Sunday, May 22, 2011

22 May - EBC

Hello all! Lots of updating to do since I've been up the mountain for 10 days without comms.....

15th May
We went up to camp 2, with the forecast good, and had a rest day there, then continued to camp 3.

The route to camp 3 up the Lhotse face is interminable, and SO hot with the sun being stronger at altitude, but since we were planning to go all the way up, we were doing it in down suits/jackets & pants...boil-in-the-bag.
The air is getting thin too - it's the last part of the route we will be doing without oxygen. So, arriving very sweaty and a bit jaded, we discover that the weather has changed and we will, in fact, be going back down to camp 2 the next morning to await another chance -so no sleeping with our oxygen mask on tonight........I don't think I've had a worse nights sleep in my life - chain-stokes breathing they call it (although probably not spelt like that), where you kind of stop breathing until the CO2 build-up has you gasping for breath. Completely harmless, but it does keep you awake.

17th May
The next day had us back down to camp 2 yet again, but with a weather window potentially pending, it was not the time to be going all the way back down to basecamp. Anyway, the thought of going all the way back through the icefall again only to return a couple of days later was not appealling, even though BC is more comfortable and has more oxygen around.
Two days later we were on again; first day for the dreaded climb back up to camp 3 on the Lhotse face; it looked like we were ahead of the game; already part way up the mountain and a 3 -4 day weather window opening up in a couple of days time.
This time at camp 3 it was very different,sleeping on O's (oxygen) made all the difference, and this time it felt more real that we might actually be going up!

18 May
The next, up day to the South Col (camp 4, 7900m) was actually pretty enjoyable for me; on oxygen, which made it a bit easier, and up the last bit of the Lhotse face before traversing over to the Geneva Spur which had some interesting scrambling, and alovely traverse to the infamous South Col.
By that stage the wind was pretty brisk and we had to rush to help hold the tent down as it was being put up by our amazing climbing Sherpas. One 5-man tent into which we all clambered, laden with down clothing and sleeping bags.
The idea is generally not to sleep at the South Col on the way up, but to rest for a few hours and set out at around 9-10pm for the summit in order to get there early the following morning, and have the luxury of the whole day to get down again in case of incident.
This , however was scuppered by a message from BC predicting a weather spike, with high winds, making a summit attempt dangerous, so we all settled down to spend a night and a day in the 'death zone'.

19th May
I have to say, it didn't feel very death-y, lounging around in a tent all day eatng snack bars and getting hot (some of us were in our underwear in the tent, it got that hot in the sun of the day).
Nervousness mounted as it came to the appointed hour, and we tried to get ready amongst mountains of down in an enclosed space. Everything on except crampons before leaving the tent for the frozen outside.
We could see a trail of lights from headtorches winding up the mountain; dammit, the crowd had caught us up and there were SO many people on the mountain that night......
So, off we went, up into the darkness, with all our efforts resting on us keeping putting one foot in front of the other, and following the person in front, step after slow step.
Too many people, really, and soooo slow, but on most of the route it was not safe to be unclipping from the rope, or, was soft snow to either side of the path that would see you overtaking a few people, only to be left puffing and panting with the effort as the re-took you.
Lots of standing stoically waiting for those in front to overcome the frequent small difficulties of rocky scrambles or awkward parts. Toes and fingers getting cold, and huge icicles formong from our oxygen masks.
Step by slow step into the night as the sky began to lighten into dawn, with its's vertiginous views across the Tibetan plateau far below to one side, and the familiar mountains of Nepal the other - all dwarfed by the giant we were clinging to.
I knew as we approached the South summit that it was close, but found it hard to believe there could be more. The South summit is a snowwy dome, and the other side it dips slightly, and up soars the true summit ridge, with it's famous Hillary step, and a series of rocky parts and snowy parts to summit itself.
The entertainment of the Hilary step gives way to the last slow trudge up snow, until finally the mountain runs out, and a pile of prayer flags fluttering in the wind marks the top of the world, and the ground plunges northwards into void.
A stiff wind, and temperatures of around -25 to -30 ensure a short stay on the summit (along with the knowledge of a long way down) - around 20 minutes for me, it was lovely that Tim wasa there when I arrived, and Susan arrived just before I left, so at least some of the team were together on the summit.
And that's it! Down was much quicker than up, obviously, but knowing we were tired and apt to make mistakes made us very wary, so we slept at the South Col again, then camp 2, and today saw us through the icefall back to basecamp, and so very, very pleased to be down safely.

