Friday, 25 June 2010

Final Thoughts by Matt Snook

It’s been almost a month now since Pete and I brushed the Top of the World. I’ve just about regained the feeling in my fingertips, the damage done to my right eye is healed and I’ve regained about a stone of the 2 and a half I lost whilst on the mountain. And yet, things still haven’t sunk in. It doesn’t feel real; to be honest I don’t think it ever will.

As young lads, John and I used to dream about Mount Everest; to us it was a magical place, the summit of achievement, and the pinnacle of our ambitions. We used to gaze at pictures and images of the mountain in sheer wonderment. Even as I arrived at Base Camp a few months ago, seeing her for the first time in all her glory, I still got goose-bumps and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. She looked so special, so untouchable, so magical.

For me, having climbed it, the magic has gone. No longer do the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I look at a picture of Everest, no longer do I get the goose-bumps on my arms as I try to convince myself that one day I’ll get there and no longer do I see it as the most amazing thing I could ever do with my life. They say you should never meet your hero in life, maybe the same rings true for mountains…

I hate that the magic I once shared with John has gone. But I have nothing to complain about, as that magic has been replaced by the memories. For that beautiful, beautiful moment of standing higher than anyone else in the world, I would go through it all again and more.

I am extremely proud of the work we have done for Help for Heroes and the John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation. Our aim for the next few months is to tell our story to as many people as will listen, aiming to double our current fundraising total to £30,000. It’s not the £100,000 we initially set out to raise, but times are tough, something about a recession??

We have been completely over-whelmed by the support we have had. Even now I’m hearing from people I have never met before who have followed our adventure. A massive and sincere thank you to everyone who has followed us this year, read our blogs, and donated to our cause. A particular thank you also to our sponsors, SFL and NorthwoodUK, who have supported us no end and we are so grateful to them for believing in us. Also a massive thank-you to the Tasty Marketing girls, the guys at RVOps, Steve Howard at Lloyds Pharmacy, Jag Sarmotta at The North Face and Jill Borrie at Mansell Mason. We really couldn’t have done it without your help.

At the risk of making this sound like an award acceptance speech (probably not the Oscars, something a little more low-key maybe…), I’d also like to thank my friends and family. Especially my parents, who now seem to be more knowledgeable on the history of Everest than I am, to Vicky and Tom for sorting out everything at home while we’ve been away and to Bex for enduring me this last year, you are more than I deserve.

Last month we achieved something we had been working hard towards for the last year, but had been dreaming of for all our lives. It didn’t come easy, nothing in life that’s worth having ever does, but we dared to dream, we worked hard to accomplish it and we’re very proud to be the first to summit for Help for Heroes and the JTYAF.

Thank you once again for being a part of our incredible year.


Thursday, 24 June 2010

Reflections by Pete Sunnucks

What an incredible year its been. I’m still coming to terms as to what we have just accomplished, it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Its an absolute honor for us to be the first to stand on Top of the World for Help for Heroes and JTYAF. Reflecting on the last twelve months, we have pretty much lived, breathed, ate and slept Everest, in order to achieve the ultimate dream. We've had an amazing time together, both in raising funds for two outstanding, poignant Charities and training for the big event. What makes me smile is the longest period of time Matt and myself spent apart was when he was evacuated from base camp! I believe the fact we stood on Top of the World together is a fair reflection of how much a strong team we have become, particularly that we are still on speaking terms after sharing a tent for two months.

There have been many twists and turns along the way, some of which we could have not foreseen; it’s not been an easy journey. The satisfaction of succeeding against adversity is certainly one to savor. It’s certainly pushed myself outside my comfort zone both physically and mentally, living each day on the mountain with the thought that at any moment I would have to make a life or death decision, whilst at the limits of my capabilities. I can definitely draw on these experiences, particularly when Matt fell down the crevasse at over 7000m, and know that I've proven myself in one of the most inhospitable environments on earth. On the spectrum scale on how you can climb Everest, we took on one of the hardest and triumphed. I am deeply proud of what we have achieved, especially how much Matt has proven people wrong, its unbelievable.

However, I really hope that one member of our expedition group, Geordie Stewart, someone who we both come to know very well and has become an immense friend, finish and achieve his dream on Everest next year. Unfortunately this year it wasn't to be, but we have complete confidence he will do it next time. He will be the youngest Brit ever to complete the Seven Summits.

I have some fond and incredible memories from this adventure, as well as making some life long friends. The question of ‘Would I do it again?’ has been asked a couple of times now and my response is simply ‘I’ll get back to you on that...’ As much as I’ve found mountaineering a remarkable experience, it has shown little evidence of sportsmanship, particularly with all the politics that surrounded our summit day, and the atmosphere we had to endure back to kathmandu. I think it's fair to say that the expedition was very much a group of individuals rather than a true team.

This achievement would have not been possible without both our families, friends and sponsors support. Its been unbelievable. We are completely staggered and humbled with the amount of good wishes and congratulations messages we’ve received, and how much money we are continuing to raise for Help for Heroes and JTYAF. I really hope we have both contributed to the growth and success that the JTYAF deserves. We really cant thank people enough.

As for the future, integrating back into society and gaining back the amount of weight lost is a priority, particularly as we have running water, home cooked food and a bed! The incredible experiences and lessons learned from this past year will no doubt allow us take on what ever challenges arise in our future careers and lives, always living by the mantra of ‘Climb as high as you can dream.'

The quote below by T.E Lawrence below will certainly remain with me for the rest of my life.

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”

Once again, thank you all for your support


Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Long Journey Back Home...

(continued from Matt's "Getting back down to Camp 2)

We were abruptly awoken from our sleep coma by one of the Sherpa team shaking our tent violently. It was 6am. We initially thought it was the start of some strong winds until a friendly voice said “hello, good morning, you need to start moving further down the mountain now…”

We woke feeling dazed, groggy and extremely tired, with our oxygen bottles completely depleted. The summit day had clearly taken a massive toll on our bodies, but the thought of what we had both experienced at 07:20 the previous morning brought massive smiles to our faces. The muscle aches and pains seemed to fade into the distance as we reminisced in disbelief on what we had just accomplished. I remember having to pinch myself to remind me that it wasn’t a dream, we have just both stood on top of the world. With what little physical strength we had left, the next painstaking four hours were spent getting ourselves prepped and ready for another long hard day ahead. Everything took 6x longer than usual and the fact that we were not safe off the mountain was a pressing thought on our minds. You would anticipate the descent being a lot easier, but the route ahead would be as precarious as the assent. This was not going to be a straight forward climb down to advanced base camp.

