Elbrus Expedition 2013 – Mt. Cheget acclimatisation

Saturday 17th August:

At breakfast, both Dave and Caro were complaining of stomach upsets. I was hoping it was just because of the switch in diet to the rich, Russian cuisine. I was feeling good and devoured the three plates that were served. After our leisurely breakfast we packed our daysacks and set off from Hotel Scheherazade at 8am. We walked at a steady pace down through Azau and then along the roadside 2.5km down the Baksan Valley to Cheget.

Cheget | Terskol Panorama

Yuri and I dropped Caro and Dave in the market square and we entered the local Pilgrim offices to clear the final payment. There was another guide there who was leading the larger Pilgrim group on the same schedule as us and he confirmed that they would also trek up Mt. Cheget today.

After paying, we left the office, re-joined Dave and Caro and made our way to the ski-lift base station at an altitude of 2,100m.

Skilifts on Cheget

We lined up and clambered on board the lift, with Yuri’s warning to zip our pockets and hold on tour gloves ringing in our ears. The first ski-lift carried us to an elevation of 2,750m in about 13 minutes. The views from the lift were spectacular; the northern slopes are covered with dark conifers. Pines grow in dense stands and alpine meadows are dotted with wild flowers.


Verdant views from Skilift

It was a little nerve-wracking to be dangling above the forests and mountains but also exhilarating. I felt very far away from my desk and work responsibilities in Haiti, and happy to be back in the mountains.

Holding on Tight

I looked behind and could see that Yuri had helped Caro into the lift:

Caro & Yuri on Skilift

The second lift would have carried us to an altitude of 3,000m, but Yuri decided that just in case we were denied access to the upper slopes of Mount Cheget, that we should trek up from the first station. This seemed like a good idea as it would allow us to stretch our legs at a reasonable altitude and slowly start getting used to the thinner air.

We trekked slowly upwards from 2,750m, beneath the ski-ift. There were very few people on this section of the trail. It seemed like most of the people using the lifts were local tourists, who were simply going up to the top station to admire the views of Donguz-Orun (4,452m) and Nakra-Tau (4,360m) to the South-West.

It didn’t take long to reach the top station, where we stopped to take on some water and have a short toilet break

Views from Skilift Top Station

We could see why so many tourists were keen to admire the views – although the view of Elbrus to to the north was clouded over, the vista of nearby mountains and glaciers and the view down the Baksan Valley was truly spectacular.

Mt. Cheget Panorama


Just a short climb above the top station was a sign warning us that we were now indeed entering a restricted zone, but as Yuri predicted there were no military personnel around. According to Yuri, in the days of the Soviet Union, a nearby pass over the mountains into Georgia was heavily used as a popular trekking route. However, the North Caucasus was now a politically unstable area with a heavy security presence. We moved ahead nervously, although we could see several other group further ahead on the trail.

Warning sign on Mt. Cheget

We continued climbing for another 100m – by now our pace had slowed somewhat and it was a bit of a relief to reach our high point of the day, on the summit ridge of Mount Cheget at 3,150m. Like the vast majority of people, we were stopping at Cheget Peak, but experienced climbers can continue from the summit of Cheget Peak along the ridge to the summit of Mount Cheget at 3,601m, which is a technical mixed snow and rock climb.

Mt Cheget Summit (3,601m) from Cheget Peak (3,150m)


The other big group from Pilgrim was also on Cheget Peak by now so we had a short chat with them and soaked up the views. Caro tried to call her family from our satphone but when we eventually found a signal, it was impossible to connect. According to the Globalstar service map, we should have had service so I’m not sure why it didn’t work. In fact, we were unable to make any calls during the expedition despite having plenty of satellite airtime. I’m not sure if the Russian authorities have blocked Globalstar in this region, but thankfully I could use my mobile network to remain connected and update our sponsors, friends and family. In fact, as it turns out there is good mobile signal on the south side of Elbrus up to about 5,000m. As I only have a Vodafone pre-paid UK SIM since I am based abroad, I made sure to top up heavily before I left London.

While taking a cup of tea and another snack I sent a Check-In message via my SPOT Connect App on my iPhone. While the satellite phone on the Globalstar network would not allow us to make voice calls, the SPOT satellite device, which also uses the Globalstar low-earth orbit satellite network, worked just fine. This device, which connects via Bluetooth to my iPhone App, allowed me to either send check-inn messages via email and social media, or also to create a track log of my progress, which can be uploaded later to my SPOT Adventures page. I didn’t use that function until summit day due to the battery drain.

