The first national expeditions in the 1960’s were preceded by a complicated and extended process of preparation. Once accepted on the national team, expedition members began preparing physically for their mission, first training on domestic walls in the High Tatras, then taking on signature climbs in the Alps. The Soviet Union’s opening of the Caucasus in the 1950’s allowed Czechoslovak climbers a chance for the first time to break 5,000 meters, and claim new demanding routes in what had remained until then a little explored virgin territory for international climbers.
And outside the confines of Czechoslovakia they were making contact with international mountaineering elite. In the Alps, members trained with Raymond Lambert, who in 1952 had made it within 237 meters of summiting Everest. In 1958 in the Caucasus, the climbers crossed paths with Sir John Hunt, the leader of the successful British Everest Expedition, who, just five years earlier had placed New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay on top of the world’s largest peak.
Even in remote mountain areas, politics followed the climbers. In his book on the British Caucasus Expedition, The Red Snows, Hunt describes one meeting with these Czechoslovak climbers in the Bezingi camp: “In the afternoon… we spent some time talking to the Czechoslovakian mountaineers, who were bitter at their lack of freedom. They had to move in large groups, always with Russian instructors. They were never allowed todecide for themselves what climb they wished to do.”