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Island Peak

Tue 26 Oct 2010 19:28 » Jon

Yesterday morning I wrote before we left Island Peak Base Camp. In the afternoon we climbed up to Island Peak High Camp, then this morning eight out of nine clients summitted at 6,189m. We’re now back at IPBC, utterly exhausted but hugely proud and satisfied.

The walk up was flat as far as the “real” IPBC which is situated by the enormous Imje Tsho lake (we used a lower camp, about an hour short of the main one, because the main one is apparently even colder than ours).  From there it was a steep climb up to High Camp, which is at about 5,460m.

Rich and I ended up sharing with Andy this time, which was quite entertaining! We rigged up a zip wire for his teddy-bear, and talked a load of nonsense. I didn’t sleep brilliantly though, as the tent was a bit cramped and I was on the downhill side, with gaps underneath me and Andy and Rich rolling down onto me. I think I got a couple of hours sleep sometime after 23:00, but at 01:30 we were woken with “bed tea”.

Departure was scheduled for 03:00, so there wasn’t too much of a rush. We’d sorted out most of our kit the previous afternoon, so just had to eat breakfast and get dressed.

Getting dressed meant sports underwear, long johns, fleece salopettes,  base layer, a thin fleece, a Primaloft jacket, a down jacket, two pairs of socks and a pair of plastic double boots, the inners of which had been in the sleeping bag overnight. On top of this there was a Gore-Tex hat, a helmet, gaiters, two pairs of gloves and a harness pre-arranged with Jumar, various karabiners, Prusik loops and a descender, all ready for action. Finally there were walking poles, and a rucksack including ice-axe, crampons, 4 spare pairs of gloves (different types and thicknesses), water, food, waterproofs and some emergency kit.

Luckily the weather was very kind to us again. There was a clear sky, and a full moon lighting up the mountain, but it was also surprisingly warm.

The climb began straight away: from our camp perched on the edge of the steep slope, we just carried on up the slope. We weren’t the first group to set off, and could see head-torches snaking up the path in front of us.

The first two hours were mostly some pretty straightforward scrambling but it was a relief to get a break after fifty minutes. My main concern was hydration, so I was drinking at every opportunity to try and stave off any symptoms of AMS.

After about two hours we reached the glacier. It seemed to take ages for everyone to attach crampons and rope together, but we set off before hypothermia or frost-bite set in, which was a relief. I was at the back of a rope with Tam Ding leading, and Dave and Mark in the middle.

The route across the glacier would look crazy on a map, unless the map showed the enormous crevasses we were walking round. We snaked round the huge holes, some visible, some covered with snow, climbing up and down massive banks of snow-covered ice, gradually zig-zagging in the vague direction of the headwall. As we crossed the glacier the sky began brightening and as we neared the head-wall the promise of sun meant that I stopped worrying about losing my toes from frostbite.

The approach to the headwall became steeper and steeper, until we reached the point where we switched from glacier-travel rope-groups to the fixed line. Crossing the glacier, we’d met a group of Austrians who’d got in the way, but Dowa had put in a fixed line especially for our group, so we didn’t have to fight with the other groups who were sharing another line.

I followed Dave, Mark and Thomas up the headwall. In my right hand I had my axe, and in the left my Jumar. My feet were mainly duck-footed, using the inside points of the crampons, occasionally switching to the front points, which work better on hard, steep surfaces, but are more tiring on the legs.

As we’d crossed the glacier I’d passed my previous altitude record (Kilimanjaro at 5,916m) but the headwall took it way higher: the fixed line ran from about 6,000m up to about 6,120m. I hadn’t read enough about Island Peak to know much about the route in advance, but it was amazing to find oneself climbing a long technical pitch at over 6,000m.

The biggest challenge was the physical one: simply lifting the body up the slope. After initially fighting it I began remembering my early days rock-climbing, stopped trying to haul myself up using the axe and started using the legs to climb, with the axe for balance and the Jumar for protection.

