Peak(s):  Lenin Peak - 23406
Date Posted:  11/04/2014
Modified:  06/09/2016
Date Climbed:   08/02/2014
Author:  kushrocks
Additional Members:   sundaycomix, Mickeys Grenade, robco, astrobassman
 Leukemia Climb for 3 year old Colton at 23,406ft. A Four Seasons and Love, Hope, & Strength Stor   

The Cause:
Some of us may have gotten to know Maggie Marzonie from the 14ers social events over the past year, while others may have known her much longer. She is a single mother of two wonderful children and one of the genuinely kindest people I have ever met. A few months ago, her 3-year-old son, Colton Harrington, was diagnosed with Leukemia. He will need years of chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant treatments. This is the story of how our team endured and climbed for 17 days to bring the Children's Leukemia Pendant to benefit the Love, Hope, and Strength foundation and especially Colton, to the summit of 23,406ft Lenin Peak (7,134 meters) in Kyrgyzstan.

Maggie with her son Colton and daughter Elly

Colton in recovery from another treatment

A Huge Four Seasons Denver and Love, Hope, Strength Foundation Thank you!

Before I get started I would like to give a huge thank you to Jim Guttau (Director of Human Resources) Chad Merced (Assistant Director of Rooms) Brooke Sampson (Executive Administrative Assistant) Michael Berk (Director of Catering) and Kris Kaminsky (Hotel Manager) from the Four Seasons Hotel in Denver where I work as well as Katie Sullivan Poppert from the Love, Hope and Strength Foundation for assisting me with this idea.

The Mountain:
Lenin Peak (also known as Pik Lenin) is located in central Asia in the country of Kyrgyzstan. It is about a 6-hour drive outside of the city of Osh near the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the Pamir Mountain Range. It is known as the mountain where the worst mountaineering disaster in history occurred in 1990 when a freak earthquake caused a massive avalanche that killed over 50 people in an area known as the "frying pan" at 17,400ft just below camp 2. At 23,406 feet, Lenin Peak is taller than any mountain in the Western and Southern Hemisphere. As a climber, you are always trying to push yourself to go harder or higher. Lenin Peak offered us our first opportunity to climb above 7,000 meters (23,000ft) at a much less expensive cost than a 7000 meter peak in Nepal. I had read about this mountain in many books where great climbers use it as a stepping-stone to prepare themselves to climb any of the world's 14 tallest peaks above 8,000 meters known as the "14 - 8000ers."

The most interesting fact that stood out in my mind before this trip was that Mt. Everest has about a 30% successful summit percentage of people trying to climb it. . . . . . Lenin Peak has around a 10% success rate. Challenge accepted!

Map of the part of the world we are in. Point A makes the town of Osh that we flew into while Point B marks the location of L

In order to safely attempt climbing to an altitude as high as Lenin Peak, the body needs 2 to 3 weeks of being on the mountain to gradually accumulate to the altitude. There is no helicopter in the world that can rescue you above 21,000 feet, because the air is so thin that the helicopter blades cannot get any lift. If you could magically be dropped off at the summit, you would lose consciousness in about 15 minutes and be dead within about 45 minutes. That is why it is so important to acclimate and slowly work your way up the mountain. Even with proper training and proper acclimation, you have trouble sleeping, eating, and even drinking water at high altitudes. While the body craves more calories and fluids, you lose your appetite. To adjust, your body begins to consume its own muscle tissue as energy. The biggest threats that a climber faces when going to these altitudes are HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) and HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). HAPE, is caused by a shortage of oxygen in the lungs where fluids begin to accumulate and you essentially drown. The only cure for HAPE is immediate descent. HACE, is similar in that it is caused by a shortage of oxygen but in this case the leaky fluid begins to swell the brain. Once again the only cure is immediate decent. If you develop these symptoms and do not start descending they can kill you within 24 to 48 hours . . . sometimes sooner.


Once I found out that this trip was actually happening and that I was doing it to support Colton I trained like a man possessed. I did close to 400,000 stairs on the stair climber in 6 months at my favorite gym Anytime Fitness in Northglenn. This came down to about 18,000 a week. When I wasn't in the gym I was carrying 70lb packs of water and rocks to the summit of the 14,000ft peaks here in Colorado. I was also fortunate enough to climb with Alan Arnette, who with successful summits of Manaslu, Everest and recently K2 is one of Colorado's best big mountain climbers. One of the most important things he taught me was that on big mountains you need to be very physically strong but even more so mentally strong.

The Team
A mutual friend who was originally planning the trip was unable to go at the last minute. As a result, I was paired with five other experienced climbers who I did not know before this trip. Each one of us had successfully summited different peaks over 19,300 feet before this trip. Despite never meeting or climbing together previously, I found a funny and humble group of guys with different abilities that contributed to a successful team atmosphere, and all became my good friends.

The Team . . . . . . . . .14er Username . . . . . Nickname(s) given on the trip

1) Colin Miller . . . . . . . Astrobassman . . . . . ."The Big C"
2) Colin Simon . . . . .no 14er username . . . . ."Diapers, Little C"
3) Rob Duckles . . . . . . .robco . . . . . . . . . . . "Comrad Duckles"
4) Jeff . . . . . . . . . . . . Mickeys Grenade . . . . "Burst of slow, HAPE"
5) Howard . . . . . . . . .Sundaycomix . . . . . . ."Morpheous"
6) Ryan Kushner (me). . Kushrocks . . . . . . . . ."Quads, PK"

