Tag : baruntse

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Baruntse & Mera Peak Expedition 2011 Part 3

The Amphu Lapcha

A quick and cold fair well was given to Baruntse base camp as we got underway for Chukhung. This was expected to be a 12 hour day which would be a shock to the system after trekking for 6 hours at most on the walk in.

Walking most of the way with Debbie and Gordon, we all doubted our ability to get over the Amphu Lapcha; however the prospect of failing wasn’t too great as the Amphu Lapcha was the only reasonable way out of the valley other than a helicopter… our time would come for that little gem.

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Eventually we reached the base of the Amphu Lapcha pass, geared up and set off around the maize of snow slopes and crevasses, which as Nicky had quite aptly put earlier in the trip, were like slices of viennetta. It was a hard place to describe, but because of the lower altitude than we were used to, we were all able to fully take in and appreciate the sheer beauty of the place. A friend had told me that this part of the expedition was simply unforgettable, just indescribably beautiful. She was right, a perfectly preserved hidden gem in one of the most remote valleys of the area, truly stunning. Along the way, I attempted to show Mark my Ueli Steck moves; however he remained unimpressed given my apparent lack of ability to run up slopes at almost 6000m.

The summit was an awe inspiring place with views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Baruntse and an unnamed peak which was the most perfect pyramidal mountain I’ve ever seen.

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After some photos and a quick telling off by Paddy for the AMAZING use of karabiners on my rack, we made a spectacular descent, abbing down steep mixed ground until we reached a steep unprotected gully. Gordon made a spectacular ice axe arrest after slipping, which was fortunate for me being below him. We also caught up with Nuru, who was leaving our expedition to meet another team at Baruntse base camp. We thanked him for all his hard work, since without him and the dedication of the Sherpas, the success of the expedition would have most likely been a very different story.

After de-gearing and leaving our kit with Dawa’s yak driving brother, we set off on the long march for Chukhung. Walking with Roy, Mary and Debbie, we made good progress and thought things were going well, however after walking for a number of hours, we realised this was going to be a brutal descent to Chukhung. We were already 10 hours into the day, we hadn’t really eaten since 11am and it was getting dark.

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Paddy and Sonam caught up, and went ahead with Roy and Mary, leaving Debbie and I to have a spot of 6pm lunch, and continue the rest of the walk along a high ridge eventually resorting to head torches without sign of another person along the whole valley. Eventually, we saw some lights and knew it must be Chukhung when we were me by Sonam. We were taken into a real building, with real lights, and a real, non-smoking fire, it was bliss. It was also the first time in weeks we had been surrounded by relative civilisation, and clearly took some time to get used to. A group of French people gave some relative entertainment for the night as I attempted to translate, however it became apparent to Nicky who was well practiced in the art of French linguistics that my French was somewhat limited, and was generally Franglais at best. This carried on somewhat of a tradition for the rest of the trip.

Sleeping on an actual bed for that night was almost too comfy, however we kept the exposure to civilisation as gradual as possible by using our sleeping bags over the top of probably lice infested bedding.

The next day’s trek led us to Sonam’s house in the quaint town of Tengboche. I think for everyone on the expedition, we had all experienced a trip of a life time which we’ll never forget, and in some shape or form, had all been successful.  With this mind, the festivities and celebrations commenced!

A few pots of chang (rice beer), a lot of beer and a few bottles of whisky later, we all went to sleep relatively happy after some epic banter from Roy on the current state of world telecommunications, his antics in Saudi Arabia, a few electric generator tales, and at least 10 reasons why every man needs his own shed. All this was given a certain background flavour with Debbie’s iPod blasting out One Direction, Sher Lloyd and James Blunt among other timeless classics.

The next morning, I felt slightly worried that I may be getting an episode of diarrhoea. So calling on all my medical knowledge, and keeping the theme of self-prescriptive medicine, I took a whole pack of Imodium, just to be on the safe side…

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A deceptively long walk to Namche Bazaar followed, however it was certainly worth it since this would prove to be one of the more eventful nights of the expedition.

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A quick look around, and a few purchases of fake down goods later, we headed back for a huge meal at the hotel. Following on from the previous night, we agreed it would be rude not to experience all that Namche had to offer, so set off into the night. We reached the local night club at around 9am, however this was shut for the night after being open for seemingly most of the day… We then tried the deserted Irish bar, whilst we waited for the guides to arrive. On their arrival, a few hotly contested table football games followed before we headed for the busier bar across the street. It’s worth pointing out at this point that the only Irish features of the Namche Irish bar were its green walls and its shot of the day – The Irish Car Bomb…

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The celebrations and many a game of pool followed in the next bar. Eventually, at 2:30am with the 6 hour walk to Lukla the next day, Debbie, Nicky and myself staggered back to the hotel, and I wouldn’t be lying if I said we literally crawled up the stairs… well, one of us anyway…

The final few days turned into a bit of a chaos to get back home, and need little elaboration. As we woke in Namche, we had time for a quick last explore. In this time, Roy (as any great expedition dad would do) bailed me out with Sherpa tip money after effectively running out of money the day previously. We also visited the Namche market, where Roy was harassed to such an extent by a particularly good salesman, that he ended up spending 2000 NPR (£16) on a piece of amber which supposedly contained a scorpion. We later found out that the amber was fake, and the scorpion was plastic… The walk to Lukla was tough, and made worse by the fact I had mistakenly eaten my walk-out chocolate, a 4 day supply, during the first day. Fortunately I still had a full pack of Lucozade dextrose tablets which I didn’t envisage needing after Lukla, so ate the full pack as standard and found myself bouncing off the walls for the rest of the expedition, as I’m sure the other group members would testify. The final slopes to Lukla felt never ending as time after time we were deceived into thinking we had reached the end. On reaching Lukla however, the visibility was down to a few meters. Evidently we would be here for a long time. The first port of call for most of us before even going to the tea house was to call in at Starbucks. After refilling on hot chocolate and brownies, we were ushered out by the guides who had been waiting in the hotel, and went off to find our rooms. In with Ian and Roy, we very quickly made a kit explosion. In credit to Roy however, he spent the next 40 hours continuously packing for the flight, such an organised man. That night was spent eating with the Sherpas who had come over from Baruntse with us; Sonam, Dawa and Surendra. We had all given the Sherpas a tip for their hard work, a customary tradition in Nepal, and this was done over a presentation with the guides thanking them for everything they did which makes an expedition such as this possible.

