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 ...
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