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Game Over

Mon 26 Nov 2012 08:50 » Jon

We arrived at Camp 2 on Friday afternoon full of enthusiasm, and slept surprisingly well given the altitude and the terrain the tents were on. Unfortunately things started to unravel early on Saturday.

We were up and packed, ready to head for Camp 3, when Pasang put his head through the doorway of the tent and told us to hold fire, as the wind was too strong again. The forecast was for 100 km/h winds at midday, but the Sherpas wanted more like 40 km/h to negotiate Mushroom Ridge, an exposed knife-edge ridge between Camps 2 & 3. The route wiggles around on either side of the ridge without enough anchors, so there is a fair amount of loose rope and a fall could end up being quite significant.

The winds on Sunday 25th were supposed to be milder, so the next iteration of the plan involved leaving Camp 2 at 04:00 in the morning and heading straight for the summit, skipping Camp 3. That would have meant a longer day, but with a lighter bag (no sleeping bag or Thermarest), and seemed like a good plan for a while. By lunchtime though, the plan had changed again due to an updated forecast, and our aim was to go only as far as Camp 3 on Sunday, then the summit on Monday.

As the day wore on, the effects of the unusually strong winds hit home: as we looked down at Base Camp about 1,400m below, we noticed half the tents had gone. After a brief radio chat we established that the mess tent and 4 of the 6 sleeping tents had been blown away and hit the rocks behind camp, smashing the contents and the poles, and shredding the tents. Looking down from Camp 2 at the remains of our home, I began to understand how Princess Leia must have felt when Alderaan was destroyed.

By the end of the day, the winds were as strong as ever, and spirits were beginning to sink. Living at 6,000m begins to take its toll pretty quickly, especially somewhere as unhygienic as Camp 2, and both Jon and I were suffering from dodgy stomachs as we settled down for our second night there. Although we’d been careful to boil the water we’d had during the day, it had all come from ice chipped off the slopes by the Sherpas, and given the lower boiling point at 6,000m, probably hasn’t been purified enough. The impeccable timing of the dodgy stomach meant that I spent the night making repeated journeys, clipped into the rope, from our tent down to the area we’d agreed to use as a toilet – probably the worst place in the world to have diahorrhea.

In the morning the winds were still howling up the ridge, blowing the prayer flags vertically upwards, and blowing snow plumes off the summit of the hill. As the forecasts were received, reality began to bite, and we realised the summit attempt was on its last legs. Options of staying another night at Camp 2 were considered, but we had no idea if Camp 3 was still there and the chances of the wind falling sufficiently on Monday or Tuesday were considered too low, so by mid-morning we’d agreed to call it a day and head down to Base Camp.

The retreat to Camp 1 seemed to take a very long time – the whole thing is on fixed lines, so queues form wherever there are abseils, as that section can only have one person on it at a time. Every now and again the route crossed over onto the exposed side of the ridge and we were battered by the Baltic wind that was ruining our plans.

Eventually we made it to Camp 1, paused to change from mountaineering boots into normal boots and to have a drink, then abseiled down the last bit of fixed line and began the long walk back to the remains of Base Camp.

We finally reached Base Camp after dark, in a cloud that meant visibility was about 30m. We were fed in a rebuilt mess tent, then headed for bed. For most of us, this meant one of the tents from Camp 1 that had been brought down to replace the tents destroyed by the wind. Given the time of our arrival, we didn’t have the chance to go through the debris of the old tents to recover our stuff, so we spent the night in the same clothes we’d been wearing since leaving Base Camp 5 days earlier.

Today we’ve washed, sifted through thousands of pounds worth of tent-wreckage to retrieve what we can, and scoured the rocks behind Base Camp searching for various missing items. The yaks are leaving with our kit tonight, then we’re heading off to Pangboche tomorrow.

The mood in Base Camp isn’t too depressed today. Although everyone’s disappointed, it will be good to get home after several weeks in the mountains. It’s annoying being beaten by the weather though, as we all felt we could make it, but that’s the nature of mountaineering.

Weather Problems Again

Sat 24 Nov 2012 09:22 » Jon

We were up this morning and almost ready to go when Pasang (our sirdar) told us that we were going to stay put for the day because it was too windy. Winds of 110km/h were forecast and we have to negotiate a tricky ridge on the way up to Camp 3, which the Sherpas would prefer to do when the winds are below 40 km/h.

