Tag Archives: expedition

11 brave women skiing to the North Pole.

‘Headlong to the North Pole’ would have been a suitable alternative title. ‘Ladies go north’ another. And they’re going to the northernmost north – there is no further north!

I can imagine some of you, dear regular readers, might be a bit confused by mention here of the North Pole, since I’ve just finished a mini-series on mid-Pacific islands like Fiji and Tahiti. But no, I haven’t got the equator and the North Pole mixed up in my post-intense-tourism haze; this is for real…

The (Ant)Arctic theme began way back in 2009. That’s when we met Felicity Aston and went on to support her all-woman Antarctic group expedition to the South Pole (details in my book New Year at the South Pole!). Three years later, again with our support, she went one further and skied coast to coast across Antarctica – on her own! – covering almost 1800km over 60 days.

Fast forward to 2018, and here she goes again – but this time to the other pole – the one up at the top of the world in the Arctic!

Read on…

Reaching the Upper Reaches of Yenisei.

So, just how exactly did we get to the upper reaches of the Yenisei?

Well, obviously, we didn’t walk. It involved various means of transport. First, we drove 400 km from Abakan to Kyzyl. The quality of the road was bearable – it is asphalt all the way, though there were lots of roadworks. Next year it should be in better shape. It took us 6-7 hours because of the repairs, detours and time spent waiting at traffic lights giving way to oncoming traffic on the single-lane sections.

But we finally made it to the city of Kyzyl, the capital of Tuva:

However, this is where things took an unexpected turn for the worse.

Read on: A marvelous artefact next to the airport…

Yenisei: You say ‘eh?’ I say ‘wey hey!’

The Yenisei River. Many of you won’t have even heard of it. But that doesn’t make it any less of a mega river: starting out in Mongolia (!), it’s the main river of three great Siberian ones, and the world’s largest river system flowing into the Arctic Ocean. Anyway; introductions over – we headed its way after our Tian Shan adventure

…And not long after we reached it, sure enough – we were heading down its rapids in rafts.

Now for a bit of geography…

Read on: Now for a bit of geography…

Farewell Tian Shan. Thank you ma’am.

No chronicle of our Tian Shan adventure would be complete without mentioning the travel agencies we used for the trip: 7 Summits Club and Ak-Sai Travel. All the hands-on fieldwork was undertaken by the latter: they met us there, ferried us about in the 4x4s, flew us in the helicopter, and were our guides on all the trekking and clambering and camping. Here’s Ak-Sai’s Ilya at the front with a ‘don’t get lost!’ flag – just like guides have when showing tourists in most any tourist attraction around the world (ok, not necessarily a flag; these days it’s more likely to be a selfie-stick or some such).

I’ve already told you about the camps we stayed at on our expedition, and how they fairly amazed me by their relative comfort in such harsh surroundings, so I won’t go over those again (but a restaurant tent with chairs and a big dining table, minibar, mini-shops, and other modern conveniences will never be forgotten!).

Read on: Occasionally things seemed to get a bit mixed up…

Tian Shan – oh man: now in my Top-100!

Howdy folks!

Oh no! Summer’s nearly over! So I’d better start winding up these here tales from the Kyrgyz side – our Tian Shan expedition across glaciers and along ‘trains‘ of glacial rubble, aka – what I did this summer…

Now, I have a list of what are, to me, the 100 most beautiful, most fantastic places on the planet – both natural and man-made. It contains waterfalls, lakes, caves, deserts, volcanoes/volcanism, multicolored rock formations, deep canyons, Patagonias and Galapagos islands. And a lot more besides. But conspicuously absent from the list are mountains…

Well now the time has come to correct such negligence…

Accordingly, herewith, I put forward the candidacy of Tian Shan, Engilchek Glacier and the landscapes that surround them, for entry into my Top-100 List of the Most Beautiful Places in the World.