We descended quickly just behind the other group as we were keen to get back down to Cheget for lunch. This time, instead of descending to the middle skilift station on foot, we took both skilifts. This would save our knees from taking an unnecessary beating.

Although it had been a short day, we were still a little bit tired after our long journey and the trek had worked up quite a thirst and appetite. We ate at the same cafe as the big group, although again we had a separate table. As we waited for lunch to be served, a third group entered the restaurant. The group looked quite young overall and the majority appeared to be East Asian. Many of them had clear suntan or sunburn lines on their faces. Yuri called over to their guide and she confirmed that they had reached the summit the day before. That lifted my spirits, as they did not all look particularly athletic.

Lunch was delicious.

Lunch in Cheget

Dave remarked that every dish seemed to have an almost overpowering flavour of dill. Both Dave and Caro managed to eat decent portions at lunch, which was re-assuring. GI issues can have a big influence on the success or failure of climbing expeditions.

After lunch we had a short stroll around Cheget while we waited for our transport back up the valley to Azau. We bought a few 5-litre water containers to take up to Elbrus base camp the next day. Although water from the glacier is boiled by the kitchen staff up there, it nevertheless contains rock flour particles and can upset stomachs. We didn’t want to take any chances. Dave also took the opportunity to buy a map of the Elbrus area.

Team checking map in Cheget

We returned to the hotel and made final preparations for the next morning, when we would transfer to the Barrel Huts at 3,700m at Elbrus Base Camp. I was still feeling nervous. Both Dave and Caro had suffered some stomach problems and I knew that a huge snowfall was expected any day. I felt strong, healthy and comfortable about my own personal situation, but I felt a big sense of responsibility for the team.

Elbrus Expedition 2013 – MinVody to Baksan Valley

Friday 16th August:

We landed in Mineralnye Vody (Mineral Waters in Russian) at 11.30am. The arrivals hall was small and packed tight as we waited to collect our luggage. The crowd was a mixture of locals with a smattering of expedition-types wearing fleeces, trekking boots and beards. We had booked a private expedition via our local agent Pilgrim Tours, because we wanted more control of our itinerary and also of the members in our team – it was clear that there were some larger groups travelling to the Caucasus at the same time as us and I silently thanked myself that I had the foresight to book a private expedition. As we waited to pick our bags we scanned the groups of tough-looking gentleman loitering outside the door for any sign of our driver, most of whom appeared to be chain-smoking. We didn’t see any Pilgrim signs. While we waited, an Israeli climber engaged Dave in conversation and it turned out that he was also part of a Pilgrim tour.

After picking our bags, we stepped out into the bright sunshine and dismissed the usual taxi touts. A lean and deeply-tanned Russian approached us and introduced himself as Yuri. He explained that he was our guide from Pilgrim and we shook hands and followed him to the car park with a slight sense of relief. It transpired that our private group would also have private transport for the 4-hour drive (220km) to Azau at the end of the Baksan Valley. Bonus! Yuri spoke good English and explained that we would stop at a mini-supermarket soon after leaving the airport to pick up any supplies (water, chocolate, soft drinks etc) that we wanted.

The minibus was pretty comfortable with only 3 people, our guide Yuri and our driver, and before long I was crashed out. I had travelled a long way from Haiti in the last 48 hours – an overnight Trans-Atlantic flight from Miami with little sleep, followed by a stressful few hours running around London and then another overnight flight from London to Moscow. I was completely exhausted.

Asleep on the bus to the Baksan Valley

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one.

Dave getting some shut-eye

Caro was awake and managed to get some photos of the verdant, green landscapes as we approached the Caucasus

Verdant Green Caucasus

Although I was dozing, I was aware that we were frequently slowing down and sometimes stopping completely. As it turned out, there was a very good reason for this:

Traffic jam in rural Russia

Cows on Road

Cows on Road - Part II

For some reason the cows in the Caucasus prefer to congregate on the road rather than stay in their fields munching on grass.

Caro was wide awake as we entered the Baksan Valley and approached the village of Cheget, from where she had the first views of our ultimate objective – Elbrus (5,642m).

