The plan, objectives and ethos

The trip was be self reliant, attempting to summit previously unclimbed peaks in a pure alpine style; leaving no trace.

The trip was exploratory in nature, and aimed to open up new climbing areas, summit virgin peaks, and increase the awareness for british exploration, and help to bring tourism to a struggling area of the world.

An Expedition Parton Mike 'twid' Turner FMGA mountain guide: ''Good luck lads, looks like a great area, spend lots of time researching, have fun, enjoy the journey and the people, pull hard and live dangerously''

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Chapter 1

‘The great silk road’ 2010 Kyrgyzstan expedition report.

‘We pulled over into a lay-by and a heated barter ensued in the darkness of a mountain pass, before I knew it I was being forcefully ushered into their car. Was I being abducted?’

‘I look at the pitch above me. It’s one of the nicest looking ice tunnels I have ever seen, it looks like a photograph from a Mark Twight book; immaculate alpine ice filling a 4 metre wide couloir; an overhanging bulge on the left and ninety degree passage on the right. A pitch of this beauty and quality seems deserving of classic status should it belong to the European Alps, but we were far from this accessible range; we were climbing a new route in a remote part of the world. Could I climb it? Could we return safely? I drew a deep breath, exhaling I released all other thought, and narrowed my attention on the physical actions of climbing; I smiled at Tom and set off.’

At the end of this summer Sam Leach, Tom Nichols and James Monypenny embarked on an adventure to explore and climb virgin peaks in the Torugart-too area of Kyrgyzstan; they summited 3 virgin peaks and completed a 2nd accent by a new route. This is their story.

Forward -get inspired!
The remarkable thing about our trip is, well, nothing! Just three mates getting out there and having fun. We are average climbers, with a bit of ambition, creativity and drive. What is amazing and exciting is that the step from everyday life and setting off on an adventure of a lifetime is smaller than you imagine. The hardest step is deciding that you’re actually going to do it; everything else will fall into place. I hope writing this will inspire you to take those tentative steps into planning and going on a trip. The experience will be one you recite to your grandchildren, and look back upon affectionately. Set your ambitions high. Don’t listen to your self-doubt. Remember; there is no try; there is only do or do not.

My dilemma

This blog was originally created to help attract sponsors; ever since its creation I have debated whether or not to delete it. I believe that you should only ever climb for yourself, and that publicizing your self is basically boasting. However I have come to the conclusion that I don’t particularly care how others view me and that if I want to continue to regularly go on expeditions then selling out though self –publicity and sponsorship is probably worth it. And I also derive pleasure knowing that these words may hopefully inspire others to get out there and live life, to travel and work towards a goal.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors, particularly the Mount Everest Foundation and The British Mountaineering Council. As well as anybody that helped or took the time to give us advice, you where all a massive help, Thank-you. People I would like to mention are John Proctor, Adam Russell, Max Gauld, Chris Boddington, Mike Turner and Pat Littlejohn for their useful advice. Thank-you to DMM Wales, Dorset Cereal, Yorkshire Tea, The Bountain Boot Company and Teko Socks.

It all started with a phone call, Tom rang me early one wet weekday morning, he asked a question I knew was coming, resistance was futile! My biggest reservation was that the three of us had not climbed as a group together before, and living in various locations and each keeping busy it looked unlikely that we would. Phone calls, emails and research occurred independently of each other; yet quite harmoniously and the expedition began to progress....then..........

Things began to stagnate, Sam was being kept ludicrously busy at work, Tom with exams, and I was keeping busy in the Alps. Some of the ground work was done, grants had been awarded, some research had been completed, but there was still a lot to be done and the trip departure was tenuously close. Importantly no monetary commitments had been made; the expedition was at a standstill. A chance meet with our expedition patron, Mike Turner, on the French side of Mont Blanc helped give me the motivation I needed. I met Tom in Chamonix, and said ‘we are booking the flights tomorrow or we aren’t going!’ The flights were booked the very next morning, we were going!

I gave myself 5 days when I returned home from the Alps to complete a piece of coursework and to put in the final preparations for the trip. Most of the time was spent talking to people that had been to the area before and getting to grips with Google Earth. What I realized was it was hard to say exactly what we would do, too little information about the area was available, but I was able to narrow down 9 unclimbed objectives that we could potentially have a go at. Tom arrived and joined me at Exped HQ (my parents' spare room in Surrey), and we got to work with final preparations. (gawping at all the virgin peaks and copying our documents). The day before the flight Sam joined us and the team was complete.

