Getting There

Early international expeditions to Hindu Kush, Karakoram or the Himalaya were made by truck. The routes, which averaged about 12,000 kilometers each way, led mountaineers through the Soviet Union, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal. The fastest trip to Manaslu took 13 days, while the trip back from Everest in 1987 took over 70 days. Due to political unrest in Iran, Cervinka and a fellow driver waited in vain in Islamabad for 40 days to receive a transit visa. At the end, Cervinka ended up flying home, while his partner loaded the truck onto a ship headed to Poland.

Due to time constraints and pressures to return to their jobs, climbers from other Western countries often traveled by air. For the Czechoslovaks who largely traveled by land due to constant financial constraints, time was not an issue. Once members had secured permission for extended leave from their employers, who were state-owned enterprises, they were free of job-related pressures to return home quickly.

On the way, trucks had to negotiate challenging terrains in both remote regions and in crowded cities. Elephants, local buses and alternative forms of transport on the roads in India created particular hazards. Small towns were especially difficult because of crowded streets and various events taking place such as weddings and funerals. During the 1979 expedition to Manaslu the truck stalled in a deep river in India. In 1976, due to a late start from the Himalaya the climbers were caught in the Monsoon season. Luckily their Tatra could make deep-water crossings so the team was able to pass through overflowing rivers and even help other cars in distress.

On some expeditions, trucks were secured from the Czechoslovak military and adapted for the expedition’s purposes, such as the Tatra that carried mountaineers, equipment and supplies to Tirich Mir in 1967. This vehicle was fitted with a special net for capturing specimens along route to further scientific research carried out during the expedition. In addition to problems with traffic, border crossings and difficult terrains, technical troubles often hounded expeditions. A legendary troublemaker in the annals of expedition vehicles was the V3S used for the Haramosh expedition. The truck had to have its piston replaced shortly after it left Olomouc, before leaving Czechoslovak territory. Problems persisted throughout the arduous route to and from the Karakorum, and the expedition members had to replace the piston two more times.