Travling to Osh, Kyrgyzstan.
My flight took me from Denver to Houston to Istanbul to Osh for a total travel time of about 29 hours. I did not meet the rest of my team until we all arrived in Istansbul, Turkey. In Houston, I had an 8-hour layover and plenty of time to kill. Before I started boarding the long flight from Houston to Istanbul, my name was called overhead. Two airport police officers with hands on their pistols escorted me into a back room where they told me to put my hands in the air and asked if they could pat me down. They began to drill me on my destination for about 15-minutes, telling me how strange it was that I was going to Kyrgyzstan. They asked to search my carry-on, which contained my mountaineering boots, shock blocks and energy gels. They made me explain what each item was for and why I was going to that part of the world. They asked if I had 10K. Since I just had my bags checked in and weighed in kilograms on Turkish Airlines, I assumed they were asking me how much my carry on bag weighed. They were actually asking me if I had over $10,000 in cash. I obviously did not have any monetary value close to that. What really made them skeptical was that the security men were convinced that my mountaineering boots were actually ski boots. After 15 minutes of showing them my flight itinerary and even our planned climbing itinerary on the mountain, I finally said, "I know you guys here in Houston may not be used to seeing people with outdoor gear that involves climbing mountains, but these are mountaineering boots not ski boots. I am off to Asia to try and climb Lenin Peak. Do I really need to explain the difference between the boots again?" The probing ceased after that comment and I was sent on my way . . . Ahhh only in Texas.

Our group met in Istanbul to catch the one and only 5-hour flight to Osh early that morning. Apparently the local women of Kyrgyzstan believe the overhead bins on the airplane are theirs. They began taking our bags out of the overhead bins and onto the floor of the airplane to make room for theirs. We all laughed and just made the best of it as we put our bags back up in the overhead compartments.

Day 1) On to Base Camp.
July 20
After two straight days of flying half way around the world we were picked up by our logistics company at the Osh airport. Getting our bags was an absolute free for all since there were no luggage carousels of any kind. A truck would back up with the back end filled with luggage to a small door and people would just start grabbing. The same local women who threw our bags out of the overhead compartments on the airplane were throwing elbows to maneuver their way past us to get their bags first. We were in no rush so we just stood back and helped move other peoples bags out of the way so people could get through. It was quite the experience to sit back and watch. Thankfully everyone's bags arrived and we were taken to our hostel for a quick nap and shower before hitting the road for the 6 hour drive to Lenin Peak base camp. We were all exhausted from the long flights and layovers but the excitement of arriving at Lenin Peak kept us motivated to keep going. The roads are crazy as our driver was literally dodging cows and other crazy drivers on the road the entire way.

Dodging Cows

The first 4 hours are on pavement as you wind your way through beautiful canyons and valleys. We took a little break at the top of the pass where some Kyrgyzstan kids were playing in the dirt with sticks and rocks. I walked up to them, and they were really skeptical of me at first . . . . .but


not after some Starbursts!

The last 2 hours are a bone jarring 16 miles on a 4x4 road as you slowly approach the Parmir mountain range. Don't ever sit in the back row or you will be dodging 60 lb bags flying at your head for the last 2 hours of the drive. After three straight days of traveling, we finally arrived at the Lenin Peak base camp at an elevation of 11,850ft.

Lenin Peak Base Camp. True summit hidden in the clouds to the right.

Sunset at base camp the first night on an unknown 20,000ft peak . . . Spectacular

Quick video from base camp shortly after our arrival.

Day 2) Acclimate on Petrovsk Peak 15,670ft
July 21st

The time for starting to acclimate had come.
Beautiful clear morning heading out on our first acclimation hike. Left to Right Jeff, Rob, and Collin Miller

Shout out to work

There was a nearby peak that offered a good start to our acclimation process called Petrovsky Peak.
Us on the ridge heading up on our acclimation climb heading up Petrovsky Peak

We had originally thought this peak was over 16,000ft tall. However, it was actually about 15,670ft. The peak offered some fun scrambles on rock before leading to a steep snow section with some significant exposure near the top. Our whole group was used to climbing the 14,000ft peaks in Colorado. We could tell a big difference between being around 14,000ft vs. over 15,000ft. The view from the summit of Petrovsky peak was beautiful, yet intimidating, as we still looked up another 8,000ft to the top of Lenin. We had a long way to go.

At 15,670ft summit of Petrovsky Peak still staring up almost 8000ft to the summit of Lenin

Day 3) Rest/Pack Gear
July 22nd
A lot of time on big peaks such as Lenin is spent resting. It is a good idea to bring a nook (kindle) or iPod and a way to charge them to keep yourself entertained. Resting is a great way to allow the body to recover after pushing to higher altitudes like we did the day before. Also, even though you may technically be just sitting around you are allowing your body to adjust to the thin air or acclimate as climbers put it. Unfortunately we did find out some not so encouraging news on this day as well. Only 3 people so far out of hundreds who had tried had actually summited Lenin Peak all season.

Day 4) Move to Camp 1/Almost end my trip
July 23rd
It was time to move to the next camp and a higher altitude. Base Camp had been a zoo filled with lots of climbers and even more tourists who had come just to get a glimpse of Lenin, so we were happy to be getting out of there. We had a lot of gear to carry up the mountain, and were fortunate enough to have horses that brought most of our gear to Camp 1. From there on, we would be on our own making numerous trips to move our gear up and down the mountain.

