How to plan an expedition - part 1

Posted by BMC on 28/03/2002

Whether you are considering a ‘last great problem’ or a relatively straightforward trek, if you are thinking about your first visit to the greater ranges you would be wise to do so having first accumulated a solid base of mountaineering and Alpine experience.

Presuming you have the necessary previous experience, the first problem is finding a suitable objective. The best way to approach this is to carefully consider different areas in which you wish to travel or climb. It would be wise to select an area which does not pose too many problems so that without previous expedition experience you are likely to succeed. For example, some valleys in Nepal have very good access with relatively straightforward approaches to the peaks, whereas remote Karakoram peaks and passes have proved completely elusive to inexperienced groups.  Also consider the likely weather and conditions. Alaska and Patagonia can produce conditions as extreme as their positions relative to each other. Do not make your first trip to the greater ranges your last.

Fortunately mountaineers have a habit of recording their explorations so there is a vast amount of information available to would be expeditioners. Apart from the obvious British titles, some of the European magazines are worth consulting. However, the best sources of information are the various Journals. The American Alpine Journal tries to give a comprehensive worldwide summary and can be considered definitive for South America; the Canadian Alpine Journal is comprehensive for Arctic North America; our own Alpine Club’s Journal (The Alpine Journal) is an excellent general reference and, of course, the Himalayan Journal and Indian Mountaineer are very good for the Himalaya. You can try contacting contributors to the various Journals for detailed information, either via the Journal Editor or the Club of which they may themselves be members.

Past expedition reports can be an excellent source of information. Copies of British expedition reports are held in the Royal Geographical Society’s Map Room and in the Alpine Club Library, which is probably the best reference source in the world. Other useful collections can be found at the Graham Brown Memorial Library, Fell and Rock Climbing Club Library, Yorkshire Ramblers’ Club Library and the Alan Rouse Memorial Library. Your local library may have one or two useful reference books as the number of picture type guidebooks increase and, of course, you can order other books. Also, from time to time traditional style guidebooks are produced for areas such as the Rwenzori in Africa and other out of the way locations. West Col and Cicerone Press produce overseas guides in Britain and Cordee import and distribute foreign guidebooks. Various publishers produce a wide range of trekking and travel guides.

The Alpine Club has an online Himalayan index which can produce all known references to a given Himalayan peak. Also in recent years, the Alpine Club has organised an annual symposium on climbing in the greater ranges. These tend to concentrate on specific mountain areas each year but the proceedings from the first symposium, which covered general problems, are available in a small book which contains some excellent advice.

All the Himalayan countries, and to a lesser extent most other developing countries, have rules and regulations governing access to their mountains. It is essential that you obtain the latest up to date regulations and adhere to them no matter how frustrating they may seem at times. If you think dealing with bureaucracy will be a problem for you, choose instead an area with unrestricted access (such as exists in North America). Check with the appropriate Embassy or High Commission for the current situation and rules and regulations.

The Expedition Advisory Centre (based at the RGS) produces a wide range of detailed information and runs a programme of lectures and symposia - amongst their publications is a directory of grant giving organisations. Depending on your circumstances and the nature of the trip you may be eligible for various grants (eg. the Alison Chadwick Memorial Fund for women climbers, the Nick Estcourt Award for teams tackling difficult peaks etc.) but the two main bodies are the Mount Everest Foundation and the BMC. The basic criteria for these grants are that you are attempting first or first British ascents, or routes in a new style, and that you have the necessary experience to stand a reasonable chance of success.  The Alpine Ski Club also awards grants for ski mountaineering and ski touring, the Kenneth Smith Scholarship and the Memorial Adventure Fund. Both awards are open to ski mountaineers and tourers, particularly young participants.

It is also essential that you consider likely medical problems. The UIAA Medicine Data Centre (housed at the BMC) produces a range of excellent information sheets covering problems concerned with acclimatisation, cold injury etc. Information on immunisation is available from the the National Travel Health Network & Centre at the London Hospital for Tropical Diseases, as well as commercial companies such as MASTA; for general advice consult your GP.

If you have problems after doing all your initial research, you can always contact us for advice or an opinion. We also keep copies of reports from BMC supported expeditions and some other reference works. The BMC also provides comprehensive and competitive insurance packages to cover all climbing, hill walking and mountaineering activity.