The following day, we were told to be ready at 6am for a flight if the weather was good. Unfortunately the weather was the same as the previous day, if a little worse. We spent the day in a café using as much free Wi-Fi as possible. At around 4, the long day was starting to drag on, so we all headed for the Irish bar. This was distinctly more Irish than the Namche Irish bar, as this time a pint of Guinness was painted onto the a green wall with a shamrock. Searching for some Wi-Fi however I headed to the Scottish bar with Debbie where we met a Scottish man and his wife who had fallen off a horse… A few hours passed and we headed back to the Paradise Lodge for dinner. At this point I had a rather fateful encounter with Dr. Rob Casserley… An extremely long story. Not wanting to waste the day, we all headed back to the Scottish bar where we re-met the Scottish man and his leg splinted wife who were distinctively merrier than 2 hours previously. Not wanting to put all our eggs in one basket, we dodged the rain which was now of biblical proportions, and headed back to the Irish bar for the night where I continually impressed Nicky with my ‘le manque pour comprendre la langue Française’.

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The next day, with the weather still very much inclement, no planes were flying so we started down the valley through the rain in an effort to reach Surke. Finally we saw what we were looking for, a flat field with a helicopter on it. On reaching the field, we had to wait before a relatively old helicopter landed within meters of us. This was my first time in a helicopter, which considering the reputation of Nepalese helicopters and the fact every helicopter previously looked like it had narrowly missed crashing on both takeoff and landing, I felt slightly miffed that I was paying £600 for the pleasure… it better be good! Fortunately the pilot did a grand job of not crashing, and we were subsequently flown to a field at the side of a military base in the middle of absolutely nowhere where we had the short wait of 7 hours (occupied to a certain degree by eating Hannah’s utterly terrible ammonia sweets, apparently a Norwegian delicacy), before being picked up again and flown to Kathmandu.

 

Leaving Nepal

Arriving in the hotel Manaslu was certainly a shock to the system. We must have look like cave men to the concierge dressed in a smart black suit and hat. Unfortunately due to the weather delay from Lukla, our international flight was the next day so we were somewhat limited on time, which was no issue since no one particularly had much interest in spending more money after reluctantly handing over our credit cards to pay the helicopter bill which had amounted to $10,980 between 12 people.

I shared a room with Ian for the night where we had a quick kit explosion and the first shower after 35 days of climbing. With only 10 minutes to go before needing to leave for the evening meal, I was left with no choice but to go for a quick 5 minute shower instead of the 60 minute bath I was hoping for… Nevertheless, everyone looked remarkably clean and had essentially had a complete 60 minute makeover on returning to the lobby.

A final meal at the famous Rum Doodle and of course a quick night out on the town, and that was it. All we were left with was our international flights to Delhi, a 3 hour wait whilst Roy allegedly tried on the lipstick in duty free, and the final 9 hour flight to London Heathrow.

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On arrival at Heathrow after navigating a massive queue at security, we had our final somewhat emotional farewells where Debbie contemplated running on the carousel after watching Friends With Benefits on the plane.

After meeting mum who thankfully already knew about the $900 scenic helicopter flight which avoided too much explanation, we drove home, and after somehow managing to miss every MacDonald’s on the M25 and A1, arrived back around 11pm, where I went straight to my luxurious bed.

And that was it; the expedition was finally over, 35 days after leaving, I was back home. 10 fingers, 10 toes.

 

Thank you’s

All that’s left to say is that an expedition such as this cannot go ahead without the help of so many people, and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that. Sure, on the final snow slopes I put in everything I could to make the summit, however I would have never got to that point without the help of others.

Firstly there were all the people back home that have supported me; Mum, friends and family and the team at Wardour And Oxford. Without these, I would never have even reached Nepal. Also the people who have kindly donated to my Global Angels page, supporting children all over the world. Next, my equipment sponsors who have generously allowed me to use their kit for the expedition. These are namely Osprey, Vango Force Ten, and Trekmates. I am very grateful for their support.

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Then there were the people on the mountain. The Sherpas who do so much, going above and beyond every day and always keeping their smile; these were Nuru (Sardar), Sonam, Dawa, Surendra (cook), and Mungalae. During the walk in, we also had the support of around 40 porters who carried our kit, often carrying 3 huge kit bags, again the expedition would be near impossible without their support.

Paddy and Mark the two Adventure Peaks guides were simply excellent, I could not have hoped to have two better people leading the expedition, both in the quality of their guiding, and the quality of their personalities. Finally, there were the other team members. As with the Paddy and Mark, I could not have hoped to climb with a better group of people. My surprise was that with 12 people, you would expect at least some friction, however there was none, through the whole 35 days, we simply became great friends. At the end of the Lenin blog, I said just as in Scotland, I have found great friendship in my team mates, with bonds forged over an unforgettable experience; perhaps this is the most special and rewarding of outcomes. From Baruntse and Mera, I know this to be true, and I don’t think I would be lying if I said that without such a great team, the summit would not have been possible.

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This was an experience of a lifetime which I will simply never forget.

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Baruntse & Mera Peak Expedition 2011 Part 2

Arriving at Baruntse

The arrival at Baruntse was impressive one, as BC, the moraine, and the towering Southwest face of Baruntse opened out in front of us. This was our home for the next 10 days.

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During the rest of this day and the next, the first rest days we had had for 17 days, we got straight down to business. We only had a scheduled 10 days on the mountain so every day counted. The two days were spent organising piles and many barrels of food, equipment for high on the mountain, and our own itineraries. We were given a free range with respect of how we would tackle the mountain, and it was eventually agreed by everyone that we would climb to camp 1 the following day and use an upwards itinerary with 1 rest day and 3 climbing days. On this day, we also had our puja, the blessing ceremony to ask the mountain gods for permission to climb on their mountain. A slightly cold but somewhat ethereal experience.

