- Saturday: London -> Moscow -> Barnaul
- Sunday: Barnaul -> Kurai
- Monday: Kurai -> the mountains
In summary, we were presented with few difficulties arranging the logistics. Having booked the flights, our fixer at K2 adventures in Omsk (Igor) sorted everything else. Whilst this took quite a few emails, we were careful to ensure Igor specified exactly what his fee would cover and we had no problems in the execution of the plan. During our correspondance by e-mail we sent maps with potential base camps marked on to try and give an indication of where we were looking to head to (Google maps is great). Igor was able to provide an indication of how close he thought he could get us to each one, giving us a rough idea of what would be possible while we were out there and allowed us to form some preliminary plans.
However we must highlight that we couldn’t actually decide exactly which valley we were going to base ourselves in until we arrived in Kurai the night before our journey into the mountains. There was a lot of uncertainty as to how far into the valleys the 4x4 would be able to reach. We discussed our options with Igor and our driver from the town of Beltyr who knew the area very well. Only then did we finalise exactly where we were going to set up base camp.
Clay and Greg flew out to Barnaul a couple of days earlier than Eleri and George in order to buy food and other supplies for the expedition. We flew with Russian airline Aeroflot, and booked our tickets through their website http://www.aeroflot.ru/cms/en as they allow you to stagger your change over, rather than take the next available flight. This allowed us to stop over for 36hrs in Moscow so that we could have a quick look around the city on our way back to England.
- Flight from Heathrow to Moscow around 3hrs 40mins
- Flight from Moscow to Barnaul around 4hrs
Because of the time differences, this meant arriving at Heathrow at 8am, landing in Moscow at around 6pm local time, leaving Moscow at 11pm and landing in Barnaul at 6am local time the following day. So roughly a 24hr journey when you factor in the time differences.
N.B Hint when booking the flight...please don't think the special meal box is a mandatory option on the form if you don’t have any specific dietary requirements. George didn’t appreciate the vegan meal which Eleri booked for him!
We had arranged for Igor to pick up Clay and Greg from their hotel in Barnaul with all the supplies, and then meet George and Eleri at the airport. He arrived almost bang on time along with a minibus driver, who spoke no English. Igor’s English was very good. He understood almost everything we asked him, and was able to give well articulated replies.
The minibus was easily big enough to carry us and our kit and despite the lack of seatbelts it was great. We drove straight down the M52 to a village called Kurai, making several short stops on the way for food, viewpoints, ancient stone carvings and to see a spring fountain. Igor certainly appeared knowledgeable about the tourist sights en route and his guided tour was much appreciated. The drive took most of the day – we left at 7am and arrived in Kurai at around 7pm.
As previously mentioned we then met with our driver to discuss possible basecamp options. The locals spoke no English, translation was provided by Igor.
Igor also arranged for our visa registration forms to be filled out, and took our passports from us so that he could arrange this for us while we were away. We each had copies of our passports to take with us on the expedition, and a note explaining in Russian where our passports were in case we bumped in to any military (highly unlikely, but could result in a hefty fine). Igor also registered the details of our trip with the local Rescue Rangers for us (the mountain rescue equivalent). That night we stayed in a comfortable hut which Igor had organised for us.
The next day the driver took us further down the M52 a then to the village of Beltyr, Igor again accompanying to provide translation as needed. From Beltyr, we drove up into the mountains to be dropped at the foot of our valley. This took around 3hrs. We agreed a meeting time and place to be picked up, and then we were left to ourselves!
The return journey was almost exactly the same as our journey out, except without we agreed that we didn't require the expensive translation services of Igor's presence. Igor was confident that he could manage our return remotely and so we trusted him to do this.
The result was an incredibly smooth return journey, considering neither of our two drivers who spoke a single word of English. Our passports and visa registration forms were waiting for us in Kurai, and all our pre-arranged meeting times were met. (Apart from the driver in the 4x4 was 45mins late picking us up from the mountains, but the weather was so atrocious we were impressed he even managed to pick us up at all!).