There were two mental challenges. The first was simply believing that you could keep going through the exhaustion, but the arrival of the sun helped with that. The second was navigating round the anchors, where the rope was attached to either the ice or another rope. On reaching an anchor, the safety karabiner is removed from the Jumar and attached to the anchor, so that there’s still some protection while the Jumar is switched from one side of the anchor to the other. Once the karabiner is in place, the Jumar can be released from the lower rope and attached to the upper rope, then the safety karabiner can be unhooked from the anchor and placed back through the handle of the Jumar and around the rope. This is all done in the semi-dark, wearing two pairs of gloves, at around -10°C, having already climbed for several hours up to 6,00m. And if it’s not done correctly, it could have nasty consequences for you and anyone lower down the rope.

I felt ridiculously slow up the headwall. Thomas seemed to be disappearing ahead of me and Tam Ding was right up behind me – so close that I worried that if I slipped I’d land crampons-first on top of him, so I kept the Jumar as tight as possible.

Eventually, after what seemed like a super-human effort, Dowa welcomed me onto the summit ridge, and I transferred to another fixed line for the final climb to the summit. This wasn’t nearly as steep as the headwall but was almost as slow, as we met up with the Austrians again. Both teams were clipping into fixed anchors at the summit, which lead to a queue on the final climb. I certainly didn’t mind the excuse for a breather though!

Finally, at about 08:30, all eight of us who’d set off from High Camp had arrived on the summit at 6,189m. The climb had been incredible, with a brilliant mix of scrambling, glacier-crossing, climbing, and finally a knife-edge ridge, all in the shadow of Lhotse’s south face stretching up to 8,501m

After a few photos and some antics with a French group who didn’t appear to have the first idea about safety, we climbed back down the ridge with just a safety karabiner attached and the rope running through our hands, then queued up for the abseil down the headwall.

By this time everyone was exhausted and just wanted to get down, so the mood wasn’t as positive as on the summit. Unlike the climb up, where several people can have a Jumar attached to the same rope, abseiling requires a loose rope below, so only one person can be on each section at a time, and the process seemed to take forever.

I was near the back, with just Thomas and Andy behind me. When we finally got down the fixed line, the three of us roped up for the glacier and wound our way back past the crevasses, which looked way more impressive and daunting in the sunlight than they had by the light of our head-torches.

At the bottom of the glacier we caught up with the rest of the group, removed our crampons, stowed them and the axes, drank as much as we could and set off down the rocks to High Camp. The strain was beginning to show, and Steve ended up giving his gear to Andy, Thomas and me, as he was beginning to suffer. By the time we reached High Camp, Mark was in a bad way too, which was a huge surprise as he’s been the strongest all trip.

We were re-hydrated with drinks and soup back at High Camp, then slowly packed up and began the descent to Base Camp. There was a biting wind blowing up the valley as we walked down, and it was a relief to get back to the shelter of the mess tent, where we were given more drinks. Most of the team had a snooze before dinner, and the banter during dinner was pretty limited. By 19:30 everyone had crashed out.

From my point of view, the contrast between the two climbs couldn’t be bigger. I don’t have any positive memories of Pokalde, but today’s climb is the highest and best I’ve ever done. I’m very relieved I didn’t have any AMS symptoms this time, very pleased to have got to the top of such a challenging climb, and extremely grateful that the weather was so good. To have clear skies and a full moon without the temperature being too bad was an ideal combination.

Finally I’m beginning to remember why we’re paying £3k for this!

The calm before the storm

Mon 25 Oct 2010 10:04 » Jon

It feels like the calm before the storm at the moment. We’re waiting at IPBC, bags packed, tents down, and the team is filling in time before we set off on the walk to High Camp.

