First things first: a few things to consider that could narrow you search.
1. What is your skill/ experience level?
It?s very important to be honest with yourself about where you?re at and try and equate your skill level with a target.There is a huge amount to learn about multi-day climbing at altitude, that can?t be got from climbing in New Zealand.
So don?t sandbag yourself! If you want a modicum of success your first time out, don?t aim too big or it will all end in tears!
The climbing will seem a lot harder than it does at home.
? The mountains are bigger and require multiple days to climb- you may well be carrying 10 days food and equipment on top of what you would normally take to do an ascent of a peak in New Zealand.
? You will be in a foreign, most likely third world country with an alien culture and alien food. There is a reasonable chance someone in the party will have been ill even before reaching base camp.
? Most of all, you will be climbing at ALTITUDE, and until you?ve done this you wont be able to comprehend its debilitating effect, or know how you personally, are going to perform.
2. How fit and strong is your expedition team as a whole?
Is your team capable of a long approach carrying heavy packs, or do you have to choose a mountain that porters can get all the way to the bottom of.
It?s important to realistically assess the team?s strength and fitness as a whole. As already mentioned, carrying heavy packs at altitude is very physically taxing. If some of your team members aren?t very strong at load carrying, or you think they won?t train seriously for the trip, choose something below 6000m that?s relatively non technical. Also choose something you can get porters to the base of- you don?t want to be left trying to get three weeks of food and equipment 20 km up a glacier unless you have a strong team.
Do you want to climb a Himalayan peak in a third world country where you get the full expedition experience: peak fees, bureaucracy, long uncomfortable road trips, liaison officers, porters ?and all the associated potential pitfalls?
Or would you would you rather go somewhere like Alaska, or even South America, where bureaucracy, logistics and the effects of altitude are minimal?
The thing about tackling an expedition to the Greater Ranges is the more times you do it, the easier if becomes and if you want to do this sort of thing you gotta get started sometime. And you are in for a great great adventure!
On the other hand Alaska or somewhere like Peru are really good stepping stones towards climbing in the Greater Ranges – the mountains aren?t too high, but they have a ?high? feel about them, and Alaska especially, it can be very remote.
4. What is your budget?
Anywhere is going to be pricey with the Kiwi dollar the way it is, but obviously some places are more expensive than others.
If you are on a tight budget, then you might to look for a mountain where some of the following apply:
1. The peak fee is low or non existent.
(Western China, Alaska, South America, some Nepalese peaks)
2. Other fees (eg. environmental or rescue) are at a minimum.
(Not India and not Pakistan!)
3. Your peak is close to your point of entry into the country eg. you don?t have a five day drive across the Tibetan Plateau, only a two day drive!
(Alaska, a small portion of Western China, Peru, flying into the Khumbu, Nepal)
4. Base camp is close to the road end which will reduce porter costs.
5. You can get away with not having a liaison officer and possibly a cook.
(Again, not India and not Pakistan!)
6. You don?t need to buy a whole lot of new equipment eg. porter-ledge or full down-suit.
(Don?t go steep and don?t go high)
7. The peak is around or below the 6000m mark, so you can acclimatise and whizz up it without spending a lot of expensive time.
(Western China has some goodies, the Khumbu in Nepal)
8. The area is known for its really settled weather- again you can whiz up and down quickly without any weather hold up.
5. Is the trip subject to getting grants or sponsorship to finance it?
A whole new ball game but it can be done! See ?Climbing Grants Available to Kiwi Climbers?.
6. What is your time-frame?
This will be determined by work and family obligations, budget, the climbing conditions (monsoon, the onset of winter) in particular parts of the world, and other stuff.
Its possible to have a successful expedition out of New Zealand in 24 days (minimum) to peak around 6000m.
This will enable you the following:
1. An eighteen hour flight from New Zealand/ eighteen hours return.
2. A day in the city to sort stuff and a day on the way back to shop for presents and get drunk.
3. Two day drive to the road end/ two days to return.
4. Two day walk in to base camp/ two days to return.
5. Twelve days to acclimatise and summit a beautiful moderately technical 6000m peak alpine style in great condition, with four days up your sleeve for bad weather, porter strikes, road hold ups etc.