Opportunities for inexpensive travel and access to unclimbed peaks and unexplored areas have never been greater. Careful preparation, good teamwork and previous experience help to ensure successful and enjoyable expeditions. In your enthusiasm to travel and climb in the greater ranges do not neglect basic principles such as an environmentally aware approach and show respect for, and give fair treatment to local people. It has been said many times before but it is worth finishing with “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs, change no one but yourself.”

Read part two here

Information about BMC support for expeditions 

Further Information

The Mountain Travellers Handbook by Paul Deegan - A wealth of advice on every aspect of mountain travel and expedition logistics, and an essential reference for anyone engaging in this activity. Copies are available from good outdoor stores or direct from the BMC Shop.

Expedition Planners Handbook & Directory - published every few years by the EAC, this contains up to date contacts for pretty much everywhere!

Expedition Advisory Centre
Expedition Advisory Centre
1 Kensington Gore
London SW7 2AR
Tel: 020 7591 3030

Royal Geographical Society - see Expedition Advisory Centre

Guidebooks and Maps

West Col Productions
Copse House
Goring Heath
Berkshire RG8 9AA
Tel: 01491 681 284
Book publisher

2 Police Square
Cumbria LA7 7PX
Tel: 01539 562 069
Book publisher, distributor and online retailer

3a De Montfort Street
Leicester LE1 7HD
Tel: 0116 254 3579
Book and map publisher, distributor and online retailer

12-14 Long Acre
London WC2 9LP
Tel: 020 7836 1321
Book and map retailer - shops in London and Bristol

The Map Shop
15 High Street
Upton on Severn
Worcestshire WR8 0HJ
Tel: 01684 593146
Map retailer

Latitude Maps & Globes
27-28 The Service Road
Potters Bar
Hertfordshire EN6 2HW
Tel: 01707 663090
Map retailer

Omni Resources
1004 South Mebane Street
PO Box 2096, Burlington
NC 27216-2096 USA
Tel: +1 336 227 8300
Omni hold a massive stock of Russian military, FBI and CIA maps that often provide the only cartographical coverage of more remote destinations


Alpine Club Library (Including Himalayan Index)
55 Charlotte Road
London EC2A 3QF
Tel: 020 7613 0745

Graham Brown Memorial Library
National Library of Scotland
George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1EW
Tel: 0131 623 3700

Fell and Rock Club Library
Lancaster University Library
Lancaster LA1 4YH
Tel: 01524 592516

Yorkshire Ramblers Club Library
Leeds Central Library
Municipal Buildings
Calverley Street
Leeds LS1 3AB
Tel: 0113 247 6016 - Leisure & Culture section

Alan Rouse Memorial Library
Sheffield City Library
Surrey Street
Sheffield S1 1XZ
Tel: 0114 273 4711

British Library Map Library (for reference only)
The British Library
St. Pancras
96 Euston Road 
London NW1 2DB
Tel: 020 7412 7702

Medical / Logistics

UIAA Mountain Medicine Centre

National Travel Health Network and Centre
Hospital for Tropical Diseases
Mortimer Market Centre
Capper Street
London WC1E 6JB 
020 7950 7799 - Advice line for travellers

MASTA (Medical Advice Service for Travellers)
Moorfield Road
Leeds  LS19 7BN

Expedition Barrels

J Boyd-Laurie & Son
282 Cutler Heights Lane
Bradford BD4 9HU
Tel: 01274 474335
New 60 and 120 litre plastic barrels

White Water Consultancy International Ltd
West Wales SA33 6BE
Tel: 01267 223555
30 and 60 litre plastic barrels and carrying harnesses

Permits and Regulations

Indian Mountaineering Federation
6 Benito Juarez Road
Anand Niketan
New Delhi 110021
Tel: +91 11 24111211

Pakistan High Commission
34-36 Lowndes Square
London SW1X 9JN
Tel: 020 7664 9200

Nepal Mountaineering Association (for trekking peaks)
PO Box 1435
Tel: +977 143 45 25

Nepal Ministry of Culture, Tourism & Civil Aviation (for mountaineering peaks)
Mountaineering Division
Singha Durbar
Tel: +977 124 60 24

Chinese Mountaineering Association
9 Tiyughan Road
PostCode 100763
Tel: +86 10671 23 796



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