Brief Description of Muztagh Ata
Situated in the westernmost reaches of China, at the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, Muztagh Ata towers above the surrounding mountains, lakes and valleys of the region.
At 7,509 metres (24,636 feet) in elevation, it is the second highest mountain on the northern edge of the plateau. Due to its gentle western slopes, however, the peak is also widely considered to be the easiest 7,000er to climb in the world.
The relative ease of the ascent, paired with the region’s dry weather and close proximity of the base camp to the Karakoram Highway, have made the peak a popular destination for mountaineering enthusiasts.
Quick Facts about Muztagh Ata
- In the local Uyghur language, Muztagh Ata literally translates to “father of ice mountains”. With its immense size and the largely glaciated summit, it is not hard to understand why it was given this name.
- In 1980, an expedition led by Ned Gillette became the first one to successfully ski up and back down Muztagh Ata, making it the first successful ski ascent to a summit higher than 7,500 metres (24,600 feet) in elevation.
- Muztagh Ata is frequently used by more experienced climbers as a practice peak for ascents of Mount Everest. Climbers will generally attempt to summit Muztagh Ata at the very end of the summer, before heading on to Nepal and then the Everest Base Camp.
History of Muztagh Ata
References to Muztagh Ata go all the way back to around 1000 BCE, when the mountain is mentioned by name in the Rigveda, a Hindu holy book.
The first known attempt to climb the peak, however, would not come until 1894 when a Swedish explorer and geographer, Sven Hedin, failed to summit the peak. Several other attempts were made by other expeditions in 1900, 1904 and 1947.
The first successful ascent of the peak would not happen until 1956, when a team of Soviet and Chinese climbers made it to the summit via the west ridge, which is now considered the standard route.
Experience Required for Climbing Muztagh Ata
The normal route up the western slopes of Muztagh Ata does not require any technical mountaineering skills; only some glacier travel and snow climbing skills are needed to climb.
While some guides will offer to teach the necessary skills while acclimating at the base of the peak, most prefer participants to have previous glacier hiking experience as well as previous experience at elevations of 6,000 metres or more.
Even though the climbing is not very technical, it is physically demanding. At higher elevations, thinner air paired with strong winds combine to make the climb even more challenging.
As a result, it is important for all participants to be in excellent physical condition. Most guides recommend spending three to six months prior to the ascent improving endurance, physical strength, and flexibility.
Main Routes up Muztagh Ata
There are two main routes that lead up to the summit of Muztagh Ata, along with a few others that are more rarely climbed.
The main route to the summit is the normal route, which heads up from the northern slope on the western side of the peak. The route is not very steep, with a maximum grade of less than 40 degrees. There is one icefall to climb en route to the summit, but few other obstacles.
The traditional route, which heads up the southern slope on the western side of the mountain, is the other main route. While the route is also quite technically easy, it is also a bit longer, which is part of why it is less popular.
The eastern side of the mountain is far steeper and offers some more technically challenging routes to climb by, including the east ridge route and Kalaxong south ridge route. As a result, these are mostly climbed by professional mountaineers and rarely used on commercially guided trips.