Monday, May 09, 2011

9th May - EBC

Well, still here at BC, enjoying resting up, and looking forward to our next, and, we hope, final foray onto the mountain.
We've been sorting out last bits of kit, getting rid of every superfluous oz, and looking up at the mountains around us.
It isn't possible to see Everest itself from basecamp, just the first part of the Khumbu icefall sparkling raggedly white and blue in the sunshine, stripped of it's awe a little by familiarity.

Every so often we hear rock-falls around us, but here on the moraine we are safe.

We've had sessions on oxygen masks and how all that kit works, and, indeed, they are the same as I've used before, as well as Dr Abi going through the emergency medical kit that we will all be carrying to the summit with us.

Last minute adjustments of climbing gear continue; a rearranged knot to stop a carabina sliding round the rope, loose ends trimmed and scorched to stop them fraying, bits not used left behind - and our pockets filled with handy bits and bobs from boiled sweets to keep the mouth moist in the dry air, to lip salves attached to strings to keep handy around the neck.

We are certainly as ready as we're going to be, and each of us has our own private thoughts to mull over with so much time on our hands.

There's a bit of a game with the other teams as nobody wants anybody else to know when they will be going - it's best to have as few other people on the mountain as possible - but we're all working off the same forecasts, so it can get down to bluff & double-bluff.

For that reason, I'll not be telling you when we go up, but there'll be no more posts for several days when we do...wish us luck!!!

Friday, May 06, 2011

6th May EBC

We have returned from our second rotation on the mountain. From bascecamp up through the icefall directly to camp 2 - a long and hot day, followed by a rest day at camp 2 then up the Lhotse face on fixed ropes to camp 3.
Again this is was VERY hot. Icy in places, but a decent covering of snow meant that it was not too difficult, just steep and so very, very hot with the snow all around reflecting back at us. Dehydration is a very real problem, and the next time up we'll be in all our down layers, so we will be leaving super-early to get up before the sun starts frying us.
We stopped just in sight of the camp 3 tents, to sit and enjoy the view before heading back down to camp 2 for the night, acclimatization runs complete. Now we are just waiting for a good weather window, where the approaching monsoon winds push the jet-stream from the mountain to give the calm, clear conditions that we need for our summit bid.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

30 Apr - Back at Everest Basecamp

Well, we're back from our sourjourn on the mountain.

The first day was our first time up the icefall; as series of ropes to be clipped and ladders to be negotiated across crevasses and around seracs up to camp 1.

The glacier evens off to camp 1 which we stayed at for 2 nights, the day spent reading and lazing in progressively hotter tents, while it was too windy to leave the doors open without being covered in spindrift, which actually became welcome as the afternoon progressed, and myself and Susan who I was sharing with were down to our underwear and the tiny ice ice particles on our skin were both shocking and refreshing.

The important thing is to avoid dehydration, so we were melting snow on our little gas stove much of the time, and, in the evening trying to heat up boil-in-the-bag meals which are never more than lukewarm, as the water boils at lower temperatures high up.

The following day, the sun hit the trail early and we found ourselves slogging up the shallow-angled glacier to camp 2 with the blazing sun reflected onto us by the snow-bowl of the Western Cwm.

Camp 2 is pretty luxurious for over 6400m; we have a cook stationed there, so we don't have to spend hours melting snow or cooking and can rehydrate with ease.

We also have a mess-tent with a table fashioned from rocks, with a tarpaulin lashed round it, and similar for seating, but very comfortable given the circumstances!

We had planned to stay there for 2 nights, perhaps climbing some of the way up the Lhotste face towards camp 3, but the next morning saw us hurrying down the hill in the teeth of rumours of bad weather coming in for several days; much better to be stranded at basecamp than higher up.

