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Civilisation

Thu 04 Nov 2010 08:13 » Jon

The flight back from Lukla was mainly over low-ish mountains, which are all farmed. These Himalayan foothills are as steep and rugged as any mountain in the UK, but farmers have terraced every possible square metre so they can grow crops. It’s quite a sight, and makes you think how hard some people are prepared to work to make a living.

From Kathmandu airport we were bussed back to the hotel we’d left three weeks earlier, where we washed, repacked for the international flight, and re-connected with the normal world.

One treat we’d all (well, the men anyway) been looking forward to was having a shave. Andy had recommended a barber just down the hill from the hotel, so Rich and I wandered down looking scruffy and overgrown and, for the first time ever, someone else shaved me. The guy went to town, massaging my face, head and shoulders, and I left feeling very relaxed and considerably cleaner.

Rich and I wandered into Thamel in the evening to see if we could spend any money, but despite searching The North Face, Mountain Hardwear and various other kosher and fake shops, we found nothing worthy of our hard-earned cash.

At 18:30 we met up with Andy for a drink, then the rest of the group gradually arrived for our meal at the Third Eye – a very welcome change after the repetitive food of the last few weeks. A few of us adjourned to an Irish bar afterwards, where a great live band were playing, and reminisced about our little trip. By the time we got back to the hotel we were a little the worse for wear and tried throwing Andy in the pool, but we made it to breakfast this morning in a reasonable state.

Today’s objective is to relax by the pool, read, and generally do as little as possible.

Return to Lukla

Wed 03 Nov 2010 15:07 » Jon

Namche Bazaar was our first taste of civilisation as we returned down the valley towards Lukla, and we finally had flushing toilets for the first time in over two weeks. There was still no hot water, but even a tap with running cold water was an improvement on recent nights. Waking up, it was great to feel warm enough that one didn’t have to put on every possible item of clothing in order to survive the next few minutes. Unlike Dingboche there was no ice on the inside of the windows, and none of the clothes left outside the sleeping bag had frozen solid.

The walk from Namche down to Lukla was probably the longest distance we’ve covered in a day. There was a surprising amount of climbing, not just up to Lukla at the end, but sprinkled throughout the day. It was a relief to finally make it to our hostel, as my knees were beginning to feel it.

We lunched at the same place we’d eaten on the first day out of Lukla. Rich, Mark and I had what will hopefully be our last Dhal Bhat, though the one was one of the better ones we’ve tried.

After lunch some of the group went to check out a colony of bees, but I set off in search of Lukla with Rich and Mark. Rich disappeared shortly after we’d set off, so I spent most of the afternoon with Mark and Dowa, rapidly heading towards Lukla.

When we arrived, the yaks with our bags were no-where to be seen, so I went and had a drink in “Starbucks” while they trotted down, and caught up with a few emails until the iPhone ran out of juice.

Eventually the yaks showed up and I had my first shower since Dingboche (6 days ago). Once I’d changed into some clean clothes I repacked for the flight, making the main kitbag as light as possible and putting the heavy stuff in my climbing rucksack to take onto the plane.

Our final meal with the Sherpas began pretty quietly, with Dave reading his book and the rest of us chatting quietly. After the main course we presented the yak-man, the cook boys, the cook, the porters and the Sherpas with their tips, then the party began. The Nepalis were all up for dancing, and didn’t seem to have any qualms about dancing with men, which was a good thing as there weren’t enough women to go round!

Our plan had been to get up at 05:15 to get ready for the flight, but another group got up at 04:30 so we woke up then too. By the time we had breakfast at 05:45 we were packed and ready to go, and miraculously this time the arrangements for the plane went smoothly. There was a slight glitch when the security man discovered my Leatherman in my hand-baggage but, being a friendly bunch, they allowed me to walk out onto the runway and transfer it to my main bag! After that we had a short wait while we watched a few planes land and take-off on the crazy runway, then we boarded our own plane, sped off down the hill and headed back towards Kathmandu.

