Got an expedition to Kyrgyzstan with seven others planned late July - August to explore and climb some new peaks in the Tian Shan mountains pending COVID.
Any advice from you veterans for someone going on their first expedition
Take a base camp tent you can all fit in, a single skin teepee thing will do, not somthing mega fancy. On my first expidition we tried to make one out of locally bought plastic sheets and sticks. This was shit. Sitting outside in the cold to eat at night is also shit.
Think about food, make sure you are getting enough calories and have enough treats at basecamps to keep moral up. My first expidition we ended up with a massive calorie deficit as dogs ate most of the meet leaving us with a big bag of carrots and some noodles, I lost a lot of weight.
Don't use alcohol wet wipes for toilet paper if it's cold.
Learn some of the local language.
The biggest one I've learnt is try, as much as possible, to divorce your enjoyment of the trip from succeeding on your objective. Often (more often than not, in my experience), things will not go to plan. The weather might suck, or the conditions might be terrible, or the objective might harder than you thought, or you might make poor logistical choices, and for these reasons, you might fail. That doesn't negate the fact you get to spend weeks in a beautiful and remote mountain environment that a vanishingly small percentage of the population will visit in their lives. Keeping that in sight is really important (but also really hard).
> Any advice from you veterans for someone going on their first expedition
Here's my wisdom, from climbing trips to far-flung places, 1. check your insurance cover very carefully. 2. If possible get to know your team mates, if possible on climbing trips, as well as you can before you leave the UK
Following, simply because I have always wanted to visit the Tian Shan range for a remote expedition.
if your off to Kyrgy - I went there in 2009, and probably to a different area to you, so a bit out of date and of questionable relevance - but here's our report with some info on logistics etc which may be of help use: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/31xbvd2wzglowxl/AADP9mn0U0p8sUi2w2V1Y8gja?dl=0
Lots of good advice from Mr Kirkpatrick:
Prioritise hand hygiene above all other things (and encourage your partners to do the same). If a trip is unsuccessful because of weather/conditions/acts of god then c’est la vie; if a trip fails because you all get the shits due to being dirty scumbags then it’s perhaps a bit harder to be philosophical!
(Not speaking from my own experience I hasten to add, but have seen others have a miserable time wasting money and holiday for a multi-week shitathon!)
Also, more specifically to Kyrgyzstan, leave time at the end of your trip to enjoy Bishkek...
With the difference in economy you can have a mega posh meal for practically no money. And the nightclubs are mental!
Yep, loads of advice.
Have you gone through ITMC for on the ground logistics and equipment hire? if not, highly recommended even just for a coffee with Vladimir.... Mess tent, chairs, teapot, stove, pots etc. make a huge difference to basecamp luxury.
Find someone English speaking in the Osh market and buy all your expedition food from them, saves you a bucket load of time and they'll teach you some basic Kyrgyz as well.
Don't be vegetarian.
Watch out for the stretchy toilet paper.
The vodka is fantastic.
Don't paraglide off a mountain in an area you don't know unless you want a broken nose (not me, my stupid climbing partner).
But PM me any questions. I went there in 2019 for my first Central Asia expedition and had a blast. Mostly because I asked loads of questions from people who'd been before to get the lowdown.
> With the difference in economy you can have a mega posh meal for practically no money. And the nightclubs are mental!
Agreed. we found a bar with happy hour running all night and got as many cocktails as we could drink for about £10. ...ahh midweek drinking!
Oh, another bit of advice, they don't exchange British pounds in Bishkek. Just Rubles, Yankie Dollars and Euros.
> The biggest one I've learnt is try, as much as possible, to divorce your enjoyment of the trip from succeeding on your objective.
So, so right.
And also, (and this is from bitter experience in Kyrgystan), do not trust any water supply, even if the locals tell you it's fine.
Filter or treat. I had always, and will always use a Sawyer filter, and inexplicably, I opted to be lazy due to the advice, and BAM!!!
I had a turgid two weeks which I will never forget, and which ruined our trip
Learn how to bake bread. Bread doesn't last long so a fresh loaf is a real morale booster.
I was part of a seven person team to Kyrgyzstan a few years ago, it was a life changing trip and I've been trying to go on big expeditions as often as possible since. A few things that may be useful:
- It's worth trying to hire a translator for a day in Bishkek, it will make getting all the food much easier and they will know where the best shops are. We ended up with huge amounts of tomato ketchup that we thought was going to be pasta sauce...
- You can't buy prescription drugs over the counter in Bishkek. We had a doctor with us who managed to persuade them to sell us some antibiotics but you wont be able to get strong painkillers etc.
- It may seem like a luxury but take a folding chair each! Even if weight limits are really tight you wont regret it. Get the 'Moon Lense ultralight' type off amazon.
- As someone above said, making flat bread is a great rest day activity. All you need is flour, water and yeast. Butter makes them even better. Add mixed herbs, chilli powder, pepper, cheese, mustard powder etc for some variation. Buy lots of small packs of yeast as it goes off pretty quickly. Fry them in olive oil. Have lots of arguments over which are better - thin or thick (thin obviously).
- Milk powder is ridiculously high in calories for the weight.
- Taking your time with acclimatisation will pay dividends towards the end of the trip. Getting wiped out early can take days to properly recover from, days that could have been spent acclimatising!