Down through the icefall was hot, hot, hot, and even though it was much quicker down than up, we arrived back at BC pretty bushed, but in time for lunch.

We are all delighted at the effect of our acclimatization, meaning that it is no longer the long puff-&-pant getting between our tents and the mess-tent that it was, and our bodies are adapting as they should. After great night's sleep, interrupted only by the numerous avalanches all around which sound perilously close, but are in fact a way away, we're all in good spirits and looking forward to a couple of rest days before going up the mountain again....

Sunday, April 24, 2011

23 Apr - EBC

Today everyone woke in high spirits, looking forward to finally getting to basecamp, and settling in. The long walk over the morrain ended in bad weather, so the massive sea of ice looked flat and uninviting, and the little yellow tents looked pretty insubstantial and chilly.

Camp itself was a welcome site, with the luxury of a heated mess-tent ( a gas heater beneath the table) which banished the misery of cold feet every evening, and proper plastic chairs. Most welcome as this will be the place we come tyo recover after our forays higher on the mountain.

The camp is actually on the glacier, though the ground is covered with rocks and gravel, it's easy to slip and expose the white ice underneath.

Tomorrow is a day for sorting out the kit that was sent straight to bacecamp, and the day after we will venture out for a play on the icefall to get our ladder-crossing technique perfected.

After that we will be up to camp 1 for 2 nights then, depending on how we are feeling altitude-wise, up to Camp2 for a night before coming down to recover.

21 Apr - Kongma La

We camped by the lakes below the Kongma La pass at around 5400m, ready to go up Pokalde the next day.
The lakes were frozen to around 5 inches thick and covered with snow; perfect for snow-graffiti!
The night drew cold and the familiar dual discomforts of cold feet and sore back from sitting on stools drove us all to our cosy sleeping bags early. The moon not yet up revealed a sky so packed with stars that there did not seem to be empty spaces between the familiar constellations, and the milky way flung like from horizon to jagged horizon.
Pokalde is basically a big pile of steepy dipping schist, which, after the initial snowfields proved to be a dusty slog up variously loose rock shining silvery in the sun , and gullies full of mica dust which covered our clothing like slightly glam glitter, but probabaly didn't do too much good to the lungs. The top required us to fix a rope, as it was a bit of an exposed scramble, falling away literally km's on all sides.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

20th Apr - Kongma La

Well, after a lovely 2 days rest at Dingboche, we ascended towards the Kongma La pass, only to be caught in a bit of a snowstorm. We camped by a lake, but no views!

Fortunately, the morning dawned blue skied and we continued up to our high camp, where I'm writing this. A stunning spot with views of Ama Dablam and Lhotse to name but a few.

Tommorrow we will nip up Pokalde and camp here for a second night, at aroun 5550m, which is higher than basecamp.

We're all itching toi get there now, even though we've bumped into some dubious characters on their way there who we will be trying to avoid at all costs on the mountain.

Monday, April 18, 2011

18th April - Dingboche

Well, we came over the Cho La pass in beautiful weather to stunning views all round. The glacier was a bit tricky for the porters but with extra poles and Chris (one of the team) cutting a few steps and a bit of load-slidding we all managed to get safely over to drop back into the Khumbu valley by the afternoon. It was bizzare to be back on the main trail with it's many, many trekkers. We were actually going in the opposite direction to most of them as they headed to basecamp as the culmination of their trek; we will be camping below another high pass and doing a little peak called Pokalde on the way for extra acclimatization. Today is a lovely rest day, spent here in the internet cafe and in the bakery for some rather lovely cakes to make a nice change from the predominantly egg-based diet that we have been enjoying up to now. And then there's the yak burgers at the lodge.......mmmmmmm. Our last lodge; it's all tent's from tomorrow on in.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

13 April - Tagnag

Up on Nobby's view yesterday, on a day walk from Gokyo. Good acclimatiozation at 5500m, but unfortunately no views. On a clear day these are spectacular, but not for us!
This morning we dropped slightly in a 'rest' day; over the huge glacier covered in rocks looking more like apocalyptical carnage than the pristine white ice of the glaciers higher up.