Eventually we surfaced from our tent and ventured out into the snow blizzard that had set in. We found Geordie sitting with the Sherpas not far from our tent. There was quite a bit of banter about how long we had taken to get ready, even Geordie tried to join in which was pleasing as the condition he was in when he arrived last night was quite alarming. It seemed we were the last of the group to leave camp 2. With a fresh oxygen bottle we were ready to start our climb down to the North Col camp.
We were the last of the whole group to leave the camp and the three of us set out on what proved to be another precarious descent, collapsing every five minutes against the nearest rock as we were all extremely physically tired. It was unbelievably slow progress. The terrain down to the start of the snow slope is fairly rocky, not ideal with crampons. Concentration on every foot step was paramount, made that little bit harder when you're totally fatigued.

Finally we reached 7500m and the top of the snow slope. The weather conditions had deteriorated further, with over a foot of fresh snow now on the ground and increasing. It was a true white out, with strong winds! We had to get down quickly as this wasn’t the environment to hang around in. The pace down the snow slope was slow and relentless, but an easier more efficient way was soon discovered. Sledging! Well not quite, but simply sit down, check your safety line, adopt a safe sliding position and let gravity do the rest! The next 400m of descent was probably the most fun we had on the mountain.

The last part of the route, however, crosses a few crevasses before you reach the North Col camp, so we got to our feet and reluctantly started walking again. We had seen the Sherpas that were a few meters ahead of us, detour of the fix line route. It seemed that the weather conditions and heavy snow had covered the exact locations of where we had to cross, and the risk of falling down had dramatically increased. The Sherpas were precariously using walking poles to test the stability of the snow one or two feet in front of them. With the risk being so high, and to avoid the crevasses completely, the new line the Sherpas took, meant we had to hand rail the edge of the ridge, almost stepping off the snow slope trying to avoid not falling down the mountain. We waited whilst they went ahead to find and prove a new path.

Thankfully the fixed lines had enough slack to allow us to attempt this, we gingerly made our way along the new proven route. I was leading, with Matt and then Geordie close behind. At this point the weather had closed in even more, with visibility now reduced to around 2m. Following the exact path we had seen the Sherpas take would prove difficult in normal weather conditions, let alone a complete white out!

I managed to find traces of the Sherpas footsteps, but the was weather massively against us and was fast covering up their tracks. Soon there was no evidence at all where they had been. I hand railed the rocky edge on my crampons, carefully edging further down the ridge, to a rocky feature where I remember the sherpas crossing back up to join the normal route. Lightly placing my left foot, I stepped back onto the snow, it held. I then proceeded to place my right foot on the snow, it took my body weight. I cautiously started to make my way back up to centre of the snow slope, each time dreading that at any moment my footing would find the start of a crevasse. I made it. I then waited for Matt and Geordie to join me. Five minutes past and still no sign of Matt, but I knew he would be taking his time like I did. Ten minutes passed and still no sign of either of them. At the 15 minute mark I could tell something was wrong. It was then I tried to retrace my steps back down to the edge of the snow slope.

Peering through the blizzard, my eyes suddenly caught sight of Geordie sitting down on the rocky ridge, scanning further around I saw that Matt's shoulders and head were protruding out of the ground….Bo%^%ks he was in a crevasse. Managing to cautiously make my way over to him, I found Matt in a frantic state. His foot was stuck in the ice below and every time he moved he sunk deeper in. Getting him out was not going to be easy…

My initial reaction when I finally got him was he had broken a leg, due to the manner he was frantically moving his arms around and cowering over into the crevasse. Shouting at each other so we could hear over the weather, he assured me that he was in no pain, but I couldn’t tell if it was just the adrenalin or not. I could see in his eyes he was deeply worried that we wouldn’t be able to get him out. I reassured him that I would never let them happen. Attaching another safety line from my harness to the fixed lines, I precariously lay down onto the snow and crawled up to the edge of the crevasse to peer in for a closer look. I could see his left foot was encased in ice and at an awkward position. With a reassuring thumps up, I conveyed with Geordie a plan to dig him out. He would watch my safety lines as I leaned into the crevasse to dig him out with my ice axe. After about 30 minutes of chipping away I finally got his foot loose. Making sure his foot was okay, I hauled him out away from the crevasse. We all fell into a heap by the edge of the ridge and rested.

We all knew we had a lucky escape. Checking his body over and moving his foot around, Matt was confident that nothing was broken, but the adventure wasn’t over yet. We still had to get back onto the normal path of the snow slope, then descend the North Col to reach ABC.

After a few minutes rest we set off again to find a safer way back across. Leading again and using my ice axe to check the snow in front, we found a route to bring us safely back to the centre of the snow slope. We continued our decent down to the North col camp, at which point the weather had changed and blue skies were now upon us. We couldn’t believe it! What was left between us and safety, was the North Col…

Not taking any chances, a fast but safe descent was required. However, with the weather now being kind to us, we made sure we savoured the breath-taking views and our last time on the slopes of this magnificent mountain. We eventually made it back down to ABC at 10pm, totally exhausted, both physically and mentally. It had been one hell of a day. Sleeping was not a problem as another coma was entered once we reached the mess tents and finally had some real food!

We spent the next day trying to recover from the arduous couple of days on the mountain. It had certainly thrown everything at us, but we had survived and more importantly completed it as a team.

The mountain wasn’t going to let us escape easily, so after finally managing to summon up enough energy to make the 15mile trek to Base camp, we endured another blizzard for the whole day.

With our final foot steps taken on Everest's rocks, we had our last meal with the group before we departed the following morning for Kathmandu. The 14 hour drive back was made bearable with the knowledge that a beer and shower (in that order) were waiting for us in our hotel. We had been through so much on the mountain the last few months we weren't even phazed by the start of Nepal's infamous 'Monsoon Season' which was triggering river banks to burst, roads to flood and landslides all over the place.