 

The ascent of Baruntse

On the morning of the 1st November, we started the long haul up to camp 1. I was blissfully unaware of what lay ahead of me. Simply, the next 10 hours were utter hell, the hardest day I had ever had on a mountain. Everyone gets a bad day during an expedition, and this was mine.

The Sherpas had taken a lot of our kit, but we were still left with heavy packs. My 70L pack was full to the brim, as I was aiming to take 6 days of food for the full time up on the mountain, with a few spare days; just as everyone was. As soon as we set off, I knew I was struggling under the weight of the bag. I couldn’t understand this as at sea level I was fine even carrying my own body weight, however at altitude, I was just crippled. I couldn’t keep up with anyone, and it was just me in my own little world, closely followed by Mark who the only thing was keeping me going. Eventually after countless hours of agony, I passed Mark who was waiting on a rock and climbed on for 40 minutes. 3 minutes later, Mark caught me up having been sitting on the rock for the full 40 minutes. I was simply crawling along, a step and then 2 breaths. It was clear to see I wasn’t going to make the camp at this pace, so I took out all my food and left it in the snow for the Sherpas to bring up the next day. Mark carried on and soon caught up the others guys, whilst I plodded on, this time at least double the pace I had been previously doing. Reaching the bottom of the fixed ropes, I was pleased to catch up most of the other guys who were in a queue waiting to climb the final section to camp 1. Everyone was finding this equally as tough, however seemed to cope much better at load carrying. A testament to Mark’s fitness was the weight of his bag, which made mine feel relatively light.

Unfortunately I was at the back of the queue for the fixed ropes and waited for at least 30 minutes before starting the rock section. At this point the sun was already getting low in the sky, so I put my head torch on and just hoped I wouldn’t need it.

Once on the fixed ropes, only one person was climbing on each rope at a time to minimise the risk. There were 3 very long ropes up the snow gully, and this explained the long waits. Mark climbed up ahead on a second rope to help people up ahead, and I was once again at the back. Roughly half way up the fixed ropes which would eventually take 2 hours to climb, it got dark. As soon as the sun went down, the temperature dropped, and it became unbearably cold. I was only wearing a helmet, a thin pair of gloves and a fleece, it was dark and everyone had finished the climb and was presumably already at camp 1. I felt very small and insignificant hanging on the end off a rope half way up a steep snow gully. I had to get warm just to continue, so found a tiny ledge and managed to put my warm kit on without dropping my bag into the black abyss below which was an achievement in itself.

Climbing on, it was no longer the cold, but the lack of oxygen that slowed down proceedings to a vertical plod which would have made even a sloth look highly energetic. Jumar up, step up, 5 breaths, repeat.

It was slow work, but eventually by some miracle I reached the top of the gully, and saw Paddy just sitting on a rock waiting for me. After gladly giving him my bag, I sprinted the rest of the way to camp 1 (joking).

Fortunately, given my lack of food, I was sharing with Hannah who kindly donated a meal, and even cooked it for me. This was a relief since I was struggling even to take my boots off; lighting a stove could have been disastrous. A very heavy sleep later, we awoke to a very frosty tent and proceeded to get on with our rest day. This involved laying in the tent and continuously melting snow which took on average an hour to make 1 cup of water. On this day, as I had been suffering with what seemed like an encroaching throat/chest infection, I decided the best course of action was to self-prescribe a course of amoxicillin in order to prevent a flair-up high on the mountain. Previously on the Lenin expedition, I had to take drastic action with a self-prescription of ciprofloxacin, which was also a successful self-administration. With this in mind, I think the only obvious next step is to learn to share my apparent gift with others by taking on a Master’s Degree in pharmacology. (Just joking mum) A lot of chatting later (according to our tent neighbours on both sides (!)), it was time for another sleep. Once again we awoke to a frosty tent, however this time we would be leaving for camp 2. I made every effort to lighten my bag, including leaving most of my clothes in the tent and even removing the rucksack lid.

The Sherpas who were meant to be coming the previous day turned up just before we left. I naturally asked for my food, and was slightly bewildered when the response came back that it had been eaten. The best part was it had been eaten by huge black crow like birds, who had even managed to get through the strong aluminium packaging of 7 days worth of freeze dried food, leaving only scattered remnants strewn across the snow which I would find 4 days later.

Fortunately the Sherpas had brought up some more spare food, which I took onboard before starting the climb to camp 2. With a much lighter bag, I was able to keep up with everyone and even managed to perfect a pace which I could use on the summit climb. The aim was to walk quick enough so ground was covered, however slow enough that the pace was maintainable, and no stops were needed. On the whole climb to camp 2, I stopped for breath roughly 3 times.

Reaching camp 2, I just sat with Gordon and a few of the girls in an effort to recover from the climb. Eventually and reluctantly, I managed to get up and move into my new home with my tent buddies Roy and Ian. The night proved to be much more exciting than any of us had planned, when I set fire not only to the cooker, but also the gas canister itself. After painstakingly melting snow for the previous 2 hours, I essentially threw the whole contraption, including the pan of water into a wall of snow in front of the tent, which subsequently melted my gloves. At this point, Ian was preparing to escape via the back door, and after I shouted a few expletives, Roy dived through the tent and rather heroically switched off the gas and prevented an explosion at camp 2. Unfortunately, when we put the cooker back together, it wouldn’t relight, so we called for Mark and told him the cooker had mysteriously packed up all of a sudden. Apparently some ice had become trapped on the gas tube; although how this had happened we hadn’t a clue.

Sleep wasn’t easy to come by that night, with 3 in a tent all kicking and pushing each other into the side of the tent which was completely saturated. Waking up at 1am for the summit attempt, we tried our best to get ready as best as possible, which took 45 minutes to simply put on a coat, trousers, and a pair of boots. We were set to leave at 2am so piled out and geared up with crampons, ice axes and harnesses. This was it, the start of everything we had been training for. It’s hard to describe the anticipation of what lay ahead of us. As everybody got ready, myself and Roy who had been first out the tent stood and waited in the freezing cold. As we looked across, we saw some movement in the Sherpa tent. Then all of a sudden three Sherpas emerged kitted out in full Rab Everest suits, it was an awesome sight to behold.

