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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Day 33 - 35 - BC Rest Days 3 - 5

I decide to make some progress with my tasks today - washing and trying to find out what is wrong with my mattress. One of our cooks seems happy to do my laundry for a few dollars and I identify the leak in one of the valves of my mattress in about a minute so simply glue the whole thing up. Jobs done in about 15 mins...

We talk a bit about future rotations up the mountain as well as go through the high altitude medication that we need to have with us at all times to prevent death from swellings (edemas) in the lungs or brain.

The Lhapka Ri team are heading up to intermediate camp today and then tomorrow we will all head up to ABC. Moving up for the first time means yaks which means a good couple of hours of haggling over weights, measurement and costs but by 11 they are off. 
Yak herders having a discussion

Weighing the baggage 

More discussions

More discussions

As we are heading up tomorrow, I have a quick wash and a shave and then head back to the mess tent where there seems an unusual amount of activity. The leader of the Lhapka Ri group (who has recently had two fits and hurt his knee) has had to stop on their way up to intermediate camp and so a few of us set off to go and pick him up as well as his bags which are being taken off the yaks. A few other bits and pieces get taken off the yaks so I make a bit of a sight walking back down the mountain!
When we get him back, we pack up his things as he is being taken back to Kathmandu and then sort ourselves out in preparation for heading up to ABC tomorrow. The weather is middling for the next few days while we are up on the mountain - there shouldn't be too much wind which is important but it does look as though there will be a bit of snow. The danger here is that the headwall up to the North Col could become avalanche prone if there is a lot of snow on it. From this far out and this far away it is not really possible to make a decision so we are just going to head up and take a look. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Day 32 - BC Rest Day 2

More of the same really. A couple of people do some washing but then the clouds come in which make it miserable to do the washing and then impossible to dry it so I decide to leave it for a bit.

The afternoon is spent playing cards and waiting for the weather update to confirm or change our plan to rest tomorrow and head up the day after. We finally get the weather at about 7 or 8 pm and luckily (given we have not yet made any real preparations for tomorrow) the plan remains unchanged.

It is Gus' birthday today so we have some fun and games as well as a cake to celebrate!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Day 31 - BC Rest Day 1

 The name says it all really - chatting, reading, sleeping. The highlight was our first shower in a week - I think I'll leave my washing for another day though.

It turns out that the Lhapka Ri group hasn't been able to bring out everything that we needed - the key item being the radio transmitter. I don't fully understand what is wrong with the one that they have brought out but it is not going to work properly if at all. I decide not to push the point here as the ultimate end of any such conversation is that since we don't have the required safety systems in place we can't go up the mountain and so would have to come back another year and argue over who pays for everything. I just hope that we don't end up needing the radios as they are a pretty key part of the infrastructure for a safe climb of a big mountain!

We start to get more of an idea of what has been going on on the South Side in the aftermath of the avalanche there. It is not quite clear why, but Maoists seem to have seized this opportunity for their own political agenda and made death threats to any Sherpa or their family that continues to work thereby forcing them all to leave the mountain and bringing an end to the season for everyone. The real losers here being the normal Nepalis and their families who will not now receive their main income of the year which they hugely depend on to advance the political careers of militant quasi trades unionists.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Day 30 - Back to BC

It is pretty chilly in the morning despite the fact that as we are up high we do get direct sunlight early on. Packet breakfasts are as bad as I remember them - think cheap, sugary, ready brek derivative breakfasts from the 80s / 90s. After packing I have a quick call with ABC at 8am to confirm that all is ok and that I am heading down shortly for the group return to BC.

The descent is an absolute joy with the 4 hour real trudge up the face turning into a 30 min hop, skip and a jump (so to speak) down the face with the only issues being the necessity to come off the ropes to get round people coming up. I started off being conservative and waiting at anchors to move past people but soon got bored of this and just moved past them (safelyish) wherever I came across them. Then back across the lower glacier and the moraine for an hour back to camp.