Future plans

Mon 01 Nov 2010 17:17 » Jon

The views this morning were incredible. The snow transformed the valley and it looked amazing, with the trees all covered with snow and the mountains even more dramatic and imposing than usual.

As we set off from Pangboche we admired the new views and Rich and I began talking about climbing Ama Dablam. I still can’t believe we’re considering it, but Andy mentioned it last night and we’ve been debating whether it would be feasible since then.

According to Jagged Globe, Ama Dablam is graded 5D, which is the hardest technical level and one off the hardest physical level. Everest is 4E. Quite why anyone thinks Rich and I are capable of this is beyond me. To be fair to Andy, what he said was that we could be ready this time next year, if we do some training, but it still seems like a tall order. Rich is very keen and is trying to convince me to sign up, but I’d rather get back before making any decisions.

All the way down to Tengboche (where we found the monks had taken up skiing – see photo!) we had snow on the ground, and kept pausing to take yet more pictures of Ama Dablam. We’re moving at a great speed compared to the journey up the valley, and dropped rapidly down to a bridge at about 3,330m. At that stage there was still snow, but soon after that there was a muddy trail, then finally it dried out and I stripped off down to Helly for the first time in several weeks.

Just before the bridge, I spotted a face I recognised going the other way – it was Yuba Raj, the guy who’d guided Alex and me round the Annapurna Circuit back in 2005! We stopped and talked for a few minutes but the rest of the group had already gone and Andy was waiting, so I headed off after them.

After the bridge the path began climbing again, for what turned out to be about 300m. We lunched at the top of the climb then it took an hour or so along the flat to reach Namche. The sun was out by this stage and the snow was melting higher and higher up the valley sides, though the summits still looked fantastic. Unfortunately I think today is probably the last day for views of the big summits – tomorrow we drop steeply down on the way to Lukla.

Back in Namche we’ve connected to the outside world for the first time in a few days and have been chilling out in the lodge. I’ve had some washing done, so as soon as I can find a shower I’ll have clean clothes. Hopefully one more day of smelling won’t cause too much offence.

Heading down

Sun 31 Oct 2010 16:43 » Jon

We had a pretty relaxed start today, leaving base camp at around 09:00, by which time I’d managed to wash (in a bowl again), eat and sort out my kit.

There was a small amount of blue sky when I crawled out of the tent but the change in the weather that Andy first spotted from the summit of Lobouje East has continued today. The blue sky disappeared pretty quickly and the walk down to Pheriche was pretty cold, then after lunch it began snowing. It’s been very light all afternoon but began properly dumping once we’d arrived in Pangboche and were safely inside our lodge. The fir trees now have a layer of snow on them and it’s beginning to settle on the ground, but nothing too serious to affect our little walk yet. The only question is whether the airport in Lukla will cope…

As the weather has worsened today I’ve become increasingly grateful for our weather window. Although we lost 5 days at the start due to the delayed flight to Lukla, we’ve had perfect weather since we climbed above 4,000m soon after Deboche. We had blue sky for the walk up the valley and for all three summits, which is all we could ask for really. Losing the chance to do Gokyo Ri is a shame, but a sacrifice I’d happily make to have good weather for our summit days. Snow and rain the next two days wouldn’t be the end of the world, as long as we get to fly on Wednesday. If we’re hit by more delays at Lukla then our flight home to the UK on Friday could become a bit of an issue.

When we reached Dugla about an hour into the walk this morning we rejoined the EBC trail. After the solitude of Lobouje it was a horrible shock to be back on such a busy route – suddenly there are trekkers everywhere and we’ve realised how luck we were to be off the main trails. Today we were queuing at times as we followed some very slow groups down the valley – one Japanese group looked like they were going to take weeks just to reach the next village, they were going so slowly!

Wide awake

Sun 31 Oct 2010 06:12 » Jon

I seem to be suffering from a weird form of jet-lag, caused by regularly getting up in the early hours for summit attempts and going to bed when it gets dark (around 8pm). Last night I had about 7 hours of great sleep, but woke up around 02:30 and haven’t really slept since then.

Yesterday evening was pretty quiet, even by our team’s standards. As soon as we’d got our drinking water/hot water bottles after dinner we all hit the sack.

