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Ala Archa 2018

By AK Guest
15, Feb, 2019

With the help of the Alpkit Foundation, a team of Sheffield University students headed to Kyrgyzstan to study the effects of climate change on their glaciers

Written by Sam Gillan

Ala Archa 2018 was a four week expedition to a remote valley in the Tian Shan Mountain range of Northern Kyrgyzstan. The team was formed of five University of Sheffield Students, and aimed to investigate how climate change is affecting glaciers in the region. Setting up a basecamp at the foot of 3 large glaciers at an altitude of 3200m, we spent our time collecting a range of measurements on the surrounding glaciers, as well as having a generally epic time trekking across glacial scree slopes, and climbing new routes on (chossy) rock faces! We battled changeable and often extreme conditions, and faced the challenge of being completely self-sufficient for the entire period, meaning we carried over 150kg of equipment and food up the valley! It was an awesome experience and the Alpkit Foundation was instrumental for us as it helped us buy two tents that served us greatly!

Our Expedition was born from a desire to build a bigger project around our final year university dissertations. As two Geography students, climbers and general outdoor enthusiasts, Alex and I share the same passion for adventure! We put our heads together in late 2017 to plan a research project in areas we were both really interested in (Glaciology and Central Asia) and a region that had seen little field-work done before (Northern Kyrgyzstan). Central Asia is one of the world’s most threatened regions to climate change, with a heightened pressure due to the combination of geopolitical tensions over cross-border water resources and some of the world’s fastest observed glacial retreat rates. With a current scientific focus on furthering understandings of how climate change is affecting glaciers there, we decided to contribute to this developing field of research.


We planned the expedition over our second year at University - applying for grants and sponsorship from several outdoor companies (including the brilliant Alpkit Foundation). This took quite a lot of time but was essential for raising the funds needed for such a big trip! We also had to get a team together to help us out, so we promoted the trip across the University, and eventually sourced three psyched people from within the depths of the University Mountaineering Club – (big thanks to Calum Sowden, Louise Reddy & Tom Drysdale). We also developed a relationship with students and staff from the American University of Central Asia, Bishkek, as we wanted to share our expedition experience and findings with local people. We planned an “Educational Week” where we invited 4 local students up to our basecamp during the last week of the expedition. This was a fantastic aspect of the expedition and allowed us to have a truly inter-cultural experience where we learnt so much more about the country and its people, making friendships and sharing our expedition experience with people who may not have had the chance to explore the mountains on their own doorstep.

With the help of our University and Sheffield-based film-maker James Parsons, we were able to go one step further and make a film which tells the story of the expedition perfectly. I hope you enjoy watching it and again thank you to Alpkit for your support! “Go nice places and do good things” sums up how this expedition felt for everyone involved!

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