August 19, 2004

Paul & Fiona are back in Melbourne

Hi Everyone. Just thought we would add a final entry to the report to say that we are back in Melbourne and are both receiving treatment for our frostbite. We are receiving hyperbaric oxygen twice a day, where we breathe pure oxygen at a pressure equivalent to 18m of water. This seems to be making an improvement, but we will have to keep this up at least once a day for the next 3 weeks. My left foot is looking very good, but some of my right toes are looking doubtful. The doctors don't expect to know for about a month what the outcome will be. We are really glad to back home and hope to be better soon. Paul & Fiona

Posted at 01:03 PM AEST

August 15, 2004

Out of base camp

Yesterday we caught a helicoptor out of base camp and flew back to Karkara. When we arrived in Karkara we were told by Kazbek from the Kan Tengri Mountain Company (who we had organised the climb through) that there wouldn't be a bus leaving for Almaty today. This was despite having been reassured in base camp that vehicles leave every single day, and that no organisation was necessary. We asked if another vehicle could be organised, but was told that this was impossible.

Given that we had been receiving twice daily medical treatment in base camp, and it would be nearly 2 days without any medical attention, we decided to engage our insurance company (International Health Insurance Denmark - don't overly recommend them, see rest of story). They agreed to pay to charter a car for us at a cost of a couple of hundred dollars to get us to Almaty. As soon as there was money involved, a car quickly materialised by Kazbek! He made some pathetic excuse about not understanding our injuries. This car had to be paid for by us and we should be reimbursed by the insurance company (we hope). Any rate, we arrived at Almaty last night and were taken to the Kan Tengri Mountain Company office where they had a "doctor" waiting. This doctor, although very nice, didn't know too much and we asked to be taken to an International SOS Clinic. This had been suggested to us as a preferred place to visit by the insurance company. We were taken there by a driver & accompanied by the Kan Tengri doctor. These SOS clinics are really great. They are like extremely small hospitals, run by local people, but always headed up and supervised by a Western doctor. The standard of everything is exactly what you would receive in a hospital at home. About 5 hours & $US1800 later, we had been thoroughly checked up, tested and given lots of shots. Occasionally the western doctor would leave the room and it quickly turned into something akin to a Fawlty Towers episode. The local doctor would completely ignore what had said in relation to Fiona and concentrate solely on me! The supervising doctor asked for a 38 degree bath for our feet & hands, instead she brought out ice packs! Her English was pretty good too! The western doctor said that this what we could expect if we went to a local hospital.

We are now seeing this doctor twice a day who is giving us the shots we need to prevent infection and keep our blood thin (this is important to assist with circulation in the affected toes and fingers). The doctor last night said we should get back to Australia ASAP, and we agree, so last night we advised this to our insurance company who after considerable pushing from the doctor here, agreed to pay to fly us home sooner than our scheduled Aug 17 date with Asiana Airlines. That decision was made at about 2am last night, its now late in the afternoon and the insurance company still hasn't confirmed any flight details. We think that to take this long to organise a simple flight is absolutely outragous. Kan Tengri are trying to charge us an extra $US270 for their support last night. We don't mind paying for their time, but in country where a doctor gets paid $US100 per month, $US270 on top of the transport is an extreme rip off.

We are both feeling fine now but are unsure as to the extent of our frostbite and keen to start getting some consistent advice and treatment at home. Needless to say, we are a little frustrated and looking forward to some more positive news soon.

Paul & Fiona in Almaty.

Posted at 04:11 AM AEST

August 12, 2004

Recouperating in base camp

Its a lovely sunny day here in the Khan Tengri base camp. A helicopter just landed dropping off a group of climbers who were on the South side, and have decided to come over to the North, after seeing all the avalanches. Don't blame them! The translator told us today that its now 11 people dead, and they are not looking for the bodies anymore, because since the original slide there have been 4 more. This is obviously is very dangerous for the rescuers, but also further covers the bodies, making them even harder to find.

Last night I had an IV injection of an antibiotic, and an IM injection of something else. The IV was not pleasant and took about 3 minutes. This morning I have had another IM, and tonight I am due for another. I am also on 2 different sets of tablets. We have asked the doctor to write it all down for us so that we know what I have been given. The main concern seems to be infection, and he said to me last night that I couldn't have a shower until today (presumably to let the antibiotics kick in), and that I had to go and see him straight afterwards and he would dress the feet. Strangely enough I am probably getting the best treatment possible here, given that this doctor is used to seeing frostbite, he is located about 25m away from our tent, and he has only one other patient. Can't ask for more than that! He says its important that I get to a lower altitude ASAP, because it will heal better. The helicopter is scheduled to come tomorrow, so all being well we should be in Almaty tomorrow night. Fiona's finger seems Ok, and he has given her paracetamol tablets for the pain.

The picture is of the cake that they made for Fiona yesterday. The cook (pictured) came running out to greet us with it as we walked into base camp. It was then presented formally to Fiona at dinner after short speech and then was shared by all. There are only about 20 people here now; many have left, or are still on the mountain. We heard that we were the 8th and 9th people to make it to the summit this year. One other female has since made it to the top.

Paul & Fiona in base camp.