One of the strangest things about this trip is the time spent waiting. Even disregarding the first few weather-affected days in Kathmandu, we’ve still spent the majority of the time sitting in lodges and tents waiting while our bodies acclimatise. Sometimes this time can be spent usefully preparing kit for the next day or rearranging bags for High Camp, but a lot of time is spent chatting, reading and playing games to wile away the time.

Last night was probably the coldest night we’ve had so far, and there was loads of ice inside the tent this morning. I woke up with a bad headache during the night, then again later due to the cold, being uncomfortable, needing the pee-bottle, etc. Once again I’ve been wondering what’s wrong with us that we pay for these experiences…

My spirits were lifted when the sun came up though. I’m still amazed by the temperature change when the sun appears over the mountains – from lying in a freezing tent with ice flakes dropping on you every time you knock the sides, you suddenly find yourself in a rapidly warming tent with melting ice dripping all over the sleeping bags. Luckily the sun has since dried out the sleeping bags and has also managed to melt the washing I did yesterday, though it hasn’t quite dried yet.

The view from here is incredible. In the foreground is Island Peak, looking pretty daunting 1,200m above us. It’s completely dwarfed, however,  by Lhotse, which rises over 3,500m from where we are, to 8,501m We’re looking at the south face, which is one of the biggest cliff faces in the world. Earlier we were wondering if anyone had ever climbed it, and it turns out Tam Ding lead a Japanese team up it a few years ago! Our Sherpas are truly amazing.

On to the next one

Sun 24 Oct 2010 17:03 » Jon

I’m feeling a lot better today, both physically and mentally. Today we dropped down from Pokalde Base Camp to Chukhung (4,730m) for lunch then began the climb up towards Island Peak. We’re now at Island Peak Base Camp (4,960m), which is at about the same altitude as Pokalde Base Camp where we were this morning. The camp didn’t feel nearly as cold today as it did two days ago – there was still a layer of frozen condensation on the inside of the tent, but there was no snow outside, just a little frost.

The group was in great spirits this morning, and Thomas and I spent most of the walk down to Chukhung making plans for a Take That cover band. We soon branched out into other groups and had covered everything from U2 to Motorhead by the time we stopped for lunch. Andy wasn’t hugely impressed by the singing, and kept muttering that it was always the 16th day that people started losing the plot.

The experience of climbing up to Pokalde high camp had been enough for Martin. He felt so rough on the climb that he’d given Pokalde a miss, then decided that he wasn’t in any state to tackle the two higher summits, so left this morning to walk back down to Lukla with one of the porters. From there he’s heading home to the UK.

The rest of us reached Chukhung at about 10:30 and lay in the sun for an hour and a half, admiring Lhotse’s south face while we ate lunch. Although we’re all feeling a bit more comfortable with the altitude, and the climb was only about 200m, we took the climb up to Island Peak Base Camp very slowly. On the way we passed the Island Peak/EBC team’s base camp about 15 minutes before we reached our site, then found another Jagged Globe team’s tents when we arrived – apparently they’re doing Mera and Island Peak.

Base Camp is by a stream, so I braved the water and washed myself and a few clothes, but the clothes have since frozen on the drying line. We’re not planning on leaving too early tomorrow though, so hopefully they’ll have a chance to thaw and dry out.

Apart from washing, one of the first things we did on arrival was to sort the kit for High Camp and prepare the “attack bag” which the porters will take. This only contains sleeping bags and Thermarests – everything else is either carried in rucksacks (minimal hygiene kit, clothes, climbing gear) or left behind at Base Camp. Normally I’d have left this until the last minute (i.e. tomorrow morning) but Rich is rather more efficient so we sorted the kit out while it was still warm and sunny.

I was struck the other night by the humility of our Sherpas: one of them (Nima Temba) has summitted Everest, and another (Tam Ding) has climbed to over 8,000m on K2, yet they’re happy to bring our meals, clear away plates and fill our water bottles.

