6170 meters):

Go straight up slope from camp 1. Go through "bowl" with crevasses visible on left and right. When going through this area stays on right flank. Then meander left and up on left side of slope. You intermittently have views of the normal route and stunning views of the Kartamak Glacier. Camp 2 is near where the Kartamak Glacier begins to cut aggressively into the mountain.

Camp 2 to Camp 3 (6800 meters):

A few hundred meters out camp 3 you have to navigate between two wide crevasses. The trail between them is obvious and safe. Then continue straight up slope until about 6400+ meters, turn slightly left towards the mass of broken up crevasses, and follow gentle slopes to camp 3.

Camp 3 to Summit (7546 meters):

Climb straight up out of camp 3. You will soon pass a crevasse on your left. Continue until 7050-meter elevation. At his point you are in a saddle between the main peak and Kalaxong Peak (7277) in front and to the right. At this point the mess of broken up crevasses separating you from the main peak slope come to an end. Go left up the summit slope. From here it is a straight shot to the top. Before reaching the summit you will pass an outcropping of rocks on your right. Stay to the left of these rocks. This is not the top yet. A little further the slope plateaus and you are going along nearly flat, frozen snow. Finally, you will see two prominent stone mounds. The one on the left is the true summit.

Comparison of the normal route and the new (traditional) route:

New (traditional) route:

1. Impressive views of the Kartamak glacier and the huge rock cliff it

carves into the middle of the mountain.

2. Safer and more enjoyable ski descent and ascent.

3. Overall route slightly longer

4. Overall slope angle more consistent.

5. Less teams and climbers on the route.

6. Team's equipment carried to basecamp by donkeys.

Normal route:

1. Impressive views of Mt. Gongar.

2. Not as friendly to skiers because of camp 1 to camp 2 ice field.

3. Overall route slightly shorter.

4. Couple of very short steep slopes between camp 1 and camp 2

5. Many teams and climbers on the route.

6. Team's equipment carried to basecamp by Camels.

Special appreciation to Black Diamond, Gore-Tex, and Backpacker Gear

Thank you EverestNews.com for your help updating the site, Jon


Team Roster:

Matthew Philliskirk (UK)

Jaggi Urs Walter (SWITZERLAND)

Jonathan Sullivan (USA) - Guide

Ronald Lester (USA)

Gary Charles Kellund (USA)

Yuan, Wei (CHINA)

Tom Jorgensen (DENMARK)

Leonardo Rub (USA)

Kristine O'brien (USA)

Jon Otto (USA) - Leader

Norwegian Father/Son team:

Espen Bjertness

Marius Bergsmark Bjertness

Tibetan Climbing Staff:

Awang Denje (Aden)

Dorje Kasang

Tenzing Seeching


Awang Larpu

Cook Staff:

Dang, Xiaoqiang (head cook)

Mr. Wang

Mr. Bai






Background: MUSTAGATA

Often Spelled: "Muztagata, or Mustagh Ata, or Muztaghata, or Muztagh Ata or Muztag Ata" Located in China, near K2.

1 July to 23 July , 23 days in China in 2005, 2006, and 2007.

This is Jonathan Christian Otto, the leader of Mt. Mustagata (7546 meters, 24,751 feet) this summer for our SummitClimb expedition. I am in Lhasa right now helping put together our Everest north expedition. The same strong Tibetan climbers we are using on Everest we will use on Mustagata to carry equipment up the mountain and set-up our camps. We hope you will be able to join our international team of men and women. We have had a lot of success on Mustagata. I have climbed it five times (4 summits), and our last expedition (July 2004) put 5 members and 2 Sherpas on the summit..

This year we will place our basecamp away from the crowd. The normal basecamp is crowded and soiled. At our new basecamp there will be only a few teams at most (we may be the only team) which makes for more sanitary conditions and will allow us to concentrate fully on the climb. From here it is a slightly different route up to camp 3 than from the normal basecamp. The conditions are very similar – non-technical, low angle snow slope (10 to 20 degrees) with few crevasses. 

Mustagata is a very high mountain. It is a great way to test your ability to cope with high altitude in a relatively short period of time.

July is the best time to climb, as its not so snowy as in June and not so icy as in August. We travel roped together and everyone on our team is either on snowshoes or skis for additional safety.

Our fantastic cook staff has much experience and has been with us for many years. They cook nutritious and tasty meals and have a great attitude. They do a good job paying attention to our health and hygiene so we can put our energies towards climbing the mountain.

We offer a full-service climb or a basic climb option. For the full-service climb we supply all mountain services: Permits, all equipment and food on the mountain (tents, stoves, gas, ropes, etc.), Sherpa support, basecamp meals, medical supplies, and more. All you have to bring is your personal climbing clothing, equipment and snack food. For our basic climb we take care of your permits and get you and your equipment to basecamp. Then it is up to you on how you wish to climb the mountain. You will still get access to our detailed route information and expertise throughout the climb.

Mustagata is part of the Pamirs on the old Silk Road (present day Karakoram Highway) connecting Kashgar in China to Islamabad, Pakistan. The local people are Khergiz and Tashiks. The Khergiz are nomadic shepherds who live in yurts and graze their camels, yaks, and sheep on the large grasslands around Mustagata, Mt. Gongar, and Karakul Lake.

Getting to the mountain is convenient and you have several options.

1.    Fly into China (Beijing, Shanghai, or Honk Kong) and then take the plane

or train to Kashgar. We will meet in Kasgar and go to the mountain together.

2.    Enter from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan overland via the Turugart pass. We will

meet you at the border and take you to Kashgar.

3.    Go overland from Islamabad along the Karakarum highway and meet us at the mountain.

Most members fly into Kashgar since this is the most convenient option. Jon Otto and Daniel Mazur

More About Mustagata Leader Jonathan Christian Otto:

Jon has been on top of Mustagata 4 times. Thrice by the normal ski-snowshoe route, and once via a daring new route on the east ridge. He is an extremely experienced leader, a real gentleman and a strong climber. Jon’s specialty is China and Tibet, including all of the Himalaya therein. He currently lives in Sichuan, China, speaks proficient Mandarin, and is a major player in the development of climbing in China. Jon personally knows and works with all governmental mountaineering agencies in China and Tibet. He has traveled the length and breadth of China and Tibet, including many remote and border areas.

His organizational skills are superb, and he has developed extensive contacts throughout Asia. Jon is a partner in Arête Alpine Instruction Center, a burgeoning climbing school in Chengdu which was started to address the needs of the rapidly growing climbing community in China.  

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