Elbrus View from Cheget

I finally woke up as we left Cheget for the last 2km drive to Azau, which sits at the end of the road at an elevation of 2,350m.The only thing of note in the small settlement of Azau is the cable-car base station – actually two base stations as a ‘new’ cableway opened in 2007. However, the existing line still runs, so there are effectively two options to ascend to the final ski lifts on the south side of Elbrus.

Standing in front of the 'new' cable-car station, Azau

We were staying at the Hotel Scheherazade, directly in front of the cable-car station.

Hotel Scheherazade in Azau

The hotel room (301) was basic but clean. Dave was next door in 302 and Yuri was down on the first floor. The room lacked air-conditioning so we had to ventilate it in the warm afternoon sun. We started unpacking and re-packing our kit. As we unpacked, we could hear that Dave was working hard on catching up on his sleep – in fact we could almost feel the vibrations from the room next door as he happily slumbered and snored. I had carried a lot of kit from sponsors from London for Caro and I presented it all to her. First up was the bomb-proof clothing, gloves, headwear and rucsac from our clothing sponsor Montane:

Caro Montane Kit

Next was the La Sportiva Spantiks, Petzl hardware & Exped DownMat from our supporter Lyon Outdoor:

La Sportiva Spantiks and Petzl Hardware

In exchange, she presented me with some expedition patches and the expedition summit flag:

Summit Flag

We were feeling a little peckish so Caro and I had a quick walk around Azau – really there was not much to see – a tiny market place that sold wool products and a few cafes and small hotels that catered to the tourists who use the cableways to move up and down Elbrus’ slopes for pleasure. We sat at one cafe and placed our order. The waitress spoke broken English but with the right combination of gestures and facial expressions we managed to convey what we wanted. We ordered soup – with tomato for me and without for Caro. I also used the one Russian word that I remembered from my Khan Tengri expedition to Kyrgyzstan in 2006 – “spaseba“, which means “thank you“! When the soup arrived, it was standard Central Asian fare – a clear broth with a huge chunk of meat (veins included). I had decided that I will generally avoid all meat while travelling, due to my climbing partner’s own bad experience on Khan Tengri. Dave and Caro had already been munching on some rather questionable sausage meat that we bought on the journey from MinVody – I was hoping they would not pay for that decision later on. I asked Caro what she thought of Russian cuisine. She summed up her answer in one word: “Horrible!”. I thought the food was OK – not exactly delicious but hearty and filling.

After lunch, we finished sorting through and packing our kit then took a short rest, with the ever-present sounds of Dave’s rhythmic snoring in the background. At 7pm it was time for dinner, and our second experience of Russian cuisine.

Dinner at Hotel Scheherazade

We were the only guests in the hotel, so we had the place to ourselves. We started with a salad, then more soup, then a delicious type of potato pancake stuffed with cheese. Of course, there were plates of cheese and bread on the table too – it was an altogether agreeable meal. As we ate, Yuri explained more about tomorrow’s acclimatisation program. We would walk 2km down the valley to Cheget to make the final payments at the Elbrus office, then take the skillift up Mt. Cheget to gain altitude, before climbing higher up to 3,100m. We had been informed the week before that Mt. Cheget was now off-limits as it had been included in the border zone by the authorities. Therefore, we understood that we would instead walk up to the Elbrus Observatory on the path behind our hotel. However, Yuri told us that because it was the weekend there would likely be no military personnel on duty. We bid Yuri good night and retired to our rooms with full bellies, and with images of the snowy twin cones of Elbrus in our minds.

Elbrus Expedition 2013 – London

I arrived in London at 11.15 am on Thursday 15th August on an overnight transatlantic flight from Miami. I had left my desk as Head of Business Support Unit for the Canadian Red Cross in Haiti 22 hours before and travelled straight to the airport in Port-au-Prince. As usual, it had been a last-minute rush to tie up some loose ends at work and make sure my team were prepped to cover for me for the next 10 days. I had only arrived back from our Roraima training trip a few weeks before so life had been hectic – I was looking forward to pushing myself on this trip but was also concerned because Dave had recently been injured and because Caro had only been above 5,000m once before, on Pico de Orizaba in December 2012.