Our last few days in Kathmandu were all about recovery. The mountain had certainly taken its toll on our bodies, both Matt and I losing a significant amount of weight, in total 4 stone between us! It was a shock to see. We could also finally make those important phone calls home to the parents to let them know we were finally safe and well (if a little underweight…)

Before we flew home we visited the famous Rum-Doodle Bar to sign the 'Summiteers Log Book' and backboard of the bar, joining the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary, Sir Ranulf Finnes and Bear Grylls, it was a great moment. We also, now officially have free food and drink for life there if we ever return…

When it finally came to getting on the plane back to Blighty, it was sad to leave, but we were both very happy to be going home. Little did we know of the total surprise that awaited us at Heathrow...


Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Getting back down to Camp 2...

As we'd been told so many times before even flying out to Nepal, climbing a mountain is not about summiting - it's only halfway to the top, it's only a successful summit if you get down safely. With this in mind, and with the cold starting to chill the elation of being able to touch the roof of the World we didn't loiter, the weather had been kind to us so far, and we didn't much feel like pushing our luck.

Negotiating the descent at first was relatively easy. It felt nice to have the pressure off our legs, we could relax and actually enjoy the views, plus we were still pretty overwhelmed at the idea we'd just achieved what we'd been working towards for the past year and been dreaming of for most of our lives. Things started to get tricky, however, when we reached the second step. Both being fairly competent climbers and both being completely focused on the task in hand we'd had no problems coming up in the dark, but now things felt different. The ladder somehow felt less stable, and our tired, frost-nipped hands struggled to keep a tight grip. I'd made sure I was clipped onto as many of the fixed ropes I could find, and shakily lowered myself to the foot of the cliff face after Pete had very hesitantly done the same. As I turned to look at Pete, he'd frozen in his tracks. I turned to look at what he was looking at, a chill shot through my back. I'd missed it on the climb because it still would have been dark, but lying about 10 feet away from the foot of the second step was the familiar shape of a body, lying face down in the icy rock. He was wearing a yellow 'romper-suit' and red boots, almost identical to what Pete and I were wearing. I've got no idea about the details of this poor lad's death, when it happened or whether it happened coming up or on the way down, but it was obvious he'd clipped into the wrong rope and lost his grip on the ladder. I stark reminder to us, that this adventure was not over yet, and we needed to stay switched on.

For what seemed like hours we pressed on, forcing ourselves to make certain every time we un-clipped off the fixed-line, that we clipped back on again. It was a tough mental battle, and tiredness was starting to overcome us. Physically we were exhausted, but we had no time to spare as the oxygen in our final cylinder was dwindling away.

We finally descended off the North-East ridge, and down the valley into the high camp. It was a relief to see the campsite and our tent, but we knew we needed to push on further down the mountain. At 8300m we were still vulnerable to the altitude, especially in our current physical condition. Succumbing to the tiredness and spending the night at Camp 3 without Oxygen could have been fatal. We were greeted at our tent by Geordie. He looked in a bad way, exhausted, frost-nipped/sunburnt face and still struggling to talk. He told us he hadn't managed to make the summit and he explained to us his day. I was gutted for him, we both were. Over the course of the expedition we had come to know Geordie quite well, and had a lot of time for him. It turned out our tent was being used to shelter one of the members of the team who had gone down with a severe altitude sickness and very probably HACE. Stu, the team leader and a number of Sherpas were preparing to stretcher him down to the next camp. Unfortunately this meant we couldn't get on with our descent, so we took some time out at Camp 3 - by which I mean we (all 3 of us) went foetal behind the nearest rock!!

This was a big mistake! We ended up leaving Camp 3 far too late and had a real epic fighting through snow-storms and darkness getting to Camp 2. At 7800m it was safe enough for us to sleep here, but we had another problem now. It was pitch black, snowing, bitterly cold, we were utterly exhausted and we couldn't find our tent. Delirium had set in by now. The past 36 hours had been the hardest of our lives, we'd had no sleep and had pushed our bodies through some of the extreme conditions you could imagine, not to mention the emotional side effects of fulfilling a dream...I sat down and got on the radio. I was pretty confident that we were the last to make it down to Camp 2, at least if I could find the team tents, I'd be able to find one that was empty - ours! Pete and Geordie hadn't realised I had stopped to radio, and so kept heading down the mountain towards a group of tents at the bottom of the camp. As I reached for my radio, I paused, just long enough to recognise Simon's voice, in the tent I had stopped next to! Lucky for me, unfortunately, Pete and Geordie had gone about 50 metres too far down the hill. On a normal day it would have taken them about 2 minutes to walk back to where I was, but this was no normal day! Eventually we found a tent, crawled in, and just about summoned enough energy to boil half a pot of snow, drank and, still in or down suits, passed out.

It had been a long day. It was now 10pm and we'd been on the move since 6am the day before. We'd climbed and down-climbed in excess of 2000m and been through all the physical and emotional turmoil of an incredible summit day on Everest. It had been one of the longest and toughest few days I have ever experienced, little did we know what the next day held in store for us...

(To be continued...)


Saturday, 29 May 2010

Back to reality...

So we finally made it back to Kathmandu. We've had a well earned wash, shave and cool beer and finally got round to writing up what happened on summit day. It became apparent as we returned to Camp 3 after Summit Day that there were a number of incidents which took place along the route to other members of the team, in some cases preventing them from making the summit. What follows are accounts, as best as we can remember, from Pete and I of our 'Summit Day', no-one elses. In the next few days we will add blogs for the 'Journey back to BC' (which was not as straight forward as either one of us would have liked) and 'Final Reflections' (which gives us both a chance to share some things we've learned and things that have been on our minds).

In the meantime, we're looking forward to getting home, seeing friends and family and escaping the politics that surround these incidents.

Thank you to everyone for your support, messages and prayers. We could not have done this without you!

Matt and Pete

The Summit Day Story

Matt’s Bit...

