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  2004 Expedition to Kunlun Shan: Update 12

27 August, 2004: After our latest summit, everyone make it back to base camp without incident, even Ben.  Dale and Randall took longer coming down than the rest, camping out one last night in the canyon, and spending an hour photographing the ice formations in the shadows of Ice Canyon.  All that is left is to pack up and hope that our ride comes this afternoon... A hearty thanks to our equipment sponsors for helping make such a spectacular trip possible:  Cliff Bar, Dana Design, Salomon, Sierra Design!   

There was a final welcome from our crew, including the last of the firecrackers and yet another huge lunch.  We were cutting it close on potatoes, and Gin Gong threatened to go to Dahongliutan to buy more, despite some 20 kg of pasta being left.  Between washing clothes and ourselves, we have managed to find time to learn hurling tips from Gerard, who brought four hurleys all the way to Base Camp.  Chasing a slitter through scree at 14,800 feet is not easy, even after four weeks of acclimatizing!

We are all looking forward to heading back to the civilization of Kashgar, hopefully following a smooth ride back.  The weather has definitely changed from the clear blue summer of our arrival to a stormier autumn.  We hope that the others have by now made it back to Kashgar, and the two 5000m passes will not cause problems on the road. 


29 August, 2004

We are finally back in Kashgar after five weeks in the mountains!  Our vehicles arrived in the afternoon of 27 August, and after ferrying loads from camp to the Dong Feng "truck", we managed a 17h00 start.  The 4x4's were Mitsubishis in far better shape than the Land Cruisers we rode out on, one even equipped with a television in the sun visor!   

We spent the night in Xaidulla, where we caught the first of the Olympics on CCTV, with a definite slant towards diving and women's volleyball.  Yesterday we managed an early start, and made lunch at the Mazar checkpoint, and our evening checkpoint destination by 16h30.  Our drivers were eager to continue, so we rolled on to Yecheng, and had dinner there at 18h30.  Only four hours to go, so we made it all the way back to Kashgar for a 400km day.  (That's a lot when the roads are rarely paved!)

At John's cafe we met with Trevor, who had been on the earlier return, and he recounted their tales of woe, including sickness, breakdowns, one night in the Land Cruiser, and problems at all the checkpoints.  What took us a day and a half took them more than double, and those flying out barely made their flights! 

Tonight the six of us left in Kashgar (Annie, Ben, Dale, Gerard, Trevor & Randall) will go out and celebrate with Johan, Akram our de facto translator, Gin Gong our cook, and Gus the driver.  Let's just hope there is not too much bai-jo! 




As last minute packing and preparations are underway in London, Tokyo, Anchorage, California, Colorado, and Connecticut, team members are getting ready to fly to Kashgar via Beijing and Urumqi, arriving on 25 and 26 July.  After final preparations in Kashgar, our convoy of three Toyota Landcruisers and one 6x6 rugged military vehicle will head southeast on the Silk Road towards Yecheng. 

From there we will head south onto the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, through Mazar, to our last outpost of civilization in the military village of Dahongliutan.  We expect to pass through on 01 August, assuming there are no issues with our military permits, and no vehicle trouble on the climbs through the 5000m passes of the Kunlun West.

Last minute information is trickling in from Kashgar… A Japanese expedition just came back after an unsuccessful attempt on Aksai Chin I, which had an unconfirmed summit by the Japanese in 1997.  They report that the military road we hope to follow does indeed exist, and though in rough shape, should get us within 10km of Base Camp.  By the time we set up Base Camp, we expect to have been on the road for five or six days.

Armed with coordinates and advice from previous expeditions, we will have to take our chances discovering the differences between the maps and the actual terrain. Thin blue hairlines on the map can easily turn out to be impassable glacial runoff. The maps also neglect to indicate the difference between surfaces such as mud and quicksand, both of which will eagerly swallow any vehicle up to its axles.

While exploring the unknown peaks of the Aksai Chin West, the team will have limited contact with the outside world.  A decision was made to leave the laptop behind, so while there will be no live coverage with photos and video, we will be sending messages from our Iridium satellite phone for text coverage right here on EverestNews.com



2004 Expedition to Kunlun Shan

It is with intrepid spirit of adventure and respect that the Kunlun 2004 expedition is being planned.  What started out as a harebrained idea discussed over breakfast in the English Lakes will become a reality when we drive across the edge of the Taklimakan Desert to be dropped off for almost a month's worth of unsupported exploration.

For nearly a year, we have been researching the possibilities of an expedition to more remote regions of the world to summit unclimbed peaks. Research has shown that there are 230 peaks over 6000m in the Kunlun Shan and that fewer than 50 of those have ever been climbed!

The goal of the Kunlun 2004 expedition is to explore several unknown peaks of the Aksai Chin plateau with the motives of first ascents of 6000m peaks and scientific research in the form of geological survey data collection.

After purchasing several political maps of Xinjiang Province, eventually the correct aviation charts for the area were found. These Operational Navigation Charts (ONC's) are at a scale of 1:500,000, and Tactical Pilotage Charts in the same series are at 1:250,000. Though one would never consider such a scale for something like Denali or Rainier, it the best information that is publicly available for such an unexplored region. The charts are quite detailed but meant for aircraft flying over the region rather than mountaineers on the ground. As they are based entirely on satellite data, they have disclaimers that peak heights may be off by as much as 1000 feet!

Our project is original because of our climbing style, and the remoteness of the goal. We will drive overland nearly 1000km from the nearest airport in Kashgar, and once we are dropped off at base camp, we will be completely unsupported for nearly three weeks. Because of the altitude and isolation, there are no options of retreat, and though we will have communications, any rescue would be nearly a week away.

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