Bistārai bistārai ākarṣaka bām̐dara.
Most climbers on Everest this season will be starting their blogs with ‘Namaste’ which means ‘Hello’ in Nepalese, but I don’t do convention so I’m starting with the Nepalese for ‘slowly slowly catchy monkey’…
Everest 2015 really is here and if you didn’t see my last blog I’d like to say a huge THANKS again to all of you who’ve facilitated my journey here and made it possible.
Last Saturday afternoon I shut my bedroom door, staring briefly up at my Everest ‘Live the Dream’ poster and grinning. It was a peculiar feeling of deja vu as we drove to Manchester Airport. My mum hugged me so hard I felt as hypoxic as I would on the summit of Everest.
As the flight took off, I didn’t get any of the buzz or excitement of last time. What was going on? I guess this time I’d seen it all before, and I’d been full of energy for the past weeks. I’d crashed down to reality.
Once in Kathmandu I caught up with my team- three other British climbers- David, Ellis and Aeneas, and our exped leader Tim Mosedale. We also have two trekkers Lorraine and John who are walking with us until base camp. It’s a friendly and strong bunch and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them, although my stammer does it’s best to get in the way. I have a feeling we’re going to do very well on the mountain. My good friend Ellis is currently trekking in solo and will meet us in Dingboche nearer BC. He was on my team last year so it’s really special that we’re able to finish this mission together. Even with 20 odd years between us- the goal is the same. We’ve passed many larger expedition teams whilst on the trail and you really notice the egos, segragation, and climbers eyeing each other up like competition. That’s not what it’s about. Personally I’m very glad to be in a small and close-knit team yet with such good quality leadership and logistics.
We made the classic flight to Lukla after a few hours waiting at the terminal due to bad weather. You go through security, or ‘X Ray hands’ as we call it, where a chap in uniform tickles for you for a few seconds. Then you can literally be hearded onto a plane within minutes. I had to laugh when the air hostess even bothered to tell us where the emergency exits were. At least the carpet on the ceiling was reassuring. After being encloaked in thick cloud for a while, skimming metres over mountain tops, it was reassuring to come out of it. Until I saw a miniscule airstrip ahead through the cockpit window- and prayed to god the Pilot had his Weetabix that morning.
We soon began the trek to Toktok, about 2700m altitude where we stayed, a bit further than the planned Phakding stop. As always, stopping every hour or so for tea and biscuits, like true Brits. It was good to be back on the trail. You never really get bored of the huge sweeping forested valleys and snow trickled peaks towering behind them. Albeit with the reduced oxygen, I’d struggled a little for those first few hours. We stay in teahouses, the Himalayan equivalent of a B&B minus the bacon, for almost the entirety of our trek in. I struggled to eat. Not from the altitude, but the realisation I was stuck with the same teahouse food for the next 3 weeks. I despise fussy eaters, but I think after two previous expeditions the monotony of the food becomes a chore and no longer a pleasure (… except the biscuits).
I slept well and after a few cups of milk tea we were leaving in the chilly early morning light. Stunning distant peaks, Spring flowers, bridges and waterfalls, along the river, then across the infamously vertigo-inducing suspension bridge and one slog of a hill towards Namche. Feeling the altitude for the first time. En route we got a sneaky glimpse of Everest through the trees. This time, she really felt in reach. We got to Namche, about 3400m, about lunchtime and into the Everest Bakery for Chocolate cake. This was almost turning into the Everest Bakery Camp Trek. We pressed on to Kyangjuma. Namche is a cool place, built in a huge bowl, but is hoarded by trekkers so becomes the perfect incubator for illnesses and bugs from other people. The trail winded round a hillside for the next hour and a half until we dropped down to Ama Dablam View Lodge, run by the amazing Tashi and Lakpa Sherpa.
The next day we headed up the incredible Hidden Staircase and an easy two hour jaunt up to the Mong La, about 4000m altitude, for lunch. We passed a huge flock of Himalayan Tsar as we hurtled down the grassy hillside back to Tashis for more tea and biscuits. She always looks after us well, hence Tim always stays there.
The next morning we opened the curtains to a BAM! view of Ama Dablam in beautiful morning sunlight dominating the skyline, and Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain, close by. Not a bad place to enjoy breakfast. Tashi gave us all kharta scarves to wish us good luck and I got speaking to her about my fundraising for the Himalayan Trust. She asked if I could help a local young family at Mong La who can’t afford to send their 6 year old daughter to school in Khumjung, which costs about £580 a year. I felt compelled to help. So this is where any left over spending money, and proceeds from my first talk when I’m home, will go.
We headed up, slow and steady, to Khumjung. The capital of the Khumbu. It even has it’s own streetlights (although only 3 of them). It was quite a dry and hard pull to Syangboche airfield where we stopped for a break. I’d lost count of the people asking me if I was climbing Everest due to the sponsors logos emblazoned proudly on my gear. I wasn’t lying when I said we were staying at Everest Base Camp… for 5 weeks. Another view of Everest made it that little bit easier. We stopped for Garlic Soup and Veg Fried Rice at Thamo, then headed down into the remote Thame valley which is like nowhere else in the Khumbu. A spectacular wall of Himalayan peaks filled the Horizon like pinnacles as we followed wooded paths and encountered some weird multi coloured Pheasant thing. I even spoke to a 5 year old Sherpa boy who’s English was better than some British 5 year olds I know*. Today was our longest so far, about 6 hours. I passed the time by zoning out with my iPod, watching my footing, evaluating things in my mind and chatting to Dep Kumar, our local Nepali guide. Snow started to fall as we pulled up the final hill and a couple of bridges into Thame, 3750m high. We were greeted by super fast Wifi despite being in a rarely trodden part of the Himalayas with four 6000m peaks surrounding us.
* May be dependent on location within the UK
We pass the time with mentoring sessions from Tim about everything we need to know about Everest, lots of tea, card games and music. And of course, with Wifi it’s been great to catch up with reality and post the photos. The support has been phenomenal. I’ve been sleeping headache free so far and probably slept more in the past 5 days than I would in 3 weeks at home! Apple Pancakes and Chapatti for breakfast has been far more palatable. We certainly don’t go hungry. They even have an organic veg garden so the Sherpa Stew has been full of fresh produce and even the spuds are homegrown and taste good when fried with eggs- we barely have any meat but it’s remarkable anything makes it onto a plate at this sort of altitude. Today we had a lie in and mooched up to the Thame Monastery for a traditional Puja blessing by the Monk for safe passage in the mountains, as he banged a drum and threw rice at us. Quite an Esoteric place with unbelievable Mani stones. I couldn’t resist a Monty Python ‘Life of Brian’ reference as we walked uphill for 40 mins or so alongside Juniper bushes…
Tomorrow we’re heading up the valley to the very basic teahouse at Marylung, about 4150m high and away from the connection to the outside world. Gaining height gradually- we’re in no rush. All in all, I’m feeling strong, relaxed, hydrated, looking forward to getting to Everest base camp and meeting friends on the trek. I just wish I hadn’t eaten those chocolate Easter eggs before arriving in Kathmandu- they’d have helped me catch the monkey.
Happy Easter folks.
For any donations, please use my fundraising page by clicking here.