Monday, April 25, 2011

First Trip up the Icefall

So things are moving along. I had my first icefall experience the other day and it was scarey, fun, amazing, exhausting, beautiful and really hard work all at the same time! Dawa and i packed our bags to spend the night at camp 1 and we also planned to go to camp 2 before heading back to base camp. I only had the things i needed to stay the night and probably had around 12 kilos in my bag. Dawa however had a load with two oxygen bottles, food for camp 2 and our 2 jet boil stoves. Even with my fairly light pack moving up the icefall was hard. We left pretty late from camp as we knew we were going to stay at camp 1 we didnt want to get there too early so started walking at around 5:20am after a 4am wake up...blah! I hate early mornings even if it is to climb everest!! So cold and then when you walk if you wear too much you get hot, so you take off a layer and there is some wind and you freeze again. That is life in the mountains i guess! Anyhow i had never had any experience walking on the ladders with my crampons so i just learnt on the way. Dawa gave me a great lesson when we got to the first one which was a single ladder. There are ropes either side of the ladder and its easier if he stands at the other side and holds them tight. I clip a safety leash into one rope then hold onto both of them as i start to work across. The rung of the ladder goes inbetween the spikes on the crampon near the front. You have to be careful to get it in the right place otherwise you can over balance. So thats it apart from only looking at the ladder and not focusing on the gaping abyss under it or you freak out and get all wobbley. So the hardest part is when the abyss is very big and they have to join multiple ladders together..... Inbetween camp 1 and 2 there is a huge crevass with five ladders joined together to cross it. Luckily you can actually walk around this crevass but it takes alot longer. I decided to give it a go on the way back from camp 2 and dawa went first with my camera. As he was at the other side taking a photo, he wasnt holding the ropes tight for me. So i got out onto the first ladder and couldnt keep my balance....i screamed at dawa to stop with the photo and just grab the ropes tight for me! It took him a few seconds to put the camera away and grab them tight and meanwhile i was totally crapping myself. So i finished walking across the ladder which was very wobbley and the whole time i thought i was going to fall in. So i am never doing that again! I will just take the extra time to walk around it from now on as its way too scarey.
The five ladder crevass

So the icefall took me five and a half hours to get through to camp 1 which is ok for the first time. Dawa however on his own does it in three! He is a machine and that is carrying a load. Hopefully i will get faster as i get more acclimatised. The first half i was all excited and i thought it was really pretty walking through all the blocks of ice. I thought the ladders were fun and it was an adventure but the second half was just bloody hard work and i couldnt wait for it to be over as i was totally exhausted! You go up 800mt in altitude through all this and it is so winding god knows how far you actually walk. Lets just say it feels a really long way but from the camp it doesnt look so long.

The icefall and the Lhotse face in the background
So when we arrived at the camp it started to get really windy. We had all our mtn hardware tents at camp 2 as dawa had already carried them up so we had to use one from the company i use at basecamp. Sadly it was a nepalese made tent that was missing a pole and it was so hard to put up it took us an hour and a half to make the platform in the snow and figure out how the hell the tent worked. By that time we were both really tired. I even had to use sports tape to help hold the thing together. So obviously i was worried about spending the night in it with the strong wind outside. I got in and dawa went to get some ice to melt for hot water, drinks and dinner. The tent was flapping around so bad that we both had headaches from it. We ate dinner and tried to go to sleep. I had silicon earplugs so we both stuffed them in our ears. At 10pm i had the feeling the tent was falling apart.....because it was! The front pole had come loose, all the zips were open and the fly was just flapping about close to tearing apart. We spent some time getting all our carabiners and securing the fly to the anchors with those. Then dawa got out and went round the whole tent fixing it and piled snow on the back door to stop it from ripping open. Well after that we both just fell asleep because we woke up around 5am and neither of us could remember when the wind had stopped but most importantly it had! Thank god and the tent had survived against all odds. So we packed the things in our bags to take a load up to camp 2, had an extended breakfast again then headed off. We passed my friend Mike with IMG and he said that a bunch of their tents got destroyed in the night and they had an epic. So we were really lucky.

