Monday, 06 June 2011 15:02 | Written by Gina Waggott |
Getting four men on the summit of Everest was the culmination of a huge team effort. From fighting Chinese bureaucracy to receiving a hot meal four miles high - we'd like to acknowledge and thank those who made the Iceland Everest expedition possible.
No surprise that this reads like credits of an action movie - the time, effort and organisation that went into the trip was of blockbuster proportions. The people we would like to thank are:
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, for his patronage and support
The Explorer's Club - for entrusting us with their famous flag
Our main sponsors: Malcolm Walker and Iceland Foods, Richard Walker and Bywater Properties
David Hempleman-Adams, Nicky Webster and Jan Meek of Cold Climate Expeditions - the expedition leader and his organisational team in the UK
Nga Temba and Rinchen Sherpa of South Asia Trekking - the logistical organisers
Louise Fallows of Iceland Foods - for organising many elements of the expedition before we had even left the country
Steven Walker and loxtonfoodco for devising and producing our unique Expedition Nutrition, and Individual Restaurant Company for providing a complementary range of delicacies and fine wines
Chris Bates - our executive chef and high altitude foodie
Ben Goodwin, Kishor Rimal and Ujjal Shrestha of DHL for so efficiently transporting all our kit and supplies from the UK to Kathmandu
Dr George Rodway and his medical team - for being our constant medic and for conducting important research in the name of high-altitude science
Our team of Climbing Sherpas, Porters, and kitchen staff - for keeping us healthy and happy all the way to the top
Our weather men - Kent Moore, Clive Bailey, Javier Corripio and their teams for their invaluable forecasting that meant we grabbed the season's only summit window
William Gray - our 'gopher' and man in Kathmandu
Keith Hann - Blog editor and writer, press release creator and Facebook aficionado on behalf of Malcolm and the Expedition - thank you!
Louise Johncox, Angie Cooper and Sunday Times's Lucy Carrington - for being our media link from the mountain to the press on the outside world
Finally, thank you to all our families, friends and colleagues who were with us every step of the way
There's one mountain left to climb, though - and that's to raise our target for Alzheimers Research UK. We are grateful for any donations or support to this most worthy cause.
Sunday, 22 May 2011 14:18 | Written by Gina Waggott |
After our night of radio silence, we breathed sighs of blessed relief upon hearing voices crackling over the radio. It was 6am, and they were at 8750 metres – a stone’s throw from the summit of Everest.
Three team members weren’t with them. Charles Hobhouse and George Rodway were taken ill during their summit attempts and had to abandon their ascent. Rikki Hunt began climbing up from Camp Three but decided “it didn’t feel right”, and opted not to continue. They all made the right decision: the mountain is littered with the bodies of those who didn’t turn around when they should. They all arrived back at Advanced Base Camp (ABC) one by one – exhausted, dehydrated, but safe.
This left only four. Then a Sherpa came on the radio. Mingma translated – they were on the summit! Rodney Hogg, Graham Duff, and Justin Packshaw had all made it by 06:55am on a beautiful, windless day. We went outside to peer at the top of the world, three miles above us. Everest’s summit is only the size of a dining table: it was amazing to think that they were up there. We were delighted, not knowing that the next day and night would be even more stressful than the last.
Where was David? Then we heard him: “I’m on the summit! I’m on the summit!” Fantastic.
David Hempleman-Adams unfurls the Iceland Foods flag at the summit
David Hempleman-Adams and Nga Temba on the summit of Everest, 21 May 2011
Apparently he had problems with his oxygen set that had delayed him, but he’d done it too (for the second time in his life) with minutes to spare before our strict turnaround time. We all breathed a sigh of relief, but also offered them a caveat: the wind was forecast to increase rapidly to dangerous levels, and that they should go down – now.
The original plan – which sounded like a good idea in the warmth and comfort of the mess tent – was for the team to descend to at least Camp Two, or the even safer North Col if they felt strong enough. The problem is, you can never underestimate how tired a climber is after the summit, which is technically only halfway to success. You’ve got to get down alive. We were painfully aware that most accidents and fatalities happen on the way down. Consequently, we didn’t want to celebrate our success until all team members were back safe at ABC. This turned out to be a good decision.
“I can’t go any further”, we heard David transmit back to us. “I’m exhausted, and my oxygen is playing up”. He was at 8300m – still in the “death zone”, where any extended stay is extremely detrimental … worse if you’re tired. He was going to stay there overnight. We begged him to try and get to Camp Two – at a relatively safer 7700m, but he, Nga Temba and two other Sherpas just didn’t have the energy. We could do nothing but cross our fingers and wait.
Meanwhile, we heard that Justin and Duffy had managed to get to Camp Two, and had decided that it had to be their final destination for that night. After resting, they were horrified to discover that the camp had been stripped prematurely and that there was no food, sleeping mats, water or oxygen. Duffy had broken both his crampons, so he was unable to descend the ropes. Even if they felt well enough, it was now too late, too dark and too dangerous to get down further. What to do?
Graham tried to reassure them via radio, but we felt helpless. We had David in danger, and although survival is much easier at 7700m, it was still going to be a very uncomfortable night for them. Our fittest Sherpa had frostbite and sending him up in the dark and wind might send him to his death. We had to tell them to hang on until morning, when we could send more support. The only problem for all concerned was that the wind was forecast to spike up to 100km/h the next day.
Rod, meanwhile, had managed to get to the North Col – we were very thankful he did. It was the only wink of light at a seemingly endless tunnel of uncertainty. Another sleepless night ensued. When he was asleep, poor Graham was having nightmares about the team. I was trying to film some of the radio drama. In the back of our minds, we wondered if this was going to be the fun DVD we were all taking home, or evidence in an inquest…
The winds were howling around camp the next morning, which didn’t make us feel much better. Our spirits lifted after we heard all four climbers were reasonably well, and after we sent some more Sherpa support, they attempted a descent in the high winds. Rod arrived first – looking shattered but pleased, as he should be. David managed to descend to the North Col, and met Justin and Duffy. The end was in sight!
They all arrived, completely exhausted but delighted. I was never so pleased to have three tired, smelly men clad in down stumbling towards me for a hug. Safe at last.
Tomorrow, we’re going down to Base Ccamp. The beer has been ordered, the packing started, and we can’t wait to get to zero metres high. Preferably in the hotel Jacuzzi with some champers because now - members and Sherpas alike - we all have something to celebrate.
Saturday, 21 May 2011 14:44 | Written by Gina Waggott |
It’s been a long night here at Advanced Base Camp (ABC). At 8pm we had our last scheduled radio contact with the team members, who announced their plan to start the final slog to the summit at 9pm.
The winds were flapping around our tents and we worried: were the three weather reports accurate? It was supposed to be calm! Ulp.
The funny thing about weather here is the jet “streaks” that move around the mountain. It can be windier at ABC than at the summit, depending on where they move. It also reminded us that the height of Everest is, in fact, the cruising altitude of most jets. Now that’s scary.
The team sounded happy and energised despite the odd gust, so off they went… into a blanket radio silence for hours. “Iceland, Iceland, Iceland… this is ABC… come in please. Please? PLEASE!” Nothing. Now we were worried.
Mingma, one of our camp managers and translator, stayed awake all night shouting the above in Nepalese into the radio; Graham and I took turns in English. Still nothing.
Five hours passed, as we tried to grab sleep in fits and starts, expecting to be woken by a radio call to tell us where they bloody hell our men were. Not a sausage. I’ve been telling myself (and everyone else) that “no news is good news” on an expedition like this. I wish I believed my own hype. Was our comms gear broken? Were they too tired to talk? Had their batteries faded in the extreme cold? Or were they all wiped out in what would be the biggest accident on Everest’s history?
Turns out to be none of these – they were simply out of our radio ‘line of sight’ behind a ridge that makes up most of the summit climb. Whew. They are still up there now as dawn breaks over Tibet. The weather remains good, it looks like it’s going to be a sunny day, but oh, I wish alcohol was allowed at ABC to calm our shattered nerves…
Friday, 20 May 2011 07:50 | Written by Gina Waggott |
High altitude isn’t an environment that lends itself to races, but there are several going on under our noses. The team spent last night at a windy Camp Two. It will only get windier from midnight on the summit day, so it’s a race to hit the weather window and get back down safely.
Unfortunately most climbing teams also have the same idea, so there’s another race to stop the infamous Second Step becoming a bottleneck (where only one tired climber at a time can heave his way up). You can forget the genteel English habit of queuing patiently. If there’s an incompetent muppet (sorry, climber) above you, there’s a temptation to stand on his or her head and carry on up – crampons and all.
Finally, there’s the classic race against the body deteriorating. Above 8000m, it happens at an alarming rate. It’s why journalists love to call it the “death zone”, where survival is measured in hours rather than days. Even here at a comparatively lowly 6400m in ABC, I had to spend the night on oxygen to combat the increasing fatigue, puffiness, headaches, loss of appetite and constant panting. Not much different to how I am after a night out, some may argue - but this is different. Nobody - organisational bod or climber alike – is acclimatising any more. Each tick of the clock may as well be a starting pistol.
The trudge to gain pole position – a good spot at Camp Three – is going on right now. It’s too high (8300m) for our team to get much sleep there: they should arrive after lunchtime, hydrate and rest, then wait for sundown. Dragging their bulky gear on in the dark, off they’ll go, aiming for a dawn summit. We’ll all be awake here too, listening, watching and waiting for the results.
We’ll provide the commentary later the best we can, as we watch the twinkling of head torches snake up the mountain. Exciting, nerve-wracking, and oh so close…
Thursday, 19 May 2011 11:05 | Written by Gina Waggott |
Months of preparation, weeks of what I euphemistically call “camp living” but which Malcolm would rightly christen a “shithole”, then days of packing…now we’re hours away from the summit of Everest. Amazing.
We waved goodbye to the team yesterday as they set off for the North Col to begin their final ascent. Were they nervous? Course not – or they weren’t showing it. Meanwhile I’ve bitten my nails into non-existence, re-checked the weather a dozen times to make sure we’re not sending them into a blizzard a la Into Thin Air and made myself ill reading Dr George’s wilderness medical book on all the delightful things that can happen at extreme altitude (faecal impaction, anyone?).
Seriously though: we’re well-prepared, well-resourced, everyone is healthy and the weather has finally tipped in our favour. Graham and I remain at a rather deserted ABC where we monitor the radios, check and forward the weather to the team, email updates, and assemble an emergency medical tent should anyone have to turn back (I seriously hope not).
We’ve already had a couple of radio schedules with the team : they arrived at the North Col safely last night, and as I write, they are heading to camp two – the highest they’ll have been so far at a dizzy 7600m.
The sun is shining, the snow has melted, and we keep squinting at the summit with butterflies in our stomachs. I don’t wish I was there – but I’m delighted that maybe, just maybe, our chaps will be standing atop it in less than 48 hours.
They just better not lose the bloody Iceland banner.
Tuesday, 17 May 2011 18:18 | Written by Justin Packshaw |
Just a quickie today as all the news is good and the Tibetan Mountain Association (TMA) sent up their climbers this morning and we are off to the North Col first thing tomorrow. What a relief!
All of us excited to be getting on with it and thankfully everything seems to have coincided with a suitable weather window, so now it is really all down to what Mother Nature decides to throw at us. We have paid homage to all the local gods so fingers crossed that the wind is fair and behind us.
All going to plan, we will be making our summit bid very early on the 21st so as you are going to bed think of us grafting our way to the top of this mighty mountain; better still crack open a beer and pray to whoever that the full moon is highlighting our path. I must say on the whole I am very excited but I would be lying if I did not admit to a healthy amount of butterflies winging around - though I know from experience that these will keep me properly on my toes.
Anyway, all this work, time away and preparation has all come down to this. We are ready, very ready in fact. Phone calls have been made to homes, kit has been checked and packed, we have been paired with our Sherpas and mine is a proper dude called Jang Mu, who I have climbed with before and like a lot. Our final hope is for a decent night’s sleep tonight and that we wake up ‘strong like bulls’.
