My first blog from Everest base camp and this time I’m glad to be able to report the positive progress and anticipation of our expedition, which last year was marred by the tragic events of the serac fall into the Khumbu Icefall.
We ventured back on to the main Everest base camp trail to Dingboche. The next morning we woke up in the teahouse to a loud “Woah!” as everywhere was blanketed in a couple of feet of snow. We spent the day mooching around in the village, and sat tittering in the bakery as two chaps unknowingly spent 30 minutes vilifying Everest and ‘rich sponsored climbers’ as we sat next to them. I finished my Humble Pie, picked up my sponsor-emblazoned rucksack and brushed past as I left. I seem to be pursuing one of the most widely criticised ambitions in the world and couldn’t be happier. Skeptics are loud; actions are louder.
Due to the heavy and persistent snow, we had to abandon our plan to camp at The Kongma La pass as it would have been simply unfair and unsafe for our porters to come up and over with us. Instead we walked up the valley to Chukkung, 4700m. This time I slept great, having already slept at Gokyo. We headed up Chukkung Ri, the nearby hill, and despite reaching our highest elevation so far I was back on form. Our leader Tim simulated ‘Everest summit pace’ up a snowy slope, us all following closely behind. It was both incredibly useful and surprising to visualise; the speed at which we would be moving for over twelve hours, in a few weeks time. It felt assuringly easy, until you consider that on summit day we’ll be 3000m higher and oxygen deprived.
After that, we were flying. Reached about 5530m in good order without any headaches before descending for lunch. This gave me a confidence boost, when so far I had straggled at the back wondering where my fitness had gotten to. But I had to realise that fitness is not proportional to acclimatisation, and that I had to follow my team at my own pace rather than keeping up just to prove a point. We headed round via the high route and Zung La where in disbelief you see people walking to base Camp through thick snow wearing basketball shoes and tracksuits. We spent the night at Lobuche 4,900m, which can only be described as a high altitude swamp.
As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve just finished the book “Facing Up” by Bear Grylls, who to my delight gave me a shoutout on Twitter last week. It was incredible to get the imagery and visualisation of summit day and it was a great example of the perseverance and attributes required. Like myself, Bear was the youngest in his expedition, treated as such, and had the same doubts about himself. But age really is no barrier (within reason), provided you can still dig deep, grit your teeth and know when to turn round.
After holding our breath at Lobuche to avoid the lurgy, we moved through Gorak Shep to base camp, arriving a day early on the 17th. Base camp was smothered by thick snow and finding your way around is an expedition in itself. Each team has their own allocated area of tents; it takes 30 minutes to walk from one end to the other. BC is situated on a glacier and the ground is a treacherous jumble of gritty rocks on slippy sheet ice which is probably more dangerous for your ankles than moving up the mountain.
Our litter of tents was a welcome sight; the whole camp has a warming, pleasant and overwhelmingly different feel this year. It just feels right. There were plenty of handshakes and hugs as I popped my head into the mess tent, (where we eat, drink and socialise) and many of the same staff from 2014 greeted us with big smiles. These people are more like friends.
We have a really strong team again. As well as my expedition leader Tim and three teammates, we share ‘our’ base camp with two other expedition leaders and their teams, under the Himalayan Guides umbrella. This includes Berghaus sponsored athlete Rolfe Oostra and Dr Rob Casserley, a qualified GP and 8 times Everest summiteer – both great chaps to have around!