Posted at 09:17 PM AEST

Competition results

The picture is of Fiona being helped this morning by the Koreans at camp 2 into her down gear, climbing harness & backpack. Sore thumbs make it difficult to clip buckles, tighten straps etc. The generosity of the people here continues to amaze, with the Koreans in particular not stopping at anything. We gave them all our left over gas and food at camp 2.

Thanks everyone for your entries into the competition. It certainly gave us something to talk about with people on our way down. Not so much the answers, but that in going through all the entries, we didn't get any that were in agreement on the boiling point of water at 6400m!

Some of entries were a little too complicated for us to comprehend in the rarified air of camp 4 & 2. Even at base camp, Jacci J's entry needs a science degree to begin to make any sense of it!

I think that Brad Bond & Tim Kirk sound the most confident in their answers, however they vary in the boil point (F & C problem?) and contradictory if the freezing point is greater or lower than 0C. It would be great if they could provide us with an answer that was in agreement!

Many Thanks, Paul & Fiona

Posted at 04:31 AM AEST

August 11, 2004

We are at back at base camp

We arrived back to base camp about 1 hour ago and have seen the doctor, but more about that later. When we walked into base camp, we were greeted by the cook and other staff, with a cake in the shape of Khan Tengri. This was presented to Fiona, and the interpreter said that it was because she is the only female that has made it to the summit this year!

After a quick celebration we saw the doctor, who said that Fiona's frostbite was first degree on her thumb (1st out of 3, with 3 being the worst), and that I have 1st & 2nd on all my toes and the balls of my feet. He said its all treatable, dressed the areas, and said that we need to have an antibiotic injection, which will be given to us tonight after dinner.

The climb down today was pretty uneventful, with lots of abseils and long snow slopes to descend. Took us about 5 hours to go from camp 2 to base. The highlight was a 600m glissade, where you litterally sit on your bum and just slide down the mountain, using your ice axe as a brake and your feet to steer. We covered in 5 minutes what would have taken nearly an hour to walk.

Paul and Fiona safely back in base camp, about to have our first wash in 2 weeks. Geat even if it is out of a bucket!

Posted at 10:04 PM AEST

Thanks for all your messages of support

Hi everyone, Thanks for all your support. After sending through the update a few minutes ago, we read all the SMS, and voice mail messages. We feel pretty touched by everyone's concern. We are confident that everything will be OK, but its good to be with other people at this camp, rather than on our own in Camp 4. They have said that its Ok for us to walk down; certainly we are in reach of a helicopter if required, and they know we are fully insured. This is a positive sign.

Its a lovely sunny morning here at camp 2 and we are just melting some snow for water before packing up and heading down to base camp. This should take about 6 hours.

Paul & Fiona at Camp 2

Posted at 12:25 PM AEST

We made it down to Camp 2

This morning we woke up at Camp 4, it was extremely cold & windy as usual, and we knew we had to get out of there. During the night 2 separate sets of climbers had tapped on our tent asking to be let in, but with our frostbite we didn't want to risk it. In both cases we gave them some water, offered them some food. They gladly took the water, but decllined any food. My frostbite on my feet caused me a lot of pain during the night, which is a good sign, however it took 4 Panadols for the pain to go away suffiently so that I could get to sleep. Fiona's thumb wasn't giving her too much pain, and the swelling had reduced.

So in the morning when we woke up (about 6am), I took 6 Panadols, waited half an hour for them to take effect, and then we started to pack up our tent. It was painful moving around on my feet, and it was extremely cold, given the wind & the altitude. However much pain I experienced, I knew that there was simply no other option. At 6400m you are above the limits of a helicopter, and given the very steep terrain you are certainly not going to be carried out.

As we were packing down our camp site we nearly lost the tent. I pulled out all of the pegs except 2, the wind just ripped the remaining pegs from the ground and sent the tent hurtling towards the edge, complete with most of our stuff still inside. Fortunately Fiona was standing near the edge and got wrapped in the tent, saving us from disaster.

We had decided to go to camp 3 at the minimum, and if we were feeling up to it then we would try and make camp 2. We really hoped to be able to make camp 2, because this was on "our" side of the mountain, where we knew just about everyone. We made pretty good progress down to camp 3. My feet weren't hurting too much and Fiona's thumb wasn't giving her much trouble. The weather deteriorated, but we decided to push on to camp 2. To get to camp 2 from camp 3, you first have to climb Chapayev, which is about 250m above camp 3, and took us the best part of 2 hours. As we were climbing it became a total white out, with strong winds blowing snow almost horizontally. Fortunately small bamboo wands had been placed at 10m intervals, showing us where to go. There are dangerous cornices on one side and some bergshrunds on the other, so its very important that the right path is taken. When we got to the summit, the clouds lifted slightly, allowing us to see to descent route to camp 2. We decended to camp 2 in about 2 hours, much of it involves abseiling down steep rock & ice slopes, and then a long snow slope to the camp. Fiona's thumb had worsened in the afternoon with the deteriorating weather, and coming off Chapayev, I had to setup all her abseils (about 30). The route down from Chapayev is in full view of the people at camp 2, and the fact that I was doing all her rope changes did not go unnoticed. When we got down, people immediately went to Fiona and took off her glove, knowing that something was wrong. She was wisked off into an old Russian tent, by a Korean and local guide. I started setting up our tent with the assistance of a Polish climber. About 2 minutes later, a gruff Korean voice from inside the tent where Fiona, was yelled out, "Paul come here". I walked slowly towards the tent almost not wanting to know what was the extent of my frostbite. When I got to the door, I was pulled inside, boots and all.