Thank you to everybody who has donated to our charities. Please keep it coming as they are all such worthy causes. I will be back on line on the 24th all going well. What an adventure this is and thank you all for getting behind me, it really has made a huge difference knowing that you are there and have been following it all. I look forward to perching up some bar somewhere with you all on return! Onwards and upwards ……………………
Monday, 16 May 2011 14:49 | Written by Justin Packshaw |
We have now been up here at Advanced Base Camp for three days waiting for the Tibetan Mountain Association (TMA) to give us a date as to when they will be sending up their climbers to put the last 600 metres of fixed rope in place, so that we can make a plan as to what we do next.
We have even suggested that we put the ropes in ourselves but this was met with indignation and a flat ‘no’! They are very proud and constantly remind us that we are here through the kindness of the Chinese Government and must toe the line. Our plan is to try and work with them and assist them where possible which seems to working thus far, otherwise I can see that we will have a major problem. Obviously, there are other teams in the same situation and we are all talking together and trying to push the TMA into getting up the mountain. All very frustrating!
Every day brings new dramas and it is rather like a daily soap in which we are all the stars. The script is colourful but underpinning it is the fact that we need to position ourselves within an ever-changing weather window and the TMA keep strong-arming the key dates; and to cap it all off, the more days that we spend at this altitude are not doing any of us any favours. You could not dream it up, eh!
Believe it or not we are all on good form though. Nothing changes in that we are all dying to achieve our aim of standing at the top of this regal piece of rock as everyone is missing home and our people and just wants to be heading back to them. We have now been here for 50 days tomorrow and are excellently acclimatised, fit and have all our high altitude camps set up so we just need these ropes fixed and the weather to hold so that we can be hot on the TMA’s tail. Tomorrow is another day, but as it stands now they are heading up on the 18th and we will move up to the North Col at the same time. We will then bump up to Camp 2, 3 and then make our summit push on consecutive days thereafter, i.e. hitting the summit on 21st with a full moon for support. This looks like it might work as our latest window shows slackish winds up to the 21st. Unfortunately, the winds pick up dramatically thereafter.
We are back to moving up the mountain as a single team which is good as it simplifies all the high altitude logistics which are a complicated affair. The other bit of good news is that Rikki has re-joined us having spent the last seven days down at Zhangmu (2000m) trying to get over his chest infection. We were worried when he went there that he would have to summit by himself. Now he has turned up he is going to be the best rested and recharged. Lucky bugger!
So there we are. Tune in tomorrow for the next instalment of ‘Everest, there is no easy way’. Final thought for Mrs P and the rugrats – io amo tutti.
Saturday, 14 May 2011 07:51 | Written by Justin Packshaw |
Well, I write this from Advanced Base Camp after a somewhat easier trek up here then the one we did three weeks ago, which had us all rolling in on our chin straps, absolutely shattered.
This time the Doc, Rod and I breezed up to Intermediate Camp in four and a half hours and were amazed at how pleasant it was. We spent the night there and were in our tents tucked up at 7pm knowing that we had twelve hours to kill – remarkably I slept for nine of them!
We set off for ABC at 8am and slowly meandered our way all the way up the East Ronbuk glacier which just seems to go on for an eternity, with false crest giving way to its older bigger brother and so on. It is more a mental struggle of keeping frustration at bay, but then that really is the story here. Interestingly, much of the snow has melted and old paths have had to be diverted higher as the old ones are now lost in glacial ponds.
We arrived to find that Team 2 were still here! They had been waiting up here for four days now but it was great to see them and they all looked remarkably well. The reason that they had not been heading up was that we are still waiting for the Tibetan Mountain Association (TMA) to finish putting the fixed ropes up. At present the ropes are in to 8300m but due to the bad weather up high they have not been able to put the remaining 600m in. Needless to say, all the teams on the mountain are now congregating here waiting to take advantage of the weather window of the 18th/19th. This is not ideal. We are totally at the hands of the TMA are what we are now concerned about is that when they eventually head up to put the ropes in they will eat into the weather window.
Hempie, the Doc and I went to a meeting with the boss of the TMA, all the other team bosses and about 30 key Sherpas. This took place in a big dome tent and started off well with everyone agreeing that they would pool weather reports first thing in the morning with the TMA in the hope that we can get their climbers up at the first possible opportunity. This agreed, one of the Western group bosses started talking of his concern about O2 bottles being stolen off the mountain at the higher camps. He then started talking rather aggressively to the Sherpas in Nepali and then it all kicked off as they thought that he was pointing the finger at them. It got very heated and ended up with everyone leaving under a dark cloud.
Two hours later all the key Sherpas were in our mess tent trying to persuade Hempie to sign a ‘well drafted’ letter to the Nepalese Tourist Association saying that the complainant should not be allowed back on the mountain. Methinks there must be some past history here! Graham said that he had never seen anything like it in all his nine trips here. It was very surreal and at 6500m more so.
So, the saga continues. We so wanted to hop through here and head straight up to the North Col and then try and bang through to the summit, this now is not going to happen. We will be here for at least two or three days and then no doubt will race up the North Col and up to Camp 2 to try and keep ahead of everyone else who will be trying to do the same thing. Bloody hell this is very frustrating. The only bit of good news is that we have now set up our Camp 3 so when the starter pistol goes we have a clear run up - that is if we make our weather window.
Thursday, 12 May 2011 05:55 | Written by Justin Packshaw |
After our first false start we are now leaving the comforts of Base Camp, or 'Camp Walker' as it is known, and starting our journey back into the bosom of this regal mountain. At last!
We have been getting conflicting messages from our weather experts but analysing all the information it appears that the slackest weather up high is over the 18th/19th and it is this window that we are now heading for.
Our aim is to not have a rest day at Advanced Base Camp and continue up the North Col and then through Camp 2 and 3 and then, God willing, hit the Summit on the 18th. Obviously, that is the 'plan' and knowing how quickly everything can change here we might need to adapt. Flexibility being key.
What we are trying not to do is to spend any more days at altitude than is totally necessary. I already have a shortfall of brain cells and I can ill afford to lose any more!
The Doc, Rod and I are feeling strong and these extra days down here have done us the world of good. We are a tight team and move well together which will help us as we get higher and everything gets more difficult.
Hempie and Co are heading up to the North Col today and are pushing for a small window before ours. It is funny being separated from them as we have all been together this whole trip. Anyway, we wish them God speed and a safe trip up and down. Our paths will cross somewhere up high where hopefully we will be able to clink a glass of fizz as they return from the summit!
So that is it, as I said before we now need to get grizzly and power our way to the crown of this big mountain. Next blog will be from ABC in two days. Thereafter it will be Gina updating news and progress as I will be slowly transforming myself into that 'smelly warrior' that one has to become to pay homage at the top of this enormous, magnificent piece of rock.
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 08:48 | Written by Justin Packshaw |
Who said that patience is not a virtue! The weather has been all over the place over the last few days with very high winds battering the mountain.
As you know most of our camp at the North Col was badly damaged by them. Thankfully Nurru, one of our Sherpas who was up there, had the presence of mind to put all our high altitude equipment (O2 masks, down suits etc) in a tent which was weighed down with our O2 cylinders so it was not blown off the skinny North Col ridge by these colossal winds!
Our forecast for a suitable window to push for the Summit appears to have slipped by 48 hours as our weather strategists have the jet stream right over the Old Girl until the weekend. Frustrating as we are very keen to get on now, however this is a waiting game now and we need to be intelligent first and enthusiastic second.
Team 1 (Hempie, Duffy and Charlie) are now at Advanced Base Camp and are going to wait there. We, Team 2, are now back at Base Camo as our Doc, George Rodway, who is one of the world’s leading experts on high altitude physiology, if not the leading expert, is adamant that it is better to wait low as the body is not deteriorating at the same rate as it is higher up. This high altitude mountaineering malarkey really is not that kind on the body I'm learning! Anyway, George is a huge resource and a very fine climber to boot - very funny too!
Weather and how we understand it is going to be the key to our success. We will more than likely make our way to ABC tomorrow.
Everyone is resigned to this game of cat and mouse even though minds are keen to get on as thoughts now are of home and loved ones. We have been on this impressive mountain for 45 days now!
Spirits are high, though. Humour is never far away and there is great trust and confidence within the team. I am sure we will weave our way through these complex weather systems as we head up topside.
Tuesday, 10 May 2011 04:00 | Written by Justin Packshaw |
We leave in a couple of hours for our journey back up the Ronbuk Glacier and leave all the trimmings of Base Camp behind us. It is time to get grizzly again.
The walk to Intermediate Camp should take us five hours and has us weaving ourselves over a never-ending mass of undulating moraines where nature has scattered a good portion of Tibet’s boulders. It is a path on LSD!
We heard last night that our camp which we set at the North Col two weeks ago has taken a battering from the recent high (100mph) winds we've had. This has come from another team who arrived at Base Camp yesterday having just come down from there. They said that several tents were blown away and others ripped to shreds. This is a bit of a concern as we have left all our high altitude stuff up there - oxygen masks, cylinders, down suits etc. There is no way of knowing how we have been affected until we get someone up there, which we will try and do today. All I can say is thank God no one was up there at the time.
Anyway, we cannot do anything from here until we know what we have lost, if anything. If we have lost stuff we will find a way around it I'm sure. Mountains, like being at sea, make one nothing if not resourceful!
Apart from that everyone is in good form. Team 1 are leaving Intermediate Camp this morning heading to Advanced Base Camp where we will meet up with them tomorrow. We have not heard from Rikki, who is recovering from his chest infection in Zhangmu. Hopefully he will be back up here in a day or two and then hot on our tail on the mountain.
Snowing now so it is going to be a chilly walk today, but I am excited to be leaving Base Camp and us getting back into the thick of it.
Sunday, 08 May 2011 00:00 | Written by Justin Packshaw |
Well, much seems to have happened in the last 24 hours as we continue to try and fatten up and repair here at Base Camp. Firstly, Malcolm and Richard Walker departed at 7am this morning on route to Kathmandu and back to Blighty.
It was very sad to see them go as they have become good friends. Both are stunning characters and have contributed enormously to the success of the expedition so far. Both came with the aim of climbing the North Col which they did in style. As Rich said 'We smashed it', and they did. Anyway, I shall miss them and am slightly green that they will be soaking in a tub at the Hyatt tonight, no doubt with a large glass of something special in hand! Much deserved, in truth.
The other bit of news is that we now know our Summit teams and timings. We have two teams of three who will follow each other up the mountain 24 hours apart. The first team is made up of Hempie, Duffy and Charlie and the second one of the Doc, Rod and me. Rikki, our last member, left this morning with the Walkers as he has been struggling with a nasty chest infection, so he is en route to Zhangmu for heavier air for a few days to try and beat it, before returning for his own summit bid.
The first lot leave Base Camp tomorrow and we'll follow them up the mountain the day after. All our weather experts have confirmed that our window looks sound.
It is mad to think that, God willing, we should have all stood on the top of this Majestic Mountain by a week tomorrow. What a thought!
So this is it. All of our efforts over the last six weeks – the acclimatising, the training, the graft and sweat; all this time away from our homes and loved ones, boils down to this next week and how this mountain and the very variable conditions around her decide to treat us. Whatever, all I know is that we have prepared excellently, we're strong and recharged and have a resourceful team around us so we can only give it our very best shot.
Personally, I'm keen to get cracking. Up, down safely and back to much missed loved ones as seven weeks in a sleeping bag is quite long enough!
I will probably be able to blog once more from Advanced Base Camp but after that Gina, our communications manager, will be posting updates from talking to us on the radio. I have also now got Malcolm’s GPS tracker on me so you will be able to see exactly where we are as we ascend into the heavens.
That is it for now. Sad to see the Walkers go but keen minds and bodies excited about getting back up high again.
Thursday, 05 May 2011 11:16 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
We are resting at Advanced Base Camp today after our ascent to the North Col on Tuesday, and are planning to descend to Base Camp in one 20 mile trek tomorrow. Here is the story of the biggest physical challenge of my life.
Tuesday 3 May
We’d planned another day of rest at Advanced Base Camp (ABC) but the morning looked bright and Richard was feeling much better – we wanted to get this over with, so decided to go for it.
