Mustagata - The Mountain

Cris Coban talks about Mustagata and the Kashgar Province

Mustagata belongs to the highest and most massive conglomerate of mountain ranges in the world, that includes the Himalayas, Pamir and the Kunlun Mountains. Geologists still argue that Mustagata "really" belongs to the Pamir group while "technically" belonging to the Kunlun range. There are multiple correct spellings for the mountain. Although we have adopted the "Mustagata" spelling (for convenience), the mountain is also spelled: Muztagh Ata, Muztagata, Mustagh Ata, Muztag Ata, Muztaghata, Muztagh-Ata, Muztag-Ata, Mustagh-ata.

The mountain is pretty isolated but can be reached from several different spots:

  • from Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan (via the Turugart Pass)
  • from Pakistan (via a difficult and lengthy trip over the Karakoram Highway to Tashkergan)
  • by train from Beijing (4 days!)
  • from Urumqi (also known as Urumchi - 23 hours)
  • by flying into Kashgar.
All these approaches are small adventures in themselves and are worth trying. I decided to fly directly into Kashgar (also known as Kashi) because I wanted to maximize my chances of making it to base camp while still in possession of all my mountaineering and video gear.

Why did Cris Choose Mustagata?

In the last few years every climb Cris undertake was a planned stepping stone on the way to Everest, the 7 Summits and the 14 8,000ers. Mt. Mustagata 24,757 ft (7,546 m) in Himalaya, China fit his climbing goals on multiple levels, here's what Cris' said:

  • Style of Expedition. This was not a fully-catered expedition. A great emphasis is placed on self-reliance at high altitude. That is exactly what I wanted to work on: becoming self-reliant in a high altitude glaciated, not very dangerous environment.
  • Load Carrying at High Altitude. I had never carried very heavy packs (50-60-70 lbs.) at high altitude (20,000+ ft) on snow and ice for many consecutive days. As unpleasant as it is to carry heavy loads, it is a pre-requisite for expedition style mountaineering (which covers just about all high altitude peaks in the world). Mustagata was an excellent testing and training ground. Now I have the needed confidence in knowing that I will complete and survive long, heavy carries at high altitude, over snow and ice.
  • Snowshoes. I never used snowshoes before. Not a hard to learn skill, but Mustagata offered an excellent opportunity to add another skill to my toolbox. Also, navigating around crevasses and working on other ice and snow skills in a relatively non-threatening environment was something I was looking for. Mustagata was a perfect training ground!
  • High Altitude Testing. Mustagata, at 24,757 ft (7,546 m) is a nice high altitude test on the way to the 8,000 m peaks. I passed the test, but not without experiencing "High Altitude Hypoxia on my first summit bid. This not only gave me the necessary confidence in knowing that I will be capable of functioning at 8,000+ m, but it also taught me important lessons in recognizing the symptoms of, and preventing hypoxia.
  • Adventure. Going to a remote corner of China, visited by very few Westerners had its own exotic appeal. And what a nice place it was to visit!
  • Unique peak. I didn't know that when I chose Mustagata, but what a nice surprise! There aren't many mountains in the world like Mustagata: a massive rock, creating its own wicked weather, surrounded by desert. At the higher camps you are freezing at minus 30 degrees (or it's snowing) while you look down at the baking hot desert below.


Cris spent about 5 days in Kashgar Not knowing what Kashgar was like, he thought the 5 days would allow him to get over jetlag and rest after a long, complicated two-day trip. Kashgar turned out to be much more than a rest stop: it was one of the most charming, relaxing, culturally rich areas imaginable. Although a Chinese Autonomous Region, ethnically the area is Uyghur.

The Uyghurs are a proud Central Asian Turkic-speaking people, who preserve unspoiled their ancient Moslem culture. Going to Kashgar is as close as one can get to a trip in the Time Machine: erase from awareness the internal combustion engines (everywhere, noisy and smelly) and cell phones (less smelly but also everywhere) and you'll be treated to a world that thrusts you back 1,000 years.

Take time to smell the Na'an bread baked in sidewalk ovens and the shish-kebabs grilled at every street corner; listen to the banging of the blacksmiths shaping metal in sidewalk workshops; listen to the calls of the peddlers selling everything from carpets to sheep; visit the mosques, artfully decorated and vibrant with worshipers; and make friends with the Uyghur people, always smiling, always warm towards strangers, proud of their culture and inquisitive about foreigners. Must visit spots:

  • Kashgar Main Square with the Id Kah Mosque; adjacent streets lined with shops, small restaurants, blacksmiths, coppersmiths and crafts makers of all kinds; Abakh Hoja Tomb; the Sunday Market (merchants + buyers + "just looking" = 100,000).
  • the Shipton Arch (largest natural arch in the world).