I mentioned the continual comparison with the HRP a few days ago, and have since been thinking how luxurious this trip is relative to the HRP. The fact that we have yaks carrying the gear has meant we can throw in the odd spare T-shirt and bottle of deodorant that I left behind when I was carrying everything myself. I’m not sure I’d be super-keen on doing this trip if I had to carry everything myself!

When we were up at Pokalde High Camp the other day, Mark, Rich and I were considering why anyone in their right mind would spend their money on a trip where you end up freezing cold, battling constant headaches and occasional nausea, sleeping on the ground and eating the same thing day after day. At the time we were laughing about it, but I have been wondering why we’re doing this to ourselves! Hopefully the additional time at altitude will show some benefits when we climb Island Peak and Lobouje – if I feel as ill as I did on Pokalde then I don’t think I’ll be doing this again.  It wasn’t so much the headache or the nausea, but being annoyed with everyone – I was feeling extremely intolerant. We’re not quite as high as Pokalde Base Camp here, but it’s encouraging to feel so much better.

It was also some comfort to discover that everyone else was destroyed by Pokalde too. On the mountain I felt like I was in a worse state than most people, but by the time we’d got down to Base Camp everyone was in a mess, and the whole team spent the afternoon sleeping. Martin was obviously in a pretty bad way, but last night there were several people coughing, suffering from headaches, etc.

Pokalde

Sat 23 Oct 2010 15:07 » Jon

I really don’t like AMS. I’ve had a headache and stomach problems since we arrived at Pokalde base camp two days ago, and would love to be down at sea-level right now. I’ve actually been questioning whether I really enjoy this kind of thing as much as I thought – I can’t honestly say today’s ascent of Pokalde has left me with any positive emotions, other than relief that it’s over. I’m certainly not feeling inclined to book any more higher or colder expeditions.

We left Dingboche on Thursday in pretty good spirits, rested and with a with some clean clothes. It wasn’t a long day, as we’d climbed the 600m up to base camp (first photo) by late morning, and the climbing felt pretty easy too.

Lunch was very impressive, considering the altitude and the fact that it was prepared in a cave! After it, we did some more fixed-rope training. The porters rigged up a few anchors and we Jumar’ed up then abseiled down, until we and they were happy that we knew how to clip in and out as we moved past the anchors.

By the time we’d finished the training I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I had a headache, and was feeling exhausted and also inexplicably annoyed! I lay down for a while and felt a bit better after dinner.

I woke yesterday (Friday) morning still not feeling 100% and struggled a bit with breakfast, but by the time we set out for high camp I was OK and quite enjoyed the climb, chatting with a couple of young American guys we met. Martin and Steve both commented how surprised they were that I’d been able to have a conversation while climbing, but I’d felt fine at the time. Soon after we arrived at high camp though, I began feeling rubbish, and just wanted to lie down.

There was no mess-tent at high camp, so lunch was served on a tarp, then dinner in our tents. By that stage we’d organised all our kit for the summit attempt and were wrapped up snugly in our sleeping bags.

The amount of kit we took up to high camp was a fraction of the total. We’d spent Thursday afternoon at base camp rearranging the kit as most of it stayed behind with the yaks. The porters were mainly carrying the tents and cooking gear, but also carried sleeping bags. The rest of the kit (climbing gear and extra layers of clothing) was carried by us, so was kept to an absolute minimum: we walked up to high camp in the same kit we were going to use on summit day, wearing fleece salopettes, plastic high-altitude boots, etc.

The climbing kit consisted of a harness with a Jumar and spare carabiner (each on a sling) for ascending, and a belay device of some sort for abseiling back down, along with a few emergency spares like prusik loops, another sling and another carabiner or two.

At base camp we’d had two people sharing a three-man tent but, to cut the kit down, we had three in the tents at high camp, so Mark joined Rich and me. We had some banter as we ate our boil-in-the-bag meals, but were all very conscious of the early start, so by 20:00 we were all trying to sleep.