They took my boots off and their exclamations gave it all away. The local guide quickly finished with Fiona's finger and wrapped it in gauze, then he & the Korean started work on my feet. They put some ointment which smelt like Deep Heat and then they started massaging my toes & feet. This continued for about an hour, and was extremely painful. The Polish climber stuck his head in half way through and said that our tent had been setup and they had upacked our bags and setup our sleeping bags, stove etc. When the guides had finished, they both looked pretty impressed with their handywork, and I was relieved to notice that some of the color had returned to my toes. Then they started to point to certain individual toes, and make snipping motions with their fingers. This caused me great concern, but a guy who could translate, said that some of the skin had died, and would need to be cut off, but would all grow back. The doctor at base camp would look into this further. We were trotted off to our tent, and were given food and hot water bottles from the Koreans. We have put the hot water bottles on our affected areas, and this is helping blood flow, but causing immence amounts of pain. I have taken 6 painkillers, but still the pain is so severe, I can't get to sleep. So I am writing this update! Tomorrow we plan to go down to base camp.

Paul and Fiona at camp 2, feeling very appreciative of all the support we have received.

Posted at 11:57 AM AEST

August 09, 2004

Yes, we made the summit of Khan Tengri!

Yesterday we started at about 8:30am leaving camp 4 for our summit attempt. It was extremely cold, and as the sun doesn't hit this side of the mountain until about 11am, it remained bitterly cold for some time. We were wearing down jackets, 2 hats plus the down hat from the jacket, a down vest, 2 pairs of thermal pants and tops, gortex overpants, 3 layers of gloves, and double insulated climbing boots. But we were still very cold!

The first part of the climb involved climbing up some near vertical rock and ice. The middle part involved a long traverse, then a 30m vertical rock section, followed by a 150m steep snow gully. This then brought us to a ridge, followed by another 30m rock climb, then finally a very long, seemingly endless snow slope to the summit. As you can seen from the picture of Fiona at the summit, it was a perfect weather day, however the wind started to pick up as we got near the summit, so we didn't linger when on top. We reached the summit at about 4:00pm and after a long descent were back in our tent by 9:30pm, just as the sun was setting. It was only then that we noticed that both Fiona & I had frostbite.

The cold in the morning had been so severe that it had caused Fiona to get frostbite on her thumbs, and me on all my toes, and in my right foot, down to the ball of my foot. We had hand warmers in our mittens. These are the kind you expose to air and they heat up. These have obviously protected Fiona's fingers, but the thumbs have their own section in our mittens, & so didn't get any of the heat and therefore the damage to her thumbs only. We think that my boot liners may have got wet previously and then this turned to ice, making for very cold boots. I have taken the liners out now and are drying them in the sun. We don't think that its going to cause permanent damage but in the case of my feet may give us problems getting out of here. We have thawed out the affected areas and have got full movement and a lot of pain, which are both good signs. We have decided to have a rest day today, and see how we feel tomorrow. Drinking lots of water, eating plenty.

Frostbite is a funny thing, in that you initially feel pain from the cold, but then the pain goes away and you just think that the cold has worn off. In our case it hadn't. So we reached the summit, but we have paid a price.

Paul and Fiona licking their wounds at Camp 4.

Posted at 06:46 PM AEST

They Made It!

This is from Tim, Paul's brother. I just receieved a phone call from the satellite phone at 11.45am US EST, 1.45am Melbourne time; they made it to the summit! They are now safely back at Camp 4. Paul sounded very very tired from the thirteen hour round trip. That was all the news I heard from Paul. Congratulations, Paul and Fiona!

Posted at 02:02 AM AEST

August 08, 2004

Summit Attempt!

I have just received a call from Paul and Fiona at Camp Site 4, and they want to let everyone know that today is the big day. They are going to attempt the Summit!!

They called in at 7am local time as they were gathering their things for the attempt. Paul reported that the weather was great, little to no wind and a sunny day (although still cold).

Let's all wish them luck and make sure that we check back here really soon for a report on the final exciting stage of the climb.


Posted at 10:58 AM AEST

August 07, 2004

Resting at Camp 4 & competition!

Today we rested at Camp 4, and melted snow to make about 5 liters of water for tomorrow. If you have done this before, you will know that this is a very time consuming process, requiring a lot of snow of the highest quality. Watch out for that yellow snow, which is not easy when your camp site is very small. A snow shovel is used to transport snow from where hopefully it isn't yellow underneath.

The wind has died down slightly since our update this morning and we have had a chance to inspect the tent for damage from the wind and our hitch-hikers (as someone called them in an SMS to us). About half of the guy ropes had been pulled where the French walked past our tent in the night, but apart from that everything seemed fine. See photo of our setup at camp 4 taken about 2 hours ago after we had fixed all the guy ropes! Its snowing very lightly. Even our snow shovel is being used as an anchor and I am pleased to report its doing an excellent job! The site for camp 4 is extremely small. There is no room for any other tents, as there is a very steep drop on 2 sides, with near vertical rock on the other 2. You can see the rock in the photo, along with plaques, commemorating climbers who died.

