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