It wasn’t the best night’s sleep, disturbed by the proximity of Rich’s feet and the need to pee during the night, but I successfully managed that without leaving my sleeping bag, so I was quite pleased with myself! Apart from gaining altitude slowly, the only defence against AMS is to drink more water than you think is possible. Unfortunately if you carry this on into the evening then your sleep is punctuated by toilet trips, but if you have a big enough pee bottle then you can avoid the need to put on all your layers and head out into the freezing night.

We were woken at about 03:30 this morning, and plied with hot drinks and porridge. I’m heartily fed up of porridge (which I’ve never liked) and ended up drinking hot water as I don’t like tea and coffee either, so it wasn’t the best breakfast I’ve ever had. I was also still feeling pretty rubbish, and wasn’t as enthusiastic as the other two about leaving the tent.

Eventually I’d pulled on almost every item of clothing I had, and ventured outside. I stuffed the remaining kit in my rucksack, paid a quick visit to the toilet tent, put my harness on and was ready to go. We all had head-torches attached to our helmets, so the traditional snake of lights set off from high camp at about 05:00, heading for the summit of Pokalde.

To begin with I didn’t feel too bad, but gradually got worse as we climbed. I dropped back through the group, feeling nauseous and slow, but luckily not too cold. The route was a mixture of rock and snow, but not enough that we ever put the crampons on. I climbed most of the way with an ice-axe in one hand and a pole in the other, switching hands at every corner to keep the ice-axe in the uphill hand. Every time we stopped it was a huge effore to get going again and I felt very lethargic, but we all kept plodding up and, at the end of a 150m of fixed line, I finally arrived at the summit (5,806m).

Pokalde’s summit was tiny, so we all clipped into a couple of slings at the top of the fixed line, and Andy took some photos. We didn’t hang around long, and set off back down the fixed line.

Jo and I, having arrived last, lead the group back down, pausing at the end of the rope to wait for the others. Luckily the sun was up and beginning to get quite warm, as we had quite a wait while the rest of the team came down the line, one-by-one. I was feeling rubbish by this stage and couldn’t be bothered taking any photos, which I suspect I’ll regret.

Shortly before I got back to high camp I was walking with Andy and Rich and began feeling even worse. As we were within sight of the tents I warned them I was about to be sick and sent them on, while I stopped to see what happened. Tom and Vanessa arrived just as I was throwing up, and Vanessa said she was glad to see that she wasn’t the only one feeling rough!

Back at high camp we were greeted with soup and hot lemon to rehydrate, then had an hour and a half to pack up out kit before we dropped down to base camp. Packing up was a bit of a struggle, as everyone was feeling a bit rough by this stage.

The walk down wasn’t too bad, but didn’t bring the improvement in health we were hoping for. Since we got back to base camp most people have just slept – Mark seems to be the only person who wasn’t affected by the climb. Martin didn’t feel up to it this morning, but I’m not sure how he’s feeling now as I haven’t seen him.

I’m gradually beginning to feel more normal, but I’m desperately hoping the other two summits won’t feel as bad. At the moment the beach in Miami where I was three weeks ago seems like a different world. What I really want now is a pie, chips, beans and a pint of Bombardier.

Dingboche Acclimatisation

Wed 20 Oct 2010 11:46 » Jon

In keeping with the standard practice weather, the skies cleared yesterday as evening turned into night, and I had another go at capturing the starlit mountains. This time it worked rather better – the first photo shows Lhotse and Island Peak under the stars.

The skies were still clear this morning and the views were stunning, but the cloud gradually rolled in as we spent the morning practising the rope techniques we’re going to need later in the trip. We focussed on using the Jumar to ascend a fixed-rope, but also covered abseiling back down and roping up for a glacier-crossing. Most of the stuff was do-able, but Andy seems to expect previous experience of it – I’m quite glad we’re going to have another go tomorrow as I’ve never used a Jumar before. Tomorrow they’re going to be making sure we’ve all go the message, which is reassuring.

