Blog & Updates
Logistics - The Facts
7th August 2012, by Eleri
One of the most important factors in organising an expedition is whether you can get there, but with modern transportation it is possible to get pretty much anywhere in the world (or beyond?). Often your only constraints are whether you can find someone crazy enough to get you there, and whether you can afford to pay enough to make it worthwhile for them.
For our first big expedition we decided to pick somewhere that wasn’t going to be a logistical nightmare, but was still a big step up from jumping on a cable car. The lower valleys of the Altai are largely accessible by off-road 4x4, and where the terrain becomes too difficult for motorised transport it is possible to revert to the trusty mule.
How to Start?
First of all, we decided on where we wanted to go, The Altai Mountain Range. Then we looked at where the nearest airport was (Barnaul) and whether we could fly there for a reasonable price (yes, we can). Kayak.co.uk , opodo.co.uk and skyscanner.net were particularly useful in finding cheap flights.
We decided to go with the Russian airline Aeroflot because they let you space out your flights within one journey- so on our return flights we have arranged a 36hr stop in Moscow. Flights take around 5 and a half hours from Heathrow to Moscow, and 4 hours from Moscow to Barnaul. Moscow is GMT + 4hrs and Barnaul is GMT + 7hrs. Just don't look at the Wikipedia page for their safety record...
Once we had ascertained that we could get within a 300km radius of our chosen destination with a couple of commercial flights that was it, decision made, we knew we’d be able to sort out the rest. The trip was on!
Where to climb?
We then used Google Earth to identify some potential base camp areas. We also took account of the terrain we could see on Google Earth and thus whether we though it was likely that motorised transport could take us all or part of the way to our destination. Having seen a flat plain leading to the valleys below the South Chuyski Range we reasoned that an off road vehicle should be able to take us to the base of our valley, and maybe even up into the valley.
We searched the internet for guiding / mountaineering companies in the area who might be able to assist us in sorting out logistics. We also used previous trip reports to get an idea of how expeditions before us had travelled around, and what kind of prices they had paid.
After a few months of emails in broken Russian, replies in broken English and a fair amount of online translation we settled on using K2 Adventures. There weren't many operators who responded positively, but K2 came recommended from previous UK teams and sounded like they knew what they were doing. Only time will tell if they actually do!
We still haven’t finalised a base camp, our contact has explained that some of the access tracks have been damaged by flooding, and so we won’t actually know how far we can get until we’re in the truck with the driver. We also speak neither Russian, or the local language Altay. At the moment we have a lot of ideas for routes and areas we want to be, but essentially we’re going to have to adapt to where we can get to!
So that brings us up to date, finalising the details with our Russian fixer. Igor was also kind enough to send us a photo of our final transport, good to see he has a sense of humour! We also understand it to be Russian mountaineering tradition to have a small party before leaving the road and heading into the mountains. We’re not sure whether this is accurate, or he just wants a party at our expense, but either way we’ve a feeling it’s going to be one crazy journey!
One thing to note is that upon arrival in Russia you need to register your visa with the local authorities in any place which you are intending to stay more than 7 days. This is fine if you don’t arrive on a Sunday- when all possible registration centres are closed, or if you don’t mind hanging around in Barnaul until Monday. However we will arrive on a Sunday morning and don’t want to waste valuable climbing time, so we have arranged for our fixer to do the registration for us.