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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.


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.


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.


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.




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.

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Baruntse & Mera Peak Expedition 2011 Part 1


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.


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.


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…


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.




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..”


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.


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.





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.


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.


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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Global Angels Baruntse 2011

It’s now under a month till I leave for my pre-Everest expedition to climb Baruntse. At 7,129m Baruntse in the Khumbu region of Nepal is a huge undertaking, and hence perfect preparation for Everest in the spring of 2012. I have been working with Global Angels now for a year whilst in the build up to the Baruntse and Everest expeditions, and as such, have now launched my Global Angels fundraiser page in the lead up to my Baruntse climb. Global Angels, fronted by Molly Bedingfield, mother to singers Daniel and Natasha, is a charity which champions children’s causes all around the world which aims to make the world a kinder place for the future generations. Through Global Angels, many initiatives can be supported. As an athlete, and someone passionate about sport however, one project stuck out to me more than any other; it was Global Angels quest to provide water to every child on the planet who lacks it. Every athlete should know the consequences of dehydration, and how vital water is. Dehydration of just 2% loss of body weight from water loss is enough to impair sports performance, while only a 10% loss leads to circulatory collapse and heat stroke.

These are circumstances that many athletes with easy access to water face; so it’s hard to imagine the hardship that many children face, when they not only struggle to find any water at all, but the water they do find may be polluted and gives the risk of deadly water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. For millions of children around the world, there are only two choices; death by dehydration, or the risk of disease…This is where Global Angels comes in.

Global Angels fund projects in countries such as Kenya and Mozambique, where each year, hundreds of thousands of children are receiving clean and safe drinking water.

In places like Africa, solutions have to be long term, which is why Global Angels fund sustainable projects, so that clean water can be accessed by children for generations.

For every £10, Global Angels can provide at least one person with enough water for 20 years. With my sponsorship target to raise the height of Mount Everest (8848m) in pounds, at least 884 people will have access to clean water for 20 years.

To me, it was a clear choice to raise money for Global Angels water projects.

If you feel that this project is close to your heart, or feel you would like to help, I would be most grateful for any support you are able to give. Even if only £1 or 50p, any donation is a step closer to my target. Global Angels has a 100% promise, which states every penny of your money goes straight to the selected cause.

About me: Some of you may know me personally, however if not, here is a very brief description of what I am doing. I’m Matthew Dieumegard-Thornton, from Lincolnshire in the UK. In the summer of 2010, I made a life changing decision to pursue my lifelong dream of climbing Mount Everest. I started this dream by training in the Alps over the summer of 2010, and running my first marathon in September 2010. In January 2011, I did a technical Scottish winter, and in June-August 2011, embarked on a 23 day expedition to Peak Lenin, a 7,000m peak in Kyrgyzstan. I train for these expeditions every day, often with 2 gruelling sessions of swimming, running, cycling and S&C. On the 14th October, I will leave London Heathrow for a 35 day expedition to climb Baruntse at 7,129m in Nepal, my main preparation before my Everest expedition in Spring 2012, where I will aim to summit the highest mountain on earth at 8,848m, becoming one of the youngest Britons to do so.

If you are able to help me, please go to http://www.globalangels.org/fundraiser/matthew and give what you can, no matter how small, every penny really does count. And even if you are unable to donate, please could you pass this to as many people as possible, who you think would be interested in helping, and be inspired by my climbs.


Thank you.

Matthew x

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Peak Lenin Expedition 2011

It’s now the beginning of September and after a highly eventful and emotional past 4 weeks, I have another long overdue blog to write, whilst I try my upmost to avoid getting burnt in this scorcher of a British summer. It does seem I have been slightly unlucky with the weather, missing the ‘real’ summer this April with a long revision period, however my luck changed during late July and early August as I ventured to Kyrgyzstan, a country famous for..?! What followed was the trip of a lifetime, consisting of a luckless yet indescribable expedition, a massive culture shock, and a brief stopover in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan and the nation’s largest city. Kazakhstan of course being most famous for Borat Sagdiyev and Johnny the Monkey.

