You know the whole thing about adapting and overcoming? Well, here we go! I spent a fair bit of effort conjuring together a blog on my laptop that was going to go online, and then said laptop decided to crash to death and it seems it has truly pushed up the daisies. I have only just learnt that standard hard drives can’t function at altitude! Jolly good. This is the same laptop that wrote Icefall however I think now I shall sacrifice it to the mountain Gods via a crevasse on the glacier below Cho Oyu!
Anyway… Here is the same blog, from scratch.
First week into the trip! What an adventure so far. I’ve been posting little snippets here and there but there’s so many little details and anecdotes to add some meat on the bone.
We flew from Kathmandu to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, with a fair whack of altitude at over 3600 metres. When I say we, I mean the 360 Expeditions team – Kam, Charlene, Me, Arthur (and Badger – his soft toy climbing buddy who has become an important team member) and Rolfe our leader. So far we’re having a ball. When we’re in a difficult environment for 7 weeks this bodes well. We are also joined by two German climbers, Billi and Suzanne, an Austrian called Stefan and Swiss called Thomas. These are all climbing with Henry, our base camp manager, an expedition legend. My friend and Everest 2014 and 2015 teammate Dan Wallace is also back which is great to have a familiar face. It takes a few days to get back into the expedition lifestyle, but now it’s a real privilege to be out here again.
The first worry was the small matter of getting over the border into Tibet. Once in Lhasa I was blown away by the size of the hotel. Apparently it was “a adolescents dream,” said Henry, who got the team laughing when they realised this applied to me pretty directly! All the tourists stay here when in Lhasa. I’d much rather keep my head under the parapet than risk getting into hot water, so I won’t give all the details, but I can say there’s a huge national pride and strict regimented culture here. Everyone keeps quiet and to themselves in the city. It was a real eye opener. But the people seem as friendly as they are in Nepal, especially as we drove further to the mountains.
We went to a local restaurant where the food was pretty impressive and still heavily influenced by the West. I’m putting on weight rapidly but my excuse for doing so is that I’ll soon lose my appetite as we head higher. Arthur and I shared a hotel room which was pretty much a luxury considering where we were going, with hot showers and the Chinese version of Total Wipeout on TV.
I was impressed by the grandeur and affluence of the city, which has become a well kept concrete jungle with neon lights. The roads here are exceptional barring occasional craters or cows in the road, however a strict speed limit makes progress frustratingly slow and I’ve often felt like breaking into a chorus of” The Wheels on the Bus”. Sticking the iPod in passes the time when you gaze out across the weathered stone buildings, milky rivers, dirty yellow squares of crop fields and arid patches of the Tibetan plateau.
Day 1 of driving to Cho Oyu base camp: After 6 hours in a minibus and a lunch stop for egg fried rice, it’s definitely a different world to trekking, like we do for Everest on the south. Sadly our lack of physical activity meant that eating chocolate Oreos felt far less justified.
Our next port of call was Xigaze (Shegatse) at about 3,800m for two days, resting and taking in the slightly peculiar and fascinating culture. The journey was broken by occasional security checkpoints and I was in awe at how vast Tibet is. Being blonde and 6ft 4″ I seemed to be of great interest in Xigaze as we had our photos taken by curious locals. The group strolled up to the local monastery and the longest wall of prayer wheels I’ve ever seen.
Whilst the city may scar the landscape below, going up there was a little escape and a stronghold of the beautiful Buddhist culture and dedication that many people here still live by. We went into town for lunch at a typical Chinese outlet and played it safe with noodle soup whilst people nearby managed to work their way through stewed pork feet with chopsticks. Dawa, our tour guide who will follow us all the way to base camp with his toothy grin, told me he was vegetarian and I didn’t blame him.
Dan and I wandered off through some gates into a “garden park” which failed quickly with a few angry gestures from the security guard. Turns out we had strolled straight into the Summer Palace of the Panshun Lama, one of the top dogs of Buddhism in Tibet… Almost nothing here is in English and it serves a stark reminder of how we are merely onlookers in a society that far dwarfs ours. I had to laugh at the in flight magazine to Lhasa describing the foreigners as aliens. I certainly feel like one, especially as we topped up water supplies in the supermarket and found a chicken foot which are apparently as common as chips out here. If they saw the junk that us Brits eat they’d probably wonder what the fuss is about.
An 8 hour drive took us to Tingri where the main highway G318 cut through the Tibetan plateau, which seemed to grow wider as we slowly rattled onwards. We were like ants running across the beach with waves crashing on both sides in the form of sandy brown hills curtaining us all around. A windswept pass with a huge monument gate marked our highest point yet, of 5210m, where I instantly felt my head pound. The Chinese like to make things look spectacular and the crest of the road was covered in prayer flags and monuments.
Fortunately Tingri far exceeded our expectations. As we got higher we would only expect things to deteoriate. Tingri is essentially a truck stop and the last port of call before base camp. I was imagining fending off packs of stray dogs with rocks and the worst toilets in the universe. I could say more. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised. I guess if you come out here with accurate expectations then you never get the pleasant surprises that real adventure brings. We had a huge lunch of rice, spiced potatoes with yak meat, pak choi, tomato with scrambled egg and a few different veg dishes with bacon/Yak and usually a lot of chilli. It was a noisy place to stay as trucks hollered past stirring up clouds of dust in their wake on the dirt sandy road and occasional horse drawn carriages showing the juxtaposition of the modern chinese influence and historic Tibet. We were met with the friendly faces of some of our Sherpa staff, whom I was with on Everest both years. Lovely to see them, smiling as always. They have now left to set up base camp with a truck full of bags and gear. All we’ve had with us so far is a day bag, which is a bit of a pain considering I split my trousers on the first day. We will arrive at Chinese base camp on Monday (5,200m) where we stay for a few nights to acclimatise further and get things ready before the road ends and we move on foot to our main base camp, Advanced Base Camp, at 5,700m. It’s a fair height jump so I expect a few headaches but nothing that paracetamol won’t sort out.
Yesterday we hiked up a nearby hill, dusty, brown and covered in fossils, for a leg stretch. This steady stroll took us to 4700m or so and elevated us high above the plateau again. I’ve never seen anything like it. Even as an author I struggle to describe the plethora of colours and shapes cutting into the horizon, although I’m pretty sure of the colour of my face after I forgot to put sun cream on… Safe to say I’m back in the routine and won’t be doing that again. Dan and I left for a wander after dinner where a road took us round the corner with a BAM! vista of Everest’s north Face and Cho Oyu in the evening glow, finally free from the cloud. We were like big kids at Christmas. Truly excited now and can’t wait till we actually start climbing in less than a weeks time. I feel strong, the team are in good spirits, and strangely can’t wait to get under canvas again. Lots of people say they’d love to do this. If they did, they would be doing it. If you want something enough you’ll find a way.
For the remainder of the trip my buddy and right-hand man Ste will be handling my updates on here. It’s so easy to get distracted by the unimportant things when I have a pretty important task at hand.
So, in the meantime, over and out…