Sunday, 25 November 2012

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The New Record - 6,361 m / 20,869 ft

The climb began in Copiapo, altitude 375 m (1,230 ft), where we had stocked up on 300 litres of drinking water and 200 litres of 97 octane motorcycle fuel.  Copiapo is where civilisation ends.  A few miles out of Copiapo and it is clear that you are in the Atacama Desert.  There is no water, no trees, no animals, no mobile phone coverage, no internet, no nothing.  Just an old road that begins to climb as soon as it leaves the city limits.




Just over 2 hours later, the group, made up of the 3 guys on the 3 Husabergs, and our support crew, consisting solely of Sherri Jo Wilkins driving our support 4x4, pulled into our first acclimatisation camp, at Laguna Santa Rosa, up at 3,770 m (12,369 ft).  Here, the atmosphere was only about 65% that of sea level. The crew was unanimous in declaring Santa Rosa one of the prettiest places any of us had ever seen.






48 hours later, feeling acclimatised to the atmosphere at Santa Rosa, the team moved on to the base of Ojos del Salado, and a camp site just off the border road to Argentina.  Camp Murray was the name of the location and it sat at 4,527 m (14,852 ft).  From here, a dirt track led to two other mountaineering camps on the mountain, Camp Atacama, 5,256 m / 17,244 ft (The main mountaineering base camp for Ojos del Salado) and Camp Tejos - more of a temporary stop or emergency base, up at 5,825 m (19,111 ft) up a very very rough track.  We decided to spend a couple more days based at Murray while our bodies further acclimatised to the increasingly thin atmosphere, now barely 55% of sea level.  We arrived at Camp Murray in the middle of a snowstorm.




From Murray, we changed wheels to our mountain wheels, sprockets, tyres and mousses, and were able to make an initial recon ride up the mountain.  Despite the thin air, the bikes were still firing up, idling and running like a dream. 


Our initial ride took us up to 5,945 m (19,505 ft).  We saw that the ride to 5,900 m (19,357 ft) would not be a problem.  But we were met by a wall of sand, rock and ice above that level.



Another 48 hours later, we moved camp for the final time, this time up to Ojos Base Camp ... Camp Atacama, at 5,256 m (17,244 ft).  We had the mountain all to ourselves.  A Chilean group of climbers had left the mountain 2 days earlier and a German group was just leaving as we arrived at Camp Atacama.  The whole mountain was ours to play with, but we were now down to about 50% of sea level air density.  Regular pulse and blood oxygen level checks were the order of the day.  By 5,250 m we had reached the limits of human beings to adapt to the conditions.  No one lives above 5,250 m.  Mountaineering base camps are all at or below the 5,250 metre level.  While some camps exist higher up in mountains around the world, they are not base camps, just shelters to stop in on the way up or down the mountains.  Any nights spent above 5,250 metres weaken the body.


Meanwhile in Camp Atacama, the international team was adapting to life in the big dome expedition tents that exist there:



Further exploratory rides were undertaken daily, from our new base at Camp Atacama - getting the bikes up to 5,987 m (19,642 ft), but as wide as we travelled around the mountain, we were unable to find an easy way across the belt of sand, rocks and steepness that seemed to surround Ojos del Salado around the 6,000 metre (19,685 ft) mark.



Our final exploration and recon mission was by foot ... walking up a route that had been used by Matthias Jeschke when he set a car world record back in 2004.  The route was a long one and covered with snow.  But it took us directly to the point where Jeschke claimed his 2004 car world record, a small peak of about 6,361 metres (20,869 ft).  It was there that Jeschke had built a tiny cairn of rocks with a foot long piece of bamboo sticking out of it.  That bamboo seemed the only organic thing on the mountain, and we nicknamed it "Jeschke's Noodle".  It became a possible target.  



One thing that was clear from the exploratory hike, was that this would be no cakewalk.  It would be a long hard slog and would probably take us 3 days to get the bike to that point.  We knew then that the amount of physical work meant we could not take all three bikes.  One bike would be chosen, and all three guys would ride it and haul it up the mountain as required.

The Final Push

First the bike had to be rammed into the steep hill, and try and get as many vertical metres as possible before traction and momentum gave up to gravity.  Lukas saddled up, hit the throttle and bucked and weaved his way up to 5,950 m (19,521 ft).


Then it was hard work time.  5 hours of haulage and labour to get to 6,020 m (19,751 ft).