At that point the plan was that we’d set off at 04:00 tomorrow morning and skip Camp 3, going straight to the summit. This would obviously mean a longer day, but we’d be travelling much lighter as we wouldn’t have sleeping bags and mats.

Since then, the plan has changed again. It sounds like the weather will be better tomorrow and Monday, so in a final roll of the dice we’re going to climb to Camp 3 tomorrow at the more civilised time of 08:00, then hopefully summit on Monday. This leaves no contingency, so we’re going to have to run back down the hill and run to Lukla if we’re going to make our flights home, but right now we’re all rather keen on finishing what we’ve started here.

Moving on up

Fri 23 Nov 2012 10:11 » Jon

Haven’t moved far since yesterday, but the terrain between Camp 1 & 2 is pretty slow going. The route is all on fixed lines and is a combination of hauling oneself up on an ascender or traversing on a couple of karabiners.

We’re now at just over 6,000m, so have climbed about 300m. Quite a large chunk of this the famous Yellow Tower, which leads up to Camp 2. It’s near vertical, and pretty much wiped out the whole team.

Camp 2 itself looks amazing (try Googling for images of Ama Dablam Camp 2) but it’s not the most pleasant place in the world – there’s hardly any room for tents and the pitches are rocky as hell. Plus there’s nowhere to go to the toilet, so people go everywhere and the whole place stinks like a portaloo.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. The team is down to seven now, and we’re hoping to reach Camp 3 tomorrow, so we can summit on Sunday when the wind is a little lighter.

Stuck at Camp 1

Thu 22 Nov 2012 05:38 » Jon

It’s now 10 days since we first arrived in Base Camp. The first couple of days were spent checking climbing gear, planning food for our first trip up the hill, and training on fixed ropes like we’d be using from just below Camp 1.

Last Thursday we began the next phase of acclimatisation by climbing up to about 5,200m on a day trip from Base Camp, then on Friday we climbed up to Camp 1 at about 5,700m, and stayed the night. We climbed most o the way to Camp 2 on Saturday, slept at Camp 1 again, then dropped back down to Base Camp on Sunday.

Monday and Tuesday were spent resting, washing kit and preparing for the summit attempt, which began yesterday. The plan had been to spend one night at each of Camp 1, 2 & 3, summitting on Saturday, but the weather is not working in our favour at the moment.

Every day of the trip so far we’ve had bright clear, mornings, which cloud over in the afternoons about half the time. The only negative thing about the weather has been the biting wind that comes some afternoons.

When we climbed up to Camp 1 & 2 last week it was much warmer than we’d expected, and I think this lulled us into a bit of a false sense of security. The forecast is now for strong winds for the next few days, so summitting on the 24th no-longer sounds like such a good plan.

Unfortunately this leaves most of the team perched on Ama Dablam’s south west ridge at Camp 1 for at least one extra day. This isn’t the most luxurious place to spend a rest day – we’re travelling as light as possible at the moment, so have no books, playing cards, or any of the other luxuries that Base Camp offers.

While another night up here will help with acclimatisation, we’re not sure how we can all fit in Camp 2, which normally only has two or, at a push, three tents. Anyway, that will become clear in the next day or two.

We have to leave Base Camp by 28th, but hopefully there’s still time to summit…

Heading off to Basecamp

Sun 11 Nov 2012 10:53 » Jon

Tonight is our last night in a building for what will probably be just over two weeks. Tomorrow we move to Ama Dablam basecamp, where we’ll live for most of that time, apart from the occasional foray up the hill. To begin with these will just be day climbs, but if all goes well then we’ll spend a night at camp 1. There is no fixed plan as it depends how we acclimatise, what the weather does and what other teams are doing, but the aim will be to gradually push higher, ultimately spending a night at camp 3 and going for the summit.

The main priority now though, is to have a shower. For the next two weeks a bowl of tepid water is the best we can hope for.

After that we’re going to go to a talk on AMS here in Pheriche, so we’re all up to speed on what signs we should be look for in ourselves and our team. Everyone seems to have coped with the altitude pretty well so far, but it’s going to get more serious from here on.