The difference between night and daytime temperature here is amazing. As soon as the sun comes up the change is instant and hats, gloves and down jackets are no-longer required. Although the air temperature is still very low, the amount of radiation at this latitude and altitude is enormous, so it suddenly feels much warmer. It’s fairly straight-forward to manage the layering at sunrise and sunset, but it’s hard to know what to wear sometimes, if the sun is going behind clouds every few minutes.

One thing which never warms up is the water in the streams. I did some washing in a bowl this morning then rinsed it out in a stream, and it was freezing! Nice to have some clean clothes though.

While I took some early morning photos today I got talking to a Californian guy who was as amazed as I was by the amount of traffic over the last few days. He’s heading up to a few high passes over the next few days, so is looking forward to some quieter trails.

For some reason Andy didn’t take the group on an acclimatisation walk today, which surprised Mark and me. The usual advice is “climb high, sleep low”, so we were expecting to spend a few hours climbing up one of the valley sides to get used to the lack of oxygen, but Andy’s success-rate on the big climbs is pretty impressive, so we decided to listen to his advice and rest. Later on he said a short climb wouldn’t be the end of the world, so we climbed for about half an hour up the west side of the valley, and took several hundred photos of Ama Dablam as the view through the clouds came and went.

Since then I’ve bought a pen, written some diary and read. Martin has lent me The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is excellent.

Ama Dablam appears

Tue 19 Oct 2010 14:45 » Jon

The sky finally cleared last night, and even under the light of the moon, the views were amazing. For the first time, we saw the iconic shape of Ama Dablam, and I spent ages trying (not entirely successfully) to get a decent long-exposure night-time photo.

This morning it was still clear, the beautiful blue sky raised everyone’s spirits. We set off with fantastic views of Ama Dablam then, during the morning, the cloud further up the valley cleared, and we finally saw the highest point on earth.

We had a long relaxed lunch today, then Andy lead us for the two-hour climb up to Dingboche, as he was keen to avoid anyone racing ahead. He told us that today is key in our acclimatisation: we’re just over 4,400m here, which is where he reckons most people encounter their first problems if they’re going to have any. As a result, he’s re-organised the rooms so that no-one is on their own – one of his biggest worries is people having strange breathing patterns during the night, so we all have someone to keep an eye on us.

Along the way we passed a field where the farmers were drying out yak dung. This is the main source of fuel up here, used on fires to cook food, heat homes, etc. Some of the lodges we’ve stayed in have burnt dried yak dung in their stoves, and it doesn’t smell as bad as you’d expect! It’s actually barely noticeable.

Tonight’s lodge is a bit more basic than some of the earlier ones, though the room is OK. Batter charging is still available at this altitude, but it’s getting pretty expensive: 100Rs for a complete charge in Namche, 150Rs for an hour in Deboche, and 300Rs for an hour here. Unfortunately we don’t have much choice, as when we leave here on Thursday we’re going to be camping for the next six nights so there won’t be any opportunity to charge for while.

The weather has deteriorated during the afternoon (which is apparently standard practice) and the mountains gradually disappeared. The sun is still shining through every now and again, but there are no views anymore.

The crazy dancing monks of Tengboche

Mon 18 Oct 2010 16:23 » Jon

Yesterday afternoon we wandered into Namche city centre to have a look round the shops. Most of it was the usual Nepali tourist stuff – yak-wool socks, singing bowls, etc – but there were a couple of decent gear shops so I bought a hat and another hand-warmer for summit days.

We wiled away the evening with more cards then went to bed early – we’re gradually getting used to early nights and early mornings, in preparation for the ridiculously early starts we’re going to have to handle on summit days. Unfortunately I hadn’t drunk enough last night so woke up a few times with a headache, but that’s gone during the day.