No matter what time you arrived at Camp 3 you had only a few hours turn around before the ‘big off’. I was not about to spend it all whinging about how hard we’d had to work over the last few days, and how little time we had now, to do that could compromise the whole attempt. Instead Pete and I snapped into super-efficient admin mode, we boiled snow, ate, as much as we could stomach, checked our oxygen cylinders and then re-checked them, checked our masks, and checked our regulators. We changed our socks - fresh socks for summit day are always most welcome, particularly as we had been wearing the same socks for the past week! We packed our kit together, going through every eventuality, and mentally rehearsing the route we knew we were about to take. There was an air of confidence in our tent, we knew what was expected of us and we knew what we needed to do to achieve what we’d been working hard to achieve this whole year.

For me personally, I got some time to think back over the past month and a bit. It had been a real struggle to get back to the team, to get re-acclimatised and to put myself in with a chance, just a chance of getting to the summit. I had to be realistic, it seemed unlikely that my body would be able to manage this; it would have been easy to settle for what I had reached already and take it on the chin that this year wasn’t to be for me. But I didn’t let my head fill with negative thoughts like that. In my mind there was no question, we were going to summit.

As we set off into the darkness, I remember being so focused I hadn’t even considered how big of a deal it was. It was just a case of cracking on! Having completed more night route-marches than I can remember, climbing in the dark hours did not faze me at all, which was probably quite a big advantage over some of the other guys. The going was tough, but I soon settled into a rhythm and while I didn’t feel that I especially needed his assistance, was very grateful to have a Sherpa slot himself in behind me for company if nothing else. It was only after an hour as I took my mask off for a quick sip of water, that I turned around and recognised the Sherpa as Dorjee Sherpa, I could not help but laugh, and as he recognised me he laughed back. Dorjee Sherpa had escorted me from BC back to the Nepali border before I was Casevaced back to Kathmandu some 11 weeks ago. He had chatted to me and looked after me as we made the long journey back and I will never forget, what he thought, were his final words to me, “I see you on the mountain next year”. He’d seen his fair share of mountain dramas and it was clear he did not expect me to make it back from this one.

Realising Dorjee was behind me gave me an incredible morale boost, and I really began to enjoy the climb as the sun was starting to appear over the horizon and I started to realise how good a time I was making. We had already passed the infamous figure of ‘Green Boots’, the Pakistani policeman who decided to take a nap on the ridge some 10 years ago and never woke up, whose body remains, lying peacefully in a ditch next to the track for all to see and be reminded of how harsh a mountain Everest can be. We nailed the first step without even really thinking about it, and pushed hard and fast on to the notoriously harder second step. I tackled this just after the sun had risen. It consisted of a 30ft sheer cliff face, so imposing that without the use of the precariously attached ladders and fixed ropes now in place it is hard to imagine the likes of Mallory managing to scale. At the top Dorjee and I enjoyed a wry smile and a quick drink, and admired the breathtaking sun rise that was happening all around us, dawning the day that I would remember for the rest of my life. Dorjee and I were enjoying this. But it was still two and a half hours to the top, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen Pete. If we this was going to be a success we needed to summit together, I had to find Pete, but there was nothing I could do, I knew he was ahead of me, and I knew there was no way he wasn’t going to make it, I just had to push on and hope for the best.

I made it to the third and final step behind a bit of a queue of people. By this time it was almost complete daylight, despite being only around half 6 in the morning. I got held up a bit on this final little technical part of the climb as a couple of climbers ahead struggled to get over it, I even laughed out loud as one stumbled on the rock at the foot of the feature, I recognised that ginger back of a was Pete!! We were still too far away from each other to be able to relax or communicate but I gave him the thumbs up and cracked on with what I was doing. Pretty soon I was on the summit cone and a tricky traverse around the back before cruising up to the top! It was at this point that I saw Pete again, about 20m ahead of me, catching a breather. Somehow I’d caught up with him, somehow I’d come within a few minutes of him. He turned, looked, smiled and simply pointed at me...I pointed back! We simply could not believe it! Without any planning we’d managed to simultaneously complete the climb together, there must have surely have been someone watching over us...

Pete’s Bit...

I was lucky enough to arrive at Camp 3 in good time, which allowed me to get critical admin points squared away. For me it was important to have everything ready for when Matt arrived, as I knew that the easier our lives were now, the odds would be in our favour for the summit push. With everything sorted, I could now finally focus on our final and biggest test yet. Mentally preparing myself for the route to the summit and going over the images of the summit video shown back at BC, it was valuable time. Most of the ascent is completed in darkness, with first sun light around 4:00AM, the route is hard enough in the day, so it was important to remember key time points, ideally clear of 2nd step before sun rise was a good indicator that you were doing well. My thoughts also dwelled on how much Matt had proved everybody wrong on his return to mountain and the team we had become over this past year. He was defying the odds stacked against him and with style. I had no doubt in my mind that the dream would become a reality and we would both give everything physically and mentally possible to reach the summit. Confidence was high and when Matt arrived our plan swung into action, both knowing what we were each thinking with a knowing tell.

The ‘big off’ came around quickly and we were soon moving under torch light up the mountain. My rucksack contained all my oxygen cylinders required for the gruelling climb that lay ahead, along with enough energy food and water to last me, in all 20kg of weight. Matt was in front of me for the majority of the climb from Camp 3 to just below the ridge. Passing him to take the lead when I knew he needed a longer rest. I had to keep moving as I was starting to feel the cold in my feet. I knew that Matt would be behind me again further along the route.

It wasn’t until I reached the ridge that I realised there was a Sherpa following me. Nima is one of the younger new sherpas within the team, but had made a good impression on me in the weeks leading up to summit day. There was a good bond between us and I had confidence if anything were to happen we would be able to sort it out.

Myself and Nima set a good pace up the ridge, tackling the 1st step with no dramas and carefully edging our way up the rocky terrain on crampons. The darkness for me took away a certain element of exposure, especially with how high some of the drops could have been if I had slipped. However my torch light didn’t fail to hide my first glimpse of the reality of what can happen if something does go wrong... ‘Green Boots’. He was lit up like a Christmas tree as I went past, focusing my mind even more that this would not happen to me or Matt.

