New Lenin Peak Safety Initiative Announced

© David Wade

A new initiative has been launched to support the development of a preventative safety and rescue (PSAR) system on Lenin Peak (7,134m), which lies in the Pamir range on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The Slava Topol Project is named after the late Slava Topol (Vyacheslav Sheiko).  © David Wade
The Slava Topol Project is named after the late Slava Topol (Vyacheslav Sheiko).
© David Wade

Situated on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Pik Lenin is the highest mountain in the Trans Alay range in the northern Pamirs of central Asia. Widely believed to be the "easiest 7000m peak", it attracts around a thousand visitors each year. However, ascent success rates are low (less than 25%), and levels of injury and illness are high. In recent years, a significant number of fatalities have been reported.

The Slava Topol Project (STP) will undertake a pilot study in 2024 to identify what is needed to improve safety on the mountain.

The programme is a British-American-Kyrgyzstan partnership. American ski-patroller and rescue expert Dave Wade, based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the British academic and mountaineer, Stephen Taylor based at the University of Cumbria are leading the project. The pair met on Lenin Peak back in 2019 and returned together in 2023. Taylor has been researching the sustainability of mountain tourism on Lenin Peak since 2017 and they both share an interest in mountain safety.

During their most recent visit they found themselves evacuating a dangerously ill climber with high altitude cerebral oedema (HACE) from the camp at 5,300m. While this proved successful, the experience underlined the inadequacies in the current rescue and medical provision on the mountain. (An account of the incident can be seen here on the Mountain Medicine Blog).

Following this incident, the pair resolved to improve the existing situation by introducing an appropriate PSAR system on Lenin Peak. To that end, they have established the Slava Topol Project to fund the development of rescue and medical support on this incredibly popular central Asian mountain. 

The Slava Topol project team in action on Pik Lenin.  © Slava Topol Project
The Slava Topol project team in action on Pik Lenin.
© Slava Topol Project

With the generous support of donors, the STP will work to establish the necessary resources and systems required for a PSAR on Lenin Peak. The development of the rescue capacity will be led by Wade in cooperation with the recently established Kyrgyz organisation Rescue in the Mountains. This is a private/public sector joint venture ("public foundation") initiated by Vladimir Komissarov. Back in 2017, Komissarov led the Kyrgyz Mountain Guides Association (KMGA) in their successful membership bid to join the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) and has been a major figure in the development of mountain tourism in Kyrgyzstan since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.  

While Wade will head up the development of the rescue aspect alongside Kyrgyz partners, for the medical dimension, Taylor reached out to the British Mountain Medicine Society (BMMS), whom he knew from presenting some of his earlier Lenin Peak work at one of their research events. He approached his contact at the BMMS, Jeremy Windsor who is a Consultant in Anaesthetics and Critical Care and is also involved, as a Senior Clinical Lecturer, in the delivery of the Diploma in Mountain Medicine at the University of Central Lancaster (UCLAN). 

Windsor is currently in the process of establishing partnerships with appropriate Kyrgyz medical organisations with the goal of creating a sustainable emergency medical and support capacity on Lenin Peak. The summer of 2024 will see Windsor, and several experienced BMMS colleagues, undertake an initial visit to Lenin Peak to identify and pilot a suitable strategy for establishing an appropriate emergency medical operation on Lenin Peak. It is envisaged that this project will be a long-term commitment of at least 5 years to establish a sustainable medical provision on the mountain and to also offer excellent training and research opportunities for health care professionals interested in mountain medicine.

Funds are now needed to realise the goals of the project. Teewinot Institute of Wilson Wyoming, a 501-c-3 nonprofit (IRS# 83-0286687) is serving at the project's fiscal sponsor. To contribute, send your cheque made to Teewinot Institute, PO 1210, Wilson WY 83014, USA, with a note indicating that it is for the Slava Topol Project.

The late Slava Topol.  © Jason Sheldrake
The late Slava Topol.
© Jason Sheldrake

The Slava Topol Project is named after the late Slava Topol (Vyacheslav Sheiko) who tragically died in 2022 whilst guiding on the mountain. Slava was a local legend on Lenin Peak. His athletic ability was underlined by his regular participation in the Lenin Peak Sky Race (4,400m to 7,134m: the world's highest race which Slava won three times, with a fastest time of 5.5 hours), his numerous ascents of Lenin Peak (26 times) and numerous ski-descents of the steepest lines on the mountain's north face.

In addition, he had an astonishing capacity to porter huge loads to the mountain's high camps (see picture above). He invested his considerable earnings in establishing Topol Camp on the mountain and a ski-mountaineering business located in Ak-Suu in the Terskey-Alatoo mountains near to his hometown of Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. His family continue to own and operate Topol Camp and they will be generously hosting volunteers whilst they are working on the mountain.   

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