The Altai

Exploration in Southern Siberia, 9th-28th August 2012

A small part of the expedition kit, awaiting transport to basecamp.

Expedition Kit

As might be expected, we took a fairly standard set of expedition equipment with us to Russia. All food and fuel were purchased in Barnaul upon arrival, but we flew out with all other kit we needed for our two
week stay.

Satellite Phone

We took an IsatPhone Pro on the Inmarsat network with us, taken on loan from It worked fine in testing on the travels out, but we were surprised to get no reception at all when we turned it on at basecamp. Fortunately, we found full signal strength on the summit of Irbistu, and eventually discovered a spot a little closer at a 45 minute round trip away from the campsite.

In the end it became obvious that the only satellite we could connect to was very close to the horizon and so was blocked by mountains when down in the valleys. We weren’t expecting this particularly, so take care if travelling in the region with an IsatPhone.

This wasn't the end of our problems though - we were receiving daily weather forecasts which were sent through the sat phone provider’s website. For some reason the messages were being queued up and multiple messages couldn’t be received at the same time. Added to this was the fact that we could get no signal at all as soon as there was any cloud in the sky, although luckily for us this was fairly rare. This often led to a few daily trips up the hill to get signal for the one forecast we needed, which wasn't ideal.

We took three batteries in total, and only got through about 1½ on the whole trip.


We picked up a pair of £50 Terrain 750 2-way radios from Argos the day before flying out as we needed to be able to communicate when climbing as separate pairs during the day. Not wanting to leave them on all the time to conserve battery life, we agreed set times during the day to turn them on for periods of 15 minutes which worked well for us. They had a stated maximum range of 8km, which we actually achieved quite clearly between the summit of Dzhaniktu and basecamp one morning. In short – a great bit of gear that allowed us to communicate when climbing separately.

SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger

As well as carrying a standard E-Trex GPS device, we had Greg’s SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger with us. It allows the user to send a choice of two precomposed messages via satellite as an e-mail to let your contacts know you are safe. We had it programmed with our emergency contacts (and parents!) and pushed the button at least once a day. There is also an SOS button which when pressed would alert the relevant rescue services with our location, although we thankfully didn’t have to test this so we have no idea how effective it would actually be, especially in a remote region.

It worked flawlessly for us and we used the API provided to embed the data into our website and plot the messages onto Google Maps. One thing we would note is that with no opportunity to relay further information once on expedition, it is vital to make it clear to emergency contacts exactly what each message means and any action that should be taken on the receipt of the messages. Apart from this, it was a useful back up for when our sat phone wasn’t working, and having two forms of communication meant each climbing pair could take one in case of an emergency.


With weight in mind and no real knowledge of the types of route we would be climbing, we took two stripped down racks consisting of both rock and ice gear. As it turned out, the rock gear was almost redundant on the mountaineering routes we did. The rock quality was generally terrible and so most of the time roping up and placing protection wasn’t the best option. It did however get used when we did a bit of cragging near basecamp on a rest day, so it wasn't a complete waste. Ice screws were needed for travelling on glaciers and we also placed them all on the ascent of Dzhaniktu.


We took two 50m half ropes and one 60m single with us, but in the end we climbed with just one 50m half rope on all the routes we did. This is a personal choice - half ropes aren't recommended to be used on their own - but given the types of route we climbed and amount of time we spent actually roped up this seemed liked a sensible choice. The single rope was taken in case we lost or damaged one of the half ropes, or in case one pair went to try a route that required two half ropes but neither of these occurred so the 60m single wasn't used at all.


Alpkit provided us with a 3-4 person Zhota which we used as a basecamp tent. For an expedition of four people it was a great size for using as a communal mess tent. We took two further 2 man tents for sleeping in and with no advance basecamps needed, all three tents remained pitched in the same spot for 2 weeks.

First Aid

We took a standard expedition first aid kit, supplemented with some stronger painkillers and antibiotics sourced from abroad. For reference, these are listed here, but this is by no means a recommendation of what to carry or an endorsement of their usefulness: Cocodamol, Tramadol, Diclofenac, Cifran (Ciprofloxacin), Metronizadole, T-bact (Mupriocin), Flucloxin.

We had concerns about tick-borne encephalitis but further research showed that we were planning to be at a high enough altitude to avoid them so we took no vaccination precautions.

We suffered no major illnesses or injuries on the expedition. Greg injured his leg during a scree descent from one of the peaks which meant that he sat out the planned team-ascent of Dzhaniktu, but he was well enough to walk out three days later.