I stopped occasionally to share a drink or a bit of food with my Sherpa, every time trying to gain perspective of how far along the ridge I had progressed with my limited Nepali speaking skills... I felt strong and knew I was doing well as the rest of the torch lights on the mountain were falling quite far behind, with only a hand full in the distance to the front. Max O’Meara and his Sherpa Sonam were the only people directly following us; it was good to have someone to banter with along the ridge when we rested.

With the route ahead being clear, there would be no queues at certain points along the ridge, particularly the 2nd step. The risk of getting cold waiting around would not happen.

Even though Matt wasn’t directly behind me, my mind was completely and totally relaxed as I just knew and trusted that we would meet closer to the summit. I cannot really describe why I felt like this, I just had faith it would. This was going to be our day.

The big morale boost and adrenaline rush would come when the first glimpse of sun light came, my mind totally focused during the climb on why and what we are doing this for, winning the mental battle with ease. Thoughts of my family and friends, particularly what the feeling would be like when me and Matt reach the summit crossed my mind.

As I approached the infamous second step and started to tackle the ladders upwards, it wasn’t hard to miss another reminder of how dangerous this part of the climb is. A body of a climber lay at the bottom, which looked like it just happened as his kit was so new. Another sobering moment.

I had ascended the second step before daylight and knew I was getting close. It was then I witnessed one of the most spectacular sun rises ever. Words cannot describe the awesomeness of how the Himalayas looked as the sun rose, with perfect visibility, the curvature of the earth and reflection of the sun on the surrounding mountains was simply stunning. I knew I was witnessing something very special on the highest mountain in the world....

Reaching the third step with the sun rising I could now clearly see the last parts of the route to the summit! I decided to rest a while as I had made good progress, whilst allowing people who had summited at sun-rise to descend down the third step past me. Max went on ahead. I knew that just a few more hours of hard work the dream would become a reality.... excitement started to grow.. It was at that point as I started my ascent of the third step I turned around and who did I find walking up towards me ....yes......Matt!!!!! I heard him laughing as my first attempt to haul myself up the first rock on the third step failed.... Massive thumbs up were displayed between us and it was onwards and upwards to the summit!

The last few hours climb were spent ascending a snow slope, with a traverse around rocky terrain to the North, then a final rock scramble upwards to bring you onto the snow plateau at the top. Standing together on the snow plateau, with only 100 yards or so of assent up wards, I knew the smiles under our oxygen masks were bigger than a Cheshire cats.

Standing on top of the World together...

The last few steps to the summit are completely indescribable for both of us. Complete sensory overload. The view, the pride, the elation, nothing could have prepared us for what we felt as we began to realise that we had achieved the dream, and we had achieved it together. Awesome.

We smiled, we screamed, we embraced, we frantically took photos and videos of anything and everything, we grabbed rocks from the summit, and hugged again. We had planned a few days earlier what we needed to do and what photos we needed to take for our sponsors, particularly with the Help for Heroes Banner and Great Britain flag. But the greatest and most poignant moment came when we placed both a JTYAF and a Help for Heroes wrist band at the top, along with the Air Cadet Junior Leaders Course DZ flash which is where we had all become a band of brothers......

This was our moment and we were loving it! Everything was forgotten, the pain, the hardship, the endurance, the suffering, the fear, and it was replaced by this beautiful beautiful moment knowing that we were stood higher than anyone else in the World.

Getting into a position to summit - the long road from BC to Camp 3

We left BC for the last time in high spirits and with good weather. The 15 mile trek to ABC, although not a particularly enjoyable one, especially having already completed it twice in the last month, did at least give us some more time to start to focus on the climb ahead, feel the blood fill back into our legs and prepare us for the rigours of what we all knew awaited us from ABC onwards.

The initial intention when we arrived at ABC was to have 2 rest days, before heading up the North Col and hitting the 24th May weather window. However, having checked the latest forecast, there were fears of a cyclone drifting across the summit around that date, so plans were quickly re-arranged. With the 23rd confirmed as the big day, we set about completing our final kit checks, relishing the thought that we leave the following day to start our big push up the North Col for the summit! To be honest we were both relieved that the two days of rest had been cut to one, as the anticipation and tension in the air from the group was growing by the hour, so it was a big relief that the 23rd was given the green light.

Following a sleepless night, we set out with great excitement on the 20th to climb our first big hurdle of the North Col. The weather had been kind to us so far, with no recent snow, the conditions were in our favour... with the risk of avalanches low. The climb went without a hitch, but the big scare of the day came when the cerac that Pete was traversing under made the fatal sounds of cracking with the inevitable rumbleling of falling snow. Thankfully Pete managed to unclip from the fixed lines and produced the fastest 100m running time up hill on the mountain (going head to head with the Sherpa behind him!) A good work out at nearly 7000m.... Everyone arrived safely to the top of the Col, but the weather had changed and the winds had dramatically picked up, resulting in the loss of one of the team’s tents, with equipment inside. Fortunately this hadn’t blown too far down the mountain and was retrieved by some of the Sherpa later. The high winds and constant snow fall made an interesting night, especially as our front porch of the tent didn’t stop the snow blowing in every time the wind picked up. We may as well have slept outside as the sate of our tent in the morning looked like we had our own mini snow blizzard in our tent!

It was a restless night’s sleep at the North Col which was supplemented by some of the strongest winds you could ever imagine, in fact at some points during the night it felt like we were being mortared! Today was always going to be a hard day, moving from the North Col at 7050m to Camp 2 at 7800m. Having struggled so much along the trip, Matt had decided to start using O2 from this point, a decision which Pete could easily have taken as well, if he weren’t doing so well in acclimatising so far, and so decided against it. We worked hard together throughout the day, and were joined by Geordie, a lad who we’d come to like and enjoy the company of a lot. It took the best part of 12 hours to finally reach 7800m, arriving into Camp 2 well after dark. It was a long day, but passed by relatively uneventfully, which seems stupid to say because in real terms it was never-ending! Crawling into a tent, there was not much on either of our minds – boil snow, eat, drink, many ways this was lucky for us. If we’d had the energy to think of the next day, we probably wouldn’t be able to sleep through fear...