It took us two and a half hours to get to camp 2 from camp 1 which isnt so bad. Camp 1 is at 6100mt and camp 2 is at 6500mt...well our camp is anyway because it is one of the highest. It is not so much up as it is along. It is a really long way along the western cwm and so flat that we didnt bother wearing crampons. It seems like you just dont get closer and there are lots of sherpa carrying loads back and forth. The worst part is you can see the camp from ages away but you cant focus on it or its just depressing as it never seems to get any nearer. I just look up every half an hour so i actually have made a bit of progress! Next time i am listening to my ipod to take my mind off it. For the first hour before the sun hit i was freezing, with primaloft pants, my down jacket and heaps of layers on. I couldnt feel my feet either as they were frozen. However as the sun hit it became hotter and hotter until i just had tights and a light jacket left on and i was still sweating! From the western cwm you can see lhotse, nuptse and the lhotse face to camp 3 on everest. I was very surprised to look up at everest and see that it is mostly rocks and not much snow from this side. It actually looked like a bigger version of what aconcagua looks like from the horcones base camp. There is ice up the lhotse face however and it looks really steep! Willie said that they have to make over one hundred v thread anchors in it to put up the fixed ropes! What a job! The sherpas from the larger expeditions do this and i will be extremely grateful to just clip into these lines and jug up them!! Infact everyone will be i am sure.

We left our loads where dawa already had the tents. Then we hiked a little higher to see dawas neighbour from Thame who was working in the alpine ascents kitchen tent. He stored our sleeping bags in his tent as it would be better for them incase it snowed while we were away. We had a quick cup of tea then headed back down to camp 1. Wow so easy going down! I practically ran most of the way. I saw my friend mike again walking up with his group to stay at camp 2. When we got back after probably only half an hour, we had to pack the tent up and leave it there. Glad to never use that crap tent again! Epic fail nepalese tent....well it did actually survive the night... I met some more folk including a guy called gavin from newcastle australia who was guiding three people from the Uk and they gave us some hot juice before we headed back down the icefall again.
Dawa descending the icefall

By this time i was so tired. Dawa kept saying that i had to move faster through certain sections of the icefall but it wasnt possible for me! It was lunchtime now and really hot so dawa just wanted to get to where it is not so dangerous around half way down. I didnt see much of him at the top which meant i did some of the ladders on my own, getting a bit more professional now! One of the crevasses had got bigger since the day before and they had to add another ladder to it. I was amazed looking around to see that the icefall had actually changed in one day and alot of seracs had fallen over to the side of the track. Pretty scarey really. The sherpa dont like the icefall and whenever i ask them what they think is the the worst thing about their job they all say going through the icefall and i can certainly see why.

As we got closer to camp we could relax more and it took around three hours from camp 1 to make it back down to base. By this time i was so hungry for lunch and totally exhausted. I definately had an awesome sleep that night!

So that was the first mission for me up the mountain and it was hard work but amazing at the same time. Everything that mounatineering is i guess. One minute it is absolutely horrible and you wonder why the hell you are there, then the next it is all beautiful views and the achievement of arriving at camp. What a sport! As i have always said, the greater the challenge, the higher the reward. At the same time though it sure can be alot of suffering!

So just back at base now and we have had some bad weather the last few days. Alot of snow and today it is very windy. Dawa wanted to take loads to camp 2 for us the last two nights but hasnt managed to get out of the camp. So i just hang and watch movies. There are three other brazilians at camp now and one is called Cid Ferrari. He is a client and is on the seven summits journey and this will be six. After everest he justs needs to climb carstenez and koscuisko as no one can decide which is the proper summit... Anyhow he is a really cool guy and gave me chocolate for easter yesterday. He also has loads of movies to watch on his laptop and we watched this horrible series last night that gave me nightmares so i am just going to watch fun movies from now on!!
Lots of snow back at base camp

So apparently they have now fixed the lhotse face to camp 3 so dawa and i will go up again in the next couple of days. This time i will go all the way to camp 2 and then have a rest day. Then we will move to camp 3 which is 7300mt. Hopefully by then the lines to the south col will be fixed. I want to just go up there and spend around an hour hanging around before coming all the way back down again to base. It will be super windy still as the wind doesnt die down until early may but it will help me acclimatise to try without the supplementary oxygen. At this stage i dont know if i can do it and i wont really know until the day i guess. It will just depend on how i feel at the time, how cold it is, alot of things. We are going to have it there anyhow just incase i need it. Dawa will use it and he is going to use it when we sleep at the south col too. I have no doubt he could do it without as he is so strong but it is more important that he is strong for me on summit day so its safer for him to use it.