We all managed to board the flight within the weight limit; the 22.30 flight to Istanbul lasted 4hrs and was altogether pain-free. After an urban bivi in the airport, eager for a mini adventure we purchased a Turkish visa and ventured into the heat of Istanbul. Boarding a busy tram we headed into the heart of the city for a whistle stop tour of the main attractions. The main highlight for me was the market bazaar; it was alive with vibrant colour and the heated exchange between vendor and haggler. We wondered the 30 degree streets, exploring a mosque, the sea, saw the president and had a kebab; before long it was time to head back and catch our next flight.

The 17.30 flight to Bishkek (the capital of Kyrgyzstan) was not as comfortable; excitement did not allow me to sleep. We arrived at 4am into the humid airport, and met our driver who was also the proud owner of Kyrgy’s smallest car. Crammed in we headed to our soviet apartment building. Morning revealed the humid Russian style streets; we got enough Som for a small house, and met with ITMC, our logistics provider for the trip. We then reccied Osh bazaar, Bishkek cheapest market; alien smells and sights surrounded us, the fruit and vegetables much bigger and juicer, compared with that found in Europe. We came across a stall selling small black pellets, the vendor motioned us to try some, following his lead we each put some of the unknown substance on our gums, I instantly recognised it as snuff, it was quite hysterical. The next day was spent purchasing supplies and the evening soaking up the culture (I got perhaps a little too much culture). We were up early to pack our immense ex-USSR military vehicle (this thing would make Bear Grylls driving a defender look like Elton John in a offence Elton.)Departure

And so our journey in our bumpy truck along the great Silk Road began, we headed west towards Issyk-kul, only 20mins in and our first break down. The first of many, the problem was fixed within minutes by our cool headed driver, Sashka; and we got to learn some Russian expletives. As headed deeper into the heart of Kyrgyzstan, distant snowy peaks fuelled our excitement, the heat, along (with the signs of USSR occupation) slowly wore off. We passed amazing alpine rivers and tiny villages; nomadic families waved us by. Darkness fell as we passed the trading town of Naryn, using sign language (and poor impersonation) we had conveyed to Sashka that we wanted a sheep, we pulled over into a lay-by and a heated barter ensued in the darkness of a mountain pass, before I knew it I was being force-fully ushered into their car. Was I being abducted? Before I could make sense of the situation Sashka saved me and the men disappeared.

We wake blurry eyed the next day to reveal grassy mountainous surrounding us, Sashka is in a hurry, and we are soon bouncing along the silk road once again, big lorries hurtling the opposite direction, full of their Chinese cargo ready to distribute, perhaps as far as Turkey. Civilization began to fade; alpine scrub, rocky outcrops, fast rivers and high passes fly past the window. We pick up and befriend two young hitch hikers on their way home; they help us choose a sheep at the trading market in Naryn. No longer in radio range we entertain ourselves with poor quality karaoke as we skirt the mighty Kok-shall-too range, so much un-climbed potential! We pass a military outpost, where our guests live, the tension is soon over and we are allowed passage. Before long the Torugart-too range reveals its-self and the team psyche is running high, I soon realise that Google earth co-ordinates are about 50km out. As we go off road towards the range the truck struggles to surmount a hill and we decide to let the engine cool; instantly we disperse, binoculars in hand; like kids at Christmas rushing down stairs to inspect presents they can’t yet open. We drive to the river where there are a small cluster of yurts, a family invite us in for tea (half a cup symbolizes that we are welcome). Kumis was offered around, a sickly traditional spirit produced from fermented mare’s milk; unsurprisingly tom loved the vial fluid. We leave gifts and are guided by father and son on horse-back across the river: a nervousness minute, as a break-down in the large river would be disastrous. Suddenly on the other side we are joined by other herds-men on horses, accompanied by their scraggy dogs, and then we are commanded to stop and are advised that our truck won’t make it and we must pay for their horses to go further. We us cigarettes to calm the situation, and attempt to make friends and then recce the route; we convince Sashka it will go, and so continue to Base camp (BC).