I tried to find a pair of my gloves today, but could only find one. We turned the tent upside down trying to find the other glove, when the mystery was solved with the discovery of a new glove that we had not seen previously. We can only assume that French must have taken one of my gloves. Fortunately the one they left is of a similar quality and fits OK, it just doesn't look anything like my original! However not to worry as this mismatch will go nicely with my green outfit that everyone liked and is fast becoming the height of fashion in Kazakhstan!

Now for the competition. We have been wondering what temperature the water boils here at 6400m. We know it boils at a lower point, but does it also freeze at a different value? We have asked lots of people on the mountain, but no one has been able to come up with a good answer & reason. We have no idea about the freezing bit, but the first person to SMS us a convincing answer will receive untold amounts of fame and glory. (Fame and glory is at the absolute discretion of the promoters, and may be limited to having your name listed on this web site.) So the 2 questions are, What temp does water boil at 6400m, & Does it freeze at a different point, and if so why. Extra points will be awarded if you can fit that into one SMS!

Plan for tomorrow is to make a summit attemp if the weather is good. We will update in the morning if this is going to happen.

Paul & Fiona relaxing at Camp 4 at 6400m.

Posted at 09:42 PM AEST

Climb to Camp 4

Yesterday we climbed from camp 3 to camp 4. The climb itself was pretty straight forward, although the quality of the fixed ropes on this side of the mountain is noticably worse than we have been used to on the North. Both the North and South routes converge at camp 3 and from then on its the same for both sides. One of the first things you notice when you climb past camp 3, is how many people there are and how easy it is to get to camp 3 from the South side. The climbing above camp 3 to camp 4 is still quite technical, so a lot people coming up from the South side are in for a shock when they attempt the summit. The reason we are explaining all this will become clear shortly.

So we arrived at camp 4 at about 7pm, and setup our tent. Camp 4 is not often used by climbers with most preffering to go to the summit from camp 3. We were advised to use camp 4 from various people as it increases the change of success, and is much safer, because you have a shorter summit day. The camp itself is small with room for max 2 tents, is very exposed, and the winds were extremely strong throughout the night and are still howling as we write this.

We saw lots of people still coming down the mountain at 9pm after attempting the summit, all who were camped at Camp 3. At midnight we saw torch lights dance on our tent, and we knew that it must be someone coming down the mountain. The wind was at least 60kts and it was snowing hard. The torches stopped on our tent and then 2 people opened the fly and asked if there was room for them. What could we say? Of course there was no room for an extra 2 people in our 2 person tent, but if the situation was reversed we would want them to let us in, so we said come in. So in they came, with their large mountaineering boots and all covered with snow. They were 2 30 something French guys and were quite rude, starting immediately to move our stuff and us around so that they could lie down and get to sleep. The tent was full of snow, as they weren't fast in closing the tent doors and just left their boots on. We asked them if they had made the summit which they proudly answered that they had. That was about all we could get out of them as their English was limited.

As we all tried to get comfortable, I became increasingly annoyed (its Paul writing this), as Fiona and I were in a life threatening situation because of the sheer stupidity of others. We had a very overcrowded tent, with 2 people wearing sharp climbing boots, pressing hard against the walls of our tent, with everything covered in wet snow. One tiny tear in the tent would have been ripped open instantly by the wind and we would have been at 6400m with a severe storm blowing completely exposed to the elements. One of the guys was complaining about the cold and the other just rummaged through our stuff to find something for him. I know that might all sound pretty harsh of me, but I really felt that our lives were being risked because of the sheer stupidity of these guys. To be coming down the mountain at midnight would have meant that they reached the summit at around 9pm, way too late to get down safely. Summit fever had taken hold of them and now our own chances of the summit were being severly jepardised, not least our lives. I might add that they had no apparent physical problems that could have prevented them from decending, or caused them to go extremely slow. At 6am they got up and left without saying a word of thanks, again letting a whole lot of snow into the tent in the process.

It seems that there are a lot of idiots coming up from the South side of the mountain and Fiona and I are concerned about this. On the North, all the climbers are experienced and self reliant, given the route's more difficult reputation. We have decided to stay at camp 4 tonight and if the weather is good tomorrow make a summit attempt, if not we will clear out of here.

Thanks everyone for your SMSs - we love getting them. Also thanks for the news on what?s happening on the South side Re the avalanche. Its amazing that when we have asked people from the South, that they don't seem to know any of the details; like even that anyone had died! Again this underlines the issues with this side of the mountain - everyone knows that this area is extremely prone to avalanches and rockfall and to safely cross you need to complete it by no later than 9am. We were talking to a UK guide and he said that for most people this means leaving camp 1 at about midnight (not pleasant - very cold, can't easily see where you are going etc). I'll bet anything that these guys didn't do this.

Paul & Fiona at camp 4.

Posted at 04:45 PM AEST

August 06, 2004

Paul and Fiona are safe

We just received an SMS to say that there had been a large avalanche on Khan Tengri and that 6 people have died with lots more missing. We have been told that the avalanche happened on the South side. We are at the moment sitting about 2m below the summit of Chapayev, so we are very, very safe.