When back at ABC I had a bit of reorganising (as always) to do before heading on down after the rest of the group who had set off earlier. This trek back to BC as on the way up was a real schlep and exacerbated by my lack of sleep and the occasional snow shower. I ended up taking almost 6 hours and was the last person coming down the mountain - slightly nerve racking whilst on some of the slippier areas!

Passing through interim camp on the way back to BC

This got me back just in time for some excellent hot soup and dinner and a chance to meet the Lhapka Rhi team who have just arrived at base camp - Lhapka Rhi is the summit just to the side of ABC and about the same height as the North Col. This group will be doing both of these before heading back to Kathmandu and it is good for morale to have another group of people out here.

We pretty much all head to bed early after supper - it's been a long day!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Day 29 - Up to North Col (7,074m)

Whilst I can't say that I feel bad in the morning, I don't feel great either. Added to which, my backpack is petty heavy - camping at over 7,000 mtrs is no laughing matter! I am probably carrying about 25kgs which is probably not very sensible for the first time that I am going to such an altitude but we'll see.Nothing like getting your excuses in early!  I am taking up my mountain food and quite a lot of other equipment to leave up there so that I have a lighter pack for future rotations when I will be doing a lot more when I get up there!

The route to the North Col is a surprisingly long trek along the glacier which takes us about 2 hours and then ascending the very steep headwall which takes us 3:40. I am not sure how to do this justice in words but just imagine a nearly sheer 500m face of ice and snow - not quite the wall in Game of Thrones but in that direction but we are doing it at 7,000m rather than just off ground level!
This was one of the hardest sections I have done in this series of expeditions - although I imagine that we could have made things far easier for ourselves by having more breaks and next time I will be doing it with a much lighter load.  
View up the headwall to the North Col

Top of the Headwall with a view down the valley and ABC

Having a rest at the top - not the best conditions really

North Col camp and in the background a view of the North Ridge of Everest with the summit on the far right

I am actually pretty glad that I am staying up here for the night on my accelerated acclimatisation schedule as I feel really rather drained. The others are heading back down to ABC for the night and I will then catch them up somewhere on the way back to BC tomorrow. 

Our tents are in fact a few minute walk along the ridge towards the flags that can be seen on the right hand side in the above photograph. As can be seen in the photo, the protective mound to the right soon comes to an end and so our tents are going to be continually exposed to the wind coming down the valley - which is described in pretty frightening terms. Quite why we are camping here is not that clear and even more concerning as we had to use our spare guy ropes for the tents at Base Camp.

The rest of the afternoon / evening is meant to be a relaxing one in the tent recovering, eating, sleeping etc. But the self deflating issue that I had when I first bought my sleeping mat seems to have reoccurred (I have not had it since and it has chosen a fine time to reappear) so I have a pretty miserable evening and night trying to remain warm and comfortable on the very hard and angular ice. The fact that I am having altitude impacted bizarre dreams really doesn't help either as there are now three factors vying to keep me awake at any given moment. 

We are using an older brand of freeze dried food as unfortunately Fuzion went into administration - this food is not nearly as good and even slightly too much water has a real impact on the appeal of the food. When you are already struggling with a loss of appetite at altitude this can be very serious as a day, and therefore a summit attempt, can be ruined by one day with no energy. These pack do however contain more energy than the Fuzion ones - 800 cal vs 500 cal - which is a real bonus if you do eat all the food. 

Friday, 25 April 2014

Day 28 - Pujah

There was quite a storm over night and we have woken up to a very different landscape. The ugly moraine now has a carpeting of snow!

ABC with a dusting of snow

Today is the Puja when a local monk will bless us and our equipment and ask the mountain deities and spirits to treat us kindly.

Putting up the prayer flags

Our equipment to be blessed

The altar and food and drink to be blessed
The ceremony is mainly the monk chanting to communicate with the mountain deities and spirits and then he blesses our equipment and us by throwing holy rice over everything. Then we drink and eat the blessed food and drink and finally have blessed flour thrown at us! It actually takes quite a long time!