The plan from here is to head to Pangboche tonight, Namche tomorrow, then Lukla on Tuesday for an early flight to Katmandu on Wednesday.

My main priority is to get clean though. I had a reasonable wash in a bowl 2 days ago before we climbed up to high camp, but there’s been a lot of climbing since then… Unfortunately, even if I do wash, there are no clean clothes left. On some expeditions you can keep things ticking over by washing clothes in a stream or a lake, but the only water we’ve camped near was the lake at high camp, which was our drinking water, so not ideal for washing in. Warm water is in short supply – we get a bowlful each to wash in most days, and a few bottles full to drink, but it all has to be gathered from a stream or lake, or melted from snow, and the kerosene to warm it has been carried from Lukla.

The situation in the lodges is only slightly better – we haven’t had running hot water since Katmandu (now 17 days) apart from 2 showers we’ve had to pay for.

The other thing that’s been pretty basic is the toilet situation. In all but one campsite we’ve put up a toilet tent over a hole in the ground, but Lobouje High Camp was too rocky, so we just fended for ourselves. Things are slightly more luxurious in the lodges, as there’s normally a squatter and occasionally a normal sitter. The difference from normal toilets is that flushing is done by pouring in a jug of water from a barrel.

Lobouje East

Sat 30 Oct 2010 16:40 » Jon

Wow.

What a climb.

After setting off around 02:30, we hit the false summit at about 08:00 then Dowa, Mark, Andy and I reached the real summit at 08:35.

After another incredibly clear and starry night, the wake-up call found us warm and cozy. Despite the clear skies, it was surprisingly warm – below zero, but not as uncomfortable as sometimes.

I’d slept well so it wasn’t too hard getting up, but somehow I still managed to be the last one ready. The porridge arrived at 01:30 and all I has to do was eat, get dressed, clean my teeth, squat over some rocks behind the tent, then get my kit ready, but this seemed to take longer than everyone else so I set off at the back of the group near Thomas and Nima Temba.

The first couple of hours was spent climbing up some amazing slabs of rock, which were covered with more snow and ice as we got higher. This time there were no other groups on the mountain so the only light was the 12 head-torches of our group: 8 clients, Andy and 3 Sherpas. The only noises were the crunch of feet on either rock or snow, the clanking of climbing equipment, and the chanting of Tam Ding and Nima Temba’s prayers.

It was still dark when we reached the glacier at about 04:30. We seemed to get organised more efficiently this time, and the first group to set off was Andy, Mark, Rich and me.

The glacier crossing didn’t seem as circuitous as on Island Peak, but it felt like there was more height gain. By this stage I was feeling the altitude (~5600m) and wasn’t really enjoying having the pace dictated. The back of a rope-group is an unfortunate place to be, as the leader (who sets the pace) will finish a section of ascent and speed up for the descent while the guy at the back is still climbing, and quite happy with the slower pace.

As we’d been crossing the glacier the sun had started to appear, and there’d been some amazing views across the Himalaya. Unfortunately being roped to three other people isn’t conducive to photography (especially when the batteries are kept separately in a chest pocket to keep them warm), so I don’t have any photos from that part of the climb.

Apart from a brief climb near the beginning, most of the height gain came from a sustained ascent towards the end of the glacier, as we approached the start of the fixed ropes. The slope got steeper and steeper until Andy eventually came to a stop at the line that Dowa had set up. When we’d arrived at the glacier I’d dumped my poles, attached my crampons and tied into the end of the rope with a retied figure of eight. Mark and Rich had clipped into knots at intervals along the rope, and the three of us were reeled in by Andy. We attached our Jumars to the line and set off, leaving Andy behind to speak to the next group, and hoping we’d meet Dowa somewhere higher up.

There were a couple of anchors in the first section, and we generally caught each other at these, as there’s a slight delay while you clip your safety karabiner to the anchor and transfer the Jumar to the next section of rope. Andy was far below, I paused at one of the anchors, put a battery in, and started taking photos.

