I’ve had a really pleasing and encouraging first week of the expedition. From Monjo we took a fair climb up to Namche Bazaar. It was quite gradual, first following the river banks before crossing the awesome suspension bridge, a vertigo-inducing 100-150ft at least above the cliffs and crashing torrents below. I remember it from last year. Truly incredible. Feeling much better than on my Baruntse trip, it’s still early days but I’m finding the trekking days far easier. They’re certainly a little shorter but for a trip of this length they need to be. Of course, I’m far fitter but a stronger mindset and the great support and planning by my exped leader Tim is what’s making the difference. No hard slogs so far. Enjoying each day as it comes and the Khumbu Valley is particularly beautiful and varied everyday. Things like keeping hydrated and regular tea stops are making it much more leisurely and relaxed than thrashing up to Baruntse. Tim has clearly planned and tested the itinerary very carefully so we arrive fresh for the big one! I’ve not had any AMS symptoms yet whereas last year I struggled on the first day. This has to be a good sign.
Rather than worrying about the uncontrollables, I feel like I’m keeping much better mental control and dealing with what environment each day brings, whether it’s a 6 hour walk or 30 min stroll then returning to the teahouse and killing time drinking tea and eating biscuits. The key to success is staying mentally positive and taking care of myself; I feel like we’re off to a really good start.
Trying not to become too fixated on the summit or the suffering that lays ahead, nor comparing myself to the very strong mountaineers around me. I can only do my best- theres probably much more in this mind and body than I realise. Rather than wondering if it’s enough I’m going to find out soon enough.
The route to Namche Bazaar then took us through a forested hillside, busy with other trekkers and porters, one of which was carrying a 130kg load and just 18 years old. I thought I was having a hard time! The route followed sandy zigzags for a while. I certainly don’t remember it being as easy as this last time. In my Craghoppers trekking gear I was basking in the sun too. Tim’s ethos is that we become fastidious with personal hygiene and self-care so that it becomes second nature. Have been drinking loads and not forgetting the sun cream either. I’m learning lots so far. Halfway up the hill, a small resting point opened up with a sneaky glimpse of Everest next to Lhotse Shar. It was a bit hazy but humbling. There she was. This is what I am here for after all. It looked bold, striking, almost intimidating; summoning us over if we dared.
As we got to Namche I found myself flying up the hill, possibly due to a bit of help from my Energels and the Beet It Sport beetroot juice shots I’ve been taking twice daily during meals. I think with all the training, me and my team mate Ellis weren’t used to going slowly in the hills back home, but it’s crucial to take it slow and prevent altitude sickness. We were told so during lunch and have been taking our time since!
At the lodge we bumped into my buddy Jeff Smith who’s part of the Himex team. Jeff has been a great friend and mentor to me recently. I have a huge respect for his enthusiasm and positivity. It was great to meet at last. Like Ellis, the Irish Seven Summits team and my other friends on Everest this season, we’re different in many ways but all have the same ambition in common. Its great to be sharing and experiencing this journey together – we felt like we already knew each other having only ever spoken online!
We rested in Namche for a couple of hours. It’s quite a peculiar large village, built on a bowl-shaped hillside. A call into the highly reputed Everest Bakery was obligatory, the hot chocolate cake and coffee was amazing. Wi-Fi reconnected us with the outside world after 36 hours without it. I’m very grateful to my friend and mentor Chris (@chrisspray) for managing my Twitter and blog on my behalf, and Ste (@realsterumblow) who’s looking after my Climb4change Facebook page when I’m out of touch.
Once stuffed we left the relatively quiet Namche and headed up the trail further to Kyanjuma (3600m). We were staying with Tim’s very good friends Tashi and Lhakpa at Ama Dablam view lodge. Amongst other groups, the 3 of us were certainly looked after very well. The next day we headed up for a “rest” trek to the Mong La, our highest point yet at 4000m. We had stunning views of Ama Dablam where we stopped for lunch and tea, an acclimatisation and health session with Tim and headed back for a second afternoon. The blue skies had changed to heavy snowfall in just a couple of hours. Just like being in Scotland or the lakes (see twitter feed!) Teahouses are very typical for the area. They are basic, ‘cosy and comfortable, but they really immerse you in the culture of such a friendly, hard working and hospitable people. The food menu is basic and doesn’t change much but it’s really tasty and we have lots of it to maintain our body weight!
Sadly we left Tashi’s and the stunning panoramas of Ama, heading up to Khumjung with incredible mani stones ( Amazing pictures if you google them) . It’s not just about the mountains here, it’s a very cultural and spiritual place. The next day was slightly longer, stopping for tea at Syangboche where an old helicopter landed. I realised it was THE exact Russian chopper that flew us to Lukla on Baruntse last year. Amazed to see it still airborne; it certainly scared the life out of me last October! Probably hasn’t had the oil replaced since… we then headed down along an unusual, peaceful, forested trail to Thamo.
We’re slightly earlier in the season hence we’re gladly escaping the “pestulent hoards”. Lunch at Thamo, some banter then onto Thame at 3750m high. We’ve had 2 rest days here to acclimatise before heading higher plus the home luxury of Wi-Fi to send photos (and this blog) home and catch up with family.
It was here we learned that a Sherpa had sadly died at base camp earlier in the week of HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema). This is quite unusual but sometimes they feel under a lot of pressure and fail to report symptoms (as they fear losing their jobs and because they are supposed to be ‘invincible’ when they can be equally vulnerable to altitude like us. Very sad news to be heading into. It happens and I have a great deal of respect for these extremely hard working people. It really puts into perspective the environment we’re about to enter in just over 2 weeks time.
Finally I’ve been sleeping well albeit a little tired: a sluggish rest here again today relaxing after nipping up to the Thame Monastery this morning for a Buddhist Puja blessing for safe passage in the mountains. We met another team member Chris who seems a friendly chap. I’m looking forward to getting to know him and our final teammate Scott who we’ll meet at base camp. Other than that, I’m off for dinner now then to bed. A few long days ahead at high altitudes so I’ll be out of contact. We’ll start heading up the Thame Valley steadily gaining some height as part of our acclimatisation before we head up and over the Renjo La Pass (5,400m). We’re a little off the beaten track ( 2 valleys west of the Khumbu) and it’s very remote. Tim uses it as a great preparation with the team.
Ciao for now and thanks so much for following, donating to my charities and the awesome support messages they really do mean a lot to me. Thanks as ever to my sponsors, especially my major sponsors www.pingtree.co.uk, www.ukloans.co.uk and www.textlocal.com. You can follow my provisional itinerary here: http://www.textlocal.com/alex-staniforth-climbs-everest.