Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Peak Lenin - Acclimatisation

Our tactic for climbing Peak Lenin in expedition style. This required spending many days acclimatising which involved climbing high before returning to Camp 1 (4500 m) to rest before ascending via Camps 2 (5300 m) and 3 (6100 m) and then the summit (7134 m). On my first day with the Russian team we crossed the glacier to the least fractured part, where it steepen, to try to gain an altitude of around 5000 m before returning to Camp 1.  
We caught up with Andy and Bob below the steep section where they seemed to have been taking a rest for a while. Alex, our guide, expertly negotiated the crevasses and at that point I realised that Andy was crawling out of a crevasse he had fallen in. They followed us through the steep section to where the angle eased again.
It was hard-work ploughing through the deep snow and this was with only carrying a day pack. The weather closed in when we were just below 5000 m and we returned to Camp 1 for the night. Late in the afternoon we could see Andy and Bob making painful progress on towards Camp 2. I wondered how I would fair the next day carrying a full pack. It felt like this day had been hard enough.
The following day it soon became apparent that Alexander and Jaroslav weren’t the most efficient in the mornings. Packed and ready to go I stood around stamping my feet to keep warm whilst they did, what, I never found out. After the acclimatisation walk the previous day I had realised that the weight of my rucksack would be absolutely crucial. This meant that anything not critical to survival was not included. Shelter, clothing, food, water and a means of cooking were critical, everything else was not. This meant no change of underwear, no means of washing including tooth brush and toothpaste and toilet roll were all eliminated. As you can image after the 3 days we spent moving up the mountain to acclimatise I felt pretty grubby.
With Alex I made the mistake of telling him that James was my boyfriend rather than my husband. This meant that I was still fair game. Despite my rather grubby state he continued to make passes at me. I began to revel in my grubbiness and leave my pee bottle (too cold to pee outside) lying about the tent but he still persisted. The dehydrated food that I ate also gave me terrible wind but still this didn’t put him off, if nothing else his persistence was admirable although a little irritating. He didn’t really have a lot of choice – I was the only woman on the mountain above Camp 1 at the time (in Camp 1 the camp manager for Tien Travel was a woman). Luckily I had a secondary line of defence – the considerable layers of clothing I wore as soon as we stopped walking. At night I would then be wrapped up in a micro-fleece liner, huge sleeping bag and a bivi bag with the draw cords pulled tight so only my nose was exposed.
Nearer Camp 2 the weather closed in and we were forced to pitch the tent until it clear so we could negotiate the crevasses safely. However we could not stay camped here as it was below an icefall and in an area at risk from avalanches - the site of the 43 deaths in 1990. When moving the tent to the correct site of Camp 2 we passed Andy and Bob camped directly below the icefall. They had spent the day there resting but when our guide pointed out the dangers of that site they followed us to Camp 2.
The next day the weather was good but the snow deep. It lay looking pristine white and beautiful but soon we were cursing it. We spent a day toiling through it to gain 400 more metres, a distance that looked like we could touch it in the morning. Andy and Bob followed. That evening more cognac and lemon, which stung my sunburned lips, this was acclimatisation Russian-style.
The next day we returned to Camp 1. As we retraced our steps we watched Andy and Bob carry on up to Camp 3. Despite the late start the descent was depressingly quick. Wanting to get back for a late lunch, and with my patience wearing a little thin with all the waiting about, as soon as we were able to unrope I set off back to camp at my own pace.
The human skull is a very distinct bone, it cannot be confused with an animal's. Alex turned it over with his walking pole. It was the back of a human skull with 4 or 5 vertebra still attached. Completely shocking to see but not surprising as 10 years ago so many people had died and their bodies had been swept down the glacier and entombed there. Now the glacier was melting and exhuming the harrowing reality of its history. This discovery made for a sobering walk on the final stretch back to Camp 1.

Team tent at Camp 2

The trail from Camp 2 to Camp 3

Moving towards Camp 3 - slowly

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