Leaving slightly before the rest of the group, Roy led the way and I followed at the plodding pace I had perfected the previous day. It was slow going; however we had to keep moving to keep out the freezing cold that surrounded us in the pitch blackness of 2am. As I looked round, a trail of head torches pointed in our direction was beginning to form.

I took my turn to lead after about 30 minutes, and that was the last time I would see Roy until base camp. I lead for around another 5 hours with Paddy, Nicky, Debbie, Andrew and Dawa right behind. As the sun came up, a similar view appeared as on Mera Peak summit day, however this time I was too tired to stop and take in a quite frankly stunning view. As my pace began to wane, Andrew and Paddy overtook and disappeared into the distance. Climbing up with Nicky, we ascended countless fixed ropes and ice steps, and on summiting the main ridge, had dramatic 3500ft drops on either side. At one point, Dawa told us we still had a further 6 hours to go for the summit, having already climbed for 7 hours. This took us way beyond the 10 hour limit to reach the summit, and I began to have doubts whether I would actually make the summit at all. We carried on regardless, however this news seemed to make the climbing even harder, and I regularly found myself falling to my knees under sheer exhaustion. As I continued slowing, Dawa who was behind me on the fixed rope started walking in front of me and literally hauling me up. This wasn’t the most gracious take on mountaineering, and fortunately not long after, Dawa went ahead to help Nicky. Just after this, Paddy came down towards me and to my sheer elation, told me that I was nearly there and the summit was in fact just at the top of the snow slope I was on, only 15 minutes away. This news was indescribable; I just stood there and hugged him. With this in mind I carried on to the top of the snow slope and to a final step bridging a crevasse. Nicky had already reached the summit with Dawa at this point and I met her on her way down where after more hugs were exchanged, she told me to watch out for the crevasse having just fallen in it herself…

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Dawa came up with me to the summit, and the euphoria was overwhelming, as was the exhaustion. At this point Eoin, Mary, Sonam and Nuru caught up and we all summited together, 9 hours after leaving camp 2, at 11am on the 4th November 2011. It was an indescribable feeling walking up to the summit that will stay with me forever.

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A few photos and congratulations later, it was time to start the descent. As I abbed over the summit step, one leg managed to reach the other side of the crevasse, however the other refused to move. Gracefully I did the splits at 7129m, and then found myself stuck. Dawa, breathing heavy after Nicky’s close shave hauled me up and over to the other side, and I expect was quite thankful not to lose anyone to the crevasse.

I was into uncharted territory now as the exhaustion showed no signs of letting up, even on the descent. This time, I was much more aware of the amount of fixed ropes, and was shocked at the distance we covered on the ascent. At this point I was just surviving, making steady ground down to camp 2, but it never seemed to come any closer. The weather came in above our heads, and fortunately we were just low enough to avoid being caught in a whiteout. After around 2 hours, we abbed down a particularly large ice step, one of the most prominent features of the route, and at the base stopped for the first time of the day for some fluids and food. After a quick drink, I was too tired to open my stash of food, so took out some Lucozade dextrose tablets, and promptly ate the whole pack. This gave no noticeable effects, so with Sonam leading, I stumbled down to camp 2. Fortunately Paddy had stopped at camp 2 for the night, so we all collapsed into the tents without having to face an extra descent to camp 1. Without even taking my huge down coat off, I got into my sleeping bag and slept for 16 hours.

The following day, we all set off for base camp at different times. Nicky, Mary and Andrew left, then Paddy went with Eoin who had frostbitten hands from the previous day’s efforts. I left camp last and walked down to camp 1, then base camp alone.

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It was spectacular as for the first time I could really appreciate the beauty of the place I found myself in. I abbed down the fixed lines which were even more impressive in the light (!), and walked past my pile of crow eaten food which was now only a few scattered crumbs and packets.

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Still exhausted from the previous days, I stopped and ate another whole packet of Lucozade dextrose tablets, before carrying on and meeting a young cook boy who had dragged up one of the large thermos flasks full of orange tea. With the tea and dextrose tablets, I quickly found myself absolutely wired, so thought it would be a good time to make use of the sudden energy rush and make haste to base camp. The whole descent from camp 2 to base camp had taken 5 hours, compared to the 14 hour climb from base camp to camp 2 spread over 2 days.

I met Mark, Paddy and the Sherpas as I entered camp and after a few hugs and handshakes, headed for the mess tent and collapsed into the nearest available seat. Over dinner Mark informed me that he almost turned me around on the climb from base camp to camp 1, because had I not offloaded my food, I would never have made the camp 1 perhaps before the next morning, and a night out on the fixed ropes simply wasn’t an option. I clearly owe him for his trust and perseverance.

Sleep came easy that night, as the summit replayed over in my mind.

 

Rest days at Base Camp

The following 5 days were taken up with a few random incidents, a lot of sleeping, eating and not much else. The night after reaching base camp, I called mum on the sat phone which was the first contact I had had with anyone since leaving Lukla. The 2 minute phone call cost £12 on the sat phone, but it was worth it!

After battling Baruntse in a pair of liner gloves, Eoin with his frost bitten hands needed to be evacuated from base camp as soon as possible so a helicopter was called for which finally came after a few days of waiting.

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At the same time, the guys who didn’t quite make the summit the first time including Roy left for a second attempt on the mountain. Also worth noting is Nuru’s 5 minute rant down the phone when the helicopter which came to rescue Eoin didn’t deliver any of the chickens that he had bartered for our evening meals…

During the days which followed, everyone left at base camp stuck to the same routine which went roughly as follows: Wake up, have breakfast, go back to sleep, wake up for lunch, back in the thoroughly roasting tent, back to the mess tent for afternoon tea, back to sleep, mess tent again for dinner, then back for a long sleep.