I was travelling at about the same time as the other two but all three of use were going slowly and stopping regularly. By the time we reached the top of the first section Andy had caught up, and wasn’t best pleased when he saw Mark unattached. There was a 10m gap between ropes and Mark was halfway across the gap, but luckily Dowa was there to explain.

At the top of the second section we reached a little plateau and clipped into an anchor, as the third and final section of fixed ropes wasn’t yet in place. We crossed another short unroped section then Dowa appeared, abseiling down his latest creation. Once he was off we clipped in and began our climb to the false summit.

We clipped into another anchor at the false summit and were soon joined by the second rope party – Dave, Martin and Jo. At this point Andy asked if anyone was interested in carrying on to the main summit but there wasn’t much enthusiasm – only Mark and I showed any interest. Although the fixed lines hadn’t been as steep as Island Peak, they’d been way longer – Andy reckoned 400m of ascent compared to 100m on Island. Climbing this far at 6,000m had taken it’s toll.

Luckily the views were incredible. In one direction we could see Everest poking above the Nuptse-Lhotse ridge, with Makalu slightly off to the right, and in front of Makalu was little old Island Peak.

The summit party was lead by Dowa, with me second, followed by Mark and Andy. The route was alond a very sharp, steep ridge, and Andy reminded us to keep the rope tight and concentrate on every single footstep, ensuring we had our axes in the snow before moving our feet.

It took about 30 minutes to reach the summit (6,119m). The journey was exhilarating, exhausting and at times downright terrifying. The steep drops on either side of the ridge sometimes ended at a vertical cliff only a few metres away.

At the summit there were hugs and high fives, and a few minutes for photos. The skies were still clear and the views were even better than from the false summit some 100m lower. There were a few small clouds in the distance though, and Andy said the weather was about to change so we should head down. He gave us another reminder of how dangerous the ridge path was, then we re-traced our steps to the false summit and began abseiling down the fixed lines.

Abseiling is beginning to feel a bit more natural. I hadn’t done much before this trip but I’m getting used to it now, and switching over at anchors is becoming more efficient too.

At the bottom of the fixed lines we roped up for the glacier and I lead Mark and Andy back down to the rock section. We caught up with several others there, but they were just setting off as we stopped for some food and drink, as well as re-arranging our kit and switching from ice-axe and crampons back to poles.

Mark had felt quite unwell after Island Peak and had put this down to keeping his down jacket on too long, so I’d been gradually shedding layers. Once the sun had appeared it was too hot for a down jacket so I’d stowed that at the false summit then lost my Primaloft jacket as we reached the rock.

We slowly dropped down across the enormous slabs back to the little lake where high camp was perched and I suddenly began feeling dehydrated and absolutely exhausted. We were given hot lemon then soup to help us rehydrate, then I crashed out in the tent for a bit. Unfortunately the porters wanted to move everyone down to base camp as soon as possible, so the rest of the team began packing up and shipping out. Rich and I were last, but finally got our kit sorted out and slowly plodded down to base camp, where we were fed more hot lemon while the tents were put up, then we all crashed out again.

D-Day

Sat 30 Oct 2010 01:30 » Jon

Yesterday afternoon, Dowa climbed up to put the fixed ropes in, and reported back that the route was in good condition and that the summit should be possible. Andy was non-committal when he told us, but I’m sure he’d like to get there too.

We had the usual pre-summit meal in our tents last night: soup and prawn crackers, a rehydrated meal in a bag (salmon and dill sauce this time) then a slice of fruit. While we were eating, the Sherpas filled our water-bottles with boiled water, so we tucked these inside our sleeping bags to keep our feet warm and crashed out at about 19:30.

As a result of Dowa’s assessment, the hot chocolate arrived at 01:00 this morning to give us a bit more time to reach the summit. I haven’t been outside yet but Andy just popped round and reported that it was clear and warm, which is ideal. Right now I’m trying to force down a bowl of porridge, but I’m hoping it will be the last one as I can’t stand the stuff. I need something to get me up the mountain though, and there isn’t a huge amount of choice up here.

Once the porridge is dealt with, it’s time to go.

