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Muztagh Ata is the second highest of the mountains which form the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. It is sometimes regarded as being part of the Kunlun Shan, although physically it is more closely connected to the Pamir. It is also reputedly one of the easiest 7,000 m peaks in the world to climb, due to its gentle western slope and the comparatively drier weather of Xingjian.
Muztagh Ata lies just south of Kongur Tagh, the highest peak of the Kunlun Shan, together they form a somewhat isolated group, separated from the main chain of the Kunlun, and also separate from the Pamir Mountains to the west. (Both peaks are sometimes regarded as being in the "Chinese Pamir", and are more closely connected to the main Pamir group than the main Kunlun group.) Not far to the north and east of this group are the lowlands of the Tarim Basin and the Taklamakan Desert. The Karakorum Highway passes very close to both peaks.
The Swedish explorer and geographer Sven Hedin made the first recorded attempt to climb Muztagh Ata, in 1894. Additional attempts were made in 1900, 1904 and 1947, the last by the strong team of Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman who came very close to the summit but were turned back due to cold and deep snow.
The first ascent of the peak was in 1956 by a large party of Chinese and Russian climbers, via the west ridge, which is now the standard route.
Since the first ascent, many ascents of Muztagh Ata have been made. In 1980, a party led by Ned Gillette made a ski ascent/descent of the standard route, the first ski ascent of a mountain over 7,500 m (24,600 ft). An ascent of the much harder south-east ridge was made in 2000.