We don't know any more details, but the route we have climbed (North Side) whilst being much technically harder (steeper, lots of mixed ice and rock), is much safer than the South, which although is easier, is very avalanche prone. We made a difficult choice when we decided to climb this mountain as to the route, but we took the harder, but safer option. Our thoughts go out to the families of the dead and missing people. Unfortunately we can?t contact base camp, as our radio doesn't work, so they won't yet know that we are OK, but I am sure that they won't be concerned given their knowledge of our route.

At the moment its about 10am here and we are waiting for the wind to die down (hopefully), so we can move onto camp 4. This is also safe from avalanches.

Paul & Fiona at camp 3.

Posted at 12:55 PM AEST

August 05, 2004

High winds at Camp 3 - 5/8

We had planned to climb to camp 4 today, but its extremely windy here (gusts to 120 km/h). Fortunately we have dug our tent about 2 feet into the snow & built a 1 foot high wall, so the tent is withstanding the winds quite well. We do however look enviously at the American & European tents that are better designed for these sorts of environments. During the morning the winds abated slightly, so we actually packed everything up inside the tent, got dressed into our climbing gear, but when we went outside, getting out of our tent-bunker, the full force of the winds made us beat a hasty retreat! The photo is of Paul back in our tent writing this web site update. No funny comments about the clothes!

We just received an SMS from our travel agent saying that our flight home has been cancelled, so we have asked a good friend to look into this for us - looks like we can get a flight out of Almaty on Aug 17.

We have with us 6 days of food and gas (we can stretch it to 7 days if required). This enables us to carry everything at once, rather than the two trips we had to make for each camp up to & including camp 2. Our plans are to get to camp 4, then we will be 600 vertical metres from the summit. This will take about 10-12 hours return. Assuming we can go to camp 4 tomorrow, that will leave us supplies for about 4-5 days to wait for good weather. Climbing is a lot about tactics & planning; we have just seen 4 strong teams of between 3-17 people have to turn back because of poor planning. Planning won't cater for all situations, but it certainly puts you in a very strong position.

Paul & Fiona at camp 3 on top of Chapayev.

Posted at 05:21 PM AEST

Climbed up to Chapayev (camp 3) 4/8

Finally we got some good weather today, so we were able to leave camp 2. Some people thought that we had moved in permanently! Its quite a demanding, technical climb from camp 2 to 3, with lots of vertical rock and ice. The moves required aren't that difficult, but you should try doing them at 6000m with a 20kg backpack on your back. We are camped right on top of Chapayev at an altitude of about 6100m. Took us 10 hours of solid climbing - its steep all the way. In fact there were no spots to have a pack-off rest. The really bad news of today was that Paul dropped our main camera, and it went hurtling downwards, along with all our photos. Fortunately we have another camera for the rest of the trip. The sat phone works well up here, as there are not too many other higher mountains in the way.

If the weather is good and we feel up to it, we will climb up to camp 4 tomorrow.

A very tired Paul & Fiona at camp 3

Posted at 05:21 PM AEST

August 04, 2004

Rest Day at Camp 2 - 02/08/04

Soon after we woke today it started snowing heavily. At 8pm, it was still snowing! However at 9pm we saw a fantastic sunset - see photo with our tent in the foreground. Given the bad weather today we had another rest day - mainly spent snoozing in our tent. We cooked up a tuna pasta for lunch - and that was the highlight of the day.

We are also getting a little concerned that there are no confirmed reports of anyone summitting yet. This may mean that the fixed ropes near the top have not yet been replaced from last year (and would probably be very difficult to find after a whole winter of snow). We are now debating whether to go ahead as soon as the weather clears, or whether to wait another day or two for one of the large guided groups to go ahead. Anyway, we now have plenty of supplies here to last us quite a while.

Fiona and Paul at Camp 2

Posted at 11:09 PM AEST

Rest day at Camp 2 - 03/08/04

Hello everyone - we are back online! Apologies if we have caused any concerns. The problem has been that on this side of the mountain we are finding it difficult to get satellite phone reception. This morning we found a spot where we can just get a signal at camp 2, but its very weak. Anyrate, the weather didn't look too good this morning, and with all the snow that fell yesterday, we decided to wait another day before climbing up to camp 3. Our plan at the moment is to climb to camp 3 or to the top of Chapayev (6300m peak in between camp 2 & 3 - see climbing map on the web site) and camp there, then move up to camp 4. Once we leave camp 2 we will only be carrying about 6 days of gas and food, so we need to time everything right. We as yet don't have anymore information about the state of the ropes above camp 3. The UK team is camped right near us, and they went down to base camp a few days ago to get some more gear; we expect them back today, hopefully with some news.

More snow today. As usual, lunch is cooked and eaten inside the tent. More pasta of course! See photo.

Paul & Fiona at camp 2.

Posted at 11:09 PM AEST

Paul picks up a load from Camp 1 - 01/08/04

This morning the weather was not too great but the plan was for Paul to go back to camp 1 to collect the remainder of our food and gas. As we didn't know what the weather would do the next day, we made the decision for him to go.