Richard, myself and Alan Hinkes our guide plus Rikki Hunt and five Sherpas left at 9:15am.
We soon split into three groups with Richard powering ahead, me next followed by Rikki who I didn’t think would make it. He’s a strong and determined bugger but has had a serious hacking cough for the last two weeks which is just getting worse.
The North Col is reached by a long hike up hill from ABC to a place called “crampon point”. Here there are a few dozen of those blue plastic barrels where you can leave your crampons if you are on your way down (and planning to return) or in our case fix your crampons. We then had an hour’s trek over a snow plain to the foot of the North Col cliff. The weather can be baking hot one minute and freezing the next if the sun goes behind a cloud, so whatever you’re wearing isn’t right. You’re either cooking or frozen.
I’d decided to go on oxygen from ABC but it didn’t seem to make any difference. In fact breathing was harder with the mask on my face and I kept pulling if off for fresh air. I was constantly fiddling with it.
Eventually you cross the plain and reach the foot of the cliff where the fixed ropes start. Here you leave your trekking poles and start to use your jumar or ascender which is a device you clip onto the rope: it slides up but grips to hold you if you slide down. This is attached to your harness. You also have a “cow’s tail” which is also attached to your harness and has a karabiner which you clip onto the fixed rope when unclipping your jumar from one fixed rope to the next.
At this point one of the Sherpas was helping me get myself set up when he noticed a split in my oxygen hose. No wonder I’d been struggling, I wasn’t getting any oxygen and I also had a mask over my face restricting my breathing! Anyway a bit of black tape made a bodge repair. I think it worked after that!
Looking up at the North Col cliff was terrifying. Tibetan climbers are employed to find a route and fix ropes all the way to the top. These are anchored by screws into the ice. Often five or six climbers will be on one rope putting all their weight on it. The ice cliff seems vertical in places but is 60 degrees most of the way. The first rope was straight up a steep part. You were hanging on by jumar, hauling yourself up the rope and struggling to find footholds in the ice. I’d already been told there were 21 fixed ropes. Richard was already out of sight on his third or fourth rope.
I was half way up the first rope and totally exhausted. I decided I couldn’t make it and wondered whether to turn back now or later. Somehow I kept going. Very slowly, three or four steps and then a rest. At sea level I don’t think this would be difficult but here the shortage of air made it a killer. Not that I was alone. Most people were going at a similar speed to me and I even overtook people who seemed to be on their last legs. In places we had to jump across small crevasses, only a couple or three feet wide but with seemingly no bottom!
It took about three and a half hours of the most physically exhausting work it’s possible to imagine. I was at the limit of my endurance for most of the way but the thought of going back was probably more daunting than carrying on! Eventually we reached “the ladder” which was near the top. The ground flattens out for maybe 15 metres but then we had to cross a deep crevasse maybe 15 metres wide. To compound the problem is a sheer ice wall on the other side.
To get round this the rope fixers had acquired three aluminium ladders that for all the world looked like they had come from B&Q. These were lashed together with rope to make one long wobbly saggy ladder that was propped across the chasm. There was a queue of 12 people in front of me but we had to wait 20 minutes getting colder and colder as another group of people were descending the one way system.
Not for the faint hearted but actually not that difficult. The worst bit was manoeuvring up the ice wall on the other side, clipping and unclipping safety devices. A few more metres and the prayer flags and tents came into view. Never such a welcome sight!
Richard had already been there an hour and half. Surprisingly we had taken only six and a half hours which is exactly the time it says in the guide books for “the first time”. On the way up no less than three Sherpas had said to me, “Your son .... him strong!”
We had four tiny tents perched on the edge of the cliff. Get out the wrong side and you were one metre from a 500 metre drop! The camping site was only a few yards wide over a length of 100 metres with half a dozen expeditions claiming their tiny patch. It had been snowing all day and our tents were half covered with snow.
We collapsed into the “mess tent” which was a circular domed tent maybe 3 metres wide. It also served as the sleeping tent for the Sherpas. The “Cook” Sherpa there had a primus stove and cooked up endless cups of tea to revive us before we found our sleeping tents, sorted out our kit and then we went back to the mess tent for a bowl of pasta soup.
We all thought Rikki had turned back but an hour later he staggered into the tent half dead. He’s totally mad. His cough was killing him but he just wouldn’t give up.
I slept the night on oxygen but gave up with it after a few hours. I didn’t sleep much.
Wednesday 4 May
I awoke to a freezing temperature with my tent almost buried in snow. Some idiot was trying to clear the snow but it only served to partially collapse my tent. The weight of the snow was amazing and for the first time I realised how you would have no chance in an avalanche. It was like concrete.
The sun came up and after a breakfast of granola and hot milk I went to sort out my tent while Richard and Alan kitted up in their summit suits to climb for an hour up the next route. You could clearly see the last route to the summit. A one day climb of four hours up a steady snow incline then camp at the top. Next day a tough rock climb, camp again and finally the summit ridge.
The problem is all climbers make it to the North Col then have to go all the way back down to Base Camp (or lower) for maybe 10 days to recover before climbing all the way back up for the summit attempt. The thought of this was more than I could bear.
Of course my stated objective was to reach the North Col and now I’d done it but also I suppose I had a secret hope of making the summit. That would take another three weeks and a lot more effort coupled with living in Third World slum conditions for longer. I decided to call it a day. Richard on the other hand is undecided but will probably go for the summit. He desperately wants to get home to his family but he knows he’s capable of the summit.
Richard and Alan returned from their one hour trip up the next section, we took some photos and then set off down the mountain.
It only took three hours back to ABC but seemed a lot longer. We abseiled part of the way down. It was a very hot day and the slog across the snow plain seemed harder than coming down the mountain. We got back to base camp at 3:00pm, we’ve decided to rest tomorrow and then go all the way back down to Base Camp in one go rather than stopping at interim camp. That is a 20 mile trek over rough, rough ground. Then I’ll think about getting home.
Tuesday, 03 May 2011 15:49 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
Richard and I reached our objective of the North Col of Everest (7,200 metres) at 12.00 UK time today. It was hard work but we are both well. After noodle soup and a sleep we will head back to Advanced Base Camp tomorrow. A fuller blog will follow!
Monday, 02 May 2011 19:05 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
Advanced Base Camp - 6,400 metres. So we finally made it and are now suffering the delights of extreme heat, extreme cold and extreme thin air. I’ve finally summoned the energy to write a blog so will continue where I left off a week ago.
Monday, 25 April – Base Camp, 5,200 metres
The weather is grim so we have decided to stay at Base Camp another day. The problem is if we set off to interim camp and the weather gets worse we’ll be trapped. With hindsight we should have stayed with the others as after a third night at Interim Camp they have finally made it to Adanced Base Camp (ABC). Alan Hinkes was not wrong, however, in making us return to Base Camp as his job is to keep us safe. The problem is that if we are trapped in Base Camp for a few days our programme is going to get seriously out of sync with the others.
Tuesday, 26 April
The weather is still bad with deep snow overnight. The problem is we have no radio contact with the rest of the team. Hempie has a sat phone but left the charger in Base Camp! We are sharing the camp with the American medics and standards are degenerating. We had some fun over dinner though when Richard forced Stacey (the nutritionist) to eat one of her own magic bars. It took her an hour! I think the project can now be safely abandoned! They entertained themselves after dinner by taking blood samples from each other in the mess tent. Politics are emerging as they seem seriously pissed off that George Rodway had gone up the mountain instead of joining in their programme. I can’t wait to get out of here.
Wednesday, 27 April
The weather is still bad and it seems like we are trapped. I’m getting increasingly frustrated that we will be seriously behind the team schedule. We have decided to go tomorrow come what may with the weather.
Thursday, 28 April
We’re off. Richard and myself, Rikki Hunt and Alan Hinkes. The weather is actually OK. This is the second time we’ve made this journey and it’s supposed to get quicker. Not in my case - it took seven hours and I was absolutely knackered by the time we got there. Richard is super fit and he got there in five and a half hours. Rikki took six. There seemed to be hundreds of yaks going in both directions, which forced us off the track while they passed. For me it was a welcome break.
They say the yak herders only wash three times in their lives. Once when they are born, once when they get married and once when they die. I can believe that as they pass. They make their living doing a freight service between the camps. Two or three herders might have six or eight yaks to look after. They keep up a steady pace without stopping and this journey would probably only take them four hours. The yaks look nice docile animals but have sharp horns and a flick of the head would disembowel you! The yak herders constantly whistle to keep their yaks on track but also keep a pocketful of stones and are crack shots, if the yaks are going too slow, with a well aimed pebble to a yak’s head.
Interim Camp is the worst place on earth. There are no resources, there only a few two man tents and a mess tent. The mess tent has just a groundsheet covering the middle bit of the rocky floor, there are no chairs so we have to sit on the floor or stand up to eat. Our arrival always coincides with the nightly temperature drop. It’s miserable. Considering we used 120 yaks in total to get our gear to ABC just one more yak could have carried folding chairs!
Last time we were here we all commented on the brown water. It’s for drinking and cooking. On the way down Alan surprised me by drinking gin clear water from a bottle which he said one of the other expeditions were getting from a different source. Alan and I went to the cook’s tent and asked the cook where he got his water. “No problem, it’s from a very clean source.”
“Show me,” I said.
The cook wasn’t happy but eventually took Alan and myself to the source, which was 10 minutes away. It was a sewer! Tents all round, yak dung everywhere along with other unmentionables. That night we forced them to go to the frozen river to collect clean water but it was a 30 minute hike and they weren’t happy. Next morning the water was light brown and we knew they had used another source a little nearer. Interim Camp is a shit hole.
Friday 29 April – Royal Wedding – Advanced Base Camp, 6,400 metres
We left as early as we could and Richard and myself had a porter to carry our excess backpacks. He was a really nice young Tibetan man who’d been very helpful in looking after us. Helping me on and off with my boots, helping me fasten my gaiters etc. It was probably something to do with the fact that I’d tipped him a small amount a couple of days earlier, which probably amounted to a day’s wages.
On this occasion I put two litres of my water in his pack and Alan put in his lunch. The porters are much faster than us but instead of staying with us he shot ahead. This trip was probably six hours along the side of a glacier. The scenery was beautiful but I found it really difficult. Alan was bouncing along as usual pointing out the sights - unusual glacial formations - “Look there’s Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world.”
“I don’t give a shit” was all I could muster in reply. All I was interested in was survival.
We were steadily gaining height and that uphill slog was a killer for me. I was doing about one mile per hour, walking a few steps and then stopping for a few seconds rest. I was thirsty. On a trek like this you are supposed to drink a minimum of two litres but the bloody porter had my water! I tried to melt snow without success.
By now I was seriously questioning why I was here. The North Col is my target but I was doubtful of even reaching ABC. There was always the remote prospect in the back of my mind that I might try for the summit but I think that dream has gone. A friend of mine announced to our business club that he’d eat his shirt if I didn’t reach the summit. He’d better start researching shirt recipes!
Then, amazingly, Mingma the lead Sherpa appeared on the trail with a flask of hot orange juice. Well, not orange exactly, but a Chinese chemical that tastes of orange.
“How long to go” I asked?
“Oh, only an hour” he replied. It actually took an hour and a half but I was so happy to collapse into my tent at ABC.
Saturday, 30 April
We had a rest day at ABC but the others were sufficiently acclimatised to go to the North Col and spend the night there. I managed a full body wash and shave in the heat of the day and felt human again.
Chris Bates our chef was in a bad way. He’d damaged his knee on the trek, then his shoulder, then had general altitude problems. He really shouldn’t have attempted the trek here but he’s been amazing, never a complaint, worked hard and been de facto camp manager. He’s a superhero. By now though he was in a bad way and needed to go home. He set off down to Base Camp, we arranged a driver to the border and a helicopter to take him to The Radisson Hotel in Kathmandu. He’s getting the next flight home.
Sunday, 1 May
Just below camp is a series of ice cliffs. A rope had been fixed up one to practise ascending with all our kit. I spent all morning fixing my crampons (the shop had assembled them the wrong way round), we had to fix our jumars for sliding up fixed ropes and other safety gear. It was hot but Richard insisted on wearing his summit suit (for practice) but during the practice session he cooked.