This routine lasted 5 days, and was great at the start whilst there were After 8 Mints, Pringles, Galaxy hot chocolate and Lint chocolate on the table. Eoin also left a few packets of truffle chocolate which were essentially devoured by a few greedy people, maybe or maybe not including myself, in a matter of minutes. Once the luxuries were gone, there was nothing left to do except lie in the tent and listen to the iPod. Once this finally gave up the ghost, reading a book was the only thing left to do. A few banterous evenings followed with Paddy, Nicky, Debbie, Gordon, Mary and Andrew, and I’m pretty sure it was only thanks to the other team members that I stayed relatively sane.

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As the days started blending into one, I decided I needed to do a walk to get the blood pumping. I had been getting quite stagnant and was even getting out of breath walking to the toilet tent… This was not a good place to be panting. So I picked a route up a near hill and set off with my big boots, crampons and an ice axe. After 2 hours of falling in snow covered holes, I came to a relatively secluded mini valley out of the sight of base camp. Here, I saw a few animal tracks in the snow, and convinced myself they were that of a snow leopard. Feeling a little silly, I retreated back to the safety of base camp, looking over my shoulder for much of the way. Having done a little research however, I may have not been so silly since snow leopards can kill prey up to 3 times their size. In hindsight, there was a slight chance the prints came from a mountain hare though I personally prefer the snow leopard theory.

During one of the base camp days (I lost track after the third day), the climbers high on the mountain started out on their summit attempt, and we were happy to hear that Mark and Roy of Wigan made the summit. Roy is perhaps the first person from Wigan to ever make the summit, a fine achievement for his little country.

Apart from reading Shackleton’s remarkable account of the Endurance expedition and meeting up for daily banter with the guys at base camp, not much else actually happened. Incidentally it was at this point that I realised Andrew preferred to go by the name of Andrew, and not Alan as I had been calling him for most of the trip.

On Roy’s return, we were glad to finally have the group back together and ready for the final voyage to Lukla. The journey took us over the Amphu Lapcha pass, around island peak and down onto the main Everest trail. We were initially told to wake up at 4am as we were planning to do the two day climb of Amphu Lapcha and down to Chukhung in a single day, however as the whole group were utterly horrified at this prospect, the guides changed the time to 6am. This was great news for me, since I would be doing all of the walk up to the Amphu Lapcha in trainers, just as I had for the whole walk in, so a 4am start may have just been the final nail in the coffin for my feet.

Click here for Baruntse & Mera Peak Expedition 2011 Part 3

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Baruntse & Mera Peak Expedition 2011 Part 1

Introduction

This blog is to mark the expedition to climb Mera Peak and Baruntse and all the events that subsequently unfolded.

Since making a crazy return from the Himalayas on the 17th November, the last few weeks have been nothing short of hectic. I have struggled to completely piece this blog together, since how do explain the euphoria of reaching a summit such as Baruntse, or even Mera Peak and the Amphu Labtsa, when I can’t totally understand the feelings myself.

Ironically, I found writing the Peak Lenin blog much easier to write, even considering things didn’t go exactly to plan. A consolation is that I found this easier to write than my dissertation, and this is infinitely more interesting (considering no one fell down a crevasse in my dissertation)…

 Arriving in Kathmandu, Nepal

After packing, which amazingly took only a day to complete, the 2am journey to Heathrow Airport began on the 14th October. After a quick scout of terminal 4, I endeavoured to check in for the flight. The Indian lady at the desk for Jet Airways seemed baffled when I handed her my ticket and after scanning the computer, she simply asked “Where is Roy?” She clearly thought I looked a bit too young to be taking a flight, which perhaps explained why she made a quick phone call after looking over my passport, although that could have equally been to check where and who Roy was… Was he the pilot?! After checking my bags, the first of the group started to arrive, and eventually, most people on the expedition were at check in. There were the two guides, Mark and paddy, then the members, Debbie, Nicky, Eoin, Gordon, Ian, Roy (expedition engineer, telecoms expert, and electrical generator supervisor) and myself. We would meet Hannah, Mary and Andrew in Kathmandu.

The first part of this adventure began with the flight to Mumbai, where I had the pleasure of sitting next to none other than Roy who was fortunately not the pilot since we were in roughly 25 rows from the front. I learned many things about Roy on the 9 hour flight, such as his home town of Wigan, his dislike of accountants, his telecommunications background, and his ambition to build a shed.  After a strange set of circumstances a few days later, Roy became my expedition dad…

On arriving in Mumbai where literally everybody spits on the floor and looks like Freddie Mercury, we searched for somewhere to stay for the night. Eventually after a bit of scouting, 5 of us found chaise longue type seats which were a slight bonus for the 9 hour overnight wait. None of us got much sleep.

Unbeknown to most of us, it was Paddy’s birthday, which was unceremoniously spent in Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

The following day, with jetlag rapidly encroaching, we got underway for the remainder of the journey, and finally landed in Kathmandu.

After a quick kit explosion in the Hotel Manaslu, we ventured out into the city for the evening meal. The next two days sent me back into culture shock 101. This city was crazy, so fast and chaotic, yet the chaos seemed to be controlled. There may be 10 motor cycles hurtling towards you, and a further 50 behind, but by some miracle they seemed to just miss each other, perhaps due to the incessant horns that blare out. There are also the street sellers who approach you literally every 30 seconds to sell amongst other things, full sets of ukuleles, Ghurkha knifes, chess boards, and a complete orchestra of flutes, perhaps to go with the ukuleles. Apart from the street sellers and towering buildings which seemed to lean towards each other at disconcerting angles, one of the most noticeable features was the city wiring. Certainly an electrician’s nightmare.

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Kathmandu seemed in some ways very similar to Bishkek and Osh, yet in many ways, they were completely different, with Kathmandu seeming to have an endless buzz of life which after some getting used to had an addictive quality.

Following a stop at Shonas the famous gear store, and a quick browse through the endless streets of fake gear, it was time for the flight to Lukla. So far all I had heard about were people’s horror stories from ‘the most dangerous airport in the world’, but this part of the journey was one of the bits I was most looking forward to. The flight was relatively straightforward; we took off, the pilots did some adjusting, we possibly saw Everest, the pilots did some more adjusting, we landed, we departed. As flights to Lukla go, it was pretty smooth.