Some places that would allow for this type of trip would be:
? The Daxue Shan Range in Sichuan, China.
? The Khumbu region of Nepal
? The Mt McKinley area in Alaska
? Certain parts of Pakistan adjacent the Karakoram Highway, like the Passu Glacier.
? Nyainqentanglha East in Tibet (if you a sure confident your bureaucracy is in order.)
For a peak a thousand metres higher (6500-7000m), to have a good shot at the summit you need around 42 days.
This will enable you:
A two day flight from New Zealand/ two days return.
1. A day in the city meeting you outfitter and getting sorted.
2. A three day drive to the road end/ two days return.
3. A four day walk into base camp/ two days return.
4. 24 days to acclimatise and climb the peak, allowing for weather hold ups.
5. Two days in the city organising freight, having meetings,get drunk.
6. Two day flight back to New Zealand.
Some places that would allow for this type of trip would be:
? The Garwhal Region of India.
? The western end of the Karakoram.
? Nyainqentanglha East in Tibet.
? The Hindu Kush ( so long as you can avoid the Taliban.
Obviously with an 8000m peak you need more time, but that isn?t the kind of expedition we are dealing with.
7. What outcome is important to you?
Is summiting important, or is the experience itself enough regardless of whether you get to the top.
If summiting is your goal then don?t sandbagging yourself on you first time in the Greater Ranges.
Choose carefully something that?s not too high, well within your technical ability, and build into your schedule plenty of time to acclimatise, get fit, deal with unfamiliar bureaucracy and culture, the vagaries of porters and staff, and of course the weather.
However if you are happy with sitting at the bottom of the north face of Jannu for six weeks because its beyond your climbing ability, just to be able to say ?I?ve just come home from an attempt on north face of Jannu? ? then go for it! You will get some kudos regardless of whether you did any climbing, but it won?t have made you a better climber.
7. Do you want to climb an unclimbed peak or route? Or are you happy on something already climbed, even ?classic?
? You are more likely to be eligible for grants and sponsorship
? You?ll be treated like a hero if you get to the top (especially if others have failed).
? You?ll get written up in the likes of the AAC, the Himalayan Journal, Alpinist Magazine, the Alpine Club Journal.
? It?s just the best feeling getting to the top of something no one else has climbed.
You have to do a lot more research to find a peak that?s suitable. This takes time!
There will be plenty of information available- you will be able to use others research and save heaps of time.
You will still get a great feeling when you get to the top!
Disavantage: no one will care a toss except you and your mum!
8. What style of climbing?
If you are going to be climbing at altitude, your ascent will be multi-day – something that just doesn?t happen in New Zealand. You need to decide whether you want to make an ?alpine-style? attempt, or go ?expedition? style.
Note: ?Alpine style? refers to mountaineering in a self-sufficient manner, climbing from the bottom to the summit without porters or oxygen, carrying all of one’s food, shelter and equipment.
This compares with ?expedition? (or siege style) mountaineering which involves setting up a fixed line of stocked camps (potentially using porters) to be accessed at ones leisure.
Most likely you will be climbing alpine style, or a version of it, unless you are going really steep, or on a commercial guided ascent of an 8000m peak.
Expect to have to work hard, but believe me, the rewards of getting up a mountain in the Himalaya or Karokoram without the aid of porters or supplementary oxygen is endlessly worth it.
Sources of information
1) Chronik der Erschliebung des Karakorum: Teil 1 ? Western Karakorum
By Wolfgang Heichel
Published by Haus des Alpinismus, Alpines Museum, Praterinsel 5, Munchen. 2005.
2) Japanese Alpine Centenary: 1905- 2005.