Late in the afternoon we start to get more news from the South Side - both the scale of the incident and the fact that the South Side seems to have closed for the season. It is not clear why but that is certainly going to make the headlines!

We start to get worried that our team may call things off, either in fear of the mountain or because of issues with family back home. Not knowing why the South Side has been closed leads to a lot of speculation. Unsurprisingly, problems arise but at first it is not clear what they are but it seems to be about money. Well, we thought that something was coming and at least if they are just asking for more money we can go ahead with the climb and sort the finances out later. Having to call off the expedition and come back next year would be really disappointing and interfering with other aspects of life - it is hard to get a job when want to take more than two months off for a dangerous expedition in the first year!
In fact, it turns out that the agreement between our company, the local agents and the Sherpas is very unclear and they are saying that they won't continue until it is resolved. Quite how this has happened and why it has taken until now to arise is not clear but is yet another concern at the organisation of this expedition. A few frantic phone calls later, it appears to have been resolved quite amicably - a flash in the pan but one that was very worrying for a time.

Once this has been finalised, we turn our attention to camp infrastructure with the equipment that came up with the yaks yesterday. The key issue here being communications as this is where the transceiver will be that covers the upper mountain and the cornerstone of our safety systems. Rather concerningly, this sort of works but sort of at best. Again I don't want to make a big issue out of this as the expedition has been teetering a bit of late! 

I am starting to feel a little unwell from late afternoon on - little bit feverish and a sore throat. I manage to force down a good supper but go to bed pretty much straight after. Hopefully I can sleep this off and be in good shape for tomorrow as I am really keen to get moving.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Day 27 - ABC Day 2

We go for a trek up to Crampon Corner (about 150 vertical metres above us) which is where the moraine ends and you start walking along the glacier to the end of the valley at the steep headwall onto the North Col which is where we join the North Ridge that leads to the summit. It feels so much better to be walking without the 25kgs on my back and now being acclimatised to the altitude. The headwall looks very doable and I am raring to go - could be a tricky couple of days waiting until we set off. The walk back down to camp is great and it feels very reassuring to be moving at a good speed over tricky ground.

The North Col and glacier leading up to it

View back down to ABC

Closer view of ABC

The afternoon turns into a cards marathon although concerns arise as the evening wears on and there is no sign of the yaks as this will mean yet another day's delay. We discuss this with the Sherpas who are here but they are very reluctant to even approach discussing a decision when the Surdah (head Sherpa) is not around - he is with the rest of the equipment.

Then out of the blue at shortly before sunset the Surdah turns up but our excitement is short lived as it turns out that the yaks have only made it to intermediate camp and won't get here until midday tomorrow. That means that we will have the pujah tomorrow and head up to the North Col the day after.  

Whilst we have gotten used to the altitude, the cold is a bit of a challenge here as it gets down to about -20 in the late evening and even lower at night. We do have gear to deal with that (down clothing and sleeping bags) but it is actually quite mentally draining to be in a cold atmosphere the whole time, especially on rest days, as opposed to say skiing to the poles when you are active every day. This should be much less of a problem on later rotations as the temperature warms.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Day 26 - Rest Day ABC

As we get used to living and breathing at 6,500 after coming up the mountain pretty quickly we have another rest day to recover before heading on up to the North Col at 7,000m. It is also fairly standard to sleep poorly on the first night at a new altitude so this also gives us a chance to catch up on lost sleep over the past couple of nights.
Our set up at ABC - sleeping tents in the foreground, then the mess tent then the cook tent

Over the course of the day it becomes clear that we aren't going to be moving on as quickly as we hoped as other equipment remains in the next yak train to come up. We also need to do the Purja (prayer ceremony for safety on the mountain) before we can head up from ABC and the Purja paraphernalia is with the yaks which won't arrive until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. We plan to go for a bit of trek up the valley tomorrow morning to help acclimatisation and help reduce itchy feet!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Day 25 - Move to ABC (6,400m)