It took Paul about 2.5 hours to get down with 3 abseils along the way. By 12pm he'd packed up the gear and was heading back up. 2 hours in and he was about halfway, but the second half took another 5 hours or so. He arrived back at camp 2 at about 7:00pm - totally exhausted. I cooked up some curry pasta and it was straight to bed for a well earned rest.

Fiona & Paul at Camp 2

Posted at 11:08 PM AEST

Rest day at Camp 2 - 31/07/04

After our long day yesterday, we were quite tired and in need of rest. Ironically, it was a beautiful sunny day! See photo with Khan Tengri in the background. Fiona suffered from some snow-blindness from the previous day so spent most of the day in the tent (now fully recovered). We also concentrated on rehydrating ourselves - which meant lots of melting snow for water.

Paul & Fiona at camp 2

Posted at 11:08 PM AEST

Climb to camp 2 - 30/7/04

This morning we packed up our tent and put everything we needed for a few nights at camp 2 into our packs. We left much of our gas and food behind, with the plan being for Paul to climb down and get them after a rest day at camp 2. The weather was quite cloudy and it had snowed throughout the night. It was still snowing as we departed at 8am. It took us a full 2 hours to get ready!

The climb to camp 2 was very hard, with some near vertical rock & ice pitches. It took us 12 hours to complete - climbed 800 vertical metres. As we climbed the weather deteriorated, with the visibility dropping down to 10m at times and the temperature plumetted. Occasionally the clouds would clear a litte - see photo of Fiona climbing. Both our hands got very cold; our gloves were frozen stiff. We had left our high altitude down gloves at camp 1, mistakenly thinking that they wouldn't be needed at this altitude. We had also left our hand warmers for the same reason.

We had planned to climb to an intermediary camp below camp 2, but with the poor visibility we never saw it. So we continued climbing until we saw the main camp 2, setup our tent and crawled inside our sleeping bags. All hands and feet came through the day unscathed, but it could have been pretty bad if we had to continue on for much longer. We plan a rest day tomorrow and then Paul will go down to camp 1 to get the rest of our gear.

Paul and Fiona at camp 2.

Posted at 11:07 PM AEST

Climbed up to camp 1 - 29/7/04

Today we climbed up to camp 1 with all our equipment and setup at the upper camp which is at e height of 4600m. Its snowing quite a lot at the moment but it isn't bothering us inside our tent and warm sleeping bags. It had also snowed overnight so the climb up didn't get any easier. As mentioned in an earlier update we didn't like the look of the main camp & there was not much room left (only takes 3 tents in total), so we dropped down about 15m and dug ourselves a nice tent platform in the snow. See photo of our tent at camp 1. We spent about 1 hour melting snow for water and have just had a dinner - peanut satay pasta with beans. On the way up here we passed a Russian guy coming down saying that he had got to the summit (he kept pointing up and saying "summit" and looking very pleased), but as his English was very poor and our Russian is non existant, that was all we got out of him!

Plan for tomorrow is to head up to just below camp 2 where we have been told that at 5400m you can pitch a tent. This is 200m below camp 2, and will still make it a long day (800m height gain). In fact this will be one of the toughest days of the climb.

Paul and Fiona at Camp 1.

Posted at 11:07 PM AEST

August 03, 2004

Web technology not working

Hi - This is Tim, Paul's brother passing on a update received from Fiona's parents.

Fiona rang her parents - everything is okay. Their technology to update the website hasn't worked since July 29.

They have had some bad weather and have had to stay in camp 2 till things cleared up. They are planning to climb the smaller mountain today, on the way to the summit.

Posted at 10:23 PM AEST

July 29, 2004

Rest day in base camp

Today we took it easy after our efforts yesterday and had a rest day in the comforts of base camp. The big news is that the missing bag finally arrived on the helipcopter, much to our relief! In fact we think that everyone is relieved that Paul finally has underwear other than the pair he had on when he left Melbourne! See photo of Paul collecting the bag from the helipcopter.

We also got the SMS working on our Satellite phone today, and it was absolutely fantastic to receive everyone's messages. Thanks everyone for your well wishes & especially for the update on who won The Block & Vladimir, who climbed on Khan Tengri 15 years ago. We have learnt that we can only send SMS to a few people in Europe, and not to anyone in Australia, as Thuraya don't have an agreement with any Australian carriers. People outside of Europe can only send to us through the web site.

We tried out the shower tent here - an interesting experience. Basically its a stove with a big pot of hot water and you scoup some of this water into a container, add some cold water from a bucket and get to work. Felt great to be clean.

We thought we would tell you a little more about base camp. At first glance there doesn't seem to be many people & tents here, but because its setup on the mountainous moraine of the glacier, when you walk around you keep seeing more & more. You may be able to make out from the photo we sent earlier that it looks like we are sitting on rock, but actually its just a very thin layer of stones and gravel, & underneath its all ice. During the day the ice melts and it runs between the rocks in small streams. In fact one even runs right underneath our tent. Its lucky that they are setup on wooden platforms, otherwise we would be getting very wet! Food is served at the same times as in Karkara, and they ring a bell to let you know when its ready. When you get out of your tent you can see people streaming from all points, all heading towards the large army mess tent where we eat. This tent has 8 tables with bench seats and everyone is assigned a spot when they first arrive to base camp. "This is is where you eat & this is where you will sit."