After the most brief of stop over’s where the plane toilets were out of order to prevent an explosion whilst re-fuelling, a 4 man team comprised of Ian, Dave.W, Wesley and myself buckled up and prepared for take-off whilst airport staff cycled round the plane on 1960’s push bikes, watching in amazement as a former USSR pushback tug managed to move the plane without breaking down.

Arriving into Bishkek Manas airport in the early hours of the 24th July, we were taken to the Alpinist hotel where we met up with Adam from Denmark, and Dave.P, the leader of the expedition and owner of Adventure Peaks.

All 6 of us, Ian, Dave.W, Wesley, Adam, Dave.P and myself were to attempt a new mountain for the company, Peak Lenin. At 7,134m above sea level, the climb provides a significant challenge, and as some of our group pointed out, Lenin was known for two things. Firstly the extreme weather that can be experienced, and secondly, being part Russian revolutionary and part Marxist dictator.

The first job was getting to the mountain, this involved firstly getting from Bishkek to the city of Osh. This was done simply by plane; an extremely old Antonov An-24 to be precise. Getting to the plane however proved to be more comical than the flight itself. This centred on getting through security once again at Manas Airport. To cut this part of the story short, I ended up sitting in the plane with my ice axe, crampons, trekking poles, and large knife in my hand luggage. The most baffling thing is that my hand luggage went through 2 x-ray machines, and the only thing that was of concern to the security guards and police men were the size of my climbing boots I was wearing. Later in the trip, I found out that the Avia Traffic Company, the airline we used to get to Osh was one of the air carriers banned in the European Union, as is every airline in Kyrgyzstan… This blacklist prevents any plane from banned airlines entering European airspace due to safety concerns from alleged poor maintenance and low safety standards.!

Once in Osh, a place where time has been standing still since the evolution of man, we got settled in to our hotel, and then went shopping round the local bazaar (market). It was at this point that things started getting confusing, and the culture shock really took hold. Firstly, every 2nd person had at least 1 gold tooth with every 5th person having a full mouth of gold teeth. Then, as we took to the streets, with no exaggeration, every 2nd or 3rd car was a nearly new Mercedes. This was in deep contrast to the infrastructure, where a sewer channel ran down the side of each street, and was used by the locals as drinking water and water to clean vegetables.

It is hard to explain Osh, or even Bishkek, except for saying they are worlds apart from anything you can experience in the western world. No description would do these cities justice, and no picture could ever capture the life of these places.

After a night in Osh, we set off for Peak Lenin some 6 hours away by mini bus, a Mercedes of course. The journey was as equally eventful as the previous 3 days. We started the drive by picking up some meat and bread for base camp. The raw bloody meat basically stuffed for the entire journey in a big plastic bag by our feet.. The journey got better however. After about 3 hours on the incomplete Chinese road which was being built as we journeyed, we stopped off for ‘lunch’ at what can only be described as a building. Inside, our driver asked the lady in Kyrgyz to make us all a meal. When our food was cooked, we received what I can only describe as a plate of shit. The cooking recipe was simple: 1 Large frying pan, 21 Eggs, 2 Litres of cooking oil, 3 Tins of spam. Serves 7. Out of our group, 3 people ate their meals. One of these people was our morbidly obese, chain smoking driver. The other two were Ian and Dave.W who also ate their meals.. Ian suffered gastro-intestinal problems for the remainder of the 3 week trip whilst Dave.W was fine leading to him aptly being renamed ‘The Dustbin’, the only place any normal human being would consider putting a plate of shit.

Before seeing what was for dessert, we set off for Peak Lenin base camp. The final hour of the drive was on the dustiest part of the journey. After about 15 minutes, we had a steady stream of dust coming through the windows, the holes in the windows, the open air vents, and the closed air vents. After 30 minutes, we reached hillier terrain where the vehicle promptly filled with engine smoke.