Over breakfast we are shouted at by the yak men to 'let's go!' At least an hour prior to the time we agreed we would be setting off. Not very polite but no real issue as we have all been up for some time so we start packing up. Unfortunately one of them spies a half empty kit bag, grabs it, puts it on his yak and promptly sets off. This kit bag was mine and should be carrying my overnight camping gear. Every other bag apart from the sharps bag is full and despite helpful suggestions from others, I am not keen on risking damage to my down jacket, sleeping bag etc by having them in the same bag as our ice axes, crampons etc. This means that I am carrying over 25kg on our first trek up to 6,400m which is far from ideal. However we have a rest day tomorrow so it will probably do me some good - the day turns into a long, slow painful one for me as what should have been a 3 hour jaunt up the valley turns into a 5 hour schlep!

Like the end of yesterday, we continue up a steep rise until we get to the corner at about 6,000m and then it is a long, long walk on a gentle gradient until we have passed Changtse and turn right into the valley just beneath the South Col. The glacier up the main valley is covered with moraine in the middle and there are penitentes on the sides of the glacier with the startings of a river flowing down - this will no doubt get significantly bigger as the snow and ice melt over the next month or so. The glacier undulates significantly - especially in the first half and it is pretty tiring to always be steeply ascending or sharply descending. The second half is generally much flatter until we turn the final right hand bend into the valley leading steeply up to base camp.

Following the path on the moraine topped glacier

A close up view of the wind and water eroded ice towers - penitentes 
The penitents on either side of the moraine ridge

Heading down to cross the small but growing river that comes down the glacier

An interim yak camp on the glacier

ABC with the North Col in the background

The rest of the day is relaxing as people are pretty fatigued and this is followed by a few surprises as we start to discover some of the equipment that has not made it up. Key on the list seems to be the fuel for the generator - having no light after about 6pm combined with little heat makes camp a pretty depressing place to be so we all head to bed early.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Day 24 - Move to Interim Camp (5,800m)

We are up and ready to leave in good time but as previously feared there are problems with the yaks in that we need far more than have been booked. This is all being organised by the local team although I imagine that there is quite a culture clash with the Chinese run CTMA that run this side of the mountain. A couple of other groups are moving up the mountain today so the scene is fairly chaotic with all sorts of people and yaks wandering about.

After a bit we are told that everything has been sorted out - on further pressing this means that we will use the available yaks today and other ones later. The big discussion then is what is going to be left behind - some emergency medical oxygen is high on our list of priorities as we will be hitting 7,000m in the next few days! Anyway, after impressing a few key items we head off hoping that nothing too significant will get left behind.

Apparently the hike to intermediate camp should take about 6 hours and the yaks will do it in 4 hours. We need to be there by about 5 as the sun goes behind the nearby mountains shortly after that and the temperature plummets then. I have packed a pretty heavy rucksack as I am still using these days as training and to help force my acclimatisation.

We walk as a group for the first hour along the flat glacial valley but then we turn left up a side valley but this is much steeper and trickier terrain and so end up spread out as we wind our way up the valley. There is a well established path but it becomes really very steep in a number of places which are very tough as our bodies struggle for the oxygen required for this degree of exertion at such an altitude. In fact the walk takes us a bit over 3 hrs to 4.5hrs and we have been overtaking yak trains all morning.

Interim Camp is very windy and I try to take some shelter in one of the yak / tent placements whilst waiting for the others to arrive. These are small flat platforms made on the hillside that will accommodate either a yak or a tent - whilst they do provide a bit of protection from the harsh wind, they are rather pungent!
Over the rest of the afternoon various groups of people and yaks turn up, have a congratulatory chat with each other and then get in their tents out of the wind. There must have been a lot of further discussion over the yaks before they were able to set off as we only just get our tents up by the effective sunset at about 17:45 - over 5 hours after I arrived at camp. I get the feeling that our fun and games with this move are not yet over.