No one has got to the summit yet this season. We hope people ahead of us are successful and that they clear ropes. There is a big group of Koreans & British ahead of us, so some of them should get up.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will climb up to camp 1 with the rest of our gear, setup our tent and then hopefully we will move up to camp 2 the next day, depending on the weather and how we feel. So tomorrow the climbing will be on in earnest. No more base camp luxuries for us!

Paul & Fiona at base camp.

Posted at 12:44 AM AEST

July 28, 2004

Load to Camp 1

Today was yet another fine sunny day so we followed through on our plan & carried a load to camp 1. We have too much gear to be able to carry everything in one go, so for at least the first two camps we will need to make two trips. As our fuel and food diminishes, we should be able to go in one trip. Anyway it was a hard slog up the mountain carrying our gear - took us 9 hours return. Despite all our training, nothing can prepare you for what it takes to slog up a steep slope at 4500m, with a heavy load on your back! The photo is of Fiona climbing up on the fixed line. There are actually 2 camp 1's; an upper and a lower - 130m difference. This seemed like a heck of a long way! We decided to put our gear on the upper one, to reduce the distance to camp 2. There's not much space up there, so we may have to be quite creative when it comes to finding a tent site. We dumped our gear the in plastic bags and then headed down the fixed ropes.

We use a carabiner brake to slow the descent; basically once its all hooked up you can just walk down the slope, and the brake slows your descent. Its a bit like abseiling, but figure of 8's don't work well on the fixed ropes as they are so stiff and you get nowhere. The Russian style is to just wrap the rope around your arm and scoot off down, but this is not for us!

Arrived back at base camp at 7pm, had a quick rest and then it was time for a dinner of steak, barley & a spicy capsicum salad. The variety of the food continues to amaze. The missing bag will arrive into base camp the day after tomorrow, which suits us fine as we plan to have a rest day tomorrow and then head up to camp 1 the next day. Helicopter flights are in the morning, so this should be fine.

Paul & Fiona at base camp.

Posted at 01:23 AM AEST

July 26, 2004

Day 2 at Base Camp

Well its 16:15 as we write this and its been another sunny day at base camp. We got through the night without any headaches at all, which is really good considering we are at 4000m and have came straight up from 2200m.

The first photo shows about half the tents at base camp and in the distance on the hill on the left hand side is the tent where they serve us our meals. Meals are served at precise times and they ring a bell to tell you when its ready. Breakfast is at 8:30, lunch at 14:00 & dinner at 20:00. There are a number of teams here; all told about 50 people . There are lots of Russians & Kazakhs, a large Korean team, 10 people from the Uk, and then some from Canada, Israel, Latvia, Spain, Basque & Japan. Apparently there is a Tasmanian here, but he is on the mountain. We are camped right next to the UK team.

This morning we decided to climb part of the way to camp 1, as we very feeling very good. After breakfast we were given our radios by the climbing manager told that we have to radio back to bsse camp every 2 hours (10am, midday etc). We never got to hear what actually happens on these calls, because we didn't hear anything when we listened. Turns out they gave us a radio set to the wrong frequency.

We set off across the glacier and started up the snow slope t camp 1. We were roped up for glacier travel so that if one us falls into a crevase the other will prevent you from going too far. As it was, everything was fine. We travelled well up the slope, and got to within 200m of camp 1, where we turned around and headed back to base camp for lunch. We got to some steeper sections which were fixed with rope, and this was a good opportunity to practice using these. The second picture is Fiona on the fixed ropes.

Have heard that the missing backpack will arrive in Almaty tonight and then taken by car to Karkara tomorrow, then next helicopter to base camp. So its at least 2 more days away. We only have one sleeping bag between us, and it got down to -10 degrees last night!

Plan for tomorrow weather permitting is to carry a load to camp 1 (tent, food & fuel) and return to base camp on the same day, with a rest the next day. This will be good for acclimatisation.

Paul & Fiona at Khan Tengri base camp.

Posted at 08:24 PM AEST

July 25, 2004

Arrived at base camp

This morning we packed our bags and had a breakfast of eggs & toast and by 8am we were in a helicopter on our way into base camp. The helicopter was a huge old Russian army helicopter which was packed full with people's climbing gear as well a supplies for base camp, along with 20 people. Not much room. The flight in was very picturesque, especially as the rolling green foothills merged into the snowy Tien Shan mountains. The flight took about 40 minutes, with the last few minutes coming up the long Isulkyuk glacier. With a bumpy landing we had just completed what used to take 2 weeks by foot! As we got off the helicopter we were greeted by Juri who is the base camp manager and Nadia who is his interpreter. She showed us to our tents, which are the same as in Karkara - big family size tents, except these are on wooden pallets because we are sitting on the ice of the glacier. These tents sure beat our small climbing tent!

Its great to actually be able to see Khan Tengr. In fact through binnoculars you can see about half of the route very well. It seems that watching the climbers through binnoculars is a very popular pastime here at base camp - we will have to keep this in mind when we want to go to the toilet while we are climbing on the route!

Had a good lunch of spagetti, soup, watermelon & wafer biscuits for dessert. They sure know how to feed you here. It will be a bit of a shock when we get above base camp & have to eat our own lightweight food.

