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.
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