Whilst we are getting some nice panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, we are mainly walking in and amongst moraine. We will gain altitude pretty rapidly from now and that should start to provide much more beautiful sights and photos.

Trudging along the valley floor with the Rongbuk glacier to our right

Heading up the much steeper East Rongbuk glacier

Intermediate Camp - not the best of places

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Day 23 - BC Rest Day

I feel a lot better this morning and my stats are much improved. The big task for the day is organising the mountain food - ie freeze dried meals, snacks and drinks.

Our mountain food 'set out' in the mess tent
Then after lunch it is radios and the Ganmov bag (this is a very large, tough bag which you can put a person in and pump up to create an effective 2,000m drop in altitude which is vital when for some reason that person isn't able to get to a lower altitude). Keeping in tradition with the rest of the trip we have a serious problem today - one of the base station sets turns out to be an FM one rather than the VHF system that the individual radios run on. Luckily there is another group coming out here next week to do the lower part of Everest and their list of spares and replacements to bring out for us is getting really rather long (solar panel, toilet tent, high altitude medicine, heaters) I am not sure what would have happened if they were not coming out!

The afternoon is final packing for the mountain.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Day 22 - Acclimatisation Day 2 (6,000 mtrs)

Today we are heading up one of the nearby slopes to get to about 6,000m as our final preparation before starting our rotations up the mountain.

I feel pretty poor in the morning and have very little energy - this really doesn't bode well. We have done virtually nothing for about a week now and so my appetite and metabolism seem to have greatly reduced. This is something I have been monitoring as I am concerned as to how I will fare on the long rests between our rotations up the mountain. A couple of days will be great for recovery but then I need to start exercising lightly to avoid this lapse into a state of inactivity. Although I think that I am a bit ill which is obviously going to exacerbate matters.

We head up a fairly steep scree slope that turns into a boulder field which is tough going. The few people that we meet have turned round at 5,700 and are surprised that we are heading higher up. We carry on plodding on and then come across a body - a middle aged Chinese lady who is wholly inappropriately dressed for the conditions and seems to have curled up with a blanket and then frozen to death on the mountain side. We build a small cairn for her and take a GPS reading so that we can alert the authorities when we get down. This creates a rather sombre mood and reinforces the point that our expedition is now getting serious and that mistakes up here can have fatal consequences.

We stay at 6,000m for about half an hour and then head down as some pretty nasty looking weather is coming down the valley. I am now feeling very drained and quite unwell and my ankle starts to react to the poor terrain so descend very slowly indeed - it really isn't very enjoyable.

Enjoying our acclimatisation break

Bad weather coming down the valley so time to leave!

Heading down in quite dramatic conditions

View back to BC from the top

View of BC from above - our camp site is the bottom of the middle cluster

We have a quick hot drink when we get back and then I head to bed for a couple of hours before supper to try and recover a bit. Supper is pretty good - roast chicken - but I then head back to bed soon after.

I have got a bit of a fever and feel very shivery and just plain exhausted. My stats (oxygen saturation and heart beats per minute) are quite a lot off from the norm so some rest should do me good - tomorrow is a rest day which should really help as you really don't want to head up the mountain in such a state.

We have been having ongoing problems with the mess tent heaters which means that we are all cold every evening and end up donning our down gear. This is pretty disappointing for what is meant to be a well provisioned camp and adds to the general frustration - there is a decent solar panel which provides a direct current and so needs to run through a battery to be converted into an alternating current - this battery however is faulty and so there is very little power that comes through it. There is also not much fuel for the generator so we can only have it running for short periods each day. This is really quite a contrast to the well lit, heated and powered camps all round us!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Day 21 - BC Rest Day

Today is another rest day (quite a few of these now) and whilst there are plenty of spare days in the schedule these are more for weather than for acclimatising below 5,500!
Our two blue loo tents and the orange shower tent

Still plenty more barrels and crates to sort through

Our mess tent from the outside

Anyhow, this provides more time for organising - today it is the gas and oxygen bottles. Although I am going for an oxygen less summit, I am still having some stashed on the mountain as a backup.