Finally, after about 6 hours on the ‘road’ (and I use road very loosely), we arrived at base camp. This is where I first noticed the altitude. At 3,600m, base camp is not the highest place in the world, however 6 hours previously we had been close to sea level, so it came as quite a shock when Ian and myself unloaded the van, including about 10 of the biggest water melons I have ever seen, each one weighing about 5 or 10kgs. The first melon was an easy task, however once we progressed onto melon number 3, I was already feeling the lack of oxygen. Describing what this feels like is extremely difficult, but initially, the feeling was like having a semi-permeable paper bag over your head, where after every 5 breaths, you need another half breath to compensate.


The Climb

On the second day, it became clear to me that I was struggling to acclimatise quickly enough after an acclimatisation climb on Petrovskogo Peak. During this day, I was struggling to keep up with everyone else in the group. Eventually, I lost sight of the group, and didn’t see them again till the top of the days climb. Coming down, I was faster, however once back on the flat ground leading to base camp, I was exhausted and starting to realise how difficult the assent of the actual mountain would be.


The next day after being reassured by Dave.P that I was just in the acclimatisation stage, I set off again with the group to climb up to ABC (advanced base camp) at 4,400m. I was feeling tired in the morning, however was woken up by the 25 minute journey in an old soviet war van which had done more miles than the clock could keep account of.  After disembarking the engine smoke filled van, we bided the old but deceivingly skilful driver farewell. The start of the walk went well, and unlike the previous day, I was not only keeping up, but was with Ian at the front of the group for the first half of the walk. Exhaustion however was never far behind me, and the higher I got, the more I felt it creep up upon me like inescapable jaws. Eventually, after 4 hours of walking, physically and mentally exhausted, I stumbled drunk into ABC. It was a feeling like no other, as Dave.P had to take my bag from me just so I could collapse onto the nearest rock. The place I was now in felt so alien and so hostile yet little did I know I would be spending a significantly higher amount of time here than most climbers. The other members of the team were also tired by the walk, but all seemed to have escaped from the effects of the altitude as I collapsed into the tent, breathing but unable to control my body which was screaming for a release from this pain, a release that didn’t exist.

At this altitude, things started to happen extremely slowly. Unzip the kit bag. 5 minute rest. Take out sleeping bag. 5 Minute rest. Blow up Thermarest. 5 minute rest. By this point, the altitude had almost completely shut down my body. All I could think to do was sleep. I lost my appetite for at least 3 days, I had a constant splitting headache regardless of the water intake; but worst of all, there was the overwhelming feeling of weakness. An indescribable, but tireless adversary.


The next day, instead of getting the rest I desperately needed, the acclimatisation programme continued. This was a painful introduction to the world of high altitude mountaineering with muscles screaming out every step. The plan for the day was to move up from ABC and recce the route up to camp 2, with the aim of getting practice on the fixed ropes which spanned a steep section, and part of a crevasse field between the two camps. The day started reasonably well. Despite the lack of rest, I felt I was beginning to acclimatise, if very slowly, but perhaps I was adapting after all. We walked over tough terrain across the moraine field at the bottom of the glacier for an hour, before reaching the bottom of the crevasse field, where we geared and roped up. In spite of feeling better than the previous days, I was physically and mentally unprepared for the stress of moving together on a rope at high altitude. The terrain was technically very easy, with a few bottomless crevasses, but being at the back of the rope, my concern lay with keeping up with 5 other very fast team members who were obviously much more acclimatised than myself. Gritting my teeth however, I somehow managed to keep pace with the team. We climbed up to the base of the fixed ropes, and eventually I began to start enjoying the experience, the first time since we had arrived at the mountain. I love the technical elements of climbing and this was no exception. It was something I could excel at, which felt great considering how slowly I was moving on the non-technical ground. Reaching the top of the fixed ropes at about 4,700m, we turned round and headed back. Abbing down the fixed ropes first, I was starting to feel slightly more human again as my body continued the endless acclimatisation process. Adam even commented how well I was moving now in comparison to the morning which was a great confidence boost; especially considering that the night before in the mess tent, everyone had said how bad I was looking after the exhausting trek up to ABC, whilst I stared sickeningly at my bowl of soup.