Its a pretty good setup at base camp - we even saw a tent with a sign saying internet café, but when we looked inside there was no computer, so we are not quite sure how this is meant to work! Spent the afternoon sunbaking - its about 20 degrees here and we are in t-shirts.

So far no headaches, but the first night is the real test. Appetite is good, which is an important positive sign. Feel very out of breath when we walk around. Still absolutely no news of my bag. Plan is for a rest day tomorrow.

Paul & Fiona at Khan Tengr base camp.

Posted at 07:36 PM AEST

Acclimatisation Hike

Hi everyone, today we did an acclimatisation hike up into the hills around Karkara. After a few days of being stuck on planes & busses it really felt great to be out in the fresh air getting some excise again. We climbed a small mountain which was 3200 m (you can see it in the background in the photo). Took us about 6 hours return and we spent an hour sitting on the top. This is to try and get your body used to the reduced oxygen levels and stimulate the production of more red blood cells. Was a really nice walk with lots of wildflowers. Fiona's highlight of the day was getting hot water to have a shower!

Still no news on my backpack, but our gas situation is sorted. We had to rent a russian stove and use local gas cannisters, but hopefully it will be OK.

Tomorrow we will be flying into the base camp - leaving at 8am. Will probably have a splitting headache this time tomorrow tonight!

Paul & Fiona at Karkara.

Posted at 12:41 AM AEST

July 24, 2004

Arrived in Karkara

Hi everyone, we have spent about 6 hours on a mini bus today driving from Almaty to Karkara. The scenery is amazing; very green, large mountains and swollen rivers. Passed lots of roadside stalls selling amazing fruit - we have eaten some great apples, raspberries & bananas.

Still no news of my backpack yet, but the agency (Kan Tengri Tours) we are using say that they will take care of it all for us. So I (Paul) am without a sleeping bag, so it could be a cold night ahead!! We also hit another problem this morning when we tried to buy gas for our stove, but couldn't find the right type anywhere in Almaty. Our agency say that they will take care of this as well, so we hope that they will be true to their word! Its a great setup here at Karkara - big family size tents already errected for you, lovely views and a cook to make you 3 meals a day. We have paid Kan Tengri Tours to look after all the logistics for us; transport, visas, climbing permits etc. So far they have been pretty helpful. Tomorrow we plan to take a 5 hour hike up higher to help our acclimatisation. We are at 2100m here and apparently you can walk to about 4000m. We may camp out overnight or else come back to this camp.
Technology is working ok, except cannot send or receive SMS.
Paul & Fiona @ Karkara.

Posted at 12:50 AM AEST

July 23, 2004

We've arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Well we've left Australia and are now in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Talked our way out of excess baggage - 85kg in total! We'd never heard of Asiania Airlines before but can highly recommend them as one of the best airlines we've flown. It also helped that the flights were half empty and we had a row each to stretch out and sleep. It's a long way though - almost 24 hours from airport to airport!

On arriving we struck a couple of hiccups though. Firstly it took about 1 1/2 hours to get our visas (no real problems, just a lengthy process). You need an invitation to come here, which some people didn't have,slowing down the process. But then we went to collect our bags and discovered that one backpack was missing. Despite our attempts, we were not able to trace the bag or even find out when a trace could be done.

We were picked up as planned by the company that is organising to get us to basecamp. They took us to our hotel - don't think it would even rate a single star but it serves the purpose. We couldn't see much last night as it was too dark. But looking around this morning, it seems quite leafy and pretty. They even have trams! It's also much hotter than we expected - Our watch reads 32 degrees C in our room.

So anyway, we're now waiting to be contacted by the company so that we can work out what to do about our missing bag. We may be able to continue onto the next town to start acclimatising at a higher altitude and have the bag brought to us later. Need to buy gas for our stove today and a few other things. All in all not too bad a start - can't expect things to go perfectly!

Paul & Fiona in Almaty.

Posted at 01:35 PM AEST

July 20, 2004

Getting Ready to Leave!

Hi everyone and welcome to our very first entry!

Its late Tuesday night and we're all packed and ready to leave on Thursday morning. Only joking - we actually have climbing boots, ropes, down jackets, sleeping bags, crampons, ice axes & ice hammers, a tent, packs and all sorts of clothes strewn from one end of the house to another!

At least we've bought our food. During our shopping we managed to get sprung by our gym instructor precisly at the time we were buying lots of chocolates; she promptly marched us over to the health food section and pointed out a few of her favourites! We also got a few funny looks in the supermarket as our trolley was filled with nothing much else but every imaginable variety of pre-prepared pasta meals and around 100 museli bars. We are taking lightweight food for 20 days.

Our flight leaves Melbourne at 6am Thursday morning and we fly to Sydney and then through Soul and onto Almaty in Kazakhstan. We're a bit worried about our luggage because it looks like we'll have 100kgs of gear. With a baggage allowance of only 50kgs in total between the two of us it sounds like the negoiation skills will be excercised straight up!

Anyway, must go now and get some sleep - we have a lot of things to finalise tomorrow - both at work, and for our trip.

Paul & Fiona.

Posted at 11:07 PM AEST