Okay, so the title was a bit crap. But now I have your attention!
This Sunday I leave for a seven-week expedition to Tibet, a part of the Himalayas I haven’t yet visited, with the aim of climbing Cho Oyu at 8,201 metres (26,906 feet) high. The idea became a serious one in January. The dream became a goal – a goal is a dream with a deadline – and I signed up with 360 Expeditions on a team led by Rolfe Oostra. We’ve got a great team of five, plus our Sherpa team, and I’m really looking forward to the company.
My next step is to turn that goal into an achievement. I’m aware that most people don’t know what Cho Oyu is and assume it to be someone from Star Trek. So, before I depart I wanted to give you some info on the what, how, when, and why.
Obviously this is no package holiday and things change very quickly. We have to play ball with whatever the Turquoise Goddess (as Cho Oyu is known) throws at us. It’s a similar process and challenge to Everest – to be fair, it’s only six hundred metres lower…
Our schedule roughly looks like this, with lots of acclimatisation days. And remember it’s only a guideline:
- 28th August – Fly to Kathmandu from London Heathrow
- Fly to Lhasa, 3,650m
- Drive to Xigatse in a Jeep
- Drive to Xegar
- Drive to Tingri – our first glimpse of Cho Oyu!
- Drive to Chinese Base Camp, 5,200m
- Hike up to Advanced Base Camp, 5,700m
- Rest and acclimatisation period
About a month is given to climb Cho Oyu via the northwest face and northwest ridge. Cho Oyu is not a technically difficult mountain and the majority of terrain does not exceed 30 degrees besides a very steep serac barrier at 6,600m.
We have three established campsites on the mountain:
- Camp 1 (C1) is situated on a broad saddle at the base of the northwest ridge at 6,400m. Getting here involves crossing a flat glacier and a scree covered hill.
- Camp 2 (C2) is at 7,000m
- Camp 3 (C3) is placed at 7,400m on the northwest ridge where we would traditionally make our summit bid from.
Of course, getting there involves a number of rotations where we move up and down the mountain to acclimatise. Back home you might be thinking we’re wasting a lot of energy but actually this is a pretty traditional process rather than just pushing upwards.
My final week of training should have given me that boost of confidence. Rather, it gave me a bloody bad headache. I often forget at the ripe old age of 21 that I need sleep as much as anyone else, if not more, and working until one a.m. to get things done is not always productive. Man flu took hold until I couldn’t tell whether my legs were aching from fever or DOMS after strength training. Any marginal fitness gain would be far less important than arriving feeling healthy, fresh and rested. Kathmandu isn’t the place to turn up with a bug: I still have vivid memories of sightseeing the bottom of the hotel toilet after getting Salmonella there two years ago.
I spoke to mountain legend Alan Hinkes this week for advice. I’m proud to call him a mate now. If you don’t know, he is the first and only Briton to have climbed all fourteen 8000 metre peaks, including Cho Oyu, and he told me to take it easy. Once at altitude my fitness will return, but if I don’t get rid of this bug now, it will be much harder to recover. So – this is as strong as I will be. The trail running, mountain running, competitive running, Forrest Gumping, interval training, mountain walking, cycling, strength training and 24-hour time-trialling is done. I can’t forget that however strong I may feel down at sea level, there will be some days on the mountain where I feel like my ankles have been tied together and I’ve got a Seagull pecking me in the side of the head. I’m aware of the power of mind over matter, and I think it’s more about tricking your body to keep going when it’s wondering where the hell I’ve taken it.
It seems the week before a trip that everyone remembers you exist and wants a piece of you, just when you’re up to your eyes in ‘admin’. I was amused when Alan also said he always had the same thing. You have to prioritise and stay focused. Don’t get me wrong, it’s genuinely appreciated, but there’s only so many hours in one day, so apologies if I’ve told anyone to sod off this week!
When I say ‘admin’, you will probably only understand if you’ve been on an expedition. No matter how much you plan, the build up to race day never goes quite how you imagined. Whilst packing I noticed a fair bit of gear missing, that I must have lost at the avalanche at Everest base camp last year. There always seems to be lots of little niggly bits needing to be done – from getting clothing branded, testing technology and checking your crampons fit – to chasing up invoices, speaking enquiries, and the dog when he’s running around the house with one of the gloves from your kitbag. We just have to distinguish the fine line between essential need and want.
Thanks Ideal 365 for branding my clothing at last minute (me? Last minute?!) to Marmot for the new waterproofs, gloves and trousers – I will also be trialling some brand new gear from another outdoor brand on this trip, reports to follow.
Huge thanks of course to Westgrove Group for their continuing financial and personal support on this compelling journey to inspire others. On the 1st of October, Westgrove are launching their exciting new Synergy service, the first of it’s kind in the shopping centres/retail parks industry. It’d be pretty awesome if I can get my head above the clouds on the same date and launch it with a double bang! So, I hope you enjoy the updates, which will be here on my blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn – when the technology and geography permits – please be patient and remember, no news is probably good news. You can also track my progress via Viewranger…
Thanks to my support team for once again holding the fort whilst I’m away: Ste, Chris, Jenny/Steve and Mum. A special shout also to Ad Coles for fixing my headtorch super-quick and Mike Henshall for the hand-made lucky beanie hat! Mike attended two of my talks recently, during which a white feather dropped down out of nowhere, which they say is a good luck charm… I lost my good luck charm on the first day of Everest last year so I’ll keep this one safe 🙂
This climb will support YoungMinds, the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional well-being and mental health of children and young people. Having suffered depression and other mental health problems myself, let this trip be more than just an opportunity to inspire others and raise funds but a chance to end stigma; show other young people, or of any age, that mental health problems should be no barrier to achieving your potential. You can donate here: www.justgiving.com/climbtheuk
Once again I keep getting told; “you’re going to do it!”, or “I have a good feeling about this one!”. They said the same last year. Unless Argos is flogging those crystal balls again, then only the mountain can decide our fate. It’s often about waiting for the stars to align and having fun in the meantime. My mantra is to take it one day at a time. There is no point worrying about something we can’t change or that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve never been religious but watching sunrise in the Himalayas with Trance music blasting in your ears probably ticks the same box, thanks to my mate Adam and his CD collection for beefing up my iPod.
Eighteen months later, I’m excited to explore somewhere new and catch up with friends. Can’t wait to get back out and remind myself why I started this journey six years ago. Sure, I’m nervous, and something would be wrong if I wasn’t. Likewise, I’m regularly asked;
“You mad bugger, why are you going back?!”
… But let me tell you what’s mad. It’s to stay in the system, to keep yourself safe from truly living in order to live longer as less than what you are capable of being and achieving.
Onwards and (slowly) upwards!