In drafting this I’ve decided to blog in two parts simply because the length needed to cover 27 days in my usual plodding way can possibly create suicidal tendencies in those attempting to keep at it.
Can I really have been back for more than a week already, well I have but from a functioning point of view it probably is a reality of no more than 2 or 3 days at best. Dorina knows me too well & hasn’t expected anything better but we were both a bit surprised by my being hit for six for most of Wednesday by my ulcer deciding to remind me that it doesn’t like unpredictable eating habits, behave Paul you should know better!
So here I am 100% not back to reality but feeling I need to make sense of Pik Lenin & everything he (or is that she) had in store for me, so here goes.
The expedition was a 27 day affair starting on 15th July & ending (hopefully) on 10th August. It was organised through members of the Austrian Alpine Club & Alpine Club & consisted of 12 members, 8 from the U.K., & one each from The Netherlands, Denmark, Canada & The Lebanon. 11 Males & one Female. I deemed that it was to be an un-led expedition where we would clearly need to form an effective group with teams, we would be supported by the ITMC a member of Kyrgzstan’s own Alpine Club for travel logistics, BC & ABC cooking & tents as well as tents up to Camps 2, 3 & 4. Some of us also paid for Porter support to the higher camps too.
I had not paid for the Porter support above ABC but generally found ITMC’s staff helpful & friendly throughout although our BC experience was considerably better on the way back out than on the way in, simply a change of cook made it all click so much better. If a complaint could be made it was that ITMC seemed to have in-sufficient porters for the higher camps, the ones they had worked hard & carried heavy loads but logistically the shortage did cause problems for those not carrying all of their kit, again that said everyone got all of their kit back down so these problems were ultimately resolved in the end. The other logistical oversight we made as a group was the lack of suitable radio communications available to us, big mistake & lesson learned, I wouldn’t tackle this type of expedition again without at least one radio per two people.
Of course some people like to lead & this did become apparent during our first night in BC, I am often led but believe in consultation & not presumption so this for me did cause some problems in how I interacted with one member of the group as we seemed to be focusing in my opinion too much on training & not enough on the logistics of tackling the mountain. I am always happy to admit my skills lag behind my motivation but I had practised specific skills significantly before going out there & had not signed up to a Mountain Skills Course. Been there, done that & will hone those skills by asking for advice when I need it & building experience in reality thank you. Enough said, we can all have different views & be entitled to them.
Pik Lenin stands at 7,134 metres, that is 23,406 feet in old money which is a couple of thousand feet higher than I’ve been to before. This clearly meant it would be both a physical & altitude test for me despite it’s reputation as being a relatively un-technical climb. I’d booked it as a significant stepping stone to possibly tackling Cho Oyu next year. By going as part of the AAC’s expedition the costs were being kept low, my package was less than £1,500, pretty cheap for 4 weeks but with flights & the inevitable improved items of kit plus some Beer money for the post summit experience I would hazard my total expenditure was nearer £3,000, still not bad all things considered & off course I still have the kit & memories if not the Beers.
The climb itself was the experience I’d been hoping for, it contained those elements I was looking for as prep for Cho Oyu, group dynamics, days spent in ABC with only the challenge ahead to really focus on (un-like an Alpine trip where scenery & goals change daily). Acclimatisation plan to formulate & adjust as realities & climate dictate, the mental & physical challenges to be met as well as the mountaineering aspects where I would be un-guided for the first time in a higher range. Self supporting loads (except tent) to be carried to the higher camps to enable a summit bid with everything needed being in the right place, sleeping bag, down gear, food, cooker, jelly babies (well you get my drift). All of this together with a good deal of good company meant there were rarely dull moments despite the seeming monotony of it all if looking on from outside.
I could split the climb into four aspects, the first of these was acclimatising ‘off’ mountain. This consisted for me two nights in BC at 3,400 metres (split by a daytime climb to ABC where I accompanied our three ‘skiers’ Kyle, Rob & Ernst into their chosen higher resting place). This was followed by 6 nights at ABC at 4,400 metres, from here a couple of short acclimatisation wanders were beefed up by moraine ridge climb on day 4 to 4,460 metres & an ascent of Yukhin Peak on Day 5, at 5,075 this would be my shortlived 3rd highest peak of my life.
The second aspect of the climb was to actually get on the Mountain proper, Day 9 of the expedition saw us head off at 3:00 am in three groups of 3 (one expedition member (dave) was yet to arrive from the Alps & two were held back by the early altitude illness to one of a party) to head up to Camp 2. I led a rope up through a crevasse field for the first time & felt good doing so, a new box ticked. The climb to 5,340 metres took 5 hours & was followed by a day of blazing sun & heat, Troels our Danish member recorded an inside tent temperature of 52 degrees! Despite the heat I was feeling good & began to discuss a possible change of plan for the next day ‘we could camp at Camp 3 tomorrow & if we feel good could make an early attempt for the summit, do you fancy it Troels? He is also a runner so obviously said yes, I asked the Porter, Daniel, if there would be a tent at Camp 3, the strong Russian promised there would be. The next day saw five of us set of for Camp 3 under glorious skies & un-roped for the less dangerous slopes leading to Camp 3, two of us to camp, two to Ski back down (Kyle & Ernst) & Georgio for an acclimatisation walk before heading back down to Camp 2. The last 300 metres was seriously steep & we plodded up it slowly but after a little under 5 hours Camp 3 appeared on an exposed & windy knoll at 6,100 metres. There was time to bag the nearby summit of Razdelnaya, at 6,148 metres my new 3rd Highest Peak of my life before Troel’s & I said goodbye to the others & headed for the warmth of our tent. I had carried a bag of over 15Kgs up here with basically anything I lugged up to Camp 2 the day before which would be off use both in the tent & for a summit bid. It allowed us to cook & eat, gave me a good nights sleep but having not originally intending to push for the summit so early my big Down Jacket, Big Mitts & Down Booties were still far below in ABC (simply could not carry everything up in one bag or in one push). The alarm was set for 2:00 am but the wind had already sent us an alarm call, it picked up in the early evening & gave our tent a bit of a pummelling, in truth it wasn’t as strong as it tried to make out but with Troel’s showing concern & with me knowing key bits of kit were not going to be to hand it was an easy decision made at 2:10, we are going down & coming back another day.
Without breakfast, very cold feet, those Down Booties would be welcomed at Camp 3 a week later, we headed down just after sunrise, it was a good decision, a short rest at Camp 2 before we carried on towards ABC, Troel’s was to tire before we got back down through the Crevasse field, we had not been ready but we would soon be back in the safety of ABC having had a good night of acclimatisation at Camp 3 which would prove to stand us in good stead 6 days later.
So endeth Part 1, we came back for more later, will you?