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Arriving to find some of the bags weren’t quite yet at Lukla meant we had the whole day to look round instead of starting the walk in. I was still feeling the effects of jetlag quite heavily so this came as quite a relief. I spent the rest of the day with Gordon, drinking hot chocolate and eating brownies in Starbucks.

That night we stayed in the Paradise Lodge where the highlight was watching Andrew summon Kenton Cool over to our table, who subsequently sent the girls, mainly Debbie, slightly crazy. In fairness, he did have unbelievably good legs…

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So on the 18th October we left Lukla and headed for Poyan, the first stop on the long trek to Mera Peak which went by the longer Surke La route rather than the shorter Zatrwa La. The first days walk went well, and took away the apprehension I had prior to starting the walk in. It was clear from where the route went on the map that the acclimatisation was extremely steady, not going above 3600m for the first 7 days. These initial trekking days gave us a great chance to get to know each other, and also get to know the Sherpas. We had a great team including Nuru (Sardar/Head Sherpa), Sonam, Dawa, Surendra (cook), and Mungalae. In the initial days, Sonam and Dawa spent the most time with the group, and given their youth and enthusiasm were great people to be around. A favourite saying of Sonams in particular was ‘zoom zoom’ each time we set off. This was translated by Roy as ‘Jum Jum’ and for the rest of the trip Sonam was known as Jum Jum, hence the phrase ‘Jum Jum, zoom zoom’. The gesture was repaid soon after however, as Roy tried to explain the phenomenon of ‘bingo wings’ to Sonam. This led to Roy being known as ‘Bingo Wings’ by seemingly every Sherpa in Nepal.

From Poyan we continued the trek to Pangkongma, and from there to Nashing Dingma. This day was particularly tough, reaching the pass of Pangkonngma La (3173m), before dropping down to the valley below, then climbing the steeply through the forest to Nashing Dingma. Here we could buy small bottles of Coca-Cola for the bargain price of 3000 NPR, approx £3… It was also here that Hannah decided her hair was too long, so the afternoon was taken up watching Nicky rather skilfully cut her hair with the smallest pair of Leatherman scissors available. As soon as this entertainment had finished, the next started with a neighbouring group practicing mountain yoga. Later that evening, we ate dinner which was a huge pizza in a rather smoky tea house. As Roy was keen to point out, the Sherpas were definitely trying to smoke us out.

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The next day we woke up to drizzle and mist, weather typical of a UK summers day. The walk involved climbing over the Surke La pass to Chalem Kharka. It was at the beginning of the walk that Paddy demonstrated the best way to wear a coat in the humid Himalayas. Wearing the coat only by the hood with the rest of the coat over the rucksack allowed plenty of venting and kept the bag contents dry. This was a vital part since I had brought along my phone, an Earnest Shackleton book, and my wallet complete with driving licence, just in case… Most importantly, you also look cool…

Along the way, Eoin had a close and personal encounter with nature after a leech took a liking to his neck which explained why Mark suddenly asked for a knife and told him to hold still. The evening meal at Chalem Kharka was a particularly cold affair, which perhaps somewhat affected our communication skills since the post dinner conversation revolved heavily around stories of, for want of a better word, getting caught short in the most inconvenient places… vis-à-vis Everest North Ridge.

The next day, we headed for Chanbu Kharka. The initial climb led us into the coldest weather we had yet experienced, and once at the summit of the climb, a thunder storm started overhead. For the final few hours of the walk, a huge graupel storm engulfed us as tiny avalanches slid down the sheer slopes all around us. This was incidentally the only day we experienced snow on the whole expedition. Once at Chanbu Kharka, the conditions were taken advantage of as best as possible, and a snowball fight ensued. Having previously had a snowball fight at Nottingham Uni with the Chinese, who are utterly abysmal snowballers, I thought this would be straightforward. Unfortunately, the super fit porters and Sherpas clearly had more experienced knocking people out with snowballs. The evening at Chanbu Kharka was also a good opportunity for Roy to read out extracts from his diary on the back of a map, from a previous attempt on Mera Peak. It wasn’t the first time we had heard Roy’s comical matter of fact excerpts, and definitely wasn’t the last. An extract included “Now at Chanbu Kharka. Very cold. Warmer in Wigan. Pen froz..”

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The following 6 days passed without too much occurrence. A few of the more notable incidents however included having a post walk river bath at Kote and subsequently paying £5 for a pack of Pringles; washing my boxers after the river bath which promptly froze solid whilst drying; having a puja by a monk in a rock side monastery on the way to Tangnang; and the story of Debbie who dropped her sunglasses into the Tangnang toilet, only to be subsequently retrieved by Paddy and Mark, washed in a river, and worn again for the rest of the trip… It’s also worth mentioning at this point the state of Nepalese mountain toilets. They are essentially a hole in the ground filled with excrement and a good floor if you’re lucky; that’s it. The last incident was pure comic genius. Picture the scene; everyone is sitting down for dinner in a freezing tea house in Kote… that is everyone except for Ian who was tending to his kit explosion in his tent. The next minute, Ian walks in to the tea house and everyone just stares. Wearing his boxer shorts on his head, with his head torch over the top, everyone is perplexed by his choice of dinner attire. It seems whilst sorting his stuff out, he hung his boxers up in the tent, which somehow ended up on his head. Now not being able to find his boxers, he gave up the search, put his head torch on and wandered off for dinner. Definitely a ‘you had to be there’ moment, but comic genius nonetheless! From Khare, we got onto the Mera La glacier and had the first chance to don the crampons and ice axes. A steady climb took us to camp 1 on Mera Peak, just below the Mera La. This camp was at 5400m and was the first time I really felt the altitude.

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The next day however was the climb to Mera High camp which was up at 5750m. Here the effects felt at camp 1 were exaggerated, and everything from eating to using the ‘toilet’ was a mission. When I say toilet, I actually mean snow ledge under a rock, exposed to the coldest wind, littered with years of human excrement; unfortunately the reality of life at high altitude camps. Once at high camp, we spent the afternoon resting, for we would be waking at around 3am, and beginning the summit attempt at 4am, so needed all the rest we could. I happened to be sharing a tent with Ian and Roy, which also happened to be great fun. After a dinner of sorts, we took the opportunity for a spot of timely singing. Classics belted out from our tent included Silent Night and the theme tune to Dad’s Army. All the while competing with the girl’s tent who considering the altitude gave a rather impressive rendition of Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory… An apt choice perhaps since we were on the cusp of summiting the second highest trekking peak in Nepal.

