They Take It To The Top - and back home again

Here's the last update from the Take It To The Top VICE Expedition. We've certainly saved the best for last since this is the most descriptive account of the trip we've received so far - and it's from our mechanical engineer mountaineer, Austin, himself.

The Take It To The Top VICE Expedition team on the Kyrgyzstan Point 5318 summit!
The Take It To The Top VICE Expedition team on the summit of Kyrgyzstan's After You, formerly Point 5318, mountain.

We left Bishkek after two days in the city gathering food at the local Bazaar and grocery store. We were all somewhat concerned that we were not buying enough for 6 people for 16 days, but I think we were just too antsy to get on with other things that nobody said anything. So we moved on from the bazaar's and grocery stores to catch a bus early the next morning to Karakol. It turned out to be a five hour bus ride with one much needed stop for plov (a mutton rice dish) in the middle.

In Karakol there was a large Russian man waiting for us, his two tooth smile coaxing us into his van while his abrasively vociferous monologue caused us all to sit in the back. We ate peanuts and Snickers as we made our way over 5 hours of questionable post-Soviet era roads. At one point we were stopped by KDOT (Kyrgyz Department of Transportation - two men, two cigarettes, and the lofty task of fixing the "road"), eventually just barreling through the heap of talus they were pushing around.

After a quick military checkpoint at a strategically located abandoned Russian mining town, we arrived at Maida Adyr just as it was getting dark. At this point we were still under the impression that we'd spend only one night at the skimpily staffed base. It was with these false hopes that we went to bed that night, Kyrgyz "soft" candies still clinging to our teeth.

Hopes were still high the next morning that we'd get picked up because the weather was impeccable, not a cloud in the sky. By about 2 or 3, a storm rolled in and our game of Calvinball was interrupted by rain. With hopes of getting picked up drooping, we huddled under a tarp to play Settlers and wait for tomorrow. With the rain continuing, the owners were nice enough to give us a cabin for the night with some mildly comfortable cots.

full moon 4 or 5 pitches from the summit of Kyrgyzstan's Point 5318 mountain.
View from belay ledge on 5318, 4 to 5 pitches from the summit.

The next morning, the overcast skies kept hopes and helicopters at bay. So, we fell in to what was becoming our normal routine. We started off with throwing rocks at bottles perched on rocks. Then we moved on to a quick game of Calvinball, using snow pickets and trekking poles to smack a tennis ball all over the base. But just as we began to enjoy ourselves, the tennis ball was sucked in to the complex drainage system. So, for a good portion of the day we tried to outsmart the PVC tubing and force the tennis ball out...to no avail. We resorted to exploring the somewhat empty landscape. This was interrupted by a yelling Kyrgyz general who was upset at our proximity to the military base (we were close enough to realize that the man with the gun in the lookout was a manikin). So we returned to the cots, Catan, and cards to wait for the next day.

Finally, on the third day, even though the weather was good, we expected no helicopter to come. Gradually though our spirits were lifted, first by the appearance of the tennis ball in the drainage pool, then by acquiring additional food from the base, and finally by the sweet, sweet sound of a helicopter rotor. In only fifteen minutes we were transported from cabin fever central to a wild meadow that would become base camp.

The first day out of base camp we took all our technical gear and headed for the base of 5318. This, according to other teams was a long slog through a slushy glacier that was the crux of the whole trip. What we found though was that if we stuck to the moraine on the climber's left side of the glacier, we had a straight shot over dirt and talus to our advanced base camp at 13,300 ft. We cached our gear at what looked like the best camping spot, observed potential routes up our main objective, and then returned to base camp at 10,000 ft. Even though we had tried to acclimate at Ala-Archa, we huffed and puffed the whole way. Luckily no headaches or sickness this time.

We hunted marmots for about an hour upon returning. Then, after a quick discussion back at base camp, we decided to move as much food and equipment as possible to advanced base camp to try for as many objectives in the N1 glacial valley as possible instead of moving around to try for pt 5112 and 5025. So, the next day we packed up all but one night's food (pasta sauce with a hint of pasta) and sally forth'd to ABC, this time to stay.

When we reached our cache, we all felt stronger than we did just the day before. Finally seeing the mountain that had been our screen saver for the past three months worked us into an ambitious tizzy. It was in this state of mind that we all concurred, tomorrow would be summit day.

We ate more than we should have and tried to sleep. The altitude and excitement left us restless and before we knew it, 2am had rolled around and it was time to get an alpine start. We started up the familiar moraine and then crampons up in the dark to work our way up the near vertical toe of the glacier. Things flattened out for a few hundred yards and from then on we were front pointing on rock or ice. The sun rose, but we climbed in shadow. The night of little sleep caught up to us as we all felt a little drowsy and disoriented. We pushed on through a few technical mixed sections until we came to the end of the line, 10 hours after emerging from our cozy sleeping bags. The harsh sun had roasted the cornice leading to the summit and made "climbing" more like a dangerous mixture of swimming and digging with no form of reliable protection. So, even with ambition high and altitude induced teenage decision making competence, we made the smart decision to turn around.

We took a few rest days, acclimating further and rationing the food. The second night we were ready to try for the summit again. But, bad weather that evening deterred us, easily convincing us to stay another day before our second attempt.

So after three full days of rest, we left camp at around 8 pm to try again. Our theory was that if we started early enough, we could reach the snow cornice at its optimal hardness from the cold night. So, under a full moon and clear skies, we returned back from whence we came. Like we planned, we reached the cornice just as the sun was rising and like we predicted, the swimming of before was much more like climbing the second time around. Our theory paid off and the two shovels we brought turned out to be, to our elation, unnecessary. It was on this snow cornice that we made it to the summit.

Coming down was actually the crux of the climb. The snow began to melt as we took pictures on the summit and it was a bit hairy down climbing. Then on the rappel, the ropes got stuck, delaying us significantly. But, we kept our heads on straight and got down safe, exhausted. Definitely a hard day at the office.

For the rest of the trip, we focused on enjoying ourselves. After a rest day, four of us made a run for the Chinese border while two went to camp a\out on a hanging glacier. We dabbled with some crevasse climbing and squaved our way into a few first ascents. We were elated to have accomplished what we came here to do and stoked on being in such a wild place.

Everything seemed to work seamlessly. After running out of food at ABC, we summoned the helicopter for a day early pickup and made our way down to the pasta sauce at base camp. The helicopter came the next day, as requested and shuffled us straight into the 4x4 transport that brought us to Karakol.

We made a point to stuff ourselves and observe as much of the local culture as possible. Alas, we finally made it to our hostel in Bishkek and four of us are heading back to the States this morning. Sorry for the late update, but I just wanted to include as much info as possible before telling the story in person. Thanks for all following the trip and for all the support. See you soon.

Although this story's over, don't worry. You haven't read the last of Austin. We're so impressed with his update, we've asked him to write a post, hopefully more (a regular engineering column, perhaps?) for us!

He said he's happy to write a post about the expedition - no word yet on more - so stay tuned!

Need more right now? Austin's friend and founder of Deep South Mountaineering Stephen Eren wrote a
great post about the expedition.

Take It To The Top: Medical Manufacturing & Mountaineering

KMC Systems medical device contract design, manufacturing and support engineers Take It To The Top - of medical engineering and mountains! As mechanical engineer Austin Lines takes it to the top of an unsummited mountain, his fellow engineers take your medical device to the top of ISO 13485 and FDA medical equipment standards while saving you time and money through our KMC360® program. For more information, download our KMC360® Brochure.

Topics: Take It To The Top, VICE Expedition, medical device contract design