Monday, 30 April 2012

A change of schedule

As you know we were due to go up to Camp Two early tomorrow morning.

That's now been delayed by a day due to high winds higher up on the mountain. Our Sherpas have been unable to cut the ledges for our tents at Camp Three whilst other Sherpas from a combination of teams set off this morning to continue fixing the lines up to the South Col but were beaten back by the strong winds.

Yes it's rather frustrating having got packed and psyched up for a tough day. Nevermind I'm sure another day of rest won't do us any harm.

Now I'll have to think of a topic for tomorrow's post!!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

A quick trip down to Gorak Shep & more on Friday's avalanche

Well after possibly one of the best nights sleep at BC (all of the team commented on how well they had slept) I decided that after some washing I'd pop down (I like using the word 'pop' because three weeks ago I couldn't have thought of a more unsuitable word!) to Gorak Shep to catch up on emails etc.

David said a couple of interesting things at breakfast: firstly, that approximately 30 climbers have returned home so far having either decided that Everest is not for them or they have been medically evacuated. So that's around 8-10% of the climbers here. Secondly, that the icefall appears to be much more unstable this year (just my luck). Apparently in previous years the route has only had to changed two or three times because of avalanche. This year it seems to be an almost daily occurrence.

Yesterday three or four of us thought about going down to Gorak Shep today but come this morning it was only me (is it something I said - I've not even told my 'high protein lozenge joke for the Khumbu cough yet'!). I have to be honest and say after five weeks, which incidentally means we are half way through the expedition, it was really nice just to have some time to myself outside of the confines of my tent (now I'm starting to make it sound like a prison cell).

I was able to really enjoy the walk down, going at my own pace, taking the scenery in and lost in a world of my own thoughts. Sadly I didn't have my camera with me as I saw a couple of Blackbird and Thrush sized birds with really beautiful red and multi coloured plumage.

Now this is going to sound awful but it was quite entertaining to see trekkers struggling up the trail hunched over their walking poles and not having the energy to say hello or to even raise a smile! Mind you I'm sure that's what we looked like three weeks ago and no doubt will look like on our way up to camp three. Time wise up and down was an hour and a quarter, virtually the same as last time, but it felt easier so hopefully there are a few more red blood cells inside me now.

Now on Friday at the bottom of the post you may recall that I mentioned an avalanche that swept across the width of the Western Cwm ( you may recall I've self imposed a 48 hour embargo on bad/ potentially bad news).

On Friday we were walking up to the Bergschund below the Lhotse face when at around ten am we heard the typical sound of an avalanche off behind to our right. Turning around we could see an avalanche cascading like a large waterfall down the side of Nuptse, probably two thousand feet above the Western Cwm. We all watched mesmerised by its size only to see what now looked like a cloud of snow and ice travel across the entire width of the valley and up the other side by about 500 feet, probably more. To give you an idea of time scale, whilst watching it travel down the side of Nuptse, I realised it was going to be huge and had time to take my rucksack off, get my camera out and catch a picture of it travelling up the other side!

Naturally we thought of people travelling up to Camp Two and hoped all were safe. What we hadn't appreciated was that the Lhotse team (led by Adele Pennington of JG) and her two team members had travelled up from BC that morning to Camp One. The avalanche was so huge that it took out nearly every tent at Camp One by virtue of the blast and snow debris. Thankfully Adele, Ron and Scott were all safe and well. They were outside the tents but were able to hunch down and shelter in the lee of them. It is a great testament to the strength of the Terra Nova heavyduty Hyperspace tents that Jagged Globe choose to use and how well our sherpa team have erected them just in case of such an eventuality that they survived unscathed except for one broken pole.

When we dropped off our walking poles yesterday all of the other tents were completely devastated including those just a few metres away from ours. Adele and her team wisely decided to carry on up to Camp Two and whilst obviously very shaken, we're able to enjoy a late lunch in the Camp Two mess tent.

As far as we know there were no fatalities however Pasang was returning to base camp that day and ended up rescuing a Sherpa who had been blown off a ladder into a crevace by the avalanche. It's thought he had some rib injuries and was helicoptered off to Kathmandu. Pasang never got his rest day in BC instead he returned to Camp Two only to find he had a squatter in his tent - either Ron or Scott!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Safely back at BC and my knee

We set off this morning from Camp Two at 5.45am (just after first light). For some reason I hadn't slept well. Despite not having an afternoon siesta and listening to my iPod until 10.00pm I then dozed on and off rather fitfully until the alarm went off at 4.30am.

We set off down the Western Cwm in solitude and admiring the grandeur of the scenery on our way to Camp One. It wasn't long before we saw a line of Sherpas heading towards us. After about 40 minutes we came to the scene of yesterday's avalanche (more on that tomorrow) and despite how recently it occurred a new trail had been formed through it.