In the afternoon we tried again and all managed quite well. The team returned from the North Col full of stories of adventure but made it clear it was tough. Duffy came down to watch us climbing the ice and declared that Richard was the fittest member of the team.
Three of our team were only planning to reach the North Col and were on a schedule between myself and the main party. They tried for it today but had to turn back through exhaustion. So that night at dinner there were 17 of us in the mess tent.
I’ve always been told that the main issue with a trip like this is to keep healthy. Richard and I have been very careful about what we eat and have avoided any stomach issues. All the same I’ve had a bad sore throat for three weeks now. I’ve lost weight and my appetite now has gone. I just can’t face dinner. I have a cut on my thumb which won’t heal and the recognised cure at this altitude is superglue which does seem to work quite well. My nose is always blocked and every time I blow it there’s a tissue full of blood. Again all quite normal. My lips are chapped and bleeding - oh, and I have one false tooth, an implant, which for no apparent reason dropped out. Other than that I’m quite well.
Back to the mess tent – 17 of us in various states of illness is just an incubation house for germs. Half a dozen people coughing their guts up. At least one with a serious stomach problem, others with serious sunburn, total exhaustion and loss of appetite.
In reality some of the guys should have been sent home as they are jeopardising the health of the others but this will never happen as all the other guys are serious climbers and all desperately want to make the summit.
The problem with this altitude is that no one on earth can live this high. The body degenerates and you shouldn’t spend more than five nights here. It’s a play off between acclimatising and the body degenerating. Everything is an effort. Getting dressed in the morning is a big effort and needs at least three rests. Even eating is an effort and chewing a mouthful of food needs several rests!
We are hoping in the morning to set off for the North Col.
Monday, 2 May
I’d brought a yeti costume all the way from home. The idea was to dress up and hide in the ice cliffs and frighten the others. The problem was all the others are leaving for Base Camp this morning so before breakfast was the only opportunity I would have. I dressed up but in the heat of the morning it was impossible. Once I put on the head mask I couldn’t breathe. I had to content myself with staggering to the mess tent and causing mild amusement during breakfast.
Unusually Richard wasn’t feeling 100%. The weather degenerated so we decided not to try for the North Col but instead trek for an hour or two towards the North Col cliff face for the exercise. I tried out my oxygen for part of the trek and it really did seem to make a difference.
It’s 8:00pm now and we have just finished dinner in the dark (the solar power isn’t good enough). We were planning to leave on Wednesday for the North Col but have just been told it has to be tomorrow due to a lack of Sherpas. I hope Richard is feeling better. It’s a two hour trek to the foot of a near vertical 500 metre ice cliff and that will take maybe six hours to climb. I’m apprehensive!
Friday, 29 April 2011 20:20 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
Richard and I finally reached Advanced Base Camp this evening, after a two day trek up from Base Camp – arriving just in time to miss the rest of the team’s Royal Wedding celebration.
Now that we have gained enough altitude for the mountain not to block our satellite signal, I am finally able to post my Easter blog.
Monday, 25 April. Base Camp – 5,200 metres.
Friday 22nd (Good Friday I think – I’m losing track) was to be the real start of our climb. The day before a nurse and a nutritionist had arrived at the camp along with Barbara who I’d last met at the North Pole! She’s a wealthy businessman’s wife who just seems to like a bit of adventure. Like me and Richard she’s going to try for The North Col – why she doesn’t just settle for the Caribbean is beyond me!
Our expedition carries The Explorers Club flag because we are taking part in medical research. As a member of the expedition that will entitle me to join the New York Explorers Club. Other members include the moon landing astronauts and many famous people who have done amazing things. I will feel a bit of a fraud I suppose but I’ve been told they want a video of our expedition for their annual dinner in New York next March.
Anyway, at high altitude (over 6,000 metres) the human body deteriorates. You lose your appetite and your body literary starts to consume itself. The average weight loss of an Everest climber is 10 to 15 kilos. Unfortunately I’ve only just found out that its muscle you lose and not fat!!!
The American military have an issue with this as many of their soldiers are deployed at high altitude in places like Afghanistan. Scientists have come up with an idea that a certain amino acid (Leucine) put into food will help to prevent this weight loss and they need to carry out a controlled field test to evaluate this.
On Thursday evening we were all weighed and measured for our body fat composition, three times very carefully with callipers and three times by ultrasound. We have to fill in a long questionnaire of every single thing we eat and drink for the next 30 days and also another long questionnaire every day about how we feel - headaches, dizziness, exhaustion etc. We will be checked again at intervals. My BMI is 19.5 which I was quite pleased with as the range for my age is 18 – 25 (the lower the better).
At diner Stacy the nutritionist came into the mess tent with an armful of chocolate bars labelled A and B. One contained the amino acid the other was a placebo. Half the group were given A and half B. At the end of the test it should be apparent if the amino acid has any effect.
Then came the bombshell, we had to eat three bars a day (one with each meal) for 30 days, 90 bars in total!!!They shouldn’t be consumed as a snack but with the actual meal.
We all started to eat the first bar. It tasted like a very heavy giant size energy bar but 100 times stodgier and almost impossible to chew. Actually it was disgusting and totally unpalatable and would almost certainly kill your appetite for the meal ahead. Eating 90 of these things would probably damage your health.
I volunteered an instant result for the research project without having to wait 30 days. It won’t work. The bars are too big and nobody would honestly be able to eat three per day. I was already starting to lose my appetite and the thought of eating another of those disgusting glue bars just turned me over. I ate another half the next day and now I’ve abandoned the project. I do however think my result is valid. The boffins in the laboratory have never considered the practical effects of what they are asking. Make it a pill?
I hope I can still be a member of The Explorers Club.
Friday, 22 April
I struggled to eat breakfast. We kitted up and packed our rucksacks for the trek to interim camp. We were due to spend one night there and then move up to Advanced Base Camp (ABC). We had been warned it would be two tough days and interim camp was no more than a few tents with no facilities. Our kit for ABC still hadn’t left due to a shortage of yaks (eventually we used 120 in total) and it seemed there was every possibility we might arrive at ABC without our gear.
Just before we left half a dozen American doctors arrived in camp. God knows what they there were for but Hempie had allowed it as he felt their presence might be useful. Apparently they are completing modules for some qualification or other.
We set off on the hike. It is only supposed to be about six miles but at that altitude felt more like 50. The weather wasn’t great but manageable. Along the way we encountered hundreds of yaks going in either direction. The narrow path meant we had to pull over to let them pass.
The route was along two glacial valleys but covered in moraine which is a combination of sand, gravel, pebbles, rocks and huge boulders. The moraine continually slides down the mountains on either side, covering the ice of the glacier.
Half way up we had a stark reminder of the dangers ahead. Three Sherpas were hurrying down the mountain, one of them carrying a colleague on his back. The guy was groaning and wheezing and had obviously got cerebral or pulmonary oedema. That is fluid on the lungs or brain and the end result of mountain or altitude sickness. We later found out he ended up in hospital in Kathmandu. The journey there would be four hours down the mountain and then 10 hours in a jeep to the border with Nepal and then a helicopter to Kathmandu.
The Chinese in their wisdom don’t allow helicopters from Nepal or into Base Camp. Life or death - it doesn’t matter to them! On the South side (Nepal) by contrast, they are used routinely both for evacuation and for climbers who are acclimatising and feel like a bit of low altitude rest and recuperation in Kathmandu. Why are we on the North???
Five hours later I staggered into Interim Camp. I don’t think I could have gone another 50 yards – I was exhausted. I must have looked rough as Hempie and Alan Hinkes immediately bundled me into my tent and shoved me in my sleeping bag to recover.
The tent was the size of a dining table and I was sharing with Richard. A couple of hours later dinner was called and I made for the mess tent next door. No table, no chairs, we just sat on the floor on a plastic sheet. Loxton’s lamb casserole – I just couldn’t eat anything.
Several expeditions had set up camp on what looked like a slag heap. Tents were touching each other and clinging to the rocks. Our yaks had arrived and bedded down where they could. It was cold, miserable and squalid. I slept surprisingly well but awoke to everything covered in ice. Our breath had frozen on the tent ceiling and as the sun came up it melted and soaked everything in the tent.
Saturday, 23 April
It had snowed overnight and you couldn’t see 10 yards in front of you. It was judged too dangerous to move on so we had to spend a second night at interim. There was nothing to do in the day: only try and read or sleep in our tents. That night we had taken the chairs from the yaks destined for ABC and put them into the mess tent. We sat round in a circle for dinner but once again I just couldn’t eat.
At the end of the meal we were sitting in a circle in silence. The jokes and banter had dried up when Graham came out with “Fun this, isn’t it?” For some reason everyone found that amusing and then Richard commented that it was like an old folk’s home. All men, sitting in a circle in silence. “An old folks home from hell” countered Graham. Everyone laughed and then the jokes started – you know “where am I?” in a squeaky voice, “who am I?”
Sunday, 24 April
This morning at breakfast there was gloom among the team. The weather was bad with deep snow. A debate started about what we should do. No one wanted to spend a third night in this hell hole but the weather was bad with deep snow. It was judged too dangerous to go up and too dangerous to go down and we were running out of food so we couldn’t stay where we were. Besides, I had only the clothes I was standing up in and desperately needed a change.
One view was to spend a third night and then hope the weather was better – but what if it wasn’t? The yaks were going up to ABC and would cut a trail through the snow, it seemed possible to follow them. Alan Hinkes, who Richard and I had employed as our guide and safety escort, decided that we should go back down. I dreaded the thought of that as of course we would have to come all the way back up after a day or two but it seemed irresponsible to ignore him.
In the end the team split with some waiting it out and possibly going up on Monday with four of us going back down. We followed a yak trail though the snow and made it in about 3 ½ hours in spite of a gale blowing for the last hour.
I was happy for a change of clothes, a proper tent and my appetite returning. It was good to breathe thicker air.
Of course with no one in charge the mess tent had deteriorated into a slum, our fine cognac had gone and our personal toilet was blocked!
Monday, 25 April
It had snowed heavily overnight and the north face of Everest, which is usually bare rock, was covered in snow. Still it was warm and the sun was shining. It may be OK to go back up tomorrow. The rest will do us good. We’ve done our washing (well Richard has, I paid a Tibetan kitchen boy to do mine!) we’ve washed and cleaned ourselves up and are generally feeling better. I wonder how the others are getting on?
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 10:56 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
I am, of course, renowned for my patience. But life is too short to spend it trying to write a blog on an iPhone. Not that I have been slacking. I’ve been faithfully writing entries on my laptop, I just haven’t got any way of sending them out at present. Luckily Richard is with me and has been using his BlackBerry to keep his blog on Property Week up to date, so here is his take on our Easter:
Monday, 25 April
On Good Friday we finally left Base Camp, after a week of acclimatising. It felt good to be making progress up the mountain and taking a further step toward our goal of the North Col. But like the old bloke in ‘Shawshank Redemption’ who didn't want to leave prison after 30 years, I had become slightly institutionalised and fond of our primitive luxury. And as we were now going up to more extreme altitudes, no more booze.
I'd heard that the walk was long and arduous, and this hit me after about five minutes. The trek started off along the flat glacial plain that is Base Camp, before turning into an ablation valley in between the mountain side and the glacier's edge. It went on forever. After a few hours we turned sharp left up a steep hill until we reached another massive glacial valley. Except this time we didn't go along the side of it but right over the middle of the glacier. But don't think ice and snow - this was gravel moraine after gravel moraine. Each one being a mini mountain we had to go up and down.
At one point we were passed by a group of Sherpas almost running down the mountain. One Sherpa was bent double carrying another on his back. We later heard he had every climber’s worst nightmare - cerebral oedema - and was being treated in Kathmandu.
I suppose in total we walked for about six hours and gained 600m over 10km. Doesn't sound like much but at those altitudes it is.