We’re extremely fortunate to have some fantastic and very generous kit sponsors; Aquapac had already delivered some kit to my office in Canada earlier in the year and Caro and I had tested that kit on Roraima in July. Earlier this week, our main clothing sponsor Montane had confirmed a delivery of clothing and accessories to Dave’s sister in London and I was heading to meet him and check and pack the kit. In addition, Lyon Equipment had sent La Sportiva Spantik boots for Caro and some Petzl climbing hardware, as well as Exped DownMats. Nite Watches had recently promoted me to Ambassador status and had accepted Dave and Caro and Unite contributors. They had sent out three beautiful new watches for us to pick up.

We had also been fortunate to get some decent media coverage after officially launching the expedition, including:

Trek & Mountain

Trek & Mountain Article

Third Force News

Third Force News Article

The Bellshill Speaker

Bellshill Speaker Article

Caro also secured coverage in various sports news outlets in Venezuela. She was also interviewed live on VEN FM:

After arriving at Heathrow and before I met up with Dave, I also had a short list of additional kit to pick up. Some of it I had already ordered from Snow+Rock in Covent Garden (Black Diamond Guide gloves for Caro, hand and foot warmers, trekking pole snow baskets, spare Nalgene), but there were other items that needed, such as a Shewee (Caro), ice axe leash (Caro) and some energy bars/gels. I also had a prescription for Diamox (acetazolamide – a diuretic that can help prevent Acute Mountain Sickness) and Dexamethasone (a powerful steroid used to treat cerebral oedema) from Adventure Medical Consulting and I needed to pick these up from a pharmacy.

Earlier in the week in Haiti I had gone through the kit list with a fine tooth-comb 3 or 4 times in the days before departure. I like to take a scientific approach to my packing:

Expedition packing

Elbrus Kit Packing

At Heathrow Arrivals I tried to use the public showers, but found they were closed. I then tried to use the Air Canada lounge, but was rebuffed as I had not flown that day on Air Canada. Dejected, I dropped my bags at the Excess Baggage Co. desk (£9.00 per 24hrs) and headed to Covent Garden on the Picadilly Line. For the next 70 minutes I caught up with UK friends by phone and text. Working in Haiti, I don’t get much chance to speak regularly to friends and family back home, so I always take the opportunity when I’m out of Haiti to reach out.

My first stop was Snow+Rock, where I was able to use my British Mountaineering Council membership to get 20% off my order. Unfortunately they didn’t have many mountaineering items in stock as it was out of season, so I struck out to find Cotswold and Ellis Brigham, who both have stores nearby. Luckily, between these 3 stores I was able to find everything we needed, although I did get some funny looks when I bought this:

No comment

Shewee - a timesaver on the mountain

Despite visiting a few pharmacies, I wasn’t able to get hold of the Diamox or Dexamethasone – so we would have to climb without pharmaceutical aids. Diamox does have side effects that I would rather avoid, such as numbness/tingling in extremities and polyuria (peeing more). I’m not sure it has actually helped me on past expeditions, but the placebo effect is strong.

I headed out to Tooting Bec to connect with Dave. His sister Janet had very kindly agreed to act as our expedition postbox, despite being very heavily pregnant. By the time I got to her house, Dave had already packed the new kit into respective bags for the three of us, which saved a lot of time. Although he had removed all of the tags to avoid any questions at Russian Customs, he did keep one aside:

Ricky on expedition in New Guinea

Montane Clothing Label

I was highly amused (but slightly thrilled) to see my mug on the Montane clothing labels. The photo was taken as I ascended to the summit ridge of Puncak Trikora in the New Guinea highlands during my 2010 solo Australasia 3 Peaks Glacier Expedition.

Now we had all of our kit packed, it seemed appropriate to hit the pub for a few beers with Dave, his sister Janet and her husband Olly. Poor Olly had received box after box of sweet mountaineering kit on our behalf but couldn’t play with any of it – I still feel sorry for him.

Our Elbrus Kit List:

Expedition Kit

Elbrus Kit List

Kit supplied by :

VICE JACKET
PRISM JACKET
LONG-SLEEVE BIONIC ZIP NECK
BIONIC LONG JOHN
TERRA THERMO STRETCH PANTS
MEDUSA 32
FURY JKT
DIRECT ASCENT JACKET

In addition, they also sent us Powerdry Glove (liner), Sabretooth Glove (softshell), Resolute Mitt, Montane Beanie and the Featherlite Mountain Cap.

There were a number of items of kit that they also placed on forward order for us for the South America 3 Peaks Expedition, and we will pick these up later this year. These include the Alpine Endurance Event Jacket, Black Ice Jacket, Astro Ascent Event Pants
and Prism Pants. We’re extraordinarily grateful for this support.