We all eat together and share the same facilities so we benefit from the combined experience. Reportedly there’s a British journalist in camp who is reporting all of this Everest season. What’s cool is he will be getting stuck in with all aspects of base camp life, reporting how it is. Very different to the likes of armchair journalist Tanya Gold from the Guardian who last year labelled Everest as the “peak of hubris” – with a nose so stuck up a 2 month expedition with oxygen would be required to ascend it…
So far we’ve had a few rest days, washing clothes, sorting gear, reading, laughing, drinking lots, having “snack attacks” and sussing out how to get the Internet working. Personally, I walk down into the glacier for 15 minutes where there’s a line of sight to Gorak Shep and intermittent internet access, if you’re prepared to stand around singing to yourself for 1-3 hours to stay warm. I’ve even had my first shower, which involves standing in a tent with a bucket of water conservedly dripping onto you as you desperately try to scrape off the dead skin before it runs out. Any time spent at this height is all useful acclimatisation, but we’ve already trekked up to Pumori advanced base camp, reaching our highest yet of about 5750m. The view of Everest was tantalising and felt otherworldly. It’s hard to describe.
The final half an hour walk back to camp is exhausting; you just can’t drink enough. Your body is trying to get rid of the alkali inside, even drinking 4 litres of water a day isn’t enough. You wake up with a banging dehydration headache most mornings Now the snow has receded, everything in your tent looks like it’s been covered with the contents of your Dyson vacuum. People seem to think of the Himalayas as a freezing landscape with an elusive Yeti, but during the day the heat resonates and scalds any inch of skin not lathered in factor 50 suncream as you’re wilting in your tent like a Pansy.
But once the sun goes down, the clouds clear to give the most amazing array of stars above the shadows of the peaks, your breath freezes on your tent walls and showers you with frost. Ice crunches beneath your feet. A bottle of boiling water left outside your sleeping bag will be frozen solid by the morning, when you’ll have the most spectacular sight of sunrise illuminating the tops of the peaks that surround us.
After a few days here, walking back to the tent doesn’t leave you gasping for air as much anymore. Today I had my blood oxygen saturation tested, a sign of how well my body is adjusting to the reduced oxygen. Despite being the youngest (the nearest to me is 32!) I had the lowest score on the team by a considerable chunk, yet I feel fine and move as fast as everyone else.
Some of our climbing Sherpa team have already been up to Camp 2 to get the logistics ready. I always forget the day of the week whilst on expedition but we had our Puja blessing on the 21st. I’m not religious by any means but this is a traditional Buddhist ceremony for all Everest expedition teams to ask for safe passage in the mountains. It’s particularly important to the climbing Sherpas. The local Monk is invited, and it’s quite an experience.
This time it really felt like a lot of effort had been made, there was lots of laughing, interacting and cheering afterwards as they brought round offerings of holy Snickers bars and divine Digestive biscuits, then marked us with flour and Rice…
And we’ve already been out and about. We started with refreshing a few rope skills in the glacier which was great fun then yesterday left camp at 5am to head into the icefall itself. I felt nauseous to begin with, not from fear nor altitude, but too much sugary breakfast cereal. It was exciting, I couldn’t believe I was finally here.
We followed the ropes up to about 5,800m altitude over yawning crevasses and ladders that groaned and wobbled as you crossed, praying your crampon doesn’t snag. I found it thrilling, and more manageable than I expected. It was a magnificent place, stunning, yet convicting and unforgiving, as proved last year. Not the place to hang around.
We descended in good order and have a few more rest days before heading back up. Our first ‘rotation’ will involve moving up to Camp 1 at about 6000m through the icefall, and staying for one night. The next day we will move through the Western Cwm to Camp 2 at about 6400m. We will spend two nights there resting and acclimatising before turning to base camp in a one day swoop to rest before moving higher on the next rotation.
Don’t ask me when the summit date is, because I don’t know, and because it’s highly confidential anyway. I’m excited that things are finally unfolding. I’m very lucky, but we do create our own luck.
Pretty exciting eh? I can’t help but feel more young people could achieve their Everest in life if they followed their heart before convention.
Thanks as ever for your support.
Thanking you all for the amazing support. Would love to hit £10,000 for Adversity in Cheshire and the Himalayan Trust before I get to base camp next week so if you can help PLEASE visit www.justgiving.com/teams/Everest2015
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