An International expedition!!
"First, you must cross the ditch before you can mount the obstacle", so wrote French missionary Pierre Vittoz some 65 years ago before leading an international expedition on the first ascent of Nun 7120m in the Kashmir .
Nothing much has changed during the interim, indeed the bureaucratic ditch of organizing international travel is much greater now than 20 years ago in the heyday of easy international travel. Currently, the international political climate is one of fear, suspicion, mistrust and the closing of borders making trip planning rather more complex than it recently was. This is particularly true of the mountain areas of the World who have resisted the “civilizing” and colonization efforts by the lowland mass's the longest. As the opportunity has come up to take a trip once again to Central Asia this July and August the difficult political climate has equal challenges with a difficult meteorological climate. July and August are the middle of the summer monsoon for most of Asia making the Western areas, sheltered by the Himalayas the only suitable areas for travel.
Planning lightweight, fast and highly mobile exploratory Central Asian expeditions in the style of Longstaff a century ago and then brought to its pinnacle by Shipton and Tilman over 50 years ago remains my objective. Originally this year I had the plan to ride south on my bike from Xining in Qinghai (China) south going to close to the Tibetan border (Tibet is closed once again to independent foreign travel as it has been in most recorded history) where there is a mass of almost totally unexplored glaciated mountains and take go take a look . These mountains are low by Central Asian standards with none exceeding 6000m. Although this area is sheltered from the worst of the monsoon it has become clear that in July and August it rains most days and that will be exceptionally cold rain mixed with snow on the vast Tibetan plateau where the lowest elevations are still above 4000m. Being a large watershed meant there are many river crossing just to get in there and with September being the only month of the year giving any real “easy” travel one quickly realizes why there are not even any photos of these mountains yet alone accounts of travel in them ( the Source of the Mekong is on the western perimeter and has seen a visit and a Japanese group claim to have climbed the highest mountain in the area somewhere to the East of the major mountains although geographical information does not correlate with their account which only leaves even more mysteries to be solved) . Certainly, this remains a good project for the future.
My thoughts have now turned further West to a project I have had in mind for sometime, Velo – mountaineering in Kyrgyzstan. Cycle tourists have waxed lyrical about the great cycle touring there and easy camping and with 158 separate mountain ranges covering 80 per cent of Kyrgyzstan the prospects of some good scrambles are endless. The country has two of the great mountain ranges of the World, the Pamirs and Tien Shan mountains bordering it and two of the largest Glaciers draining into it, the Fedchenko glacier at 77kms long and the Engilchek Glacier at 60kms long. Although its on well-traveled territory I remain philosophical as in the words of Longstaff – any unguided climb is like a first ascent.
Here In New Zealand winter has begun and it been certainly cold but with only sporadic snowfalls so far. The first local snow fall I managed to catch with Brent and we took our children for a night camping on Mount Arthur . I had a quick run on that familiar range the next day for training before setting off with a couple of young guns for an icy early winter ascent of the giant of the upper South Island - Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku.
Back in the rocks on the descent