Me heading to Camp 1

Possibly from over training this past year, I developed a partial tear in the Labrum Ligament in my hip that had slowed my training before attempting this peak. The doctor said I needed to be careful . . . . I tried. Some of the locals who were herding the horses with our gear to Camp 1 became very thirsty. It was oppressively hot that day, and I offered them some of my water. They were very thankful. Later at a large river crossing, they offered me a free ride across the river on the back of their horse for which they normally charge $5. I gladly took the ride. After crossing the river I slid off the back of the horse and misjudged how high up I was. I landed straight legged on my bad hip while wearing a 60lb pack. Lightning shot up my leg and I keeled over on my trekking poles. I slowly tried to sit down and threw my trekking poles down in disgust thinking just like that my trip was over. Colin Miller and Rob Duckles were right there when this happened. Since we were closer to Camp 1 at this point than Base Camp, they said let's try to make it to Camp 1 and figure out what to do from there. Though they were already carrying heavy packs, they offered to split up my pack weight and continue carrying it to Camp 1 for me. What awesome teammates!! But of course I was stubborn. After about 15 minutes and a bunch of ibuprofen, I could finally put some weight on my leg as the pain slowly went away. They continued to offer to take my pack but of course I wanted to do it on my own and somehow managed to get to Camp 1. The more I moved the better my leg began to feel and I was very happy to finally reach the rocky area that is Camp 1 at 14,444ft. From here, we got a great and again intimidating look as we stared 9,000ft up the giant face of Lenin leading to the summit.

Colin Miller approaching camp 1

Day 5) Rest/Scope Route/Pretty Sick
July 24th
I awoke with my hip pretty sore but nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. This was good news, especially since today was a rest day. I tried to stay hydrated and off of my hip as much as possible. The logistics company provided basic foods while we were at Camp 1, which was helpful. We went to breakfast that morning happy that we were at Camp 1 at 14,444ft. The conversation for me went from fun and energetic at the start of breakfast to keeling over with my head in my hands by the end. Something wasn't right. I had probably eaten something that caused some form of food poisoning, which at 14,444ft is not fun. I am going to guess the culprit was a few uncooked vegetables the served with breakfast. Later that day, we were supposed to go scope the route from here to where the glacier began outside of Camp 1. I was unable to move and spent the entire day lying in the tent in the fetal position, exiting only when I "really needed to." The rest of the team was incredibly understanding and helpful. They went to scope out the route while telling me I should just rest and try to get better, especially with a big carry day to Camp 2 at 17,600ft tomorrow.

Day 6) Heavy Carry to Camp 2 17,600ft/HOT!!!
July 25th
I woke up in the morning packed and ready to puke. I had been slowly recovering the previous day, but did not quite feel back to normal yet. So I threw on a 60lb pack and decided to move up to 17,600ft at Camp 2. I started off feeling sick but the more I pushed myself the better I felt.

Rope team moving up the Glacier

Some people think of a glacier as being incredibly cold. While that is true most of the time, it can also be incredibly hot when the glacier acts like a giant solar reflector oven. The "Frying Pan," as it is known, where the deadly avalanche in 1990 occurred, is a flat section just before the final hill to Camp 2 at around 17,400 feet that lives up to its name. The temperature outside was probably around 30 degrees at the time but felt like 100. We covered every inch of skin for protection from the sun. We set up a tent and stashed some gear at Camp 2 before heading back down to camp 1.

It was hot

As part of the acclimation process, you push yourself to a higher elevation and then go back down to sleep at 14,444ft, which is what we did. The problem was, because of the heat of the day, we moved much slower than we had planned. The heat of the day was intense on our descent as we traveled on a rope team hopping dozens of small crevasses. We should not have been there that late in the day. We could hear a few giant pops and cracks underneath the glacier we were on that sounded like gun shots at times. We needed to move quickly. Luckily we got down off the glacier and back to Camp 1 again in time having learned an important lesson. START EARLIER!!!

Our team hopping crevasses on the way down back to Camp 1

Day 7) Rest Day at Camp 1 - Small Avalanche
July 26th
We were right to be worried about descending so late in the day yesterday. We woke up at Camp 1 the following morning to see that a small avalanche had swept the exact route that we had just descended the day before around 16,000ft. Yikes!!!

I was lucky enough to have my good friend and meteorologist Chris Tomer from Colorado's KDVR Fox 31 News communicate weather forecasts to us while on Lenin Peak. Chris is not only a fantastic meteorologist who has done excellent forecasting for me while on other big peaks around the world, he is also one hell of a mountain climber. Check out "Tomer's Trails" sometime if you get a chance to see some of his great adventures in Colorado.

Chris informed us that bad weather was coming in July 28th to the 31st. The weather coming in was forecasted as light snow but very high winds would be arriving shortly after noon on the 28th and last for 3 to 4 days. Our options were to stay in Camp 1 and rest or to move up to camp 2 at 17,600ft to be closer to pushing towards the summit and wait out the storm up there for those 3 to 4 days.

Day 8) Rest Day/Pack for Move to camp 2
July 27th
All of us were anxious to move up the mountain but we knew how long it previously took us to move to Camp 2. We would need to start early to beat the weather moving into Camp 2. Most of the food we had brought from this trip was higher on the mountain. Even though we were being fed by our logistics company at Camp 1, we began to get hungry. Kyrgyzstan food is very basic and the portion sizes are small, especially for Americans, and even more so for American climbers. We needed to pack in as many calories in as possible. Colin Simon and I decided to have a strawberry jam eating contest to see who could eat the most jam on the stale dry slices of bread we had left over after each meal. I am not sure who won but the extra calories definitely helped.

Day 9) Move to camp 2/Crevasse Fall
July 28th
Making our second trip up to Camp 2 at 17,600 feet, we carried another heavy pack of gear and food. We had tried to plan for the first trip up to Camp 2 to be the heaviest carry, but of course that did not happen. Knowing we would not come back down below 17,600 feet, we carried an even heavier pack as we moved more food, fuel and other gear up the mountain.

Sun Rising on the glacier on our move to camp 2 day around 15,200ft

Colin Miller taking a rest before the step very crevassed section

Thankfully, this time we knew the weather was moving in and we started really early so we were able to arrive and pass through the "frying pan" with no issues of overheating at all. We arrived there around 10am that morning and spent the next two hours finding a suitable camping spot, making sure it was flat and somewhat protected from the storm, which we knew was coming. We had finally got the tent set up and then just like Chris Tomer had predicted shortly after noon. . . BAMM!!! The winds came . . . and they did not lighten up much for the next four days.

