expeditions don’t follow strict formats. theres a general set of requirements, but how they fit together is unique – its what makes them different to the ‘alpine safaris’ that commonly get passed off as expeditions these days.

the Da Xue Shan range in western Sichuan; want to shrug off that the feel of being a tourist?

for a true trip off the grid theres dozens of matters that the standard commercial formula wont cover and that test the mettle of unseen climbing skills, ie the logistician. take away the heavily industrialized process that connect the alpine fantasy to the actual climbing and theres a world of matters that would be mundane in any other context. suspend the basic formula that in places like Nepal answer all the questions about supplies, access, route and organization and the true soul of an expedition comes out. simply suspending the English language is often enough.

when the mountains unclimbed, the area unexplored, the maps are hazy and the locals have no comprehension of what its all about you start confronting what it means to be a climber. things take on a different gravity when you have to do all the logistics as well. success is not about how well you climb, but how well you build the pyramid of logistics that get you to the base of the route.

some of the things that need answers are;

  • porterage; without a localized industry of locals to carry stuff how do you get everything to where you want it?

  • culture; where climbers have never existed how do locals and their infrastructure relate to it?

  • scheduling; when the route, approach, logistics and resources are all big unknowns how do you construct a timeline?

  • equipment; take away the certainties of porterage and access, then add the uncertainties of an objective with almost zero beta and what do you take?

  • team; unknown routes in unexplored places take a wide spectrum of applied skills, focus and sustained motivation amongst a cohesive group.

pull all this together to form a basic idea and you’ve got enough to work with.

theres plenty of places the climbing industry hasnt entered yet. even with recent interest western Sichuan still has decades worth of new ascents

genuine expeditions take a lot of effort and expense so the elements need to be dialed in before theres any questions about the climbing. can you even get there? forget what colour your baselayer is or how many pull ups you can do until you’ve answered the basics on the place you want to go – something that safari ‘expeditions’ to heavily touristed areas have made format.

the key to true expeditions is patience, adaptability and cash. you need to be able to apply all three in vary degree to every element. your gear needs to cover a wide range of possibilities, your scheduling needs to be snafu-proofed, your group needs to be dynamic, you need a creative attitude to everything from the authorities to the local food, you need the fitness levels to fill the logistical gaps, you need the money to keep the stress levels manageable.

do you want fries with that? the details like food are part of what sets climbing ‘safaris’ apart from real expeditions

for those who dwell upon the established formulas of climbing it appears that the age of expeditions is long over. to many only the splitting of sports industry hairs is left to pursue. but for those who look into the wider aspects of climbing – the greater applications of putting inspired people into unexplored places – theres still lifetimes worth of climbing to be done. it just takes a perspective reeled back in from the pedantic formulas that pop-climbing is broadcast as. theres plenty left to do if your perspective can cover it, and when it does happen – whether it’s a FA on a Japanese icefall or a high altitude FA somewhere like Tibet – its touching on the archetype of climbing that its all about.