Only problem was that our destination - Interim Camp - was horrible. Perched precariously on top of a rocky moraine our tents were lined up like a battery chicken farm. One toilet over a crevasse shared between far too many people. The mess tent had no table or chairs and we ate our noodle soup sitting cross-legged on the floor between yak dung and mud. The seasoned explorers and army blokes among the group didn't seem to have the slightest problem with any of it, but for a Property Softy like me it was tough!
The next day was the worse news ever - a rest day! What a place to try and rest! I lay in my tent all day and all night, unable to sleep and wondering why I wasn't back in Hanover Square drinking a latte.
All of the rest day and night it snowed heavily and we woke on Easter Sunday with the morbid news that the weather was too bad to continue up to the next camp, Advanced Base Camp (ABC). A tense discussion ensued. Those that had no problems with the filth were happy to sit it out. But Dad and I had to listen to our guide on this trip Alan Hinkes - the only Brit to have summited all the peaks in the world over 8000m, and so a guy who knows a thing or two about high altitude mountaineering - who advised going back down to Base Camp. This would mean an enormous effort to go back downhill, but our bodies and minds could rest in relative comfort and thicker air.
When we finally got back down last night there was an enormous dump of snow which seemed to validate our decision to descend.
The weather is now clearing up and we hope to be at ABC by the middle of the week. So here I am on Easter Monday, back at Base Camp, sitting in the sun, drinking Chateau Minuty.
Tuesday, 26 April
Don't think I'm heroically ploughing up some steep snowy slope, clinging on for life with gritted teeth.
Oh no. I am in fact lying in my tent completely bored out of my rapidly shrinking, hypoxic brain. For the second day in a row.
We are waiting for a weather window to make our way back up the mountain. I was all set to go this morning and sprung out of my tent with a fully packed rucksack to be greeted by this.
Another lesson learnt: look out of tent before packing.
The others stuck out the bad weather higher up, whereas us softies beat a retreat to Base Camp. That was the sensible thing to do, but now my competitive mind is filled with envious images of the Paratroopers already goose-stepping their way up to my target of the North Col, whilst I languish at Base Camp. And I'm told not to worry about what other people are up to.
The reality of climbing Everest is that there is a lot of hanging about. A lot of festering in tents. It is above all a mental test, and those who can cope with feeling rubbish at altitude and doing not much at all, win.
There is a lot of talking in the mess tent. At least the others can talk about 'the time I got pulmonary oedema on Denali' or 'that heli vac on Acongacua'. Surprisingly no-one wants to hear about where prime office yields are at in Warsaw.
So I cross my fingers for tomorrow, and hope that by the end of the week I can finally rejoin the programme at Advanced Base Camp (6400m).
Thursday, 21 April 2011 12:53 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
Today is a day off although it's too windy to do much. The last few days have brought us appalling weather, with snow and biting cold winds, but we have been climbing every morning and yesterday I reached 5,800 metres.
It's strange because, throughout the trip, even though the climbing is arduous and I get exhausted, my legs don't get tired. I think that is because aerobically you can't get to that level of exercise where it tires your muscles.
During the last stages of yesterday’s climb I was taking three or four small steps and then having to rest for a few seconds to recover my breath. Even getting dressed in the morning leaves me short of breath. Tomorrow we leave for the interim camp and sleep there for two nights before moving on to Advanced Base Camp. That will be the real test of our altitude tolerance! Interim camp is 5,800 metres and Advanced Base Camp is 6,400 metres. Even our generators won't work at that altitude so we will have to rely on solar power.
Not that much seems to work here anyway. We have four generators but three don't work. One has just got going now as I'm typing this and sounds like an old tractor. Our gas heaters were damaged in the lorry crash and replacements have only just arrived, but they don't work unless you turn them upside down! The oven in the kitchen doesn't work. Our shower units were damaged in the crash and replacements have only just arrived but we can't get them working. Our Began satellite e-mail system doesn't work (but that's because Mount Everest is blocking the signal.) The Chinese have an excellent phone mast here which gives a full signal but it's solar powered and goes off in the late afternoon.
The main issue for everybody is staying well. Most of us are fighting some health problem or other. The extreme dry air coupled with the cold causes really bad sore throats. A couple of the guys have colds as well. Chris damaged his knee on the downhill trek and it's getting worse not better. A couple of guys have bad stomachs but it's their own fault - the camp cook can't resist putting out a side plate of raw veg like sliced tomato and carrot and these guys just can't see the connection between eating it and bad stomachs!
The main problems relating to failure of a climb like this are weather, altitude and general sickness like a bad stomach, which can be a big problem at high altitude. I'm doing all I can to avoid sickness but new people have just moved into camp (bringing with them new germs) except four of them are nurses here to carry out a series of tests on us for medical research!!!
Richard and myself as the only completely inexperienced climbers on the team are aiming to get to The North Col which is 7,060 metres. That is higher than any mountain on Earth except in the Himalayas. The summit is 8,850 metres but that last stretch makes all the difference in the world.
The Sherpas are physiologically built differently to us and can cope with altitude much better. Nevertheless Nga Temba our head Sherpa had to rescue a Sherpa from Intermediate camp last night and bring him down on oxygen. The thing was this guy had already summited four times previously so you can never tell who it will affect when.
Oh well, onwards and upwards. The trick is to go slowly I'm told. A great phrase being bandied about now is "the inevitability of gradualness". I know exactly what it means.
Monday, 18 April 2011 09:52 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
We lugged some absolutely state-of-the-art satellite communications equipment with us all the way from the UK, via Kathmandu, to Base Camp. Luckily it survived our lorry crash in Nepal, but unfortunately no-one realised that it would not work when we got here, because there is a rather large mountain in the way of the signal.
I’m sorry that posting this blog has been a bit slow as a result of these communications challenges, but at least our mobile phones work here so I can finally bring the story up to date.
Day 17, Wednesday 13 April
Our doctor Professor George Rodway, an American high altitude specialist, arrived last night in Nyalam. He is to accompany us on the rest of the trip.
Today we arrived at our last stop on the acclimatisation journey to Base Camp – the village of Tingri. Here we were due to spend two nights at an altitude of 4,300 metres. This was by far the worst place yet. The amazing road that runs from Zhangmu to Lhasa (and must have cost hundreds of millions) ran right through Tingri. Either side of the road were typical Tibetan mud brick buildings, gaily coloured but absolute squalor inside. We were on a high Tibetan plain of sand and gravel. Nothing was growing anywhere.
A policeman waved us to the side of the road where we had to wait. Even an old lady driving a horse and cart was pulled over. Several officials strode up and down obviously waiting for something. After about 15 minutes a fleet of Toyota Land Cruisers rushed past. The first two were police with flashing lights, the rest unmarked. Then we were waved on our business.
We pulled into a courtyard that looked at best like a stable block. Everyone in the town wore masks as the dust swirled round – what a way to live. Packs of dogs roamed the streets, while yaks, cows and goats grazed on the rubbish and cardboard that was everywhere.
Some of the team were billeted in the stables; Richard and I were lucky and were given a room each in a newly constructed “hotel”. It was a series of rooms on the second floor on a block of workshops. Surprisingly the rooms were clean with an“en-suite” bathroom. Well, the rooms weren’t exactly finished, and the bathroom was locked as the water and toilets weren’t connected. There was no electricity. We were told to share the town toilet but would have been sick if we’d tried. Instead we would go for a long walk on the plain!
One large room in the stable block served as a restaurant. There must have been 50 climbers, all going to different destinations, sharing this stop-off point. Dinner was disgusting, served by female waitresses in thick quilted jackets as it was so cold. Most continued to wear their masks indoors. “Service with snarl” was a phrase we kept repeating. This was a town of the most unfriendly people I have ever met. During the night the packs of dogs kept up a continuous howling the whole night through.
We saw one guy we had seen before at Nyalam. We thought he was some kind of tramp dressed in what looked like a thin road sweeper’s jacket. He turned out to be an Italian on his way to climb Everest. He’d already got minor frostbite from his acclimatisation trek. George our doctor warned him to go home as he’d be more susceptible to frostbite from now on. He’d bought a single permit for access to the mountain. He was on his own and had no money and no oxygen. The north side of Everest is supposedly safer than the south, but has more casualties. It seems to attract a number of solo climbers doing it on the cheap.
We also met Gerard the French climber who featured in the Discovery Channel series on Everest in 2006. He refused to turn around then when he was exhausted and lost all his fingers and all his toes to frostbite. He is here to have another go!
On Thursday we climbed another mountain as training and then on Friday we left for the 50 mile journey to Base Camp.
Day 19, Friday 15 April
We set off in three Toyotas on the 50 mile drive to Base Camp. This was over a track in the desert that wound higher and higher until we saw Everest in the distance.
Gradually we got closer and closer and Everest grew in size until eventually after four hours we arrived at Base Camp. Base Camp is in a flat plain with mountains on either side and Everest at the end of the valley towering majestically above us. There is a series of encampments dotted around, each one a different expedition. The sun was shining and it was quite warm. Everest was lit up in the sunshine and you could clearly see every part of the mountain. What looked like clouds at the top are in fact snow being blown off by the 100 mph winds that blow constantly up there, except during the very brief weather window that we will be waiting for.
The team of Sherpas had arrived here two days ahead of us and set up camp. Richard and myself had a large tent each with carpet on the floor and a good size mattress. The mess tent was amazing. A long large tent with a table down the middle set for 14 people. There was a gold coloured table cover, fruit piled on display dishes and plastic flowers taped to the tent poles. The Sherpas had done an amazing job and were very proud of what they had achieved.
We spent the rest of the day extracting our kit from the mountain of equipment that was piled up around us. There was a large China Telecom mast near Base camp and we all had a good signal. What we didn’t realise was that the signal is turned off overnight! Our Began satellite e-mail connection wouldn’t work either as there was a mountain in the way of the signal!
We enjoyed a good dinner and then went to bed. It was so cold it was almost unbearable but tucked in our heavy duty sleeping bags we were soon warm and would have enjoyed a good night’s sleep except for the fact that my and Richard’s mattresses had been soaked in kerosene during the lorry crash. It was too cold and too late to do anything about it. Again our water bottles in the tent froze solid overnight.
Day 20, Saturday 16 April
We awoke to tea in bed at 7am. It was a beautiful sunny morning and soon our tents had warmed up like a sauna. Most of us went for a walk to try and acclimatise a little, but every step made breathing difficult. We came back exhausted. Base Camp is 5,300 metres high and the air pressure here is exactly half that of sea level. The effect of that is it makes it so much more difficult to force oxygen into our blood stream. This is what causes altitude sickness.
For the first time in my life I washed my clothes. I can do most things at home – cook, clean, help with the housework - but one thing I’ve never done is use the washing machine. Two large bowls of hot water, soap and the job was done. The problem was I’d left it a bit late, the sun clouded over and my clothes froze solid on the washing line.
In the evening we organised a dinner – we tried the Parma ham and Parmigianino cheese and olives followed by Loxton’s beef goulash and copious amounts of wine. After dinner each one of us is to give a lecture. Hempie’s turn was tonight and he told us about the Seven Summits and the history of exploration on the North Pole.
Richard and I had changed our mattresses, the night was a little warmer and we slept better.
Day 21, Sunday 17 April
Today is a special day. It’s the day of the Puja. This is a service to make offerings to the mountain gods and bless our ice axes, crampons and summit boots. Three local Lama monks were brought in (they arrived on cross country motorbikes) and everyone joined in the three hour ceremony.
The offerings to the gods were put on the stone altar, juniper branches were burnt and rice thrown. Prayer flags were strung across the campsite and the Sherpas sang and danced. The offerings were a random selection of food and drink. Local rum, Marmite, biscuits and beer etc etc. The gods took this spiritually and then the Sherpas consumed it afterwards!
I’m not superstitious but I’m not missing any opportunity to bring all the good luck I can to our expedition.
After this we had to pack up all our gear that we are sending to Advanced Base Camp (ABC). It will be a lot colder there so I had to sort out my warmer clothing along with our climbing gear and pack it into two plastic barrels. The Sherpas will go on ahead and set up a whole new camp so food, tents and everything will have to go up there.