The wind was crazy: 35+ easy, with gusts up to 60 miles per hour. Another guided company had pitched four 6-person tents nearby. Colin Miller and I were just about to dive into our tent when I look at him as he yells, "WHOOOAAAAA WHOOOAAAA." I turn around to see 4 giant tents take flight in the wind. Two of them Colin Simon miraculously grabs. The two others came near Colin Miller and me and got caught briefly on some rocks about 10 yards from us. I quickly ran up to try to grab them knowing that without shelter in these winds, people would not be able to survive here. I knew there was a crevasse nearby but figured I was far enough away from it. I was wrong. I was 3 feet from the tents on what initially looked like solid snow until I punched through to my knee with my right leg. As I tried to pull my leg out, I fell in with both legs, catching myself with my arms on the surface and my left leg halfway in the crevasse catching part of the crevasse wall. My right leg was dangling in air. Luckily, I quickly was able to jump out but this scared me. This is why you travel on rope teams while crossing glaciers so if this happens your teammates can help pull you out. I learned a big lesson that just because I was near camp does not mean it was safe to walk around unroped. We piled dozens of rocks on the tents to keep them from blowing away.

Day 10) Rest Day at Camp 2/ Holy Wind
July 29th
Winds that were strong during the previous day and evening begin to howl even stronger during the night. I was unfortunate enough to be on the side of the tent that the winds were blowing against. As a result, the tent walls would blow in on me all night making sleep very difficult. We learned to listen as the strong winds would come from up high over a ridge to our north and then knew it was only about 5 to 10 seconds before it would hit us and our tent would shake violently in the strong gusts for several minutes. We had three tents for our team of six. Our group was all in good spirits as we huddled in our tents to hide from the winds. I have to give props to our two Hilleberg Tents and our EV3 that handled four solid days of extreme winds like champs. By the end of the four days of wind, about 25% of the tents around camp would be destroyed.

We had a pulse oximiter with us to test our oxygen saturation. Everyone in our group was between 88 and 93%, which is really good at 17,600ft on your first full day. If your oxygen saturation was anything less than 95 in Denver, there would be cause for some concern but at the altitude here, that was pretty good.

The best thing that came out of this day was that Chris Tomer gave us some encouraging news about August 1st to 3rd looking like a decent summit weather window. The winds would die down a bit, still windy but no precipitation. Our target summit day would be August 2nd or 3rd. To prep for that and be in position in time, we planned to try and carry some gear up to Camp 3 at 20,100ft. We still had plenty of time if we needed to turn back before reaching Camp 3, so we figured why not try.

A quick little video of how bad the winds were on the second day at camp 2. . . . .this lasted almost 4 full days. About 25% of the tents at camp were destroyed at the end of the four days. You can see one of the destroyed tents in red in the left part of the screen.

Day 11) Carry to camp 3 at 20,100ft.
July 30th
The plan was to get up at 6am and start packing our gear to head to Camp 3. However, once again the winds were blasting the tent all night and still gusting maybe 50 to 60 miles per hour that morning, so we shut the alarm off and tried to go back to sleep. About 2 hours later the winds had died down to about 30/35 miles per hour so we decided to give it a go. The distance from Camp 2 to Camp 3 is not that far. However, in that distance you are gaining 2,500ft in about 2 miles all above 17,600ft with a heavy pack which is not easy.

As we left Camp 2, we started up a steep slope that was about 35/40 degrees up to around 18,200ft. The weather at this time was socked in and windy but nothing too extreme at the moment.

Jeff moving up above 18,300ft on the way to camp 3

We gradually climbed a ridge before the final steep hill below Camp 3. We were now at 19,000ft staring up 1,100ft and one heck of a steep hill at that altitude to Camp 3. The weather was socked in but we were at least blocked from the wind. However, once we crested the final ridge topping the steep hill as we broke 20,000ft to see Camp 3, the winds began to howl. At 20,100ft, it was brutally cold. I took out my camera to try and take some pictures and video but the fully charged battery instantly died from the cold. All of our warm gear went on as we dug a snow pit called a cache, quickly buried our gear, and began to head back down to Camp 2. I showed Rob the altitude on my GPS as he had just set his own personal record topping 20,000ft for his first time. Unfortunately, somehow between this moment and digging the cache, I lost my GPS.

The bigger problem now was we could not see the route because of the blowing snow and wind. This is when our leader, Colin Miller, took charge. There were a few wands to mark the route. All of us formed a line with Colin Miller leading. As soon as he could see the next wand he would raise his right hand in the air and the next person in our group would follow until they could see it then the person behind would do the same thing. We did this for each wand until the weather began clearing on our decent. It was a simple, yet excellent, demonstration of leadership shown by Colin Miller to help us all get safely back to Camp 2.

Day 12 Rest Day/Funny stuff/Avalanche
July 31st

The funny part of the day was that at Camp 2 there were three make shift snow wall "bathrooms" right next to each other that people were using to do their thing. It had snowed a little which may have covered what was on the floor of the first make shift "bathroom". A French team oblivious to what they were doing and probably with no sense of smell, put their tent right on top of the first make shift toilet. Colin Simon went over to try and talk to them and tell them, but they spoke no English and waved him off rudely. I can only imagine the smell as their body heat from the tent that night melted the top layer of snow down onto the toilet they put their tent on top of. The next day their tent had moved . . . I'm pretty sure I can guess why.