I also had the opportunity to try on my new Nite Hawk T100

Nite Watches

Nite Hawk T100 - My new timepiece

The Hawk T100 has a carbon fibre reinforced polycarbonate case and bezel and is super lightweight at only 64 grams. Despite this, it feels robust and the silicon strap is superbly comfortable. I’m extremely proud to be a Nite Ambassador and to wear this watch.

After a couple of quiet beers Dave and I hauled our gear into a taxi and headed to Heathrow. We were flying Aeroflot and were pleasantly surprised to find the excess charges to be less than $70 for an extra bag. As we waited to check in we struck up a conversation with an English guy. Turns out he had fallen head over heels in love with a Russian girl two weeks before while on holiday in Egypt. She had convinced him to fly to Russia to meet her family. This guy told us that we were nuts for going climbing in Russia. Dave and I agreed that he was in a lot more physical danger than we were. I didn’t feel confident that his kneecaps would last very much longer…….

It was a short, comfortable 4-hour flight to Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO). Due to the time difference, we arrived at 05:30. Caro had flown in the day before to Domodedovo Airport, but had transferred to a hotel near SVO. We picked up our baggage, changed some USD to Roubles and made our way through to the domestic transfer terminal. We were very pleasantly surprised by how clean and modern the airport was, and by how little bureaucracy we faced. We checked in to our flight to Mineralnye Vody and the check-in clerk told me that Caro had already checked in. We passed security and met Caro at the gate – I was glad that she had managed to travel so far from home alone with no issues – she had even managed to get out to Red Square the previous night and met some friends who were there for the athletics World Championships.

We boarded the flight to MinVody and tried to prepare ourselves for the challenges to come.

Our silver bird to MinVody

Flying to MinVody

Starting the Adventure

South America 3 Peaks Expedition Launch

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of the South America 3 Peaks Expedition. This expedition is the latest leg in my long-term project to climb the Triple 7 Summits. Over 38 days in December & January, I’ll lead three-person expedition team into the remote and arid high plateau of the Puna de Atacama in the Andes of northern Argentina. The team will attempt to climb the 3 highest peaks in the Americas – Monte Pissis (6795m), Ojos del Salado (6893m) & Aconcagua (6959m). To acclimatise, we will also climb 3 other peaks over 4,500m.

South America 3 Peaks Expedition

Objectives:

The expedition has 3 objectives:

1. Mountain – to safely climb the 3 highest peaks in South America (6,700m+) including the first Venezuelan female ascent of all 3 peaks
2. Science – to support ongoing scientific research on South America’s receding glaciers by creating a geo-tagged photographic record and collecting rock & ice samples for later analysis by world-class researchers
3. Community – to raise a substantial sum of money for Macmillan Cancer Support to benefit cancer victims in the UK and inspire people to follow their own dreams

Extreme Physical Conditions & Acclimatisation:

We’ll face extreme physical challenges as we ascend to a maximum altitude of 6,962m on the summit of Aconcagua.  At that altitude, the amount of oxygen available is less than half (43%) compared to sea level, which places severe demands on our cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Atomspheric Pressure changes at altitude

Why does this happen? At sea level, due the weight of the air above us in the atmosphere, we have a pressure equivalent to 10 metres of water pressing down on us at any time. When you climb above sea level, for example when climbing a mountain, there is less air above you in the atmosphere, and hence the weight of the air above us is consequentially lower – therefore the atmospheric pressure drops. The practical effect of this is that there are fewer oxygen molecules in a given volume of air compared to sea level. This means our bodies are forced to work much harder to consume the same amount of oxygen as they would at sea level.

To mitigate this, we’ve planned a careful acclimatisation program that includes climbs on three other peaks between 4,500m and 6,100m to help our bodies adapt to the thin air. We’ll also face summit temperatures below minus 30 degrees C, extremely dry air and strong winds, which are prevalent in the Puna.

High Andes: Key Facts

High Andes - Key Facts

Location: Puna de Atacama

The Puna de Atacama is an arid high-altitude plateau of approximately 4,000 to 4,600 metres (11,000 to 13,000 feet) elevation that lies between ranges of the Andean cordillera in Northwestern Argentina. This elevated plateau has an area of 180,000 square kilometres, with deep-cut valleys and salt water lakes (salares), some of which are dry and crystalline. The Puna is a place of desolate, stunning, and otherwordly landscapes.