 

The assent of Mera Peak

After the initial difficulty of gearing up with 3 people in a tent covered in bulky down clothing, the assent of Mera Peak itself began around 4am. We set off in the dark with Sonam leading my rope and Gordon, Andrew and Ian behind me. Head torches shining, we headed off into the darkness. Even with the rope joining us which let you know you were not alone, the constant climbing sent you into your own personal realm where you were truly alone in a cold and dark world, just staring down at your feet. The pace was very high, and we found ourselves at the front of the 3 ropes in our group.

The route was well defined into the snow, however it was deceptively narrow. At one point in the darkness, I stepped off the side and sank up to my waist in deep snow. Thoroughly weak from the altitude, I was barely able to lift myself out without the assistance of Sonam.

In the darkness, the cold biting wind whipped across our route, and very quickly my hands got extremely cold. I realised that I should have had my mitts on, since the altitude simply accelerates the onset of frostbite as cells struggle for oxygen, before succumbing to the cold, and literally freezing solid. For an hour I desperately tried to keep my hands warm, constantly keeping them moving, keeping one at all times in my pocket, and trying to hang on till sunrise. Fortunately we stopped before the sun rose, and I was able to put my summit mitts on. Not realising how much of a difference they would make, I almost instantly started getting hot aches, an agonising pain as your hands re-warm. At this point I could barely hold the ice axe, but fortunately this soon subsided and I was able to look around to the most awesome view I had ever seen. Towering Himalayan peaks as far as the eye could see, a deep blue/black sky almost space like, and a sunrise glistening over the clouds far below.

The sunrise was a relief since it took the worst of the cold away. The climbing continued. Towards the top of the climb, the new pain came from the desperate lack of oxygen which is such a crippling force, movement is restricted to only a few steps before rest. This slow movement considerably slowed our pace; however we were so close to the summit. Eventually we reached the bottom of the fixed ropes, and we knew we could make it. Jumaring up to the summit ridge, all that was left was a 10 meter walk to the summit. I reached the summit with Nicky, and after 4 hours climbing, it was just total elation. On the summit, the concentration of oxygen was around 44% that of sea level. As we were all talking on the summit, an unexpected person joined us. Mark had had to go back to high camp after leaving; however in an effort to join us on the summit, he essentially ran up in around 2 hours, an incredible show of fitness.

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Getting down was simply the reverse but much quicker, reaching high camp in around an hour. Along the way however, Hannah who was on my rope managed to drop her water bottle which rolled gracefully down the snow slope before coming to a rest on the lip of a crevasse. Thinking it was a lost cause, we resumed our descent. Once we were parallel with the bottle however, it became clear that Paddy had other ideas, and on a tight rope, managed to edge over and rescue the bottle from certain death. I was unsure what to think as Paddy gradually edged over, since I was tied to the end of his rope and didn’t want to end up being eaten by a crevasse… As the bottle was rescued though, my thoughts quickly changed, and Paddy was clearly a hero.

Reaching high camp, we were treated to some more of Surendra’s awesome cooking with a quick bowl of soup before we started the remainder of the descent to Camp 1. The rest of the descent was in thick cloud which gave a slight challenge to navigation however luckily there were old tracks to follow. If new snow had have fallen whilst we were higher on the mountain, navigation would have been impossible without using a GPS.

Once below the whiteout, we had a quick stop at Camp 1 to change boots and off load the sharps, and then made for Kongme Dingma. A few slippery slopes later, we slid down to Kongme Dingma and the relative shelter of a few stone buildings, and our already erected tents. There was also a massive boulder, literally more massive than any boulder I have ever seen before in the whole of Lincolnshire…

That night, even after every other awesome meal we had received, we were all shocked at what the cooks brought out. Popcorn and soup for starter, a main I can’t quite recall, and for dessert, an absolutely massive chocolate cake that rivalled the size of any boulder. The cake was complete with candles and icing. It’s truly amazing what the Sherpas and porters can create in a tent with a pressure cooker and steamer. It’s certainly important to mention at this point just how good our cooks really were. Every single meal was different, and each day we were spoilt with the unbelievable standard of cooking. We even had deep fried snickers at Baruntse BC. The fact that no one was ill, their cooking would put many restaurants to shame, and that Eoin a London based chef was forever praising the cooking, was simply testament to Surendra and his team.

Leaving Kongme Dingma the next day, we trekked further up the Hinku Valley and caught our first glimpse of Baruntse. It was a beautiful sight, a mountain with an impressive Southwest face. The thought of climbing the mountain at that point however was slightly stomach-churning considering it looked much larger than Mera Peak, and even that had been a relentless struggle.

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The final night before reaching Baruntse base camp we camped by a beautiful lake along the Hinku Valley, which although was a stunning location, was one of the coldest camps we had stayed in. This was also the first time our own mess tent was used, and on entering, it seemed everyone else had the right idea by wearing their sleeping bags for dinner.. Icicles formed on the inside of the tent as we ate. It was bitterly cold.

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The next day, the final day of the walk in, I woke up feeling rough. Many of the group members had colds after the Mera climb, and reluctantly I joined the club. This made the walk to BC strangely difficult, however fortunately Roy had thought ahead and brought a pack of Fisherman’s Friends as his luxury food item. To the best of my knowledge, the purpose of Fisherman’s Friends is to help you breathe better, however after eating the first one I was struggling to even see through the tears, let alone breathe. The only way I can describe Fisherman’s Friends is like eating an extremely hot, mint flavoured chilly… Nevertheless, surprisingly addictive once the initial paralysis is overcome.