Ok well back in Gorek Shep to use the net again. I just had a big steak, chips and vegetable meal to get the power to walk back to base camp! I have to say that all this time above 5000mt is starting to get tiring even when i dont do anything. I will write again after the next trip up the mounatin. Thanks for the support and to all my friends and family....I miss you guys soooo much!!!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Everest Base camp

Well so much has happened since leaving Namche it feels like staying in the Zamling Guesthouse was such a long time ago. I am writing from Everest base camp now as Dawa and I arrived here yesterday afternoon. Today we had a puja ceremony at our camp and a lama from Thame monastery performed it. The sun was out and our camp is situated right at the base of the icefall, one of the closest. The sherpas made a stone centerpiece and put lots of offerings to the gods around it and burnt incense. The lama chanted, blessed our camp, all the climbers, our climbing gear and we all tied new red strings around our necks. I now have one from the lama Geshi and from this puja so lots of luck for me. After, we all ate alot, drank and the sherpas danced and sang until lunchtime. I joined in on one of their dances. Then we put the prayer flags up around the camp. The climbing sherpa won't even start climbing on the mountain until this ceremony has been performed. Tonight dawa is taking a load up to camp 2 of all our tents. I am going up the icefall on thursday and just resting until then, apart from a hike up to camp 1 on Pumori which is around 6000mts.
Puja ceremony at base camp
Dancing the Sherpa dance at our Puja

We left Namche and went straight to Dole which is past Tengboche. There is quite a big hike up to Tengboche from the river (around 450mt) and that day I was hiking with Willie Benegas. I set a good pace walking up and managed to just keep up with him so I was pretty happy about that...considering he has climbed Everest ten times now. Dawas fiances sister owned the lodge that we stayed in at Deboche. The lodge is called Rivendel after the 'lord of the rings'! It was a really nice clean lodge and they were so friendly. Dawa was happy to see his fiance obviously! We stayed there two nights because the next day we hiked up to Pengboche to see the lama Geshi and then came back again. Whenever sherpa go to climb Everest it is important for them to see the lama first and get his blessing. He lives in a little house with his wife and he has an amazing prayer room inside of it. When we got there his wife gave us hot tea while we waited for him. He came in his buddhist robes and looked like a taller version of yoda. We had to wrap some money up in cata (silk scarves) for him in preparation. He did a little ceremony for us, chanting, praying and blessing us. Both dawa and I have special necklaces that we wear for protection on the mountain so he blessed those. He also made knots in red string and tied them around our necks, praying as he tied the knots. He wrote in one of his special cards for me. On the wall there were alot of photos of climbers on various summits, mostly on everest, holding up his card. He said he only had one left and hadn't given it to others climbers, just i felt very lucky! He wrote in it in tibetan and told me to send him a summit photo holding it.
Hiking out of Namche with Willie. Everest is in the background.
With the Lama Geshi in Pengboche

After we visited the lama we headed to the monastery. There was an old monk praying there. Dawa and i gave him some money to pray for our safety on the mountain and then we headed back to Rivendel just in time for some lunch. It was a very special day indeed.
The monastery

The next day we headed off with my porter Kata on a small track that headed down to the river, crossed a bridge then headed up to a village called phortse. I think it was around 500mt of up but wasnt too bad as it was a nice sunny, morning. We had lunch in Phortse then headed up into the Gokyo valley to arrive at around 3pm in a small village called Dole. It is at 4100mt and we were the only people staying in the lodge which was nice and quiet. Also I really enjoyed hiking through the silver birch forest that day and past lots of beautiful waterfalls. The next day we headed all the way to Gokyo which is at 4800mt so quite alot of up but it only took us about five hours, stopping for lunch in Machermo. The last hour it was snowing on us and we walked past two frozen lakes. Gokyo lake was mostly frozen too. The last two times I had been there it wasn't frozen at all so the area looked quite alot different. We stayed in Cho Oyu View lodge, the same place that I stayed in 2007. The next day I had a rest day to acclimatise and also the weather was really bad, lots  of snow.
Arriving at Phortse
The view out my window at the Lodge in Dole
Cho Oyu View Lodge infront of the frozen Gokyo Lake

Lucky for us the weather cleared and we hiked up Gokyo Ri the next morning which is 5360mt and has a great view of everest, lhotse and down the valley to cholotse. We had lunch back at the lodge then packed up and hiked across the glacial morraine to Dragnag. There are just a few lodges there because its the last place to stay before crossing the cho la pass back into the busy everest valley. I was lucky enough to meet a really nice aussie couple in Gokyo, Scott and Jess, and they stayed at the same lodge. Another nice english guy Sam turned up so we all chatted and had dinner together around the yak dung fire before an early night.
On the top of Gokyo Ri
Yaks at Dragnag

