Lenin Peak, Kyrgyzstan

Tragedies on the mountain: Lenin Peak 1974

Author: Bryn Davies

The mountains are harsh and dangerous places. The weather can turn in an instant and one wrong move can result in death. Over the years there have been some tragic incidents in the mountains.

People have died doing what they (and we) love doing – challenging their bodies to the extreme, staring death in the face and giving it the fingers. This is just a single example of one of those terrible tragedies.

Lenin Peak, Kyrgyzstan – July/August 1974

In July 1974 an ill-equipped (even by Soviet Russian standards) group of eight women headed by Elvira Shateava attempted to make the first all-female ascent of Lenin Peak (7,134m) in an effort to prove that women were equal to men and could climb without the help of the opposite sex.

The group reached the summit on 5 August despite warnings from their meteorologist at base camp that bad weather was inbound. A storm hit the team while they were on the summit and they were given permission to set up camp and try and wait it out.

It was hard to find any specific information about this tragedy, because, as they say, dead men (or women) tell no tales. While camped out on the summit, the women’s small cotton ridge tents were destroyed by the high winds of the storm and in the absence of a snow shovel to dig shelter, they were forced to descend.

Summit of Lenin Peak, Kyrgyzstan

In what followed, one by one the women succumbed to the exposure on the mountain and it’s thought that their unwillingness to leave behind sick teammates was the reason all of them perished.

The team were also under so much pressure to succeed and prove everyone wrong that they were willing to push themselves further into a situation that they were incapable of handling.

The mountaineers have been criticised for assembling the group based on sex rather than experience and it’s been suggested that if a more experienced team has been formed the disaster could have been avoided. Unlike society, the mountains do not discriminate against gender.