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...


Friday, 16 April 2010

Let's get back on track...

It's been one hell of a week! On Monday all plans of standing on top of the World lay in tatters. As I was helicoptered away from Pete and the rest of the team I genuinely felt my dream of summiting Everest slipping through my fingers. I've endured some pretty dark times, both emotionally (soul-searching as I took the long, shameful Heli ride back to Kathmandu) and literally (there was a massive powercut while I was in the hospital - it was not fun!).

Today, I received some good news!

Medically I am now fully fit. Having seen the state I was in when I was initially air-lifted to hospital, the Doc was very reluctant to write me a "fit to climb" certificate, but with a little persuasion, another chest x-ray and ECG, I managed to persuade her that I am at least back to normal, and the chances of things going wrong on the hill again are no greater than they were when I first arrived. In her eyes I'm a lucky be honest I think it's all been a big fuss about nothing.

So now a whole new set of problems have arisen! Although I'm medically 'back to normal', am I really fit enough to get back there and do this? Even if I am, how the hell do I get back to Base Camp? Can I afford it? Will Pete be alright? Sometimes I worry he might put his boots on the wrong feet...

One thing is for sure...things are definitely on the up!


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Matt's Story Pt 2 - The waiting game continues...

I don't think I've ever felt so low as I did this morning. Waking up in a foreign hospital, off my tits on drugs is an interesting concept that I've never had to deal with before! They kept me in here over-night and being the only non-Nepali on the CCU ward I'm convinced the rest of the patients, and nurses, and laughing and joking at me as well...unbelieveable!

It's funny how things change. About an hour after my 6am sponge bath (not as enjoyable as it may sound lads! Gen!) there was a massive commotion in the corridor. Several new nurses came into the ward and crowded round, I was fairly confused and thought I was maybe still dreaming, I could have sworn I could hear a Geordie accent as well! And then, wheeled in by the nurses like some sort of king, was Peter Swain...

Peter is a Sgt Maj in 7 RHA, he's been on Everest with a team of military guys and was casevac'd off 2 weeks ago with severe HACE, suffered some serious brain swelling and is now blind in his right eye. We spent a good few hours spinning Afghan dits, and putting the worlds to right, Pete took great pleasure introducing me to all his girlfriends...about 20 giggling junior nurses, I was in awe!!

With surgery Peter should be fine, but it made me feel lucky to be only dealing with what I am dealing with...and how things could have been so much worse.

It's surprising how much morale a big friendly-faced northerner can bring you first thing in the morning!!

I got released from the Hospital this afternoon with some anti-biotics and instructions to return for a check-up on Friday morning. As things stand I've got no real decisions to make until then. I feel fit and well and don't believe they would have released me if they had serious concerns, however, like I say, until I get the check-up results on Friday I'm in limbo.

I've not managed to get in touch with Pete either, I hope he's doing well on the hill. As I understand it, they trekked to 6000m yesterday, a big stepping stone to the North Col in a week! Hopefully, he'll actually write a blog for a change!!!


Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Day 10, and a massive turn for the worse...Matt's Story Pt 1

So we made it to Everest Base Camp, 5,300m and incredible views of the mountain and its surroundings. We had a culturally rich journey to get there filled with local food and traditions. However, while Pete is still fighting fit and acclimatising well with the rest of the team, I have been casevac'd back to the Norvic International Hospital in Kathmandu with a suspected case of pneumonia, High Altitude Pulmonary Eodema (HACE) and High Altitude Cerebral Eodema (HACE), all that after probably one of the worst stomach bugs I've ever experienced! At this stage the doctors are also concerned there may be a problem with my heart as to be me!! I should get test results back tomorrow, and they will determine whether the second part of 'My Story' is a good one or a rubbish one.

For the moment it seems pointless getting down about things, I'm still alive! I don't feel bitter, or like I've failed, if you're willing to climb for the highest of highs, you've got to be ready for the fall, and that mountain will still be there next year!

Will update as soon as I get my results tomorrow.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Kathmandu - This place is nuts!!!

So, we've finally arrived...
Kathmandu is an incredible city, filled with people and life. The roads are crazy, with a capital C! How we've not seen an accident yet I don't know...needless to say Pete's pretty much on his last life!!! The Hotel is far more luxorious than we need, but does get the occasional power cut...

We've spent the last day going through kit preps, meeting the rest of the team, learning about the oxygen systems we'll be using from the high camps and trying to take in as much of the Nepali culture as we can. Ate at the Doodle Rum bar last night which is a bit of a tradition for trekkers and climbers, and all are invited to leave a small message on the walls as in the above photo. Rumour has it Dave, Alex, Matt and Stu left a JTYAF one while they were here last year...we've not found it but we'll be back there no doubt!!

We leave for the Tibetan border tomorrow and begin our acclimatisation treks up to Base Camp. Will post more when we can!

Hope all is well back home!