Sorting through the oxygen bottles

Oxygen mask and goggles make it pretty hard to see who is underneath! 

The weather improves today with clear skies and little wind giving us out first good views of Everest but the wind picks up over the afternoon leading to another chilly night.

Everest from Base Camp.

The afternoon and evening take on a very somber tone as news starts to come through of the disaster on the South Side and what is proving to be the worst day in history on Everest! Quite a few of us know people who are probably involved - in the chaos of such events it takes a long time for facts to emerge but we do manage to get messages back home to reassure friends and family that we are safe and not caught up in the tragedy.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Day 20 - Acclimatisation Walk (5,500m)

Because we were unable to even attempt the summit of Naya Kanga, we are quite a bit behind in out acclimatising schedule. We go for an excellent hike up a frozen river which is great for getting our technical footwork going as well. The afternoon is more organising, planning and also a comms discussion.

Heading up the frozen river

Acclimatisation break at the top

Heading back down

Mini frozen waterfalls

Final part of the descent plus a view of the various base camps and the tongue of the Rombok glacier on the left 

Shower set-up

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Day 19 - Base Camp Rest Day

We get up with the sun and after breakfast continue to organise the camp - checking through what was freighted out here and getting the various electronics and comms systems set up - or at least trying to! There seems to be problems with most things we look at and don't get much finalised today.

In the BC mess tent

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Day 18 - Tingri to Base Camp

We go for a walk to a lookout point giving us a good view of the valley and mountains including Choy Oyu and our first views of Everest. Then we head off at about half ten having sent the truck (with all the equipment) ahead.

Himalayan view point - Everest over my head and Cho Oyu the large mass just to the right of centre

Close up of Everest with the usual high winds sweeping snow off the summit

Close up to Cho Oyu

Wandering through a market on the way back - walking pole in hand in case of problems with dogs

We come across the truck after a few hours having suffered something catastrophic - we can't work our what this is but it is clear that the truck can't continue. The team seem rather blasee about this which is pretty frustrating a we keep losing days but then they realise that they have not told us that a replacement truck is on its way and lo and behold one arrives after about 10 mins much to our great surprise - the advantage of using the Chinese Tibetan Mountaineering Association!

We then set about transferring all the gear from one truck to the other - which is quite a bit smaller. This turns out to be a great mix of Western planning and organisation (plus a bit of brawn) with the locals getting stuck in and bodging anything that didn't really work.

The local villagers appear to enjoy watching us work and take great interest in my bare legs - for some reason this develops into throwing stones at them when I am concentrating on something else and then dissolving into fits of giggles when I turn to glare at them. 

Transferring equipment tot he new truck

Tying everything into the new and smaller truck!

As we head up the Rongbuk valley, we come to the famous Rongbuk monastery from where we get our first close view of Everest itself.

Rongbuk Monastery

And their TV satellite dish - good use of the money donated by all the desperately poor local Tibetans!!

Everest - it looks huge and daunting from here - going to be a tough climb!

and after that on to BC where we start setting up camp - or at least as much as we can before night drew in.

Starting to erect camp

Inside of a tent (bit too neat to be mine). Comfy sleeping mat and space for all our gear.

Setting up camp is not all plain sailing as as the zips to my vestibule are broken and pretty much all of the tents are missing guy ropes and so we had to use all our spares - we just have to hope that we have no problems higher up the mountain; not exactly the way to start such an expedition!!

Then a few more camp chores, supper and bed. The pillow and extra blanket I bought make an excellent extra addition to my tent and keep me pretty warm despite the temperature in the tent falling to about -10c!