We set off this morning at about 07:45, up the busy trail we’d seen yesterday from the acclimatisation walk. The team seems to be way faster than Andy expected – we’re easily beating his estimates, and ended up having lunch at 11:00, we’d gone so fast today!

The morning walk was a spectacular path, high up along the side of a steep gorge. Unfortunately the cloud meant there were no views of Ama Dablam (apparently just across the valley) or any of the more distant peaks, but the views down the Dudh Kosi valley were very dramatic.

Just before lunch we dropped right down into the valley and crossed over a bridge. I had my first dal bhat for a few days, then we climbed up to Tengboche, again caning Andy’s estimates. We had a look round the famous monastery there, then on the way out we came across some very un-synchronised monks doing a crazy dance with nothing more than a single cymbal providing the music.

When we finally tore ourselves away from the monks, we had tea and cakes in a nearby shop to recover, then dropped down through a forest to Deboche, where we’re currently roasting in the lodge thanks to a very powerful wood-stove in the middle of the room. We’re sharing the lodge with the B-Team again, and are looking forward to dinner as lunch seems a long time ago.

I’m still finding it a little bit strange how much time we’re not walking. All the sitting around feels a bit lazy – it’s quite relaxing compared to 8-hour days carrying 25kg up 1,000m a day!

Acclimatisation in Namche

Sun 17 Oct 2010 11:57 » Jon

I spent yesterday afternoon relaxing in the lodge while some of the group visited the shops down in the village. I had a lovely shower, then played some cards and had a frustrating game of Scrabble. We had a very good buffet dinner in the evening then carried on playing cards, though I seem to be useless.

Having passed and then been passed by one of the other Jagged Globe teams, we ended up in the same lodge as them last night in Namche. There was a healthy rivalry and some competitive banter out on the trail, and now we’re fighting to get to the buffet before them, but they’ve been hogging the tables closest to the kitchen, so only Mark has been successful so far!

Today we’re acclimatising with a small climb then staying in the same lodge again. We were up pretty early for breakfast and then climbed about 350m up to a hotel called Everest View. The climb was good, but unfortunately there was no view: the clouds broke briefly and we saw Lhotse’s south face, but most of the time we just stared at the cloud. It was a promising trip though, as everyone seemed to cope well with the altitude.

The lodge is pretty busy but the trails are more of a worry. During one of the breaks in the clouds Mark and I were looking down on tomorrow’s trail, full of yaks, porters and tourists. I’m desperately hoping it will be a bit emptier when we start climbing.

It’s a bit strange doing this trip so soon after the HRP, as everything is a comparison. The trails here are much busier and life is generally more luxurious – it’s quite strange having such a light pack and very different staying in lodges. Rather than washing in streams I’ve got a bowl of warm water.

The walking so far is pretty easy compared to the Pyrenees, partly due to the light pack and partly because we aren’t (so far) walking a great distance or time. This will be very different on the summit days I think – there the days will be colder, longer and much more technical than anything I did on the HRP.

Another strange thing about being on the Everest Base Camp trail is meeting so many trekkers. Mark introduced me to a new phrase today: Acute Mountain Snobbery. I’ve definitely been suffering from this, looking down on the trekkers, but I imagine there are more serious climbers who’ve looked down on our little group. It’s hard to imagine the likes of Chris Bonnington coming up these trails, mingling with the trekkers…

More yak traffic

Sat 16 Oct 2010 14:32 » Jon

The most popular Nepalese beer with our group so far is called Everest. There’s a special edition out at the moment with a picture of a Sherpa called Nima Gombu on the label, celebrating the fact that he’s climbed Everest twelve times. His brother, Nima Temba, is our sirdar (chief Sherpa) and he’s also been up Everest. In all, their family of seven brothers has summitted Everest forty-seven times.

I’ve been wondering what Nima Temba makes of our little trip – it must seem a bit dull after going up Everest. I guess it’s probably similar for Andy though – trips like this are the bread and butter, with treats like the 8,000’ers being much less common.

