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...


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