We had picked a good day (yesterday) to carry gear up to Camp 3, because the wind and snow this day were relentless AGAIN. We had had four straight days of high winds with intermittent snow showers. Around 4pm we heard a big roar again that sounded like another huge gust of wind coming over the ridge but I noticed it was not coming from the usual direction, and I knew this one was different. The roar got louder and louder, but the problem was that we could not see what was happening because there was a heavy fog over camp. At this point, I knew it was coming from the steep slopes outside of Camp 2, and that it had to be a large avalanche as the roar got louder and louder. Right before this had happened, Colin Miller had stepped outside our tent to grab some more snow for melting water. I told him you better get in the tent, but he did not hear me. About 2 seconds later the entire camp was blasted by spindrift snow that was pushed out in front of the roaring avalanche. It covered everything and made its way inside all corners of our tent. Spindrift is not the avalanche itself but a huge burst of wind and very fine snow particles pushed out far ahead of the avalanche. The real avalanche was about 200 yards from camp and had hit the "frying pan" area just below camp 2. Had anyone been coming up that area to Camp 2 at that time, they probably would have been killed.

Day 13- Move to Camp 3
August 1st
It was still windy today but luckily it was mostly clear.

Colin Simon on a clearer day about 18,500 moving up to camp 3

Views are getting good as we look towards the mountains of Tajikistan.

Me at 20,100ft at camp 3 looking up part of the remainder of the route.

We moved to Camp 3, which had received significant snow, so it took us a while to find our cache. We then had to dig our tent platforms, which at 20,100ft is exhausting, especially after carrying another heavy pack up to that altitude. We had our summit attempt planned for the next day. It took us 2 hours to set up camp, where we finally climbed inside our tent to get warm and try forcing down some food and water for the big day tomorrow.

No shower or shave for 13 days at 20,100ft the night before a summit selfie.

We all went to bed around 8pm with the planned wake up call at 3am coming quickly with the hope that we would be moving toward the summit by 4am.

Quick Little Video in our tent that evening.

Day 14 - SUMMIT DAY!!!!
August 2nd
The word "sleeping" at 20,100ft is a very loose term. It is hard to eat or drink when your body is barely functioning. During the night, Colin Miller and I would catch each other taking deep breaths out of nowhere to make up for the lack of oxygen in our systems. You try to sleep with all the essentials inside your sleeping bag, rated to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Things like socks, gloves, mittens, nalgene bottles, even the inner boots from your double boots all stay inside the sleeping bag with you to stay warm.

The alarm went off at 3am and it was about 5 degrees inside our tent. The moisture from every breath we took during the night froze immediately as it touched the tent walls, so every time anyone moved or shook the tent you got a make shift snow shower inside the tent. We each managed to melt a liter of water for the morning and drank half of one from the night before. We now had only 2 liters of water for summit day, one of which is boiling hot water in an insulated carrier. Summit day would be long - anywhere from 12 to 18 hours with 2 liters being not even close to enough water. But, at this altitude, you cannot afford to carry much more weight on a summit day.

We stepped outside the tent at the last minute to stay warm as long as possible and met the other members of our team. I had on every warm piece of climbing gear I brought. The temperature outside was around -10F, but the wind was gusting to 30miles per hour giving us a wind chill of around -40F. We needed to start moving to stay warm. The winds would stay at or above 30 miles per hour the whole day.

The 6 of us started moving together at a steady pace until we hit the steep slope that lead to a flat plateau at 21,000ft.

Rob Duckles approaching 21,000ft as the sun rises

Quick 360 degree video from 21,000ft as the sun begins to rise. You can really hear how strong the winds were.

Sun popping over the clouds.

At 21,000ft, as I mentioned earlier, you are now at the height of the highest helicopter rescue ever performed. From here on up, there are no rescue teams; only your teammates can rescue you. Each of your teammates are currently at their physical limits as well. The only time I thought I might have to turn around was in the first hour or two, not because of the altitude, but because I was losing feeling in my toes. My $750 dollar double boots, while wearing two heavy layers of mountaineering socks, were not enough to keep my toes warm, even though I had slept with the boots inside my sleeping bag. To combat this problem, I had to constantly keep moving my toes with each step to keep them warm. After about an hour, I could start to feel them again.

Colin Simon right about the time we regroup

We regrouped one last time and then slowly started to spread out as we found our own rhythm. Howard was in the back while Colin Miller, Colin Simon, Jeff, Rob and I were pretty much together until we hit the so called knife edge ridge at 22,500ft.

Lots steeper than it looks . . . not a good place to fall at 22,500ft

It was not so much of a knife edge as it was a steep, exposed 100 foot section where you really do not want to fall. Colin Simon and I love this kind of stuff and got a quick burst of energy as we moved quickly up it. Jeff and Rob followed closely behind. Unfortunately, just below the knife-edge, Colin Miller decided to turn around. He woke up that morning at Camp 3 at 20,100ft not feeling the best. He knew that if he pushed it much more he could start having some big time issues. There is a long-standing motto in climbing created by the famous climber Ed Viestures "Getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory." Colin Miller knew it was a round trip and needed to make sure he saved energy for the way down. Lenin Peak is known to take the lives of many climbers who summited but did not have enough energy to make the return trip. Either way, I felt really bad he had to turn around. He put so much time and effort into planning this trip. He was also a great tent mate. Who else can stand being in a tent with me for 2.5 weeks when neither of us have showered for that amount of time?! Howard had also made a good decision to turn around right after the knife-edge for similar reasons.

Jeff, Rob, Collin Simon and I regrouped at the top of the knife-edge but then we split off with Colin Simon and I out front and Jeff and Rob just behind. About an hour later, Colin Simon and I reached the 7,000 meter plateau where it was still very cold. On Denali and Aconcagua summit days I started out in all my warm gear and shortly after started shedding layers as we warmed up by moving . . . but not on Lenin. It was the only time I wore every piece of gear I had including my expedition pants and suit the entire way to the summit and a majority of the way down.