By Tamotsu Nakamura
Published by The Japanese Alpine Club, Yonbancho-ku, Tokyo.2005
3) East of the Himalaya: To the Alps of Tibet
By Tamotsu Nakamura
Published by The Japanese Alpine Club, Yonbancho-ku, Tokyo.2003
4) A Guide to Mountaineering in China
Published by the Chinese Mountaineering Association
(Now out of print)
5) Peaks and Passes of the Garwhal Himalaya
By Jan Babicz
Published by Alpinistcyny Klub Eksploracyjny. Ul. Armii Krayowej Sopot. 1990.
Distributed in Britain by: Cordee, 3a De Montford St, Leicester LE1 7HD.
Climbing Grants Available to Kiwi Climbers
? New Zealand Alpine Club Expedition Fund
Available to anyone who?s a member of the NZAC and looking to go on an overseas expedition. Applications are considered twice yearly. Grants range from $300 to $3000. Find the application form on: http://alpineclub.org.nz/default/37
? Sparc Hillary Expedition Fund
Sparc made $100,000 in grants available to Kiwi expeditions in 2003, 2006 and 2008 and hopefully this will happen again. Grants ranging from $5000 to $20,000 are made to groups of New Zealanders challenge themselves and inspire others in the great outdoors. They are not just available to climbers and are heavily contested, with an in depth application process. Don?t be disappointed if you don?t get one the first time you apply. Try again!.
Go to: http://www.sparc.govt.nz/en-nz/recreation/Hillary-Expedition/
? Mount Everest Foundation Grant
Available to British and New Zealand climbers who are attempting first ascents or new routes in the Greater Ranges, Alaska and South America. The expedition must have a strong exploratory component. Applications are accepted twice a year. After the expedition a preliminary report is required, followed by an intensive report within three months. The amount of the grants has gone up recently, and can be as much as British ?2000. Application form on the website.
? Shipton Tilman Grant
These are offered by WL Gore and Associates, as a tribute to Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman and the spirit of adventure they embodied. The grant provides US$30,000/year to be divided amongst three to six expeditions from any part of the world, who plan to accomplish their feat in a self-propelled environmentally sound way. Exploration and new routing is a big part of this award.
Applications are accepted every eighteen months. Application form on the web site: http://www.gore.com/en_xx/news/2010shiptontilman.html
or write to: WL Gore and Associates Inc, 295 Blue Ball Road, Elkton, MD 21921
? International Polartec Challenge
Offered by Polartec (fabrics) this grant assists low impact teams from around the world who support the spirit and practice of outdoor adventure. Grants are around US$5000. Applications are accepted once a year. Application form on the website.
Contact: Ruthann Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org
? Mazamas Expedition Grants
The goal of these grants is to develop the physical and mental abilities of climbers through expedition training. Mazamas is a club, but the organisation will support non members for possible contribution to the sport of climbing. The deadline is ongoing and the amount is variable. Applciation form on the website.
? National Geographic Expeditions Council Grant
These grants are offered by National Geographic to fund exploration and adventure around the world. To get one of these you would have to put in a very strong application with a ?compelling story.? The deadline is ongoing and the amounts range from US$5000 to $US35,000. Application form on the website.
? Nick Escourt Award
This award goes to one elite expedition every year, and ?expeditions to easily accessible areas or those with ill-defined objectives? are unlikely to be accessible. It?s unlikely a New Zealand Expedition will win this award any time in the near future but there is no harm in putting in an application, for the practice. The amounts are around British ?1000. Applications are accepted once a year. Application form on the website.
? British Mountaineering Council
If you are lucky enough to have a British passport or be climbing with a Brit, you may benefit from a BMC grant. These are around the 400 pound mark. Applications are accepted twice a year. Application form on the website.
? Timmissartok Foundation
This organisation will partially support projects that involve ?travel with a purpose? in which a particular passion is explored. It is open to ?individuals seeking adventure in foreign lands? ? all nationalities and ages. Grant amounts are ?small.? Applications are accepted anytime. Application form on the website.
? Hans Saari Memorial Fund Exploration Grant
This grant supports innovative ski mountaineering expeditions with technical goals in alpine terrain. Special consideration is given to expeditions to unclimbed, unexplored regions. Up to three grants are awarded per year. Applications are accepted once a year. The amount is US15000. Application form on the website.