Under Re-construction!

Peter Schön - Ski Alpinist & Photographer  

- Caucasus, Tian Shan & Arctic Norway -
︎ | ︎

Pik Pobeda East (6762 m) - The First Ski Descent

In summer 2010, Anders Ödman and I travelled to the Tien Shan of Kyrgyzstan. Just back from a difficult ski descent of Skhara (5193 m) in the Georgian Caucasus, I was motivated for more. Our main objective was skiing the north face of Pik Pobedy (7439 m), but it was too avalanche-prone for a serious attempt. We picked the lower, but very remote East summit (6762 m - some sources quote 6782 and 7020 m) as alternative, which would take us into a world of ice and snow in the last corner of the Kyrgyz Tien Shan.
Prior to attempting Pobeba, we head for Khan Tengri, a beautiful marble pyramid. Skiing is less the objective than acclimatization and just standing on top of this stunning peak. The views from the summit to Pik Chapaeva are stunning, an elegant, airy ridge above the clouds.

Soon after we started the several-days long approach up the Zvezdochka glacier. We travelled between the massive north face of Pik Pobedy, some 3000 m high in places, on our right, and 6000 m summits on our left. Frequent noise and sight of avalanches accompanied us, some with proportions I had never seen before. One powder avalanche hit our tent - in the middle of the glacier - at 4800 m. The release was probably at around 6500 m.

Steeper terrain led us to the Chon Teren pass (5450 m). From here we started the summit push up the 35-50+° steep ridge of Pik Pobedy East. On the summit day, Anders had to turn around 200 vertical meters below summit, sparing his energy for a safe descent. I continued alone, punching through wind-slabs on crust or tiring loose snow over rocks. Exhausted I reached the summit at 14:30. The views all around are immense, particularly into the vast Chinese Tien Shan, and to the Pik Pobedy main summit (7439 m). After a photo session, I clicked into my skis, and descend the peaks beautiful NE ridge. A lone ski descent - steep, exposed and above a remote desert of ice and snow - and certainly one of my finest.

Mkinvartsveri (5054 m) - A most personal mountain. 

Caucasus, Georgia. 

February 2019. It is a stormy winter day on 3000 m in the Georgian Caucasus. A dog looks at me as if he knows me, as if I have been here before. In the background Mkinvartsveri (5054 m) rises, the sun shining on the upper slopes of the southeast face. Somewhere up there, my fascination with the Caucasus started. First with an image of these slopes in my father`s geology book, my fingers tracing lines up and down snowy slopes and ice faces; later standing with skis at the drop-in to what had become my dream line - the SE face direct or “3B”.  The SE presented itself as the perfect ski line on a beautiful mountain, located in a fascinating region. A 3-years quest to ski the face ( 50°+, 3B) started, with several attempts. 2006 my Canadian friend Deon Louw and I make the first attempt - unsuccessfully. In 2008 I finally ski the route completely with Andreas Riesner. We also made the first descent of the east face and south glacier, traversed the summit, skied the Ortsveri (4365 m) NE face (45°) and from the summit of Maili-Khok (4600 m). However, it was not just about the mountains. The combination of a chaotic Tbilisi, a city still struggling with transitions into a new, capitalistic wold, with the powerful, mystical Caucasus mountains – the mountains of poetry - sucked me right in. 

 In the following years I lived through many fantastic adventures on other high peaks of the Georgian Caucasus. Yet there was one route Mkinvartsveri that still was on my mind - the remote, rarely visited and unskied northeast face. In May 2013 I return to Mkinvartsveri one more time, to climb and ski that route. The Canadian steep skiing legend Trevor Hunt and I ascent the rarely climb Japharidze ridge and N-NE face to the summit in less than 2.5 days. We are, together with Georgian climbers a few weeks prior to us, the first people to climb this route in over 50 years. Our ski descent takes us down the the N-NE face (45°+). The route is not extremely steep, but ice conditions after a dry winter make for challenging skiing. We continue to ski down to the remote Abano glacier below the east face of Mkinvartsveri - a place very few people have visited. 
During each journey I inhaled more of the fascination of the Caucasus. At the end of a quest for skiing a line, Georgia had become much more than a destination for travelling and skiing - a deep fascination for the country, culture and the people manifested itself inside of me, and I would continue to visit the country countless times in the following years. Along the way I worked as ski guide, participated in setting up an avalanche forecast for the ski resort of Gudauri, but also discovered the heavy legacies of the past when working as photographer in previous conflict zones (>> documentary work).

Today, I live part-time in Georgia. The image of Mkinvartsveri from February 2019 hangs in my living room in Norway. The print was a present of my wife, whom I had met in Georgia. We married a few months after I took the image.

Chatyn-Tau (4412 m) - the 1st Ski Descent of the SE Couloir. 