Quick video at 7000 meter plateau (23,000ft) with a "brief" explanation by me of the cold.

We were then at over 23,000feet - higher than any of us had ever been. Each of us were struggling to catch our breath in the increasingly thin air that was now containing only about 43% of the oxygen available at sea level. We then had only 134 meters or about 400 vertical feet to go to reach the top. Unfortunately, Lenin Peak is cruel in this way as we still had several more false summits to climb before we reached the true summit. At this point, we had been climbing for about 8 hours . . . and still had about 2.5 hours left. We went over the first false ridge. Each of us slumped in disappointment as we reached the top seeing that we still had a ways to go. We motivated each other to move on trying to count our steps. We were now taking 8 to 10 steps before having to stop to catch our breath for about a minute. The weather closed in on us as the winds picked up and we became engulfed in clouds. We topped another rise again disheartened that we still had not reached it and could not see the top. All of a sudden, the clouds parted briefly and we could see the true summit cross marking the top about 100 yards and 100 feet of elevation away. In Denver, this would take us about 5 minutes, but at altitude this took us about 30 minutes. Colin Simon and I slowly staggered to the top as the clouds engulfed us once again and hugged as we finally realized after 10 hours and 35 minutes that day and 14 straight days on the mountain, we had finally made it to the summit of Lenin Peak and were currently standing on the border of the two countries of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Colin Simon and I on the summit with the statue of Lenin marking the summit underneath Colins armpit

I immediately looked into my pack for the Childhood Leukemia Foundation's Pendant that I had in the bottom of my pack for Maggie and her son Colton. I had now been carrying it with me for 14 days to finally reach this point at 23,406ft (7,134 meters). This is for you little man. Now get well!!!
The Children's Leukemia Pendant for Maggie and her son Colton

Video from the summit of Lenin. Thanking Four Seasons Denver and wishing Colton my best. Since there is a big gust of wind where you can't hear the last half of what I was saying and I dont know how to add subtitles so I wrote out what I said below the video.

"Four Seasons Denver, Ryan Kushner from the summit of Pik Lenin in Kyrgyzstan 23,406ft, 7136 meters. You can see the statue of Lenin. Im sorry the views aren't better but we have had weather close in on us today. One of my partners is already headed down. The real reason for this climb is for Maggie and her son Colton (choked up a little). . . who was diagnosed with Leukemia a couple of months ago. This penant is for you little man, I hope you get well, and I am praying for you."

We took some quick photos and Colin Simon said he needed to go down. He was feeling a little queasy. He said he could manage okay by himself so I stayed up top for another couple minutes taking a few more photos before my camera battery froze. On the way down, I ran into Jeff and Rob who had made it above 23,000ft (7,000 meters) but were going down. They were only about 45 minutes to an hour from the summit! It turned out Jeff was pushing himself a little too hard and had been for a couple of hours. Rob, in a tremendous display of friendship, chose to give up the summit only about 45 minutes away and turn around to help his good friend Jeff descend. Jeff said he was not feeling very good and was worried about getting down so Rob and I decided that no matter what we will all descend together. I joined them for the descent, which was very slow for all three of us as we were running on fumes and had to stop frequently. The water that I had boiled that morning and put in an insulated case inside my pack had frozen solid hours ago.

We slowly made our way down as some of the clouds parted and we were treated with some magnificent views of the Parmir Range of Tajikistan.

Rob and Jeff on the way down


Me just blown away by the views at 22,500ft

We were all exhausted as we made our way slowly down hill. In a cruel way, the last section to Camp 3 from the summit was actually uphill about 400 feet. After a long decent this last 400 feet going back up hill took all three of us about an hour to get up as we finally staggered back into Camp 3. We crawled into our tents at 20,100ft exhausted, but okay. Colin Simon had raced down ahead of us and had some very much needed water waiting for the three of us. We really appreciated it. All in all, our efforts demonstrated great teamwork, making me once again realize how good it was to be climbing with these guys. Colin Miller had decided to descend down to Camp 2 to see if he would start feeling better. The rest of us spent the night again at Camp 3. We had been above 20,100ft now for over 40 hours.

Day 15 Descent
August 3rd.
We descended down to Camp 2, where we met Colin Miller. He was feeling better after spending a night at the lower altitude of 17,600ft. The trip was not over yet. We still had to descend the glacier before we could feel that we were safely off the mountain. This same glacier had been falling apart more and more as we got later into the climbing season with two major avalanches while we were there and more and more crevasses opening up for us to pass on the way down.

Negotiating a giant crevasse on our final time down the glacier that opened up while we were high on the mountain

We all made it down the glacier back to Camp 1 at 14,444ft where now the biggest thing we had to worry about was spraining an ankle on the dirt trail back to base camp . . . . or perhaps falling off a horse. We rested that night and packed our gear for the long walk back to base camp the following morning. Celebratory beers were had that night.

Safely back down off the glacier at camp 1, Left to Right Rob Colin Miller, Colin Simon, and Jeff

Day 16th Arrive at Base Camp
August 4th
The biggest mistake we made on the trip was not doing the "Russian Rest." We had all started to feel better and more energetic as we descended. "Russian Rest" refers to climbing very high on the mountain then descending very low before making a summit attempt. We should have spent a night or two at Camp 3 then descended all the way down to Camp 1 or perhaps even base camp. What this does is shock your body into producing the blood cells needed to go high while allowing yourself to fully recover at a lower altitude. Jeff, already feeling better at a lower altitude was curious what I thought about going back up. I encouraged him to do so. We did a practice packing of what he would need to go back up to the summit solo. To do this he would need to go absolutely as light as possible.