Click here for Baruntse & Mera Peak Expedition 2011 Part 2

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Climb For Change Article

21-year old tackles Baruntse and Everest for clean water and climate change Article featured on Climb For Change: http://www.climbforchange.com/blog/2011-10-02/21-year-old-tackles-baruntse-and-everest-clean-water-and-climate-change

While many 21-year old guys are in the process of figuring out where they’re going in life, here’s a young man who has figured out his direction – up! Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton, is aiming to become one of the youngest Britons to climb the highest mountain on earth.  And if that’s not enough, Matthew is also climbing to raise funds and awareness for two causes that are very close to his heart. “Expeditions such as these form a great platform to promote and raise awareness for my two chosen causes” says Matthew.  His causes? 1.    Providing nearly 1000 children in 3rd world countries with access to safe drinking water for the next 20 years, and 2.    Supporting a new online tool designed to lower the human influence of climate change through carbon offsetting. “Both these causes are very close to my heart” says Matthew.  “Coming from a background of elite sports performance with a degree in Sport and Exercise Science, the ability to rehydrate and stay hydrated is of upmost performance for athletes, however over 1 billion people in the world lack access to safe water, and the resources to access it.” Matthew intends to do his part by raising £8,848, £1 for each meter climbed on Everest for his charity of choice, Global Angels. “About 4,500 children die each day from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation facilities,” says Matthew, “however, this is easily preventable through long term solutions provided by Global Angels.” Matthew goes on to share his second cause: “As a mountaineer, aside from the necessity of water, I am also very aware that the environments frequented by climbers are some of the most beautiful yet fragile ecosystems on the planet. The ability to conserve these environments for future generations is the sole aim of Climate Unchange, and so it is a great privilege to be an ambassador.”

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Unlike many who pit themselves against Everest with very little high altitude experience, let alone mountaineering experience, Matthew is taking all the right steps. In addition to many years of training and preparations in the mountains, Matthew is setting out next month to climb the 7,129m Baruntse in Nepal.  He’s also launched a pretty cool website and blog which he will use to communicate throughout his journey. Any final words from Matthew before he sets off? “Whilst it is important to have your own personal reasons for attempting such challenges, I hope to find strength in knowing that my expeditions are making a difference. No matter how small, if I can help Global Angels achieve their quest to provide water to every child on the planet who lacks it, and raise vital awareness for Climate Unchange and their global mission, I will have achieved a climb for change.” Indeed. Thank you Matthew for taking on such an important initiative, which no doubt will inspire and impact many lives in ways we yet do not know. Climb on. Climb for change. For more detail and to follow Matthew’s journey, check out his websites: http://www.matthewdthornton.com http://www.matthewdthornton.com/blog

Location: United Kingdom

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New Schedule for Everest Preparation

So, after getting back from Scotland a week ago, I’ve been pretty busy. Catching up on uni work in particular, headed up by the infamous dissertation, and designing a presentation on ‘strength training: hypertrophy or hyperplasia’ for anyone remotely interested. Then there’s the matter of getting the 6 week study on beta alanine and bicarb supplementation at altitude out of the way. But aside from the enthralling 3rd year at university, I’ve had some hard thinking to do regarding my schedule of preparation in 2011 for my Everest summit attempt in 2012. Although that’s not all true, Zac, my guide in Scotland did most of the thinking for me, with his wealth of knowledge in the mountains that only comes from personal experience. But I did end up coming home with a bit of thinking to do, and a lot of changing to do. First off was a call to Adventure Peaks.  I had already booked onto the Mt Blanc climb this July, but now needed to change that. The staff at Adventure Peaks are easy going, and the change was hassle free, so now I’ve changed a quick 8 day climb of Mt Blanc, for a 22 day expedition, to a country I didn’t know existed, and also can’t pronounce. Better still, it is pretty close to a few countries that I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to go on holiday to. The fun doesn’t end there, as I need a few courses of immunisations, a few hundred pounds more kit, and some pretty funky sounding drugs for ailments such as altitude sickness, pulmonary oedema and cerebral oedema to name but a few. And to put the final icing on the cake, this isn’t even my main expedition of the year!

All that sounds mad, but there are some good reasons for the schedule change. I am actually really looking forward to this new schedule, especially this first expedition, as it marks the end of uni, and the start of my expeditions in the run up to Everest.

So onto the details. Having completed my first element of climbing preparation in Scotland a week ago, I then have a few months to wait before my next element, and first expedition in July to the Tien Shan in Kyrgyzstan. This is as I mentioned before, a 22 day expedition, to a remote part of Kyrgyzstan, requiring helicopter access. The expedition will focus on Peak Chapayev at 6200m.  This should hopefully make the new schedule make sense; as this expedition teaches new skills that you don’t learn on Mt Blanc but are essential for Everest, such as moving on fixed lines, and the ‘personal admin’ that is required when you live in a tent for weeks at a time.

After Tien Shan, I have changed my plans once again, this time from Cho Oyu, to Baruntse, a 7129m peak in Nepal on a 35 day expedition. Baruntse is lower than Cho Oyu, but the thinking is that this will help bridge the gap, where before, I was aiming to go from almost 5000m to over 8000m in one push.  Also on the expedition, I will hopefully include the optional extra of Mera Peak, at 6476m to aid acclimatisation before the climb on Baruntse itself.

An extra element of climbing has been added to my schedule, with the sole intention of climbing hard, technical routes, especially on mixed ground, to replicate the sort of climbing I will face on the Northeast ridge.  In January 2012, I will be heading to Scotland once again, and climbing with Zac, my guide from this year’s Scottish winter. This has a double bonus. Having climbed with him already and getting on well, climbing with him again will be great. The second advantage is that Zac is leading an expedition with Adventure Peaks on the Northeast ridge of Everest April 2011. When I climb with him again in 2012, I will get a firsthand account of his experiences on the mountain, and importantly from a guide’s point of view, what qualities the successful climbers in the group had.  These personal accounts are vital for potential climbers, as they form a good picture of what you can expect on the mountain.

After the Scottish winter in 2012, the next expedition will be Everest in April 2012. In between these expeditions, I also have my regular training, which continues up until the taper before Everest.

So there you have it, a transformed schedule. Hopefully that gives a good idea into the preparation needed for an expedition to Everest.

You can follow Zac as he prepares for his Expedition to Everest here: http://zacpoulton.blogspot.com/