The move to Camp 3 at 8300m is one of the most important days as it can directly affect your summit attempt, primarily as its split into two distinct parts. Firstly we need to get ourselves safely up to Camp 3, but secondly and more importantly we pass into the ‘death zone’ and wait to start our summit bid a few hours later that same day. It’s important to try and conserve energy and pace yourself up to Camp 3, which is near on impossible as the start time for summit day is 10pm that evening, so pressure is on to reach the camp in good time to be able to rest, eat, drink and check kit. When people talk of the ‘death zone’ they draw reference to the altitude above 8000m where two thirds of the World’s oxygen is beneath you. The body cannot physically survive by itself and so starts to eat itself as it is starved of oxygen. You will be lucky to have an appetite and unlikely to be able to sleep without O2 supplementation, and if you can force yourself to sleep, it is not unheard of for you not to be able to wake up again.

The route to camp three became more rocky as we ascended, picking our way up via the fixed ropes rather than following a constant snow slope. Crampons on rocks is not ideal and the relentless traversing across the mountain and no obvious sign of the position of Camp 3, made it a tough physical and mental battle of a climb. As we gained altitude the view our of summit route, particularly the first and second step was more evident and excitement filled the air as we knew in a few hours time we would be tackling these legendary steps on our way to the summit...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Mission Accomplished...

I am delighted to announce (on their behalf) that at 0720 hrs (local) on 23rd May 2010, Matt Snook and Pete Sunnucks achieved their dream of standing on the roof of the world. The text message sent home simply read, "we've done it!!"

What makes their feat even more impressive is that out of the nineteen people on the expedition, only four reached the summit as a result of extreme unseasonal weather, equipment failure and illness. The boys have also achieved a first for their charities, Help for Heroes and The John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation.

Both are in excellent spirits and are full of thanks for your support and best wishes which have carried them through some very tough times over the past few months. They expect to be back in Kathmandu on Thursday 27th for a beer, a shower and some phones calls home (in that order).

Proud, happy, thrilled..


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Waiting Game......

Pictured in the group photo are: Josh Lewsey, Geordie Stewart, Major Keith Reesby, Matt and Pete. The last photo shows some very snow covered tents on the North Col.

Finally, it looks as thought our weather window has arrived!! Tomorrow, Tuesday 18th May, we depart for advanced base camp, to start the final big push to stand on top of the world....

We have been back at base camp for just over a week now, trying to relax, re-fuel and fully recover from our stint on top of the North Col. I'm pleased to say we are both now fully rested and ready to go. This past week has been a big waiting game, with continual weather forecast checking and various potential summit dates being floated around. The weather window is decided upon on one or two key factors. The climb to the summit is hard enough without having to battle against the elements. So firstly we need no snow and a clear sky. Secondly and arguably more importantly the jet stream, which resides roughly above the summit of Mount Everest, needs to be where we want it to be - not over the summit! It naturally moves slightly away every now and then during the course of the season, and we have little choice but to wait until the stream is off the summit to avoid winds of 70-100mph plus...

As things stand, we think we may have spied a window for the 23rd-24th May, so hopefully if the weather forecasts hold to their word, and things go to plan, we'll be holding our heads at 8,868m around then...

During the last week or so it has been massively important for us both to remain focused on the summit, without falling into the trap of settling for a weather window that isn't right in order to 'smash and grab' the summit. It's a trap easy to fall into considering there is not a great deal to do to occupy your time at BC, and is known as 'Summit Fever', or a 'Summit or die' attitude. To counter this our time spent waiting has had to be as constructive as possible. To give you an insight into a standard Base Camp life day, one would wake up after a solid 12 hour sleep and breakfast would be at around 9:30. The rest of the morning would consist of personal admin, washing etc. One small bowl of luke warm water has been our only source of hygiene cleansing from the start of the trip! On the contrary to the Adventure Peaks publisised hot shower (which consists of this small bowl of hot water being poured over you by a sherpa). This is followed by a mid-morning nap or some light reading. To expand on 'light reading' Matt has taken it upon himself to read 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E Lawrence' however he is not showing any signs of being more wisdomous! I however am trying to imporve my bantering skills by reading ' The Book of Advanced Banter' which apparently is also not working according to Matt (and the rest of the team...). Lunch is around 14:00, followed by maybe more 'light reading' or listening to music, with an afternoon nap thrown in for good measure. The highlight of the day is a game of Risk with the lads (accomplined by Wary Music...) which would nicely flow into Dinner. Finally to finish, a DVD or Pub Quiz before bed.... In all, sleep has been the main effort of our rountine.

We never seem to be too far away for a practical joke. There appears to be a phantom drinks-bottle thief (nothing to do with us!). The huge barrel of luxoury treats keeps going missing only to be found in our tent minus flapjack, though I have protested my innocence to the group, and as there are 17 males in the team and only one female, a full 'Man Day' was decleared on Sunday 16th May. The first rule about man day is you can't talk about the rules of man day, so I will leave what we got up to your imagination.

As much as we have tried to pass our time humourously, there has been a serious side to our downtime, in all honesty, the last week has been about as easy as it sounds, but with so much on our minds, so much to look forward to and such a massive mountain to climb, this past week has been immensely valuable, if a little on the un-eventful side. Reflection on this journey that has been our past year, and why and who we are doing this for has never been far from our thoughts. We will leave tomorrow with tremendous excitement, knowing that within a matter of days, we will stand on top of the world.

We want to leave you with a quote that has seen us through this past year..

'All men dream; but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.' T.E Lawrence

We'll see you when we get back down...

Pete & Matt

Monday, 10 May 2010

Touching the North Col...

So with all our kit prepped, weather forecast checked and talking done, it was time for Matt to experience the delights of Everest's North Col... As with any plan, there are always the unknowns that can scupper things at the last minute. However, as we got our heads down for our last quality nights' sleep at ABC, the weather decided to turn it's hand...... We did not expect to wake up to find over 2 foot of snow fall and this put our departure indefinately on hold.

Thankfully with only a day's delay, we proceeded as planned. We had witnessed just two days earlier a severe avalanche some 200m to the left of the planned route up the North Col, this added to the Hungarian tragedy which occurred about week ago and it was not hard to sense the tension in the air.