Within 30mins a plan is hatched, we will attempt PK Kumay 4830m that dominates base camp, leaving tom and Sam to set up BC I go to recce the route. I set off at a slow jog, and am soon breathing hard despite being well acclimatized. After 1hr I arrive at on the glacier at 4100m at the foot of an obvious couloir, it looks easy; to stay warm I run back down, and disclose what I have learnt, pack and eat. Once again sleep is replaced by excited rest, at 3.30am the alarm sounds, we force down sugary oats and are walking by 4. We rope up at the foot of the 45-50 degree gully at first light, I lead off, and we are all struggling with the altitude. The neve is good and the terrain doesn’t require protection and we make the ridge in good time and are greeted by an eagle and magnificent views of the range.
I lead through a poor quality rock section, finding an easy passage, but come to an unexpected, unseen drop, a chasm that we must rappel to make progress. We prepare the anchors and I carefully descend, we are off centre, I therefore traverse to the left placing protection as I go, it isn’t ideal but will work, eventually I find an abseil anchor; but by this time Tom and Sam have seen the approaching weather front and the decision to retreat is made. We solo back down, and are all back reflecting on day 1 in base camp by 11.30. It was a shame to turn back, but we managed 500m on a new route, climbed well together and the exercise will provide good acclimatization.

The following day is spent recuperating, setting up BC and defending our belongings from the overfriendly herdsmen. We set off the following day at first light to explore an un-named glacial basin to the east, the cool morning air helps clear the mind, following the line of least resistance we reach the river that flows from the trio of glaciers. It is hemmed in by thin deep meandering George, with the heat of the day its power will increase, we cross using a useful chock-stone and progress slowly on the harsh scree. Now we are into the heart of the range, hemmed in by impressive 700m high limestone walls, few humans have been this far, a feeling of insignificance comes over me; then I am surprised as I disturb a large ground nesting bird.

Finally we reach the glacier and our objective comes into view an elegant north-face that looks like the tour-ronde.

It was already late, so we wasted no time, Sam set up ABC, whilst me and tom reccied the lower slopes and possibilities for descent.

I was in a sleep deeper than dreaming, when toms movement roused me; he announced ‘it’s 5.30: we have slept through the alarm’ The weather outside was grey but seemed stable, after some debate we decided upon tentatively going and if the weather worsened then it would still be a useful reconnaissance. Kitting up at the bottom tom proclaimed ‘Im leaving this’ picking up a large bundle of slings. I set off soloing up the 300m 45degree slope, when we are reunited at the bergshrund it turns out tom was referring to his bag complete with food, water, 1st aid kit, sat phone, group shelter, sun cream, mitts, balaclava and head-torch. We only had 6 screws and no quick-draws! The weather had improved, and so I tackled the shrund and lead on-to the 65 degree slope above. To my delight the ice was alpine hard; brittle, but provided solid protection. Climbing a 60m pitch with only two runners required a bold approach. I belayed Tom and Sam up, we debated and eagerly decided to continue; Tom tackled the next pitch in fine style, it was disconcerting watching someone else climb so high with so little gear. I allowed thought of reaching the summit to enter my mind. I had previously speculated it would be 5 pitches to the summit ridge......this was an underestimation! Me and Tom continued to swap leads,
(understandably Sam was not as acclimatized), the climbing took more time and energy than normal due to its brittle nature and lack of protection, but we made steady upward progress, not one movement or decision rushed; the team showing the mountain their experience. Late in the day, around 1.30pm some 500m 8/9 pitches later moving together we emerged on the final summit ridge, we tackled the final chossy rock summit, one at a time, and stood triumphant, at 2pm, on the top of our first new route up a virgin peak.

We held back the celebrations as we still had 700m of icy north face to descend. We reversed the summit and got to work setting the abseils, it was psychologically taxing maintaining concentration for so long, we each stuck to the same roles in order minimized potential for mistake, and make a speedy descent; the repetitive actions of constant chipping, clearing and drilling took their toll on the forearms. After around 7 full abseils my feet reached the other side of the bergshrund;
I began to solo down shouting back ‘I’l get the brews on’ within an hour we were back at ABC, tired and happy. We resisted sleep long enough to rehydrate and refuel before retiring into a deep, fatigued, happy slumber.

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