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.
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