From 6,020 m (19,751 ft), Walter saddled up and had a quick blast up through a field of penitentes to 6,060 m (19,882 ft) where, completely exhausted and with the sun going down, we decided to call it quits for day one of the final push.  We abandoned the bike there, along with our riding clothes, helmets etc.  We would have a rest day and return in 36 hours time:



After a days rest, we were full of energy and enthusiasm to finish the job.  Barton, the teams head of Mountaineering department, called for a mountaineering summit day schedule.  We would wake at 2 am and be prepared to put in an 18 hour day ... and so it was.  The team woke at 2 am, hiked up to the bikes, put the riding gear on and as the sun rose on Ojos del Salado, Barton saddled up and rode quickly to 6,100 m (20,013 ft).  From here, a massive glacier blocked our progress.  The glacier was breaking up and the surface was very rough and full of crevasses.  It would be extremely challenging and physical work to get the bike across.   Lukas took up the challenge and with Barton and Walter testing the glacier and pathfinding, Lukas amazed us all with a textbook motorcycle glacier crossing.  


We were all completely exhausted after the crossing.  Up here at 6,100 m, the air is down to 45% that of sea level.  Recovery from even moderate exercise takes a good 10-15 minutes.


There were several other glacier crossings as we made our way higher up the mountain.  The team stopped at 6,210 m (20,374 ft) to survey our options.  The slope ahead of us was covered in snow, yet there were a few lines that could be taken where the sun had burned off the snow.  We were now just 35 m (115 ft) from the existing world record we had targetted from the time we began planning - 6,245 m (20,489 ft).  Walter saddled up and, spotting a potential line, roared up the hill.  When he stopped, a look at his GPS showed that the job was done .... 6,269 m (20,568 ft) ... the world record was now ours.  The Husaberg Adventure Team had come through.  It was now only a question of how much we could improve it by.  Certainly 24m was not enough.  We wanted to be more decisive than that.  The boys abandoned their backpacks at this level and began to have some real fun.  The pressure was off now.

It was Barton's turn the saddle and after a lot of lateral research of different lines and angles, Barton found a sun exposed ridge with a thin line of exposed gravel and launched himself up the hill.  It was a little gem of a ride that in about 90 seconds seemed to score the Husaberg Adventure Team another 50 metres of vertical.  It took 20 minutes for Walter and Lukas to catch up, but when they did they saw the GPS now reading 6,317 m (20,725 ft).  We were now 72 metres above the old record.

Lukas took the reins and was determined to extend that to 100 m, though how he was going to do that was a mystery.  Barton had stopped on a small gravel knoll, but all around was deep snow.  But Lukas had an idea.  He roared into a small gully but soon became bogged down in snow.   A few hands on the Kriega haul loop we had fitted on the bike and he was through to find a path up to another rocky peak with a spectacular view.  Lukas had taken the bike to 6,346 m (20,820 ft) ... we had topped the old record by over 100 m.  

Yet one small hillock, 100 metres away seemed 10 metres or so higher.  Between our sun exposed rocky peak and the small hillock, was 100 metres of snow.  It was Walter's turn to saddle up.  Walter had done deep snow riding before in Russia as a guest of the Off-Road People club there.  The Russians had passed on plenty of good advice and techniques for this kind of thing and Walter blasted through the snow, bouncing his bike along as a huge white rooster tail shot out from under the bike.  When he finally stopped, the GPS was reading 6,355 m (20,850 ft) and the hillock we had been aiming for was now clearly identified as Jeschke's Noodle.  This was our optimistic goal ... and we were now just a few yards away from it.



It was now Bartons turn on the bike and while he could have comfortably ridden up to the summit of Jeschke's Noodle, Barton turned to Lukas and Walter and suggested we all take the bike and push it the last few yards to the summit, together.  It was a fitting way to arrive at the new world record.  We checked the GPSs ... they were all showing an accuracy of +/- 3m.  Readings fluctuated on all units between 6,359 m to 6,363 m.  But the most common reading was 6,361 m (20,869 ft) and that was the middle of all the readings.  We had broken the old world record by 116 m (381 ft).





Our second day of the final push had been far better progress than we had hoped.  We thought it would take 3 days to get to Jeschke's Noodle, but we did it in a day and a half.  But the team, including a professional mountaineer (Barton) and a ex commando (Lukas) was exhausted.  It was now after 2pm and the team had been working since they woke up at 2am,  It was time for the guys to cruise down to base camp and celebrate.