Jeff and I repacking his stuff for a possible second attempt.

Jeff and I were ditching things as light as Advil to help him save the most amount of weight possible. To have another chance he would need to go back up after resting another day at Camp 1 then climb all the way from Camp 1 to Camp 3 the next day and summit the following. . . . on his own. I encouraged him give it a shot since we still had 5 full days before our flights departed from Osh. He would have just enough time if he could pull it off.

The rest of us all walked out on our own after arranging to have our heavy gear brought down by horse. It's amazing how good you start to fell as you descend to a lower altitude. You see green grass and other colors besides snow, ice, and rock for the first time in weeks. Watching marmots running around and seeing different colored flowers at a lower altitude immediately re-energizes you.

Day 17th Departure from Lenin Peak
August 5th
Colin Simon and I were given little awards that said we had summited and received a round of applause from all the climbers and trekkers at base camp during lunch.

Colin Simon and I with our certificates

What really mattered though even more important than any summit is that everyone on our team, except Jeff, had now reached base camp safely with all our fingers and toes. The 10am bus departure back to the city of Osh did not happen until 4:30pm.

Last sight of Lenin as we drive away.

We then spent the 6 hour drive once again dodging even more cows and donkeys than we did on the way to the mountain. As the night darkened, even more crazy drivers hit the road. Thankfully we make it back to the hotel.

Days 18 to 22) Burning Time before flying home.
While burning 4 long days in the Osh hotel we were able to check out a few restaurants and walk around town. There was not a whole lot to do there, so our options were pretty limited. On our last day before we flew out August 9th, we were finishing up packing when Jeff walked into the hotel 4 days after us. HE HAD MADE THE SUMMIT on August 7th!!!

Jeff on the summit

After resting and going back up on his own, he felt very tired physically but was much more acclimated due to the "Russian Rest!" We all learned a very valuable lesson on acclimation. Congrats Jeff on going back up again solo!!! Well done my friend.

Supporting the Cause
I would like to once again thank the Four Seasons Denver Hotel and my supervisors as well as the Love, Hope, and Strength Foundation for supporting this idea. I really want to give a shout out to Maggie Marzonie, who has already been through so much dealing with her son Colton's Leukemia while handling it with grace, humility and patience. Colton will need roughly 3 years of Chemo and bone marrow transplants, which as you can imagine is very expensive. If you have been touched by this report or would like to assist donating in any way, please feel free to click the link below or even just leave a comment showing your support.. Every little thing helps. Thanks for reading.

Donation Link:
Colton's Donation Link CLICK HERE!!!!!!!

Colton in the Love, Hope & Strength foundation T-shirt smiling even after loosing all his hair recently to treatments

Notice Colton is also wearing the Children's Leukemia Pendant brought all the way back to him from the summit of Lenin for good luck.

Colton's Blog:
To see Colton's Blog CLICK HERE!!!

Maggie with and supporting Colton through every treatment

Final Thank you

Thank you to my parents Steve and Kathy Kushner for always teaching me growing up that one of the best things you can do in life is do something for others. Lastly I want to thank my awesome sisters Stephanie and Lauren for always supporting their "crazy brother" in what I have liked to do. I have the best family I could have ever asked for.

Whats next?
Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, Makalu, Cho Oyu and yes even Everest, all peaks above the magical 8000 meter mark, became potential future targets for 2015/2016.

Interesting Facts about the trip:

- The biggest lesson we learned was about the so called "Russian Rest." As much as we were acclimating, we should have descended all the way down to Camp 1 or even base camp for 2 days after moving our gear to 20,100 ft at Camp 3. This not only shocks the body into producing the red blood cells needed by going to high altitude, but also allows it to temporarily recover before a summit attempt. Every other group did it and it seemed to work well for them. We unfortunately did not because it would have required a couple extra days on the mountain. However, if we did, I am confident we all would have been a lot stronger and more people from our group would have made the summit.
- The most interesting thing I found on this trip was that we met several groups from Iran who were all some of the nicest people I have ever met. They spoke great English, and they were incredibly polite. The large group we reached Camp 3 with even said we should climb to the summit together and put the American flag next to the Iran flag for a summit photo. Super cool! Unfortunately, none of them made the summit, nor did we have an American flag with us. I also met another Iranian at base camp the last day, and I had a great 30 minute conversation with him. We talked nothing of the tensions between our countries. We just talked about our love of mountains and family. It was a great moment.
- There were very few Americans on this mountain.
- The local currency is called Soms. 51 Soms = $1 US dollar.
- Being on time is not really something people care about. When they say 10am, that means add about 5 to 7 hours.
- Don't use Ak Sai for your travel logistics for Peak Lenin. . . . .just don't.
- The food in this country is very bland. I would have killed for a small bottle of Tabasco to flavor up the food there.

Gear Worn on Summit Day
- Black Diamond Cyborg Crampons
- La Sportiva Spantik Double Boot
- Two pairs heavy weight wool socks

- North Face Makalu Down Pants
- REI Middleweight long underwear

Upper Body
- Merino Wool Base Layer
- First Ascent Tech Hoodie
- First Ascent Down Shirt
- First Ascent Guide Jacket
- First Ascent Peak XV Down Parka

- Four Seasons Beanie
- Balaclava

- OR PL 400 liner gloves
- Hestra Heli Gloves (did not use, needed mittens the whole day which I wore over my liners)
- North Face Himalayan Mittens.

- Black Diamond Carbon Cork Trekking Poles
- North Face Raven Pro Ice Axe with insulated handle.

Thanks for reading.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40

Comments or Questions
Great job, buddy!
11/04/2014 16:53
That part about the French team setting up on the crapper had me spitting out my morning coffee. Freaking hilarious.

Best wishes for Maggie and her beautiful son, Colton. I hope he makes a full recovery soon.