We have 52 yaks arriving tomorrow morning to transport the stuff but we’ve calculated that his won’t be enough. We need a hundred! If we can’t get more they will have to make two trips.
We ourselves are not going to ABC for maybe 10 days. It’s 12 miles on, and a lot higher than Base Camp. It’s not possible to get there in one day because of both the distance and the altitude, which means that we can only go slowly. We will spend a few more days at Base Camp and then start walking towards an intermediate camp between here and ABC. This is just a few small tents where we will spend two nights to acclimatise and break our journey.
Day 22, Monday 18 April
Last night I had a bad night. For a few hours I couldn’t get enough breath and felt that I was suffocating. This is apparently common and all part of the acclimatisation process: it’s called “Cheyne-Stokes Syndrome.” It’s strange because I’ve not had this before but last night a few of us did. I’m OK this morning. A herd of yaks have just arrived so I have to go ...
Friday, 15 April 2011 17:15 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
We have finally arrived at Everest Base Camp, reuniting us with much of our kit including the laptop on which I had written a few days of my blog before the lorry crash. So here is a catch-up on an eventful week.
Day 11, Thursday 7 April
So we left the snowy wilderness and by 8am we had had breakfast, packed our stuff, dismantled the tents and were off down the mountain. The porters are amazing. I have brought far too much stuff and have two kit bags. I wouldn’t want to carry one of them very far, but both are crammed into a red carrying sack, two of these sacks are tied together, a few other things tied on for good measure and the whole thing amounts to a load I cannot lift. A porter weighing less than this load will carry this down the mountain. They have boots but once out of the snow they change into flip-flops.
Going down is easy and soon we had left the snow behind and the weather got warmer, the landscape changed and we were in a forest of rhododendron trees (not bushes as in England, but trees) which changed to a pine forest, which changed again to a mix of oak, pines and rhoddies.
Who said going down was easy?
It got hotter and hotter and the slope got steeper and steeper. The terrain was a nightmare and we were picking our way down a boulder-strewn trail often with steep drops to one side. We must have covered 10 or 15 km but we descended over 2,000 metres and by the end of the day we were totally exhausted. We were breathing thicker air, but instead of being breathless, our muscles were aching and I thought the journey would never end. As usual the “military” as Graham calls Duffy and Justin were streaking ahead, goose-stepping down the mountain. Graham has an interesting turn of phrase which keeps us in stitches. Justin is an ex paratrooper and now a fitness freak. Duffy was in the Red Arrows until recently and now serves in Afghanistan. If anyone gets to the top of Everest it will be these two.
Eventually, after eight hours, the campsite came into view. It was maybe 200 metres below us, down a vertical cliff face with a tortuous path carved into the mountainside. Talk about health and safety, one trip and you would fall to the bottom.
At the campsite I didn’t have the energy to do anything other than lie on the grass but, to our shame, the porters arrived about the same time and then had to start erecting tents and generally setting up the camp. The chef and the cook boys had done the same trek, but they had to start preparing dinner. The Sherpa chef sent down to the village below us for half a dozen chickens and proceeded to make a chicken curry.
Richard’s tent was next to mine, he came over with a mischievous look in his eye and produced a hip flask of whisky. As a virtual alcoholic, it was rare for me to go so long without a drink, but I had never even thought about it for the last week. I don’t like whisky but it never tasted so good. We were quite furtive about it as we didn’t want to share it with 10 other people but feeling guilty I persuaded one of the Sherpas to find some beer and that night we enjoyed a well earned dinner and a few bottles of Chinese beer.
Day 12, Friday 8 April
We awoke to a beautiful morning and for the first time took in our surroundings, which were truly spectacular. Everyone was stiff from the long day yesterday and after a leisurely breakfast we made our way over the last one and a half hours of torture trail down the mountain before waiting at the bottom. We were to spend the next two nights at Eco Lodge, recovering from our ordeal, before setting off to the Chinese border. Before boarding the bus, we risked buying a Coca Cola from a shack at the side of the road, thank God we had antiseptic baby wipes to sterilise the bottle neck, you wouldn’t believe what came off it. Whilst drinking we noticed some interesting plants growing at the side of the road – cannabis! If only we knew how to process it.
At this point, we said goodbye to Loxton, the dog, who had followed us faithfully. We left him with the porters and hoped he would find his way back to his village. We set off on the bus and the debate ensued, should we go straight to Eco Lodge or stop off first at some hot springs. Two of us wanted to go straight to the Lodge, but we were out-voted and set off for the springs. I knew everyone envisaged a steaming rock pool on the mountainside where we could soak our weary bodies, but I suggested they were delusional and it would be a sewer. “Ten minutes to look at it?” suggested Hempie. “If we don’t like it we can go to the Lodge”.
After half an hour of the worst roads so far, with buses passing us, crammed with people enough to win a place in the Guinness Book of Records, plus maybe an additional 20 people sitting on the roof, and two or three clinging to the ladder at the back, we arrived at a sign over the road saying “Welcome to Tatapani Hot Springs”. It was a gruesome quarter mile stretch of village along the roadside, heaving with people with shops, shacks and building works spilling onto the roadside. The bus pulled up and Nga Temba (our head Sherpa and tour leader) pointed to a gate with steps leading down to the “springs”. My heart sank – this was worse than I imagined - we were ushered through a queue and went down the steps to a sight that was beyond belief. Hundreds of people (this place was obviously very popular) were milling about in a small courtyard. To one side were two concrete cells each about five metres square, one for men, one for women, with six spouts of hot water coming out of the back wall. Each cell was packed with people, the men were in their underpants, the women’s modesty covered by saris, all scrubbing themselves (and each other) furiously in a froth of soap suds. To one side was a concrete tank filled with what looked like sewage with three men and a boy, happily splashing and swimming.
I suggested we make a run for it before we caught cholera.
Halfway up the steps to the exit, I met Hempie who informed me that the bus had gone and would be back in an hour. An hour in this hellhole of thieving humanity was more than I could stand, I could feel a tantrum coming on. I met Nga Temba outside clutching a bunch of tickets for all of us to have a bath, he looked crestfallen when I told him we wanted to leave, he just couldn’t understand the problem.
It turned out that the bus we were using was a school bus doing our trip as a job on the side and had now gone to pick up the school kids, so we were trapped. Graham was feeling guilty that his planning had gone to pot and within minutes he had organised a taxi to take Richard and myself to Eco Lodge. He was coming with us and the others were to follow as soon as taxis became available. The ageing Toyota bounced over the road for 45 minutes back the way we came and eventually turned into Borderlands – the lodge where we had stopped for lunch a week ago! This wasn’t Eco Lodge – we were lost. Richard and I went to bar for a beer, and left Graham to sort things out. The bar man told us Eco lodge had closed down a year ago. This lodge looked OK a week ago, but now it looked like paradise! Richard was determined that come what may we would stay here.
Two beers later, Graham still hadn’t appeared so Richard and I had lunch from the buffet. It turned out that Borderlands was also called “Borderland Eco Lodge” and eventually after the management had called Kathmandu we realised that we were indeed booked in under the name of Iceland. Eventually the rest of the team arrived after spending time themselves looking for the non-existent lodge and then, a miracle - Loxton strolled in, God knows how he had found us.
Later I was sunbathing on the grass when a wobbly Richard and Justin sent over a Tequila. They had had a drinking competition and six or seven shots later Richard was delighted to see Justin lying face down unconscious in his underpants dribbling into a pillow. Richard is half the size of Justin and it worried me that his constitution was such that he could drink Justin under the table. Later that evening we had dinner and copious amounts of red wine. The lodge was full of students from Kathmandu business school and gradually the evening degenerated into a riotous party.
Richard is an amazing dancer and held the floor with everyone looking on in amazement as if he was John Travolta. The Nepalese were well impressed and everyone joined in including Justin and myself from our party. Justin and Richard were as daft as each other and then Justin decided we should all drink Vodka shots. He decided his role in life was as a barman and bought shot after shot, the real barman gave up. At what I thought was a convenient point when no-one would notice I slipped off to bed and left them to it. I was convinced there would be some serious hangovers in the morning.
Day 13, Saturday 9 April
Everyone seemed OK at breakfast and we had a relaxing day.
Day 14, Sunday 10 April
I woke up to my last day in paradise. The sun was shining, all was well with the world and then I went for breakfast. Hempie was already there loading a camera card into his lap top. The picture was of what was left of a lorry at the bottom of a ravine with all our blue barrels strewn down the mountainside.
Most of the kit for base camp had been decanted from the boxes and packing cases it came in and packed into blue plastic barrels for easier transport by yak later on. We had three lorry loads of kit and they were travelling overnight to the Tibetan border ahead of us. Last night was a foul night with a rainstorm and thunder and one of the lorries went over the side of the road and crashed down the ravine. Why anyone would travel at night on these roads is a mystery anyway. Mud roads, no lights or cats eyes, hairpin bends with steep drops and no actual certainty as to which side of the road you drive on.
Anyway, this looked catastrophic. Months of shopping for specialist climbing gear wasn't going to be replicated here.
Hempie and Graham dashed off to the scene and we packed up and waited for our transport to take us to the Tibetan border. The Chinese close the border at 3pm and we had a group permit which meant we all had to go through together. If we missed the slot we would have to wait and apply for another permit, which could take weeks. We were under strict instructions not to be late and our transport was due to arrive at 9am. At 10am we were still waiting and eventually two Chinese jeeps arrived with four seats each for 12 people. Our mountain of luggage was loaded onto the roof which made the jeeps top heavy to start with. There was no possibility we could all fit into the vehicles and I wouldn't want to anyway. After about 45 minutes’ debate someone came up with the brilliant idea of making two trips!
I went first and after about half an hour we arrived at the scene of the accident. How on earth anyone survived is a miracle but all three passengers jumped out as it went over the edge. The lorry was unrecognisable as a vehicle. The two drivers were injured but alive, our climbing Sherpa was uninjured. One of my barrels was under the wheels of the vehicle and squashed flat. The accident had happened at 9pm the previous night but a team of Sherpas had worked through the night carrying everything out of the ravine and stacking it at the side of the road. Another lorry was on its way and we decided just to carry on, get through the border and sort everything out on the other side.
The border town in Nepal, Kadari, was as bad as anything I've experienced. After all the rushing we had to wait a couple of hours for everyone to arrive, and the lorries, so that we could all go through together. A couple of the guys had lunch but Richard and I gave it a miss. No point getting ill at this stage!
However bad the litter was in Kathmandu, here it was 100 times worse. The "restaurant" where we waited and some had lunch was by the side of the road perched high on a cliff over the river. All the rubbish was just lobbed out of the window and down the ravine where hundreds of tons of the accumulated stuff rotted and polluted the river. That seemed to be the norm.
Everything had to be unloaded from the lorries and physically carried across the border and up a hill on the other side to waiting Chinese lorries. About 100 porters were fighting for the privilege of doing this but the strange thing was that they were all women. Old women, women carrying babies and very young girls lined up to collect barrels weighing as much as 60 kilos, gas canisters and unidentifiable pieces of kit the size of a wardrobe wrapped in plastic. They put them on their backs and held them by a rope over their heads.
We watched in pity and silent admiration as they did this. We ourselves lined up for an hour of Chinese bureaucracy as we struggled to get past check after check by unsmiling Chinese soldiers, who went through our papers and searched our bags. It was strange as the porters went through unhindered - mindless security!
They call the border crossing Friendship Bridge: this is an oxymoron.
Apparently when the porters get paid they spend the money on Chinese goods to carry back to Nepal where they sell the stuff for twice the price.
We were then driven a short way to the Chinese border town of Zhangmu. It was grim. The place was bleak, cold and so dusty that everyone wore face masks. You would think that a town high in the Himalayas would enjoy pure air, but the pollution was incredible. Everywhere was the acrid smell of burning yak dung, the local cooking fuel. Our hotel was in the main street and had just been refurbished. There was no heating in any of the buildings and the reception staff looked smart behind their desk wearing thick coats and woolly hats! My room was sort of OK but freezing cold and no water came out of the hot tap. I enquired at reception and was told that hot water was only available between 7pm and midnight. When I did shower later the drain in the bathroom floor was at the highest point so all the water stayed in the bathroom like a paddling pool.