The weather on our ascent can only be described as blizzard conditions, making our task of reaching the top that little bit more fun... Crossing the crevasses on snow swept ladders, with frozen ropes certainly got the heart pounding! In all the climb was pretty brutal, compared to our other group members as they had tropical heat to help them up a few days before!

This was my second ascent of the North Col and I felt physically strong, setting a good time to the top despite the conditions. Matt performed exceptionally on the climb, especially for his first attempt, showing off his slick rope work, which was much needed to avoid any potential frost nip!

On reaching the top of the North Col I was greeted with the sight of a total white out, all the tents were buried in up to 3 foot of snow. It took a good half hour to just to identify our camping area, let alone dig a suitable tent out! Finally once inside the tent and the blizzard shut out, I got the stove on and started to melt some of Everest's finest fresh snow and waited for Matt... and waited... and waited.. until finally he arrived, exhausted and deathly but elated. It had clearly taken a lot out of him.

The next day was a complete contrast in weather. Sat in our surprisingly warm tents at 7050m, with blazing sunshine, snow all around us, it was all about recovery from yesterday's adventure, however you just can't recover at this altitude and you find yourself struggling to stay hydrated, stay fed, stay alive, so recovery was off the cards... A day of what do you miss the most from home was the main focus, with many suggestions from a normal toilet, a duvet, to Mrs Shaw's flapjacks... some suggestions, however, really aren't suitable for this blog...

With two nights sleep under our belt (of very average quality!) at 7050m, it was time to venture higher up the mountain. Acclimatisation is key in order to be able to function correctly and efficiently, what takes 2 minutes to put on your shoes at home, at 7050m is a different story. We timed each other in preparing ourselves for the days climbing. To put down suit, climbing boots, climbing harness and crampons on took just over 40 minutes.

The aim of the day was to reach 7500m. The route would be a relentless steep climb up the snow ridge to the rock wall which allows passage to Camp 2 at 7800m. The views whilst walking this route are breath-taking, giving a clear picture of where the rest of the route will take us to reach the Summit. Unfortunately for us, the weather decided to turn and blizzard conditions rained supreme again. Matt struggling with acclimatisation managed a pretty pathetic 50m or so from the tent, no one else who was on the North Col ventured further. But enjoying the comforts and the resilience to the elements from our North Face Down suits (with good music selection on my iPod) I pushed further, cutting my own tracks in the fresh deep snow, I managed to reach 7500m. The descent back to our tents on the North Col took all of 40 minutes, after gruelling 3 hour climb...

It was a hard day for all of us, but the realisation that this was the final acclimatisation walk on the mountain before our summit weather window came was big morale! The waiting game has now begun.

After a third (restless) night at 7050m, the descent of the North Col was an enjoyable experience, especially as the weather had now decided to be kind to us. Baked in 35+ heat and stunning views, Matt could now actually see what he had originally climbed, which was a good pat on the back for him, and another boost for me as I continue to feel stronger.

We are now back at ABC, making the most of fresh(ish) water, non-boil-in-the-bag food and a well-earned rest before heading down to BC tomorrow where we can really relax, for a week or so anyway. From there we can begin to plan
our final return to stand on top of the World. It's all about the waiting game now, waiting for the infamous weather window to open up. We've done all we can, Matt has just about caught up with the rest of the team in terms of acclimatisation, which is a massive achievement and testament to him, but he still struggles with the altitude, which I hope will become easier on our final assent of the mountain.

We have everything to play for and early reports suggest the weather window could be on our side, the dream will become a reality very soon...

Watch this space...


Saturday, 1 May 2010

So I made it back to Base Camp, but it was not without its dramas!

After deciding that I probably had too much kit to hire a motorbike and was probably not qualified to hire and drive a jeep across the 100km of mountain-pass type Nepali dirt track to the Tibetan border, I had to settle for a driver to take me back to 'Friendship Bridge' on Tuesday 20th April. Ironically I did not receive the friendly welcome the name suggests. The Chinese are not too keen on foreigners crossing into Tibet in the first place. Apparently they are even less keen on foreigners crossing in, then out of it, then into it again within the space of a few weeks, and so despite putting on my best Chinese accent to describe to them what had happened, I was still subjected to a full kit search and interogation and when the extremely large, surely genetically modified, Chinese customs officer slipped on a pair of latex gloves I felt things were about to get even more un-friendly! Fortunately, for me and probably him, the experience fell short of a full-body search, but it was enough to convince me that I probably did not want to be making this journey again. It didn't help my case that I had forgotten to renew my Nepali tourist visa whilst I was staying in Kathmandu, which had expired two days ago. Luckily even the most communist countries are still open to bribery, and so $100 later and I was safely through customs, kit and body intact and back in Zangmu, Tibet, to meet my new driver.

The driver I had from Kathmandu to 'Friendship Bridge' was a really sound lad, he understood English well and had some good chat. The driver who met me in Tibet, however, exhibited none of the same qualities, and so as I politely introduced myself as 'Matt' he simply replied 'To Base Camp'. I'm pretty confident it wasn't his name, but it amused me to call him it throughout the next four, very quiet, days we spent together. Our first stop was Nyalam. I kept myself to myself, avoiding where I could the local delicatessen, and getting up into the surrounding hills to try and re-acclimatise. While it was remote, and I found myself for much of the few days in complete solitude, it was quite relaxing to have some time to myself, to think about what I was doing, what it meant to me, and to consider everything that had happened in the last few weeks.

Following two nights in Nyalam, 'To Base Camp' and I headed for Tingri, the last stop before Everest. I've not experienced many towns as horrid as Tingri, while your chances of getting blown up are probably fairly small, at least Sangin DC offered a more welcoming, cleaner and less rabied-dog-infested environment. As you can imagine I was keen to get myself as far away as I could. And in an attempt to gain some altitude I found an incredible spot with breath-taking views of Everest. It seemed surreal to sit there looking at what has been my computer screensaver for the past year now. As I sat for around an hour and just stared at her beauty and her sheer domineering presence, I felt so close, yet still so far away.