Dawa and I left Dragnag around 8:30am and reached the top of cho la pass in around three hours. It is at 5300mt and looks out to ama dablam and baruntse and also lobuche peak. We hiked along the glacier then started heading down to Dzong la where we had lunch with Jess, Scott and Sam. We then continued on for just over two hours to get to Lobuche village which is at 5000mt. A friend of Dawa's manages a new lodge there called Mother Earth lodge so we stayed there and it is awesome! For the first time since Kathmandu I had a spring mattress and two big doonas. It is very clean and has a big warm dining room with really great food. I had chicken for the first time in ages and chocolate pudding so I was very happy to stay there! We were planning on hiking up to high camp Lobuche peak the next day but it was bad weather so I had a rest day which was great.
Cho La pass with Lobuche peak in the background
Dawa and Kata swap loads on the way to Lobuche

The next day we hiked up with Kata to higher than the normal high camp on Lobuche.  There was alot of snow and fixed lines but we made it up to 5700mt in our hiking shoes, just next to the glacier, by 2pm and we set a tent up on the ridge. There was no view at all as it was snowing and a white out. You had to be very careful where you walked because the tent was right on the edge of a cliff! kata headed back to lobuche and Dawa and I went and collected ice to make water on the stoves. We had a good afternoon nap, big dinner which included a cheesecake dessert from a freeze dried packet....delicious!!! I have eight more packets for Everest luckily. Just as we were finishing dinner the clouds completely cleared and it was absolutely amazing! We could see the lights of base camp, everest, lhotse, ama dablam, makalu.....well a 360 degree mountain view. To be honest this moment was more awesome than making the summit the next day. I kept staying outside the tent to take it all in. Dawa was joking that i could just stand there all night and he would see me in the morning! Finally I went in and fell asleep.

We woke up at 5:30am and it was still perfect weather. Climbers started to walk past on the glacier coming up from the lower camp. We however had a very luxurious start, long breakfast and waited until the sun hit the tent. We left at 7:15am and caught up to alot of the climbers anyway. We summitted in just under three hours. The summit is not a particularily spectacular one as it is just a point on a long ridge and not really the true summit. However it was around 6000mt so good to acclimatise. There were fixed ropes all the way up but i didnt clip into any apart from the last two as it wasnt really that steep at all. It was fun to use the crampons and ice axe again since the last time was on Mera peak in 2008! So we got down pretty quick and packed up. kata came up and carried a load down with us. By this time it was snowing again. We made it back to the lodge just in time for lunch and then an afternoon nap before another big chicken dinner!!
The view from our tent on the ridge
Heading up after a relaxing start
Ontop of the 'summit' of Lobuche...which isn't really a summit...just the lower end of a long summit ridge.

So I finally started to feel tired when we hiked to base camp the next day. I stopped in Gorek Shep for a few hours because I could finally use the internet there as I hadnt had good reception since hiking up the gokyo valley. It was really quite emotional for me finally arriving at the base camp. Such a great feeling to know that I wasnt just visiting this time but I was here to stay. We had to walk past all the other camps to get to our one which is right up the end and one of the closest to the icefall. I was so happy that my camp is right next to my friend Willies camp and that we have very cool fluro yellow and orange tents so it is easy to find. Probably can see the tents from close to the top of the icefall! All the sherpa staff have been here for two weeks already setting it up. They have worked so hard to move all the stones around and flatten out huge places for the tents. They built a kitchen and dining area out of stones. The whole area is on a glacier so just under all the rocks and boulders is ice. During the day as the sun hits the camp the ice melts and there are pools of water and little streams everywhere.

Tomorrow I am going to hike up to Pumori and hopefully get some good internet reception to post this blog. At the moment I can only just open pages sometimes but I cant send any data. The phone works really well from here though so I can text and call. I am really looking forward to heading up the icefall on thursday and hopefully we will make it to camp 2 then come back again. So right now i am just hanging out in the sherpa dining tent and trying to learn some sherpa language. They think it is funny because it is only spoken here but it i really like how it sounds so it will be nice to say a few things atleast.
Dawa arriving at base camp
Kata and I share one last tea at base camp before he heads home to Thamo

I tried to get to camp 1 on Pumori but I got caught in a blizzard at 5500mt so had to turn around, there was no internet reception anyway. So today I hiked one and a half hours back to Gorek Shep to post the blog and send emails. When I get back I will get all my things ready as tonight Dawa and I are heading up the icefall. It will be his second time and my first so I am pretty excited. We will try to get all the way to Camp 2 before we turn around. I will just have a light load of some high camp food. Apparently there is one crevass that has five wobbley ladders joined together to cross it so that should be interesting!! So folks that is all for now. Thanks for your support.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Namche Bazaar 5th April

So here we are back at Zamling Guesthouse in Namche with Tsedum Sherpa and his lovely family. I just love this place it has such a great vibe, very clean, hot shower and loads of old amazing climbing paraphenalia. Dawa and I arrived the day before yesterday after the slightly painful hike up from Phakding as it has been sometime since I have been to altitude.