Dinner and breakfast was across the road in a fly-blown café. I had to eat something!
We spent half an hour in the local disco / night club which was a sad sight to behold.
Day 15, Monday 11 April
We were told we were leaving at 10am for a four hour drive to the next town, Nyalam, at an altitude of 3,700 metres. We were to spend two nights there to continue acclimatisation. All climbing trips to Tibet have to be organised through the TMA (Tibet Mountain Association.) Their representative was waiting for us at 9:00am and throwing a fit because we should have left by then. Why I have no idea as arriving in Nyalam at noon was of no benefit to anybody, but this guy had a timetable to keep.
We drove for three hours on one of the most impressive roads I have seen. A concrete piece of amazing engineering snaking its way though one of the deepest gorges in the world. The scenery was spectacular. Eventually we turned off the road and arrived at Nyalam. The armpit of the world. It made Kathmandu look like Chelsea.
We arrived at the hotel and were met by our Chinese liaison officer who told us we could not get involved in politics or religion but otherwise he was here to help. Any problems - ask him. Some guy then appeared from the hotel to tell us it was full - no rooms. Hempie explained we had booked three months ago and paid in full. The guy and the liaison officer were unimpressed - "it's full."
We argued for half an hour but only ever got one word in response. "Full, full." The point being this was the only hotel in town you'd let your dog sleep in. Graham stayed in another one years ago and shared his bed with a rat. Eventually we got two rooms with five beds. The others went over the road to the rat hole.
The town was cold, windy, bleak and miserable. I did comment to Richard that if I was told I had to spend the rest of my life here I'd top myself. The hotel was new - but no heating. The bedrooms had big windows single glazed. I've never been as cold anywhere in my life.
We had arrived too early but put the time to good use by getting all three of our kit lorries and unloading them and sorting out our gear. Luckily my high altitude suit and boots survived the squashing but some of the guys had clothes and sleeping bags soaked in kerosene. We did lose some kit but replacements are hopefully on there way from Kathmandu. The worst job was sorting out thousands of Loxton’s meal bags. Every barrel had to be emptied, the bags sorted and burst ones thrown away and the rest washed under the town hosepipe. We gathered quite an audience of unsmiling bystanders.
That night we ate in the climbers’ café.
I stuck to fried rice and we bought what looked like a bottle of Johnny Walker to sterilise the food. Of course it wasn't Johnny Walker but a rip-off probably made with meths. I slept with all my clothes on.
Beijing insists that Tibet keeps Beijing time so we are two hours ahead Nepal and seven hours ahead of the UK. This means that we are not in natural sync with nature. Midday, when the sun should be at its highest point, is mid-afternoon. It's weird.
Day 16, Tuesday 12 April
This morning we persuaded the climbers’ café to boil up a Loxton’s corned beef hash breakfast. Richard, Alan Hinkes and myself then went for a climb. We got to 4,070 metres. It was exhausting and the altitude really kicked in but I suppose it was good training.
I also found an infrared heater in a shop. I was so excited I paid the 800 yuan (80 pounds) without thinking and only later realised I'd been ripped off. It should have been maybe 10 pounds at most.
Anyway it's on in our room now at full belt emitting at least half a kilowatt, and should have raised the temperature by one degree.
Sunday, 10 April 2011 14:03 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
We have had a bit of a dramatic night, to put it mildly.
Today the team was due to cross the border into Tibet. All our gear was loaded onto two lorries last night to make the journey to Everest Base Camp. Unfortunately one of the lorries went over a cliff and plummeted down a ravine. The lorry was completely destroyed.
Luckily the driver, his assistant and the climbing Sherpa who was with them managed to jump out of the cab and were saved from certain death. The driver and his assistant are badly injured and in hospital. The Sherpa is OK.
All our gear was strewn over the mountainside – our special Expedition Loxton’s food, kerosene, gas heaters, climbing gear and our personal possessions. Our permits to cross into Tibet were valid for today only, otherwise it might take another week or two to get a new permit and risk missing the ‘weather window’ for our Everest summit attempt.
We frantically reloaded our gear onto a new lorry and it was touch and go whether we would make it to the border by the deadline of 3pm local time. Luckily we have now made it through to Zhangmu in Tibet, but we are short of a lot of equipment and are going to have to order new gear and get it delivered to Everest Base Camp if we are going to make it up the mountain.
In the meantime I am recuperating from the shock with the help of the best disinfectant available.
Wednesday, 06 April 2011 15:42 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
I’ve worked it out now; most days follow the same pattern.
Each evening we eat dinner in the mess tent at around 6:30pm. Chris the Loxton’s chef hasn’t yet quite managed to sort out the Sherpa chef, who seems to think that our Loxton’s food is to be eaten as well as, not instead of, local food.
Last night we had beef in Boddington’s ale, which is a complete meal in itself, but the chef insisted on serving it with rice, dahl and curried potatoes and vegetables. We’ll get this sorted.
During dinner the banter amongst the team reaches new levels with everyone ribbing everyone else about everything. The temperature is well below freezing and everyone is sat wearing down jackets and woolly hats. By the time pudding is served (tinned fruit) our feet are freezing as the floor of the tent is packed ice. The dining table has slowly sunk into the ice and now become a coffee table.
By 8:00 pm everyone has drifted off to bed in a tent that is unbearably cold. The trip from the mess tent to our own tents is navigated by head torch. I strip down to boxer shorts and pull on a couple of T-shirts before climbing into a cold sleeping bag and shivering. Last night I solved this problem by filling my three drinking water bottles with boiling water and putting them in my sleeping bag. Last night I was quite warm. Sometimes at night there is a hailstorm and often thunder.
During the night the temperature really drops. Water bottles freeze solid, batteries in our gadgets stop working and any moisture on the pillow turns to ice. Next morning I don’t want to get out of my warm bag but eventually the sun rises and hits the tent and turns it into a sauna. I get dressed but the ceiling of the tent is covered in hoar frost from condensation which now starts to melt and drips everywhere.
I’ve kept my boots inside the tent in a vain effort to keep them warm but the shoelaces are frozen rigid. Outside and into the warm sunshine, a visit to the toilet tent (not pleasant) and into breakfast. Loxton the dog is usually hanging round waiting for his own serving of Loxton’s food.
After breakfast we load our backpacks with foul weather gear and three litres of water and set off on the day’s trek. Today we climbed two mountain peaks which from below looked impossible.
On the climb altitude kicks in making us breathless so we can only move at a snail’s pace, stopping every few yards for a rest. We cover ourselves in sunscreen and have to wear sunglasses as without them we’d get snow blindness. We constantly overheat and have to adjust our dress all the time to keep cool on the ascent and warm on a stop or the descent.
Our trek today was fantastic. The weather was good and we had a real sense of achievement on the summit. Loxton the dog accompanied us every step of the way.
Frankly I’d have quite happily had a rest day today but the paratroopers set off at a blistering pace before the rest of us had even had breakfast. They announced they were going to climb the high peak which I’d no intention of doing but there was no way we could suffer them boasting on their return so we had to follow. At the top of the first peak Richard announced he was going to do the second. I hesitated a moment but then reluctantly followed. I was glad I did.
Malcolm and Richard at 4,400 metres
A couple of Sherpas followed us to the summit of the first mountain. They watched us snack on Mars bars and then produced boiled eggs and chapattis!
The weather is entirely predictable. Hot sun in the morning but the clouds always come over at about 11:30am. During the afternoon it’s usually cloudy and overcast and often a rainstorm. We have lunch in the mess tent, soup and chapatti, and then into our tents for a doze.
This trek isn’t exactly enjoyable but has been good for acclimatisation, fitness training but mostly for getting us used to the bad conditions that will face us for the next 50 days.
Tomorrow will be a good day. We pack up and leave at 7:00am to go down the mountain to warm weather.
Monday, 04 April 2011 13:19 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
This morning I awoke warm in my sleeping bag but reluctant to go outside. Everything in the tent was damp. A Sherpa brought hot tea to the tents but when I did venture outside it was very cold, dark sky, miserable and deep snow. Apparently the mess tent had blown down during the night and Natenga the chief Sherpa had to brave the elements and put it back up. I suddenly realised the holiday was over and now the real test had begun.
At least Charlie was feeling better. Over a breakfast of Loxton’s corned beef hash we decided to abandon today’s trek. It was only supposed to be a short one to an area with small lakes. Now we have left the villages we always have to camp near water. Natenga explained the snow was too deep for the porters and the lake was frozen. So we decided to spend another night here and instead go for a day hike to gain some altitude.
We set off at a slow plod and after an hour decided we had done enough and would return. The weather was foul with occasional strong winds and snow flurries. On the way down Duffy stopped half way and pointed to a jagged peak in the distance and suggested we climb it. I thought he was barmy and said to Richard that I was going back down. Then Justin the fitness freak said he would do it. At that point everybody else started to move down including Richard who was cold and wanted to keep moving. Duffy is a Red Arrows pilot and both he and Justin are macho ex paratroopers so I thought I’d leave them to it. Then Rob said he would do it and I felt under pressure so I thought sod it I’ll have a go. I was tired; I didn’t want to do it, it looked impossible for me and Richard had gone down.
It actually turned out to be quite easy. It was closer than it looked and I managed it without getting too exhausted. I felt quite exhilarated when we sat on the top. My first summit in the Himalayas!
I was a bit upset that I’d caused Richard to go down and he’d missed it, but luckily he wasn’t too upset with me.
Richard had had a tough night anyway with only one hour’s sleep due to a world champion snorer in the next tent! Most of the guys seem to snore a bit and you hear everything as the tents are close together.
I’ve been told I snore but so far no-one has commented on me this trip but this guy is world class. We’ve now moved his tent 100 yards away from the rest of us.
This afternoon we are resting and the sun has come out so we can dry our things. It doesn’t seem so bad now.
Sunday, 03 April 2011 12:51 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
Yesterday the climb continued past much the same scenery as before but getting higher and higher until we arrived at 2,653 metres. By now the altitude was beginning to show, our pace was getting even slower and we were feeling short of breath.
Eventually we got to a village just below the ridge of the mountain and stopped to visit a monastery. A strange place, with brightly coloured fabrics inside and an altar with a picture of the monastery Lama (now dead) and then a picture of a young boy who is his reincarnation. The resemblance was striking! A few empty beer and Red Bull tins inside, along with an ancient TV in one corner, added to the incongruousness of it all. Outside there was a shrine with flowers held in a Coca Cola tin instead of a vase.
A little later we climbed over the ridge and there miles in front of us was an awesome sight.
There in the distance we caught a glimpse of the Himalayan range, part hidden by clouds, covered in snow, jagged peaks towering above us. “Oh sh*t!” was the universal thought. “What are we doing?” That thought was magnified when we were told the highest mountain we could see was only 7,000 metres high. The same height as the North Col on Everest and one whole kilometre lower than the Everest summit.
We dropped down the ridge a little way to make camp by a village. The flat area we chose for our tents served as a football pitch for the local kids. In no time at all a game had started, mountaineers versus the kids. Ten minutes each way at that altitude had everyone gasping for breath and was all we could manage. More than once the ball went past the goal and into the sewage channel. The Nepali referee had to fish it out.
I’m not remotely interested in football but I had to play. Half our team are serious sportsmen so it was a hard-fought game with our lot taking it very seriously. (Rikki is the former Chairman of Swindon Town football club and he was in charge of strategy.) The mountaineers won by one goal to nil so we were all very pleased with ourselves until Gina rather caustically pointed out that the opposition were mainly six year olds wearing flip flops.
This morning we woke to a lovely sunny day and had our first Loxton’s breakfast, Cumberland sausage and potato. Duffy gave a local dog a sausage and after that it seemed to adopt us.
We set off on what was to be a seven hour trek. This was the last village on the mountain and the stone steps finished. We were now following a rough trail. Soon we were into the forest with rhododendrons, camellias, a giant magnolia tree in full bloom and many other trees that I actually have in my garden - but I can’t remember their names. The Victorian plant hunters must have had a field day here and many of our garden plants at home today came from Nepal.