On the way back down to ABC, I somehow managed just to keep up with the group, and eventually saw our tents; home. Perhaps despite the pain, something was working, something was happening that would make this gradually easier and more bearable.

Strangely, sleep that night wasn’t easy. In fact, perhaps due to the next day’s planned climb, it became an unnerving and restless night.  The next day, we had planned to climb all the way to camp 2. We would be waking at 4am, and setting off in the dark. We had done a portion of the walk, but even though we didn’t have an accurate description of what still lay ahead, we knew it would be one of the toughest climbs on the mountain. This knowledge filled me with an uncontrollable anxiety. After no rest days, I was beginning to doubt myself, and how much longer I could last at this pace. When I was completely honest with myself, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the distance the next day, I simply didn’t have the strength to tell myself otherwise; weak but still unable to rest.


The next 14 days of the expedition are a complete blur, mostly indescribable even in my own mind, and I expect it will stay that way for some time.

In the very early hours of the next day; the day I was meant to be going up to camp 2 with the team, I woke up to perhaps the one feeling and sound I wasn’t expecting, and equally the one set of symptoms that I was dreading. At 4 in the morning, I had to ask Ian to get Dave.P.  I knew something was wrong, and instantly, HAPE came to mind. HAPE (high altitude pulmonary oedema) is essentially fluid on the lungs. The main hypothesis to explain the cause of HAPE surrounds the mechanisms of lung capillary pressure, where high pressure due to hypoxia (oxygen starvation) and a spontaneous change in the permeability of vascular endothelium leads to fluid entering the lungs. Dave.P. agreed with my diagnosis, that there was at least some obstruction, and advised I stayed at ABC. I subsequently missed the most important day of acclimatisation. (My symptoms of HAPE were subsequently diagnosed instead as a potential chest/bronchial infection once back in the UK).

Over the next week, an abstract world unfolded. During the 3 days post diagnosis, I spent most of my time in my tent, unable to comprehend this bewildering situation I was now in. I wanted more than anything to be home, but the ever optimistic side of me, the never say die attitude, kept me at ABC longing for both an answer to my question, and an opportunity, just one chance. In two days of sitting in my tent, I read a 530 page book which Ian had left for me. Ironically, it turned out to be one of the best books I had ever read; but equally ironically was that it contained references to both mountaineering, and Lenin, the dictator from Russia.


On the 3rd day of confinement, and having done two long walks previously, I realised that my symptoms had almost miraculously abated. This was unexpected since HAPE, the original diagnosis rarely behaves in this way when the climber neither rests nor descends. So perhaps this was the chance I needed, the one opportunity where I could turn my expedition around.


As my guide was somewhere high on the mountain, above a crevasse field, I needed to find another guide. Fortunately I was in luck, and found a young 22 year old, extremely tall Yaroslav. This was the 4th day after the HAPE diagnosis, and I was feeling fit. We woke at 4:30am in darkness, and after an extremely cold breakfast of spam and cheese, we left at 5am. We had a turn-around deadline of 12pm midday, giving us 7 hours to reach camp 2. Fortunately, I was feeling great and we were moving extremely quickly. We overtook every other team on the mountain, and after an exhausting assent of a particularly steep section above the fixed ropes, we reached the so called Skovorodka, or ‘frying pan’. The area is essentially a long flat traverse; however the sun and heat make it almost unbearable. At this point, camp 2 was in sight, and gradually, we inched our way towards it. After the final notorious snow slope which is purely energy sapping, we reached camp 2 in 5 hours, one of the fastest times for the climb.

