Climbing 4 Kidney Cancer in Kazakhstan in the Tian-Shan Mountains

Chris Weight holding up Ted Child’s Photo

CKC4 team headed to Kazakhstan in May 2022 for an international climb. Kidney Cancer surgeon, Dr. Chris Weight (USA), teamed up with local mountain guide Tem Imangaliyev (KZ), whose grandmother passed away from cancer, to climb in the Tien-Shen mountains just south of Almaty. They climbed for two patients from the US: Ted Childs, Patrick Cline, and two from Kazakhstan: Duriya Daniyarova and Muradil Aznabakieva.

Rising Rates of Kidney Cancer in Both the US and Kazakhstan

This climb in Kazakhstan was appropriate because we’re observing a rise in rates of kidney cancer in both countries. The two primary risk factors for kidney cancer are smoking and obesity which remain a problem in both countries.

We thought we might get snowed out because it snowed 40 cms in the two days preceding our climb. In the city of Almaty it was just rain, but in the mountains, at 4000m or ~13,000, it was snow and lots of it. We had initially planned to climb Peak Almangeldy, but after the snow, we decided on a different peak where we could more easily avoid avalanche danger.

We were the only ones on the mountain that day and were the first to break trail through the fresh snow, packed on top of the older snow. I love being the first up into the mountains after snow. Everything looks so fresh and undisturbed. It feels as if you’re doing something that has never been done before. And though others have climbed this mountain, and done it in snow. No one has climbed it this day in this snow.

Tem holding Patrick Cline’s Photo on the summit

As we broke through the snow, the going was hard. We would often sink 6-18 inches through the fresh snow, but every once in a while, we would sink to our thigh, and sometimes even waist. Then it was like quick sand in a way in that if you tried too much you’d just cave in snow around and soon you’d be in this deep hole.

After hours of climbing through the snow, laboring to pull your boot encased in snow out of the 12 inch hole, then another step, going uphill, and at elevation I started to wonder how long I could go on? For another hour? or two? or however many hours it takes to make it to the summit? It’s at these points where I turn back to the inspiration I get from my patients. Knowing that we are ‘carrying’ them with us up this mountain and knowing that they must have had times when they wondered, Can I go on? Can I make it through this treatment or that? Sometimes all you can do is just take the next step in front of you. Thank you patients for the inspiration. We know our task is nothing compared to yours, but you inspire us to just take the next step.

Soon we gained the summit ridge and had a great view of the other side of Big Almaty Valley and the peaks that line the eastern skyline. Towards the south we could see into Kyrgyzstan (we were also only about 150 miles from China. With the fresh snow, it was a spectacular view and I felt exhilarated.

The sky was blue and sunny, the temps were warm, after a cold morning. The mountains are places of extremes. My feet got pretty cold on the way up, and my trekking pole was encased in ice. But by the time we were descending, we were down to t-shirts.

Finally after expending close to 750 calories per hour for 4+ hours, we made it to the summit in the thin air of ~4000 meters which is about 63% of the available oxygen you have at sea level.

As we sat atop the mountain, Tem told me about the deity of the nomadic Kazakhs of the past. His name was Tengri and he was the God of the Skys. The legend goes that in order to commune with God, you must find the highest thing around and that being next to or on that you can connect with Tengri. Therefore in a forrest, find the highest tree that reaches up into the sky and that tree can become an Tengri for you, or find the highest peak around and get atop that and it can become a Tengri for you to connect with God. Tem said, this peak here is our Tengri today. I thought the symbolism beautiful how this hard work and struggle put us in a place where we could be closer to the heavens and to Tengri. The highest peak in Kazakhstan is named Khan Tengri, meaning king of the heavens.

If you are in Almaty and want a great guide with good English skills contact Tem. His website can be found at https://baikonur.com. Highly recommend him. In fact he’s working on writing a local guide book.