From the flat lands to Lenin peak

The Dutch crow Ernst Sprenger set off with his friend, the Brit Rob Johnson, to climb and ski Lenin peak on the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. A real adventure for a skier hailing from a country that’s one quarter under sea level.

Note: Kyle Wood, responsible for many of the photos in this article, was another member of the climbing team that Ernst and Rob were part of to share the costs of the expedition.

It all started five years ago. I had done my time at university and really wanted to go out to the Alps and do a ski season. Growing up I was very fortunate to go skiing every year with my family. I was very confident on the pistes but always thought that off-piste skiing and mountaineering was something for the people born in the mountains. Anyhow I wanted to try this thing called: ‘off-piste skiing’, it sounded cool, exciting. I spent my first few seasons in St. Anton am Arlberg (Austria), slowly progressing getting to a point where lift access wasn’t enough anymore. I continued, got myself touring bindings and absolutely fell in love with the freedom, nature and trust between team- members. Slowly the entire Alps had become my playground and I was pushing my physical and mental levels.

In January 2017, I was on a climbing trip in Scotland. Chatting to one of my closest friends Rob Johnson about dreams. We were chatting about skiing higher, more remote, doing expeditions, the Himalaya’s. After some research I noticed that the Himalaya’s were far beyond my financial means. But I found this 7000m peak in Kyrgyzstan which hadn’t been skied by either a Dutch or British person. This peak is called; ‘Lenin Peak’ a 7134m peak located on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan with a massive north face. All affordable and giving us the full expedition experience we were looking for.

Kyle Wood
Route BC to ABC Athletes: Ernst Sprenger (left) and Rob Johnson (right)

On July 15th, we got on a plane and flew out to Bishkek the capital of Kyrgyzstan, bring an incredible amount of gear and food. With no experience on expeditions we went big, rather too much than not enough. We made my way to Ashik Tash, the Lenin Peak basecamp at 3700m. Very happy to be there with Rob. It felt like all the experience I had collected throughout the years had to come together for one mission. Good to have someone there I could trust beyond anything. Straight from the beginning I noticed that everyone was surprised to see skis. Everyone was excited but I am sure they were thinking: ‘these guys are crazy’.

The next day we went up to camp 1 (4400m), also called: ‘ABC’. From there, we would do our acclimatization. There was time and no rush, so we wanted to make sure acclimatization was perfect. Also getting to these altitudes the risks would increase. I was used to deal with avalanches, crevasses, weather and team dynamic. But the acute mountain sickness was new, not sure what to expect. Still I was stoked, the mountains looked incredible. There were so many lines to ski. I couldn’t wait to click in and make some turns again. We started out doing a couple of day trips, slowly increasing the altitude each time and just having so much fun skiing back to ABC.

It was time to make our way to camp 2, erect our tent and maybe sleep there. An alpine start with heavy backpacks and skis. The normal route from ABC to camp 2 is too steep to skin efficiently and the bashed track was definitely safer, so we boot packed all the way. Camp 2 is at 5300m, it was hot, I was down to my base layers and sipping the last drops of water I had. My watch said 5300m, I saw the camp only a traverse towards the left. We took a small break and thought maybe 30-45minutes then we are there. 2 hours later I walked into the camp, broken. I had pushed myself far beyond my physical and mental levels. We erected our tent and crashed, there was no way I was going to do anything else that day.

Kyle Wood
On route to Camp2 Athletes: Ernst Sprenger

The following day we felt like we didn’t sleep much but had definitely recovered a bit. Made sure the tent was good to leave for a few days and enjoyed the ski down. This was the highest we skied so far and I noticed that I needed more breaks. Going down just next of the route up we had people cheering. It was awesome, little bit of powder and maneuvering through the crevassed glacier. A few days later we went up again, this time getting to camp 2 was easy. It felt so weird being at camp 2, absolutely fine ready to continue higher. How could I have felt so bad the first time? We stayed the night and moved up towards camp 3 (6100m) the next day. Around 5800m I started to feel shit again. I had to push myself and thought: ‘why am I doing this to myself?’.

We climbed beyond camp 3 to the summit of Razdelnaya Peak (6150m). There was a beautiful view over Tajikistan. I clicked into my ski’s and prepared myself to ski of the summit. I was tired, had a massive headache but skiing felt like routine. Very smoothly I manage to link a couple turns, stoked extremely happy. When I stopped I noticed how out of breath I was, it took me a good minute to get my breathing back under control. We skied back all the way to ABC. The top was nice powder but lower down it was getting very wet and not very safe with all the crevasses and snow bridges around. It was time to get out!

Kyle Wood
Skiing from nearby summit 5731m Athletes: Ernst Sprenger

I felt acclimatized, time to keep an eye on the weather and plan our summit attempt. Our SAT phone allowed us to get good forecasts on different altitudes. August 1st looked like a great day to attempt the summit. Again we made our way up the route to camp 3. Around 5PM we had finished our dinners and prepared all the water for the following day. Time to rest and get some sleep alarms were set for 2AM. It was hard to sleep, the tent made a lot of noise because of the strong winds, we hoped it would calm down as the forecast said. All of the sudden the alarm went, it was time! We got up, drank and ate as much we could.

It was cold, the wind was strong, completely clear sky, it was going to be fine, probably fine. We felt confident, let’s do this! Step by step I followed the summit ridge up, I could feel the altitude but it was alright, it was manageable. The winds however got stronger, with every gust of wind we had to stop. It nearly blew us away. My confidence shrunk. We chatted about decision making before in ABC. How much risk was I willing to take? Did it make sense or was it just crazy? It was very hard but after chatting to Rob we decided to abort. We got out of there and returned to our tents at camp 3. Unfortunately the weather got worse over the next days and we didn’t get another opportunity.

There are so many factors related to ‘success’. Some are manageable, others are completely out of your own hands. Some say the expedition was unsuccessful. Absolutely not, it was a massive success. We created an opportunity to attempt a summit like this. The fact that I could be there and experience was already success, every step up was just bonus!

Ernst Sprenger: @ehsprenger
Rob Johnson: @jobrobski
Kyle Wood: @kyledwood5

Articles associés


An ice-axe in the pocket


Lovely Caroline