Many climbers have a vague
notion that they’d like to go on an expedition. But the logistics appear
overwhelming and the idea never comes to fruition. CLIMBING: Expedition
Planning by Clyde Soles and Phil Powers (The Mountaineers Books, July 2003,
$19.95 trade paperback original) will help you break the barriers to your
dreams. Although this comprehensive reference for planning, organizing, and
leading adventure expeditions is centered upon mountaineering in the great
ranges, the most complex of expeditions, it fully applies to backcountry
climbs of any duration—it’s just a matter of scale. Soles, a former senior
editor for Rock & Ice magazine and Powers, a veteran expedition leader who
taught expedition planning for the National Outdoor Leadership School, leave
nothing out. They cover everything from defining your goal, to how to build a
team by considering strengths, personalities, leadership skills, risk
tolerance, motivation, and commitment. They provide comprehensive information
on all the elements you need to consider including gear, medicine, food,
permits, visas, insurance, length and timing of expedition, transportation,
rescue options, porters and guides, and expedition styles.
Useful features include a
time planning chart (p. 87) to schedule pre-expedition logistics from applying
for permits (in this example, 48-38 weeks prior to expedition departure) to
getting the necessary immunizations (10-6 weeks out) to final packing (2-0
weeks out). There are gear checklists (pp. 210-13) and there are forms
(Expedition Application, Medical Questionnaire, Diet Questionnaire, pp.
200-205) to copy and give to prospective team members to fill out. This way,
you’ll have the important stats on team members at your fingertips. Some
questions are intended to provoke conversation that might head off future
problems. They could be uncomfortable to answer now but may be even more so
halfway through the trip (for example, the medical questionnaire asks about
preferred method of body disposal).
Issues covered include:
Selecting the team.
Personality conflicts have probably ruined more expeditions than either bad
weather or accidents. The “job interview” needs to be far ranging and
revealing. Find out now whether potential teammates can laugh when the food is
terrible, the weather is bad, and they have diarrhea—not when it actually
happens, suggest Soles and Powers. Discovering that two climbers are sports
fanatics who are rabid fans of opposing teams might cause a rethinking of rope
Leadership styles. In
general, most conflicts stem from misunderstandings about a group’s structure,
and controversy continues until a system is developed for guidance. Decide on
leadership style and determine responsibilities in advance. Styles include
leaderless (best for small groups of four or less; all decisions made by
“majority rules” or, preferably, consensus); leader by consensus; dictator
(rare these days except for guided expeditions which need this type of command
structure to ensure the safety of less experienced participants); or dual
leaders (particularly for large expeditions to major peaks, it may be wise to
designate both an expedition leader, who handles logistics, and a climbing
Money matters. No matter what
the size of your expedition, one person should be designated as the treasurer.
This is an important role that often gets treated too lightly. The treasurer
keeps a notebook detailing all expedition income and expenses and keeps all
receipts for a final accounting.
Insurance. For insurance
purposes, take photos of your gear before you leave. Make a list of camera or
computer equipment and include serial numbers. If the gear is very expensive,
bring a notarized copy of the list to avoid hassles with customs agents.
Menu planning. It is well
worth having a tasting party at one of the expedition meetings or pretrip
excursions to try out some of the mountain foods under consideration. Test
everything on the menu that may be dubious. If it’s only barely edible at sea
level, it will be downright revolting at 23,000 feet.
Although used oxygen systems can be rented in Kathmandu, considering that
you’ve already spent a year getting ready and a small fortune to reach high
camp, it makes sense to purchase a new system and sell it afterward.
Travel in foreign lands. Pick
up some postcards of your hometown to show people who may never have the
opportunity to visit. Bring some photos of your parents, spouse, and children;
these will be of great interest in many cultures.
Porters. Smaller expeditions
operating without a trekking agency may have to negotiate porter or animal
handler wages. Try not to pay more than the local rate. Though the porters’
pay may seem too little by your standards, overpaying leads to regional
inflation. However, be certain the women receive equal pay.
Base camp setup. The longer
you’ll be in base camp, the more the luxuries become necessities. While toting
them along does add to the cost, it’s generally a minor blip in the overall
budget. For example, the portable shower: a solar shower sitting on a rock can
heat up in a couple of hours on a sunny day. Bring some biodegradable soap and
an absorbent camp towel.
The Expedition Application
If you don’t already know the
potential expedition candidates well, the Expedition Application is a good
starting point for learning about them. In addition to requesting basic
information that will be needed if they join the team, the form includes
questions that are often overlooked in casual conversation. Questions
· What rating can you
· What unique
qualifications would you bring to this expedition?
· Why do you want to
join this expedition?
· What is the longest
you’ve been cooped up in a tent or snow cave and how was the experience?
· Will your
husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend join the expedition as a member or trekker?
If so, are you certain you have a strong relationship?
· What three words
best describe your personality?
· What are your
current interests and pursuits?
· How important is
returning to your job on a specific date? Is there any flexibility?
· What languages do
· Can you make a
deposit on expenses now?
· How much time each
week can you offer for preparation?
Authors:Clyde Soles served as a senior editor at Rock & Ice magazine. His
adventures have taken him around the world and to the top of an 8,000
meter peak. He is the author of Climbing: Training for Peak Performance
and Rock & Ice Gear: Equipment for the Vertical World. Phil Powers has
participated in 30 personal expeditions to Alaska, South America, and
Asia, including an ascent of K2 and new routes on Denali and in the
Karakoram. As Chief Mountaineering Instructor for the National Outdoor
Leadership School, he taught expedition planning.