Puna de Atacama

“In this high altitude desert, the predominant feeling is one of utter loneliness; distances grow beyond all known dimensions”
– Anders Bolinder, Mountain World 1966/67

Generally, the mountains in this region are isolated from each other, rising at the margins of the Puna de Atacama, but several peaks rise in the interior, even out of the salares. The principal problems for climbers are altitude and access; drinkable water is almost unobtainable and climbers must expect to carry supplies sufficient to enable them to reach snowline camps. The best period for climbing is the southern summer, from December to February

Mountains:

Aconcagua is the highest mountain in the Americas at 6,962m, and also in the Western
and Southern Hemispheres. It is located in the province of Mendoza, Argentina.
Elevation: 6,962 m
First ascent: 1897 (Matthias Zurbriggen)
Route: Punte de Vacas, False Polish Glacier Traverse. The Polish Glacier (Spanish Glaciar
de los Polacos) is one of the glacial fields of Cerro Aconcagua. It was named after the Polish expedition of 1934. Led by Konstanty Jodko-Narkiewicz, the team paved an alternative route to the peak, named the Polish Route, through the glacier. The False Polish Glacier Route (Falso de los Polacos) is accessed via the Valle de las Vacas (Valley of the Cows) to the north and east and the Plaza Argentina base camp.

False Polish Glacier Route

Routes on Aconcagua

Ojos del Salado is a massive stratovolcano on the Argentina-Chile border and the highest
volcano in the world at 6,893m and the highest mountain in Chile. It is located about 600 km north of Aconcagua. Due to its location near the Atacama desert, the mountain has very dry conditions with snow usually only remaining on the peak during winter, though heavy storms can occur suddenly. There is a permanent crater lake about 100m in diameter at an elevation of 6,390m, which is the highest lake in the world.
Elevation: 6,893m
First ascent: 1937 (Jan Alfred Szczepański)
Route: Ruta Normal – Argentina

Ojos del Salado, highest volcano on Earth

Monte Pissis is an extinct volcano in La Rioja Province, Argentina. The mountain is the third-highest in the Western Hemisphere, and is located about 550 km north of Aconcagua. Monte Pissis is named after Pedro José Amadeo Pissis, a French geologist who worked for the Chilean government. Due to its location in the Atacama Desert, the
mountain has very dry conditions but there is an extensive glacier on the North face (with crevasses, this is unique in the region) .
Elevation: 6,795m
First ascent: 1937 (Jan Alfred Szczepański)
Route: From the base of the mountain (4,500m) several days of hike are required.
The mountain is summitted directly from a high camp at 5,900m at the edge of the glacier.

Monte Pissis, 3rd highest mountain in South America

Falso Morocho (Quitapenas – 4,500m) – This is an easy high-altitude trek that should take just a few hours and will help our bodies adjust to the thin air in the High Andes.
Difficulty: non-technical
Days: 4

Falso Morocho or Quitapenas

Cerro Bertrand (5,575m) – The name of this peak comes from the Chilean geographer and engineer Alejandro Bertrand Huillard (1854-1942). Amongst other things, he was entrusted with defining the border limits with Argentina, worked on the planning of the Catamarca-Atacama railway across the Andes, and was also responsible for the topography of the Andes range between Pas de San Francisco and San Pedro de Atacama. This is an moderate high-altitude trek in an extremely dry, and often very windy climate. Distances here are longer than they seem (approximately 25 km there and back from Las Grutas). The peak has a spectacular crater.
Difficulty: non-technical
Days: 1

Cerro Bertrand Route

Cerro de San Fransisco (6,016m) – Although it may be considered one of the world’s ‘easiest’ 6,000m peaks, this is nevertheless a moderate high-altitude trek in an extremely dry, and often very windy climate. Water in the Puna de Atacama is extremely scarce and we will be a very long way from help in the event of an emergency
Difficulty: non-technical
Days: 1

Cerro San Fransisco

Itinerary:

South American 3 Peaks Expedition tinerary

Science:

We’ve partnered with Adventurers & Scientists for Conservation, whose primary initiative is to facilitate partnerships between adventure athletes and the researchers who need them to collect data all around the world.