Our lodge is at around 4,200m, and this morning we climbed a peak behind it up to 5,000m – over a hundred metres higher than Mont Blanc. We got a different view of our objective – up to now we’ve been looking at Ama Dablam from between the southwest and west ridges, but today we saw it from north of the west ridge. This view is less terrifying than the classic view – you can’t see the dablam glacier, but can see the side profile of the summit day climb, and it looks a little less steep than it does from front-on, which was a relief…

The views were amazing – we could see Makalu, Lhotse and Island Peak in one direction, Ama Dablam a bit further round, and Lobouje East off to the other side.

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Life up here is pretty chilly. Although the toilet was flushing yesterday, the water supply froze overnight, and hasn’t thawed since. There is still frozen water on the window sill, and all there is to flush it with is a jug and a barrel of water with ice floating in it.

After tonight there’ll be no wifi, and quite possibly no phone coverage, which could mean no updates for a while. Basecamp and camp 1 are behind a ridge, but camp 2 has a view of the valley, so with a bit of luck there’ll be coverage somewhere on the way up.

Pheriche

Sat 10 Nov 2012 13:16 » Jon

The cards last night were considerably more successful than the previous night – I managed not to lose at all, which probably contributed to me sleeping so well. Apart from a brief awakening to use the pee bottle, I slept very soundly.

The pee bottle isn’t a necessity in a lodge with toilets just down the corridor, but once we get to basecamp, and certainly higher up, getting out of the tent in the middle of the night could be very unpleasant. At camp 2 and 3, it could be fatal, as there’s barely any space between the tents and a long steep drop, so being able to lie in a sleeping bag and pee in a bottle is a useful skill.

As well as helping acclimatise, Diamox has a few side effects: peeing more, tingling in the fingers, and making fizzy drinks taste flat. I haven’t had a fizzy drink since I started it a couple of days ago, but had some tingling at breakfast today.

We left Deboche this morning wearing an extra layer or two than previous days, and several people had gloves on. After we crossed to the other side of the valley though, we were in the sun, and we began warming up. The rest of the morning was reasonably warm, but after lunch it got colder and colder as a bitter wind got stronger.

We had some of the best views so far of the mountain today. For some reason the general feeling today seemed to be more one of anticipation today, rather than the initial terror.

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We left the main trail shortly before Pangboche and climbed up to a village called Upper Pangboche, to go and visit a lama. He blessed the prayer flags, blessed the Sherpas, and then blessed all of us, putting a scarf and a little bit of orange round our neck, all the time chucking rice in the air.

We lunched in Pangboche, then walked across the gently rising plain towards Pheriche, getting increasingly chilled by the bitter wind.

Luckily in Pheriche we checked into a great lodge for tonight and to tomorrow, with a powerful stove keeping the main room nice and cosy. Rich and I decided the time had come for a dhal bhat, and it was good enough that we’re probably going to have it again tomorrow after our acclimatisation climb.

After tomorrow night, it’s off to basecamp, so no more lodges, no more choice of food, and no more stoves keeping us warm.

Deboche

Fri 09 Nov 2012 11:22 » Jon

One thing that never fails to amaze me is the enormous contrast between day and night (or sun and shade) temperatures. The last few days we’ve been walking in T-shirts, but once the sun goes in, the layers go on. We’re now sitting in a lodge at Deboche, and most people have two or three layers on (the Sherpas are wearing down jackets), even inside. We’re hoping they might light the stove before dinner, but the bedrooms are going to be cold tonight.

I slept better last night than I did the night before – probably due to it being the second night at the same altitude. It certainly wasn’t because of the evening’s entertainment – I lost horrifically at cards, and the guys were still laughing about it this morning!

Another thing which could have affected my sleep is the fact that I’ve started taking Diamox, a drug that’s supposed to help you acclimatise more quickly. I’ve never used it before, but Ian was talking about it the other day and said that if it helps you sleep better at altitude then it was worth thinking about. After a rough night on Wednesday, I decided it was worth a few Rupees.

The route from Namche this morning wound gently along the side of a steep slope, occasionally climbing or descending, and occasionally passing a little stupa. After a while though, it descended rapidly and by lunchtime we were several hundred metres lower, crossing yet another suspension bridge.

Just over the bridge, we stopped for an early lunch, and some of the team bumped into a mate of theirs who’d just climbed Ama Dablam. He said the mountain was in great condition, but added to the other people saying it was colder than usual.