Today we climbed up the valley from Monjo, past the confluence with the river and up to Namche Bazaar. The trail was very busy for the first hour or two this morning, but after our second break it seemed better, and we were able to go at our own pace. Before that we seemed to be stuck behind either a slow group or more yaks.

There are a lot more yaks on this trail than I remember from the Annapurna Circuit. There, we met the odd mule or donkey, but I don’t remember that many yaks. Here, our bags are being carried by yaks, at least for the moment – I think higher up the yaks may get a break and we’ll have to carry our own kit up to the high camps.

The trail yesterday and this morning were a bit too busy to enjoy, though the last hour climbing up into Namche was a little better. I’d never thought about the fact that we would be on the Everest Base Camp trail so much, or that it would be this busy. Apparently it’s worse than usual at the moment because of so many groups being stacked up in Kathmandu while the weather in Lukla improved. I guess I was spoiled with the solitude of the Pyrenees too.

The weather here hasn’t been great so far, but it’s a lot better than I had during the first week in the Pyrenees. It’s been raining by the time we’ve reached our lodges the last two days, though not heavily enough to need waterproofs. Nima Temba reckons it will be better after another day or two, which would be a relief, as we’re on a pretty tight schedule after the five days we lost in Kathmandu and can’t afford any bad weather days. It would be nice to see Everest at some point too!

Acclimatisation seems to be OK so far, though I guess it’s early days as we’re only at 3,400m. I’ve had a very slight headache but otherwise I’m feeling fine, and the climb up to Namche didn’t feel too hard at all.

I was talking to Andy last night and he said that when he was on the summit of Cho Oyu last year, he was probably the highest person in the world! It’s the sixth highest summit (at 8,201 m), and records show that there was no-one climbing the other five on the day he summitted, so there could have been no-one higher. That’s a pretty cool claim…

Setting off up the Khumbu

Fri 15 Oct 2010 16:55 » Jon

Today began pretty slowly as everyone got to grips with our new lodge-based lifestyle, after the luxury of the Summit Hotel. Washing this morning was limited to a bucket of warm water on the wall outside the lodge, or the cold tap inside the building.

We had breakfast about 07:30 and after a certain amount of faffing we left at about 08:30. Having spent weeks walking with Klaas learning to improve my time-keeping to meet Dutch Army standards, I’m now sharing with Rich, who’s another ex-soldier. He’s ridiculously tidy and efficient, so we were both ready to go at 08:00 – tomorrow I may be a bit more relaxed!

We walked slowly through Lukla, pausing to take some photos of the planes dropping off the end of the crazy runway, then I sent my brother a birthday text message for tomorrow and we congregated at the police station while one of the sherpas filled in the required paperwork. Beyond the police station were our first prayer wheels, which we duly spun, then we passed through the arch that marked the edge of Lukla and set off up the trail.

The route actually went downhill for most of the morning, dropping from Lukla down to the Dudh Kosi river. The valley is very steep-sided, so not much was visible beyond. Occasionally we were able to see a snow-capped summit, but there’s generally been a layer of cloud hovering along the ridge on either side of the valley, limiting the views. By contrast, the centre of the valley was clear, and we had sun throughout the morning.

Having left Lukla at 2,800m, we had dropped down to 2,560m by the time we reached Phakding three hours later for lunch in the sun, then we spent the afternoon climbing slowly back up to 2,800m. The yaks carrying our bags passed us during lunch, and for some reason we never overtook them again, so our progress was limited to the speed of a heavily laden yak. Although it was probably a good idea to start the acclimatisation slowly, the leisurely pace got a bit frustrating at times, as the effects of altitude are almost imperceptible so far.

We’re now settled into our home for the night in Monjo. It’s pretty basic but has light, indoor (albeit squatting) toilets and running water, so will do the job.

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