After some chocolate, soup, and a precarious toilet break on an open scree slope, we geared up once again for the descent. This however was going to be a descent with a difference, and proved to be the most exhilarating part of the expedition. We set off at 12 after making the midday radio call to ABC, and after reaching the end of the flat plateau traverse, we ran down. Overtaking every team on the mountain once again, we essentially skied down the now sugary soft snow with our crampons. We reached the bottom of the climb in 1.5 hours, and could only think to laugh at how quick we had moved, as we looked up at the route where an endless stream of climbers moved, as small ants 100’s of meters above us. A long chat and multiple bags of peanuts and chocolate bars later, we resumed the long trudge through the glacial moraine back to ABC, just in time for a huge 4 course lunch of soup, potatoes, salad and meat.


I had taken my opportunity to move higher, and it had gone perfectly unlike any other day on the mountain. From this point on however, my expedition had finished. Unknown to me, I would not use my crampons or ice axe on Lenin again.

I spent the next two days resting, and speaking on the radio to Dave.P, helping to coordinate any requirements back to the ABC and BC managers. In my head, I knew I was back to full fitness. My vitals were back at acceptable measures, and I consequently began to plan how I was going to reach the summit. I could no longer afford anymore guiding, so would have to rely on my team after they came down. I scrutinised the itinerary, and eventually came to the conclusion that the summit was a real possibility. The rest of the team was running almost 5 days early in their summit bid, and that gave me 5 days to make a summit push which was not out of the question. The timing was tight, but all I had to do was wait.

The next day was the summit day for the rest of the team. They started at 5am, high on the mountain. I was in radio contact with them at 9am, and they were making great progress. Adam and Wesley were at the front, only a few hundred vertical meters from the summit. I waited for the planned midday radio call, a call which never came. Likewise, the 3pm call never came. Finally at 5pm, the radio came to life, and a rough copy of the transcript follows:

Matthew: Matt at ABC to Dave, do you copy over? Dave.W: Copy you over. Matthew: Where are you over? Dave.W: We are back at camp 4, Dave.P is guiding Wesley down, he has lost a crampon, over. Matthew: Congratulations on the summit, I will pass on to ABC, radio when Wesley is back, and take care on the descent, over. Dave.W: No, we never reached the summit. None of us. Exhausted, just exhausting. Wesley struggling. -Out-


From this point, events happened rapidly. My first thought was to keep in radio contact, to make sure the team came down safely. My thoughts then turned to a second summit attempt. Surely, we have enough time to try again, Dave.P especially will want a summit. The next morning came a call at 9am which took me by surprise, and confirmed all my doubts I had in reaching the summit.

Dave.P: Matt, this is Dave.P, I need you to arrange porterage down from camp 3, arrange porters for our kit back to BC, and set up our transport from BC to Osh; for 2 days time.

That was it. There was no coming back from this situation. Still, as much as I tried, I could not think of the reason why Dave.P wanted to leave the mountain so quickly. There was still enough time for a second attempt, and surely some of the other guys wanted to try. I sat in my tent for the rest of the day, thoughts of the mountain, home, friends and a few words of encouragement flying round in my mind. I listened to my iPod for the whole day in an effort to switch off. The same pattern followed during the next day, however at midday, my iPod ran out of battery, and I was left in my tent surrounded by Spanish and Russians, just waiting for the rest of the team to come back. I had not seen another English person for almost a week.

Finally, at around 4pm, I saw a familiar face, it was my tent partner Ian, and almost instantly, the thought came into my head… ‘The English are coming!!’ As soon as I saw the team, it struck me why they wanted to leave so quickly. They all looked so differently, so worn out and battered. They looked exhausted, gaunt, and lifeless. So different from the healthy people I had been surrounded by for the past 5 days.

Home Bound

We were now back as a team, and the following day, we descended back to BC. A few eventualities occurred which included throwing about 15 loaves of traditional round Kyrgyz bread like frisbees into the glacier below… For the marmots. We also ended up crossing a river by horseback after it had swollen significantly since the last time we crossed it.