The glacier is reeaaal long – some 60km+ – and we covered almost all 60 (apart from the last 10 up where the glacier starts). But the glacier really starts up on the very highest slopes of the mountains – around 6000-8000 meters up! But there was no way we’d be rock climbing so high: we were, after all, a group of mere-mortal office plankton taking a leisurely, albeit it rather extreme and unusual, ‘stroll’ :).

Read on: Around the glacier in ten days…

Tian Shan – yes you can: habitation, part 1.

Over the 10 days we were trekking across Tian Shan, we stayed at seven tent-based (permanent) camps for the night:

Each camp was unique in its own way (the views were always very different), but also similar to the others at the same time (same yellow tents and other camping kit). The spacious camps had specially equipped sleeping spaces, a kitchen, and toilets (v. basic, but better than nothing!). In all, hardly the Ritz, but what are you to expect halfway up a mountain side in the middle of nowhere?!

Ok, let me go through each camp in order.

The first at-jailoo (‘field’ in Kyrgyz) didn’t really count. We arrived there in 4x4s so there was no trekking trickiness or hiking hardships at all. There was another kind of hardship though – that brought on by a particularly noisy generator, as already mentioned. I think the family that runs the camp must have been deaf from birth! So, like I say, this camp doesn’t count.

Our first proper camp was this one here:

Read on:

100 kilometers around Tian Shan – yes you can (just). 

Hi folks!

August – always quiet. And that includes here on my blog, as you’ll have noticed. So here’s for a bit of catch-up: it’s time to report back from my recent walking trip around the Tian Shan mountains. Coming up: peaks, glaciers, mysterious natural phenomena, daily trekking-tourist notes, occasional rock-climber notes, descriptions of light-headedness brought on by low oxygen levels, and thoroughly non-office-like physical exertions. Also coming up: why we chose this particular particularly remote spot for this year’s spot of extreme tourism…

First off: how did we get there? Here’s a brief pictorial review:

Read on: simple logistics…

The Tian Shan Express.

Walking on ice for days is… unusual, but thoroughly awesome at the same time.

You might think that since there are no winding paths you could walk ‘as the crow flies’ across a glacier, but you’d be wrong. Much zigzagging is needed in-between and around mounds of rubbly rocks and glacial ‘icebergs’. Walking over smaller rubbly rock is tricky too. And walking on the ice is hardly a walk in an ice-free park either – especially when you can’t see the ice under a thin film of small rocks. But these inconveniences pale into insignificance when you have a look around at the oh-my glaciation landscapes all around!

Under those there rocks – ice. The ice around here inflicts serious damage to the surface of the mountains: as it expands (from water) in cracks it breaks up the rock, and over time grinds up the ever smaller rocks finer and finer and pulls it all downwards down the slopes. The ice melts, there’s less and less ice further down the slopes and more and more rocks – from pebbles to boulders.

Read on: Oh my goodness gracious…

Ice, Ice Walkie.

I’m a big fan of glaciers, and been lucky enough to have seen plenty – all over the world: in Patagonia, the Alps, the Caucasus, Altai (where I briefly walked on one), and New Zealand. It goes without saying also in Antarctica and Greenland; and I’ve seen plenty more from a plane while flying over them – but I guess those don’t really count. However, I’d never fully immersed myself in the unique experience of trekking across glacial ice and moraines for days on end. And I’d never met anyone who had. Or heard of anyone ever doing so. Until this summer when I finally had a go after dreaming about doing so for decades…

How was it?

Clue: Oh my glacier!

Detail: this post will be light on detail in words, but big on photo-visual detail. An intro, if you like. Plenty of words will come later on, I promise! But so far I haven’t had chance to put fingers to keyboard. Too busy enjoying all the glacial grandiosity. Plus the local internet coverage is… sporadic, to say the least. But for now here you go:

But where am I? Here’s a clue:

Polite request: Don’t pick the flowers! Fine – 1000 som