- Take plenty of those small hand sanitiser dispenser bottles and be really religious about using them. I always carry a ziplock bag with hand-san, some bog roll and a lighter.
- You can never have too many resealable zip lock type bags! Take hundreds of the things in various sizes. IKEA make the best ones.
I could go on but part of the fun is finding all this out. Have an amazing trip and write a good report at the end with plenty of photos. Don't forget to submit it to the American Alpine Journal to get worldwide fame
Feel free to message me if you have any questions. This is our trip report.
Lots of really good advice above.
In both climbing and travel terms, have a Plan B, Plan C, D, E... Things almost never go 100% as planned - and this is often a good thing. Uncertainty is the essence of adventure.
Aim low. The travel, logistics, health, altitude, relationships will all make it harder to climb as hard as you do at home so pick objectives well below your technical limits. Things will be bigger, longer and more involved than you thought from looking at photos, maps or from BC. If they're not, consider yourself lucky and go again.
Do your research and respect your predecessors but don't get caught up in what you think are necessary traditions of operating or talking and writing about your trip. Be honest about your failings - and your successes - and don't fall into faux-humble understatement or minimisation of troubles to try and appear tougher than you are. The mountains are always tougher.
Scope your approach the day(s) before. Scope your descent beforehand. Not only will it make you less likely to come to grief (or just delay) on these parts of the climb, but it will give you peace of mind to fully commit to the route itself, without worrying too much about those other bits.
Doing a recce of approaches and descents also act as dry-runs for some of your clothing and gear - are your pants too warm? Are you getting blisters? Is it a lot windier up the valley? Are you 40% slower than at home? Are you looking at the wrong mountain? Is your partner a d!&k?
Take your time acclimatising, don't rush because of some schedule you have, or read, or because someone else is super keen. Almost all mountaineering expedition schedules do not allow enough time to properly acclimatise and up high you're usually on the border of trouble, medically speaking.
Don't haggle too much or try to go too cheap when dealing with any locals. That little amount is much more valuable to them than you. Globally-speaking, if you can afford to do this trip, you are rich.
Be present, enjoy the little things and what is happening right here and now. You will never be there again at this time in your life. Don't obsess over whether you're on schedule, whether what you're doing is in the plan, or how you will report or explain this to someone afterwards.
Remember for you this is a holiday, but there you are in someone else's backyard - their home, their workplace, their family property. How do you like visitors to your home to act?
Accept you will make mistakes. Don't beat yourself up too much about it - or each other.
Years from now you won't remember much about the climbing or the summit but you will remember the people. Act accordingly.
Just thought of something else...
Think about how you distribute crucial gear between bags, in terms of the consequence of losing a bag.
If the airline lose any single bag, can the show still go on? It may be worth making sure any vital items that can’t be replaced in-country are in your hand luggage and that you wear your mountaineering boots on the flights (saves weight too!). (We lost one of our In-Reaches due to a hold bag going missing. Fortunately it wasn’t a deal-breaker for the trip, but it wasn’t ideal).
Same thing applies if you use porters, mules or pack horses. If you get separated on the walk in, are you carrying sufficient gear to look after yourselves? (We walked in ahead of the horses to find a good base camp site. We had put all the light, bulky gear on the horses to try and keep the weight of their loads down. This meant when the horses didn’t turn up at our planned base camp we didn’t have any tents, sleeping bags, or even warm clothes. Fortunately we managed to find them just as it looked like we were going to be having a long shivery night!).
chocolate - bring a proper amount of quality stuff that you like; it's not possible to overestimate a suitable amount and still be able to lift it
Great advice Alex.
I had been told by a friend to 'go for an adventure.'
Any climbing is a bonus!
Ah yes! That was in a response to an email I sent him on a very similar topic!
Yes, we're using ITMC for in-country support. The cook's going on a shopping spree in Bishkek before we leave for B.C. That's actually something I'd to tag along and help with. I'd get some good shots in the local market.
Ah, now see I was informed by a regular expeditioner to go veggie in developing countries as much as possible due to avoid possible food poisoning. You have a different view?
I may drop you line soon.
Thanks Tom, some great advice there.
I especially like the idea about the folding chairs!
You can follow the trip through my website Jay . Planning to head out late July.
At the start of my first trip to the Himalayas I noticed a team member drinking untreated water in a restaurant. He was more experienced than me and said that if you drink it your body will get used to the bugs. I replied that you won't get used to dysentery or hepatitis and that would be the end of the expedition for him. Guess what half way through he became very ill, had orange eyeballs and orange piss. He had to be helicoptered out.
As Tom Green says "wash your hands" and don't drink the water!
On the other hand don't let paranoia about your health spoil your trip!
I'm a (mostly) vegetarian but there are rarely vegetarian options on any menus (hence me saying don't be vege). Even going to a fancy restaurant in Naryn on our transit back only had meat options. None of us got sick. And for expedition food we only took salami sticks rather than salted meat.
Great that you've got a cook. We didn't have enough funds for that but I can imagine how good it would be. Thankfully all our team members were great cooks, and we ate very well. My mate used to work for NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) and would be on 30-40 day expeditions. So we were having banana pancakes for breakfast, fresh bread for lunch, pizza for dinner. Luxury living!
And yes, going to the market is a must. I see on your profile you speak some Russian so you will have a great time there!