Just love the flight into Lukla as landing is like a rollarcoaster. The airstrip is only about 500mt long and is perched on the edge of a mountain. Of course it is very steep as to slow the planes down before they run into the concrete wall at the end. It was my third flight into Lukla and made sure I sat in the front seat so I got maximum exposure! We were very lucky to have perfect weather and get great views of the mountains the whole flight too.
The view out the pilots winscreen as we are about to land!

Dawa met me at the airport and we had to wait sometime for all the bags to arrive as they came on later flights. I instantly took a liking to him as he has a very friendly smile and is always making sure I have all my things. He is very trustworthy and I could basically give him all my gear to mind and he wouldn't do anything but lock it away for me. He loves his job, is very proud to be a climbing sherpa and has worked really hard to be one. As we hike the trail so many people stop to talk to him and he is very respected. He used to work herding the cows along the trail with loads, then became a porter, a cook, trekking guide and then finally a mountain guide. He talks to everyone from porters to climbers and has no ego at all about himself which is really great and quite normal among the Sherpa people. People here are so friendly and helpful and the ones that speak English just love to practise it with you.

Dawa on the way to Phakding

We hiked to Phakding the first day which is only a few hours from Lukla and around the same altitude...2800mt. We stayed in a lodge on the less busy side of the river however there were some Indians staying there that weren't so quiet whilst watching the cricket! This part of the trail is super busy with trekkers, porters, horses, cattle and is really dusty. The next day we took five hours to hike up to Namche. The trail stays in the valley for quite sometime, occasionaly crossing the river then after the last suspension bridge it heads up very steeply to Namche which is at 3450mt. I was feeling fine until probably the last hour of the hill when I actually started to feel the altitude. This came as a bit of a shock to me as normally I wouldn't feel it at this height! I guess its been around three years since I have been to altitude so it is understandable. Still we managed to make it for lunch in Namche and overtook most people on the trail. Yesterday I had a rest day which was fantastic and I felt so much better today for doing that. Just went for a walk into town to check out all the new shops and buildings that have gone up since I was here in 2008. It has changed quite a bit really and there are alot more gear stores that sell the real deal not just the fake brand clothing.
On the suspension bridge just before the hike up the hill to Namche

Today Dawa and I took an acclimatisation walk up to Kunde Ri. It is a high point on a ridge behind the village of Kunde and is at 4100mt. We set off at 8:30am and arrived at the top at 11am after me stopping to take photos every hundred meters! It was a perfect and clear morning and we could see all the way up the valley to Everest. Once we reached the top of the ridge we could see all the way over to Thame on the other side and even saw the monastery there. I have seen alot of really great views in Nepal but I think this has to be one of the best. I did a handstand on the top, had some morning tea, took more photos then headed straight down the hill to Kunde and then on to Khumjung. Just before Khumjung I found a really great boulder so stopped for awhile to do some climbing. We had a delicious lunch at a lodge in Khumjung then went and visited the Hillary School. Dawa spent seven years there so he showed me around.
The view out my window of Zamling Guesthouse
The first sight of Everest on the way to Kundi
Looking down on Kundi and Khumjung from the top of Kundi Ri. Ama Dablam is in the background

Once we got back to Namche we finished off sorting our loads out for the porters tomorrow and talked about our itinerary. We packed gear to go straight to base camp, climbing gear to go to the village of Lobuche and stuff to keep with us trekking. Tomorrow we will head to Diboche where Dawa's girlfriend lives. From there we go up the Gokyo valley to Gokyo village. Trek up Gokyo Ri, cross Cho La pass and end up back at Lobuche village. Alot of the hike will be above 5000mt which will be great for acclimatising. From Lobuche village we will pack our climbing gear and head up to high camp then climb Lobuche peak. We aim to be at Everest base camp around the 16th of April after also trekking up Kala Pattar. Dawa will need to find out exactly where our base camp is because by that time there will be around one thousand people there and hundreds of tents!! Scarey! I am enjoying the parts of the trip where there aren't too many people around before I get there.

So not sure where I will be able to connect to the net again. Probably not until we get back into the Everest valley from Gokyo. I imagine my next blog will be from the base camp. I had such a great day today and felt very strong so lets hope that continues the next few days. Also I have not had any tummy problems yet which makes a huge difference to how good I feel. So hopefully I will stay illness free and strong. Take care everyone and will write again soon.