When I finally arrived back at Base Camp (24th April) it felt incredible. Physically I felt fine, mentally I felt stronger. My time in Kathmandu had really opened my eyes to the dangers of the 'Mountain Game', the last week had been pretty lonely and filled with uncertainty, but it allowed me to realise why I was here. It was great to be back and to see Pete and the rest of the team, who for the most part had successfully made it up the North Col to an altitude of 7050m, a personal altitude record for many of the team, including Pete! (who has not shut up about it!!!)

Since arriving back at BC (5200m) Pete has been awesome at showing me the ropes, and taking me on the low-level acclimatisation walks to get me ready to head up the mountain. And so, as I write this from the rocky and remote campsite that is Advanced Base Camp - the highest campsite in the world I might add, I'm pretty chuffed to tell you I've made it comfortably to 6400m. Although I did not come here to say I'd made it to 6400m, I think it's important to stay realistic. One of the biggest precursors for going down with HAPE is having recently gone down with HAPE and the other symptoms of AMS. Right now my chances of summiting are slim, around 20-30% as I'm reliably informed by the duty Doc's in the team. I'm a long way behind a very strong team, and while Pete has stayed back with me to help catch me back up, it's going to be a massive uphill struggle, as if it wasn't big enough before!! That said, I'm staying positive. We head for the North Col tomorrow (2nd May), and if I can smash that and reach 7050m without any major dramas, I might just still have a chance to tame this hill (albeit quietly, while it's not looking and when the weather is good) even with the odds stacked against me...

We shall see...


Wednesday, 28 April 2010

To Advanced Base Camp and Beyond...Pete's Story

It only seems like yesterday that Matt was evacuated from Base Camp, but a lot has happened since then...but where to begin!

Well, Base Camp!

On the contrary to the sort of images you may conjure up whilst thinking about Base Camp life - sparse, desolate living, the actual setup is pretty luxurious for camping!!
We have an absolutely outstanding Sherpa team, who are always on hand with a smile to sort out any problems, there really is no problem too big for them! The food here, prepared again by the Sherpas, is awesome compared to what we have been used to at Aconcagua Base Camp, with plenty to go around. Not to mention the luxury barrels in each of the two mess tents which house the odd Mr Kipling slices and flapjack!! With regards to entertainment when we are in our down time, I cannot confirm the presence of two 32inch flat screen TVs and DVD players with over 60 DVD titles of choice, I can however confirm that Anchorman is not within the DVD selection and so the TVs may as well not exist.

The views from BC can only be described as stunning. Waking up each morning to a clear view of Mount Everest from my tent, not a cloud in the sky and no noise would give the Glen of Tranquility a run for its money...
Since being established at BC, I've visited the memorials of Mallory and Irvine, as well as the other memorials dedicated to climbers who have not returned from the mountain. A poignant reminder of what dangers this great mountain holds, not that I need it.

The main focus on everyones minds at the moment is acclimatisation, acclimatisation, acclimatisation!! With BC at 5200m, it's important that this becomes our sea-level as soon as possible...if our bodies cannot adapt to survive comfortably at this altitude, we stand little chance higher up the mountain. As part of our daily routine, a number of relatively low-level acclimatisation walks have been undertaken to push our exposure to higher altitude. Again sticking to the mantra of "climb high, sleep low". A tick in the box is gained from our team leaders once we have smashed the 6000m level.
With the 6000m height exposure now ticked off, it was time for the Puja, the traditional mountain blessing ceremony. This is essential before we could depart and step foot on the path towards Advanced Base Camp, all part of the local customs for the mountain.

The local monks came along to perform the ceremony for the whole Adventure Peaks team and Sherpas. In direct view of Everest itself, and with much chanting, bell ringing and incense burning by the monks, the huge prayer flags were raised around our tents. This was then followed by what can only be described as a massive food fight between the Sherpas and us, with much flour and rice to go around!! Lash then started with beers and shots being passed around by the Sherpas, all in the spirit of the ceremony I can assure you, especially at 10 in the morning! Every member of the climbing party was also given a ceremonial climbing necklace by the monks, which is not to be removed until after a successful summit.

With the blessings complete, we were now allowed to venture onto the mountain. On Sunday 18th April we finally left BC for ABC which sits rather uncomfortably at 6400m. The move was the biggest test to date, but thankfully the 15mile trek from BC to ABC was broken up with an Intermediate camp at 5700m. The two days treking up to ABC provided spectacular scenery of penedantes on a much grander scale to those seen on Aconcagua! What can only be described as staggering views as we drew closer to ABC we had our first close-up view of the summit, Second Step and the North Col. I felt privileged to witness these sights. But what made it even more special was that I was given the news that Matt would be re-joining me in just over a weeks time, the team would be re-united again!

ABC has been made to be as comfortable as possible for the highest camp in the world. Evidence of past expeditions though can still be seen, which is a great shame as the location and scenery are outstanding. My first two days at ABC can only be described as the worst Jagermeister-hangover I have ever experienced, I have however been very fortunate not to have experienced any signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and have adapted quickly to the 40% oxygen environment that we are living in. Thankfully, after a walk up to the North Col head-wall, 6600m, I was back to my strong physical self.
ABC has shown the weather forces that Everest can unleash, with 50-60mph winds, which nearly blew our tent off the ground...whilst we were still in it!! The sometimes sleepless nights, due to altitude, have been made more comfortable by my temporary tent-buddy, Geordie (who will hopefully become the youngest Briton to complete the 7 Summits) who I am pleased to say is now an avid Inbetweeners fan.

On the 22nd April, we moved to the legendary North Col head-wall to attempt to ascend the biggest hurdle we would come across so far. It involved 4 hours of solid climbing, possibly the biggest physical and mental test I have ever experienced. At over 7000m I crossed crevasses on metal step ladders, scaled snow-covered cliff shelves and finally clawed my way to the top to set a new personal altitude record of 7050m, a height it is only possible to reach in the Himalayas. Summiting the North Col showed the final route which will take us to the top of the World.

Following the successful ascent of the North Col, and potentially the first Ginger to do it, we made a rapid retreat (we pretty much abseiled all the way down!!) to the relative comfort of ABC, before heading back down to BC the following morning. On my arrival at Base Camp, guess who I found in my tent grinning like a Cheshire Cat...

More to come...