Jim Davies
11/04/2014 17:04
Great TR and a great trip for a great cause. Best wishes to Colton and his family - I can't imagine what going through that treatment at his age must be like.

Sweet !
11/04/2014 17:24
Congrats on a tough peak for sure, and what a great reason behind the climb. May God bless Colton and his family, and my best wishes for a strong recovery. I am on the list to be a bone marrow donor, and my hope is to be a match for a lovely child like this.

Great story!
11/04/2014 17:41
Thanks for sharing. And best wishes for little Colton.

11/04/2014 17:49
I've been fortunate enough to meet Maggie at a couple Happy Hours up in Ft Collins. It is awesome that you did this for her and her son! Great job, great cause!

Truly Amazing, Ryan
11/04/2014 19:19
I can't even begin to imagine what the family is going through. Colton, if you ever read this report, know that there are so many folks pulling for you. You're quite the inspiration, little man.

Ryan, if you ever shave that beard your summit will no longer be counted.

My gosh, Ryan...
11/04/2014 21:28
... what an amazing trip, climb, purpose, and experience. Wow! I just absolutely love reading trip reports like this. I was glued all morning to this (yes, I am a very slow reader when it comes to content I am very interested in - I don't want to miss any details). Congratulations on making the summit on what sounds like a hard-fought battle with ole Lenin. Mega-congrats on climbing for Colton. Well done.

A great thing
11/05/2014 02:24
Ryan, you and the team accomplished something amazing. It was a great thing that you and the team accomplished and even more so because of the meaning behind the trip!

Excellent Write Up
11/05/2014 04:02
It was great climbing Lenin with you and the other dudes. And for a great cause.

11/05/2014 04:27
Ryan - great job on this mountain and more so the reason you did the trip! I loved the TR and hung on every word. Awesome - thanks for sharing.

Alan Arnette
Well Done!
11/05/2014 11:54
Excellent report Kush. I'm proud of you for staying with it and getting safely up and down. Also, thanks for your support of Colton and Maggie.

colton's inspiration
11/05/2014 13:14
My thoughts and prayers are with Colton and his mother through these difficult times.

And I'll also add that fighting cancer as a three-year-old is hard, climbing mountains is fun. I think Colton deserves all the credit in the world for giving you the inspiration to complete your climb. These types of climbs aren't about what we give to the sick and injured, but what the sick and injured give to us.

Dave B
This is pretty awesome
11/05/2014 14:23
Nice report and for a great cause. Congrats on the climb!

11/05/2014 15:44
Thanks for sharing and trying to help out others. Congrats on reaching the summit. I'll be saying a few prayers for Maggie and Colton.

I Man
11/05/2014 20:58
To see my friends come together and succeed on an Asian giant. You all made me proud.
Nice write up Kush.
Congrats on the summit to Jeff, Colin & Kush.

Great recap
11/05/2014 22:23
Well done Kush and all the team members on breaking the 7000 mark; I'm sure memories were made that will last a lifetime.

11/05/2014 22:43
I was in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan a few years back, but could only look at those mountains from a distance. I always wondered what it would be like to climb them, now I have a better idea. Thanks for sharing the adventure and for the good cause.

Good luck Maggie and Colton!

11/06/2014 03:54
Great story Ryan. It came together very nicely! You've taken up some worthy causes to emphasize in your climbs but this one really moves me. Thanks!

a very touching story
11/06/2014 04:10
A great trip report and a very beautiful cause. A very touching story. Praying for a quick recovery of this amazing little boy and strength for his mom! My cousin had leukemia when was a little boy and now is a successful doctor!

11/06/2014 06:58
in every aspect! Your photos are so incredible, along with the narrative which covers the good and the bad, the funny and the sad, the victory along with some defeats. And of course the cause. What a beautiful family and yet engaged in an intense battle. Fighting that horrible illness must be like fighting against a raging 60 mph wind, in a tent, but everyday, not just 4 days. Wow! Thanks for sharing your story Ryan. Very engaging! Prayers for Colin going up.

Nice work Ryan
11/06/2014 08:15
Awesome climb and great read! All for a good cause.

Michael J
11/06/2014 09:10
Well done Kush! Earlier this year I slept in a tent for one rainy night (Without any wind) and I thought I was going stir crazy! I can't even imagine what it would be like to do it for several weeks while experiencing wind and freezing temperatures. You are THE man, and even more so for doing it for Maggie, Eliana, and Colton. Touching story, and I'm proud to call you a friend!

You're the man
11/06/2014 16:44
You continue to impress, both in the hills and as a person. I know you have even more big plans, but I hope we get to at least climb a bit more often here at home in CO!

What Michael J said!
11/08/2014 02:58
Way to go guys! Kush keep on touching that crazy high sky!
Thanks for helping me support Colton, Maggie, and family.

Dad Mike
Just donated
11/09/2014 06:25
Great report Ryan and even better cause. I have a 3 year old neice that was just diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. I have an idea or what Colton's family is going through and I feel for them. He looks like an incredible kid with a strong support system. I'm sure he will beat this thing and be stronger for it. Thanks for sharing his story..and yours.

Great Report
11/09/2014 22:08
Ryan, I really enjoyed reading this report from the comfort of my living room. Yesterday we got to meet Maggie and talk to her about her struggle with this terrible reality. It reminds us how fortunate we are to be able to climb. As physically and mentally hard as climbing mountains can be, we do it because we choose to. Some people are handed terrible circumstances they didn't get to choose. Our thoughts are with Maggie & Colton as they face this together.

The Russians are Coming
12/02/2014 17:27
Really enjoyed your report. Great pics of a fantastic looking place. Nice work on a difficult climb. Wish I could do such things. Congrats to you all.

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