I had never heard of Kyrgyzstan or the Tien Shan mountains when a friend suggested we go climbing there, nor had I worn crampons or ever left Europe before. The thought of setting off for these huge peaks was both exciting and very daunting.
But set off I did, with Ben Davitt and Thom Allen, pictured here enjoying a British tea party on a glacier.
Kyrgyzstan was a bit of a shock to my middle class world. I particularly enjoyed how the tap water turned brown whenever it rained.
The question of how much food we should take was a contentious one. The answer was that we didn’t take nearly enough.
We were driven to the end of the road by jeep.
Loaded with several day’s food, cold weather camping kit and mountaineering equipment, I am sure my pack was about as heavy as it’s ever been.
We had two maps: one was a tiny scale Russian military map, the other appeared to be drawn with a felt tip and was known as the ‘Mickey Mouse Map’ (and was the better of two).
We carried four-season down sleeping bags but the walk to base camp was hot and dry.
We started off jumping across streams…
The hot weather had created large, fast flowing glacial streams we had to cross. Thom drew the short straw to go first…
…then this fellow arrived and offered Ben and I a lift. No cold feet for us.
By the time we had arrived at base camp we didn’t have a single edible item left between us having divided our last remaining boiled sweet earlier in the day.
We soon set our sights on the imposing Peak Gorky, a little over 6,000-metres high.
The climbing got quite steep…
On our first attempt, we got caught out by darkness and had to sleep upright on a steep snow slope, digging out a tiny ledge on which to sit.
On our second attempt, we reached an impassable cornice then got stuck in a precariously pitched tent for 36 hours.
And that was all we had time for! We walked back out to civilisation having failed to climb a single peak. An objective failure but, from my perspective, the best thing I had done with my life…
…and we arrived back to Heathrow, tired, grubby and exceedingly pleased with ourselves.
(You can read more about this expedition on the Good Morning Kyrgyzstan! page).