Lobouje High Camp

Fri 29 Oct 2010 13:58 » Jon

The walk up from Dughla to Base Camp yesterday afternoon took about two hours and, apart from the intial climb out of the settlement, wasn’t particularly strenuous. On arrival we rigged up a zip-wire for Ted, Andy’s teddy-bear, then sorted out the kit for High Camp and drank as much water as possible.

Last night was possibly the coldest night we’ve had so far. Although Rich and I didn’t seem to suffer too much with ice inside the tent, it was the first time I’d slept with my sleeping bag fully done up, with the hood round my head. This morning wasn’t too cold though and we had a pretty relaxed start, with breakfast at 08:00 then some final preparations before setting off for High Camp at about 09:30.

Having felt a bit lethargic yesterday, this morning’s climb up to High Camp was great – I felt really strong, and I just hope I feel like this tomorrow!

We’re down to eight now, as Steve has gone back down to Base Camp. He seemed genuinely worried about his health when I was chatting to him on the way up this morning. I think he was surprised by how weak he felt on the way down Island Peak.

After a minor disagreement regarding the tent arrangements, we’re now settled into High Camp. The location is amazing – a tiny lake on the side of Lobouje, with views of Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam and Lobouje’s summit. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, and I can’t imagine many better places than this. The only problem is that we have to be up at 01:30 to climb a mountain.

The first sight of Lobouje

Thu 28 Oct 2010 11:01 » Jon

After days avoiding the crowds, we were back on the Everest Base Camp trail this morning, and I realised how lucky we’ve been the last few days. We’ve paused for lunch in Dughla, a settlement which consists simply of two lodges, feeding about six million trekkers (Acute Mountain Snobbery again).

The route from Dingboche to Dughla took us over the shoulder of the ridge that comes off Pokalde, separating the Imja Khola valley (where we’ve been for the last week or so) from the Lobouje Khola (which leads up to the Khumbu Glacier and Everest Base Camp). As we reached the top of the ridge we passed a little stupa and had our last look back at Island Peak. Someone commented that we could see Lobouje East up the other valley, but I could only see enormous summits with huge rock faces, so assumed they were joking and ignored them. Andy has since confirmed, however, that one of the most ominous-looking is indeed Lobouje. It looks pretty terrifying from what we’ve seen so far, with a huge south face of rock and snow. Several of us have asked Andy about the route, assuming it’s somewhere we haven’t seen yet, like up a nice grassy slope round the back, but it isn’t – it’s straight up the south face.

The summit of Lobouje East, at 6,119m, is 46m lower than Lobouje West, but is a much more common objective as Lobouje West is a considerably harder climb and requires a much more expensive permit. Before the trip, I hadn’t realised that we weren’t going for the main summit, so was slightly surprised to hear that, then was even more surprised to learn that most expeditions don’t even get as far as Lobouje East. At the end of the ridge there is a false summit, which is where most trips stop, as the route to the summit is often too dangerous – Andy had been there in May when there was a massive crevasse blocking the route.

It seems a bit strange having an objective that isn’t the real summit, and not expecting to even make that. Island Peak was much simpler: the objective was just to get to the top. It’ll be great if we reach the summit of Lobouje East, but I’m going to be a bit disappointed if we’re stopped by a crevasse at the false summit.

Having crossed into the new valley, we’ve got a whole new selection of mountains to look at and poor old Ama Dablam, centre of attention for the trip so far, is being ignored. Lobouje is one of the most daunting peaks we can see at the moment and Pumori, which has just appeared round the corner, also looks pretty impressive.

Shower time

Wed 27 Oct 2010 20:14 » Jon

Yesterday we dropped down from Island Peak Base Camp, through Chukhung and back to Dingboche. The lodge we stayed in last time was full, so we checked into one with a very welcome warm shower – the first time most of us had had a decent wash since Namche Bazaar ten days ago. This time we even managed to convince Andy to have a shower.

We had lunch sitting outside the lodge, then spent the afternoon relaxing, sending the odd email from the Dingboche internet shed, and making use of the shower.

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