A final piece of excitement saw Adam slip over, subsequently injuring his knee, but narrowly missing hitting his head on a sharp rock behind him which made Dave.P understandably extremely nervous.


The events of the next 4 days summed up the expedition quite well. We transferred from BC to Osh in the same mini bus, but this time instead of the meat on the floor, Dave.P had to contend with spilt diesel and the laziest child we had all observed in a long time. Our early departure meant flights, connections and hotels had to be changed including our international flights. Back in Osh, we had a bit more chance to walk about, while Ian and I climbed the famous hill in the centre of the city giving a great panorama. We also had a chance to meet the second team who were fresh faced and prepared to give the mountain a go after some encouragement and words of advice/experience from our team. The next day, we got the internal flight back to Bishkek with more fascinating security procedures, such as the ticket desk getting extremely confused with the fact the picture on my passport didn’t look like Wesley. Apparently this was due to ‘order issues’ however resulted in me narrowly escaping excess baggage fees. Once in the plane, Adam and I discussed the existence of divine light, the omnipresence of God, religious pluralism, and scientology, which seemed appropriate for the flight ahead. We then read a Russian ‘ladies’ magazine, which was highly educating, and to some extent proved the existence of the divine light. During the flight, Dave.P had a call from the agent and decided it was best that he pay the £500 to try to get home that night with an indefinite stay at Istanbul airport. Adam also chose to leave that night, so after arriving at a gothic styled B&B, we waited till midnight for their taxi back to the airport. It was at this point that I began to show symptoms of what I can only describe as chronic and explosive diarrhoea. This lasted for the rest of the expedition, and even after taking 12 Imodium tablets over the course of 48 hours (well over twice the stated dose), my body was still having a crisis. The day before the 9 hour flight home there was only one thing for it, to start taking a 7 day course of Ciprofloxacin. Fortunately, 12 Imodium tablets and a course of antibiotics stemmed the flow, and I was able to enjoy a final meal debate with Dave.W, Ian, and Wesley; where topics included the state of the Euro & IMF, the war on terror, the London riots, and a quick stint on the undervalued factory workers of Great Britain…

Alas, 9 hours after leaving Kyrgyzstan, we landed at Heathrow. All alive. Ten fingers, ten toes.

Where to Begin

The expedition and the month after it has been an emotional rollercoaster. During the expedition, despite prolonged stays in a tent, there is no time to truly think. I have still not been able to fully comprehend what happened during the expedition, and perhaps never will. However I now have the opportunity to learn from what I do know, and equally, I have an experience from which I can draw upon. The lessons I learnt on this expeditions were hard, and it was never going to be easy. However disappointed I am though, I do not want to convey the message that the mountain was easy, instead, perhaps unfortunately it was underestimated. Whilst we were at ABC, we were surrounded by approximately 300 other climbers. Only 6 made the summit whilst we were there.

Whilst the one chance I needed during the expedition never came in the way I expected, the expedition gave me another, more subtle opportunity. Expeditions like these give a rare glimpse to see the true character of both your team mates, and yourself. In this respect, I have had the opportunity to learn about myself in a way many other never get the chance. For this reason, in my eyes, the expedition was successful. It has given me valuable preparation and experience, and has taught me lessons that are not always found in everyday life. By the same token, 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.

My next expedition to Baruntse in Nepal begins in less than 2 months time. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous or feeling the pressure of this expedition; however equally, I wouldn’t be where I am today without self belief. So by believing in myself, applying what I have learnt, and with a bit of luck; I will become one step closer to realising my dream.

Finally, if you have managed to make it to the end of this blog, I salute you, and I also wanted to share one last piece. I took a letter with me to the mountain, which I read and found comfort in during the hardest and loneliest times. At the end was a quote that will forever stay with me:

“Dedication and commitment has got you to this stage. Determination and vision will drive you on. Realization and love will bring you home.”


Photos courtesy of Ian Ellis, Dave Wilson & Myself.