The scenery was just stunning and at one point the route was lined for miles with acres of purple primulas. Thank God we had finally left the litter behind. Then the going got really tough, gradually it got colder as we got higher and slowly the scenery got more barren. The dog from the village was still with us. We named him Loxton. He really is a beautiful dog, a black husky type I’d like to take home!
Eventually we hit the snow line and it got really cold. The sky was dark and finally we stopped exhausted at 3,700 metres at what was to be our campsite. A basin in the mountain covered in snow with a derelict cow herder’s cottage there.
Charlie had been climbing in shorts and was now very cold and looking quite ill. We had no shelter as the porters with our tents had still to arrive. We lit a fire with what little wood we could find and stood round it shivering.
Eventually our tents did arrive just as it started to snow. We all helped to put them up and then everybody rested inside and sorted their kit out. Finally the mess tent was up and dinner was ready.
Loxton’s Irish stew!
Today the altitude had really kicked in with everyone short of breath and light-headed. A few had minor headaches. Charlie was really now quite ill, he lay in his tent and Hinksey diagnosed mild altitude sickness and low level hypothermia. By 7:30pm we were all in our sleeping bags trying to get warm. I slept for a few hours and was eventually awakened by a storm. Thunder, lightning and a wind so strong I thought it would blow the tent away. It also sounded like a rain storm hitting the tent but it was actually icy snow.
Saturday, 02 April 2011 14:35 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
So we’re finally on our way. We are doing a 12 day ‘acclimatisation trek‘’, steadily increasing our altitude until we reach 16,000 feet. Base Camp is the same height but it would be dangerous to ascend too quickly without acclimatising first. Our bodies need to adjust to the thin air.
At the end of the trek we will go back down to 4,000 feet and cross into Tibet over ‘Friendship Bridge’. Then we will travel for three days to get to Base Camp. We have been warned we’ll still have headaches and generally feel quite ill when we get there but this trek should help. For me the trek is as much fitness training as anything else – I didn’t do enough over the last six months!
We set out on Thursday in a mini bus with 10 of us packed inside and a mountain of luggage on the roof. We drove for a couple of hours through the smog and filth of Kathmandu. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of refuse collection here and all the rubbish is dumped on the street. There must be millions of tons of the stuff everywhere. The river that flows though the town is choked with it and the banks are lined with shanty towns. Many people wear masks when walking outside.
The traffic is horrendous with cars and buses in various states of disrepair all blowing their horns every minute, and thousands of motorbikes weaving in and out. The roads are terrible with potholes everywhere. This has got to be the most dangerous part of the trip. There seem to be hundreds of smartly dressed policemen everywhere, with three or four at every road junction directing traffic, but it doesn’t seem to help at all as there are no rules!
Eventually we were out of the town but the haze still lingered in the valleys. The mountain roads were narrow with steep drops to the side. Rocks and mud from landslides half blocked the road every mile of so. All along the route rubbish was lining the roads. The mountain roads were narrow but that didn’t stop our driver overtaking on hairpin bends!
After four hours we stopped for lunch in a surprisingly nice lodge. The scenery was spectacular. Eventually we arrived at the starting point of our trek, a narrow steel rope footbridge across the valley.
It was hot and we all struggled to get going up the steep mountainside with our rucksacks. A small army of porters were waiting for us and began tying the rest of our luggage into enormous bundles with several bags tied together. Kit bags, tents, food cooking utensils were all strapped into loads that I couldn’t physically lift. The porters were all thin and small and weighed less than the load they were expected to carry. These were lifted onto their back and held by a rope around their forehead protected only by a strip of sacking. We queried if we needed more porters, and each load made smaller, but no. This was how it was to be done.
There were stone steps cut into the mountainside taking us up through endless terraces of various crops planted in narrow strips. They must have been built over generations. We climbed one thousand vertical metres through the most spectacular scenery but with rubbish everywhere. These people live in one of the most beautiful places on earth but seem to have no concept of caring for their environment.
We pitched camp late afternoon just as it started to rain.
Our porters and crew were busy putting up the tents and cooking our meal (which was amazingly good.) We are saving the Loxton’s food until later and eating local foods but I’m being very careful not to eat anything raw. No salads or garnish and no fruit. Our water is boiled and then we use an ultra violet light pen to sterilise it further.
Yesterday morning we were up at 6:00 am with breakfast served on an outside table in the sunshine. Porridge and fried eggs never tasted so good.
Duffy had been ill all through the night and was not in good shape for most of the day. I saw him eating salad last night and suggested he didn’t. His response was that if he was going to get stomach trouble he might as well get it over with. His wish came true!!!
We left the campsite at 8:00am with another steep climb of 1,000 vertical metres up continuous stone steps cut into the mountainside. We passed many villages with pretty houses clinging to the mountainside – or at least they seemed pretty from a distance! The locals were cheery and friendly but you wondered how they eked out a living from their terraces and a few goats and scrawny cattle. The weather was hot in the bright sunshine. We were in shorts and hiking boots but going at a very slow pace. Rubbish again lined our route the whole of the way.
We got to our second campsite early afternoon. A big lunch, clean up, relax, a big dinner and early to bed. In spite of a chorus of snores from various tents we slept well.
Thursday, 31 March 2011 08:30 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
As if packing in the first place wasn't bad enough I've now had to sort my kit into three piles. What I'm taking on the 12 day trek - to be carried by porters. Stuff for Everest Base Camp to go in bags to be driven there. And finally stuff for Advanced Base Camp to go into two plastic barrels to fit either side of a yak.
Working out what clothes I need where, which jacket will suit the temperature at each camp, and where to put my shaving stuff, has been a nightmare.
Yesterday Richard and I left the hotel to have lunch with The Princess. Kathmandu has got to be the filthiest place on earth but a little local knowledge is amazing. We ended up in a beautiful old building converted into a series of very pretty craft shops and a lovely courtyard with a restaurant serving good food.
A couple of bottles of beer later Richard suggested I should have my hair cut in the rather smart salon. I'd just had it cut before I left home. So had Richard but his was close cropped. It suited him as a young guy.
Maybe it was the alcohol but I found myself thinking I was in one of those American films where the guy just going into the army is having his hair cropped. Off it came, the lot! I look like a skinhead.
There was one nasty moment half way through when there was a power cut. I thought I was going to end up like a Mohican but luckily the electricity came back on later and the job was finished.
Actually I quite like it. I wash it and it dries in 10 seconds. At least it will have grown back before I hit civilisation again.
Early start today. We leave at 7am for our trek.
Tuesday, 29 March 2011 09:08 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
So, all the climbing team were due to to meet at Heathrow on Sunday evening at 6:30pm at the Qatar Airways check-in. Richard and I had just had the mega Sunday lunch at the Carlton Tower Hotel with all the family and grandchildren - 13 of us in all (luckily I'm not superstitious), a fitting send-off. Sort of the last supper but with the best wine!
We checked into our rooms and enjoyed a few Everest brand beers before a Nepali dinner. Richard went to university in Durham with a Nepalese Princess who was there to meet him which was nice.
After dinner we were introduced to our team of Sherpas who shared a beer with us. It was a little difficult to get to know them in this situation but we need to - our lives depend on these guys. We gave them Iceland shirts, fleeces, jackets and hats. I hope they like us...
Tuesday, 15 March 2011 12:55 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
As if I don't have enough to do before we set off for Everest, Richard insisted we have a quick trip to the Alps for some more training.
We flew out with Alan Hinkes who we have retained as our guide - his job is to get us back alive from Everest. Richard also called Justin Packshaw and invited him along as well. We arrived in Zermatt in time for a late lunch on Friday. It was too late to go climbing so we chilled out, had an early dinner and far too much wine. Justin is having a month off the booze so he didn't partake.
Next morning we met for breakfast at 7:30am. Justin had already been in the gym and hotel pool and then produced his own special bright green magic health potion to mix in with his breakfast fruit. He is an ex paratrooper, health freak, exercises daily and is fit as a butcher's dog. Richard is in great shape after a year of fitness training and Alan is, well.... just a rugged and and gnarled mountaineer. By comparison I was already feeling seriously unfit and under prepared.
Bad weather and high winds had closed most of the lifts but we caught the cable car up the mountain as far as we could go and then changed to the mountain railway to take us up to Gornergrat at 3,100 metres. We intended to climb the Breithorn but bad weather prevented it so we contented ourselves with some training exercises in the snow with our crampons and some rope-work.
Kilimanjaro at 5,800 metres didn't seem to present a problem for me as regards altitude but here I was struggling. The others seemed unaffected. Maybe the fast ascent didn't help but trying to climb in deep snow was a killer. I was dizzy and exhausted and glad when we finished at lunchtime and went back down to Zermatt. I wasn't feeling too pleased with myself.
After lunch in the hotel Alan took us to the Via Feratta just above Zermatt. Basically it's a 100 metre high vertical cliff face with a metal rope secured to the rocks leading half way up and then with a long traverse along the cliff side. It looked terrifying. Basically you clip yourself onto the rope and then start climbing. Funnily enough I managed quite well. I'm not good with heights (!!!) but found I could do this quite easily.
At the end of the day I'd recovered my confidence and learned quite a bit about our kit and some changes we needed to make for the big trip. I returned to the hotel with every bone in my body aching but feeling the trip had been very worthwhile. I went for a massage, the others went swimming or jogging or something.
Friday, 25 February 2011 00:20 | Written by Malcolm Walker |
Today we’re putting out our press release about the Iceland Everest Expedition and launching this website, and I suppose it’s beginning to dawn on me that we are actually heading off to climb Everest next month. I haven’t really given it a lot of thought up to now, to be honest. My son Richard, who is coming with me, keeps telling me that I am not taking it seriously. Though that is a better reaction than I get from the rest of the family, who just keeping looking at horror videos about the Death Zone and begging me not to go. It’s too late to change my mind now, though.
Richard is turning into a fitness fanatic, but I’m afraid I’m not. I was lifting weights two or three times a week at one stage, but somehow I seem to have reverted to mainly lifting a bottle of red wine in the evening. I’m hoping I can get fit on the mountain!
The only thing I am stressing about at the moment is my kit, because we’ve all got to get everything bought and packed up for DHL to fly it out next week. There isn’t going to be a lot of space in checked-in baggage on our own flight out to Kathmandu for anything we might have forgotten about.
I’m spending a fortune at Snow+Rock, one retailer that surely ought to be bucking the recession as a result. It’s made worse by the fact that I keep buying stuff and then finding out it’s not right for Everest. Not every shop sells Everest summit boots: we had to have our feet measured specially for those in London, then when the boots turned up they were too small. I’m terrified of frostbite and paranoid about getting the right kit to minimise the risks. I’m having a special down-filled summit suit made in France. All right, I know I’m not actually supposed to be aiming for the summit, but one thing I do remember from the Boy Scouts is “be prepared”.
Our main training effort so far has been Kilimanjaro last month. We made a short video that you might enjoy. It was tough, but quite easily manageable, so long as you took the porters’ advice and kept going “pole, pole” (Swahili for “slowly, slowly”) – making the final ascent to the summit more of a shuffle than a climb. I was more put out by the squalor of the camp sites we were staying in than by the actual climbing. I’m more of a five star hotel man myself.
We learned three really important lessons.
First, our trial of our specially prepared Expedition Nutrition demonstrated that we had made the portion sizes too large and the packs not strong enough to stand up to the rigours of being impounded for several days by Tanzanian customs.
Secondly, it isn’t a great idea to major on hot and spicy food at high altitude. The final stage of our climb to the summit was hindered rather than helped by some really powerful wind assistance.
Finally, and most importantly, as everyone tells you, it’s coming down that’s the really hard bit, not going up. On summit day it’s a 5km trek back down over rough ground, and you’re doing it when you’re tired after three hours’ sleep and setting off at 11pm for the seven hour climb to the top, followed by another two hours walking around the rim of the crater to get to the highest point. Then there’s another 14km to cover after an overnight stop. I went flat on my face over tree roots and boulders on more than one occasion. No wonder they reckon that 80 per cent of the fatalities on Everest happen on the descent.
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