Mission accomplished !




Friday, 23 March 2012

World Record #1

Sherri-Jo Wilkins joined the Husaberg Adventure Team boys, thinking she was going to just be in charge of base camp.  But we had other plans.



First, a dysfunctional eye meant that Walter decided to give his bike to Sherri-Jo while the team moved camp from the 4530 metre (14,862 ft) Camp Murray at the base of the mountain to the 5260m (17,257 ft) Camp Atacama, which acts as the main base camp for climbers on Ojos del Salado.  Walter drove the truck.  Sherri-Jo rode the bike to Camp Atacama.  It was there that we told her the womens altitude record is just about 125 metres higher at 5,386m (17,671 ft).  We looked Sherri-Jo in the eye and told her that she is borrowing Walter's bike again tomorrow, and we were going as high as the path would take us.

The hardest part of the ride was the first 125 vertical metres out of Camp Atacama ... the metres she needed to set the record.  So the Husaberg Adventure team decided to help out, stabilising the bike where necessary, while SJ worked that 570cc Husaberg engine to the max on the steep sands above Camp Atacama.  Ten minutes later and it was all over.  We all grouped together at the side of the track and looked at the GPS on Walter's bike.  SJ had made it to 5,409m (17,746 ft) ... a new world record.



But we weren't finished with her yet - and SJ wasnt finished with the mountain.  It had been a struggle to get to that point but we told SJ she must go on ... and that the path gets easier from here.  She bravely steeled herself and continued the ride, led by Lukas M, with Walter operating the helmet cam unit right behind SJ ... It got colder and colder as we rose and the snow over our intended path got thicker and thicker ... but SJ continued on.  By the time we all stopped, SJ had reached 5,903m (19,367 ft)  ... she hadnt just beaten the world record, she had humiliated it.  Crushed it.  By 517 metres !




Congratulations to Sherri-Jo Wilkins for setting a new womens world record for motorcycle altitude.  Now the boys were even more determined to get their own world record !

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

For the next week or so...

A quick note to everyone following, due to the very high satellite internet costs the guys are updating facebook only for the next week or so.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Beginning the Climb

We wanted to start the climb from Sea Level, and chose the beachfront just 2 km away from the motorcycle dealer where we were doing our final preparations ... KTM La Serena.




Monday, 5 March 2012

Underway - Husabergs are GO !!!!!

The team reunited in Santiago de Chile at the estate of Don Martyn, an English expat living and working in Chile.  There the bikes were put back together, some last minute modifications made and then the team departed, with a loaded up support truck.  The risk of bad weather on the mountain meant that our mountain specialist, Barton, proscribed a broad range of mountaineering gear to make sure we can get up that mountain in any conditions.


We are now on the road to Copiapo, the last town before we head 250 km into the Andes mountains, to find our volcano.  Barton and Lukas take some roadside refreshments:


Thursday, 1 March 2012

A week of sun ....

I flew over the Andes on my way into Santiago yesterday afternoon - Aconcagua right outside my window, and after a week of warmth and sunshine in the Andes, the snow levels are making me feel optimistic.  It is currently looking like we can get to around 6,000 metres before we hit snow.  Barton, meanwhile, has finished his packing in the US ...


Monday, 27 February 2012

Mountain Update

It's just 24 hours before the team begins departing for Santiago de Chile and the reports from people on the ground at Ojos del Salado confirm significant snow on the ground.  North Americans Don Bowie and Michael Kantor are already on the mountain, preparing for their own world record ... the largest 24 hour descent by mountain bike.  They are planning to ride down from the Summit of Ojos del Salado (6,893 m - 22,615 ft) to sea level in a day.  Currently they are acclimatising on the mountain at 5,200 metres, and reporting a lot of snow.  We are hoping to catch up with these guys in a weeks time, when we should be arriving at the mountain.  They are expecting to still be there when we arrive due to the acclimatisation schedule.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Weather

Weather is not something we pretend to be able to forecast.  Yet a study and understanding of the local weather is obviously something we need to have undertaken for an attempt of this nature.

Most attempts on Ojos del Salado, whether by foot or vehicle are undertaken in March or April.  It's the end of the southern hemisphere summer, and local unusual weather phenomena tend to be less active at that time.  Being the end of summer there is typically minimal snow coverage on the ground at that time.  Being on the edge of the Atacama Desert, it is not a region that typically experiences significant precipitation.  The Atacama desert itself is the driest place on earth.

