Expedition report #1 - Shifting gears

By Gijs Schuurhuis

We just returned from an acclimatization trip, during which we reached an altitude of around 5.800m. Now we’re back in South Inylchek basecamp (Kirgizstan). I’m in my tent, my face feels burned and outside I can hear the rain. A lot has happened in the last 12 days.

Plan A – no heli, no expedition

The original plan was to fly from Prague to Dushanbe (Tajikistan). From there we would be transferred to Djirgital and a helicopter would bring us to Moskovina basecamp. The plan was to climb Peak Korzhenevskaya (7.105m) and Peak Communism (7.495m). We were in the car when our facebook messenger exploded with people telling us that Moskovina basecamp had not been established and there was no heli! We contacted our agent, who eventually confirmed.

So now imagine two guys having a ‘not so good-coffee’ at some crappy gas station somewhere in the depths of Germany. Sitting there in total disbelief. Months of preparation, money invested, countless hours not spent with loved ones, and then: no heli - no expedition.

Plan B – no visa, no expedition

There, in that gas station we had to shift gears and come up with a solution. This expedition can’t be over before it even began. We quickly came up with an alternative plan: Peak Pobeda. This is the peak we visited in 2017, after we successfully summitted Khan Tengri (7.010m). We made an unsuccessful attempt, but got to know the raw and complex nature of this roaring giant (the roaring coming from the dozens of avalanches it spits of its face every day).

Are we ready? Are we prepared? We had to make a decision and quick, so we got on the phone with our Czech team member Martin. A few hours later Martin welcomed us in his house in the city center of Prague. In the meantime we said goodbye to our Dushanbe tickets (total costs: €1.950,-, Turkish Airlines was so friendly to reimburse a whole €90, an offer they would later retract…). We had contacted our operator and managed to get a good deal to support in the basics for an expedition to Pobeda, and…we had new tickets!

The next day we were packed and ready to go. The plan was to fly with Ural Airlines from Prague – go through Moscow, to Biskhek (Kirgistan). From there our agent would arrange a transfer and helicopter to South Inchylek basecamp! At the check-in the lady asks: can I see your Russian visa? Visa? What visa? We have an international transfer, so no visa needed…right? Same as last time when we flied through Moscow to Bishkek.

So now imagine two guys having a one-sided conversation with a ‘not so nice Czech lady’, taking us off the passenger list, blaming us that the visa story was clearly stated on the e-tickets. When we showed her our tickets, which were in Russian, she lifted her shoulders and said: ‘next time, try google-translate. No money back – send a letter to head office and go away’. So yet again we were sitting there in total disbelief. Months of preparation, even more money invested, countless hours not spend with loved ones, and then: no visa - no expedition.

Plan C – visiting an old friend 

We got back to Martin’s place. Almost €4.000,- in the hole, time was ticking and we were still in Prague, it took some time to let the whole mess sink in. After an hour or so we started looking for a third set of tickets. We found tickets to Almaty (Kazachstan) and discussed with our local agent if he could organize transport from there. With no visa’s, no problems and no more money left we arrived in Almaty on Friday 19th. The next day we got transferred to Karkara and from there finally flew to South Inchylek basecamp per helicopter after having waited for a day for the weather to improve.

Gijs Schuurhuis