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?
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