12 April - Gokyo

We camped at the lake last night on the way to Renjo La. A lovely frozen lake with a soft coarse sand beach.
The cook tent is astonishing, everything on the ground, half the kerosene stoves not working, and yet the most delicious food being produced.
The following morning a leisurely start, with around 500m of ascent up to the pass with stunning views of both valleys, but Everest itself in cloud.
The pass is at around 5300m - the same as Basecamp. Our idea is to be well acclimatized by the time we get to BC rather than (as other groups tend to do) spend 9 or 10 days getting to BC, then sit there feeling grim for a few days before maybe descending to do a further small peak.
We should arrive at BC good to go straight up to camp 1 and sleep there, and maybe even touch camp 2.

12 April - Gokyo

We camped at the lake last night on the way to Renjo La. A lovely frozen lake with a soft coarse sand beach.
The cook tent is astonishing, everything on the ground, half the kerosene stoves not working, and yet the most delicious food being produced.
The following morning a leisurely start, with around 500m of ascent up to the pass with stunning views of both valleys, but Everest itself in cloud.
The pass is at around 5300m - the same as Basecamp. Our idea is to be well acclimatized by the time we get to BC rather than (as other groups tend to do) spend 9 or 10 days getting to BC, then sit there feeling grim for a few days before maybe descending to do a further small peak.
We should arrive at BC good to go straight up to camp 1 and sleep there, and maybe even touch camp 2.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

10 April - Arya

We continued up the side valley to a tiny place called Arya. The valley has become drier and bleaker as as we progressed. It has it’s own harsh beauty, with dry stone walls and tiny stone-built shacks, and the dusty earth peppered with rocks and th odd mani stone. We seem to be the only trekkers in the valley – people only come to go over the Renjo La pass like us, and they are few, hence the accommodation becoming more and more basic. We’ll be in tents tomorrow. Yesterday we wandered further up the valley towards the Cho la pass into Tibet as a bit of acclimatization. This is well off the beaten track as it is past the turn-off for the renjo La, and the only company we had were yaks nibbling at the thin short vegetation and a solitary trader making his way back down from Tibet, heavy load on his back, and in his hand dangling a spool; spinning wool as he walked. Today we have another aclimatization day, and tomorrow we will be moving up to camp just below the Renjo La pass to give us a good slieeping altitude gain, befor e going over the pass the next day and dropping down into Gokyo with it’s lakes and teahouses.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

7th April; - Rest Day at Thame

This morning we walked up to the monastery above Thame where we’d arranged to have an expedition puja ceremony (blessing) by the local monks. The room in which it took place was a riot of colour; painted cieling, painted walls, hangings, effigies of buddha, photographs of important monks, flowers, candles.......The whole of the wall behind the monks was made up of little painted boxes, each containing an incantation. Presumably the appropriate one was chosen for our trip, and as we sat round on the floor, four monks in their burgundy robes, one topped off by a matching puffa jacket, began to chant. After a while of this chanting, one of those wonderfully evocative horns was blown, and the instruments were introduced; a pair of carved cymbals with semi-hemispherical middle sections, played horizontally, and a large, brightly-painted circular double-skinned drum that hung from the cieling producing a deep, beautifal cadenced sound. The result s were amazing; kind of tuneful, yet atonal, slightly soporific rhythmic and soothing all in one. This continued for about half an our, so I guess we got well & truely blessed, then the head monk (who looked well-hard, a bit like Bullet Proof Monk in th movie), blessed the kharta (scarves) we’d previously been given, along with, in my case, a lucky charm I’d been given by a friend before I left. That afternoon we went along to a small village nearby where a local artist lived in pretty basic style. He’d been caught out on a pass trading with Tibet and had been trapped in a snow-hole for four days wrapped only on the blankets he’d come to trade. He emerged with terrible frost-bite in his hands and feet. After a year in hospital he is left with stumps for all 4, but he’s learned to paint the most beautiful pictures; scenes of the valley and buddhist symbols. Tomorrow, we will be moving upwards again.......