Yet this year is different.  A regional weather phenomenon called the Bolivian Winter or Altiplano Winter has left an unusually high amount of precipitation in the Andes region.  Tourists have been stranded at Machu Pichu due to floods and mudslides.  Chilean Atacama desert towns, like Antofagasta and Calama, normally some of the driest on earth, have seen significant flooding.  San Pedro de Atacama has had to cancel its annual festival, and most areas above 3,000 metres are covered in snow ... in the middle of summer.  The Dakar race had to cancel stage 6, the stage crossing the Andes, and the stage that goes past our 4,500m base camp, due to significant snowfall.  Locals are telling us it is the worst Altiplano Winter in 15 years.



For us, it's far from ideal.  A typical Chilean summer would have been preferable, but we have a summer that has been impacted heavily by this years exceptional Altiplano Winter.  It means we need to adjust our plans.  It means we need to take mountaineering gear.  It means we are going to need studded tyres.

If all goes well, March will see the end of the Altiplano Winter and the remaining heat of summer will return to the Andes, burning away some or indeed much of the mountain snow.  But in the meantime, we have to plan for the worst.  One thing is for sure, this year's unusual weather will only make our task considerably harder.

Fortunately, we have Barton "Mountain Man" Churchill on the team, our very own in-house hard core mountaineer.  Expect to see us develop and employ some innovative tactics that merge motorcycling and mountaineering!


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Where Will We Do the Ride?


The Location - Ojos del Salado

Where is the ideal place to try and break an altitude record for motorcycles?  A read through our articles on the history of people riding high has shown that historically most high rides have been in the Himalaya.  Over the past 5-6 years, however, there has been an equally strong drive to look to South America and the Andes.  We agree with the South American logic and intend to head there for our attempt, and one mountain in particular, Ojos del Salado.

The idea of riding high has been in my head for several years.  Initially I was interested in the Indian Himalaya.  There are loads of regular roads and passes up above 5,000 metres high.  Those passes are obviously a base to attempt to ride higher, if the ground surrounding the pass is rideable.  The idea was developed further in the Pamir in 2009, when I rode a pass at 4,665 metres, but noticed much of the surrounding terrain was not particularly steep and was in fact quite gentle and rounded.

I spoke at length with Indian biker and fantastic moto photographer Mani Babbar, who had himself ridden to Marsimik La, and looking at his pics, the possibilities were clearly there to ride higher, provided the bikes had more power than they typical Indian 15 hp, 150cc carb’d bikes that rode up there.   This theory was conclusively proved by the current world record, which was a bunch of Indian guys who rode up to Marsimik La and then made their way up the hillsides another 600 metres of vertical.

But the more we looked into it and discussed it, the more the Andes made sense.  While the Andes are not as high as the Himalaya, that additional height is pretty much a moot point, since no-one is riding high enough to challenge the summits of the Andes, let alone the Himalaya.  And the Andes have one huge advantage … the slopes of the mountains are often less steep. 

The clincher for us, around June last year, was studying the assorted videos and stories of the last two world records for cars.  Both drives were in 2007, both were over 400 metres higher than any bike has ever gone, and one of the drives was in a near stock Jeep Wrangler.  Importantly, both drives were on one particular mountain … Ojos del Salado … Eyes of Salt.



Ojos del Salado is the second highest mountain in the Andes, and indeed in all of South America.  Perhaps most importantly, it is the world’s highest volcano.  Volcanoes tend not to be extremely steep, and their slopes tend to be very even, compared with regular mountains.  This is because volcanoes are formed by ash and molten lava flowing down from the top, rather than the earth violently heaving upwards, as is the case with regular mountains. Ojos del Salado will, however, not be a cakewalk.  Being a volcano, the slopes feature significant amounts of sand like ash.   There are glaciers to cross on our route; and fields of ice javelins called penitentes.  The area is remote.  The nearest town, including fuel and water, is 300 km (190 miles) away.  It’s one of the windiest areas on the planet, and even in summer temperatures can drop to -25C.  The remoteness means we must be 100% self contained, and very careful.  Injury either from accident or from altitude will spell the end of the project for at least one of us.



Despite the remoteness, it will be to Ojos del Salado that we head in less than 4 weeks time, to begin the process of acclimatisation and ultimately, to take on the world’s highest volcano itself.