Chatyn-Tau is a 4412 m high mountain in Svaneti, Georgian Caucasus. Three summits give it a distinctive, impressive shape. Still, the peak stands in the shadow of its famous neighbor, Ushba (4710 m). Still, Chatyn-Tau hold some of the best steep-skiing lines in the Caucasus. One of the is the large Southeast-Couloir of the West Summit (4310 m), clearly visible from Mestia. Since my first trip to Svaneti in 2010 the couloir was on my mind. 
In May 2013, just days after the first ski descent of Mkinvartsveri`s NE face, Canadian steep skier Trevor Hunt and I arrive in Svaneti. With a lot of ice on the large south-facing walls of Janga-Tau and Shkhara, we turn our attention to the SE couloir of Chatyn-Tau. 1800 m vertical, wild bergschrunds and crevassed at the bottom, seriously steep and exposed at the top.
The surface was hard, deep runnels covered the middle section of the couloir. The sheer size, combined with the hard conditions, and misty weather gave the route an uncomforting, heavy aura.The ski descent ranks perhaps as my hardest and scariest. A thin snow cover on ice, 55° and more. A day later we ski the SW face. Both would be my last steep ski descents in the Caucasus.
Four years later, Miroslav Peťo and Maroš Červienka repeat the line in better conditions. They rated the route at Traynard S5/S6, E3, 50-55°
>> Link to report
Chatyn Tau with the SE couloir (right) and SW face (right).

Bezengi Wall - One Day....

In June 2010, Boris Avdeev and I stood on top of Shkhara, a 5193 m high, very difficult summit in the Caucasus. Shkhara is the highest point of the Bezengi Wall, a 12 km long mountain massif largely above 4500 m along the Georgian-Russian border. Shkhara also marks the eastern end of the wall, and is either the last or first summit of the Bezengi traverse – a traverse of the entire massif, over multiple 4500-5000 m summits, and one of the greatest alpine challenges in the Caucasus and Europe. A few weeks later Boris writes me - “one day we have to do the traverse”. This day will never come. Boris perishes in an avalanche in April of 2012. We were to climb Janga-Tau (5058 m) together a few weeks later, a remote and seldom climbed peak in the central part of the Bezengi Wall. After 2 months in a mental hole, full of doubt about the sense of going to the mountains, and filled with lack of motivation and self-discipline, I travel to Georgia again. On 22 June 2012, I summit Janga-Tau with Robert Koschitzki. As I sit on the summit and watch Robert coming up, I look to great Shkhara rising behind him, where Boris and I stood two years earlier, and then look behind me, to the remaining summits of the Bezengi wall to the West. I wonder if I will ever make the traverse. Maybe, one day...
(LFI Mastershot. Published on the Leica Fotografie International Blog, One Photo, One Story)

Janga Tau (5058 m)

2005 I came first to the Caucasus of Georgia. The place captured me instantly, like no other had before. Soon the idea to climb and ski all three 5000m mountains of Georgia was born: Shkhara (5193m), Janga-Tau (5058m) and Mkinvartsveri (Kazbek, 5034m). In 2006 and 2008 Deon Louw, Andreas Riesner and I made two first ski descents from the summit of Mkinvartsveri. In 2010 Boris Avdeev and I stood on the summit of Shkhara, the most difficult and dangerous of the three. Before I started the difficult ski descent from Shkhara, I saw in the distance the east flank of Janga-Tau emerging from the clouds, and I imagined skiing it one day. In June 2012 finally, after numerous adventurous trip to Caucasus, years of preparation and training came down to that one moment, as I reach the summit Janga-Tau with Robert Koschitzki, and then ski down the east flank of Janga-Tau, finishing the project, with great Shkhara looming in the background….
(Published as Leica Fotografie International Photo Story)

     Ushba (4710 m) 

Moment of Relief

In August 2012 I diagnozed a young alpinist high on Ushba (4710m, Caucasus) with accute pulmonary edema, a form of accute altitude sickness. After a night of first aid, phone calls and long waiting, finally a rescue helicopter arrived in the early morning. Ushba almost would have claimed another life (like so many times before), but the young climber survived, miraculously without permanent damage. He fully recovered and has become a close friend. But I lost the camera I took this photo with during the hectic moments of the rescue.
A year later, in August 2013, a climber found the camera and brought the SD card down. I picked the card up two weeks ago in Tbilisi and found this image.
(Published as Leica Fotografie International Photo Story)

A Matter of Balance

After every difficult climb or ski descent I am momentarily filled with joy and relief, but as time passes, a certain emptiness takes over. When you have put everything into reaching that one goal, what is left when you reach it? It’s a matter of balance – the harder and higher I climb, the more important becomes returning to the valley and to home, to friends, loved ones and family, and embracing the life outside the mountain world. All that is just as much part of alpinism as the mountains themselves.(Published as Leica Fotografie International Photo Story)

Arctic Norway 

My home since 2015. My years in Norway began working in the Arctic North as ski guide, where mountains and sea meet.
Today I live in Trondheim, but I still head north whenever I can. Each time I go, I am amazed again by the unique landscape.