Project 1 – Microbe Collection
Organisation: Biosphere-2, University of Arizona
Microorganisms are unique colonizers of Earth’s boundaries, such as mountain top surfaces, where they are primary actors in the biogeochemical cycles of nutrients.
Together with climatic forces they contribute substantially to the overall function of the mountain landscape, with effects far reaching in the wider biosphere. Small-size rock samples, of about 50g each, will be collected from exposed bedrock on elevation gradients at sites 200m altitude apart during the descent phase of this expedition. A total of 3-5 rock samples will be collected at each altitude. Local landscape and weather condition will be recorded in the field, together with sampling site geographical coordinates.

Project 2 – Past & Present Climate Change | Freshwater Availability
Organisation: University of Venice, Italy
Mountain glaciers are rapidly melting around the world. The highest documented glacier
thinning in the world is occurring at 6,000 metres above sea level. Mountains are
essentially high altitude water towers, and store freshwater that provide the source of many of the world’s major rivers. The aim of this study is to investigate the extent of this high altitude melt. Snow & ice samples that we collect will be used to help climate change researchers better understand the spatial distribution of aerosols & other organic pollutants, which contribute to atmospheric heating. The data can also be used to help in calculations of freshwater availability and associated water use planning.

Project 3 – Project Pressure
Global climate change is having profound impacts on mountain environments. In
order to understand how a changing climate will affect alpine ecosystems and water
resources in the future, it is critical to document their current status. The goal of this project is to contribute to the Project Pressure Glacier Archive. Our geo-tagged images will be paired with comparative images, creating historic timelines, documenting glacier fluctuations. This information is important for scientific research, education, and capturing public attention. Project Pressure is documenting the world’s vanishing glaciers in order to highlight the impact of climate change, inspiring action and participation. The project will result in the world’s first comprehensive crowdsourced glacier atlas, a touring photographic exhibition, a documentary film and an open source digital platform.

Impacts: The repeat photographs of glaciers that we take will support Project Pressure. The snow & ice samples we collect will improve our understanding of the impact of aerosols & other organic pollutants on climate change & improve water use planning. The
rock samples that we collect will help quantify the bio transformation of primary bedrock in the mountain biome. Ultimately, the photographs and data we collect will help researchers to gain unique insights into the functioning of high mountain ecosystems and will help inform long-term conservation strategies

Community:

Macmillan Cancer Support

My twin uncles Patrick and Michael McGowan both tragically died of cancer at a relatively young age. Michael passed away in 1998 at the age of 58. Patrick passed away in 2008 at the age of 69. Both of these fine men were well-loved fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles. Their passing was devastating for my family and they are still deeply missed. Patrick’s final weeks and months were eased by the incredible support provided by hard-working, compassionate and dedicated Macmillan Cancer Support nurses. We will always be grateful for that support. Now, we are repaying that support by raising funds for Macmillan by completing the South America 3 Peaks expedition.

To date, we’ve already raised almost £1,100 on their JustGiving page. Please consider making a donation. All funds raised go directly to help victims of cancer and their families.

Team:

Team - Ricky Munday (Expedition Leader) & Carolina Morales

Team - David Kenealy

Training:

A training expedition to the Caucasus Range in Russia to climb Europe’s highest mountain (Elbrus – 5,642m) gets underway this week. The weather on Elbrus recently has been very poor with winds up to 65 km/h and very low temperatures. We’re hoping the weather improves this week and that we can acclimatise well enough before summit day, which is planned for 20th August. We’ll be posting phlogs by satellite phone to my ipadio account and these will be automatically posted to Facebook and Twitter.

You can hear a live radio interview that Caro gave to VEN FM last week here:

The whole team are super-excited to get this leg of our project underway and to meet together for the first time in the same place. I am travelling from Haiti via London, Dave is traveling from Lebanon via London and Caro is flying in from Venezuela via Frankfurt. We have put a huge amount of effort into planning and promoting the expedition, convincing sponsors to support us and updating social media. It will be awesome to finally be climbing together. Thanks to everybody who has supported the expedition, and thanks for following us.

Clothing supplier for Denali West Buttress

I’m very happy to announce that Montane has agreed to supply clothing systems for my Denali West Buttress expedition, which starts in 17 days. Montane has supplied clothing for my last two expeditions to New Guinea and has performed exceptionally well. I’m very grateful for their support. Please check out Montane’s 2012 range at the Montane website.