Fly to: Almaty Kazakhstan
Internal Transfer: Almaty (Kazakhstan) to Karakol (Kyrgyzstan) in minibus (9hrs 30mins)
Karakol, Kyrgyzstan - Inylchek (9hrs) in an Ex-Soviet off road Military Truck
Ex-Soviet military helicopter flight up the Inylchek glacier (35mins)
Visa required: Yes if British for both Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan
Currency:Tenge (Kazakhstan) & Som (Kyrgyzstan)
Time Zone:+6hrs GMT
Day 4, 22/07/08: Tien Shan
Up at 3am - with no power in the hotel; so everyone was desperately searching their packs for the ever elusive 'head torch!' The Military truck arrived at 3:50am so we began loading all of our gear. The journey took approx 9hrs - now this is not a direct indication of distance travelled because the minute we got off-road the vehicle over heated & broke down literally every 5mins! In a sadistic kind of a way it was exciting because you'd be willing the truck to keep going just long enough to get you over an unstable rock or land slide, only it never quite made it! Everyone would leap out & the cab would tilt ready for more water to be tipped on the engine; slightly concerned at the fact the driver & his girlfriend keep necking vodka, hmmm as well as each other!
The drive took us from 2,000m to 4,200m over rough mountain terrain & disused military roads; finally we ended up in a surreal place that was being used as a military check-point. At first glance it looked like a high city (Inycheck, an ex-iron mining district) set amongst a back-drop of dusty dry jagged peaks; but a second glance revealed the whole place was completely deserted! There was a deep eerie feeling, almost like this place & its empty remains were all that was left of a war torn district; nothing grew & nothing was living here.
The checkpoint guys were clearly unhappy about something, relieving us of our passports & waving their Kalashnikov's like toys. We waited patiently in the truck as the military guys drunk vodka with our driver; eventually after a 2hr delay we were cleared to pass through (turns out our driver & his girlfriend had forgotten their papers!). After a further 30mins we then reached the helicopter launch pad. The 'Unclimbed' Adventure Peaks team boarded first & it wasn't long before they were no longer in sight. Started to feel pretty nervous about getting onto this chopper!
The chopper returned & it was our turn, the military guys were shouting at us to load our gear onto the scales & then load the back of the chopper, vodka bottle were strewn all over & the guy loading the gas canisters had a fag-on! Then to my total amazement they decided to refuel the helicopter whilst we were all stood there with matey still with his fag lit! That was my cue to go find a suitable 'wee' position in the middle of a military compound with no cover; hmmm I guess right bang, smack in the middle was as good a spot as any!
The chopper flight was approx 35mins, a pretty loud & intense experience but really exciting and the views were amazing! As we reached base camp (on the moraine next to the glacier) we were told the chopper couldn't land, so as it hovered we had to jump out & run to the 'right' (left would've caused us to run straight into the tail rotary blade!). How cool was that! To jump out of an ex-soviet military chopper onto a glacier surrounded by huge 7,000m jagged snow covered peaks - Ave-it!
Base camp was at approx 3,800m & moving our gear from the glacier up onto the moraine proved a challenge on the lungs; everyone became breathless very quickly and bending down made you extremely dizzy. There were wooden boards provided to pitch our tents on & as we started pitching an afternoon snow blizzard blew in. On the opposite side of the glacier directly in front of base camp was Peak Chapaynev & Khan Tengri - two absolutely beautiful jagged mountains but I was starting to think 'oh f*ck what have I got myself into??! It's f*cking huge!' (Ahem I'm still referring to the mountain here!)