Hi all. Firstly, it’s the sad passing of Nelson Mandela that inspired me to write this blog. And I haven’t posted one since before Baruntse, so it’s well overdue. You know I tweet (far too much) but it’s good to give some in-depth thoughts now and again.
Now if I was to write all about my Baruntse expedition, I’d fall into the same old ‘this one time, at band camp’ approach. 35 days is a longggg time to be away exploring and there’s far too many experiences to talk about in one post. It was one big adventure, with ups and downs. We were out there in the wilderness, in what felt like my first proper adventure. No showers for a month, some of the strangest food I’ve ever had (we were joking about KFC at Khare but our cook brought us Kentucky Fried Chocolate Cake which probably contributed to our illness on Mera Peak) and some tough conditions. I’ve never slept with leeches in my tent before, slept next to an avalanche-stricken hut with an unfortunate avalanche victim still buried nearby, nor have I eaten rehydrated Chicken Tikka and rice in a tent at 6,400m altitude. It tasted surprisingly good though, considering I was sleeping over 1600m higher than the summit of Mont Blanc last July. You just have to get on with it.
Nepal is an awesome place. The whole experience opened my eyes to a new culture I’d never seen before. The people are fantastic and hospitable. They work damn hard to keep you happy. Our climbing Sherpas were superhumanly strong and brought charisma to the camp. When they threw a gas canister on a bonfire and sent a huge bang echoing round base camp, I wasn’t sure whether they did it for fun or to impress the French climber who had the misfortune of being the only female in base camp at 5,450m high. The trek in took us to every corner of rural Nepal from forests, lakes, moraine, mountains, snow, high passes and then of course to the mountain high camps. I acclimatised well. It was stunningly beautiful throughout and wasn’t really physically demanding until our summit days on both Mera Peak and Baruntse.
Unfortunately we were unsuccessful in summitting Mera Peak and Baruntse, due to a combination of logistical problems, tough conditions and therefore poor acclimatisation, though the 3 are linked. Even as the least experienced client of the team, I was the only one to attempt the summit of Baruntse, making it to 6600m before turning back. I’d felt strong but as I jumared up the first ice wall, close to 50 degrees, every part of my body seemed to scream it’d had enough. On reflection, I probably gave up a bit too soon and let the physical pain distract me. The motivational quotes I chanted in my mind drowned out. I could have made the summit no doubt, but knew I would have struggled to walk myself down again. These are BIG mountains and are not the place to make yourself a liability by getting exhausted. Exhaustion is frighteningly debilitating and frankly unsafe. The top really is only halfway. Without a doubt, I made the right decision, and I had to put the fact aside that had we had more acclimatisation we would have stood a better chance. What will be will be. I’m fortunate to have attempted the summit. I learnt countless valuable lessons. And I still have 4 fingers 10 toes….. and 2 thumbs…. to write this blog.
As Nelson Mandela once said, ”The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but rising in everytime we fall’. After Baruntse I was crushed. I’d expected nothing less than to summit, as I always had in the past. I managed to enjoy the trek out back to Lukla but the disappointment was rife on my mind. I felt like I’d let myself down and the people who’d helped get me here. I was lost. Even more so when I got home to post-expedition blues, and the extra loss of my granddad who’d died suddenly a day before I got home.
I had to make a decision and I was lacking self-belief. But as always, from Epilepsy, bullying, injuries, and every other obstacle that’s slapped me in the face, I’ve come back stronger. By the following Monday, I was back sending emails, and it clicked to me. 2014 was my chance to make my dream happen and I wasn’t prepared to throw it away. I’d gotten this far and sacrificed so much- I couldn’t let a setback finally get the better of me. I knew deep down that I had more to give, that Baruntse wasn’t my limit, and that I’d learnt enough on Baruntse to get me to the summit of Everest. Invaluable training and high altitude experience. I’d learnt the hard way how demanding these things are, and how much harder I had to work to get into Everest shape and build my resilience. I was determined to learn from my mistakes (my old school days coming back to haunt me) and get to Everest base camp in the best possible mental and physical shape. In 4 months I knew this would never be easy, nothing worth fighting for ever is, but my judgement and my gut instinct told me I was going to give whatever it took to get there. I wanted it more than ever before.
I’d picked my focus up again, dusted off the doubts, and was spurred on more than ever with some sort of masochistic force. There’s factors out of my control that I can’t train for, but I’d do the best I could. I’d revised my training plans and I spoke to some close friends. They know who they are so I won’t name names other than Jeff Smith at www.everestatfifty.co.uk whom his positivity and passion backed my decision. People had doubted me but Jeff did nothing except encourage and uplift me. Having nailed Manaslu, 8,156m, this year he knows his stuff with altitude. I’m looking forward to training hard and achieving our dream together. Not many people understand why we can become so obsessed with such an extreme and demanding, yet beautifully alluring mountain, or be prepared to suffer so much for success. Sometimes I can’t either.
Best of all, I’ve secured a place on one of the best, if not THE best, teams on Everest next Spring. I’m proud to be climbing with 4 times Everest summiteer Tim Mosedale, based in Keswick, on his fully supported and inclusive South side expedition. Happy days. Climbing with a bunch of friends means I’ll have a great trip regardless of the outcome, although I know Tim will give the best resources and create the perfect opportunity to help me achieve my goal. But of course, most of the work comes down to me. Bring it on.
And on that note… it’s Monday morning and it’s dark and raining outside…. time for a training session!
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