During the afternoon we walked very slowly up to Thyangboche monastery. Some of the guys had a look round, but Rich and I visited it a couple of years ago so headed on down to Deboche with Pasang, our sirdar (chief Sherpa) and brother of Nima Temba, the sirdar on our trip two years ago.

The lodge seems ok – I’ve just had a hot shower, but am now sitting in a fleece, a primaloft jacket, a woollen hat, and a big down sleeping bag, trying to stay warm.

Namche

Thu 08 Nov 2012 08:02 » Jon

The route from Monjo to Namche begins fairly calmly, meandering along the river and occasionally crossing one of the crazy swinging suspension bridges. After an hour though, it starts climbing, and goes on and on until you get to the village.

Even when we did finally reach the village, the climbing continued as our lodge is right at the highest point of Namche. It isn’t quite as plush as the one in Monjo, but does still have a warm shower for about £4.

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Once we’d settled in and had some lunch, most of us headed down into the village to have a look round and check out the shops. Like in Kathmandu, most of the shops sell very dodgy rip-offs of the major brands, but there are a couple of shops selling proper gear for about ten times the price. I ended up buying a couple of hats (one real, one local, which turned out to be quite restrained compared to the people coming back with down boots, gillets, etc.

I haven’t worn the local hat yet, as it’s emblazoned with the words “Ama Dablam”, and I haven’t decided whether wearing it before summitting might jinx the expedition. Rich and I bought matching hats, and the team’s initial reaction was negative, but they seem to have mellowed. Luckily the Mountain Hardwear one was less controversial.

After a meal of pizza, chips and spaghetti (they’re good at carbo-loading here!) the group read, chatted and played cards. The game of choice is called Uno, but has been renamed Momo, in honour of the Nepalese dumplings. At various points during the game, players have to shout “Momo” or “De-momo”, and the whole thing can get quite agitated.

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I took hours to get to sleep last night and woke with a bit of a headache. Breakfast was a bit of a struggle, but things improved as we climbed up to the Everest View Hotel, about 300m above our lodge Namche, and I was feeling pretty good by the time we sat on the terrace for some hot lemon.

The view was amazing. Ama Dablam looked pretty terrifying, but we were advised to take things one day at a time and focus on getting to the next tea-house, rather than worrying about the ridiculously steep climb we’ll be facing in a couple of weeks’ time.

Ama Dablam looked especially impressive as it looks bigger than Lhotse and Everest (to the left), but we’re hoping that’s just perspective, rather than unwelcome movements of the tectonic plates.

We made it back down to Namche for a great lunch of veg curry with some Nepali bread, pasta and potato cakes. This afternoon we’re relaxing again before heading on to Deboche tomorrow.

Down and up to Monjo

Tue 06 Nov 2012 12:05 » Jon

Start: Lukla (2843m)
End: Monjo (2846m)

The first day of trekking began sometime after 11am, when we’d made sure all the bags had arrived from Lukla. It was a beautiful day, and we were soon stripping down to our base layers, slapping on the sunscreen and working on our tans.

On the face of it, the stats would suggest that today was a pretty straightforward 3m climb, but Lukla is high up on the side of a mountain and the path drops gradually down to cross the Dudh Khosi river, then goes up and down several times, before finally climbing up to Monjo.

We’re now in what’s possibly the best tea-house ever – it’s the only one I’ve ever seen with en-suite showers (hot!) and toilets.

Landed at Lukla

Tue 06 Nov 2012 03:51 » Jon

After a day relaxing and shopping in Kathmandu, we’re finally underway.

20121108-131715.jpgLast time I flew to Lukla we got up early, got told the flight was cancelled, spent the next four days waiting for the weather to improve, and finally had to charter a helicopter to avoid the chaos at Kathmandu airport. This time, things were much smoother – we got up at 04:00 today, got the first flight out of KTM and were in Lukla before 07:00.

The skies here are clear, and the sun is gradually reaching more of the village, which will hopefully warm things up – it’s pretty cold at the moment.

We’re just waiting for a second plane to bring a few remaining bags now. After recent issues on flights up here they’re being a bit more strict about luggage allowances, and we had to split the team’s bags between a couple of planes. Once the bags arrive, we’ll hopefully be off up the Khumbu.