Research Output

Sustainable mountaineering tourism on Lenin Peak, Kyrgyzstan: Current issues and potential solutions

This paper is concerned with the impacts of mountaineering tourism on the 7,134 metre Lenin Peak, the most popular high mountain in Kyrgyzstan. Like Mont Blanc or Mount Everest, it constitutes a “honeypot” attracting tourists from across the world. It has become a highly commercialised environment with a number of issues that threaten its long term sustainability. These issues are identified and some potential solutions for supporting sustainable development outlined. The focus of the research is upon developing a model for the sustainable development of mountaineering tourism not only on Lenin Peak, but for adventure tourism generally, across Kyrgyzstan.
The research reported here draws upon a wide range of sources and approaches. This ranges from participant observation during the 2017 and 2018 climbing seasons (Taylor), to long term direct involvement with the tourism sector on Lenin Peak and Kyrgyzstan more widely (Komissarov). In addition, a series of interviews were conducted with a range of tourism workers (camp bosses and workers; mountain guides; high altitude porters etc.) and tourists on both independent and commercial expeditions.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its reputation as the “easiest 7,000 metre peak in the world” the percentage of successful attempts is surprisingly low and is estimated at somewhere between 15%-25%. This high rate of attrition can be largely attributed to inadequate preparation by tourists prior to arrival and a subsequent failure to engage in an appropriate acclimatization programme. This can create both low levels of tourism satisfaction and safety issues.
Tourism on Lenin Peak generates seasonal employment for around 200 hundred people. Here there is a mix of employment provided by the six tour operators who operate facilities at base camp (BC: 3,600m) and advanced base camp (ABC: 4,200m) and self-employment (e.g. local horsemen providing porterage between these two camps). Scope exists to increase local participation, particularly women, in tourism employment. A lack of regulation concerning mountain guides and high altitude porters generates issues affecting both tourism satisfaction and safety.
Negative environmental impacts of tourism are evident above base camp. These are due to a combination of poor operational practices and inadequate regulation. This has led to significant accumulations of rubbish and human waste. The most serious problems exist in a specific zone of ABC and at Camp 1 (5,200m). A substantial removal effort would be required to tackle the issue at ABC, while the problem at Camp 1 requires active cooperation between the six tour operators to establish a sustainable management strategy. More generally, there is an absence of adequate management and accountability in respect of environmental impacts.
Each year there are 10-15 serious accidents, with a third of these proving fatal. Here there is scope to improve the information and guidance provided to visiting climbers, tighten regulations on those guiding on the mountain, and for the tour operators to cooperate to establish a more formal basis for organising the provision of a safe route on the glacier and rescue services when they prove necessary. Additionally, medical support and facilities are inadequate.
Lenin Peak is an important source of tourism but, as this research highlights, a number of actions are required to place this, and similar types of activities, on a more sustainable footing. Central to this is the creation of a formal cooperative arrangement between the tour operators that would be the mechanism for implementing many of the required initiatives. This includes providing more information to tourists both before and after arrival with a view to improving success rates. Employment on the mountain needs to be better regulated and to increase the participation of the local community.
A serious lack of adequate environmental management practices are evident and again, greater regulation and enforcement is required here. This requires an active public/private partnership between the local authority and the tour operators. Linked to this, serious consideration needs to be given to designating the mountain a protected landscape and levying an environmental tax on visitors to fund its management. Lastly, safety needs to be improved on the mountain and this extends to regulating mountain guides, maintaining safe passage on the mountain and ensuring the provision of adequate rescue and medical services.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    18 June 2019

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Taylor, S., & Komissarov, V. (2019, June). Sustainable mountaineering tourism on Lenin Peak, Kyrgyzstan: Current issues and potential solutions. Paper presented at 7th International Adventure Conference, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland


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