5th-6th April - To Thame

6th April – to Thame

We’ve been here less than a week and it already feels like ages. The routine of early wake-up, followed by packing the bags so the porters can get off with them early, breakfast, walk, tea, walk, eat, walk, eat, sleep is becoming familiar again.

Later we will be camping, but for the next few days we will be staying in the ubiquitous tea-houses; stone-built lodges that are dotted along the trails with imaginative names like ‘Everest View, ‘Valley View’ & ‘Sunshine Lodge’.

We left the main Khumbu valley yesterday, and headed up the thame Valley. The usual bustle of yaks with their drivers & porters carrying unfeasibly large loads of anything from bottled gas to eggs, chickens, pringles or coke in wicker baskets stacked high above their heads has fallen away and we’re in a much less well-trodden valley with more in the way of agriculture, and even a yak nursery.

It seems to be potato planting season, and the little walled fields are now all turned brown earth. We’ve seen a family of 4 witha team of 2 yaks ploughing, 2 potato-droppers and a stamper-inner. These are the lucky ones; we’ve also seen lone, bent old women in their traditional skirts creeping round their suddenly enormous-looking plots, bending and reaching slowly, one potato at a time to fill it.

The weather has fallen into apattern of glorious sunshine in the mornings , clouding over in the afternoons with usually a little snow; and cold! Also dry, despite the frequent rain & snow. I’m told that here the snowfall doesn’t melt, but simply sublimatres into the thirsty air and dissappears in a matter of hours.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Monday 4th April

Well, we just made it to Namche Bazarre as the snow started.....
The flight in was as spectacular as ever, and the trail pretty empty; it's not optimum trekking weather at this time of year, so it's nice and quiet.

We gained a bit of elevation today, so we'll be staying at a lodge a bit higher than we are now for a couple of days get our bodies used to the altitude, then we'll be going off up the Thame valley for a bit of trekking to higher elevations.

I doubt I'll be able to update this from there, but I'll see what I can do. Anyway, nothing exciting is really happening yet - just a normal trekking holiday!

I'll try to put up some photos next time.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

2 April

Arrived in Kathmandu yesterday evening and got ourselves installed into a nice little hotel near enough to the centre to walk in. Today will be all about those last-minute purchases, so we'll take ourselves off to Shona's, which is a bit of a tradition before any expedition, it being an Aladin's cave of kit. Stuff is crammed into every piece of wall and floorspace of a tiny shop in the Thamel district of Ktm. Here you could kit out anything from a 2 week trek to an everest summit; some of the kit is even genuine (and just as costly as at home). For me, though it will be just one or two bits and pieces. We'll be trying for the first flight to Lukla in the morning. I just wish I hadn't seen that '10 Most Dangerous Airport's in the World' programme on TV. I think Lukla was about number 2. Hmmm

Friday, March 25, 2011

Here's a map of the complete route from Lukla, which is where we fly into the Khumbu valley. We'll have a good couple of weeks acclimatizing before we even get to Basecamp, in the Khumbu & a couple of it's neighbouring valleys.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

...before I go

In April/May of this year I will be joining a small expedition embarking on an attempt to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. We should have reasonable have internet access at Basecamp, so I will endeavour to keep you posted on our progress up (and down!) the mountain.

I'll be raising money for the two deserving charities;, which campaigns against all forms of bonded labour & human trafficking, and SightSavers who cure and prevent thousands of cases of blindness in developing countries every year (see links on this page for more information).

Several people have expressed a wish to donate to me personally to help out with kit & climbing permits, etc., which is, of course, fantastically welcome and gratefully accepted. If I get enough, I'm considering getting myself some of those spikey shoes and maybe an extra wooly for summit-day.

All donations can be made using the 'Donate' button on this page. Just write down who you want it to go to (you can even split it if you like) in the 'Purpose' box.

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about what the whole Everest-climbing thing entails, have a look The Route link on this page; it may help to answer my least favorite question of "is it a climb, or do you just walk up?"

Weeeeeell, if you take a look you will discover that it's not quite as straightforward as that....