On arriving at Camp One we swapped our walking poles for our helmets (which had been left in one of the tents) and then set off into the icefall once again. It wasn't long before the terrain had altered dramatically since our climb up just five days ago. A huge avalanche of ice had swelled down from near Lho La exposing the bedrock below. This was the avalanche that had obviously blocked the route a couple of days ago. Now there were new ladders in place and we had to pick our way through the debris.  We didn't like hanging around here because there is plenty more to come down!

We then reached an area that is rather euphemistically called 'the football field' - not premiership you understand, more local community as it has a slope of about 15 degrees. It also boasts four crevaces that you have to jump across! Not sure how the greensman would mark out the pitch. However in comparison to the topsy turvey world of the rest of the icefall it is fairly flat.

Next comes some more avalanche debris (this is where the photo is taken). What you can't see in the picture is the seracs hanging above us!
(Just broke off for lunch which included double helping of chips followed by a well earned shower. What's interesting is that the daytime temperatures are obviously rising as all around our camp little riverlets are forming during the day that have to be stepped around.)

Back to the icefall. Finally there is quite a steep section, up to 70 degrees, that lasts for about 45 minutes. Whilst you can see BC spread out before you, it's still at least an hour and a half away.

As the sun starts to beat down on us we take off a couple of layers and replace our helmets with our sun hats as we are now on safer ground.

Adam greets us with a full cooked breakfast which we wolf down. The journey has taken us four hours. It's great to be back at BC and I never thought I'd hear myself saying that!

We are scheduled to be here for another two days.

For those that know me well or for those who don't but have read my training page you'll know I've got quite severe arthritis in my left knee joint. How has this been affecting me?

You will have noticed that I've made no reference to it todate in any of my posts. Why?

Well to begin with the first two days trekking from Lukla were absolute hell and I thought that my attempt might literally be over before I started. I still don't understand why but it gradually improved over the following three or four days.

I wore Salomon trainers until the last two days before base camp when I wore lightweight trekking boots.

Since we've been operating out of base camp I've had no pain in ascent and some limited pain in decent. That's when I've been forced to take an overlery large step down or I've had to walk at an odd angle normally over avalanche debris.

The only thing that I can think of that is different here to the UK is the relative humidity which is approximately 10% over here in the mountains. I don't know whether any scientific studies have been carried out or not on the severity of arthritis and relative humidity but I'm very happy to put myself forward as a guinea pig for somewhere hot and arid right now!

Fingers crossed it continues to behave itself.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Another of David's rest days!

Some of you could probably tell from the length of yesterday's blog and it's rather matter of fact tone that I wasn't on best form. Well to be honest I felt dreadful. After lunch I had a splitting headache which a paracetamol would hide so late afternoon I had an Acetazolamide which thankfully by mid evening had done the trick.

We were due to have a rest day today, which I was most grateful for given the way I felt. So my heart sank when David announced after dinner that we would be going back up the glacier! The good news was that the 'ice doctors' have re-opened the route through the icefall.

Apparently after his trip last year a number of the team had said that they found getting used to the oxygen masks at Camp Three and above quite difficult despite having tried them on at BC.

At breakfast Mingma, one of our climbing sherpa's popped his head around the door of the mess tent to say hello. He had just climbed up from BC in four and a half hours carrying six 4 kg oxygen cylinders plus his own personal kit! Ten minutes later he was on his way back down again. Just staggering.

So David's plan was that this morning we would first put our oxygen masks and goggles on prior to putting on our harnesses and crampons. When wearing both of these your field of vision is severley restricted not just for the horizontal but more importantantly for the vertical plane. This makes it very difficult to do up your harness. Then to make it more realistic he gave us a 4 kg oxygen cylinder to carry in our packs! To be fair the additional weight didn't make that much difference.

We did get some very odd looks as we walked though camp. I'm sure they'll be some websites reporting that Jagged Globe are using oxygen from Camp Two! I wish.

We walked for about two thirds of the distance yesterday and I actually felt good which is encouraging. I'm not out in front but I'm very happy to be in the latter half as I know from past experience that climbing this mountain is a bit like a war of attrition. Everyday you are above 5500m your body is getting weaker and I intend to conserve my energy for the only day that counts - summit day.

So all in all a much better day than yesterday and I'm feeling good. Perhaps that's because we are back down to BC tomorrow. Next time we are back here we will be on our way to Camp Three. 

Yesterday I finally found my toothbrush. Lesl, my sister in law and a dentist, will be horrified to learn that this afternoon will be the first time I've cleaned them since BC. Sorry to say personal hygiene is low on the list of priorities up here - at least it's cold!

Ps you didn't really want to know about yet another avalanche sweeping across the entire width of the glacier below us.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Up to the Bergschund

This morning breakfast was at 7.30am and then we set off at 8.00am to make our way to the foot of the Bergschund right at the foot of the Lhotse face.

We had heard Pasang getting up at 5.15am to join Conrad Anker and 14 other Sherpas to put in place the fixed ropes up the Lhotse face to Camp Three at circa 7300m.

The gradient was gentle to begin with but then gradually started to steepen as the glacier rises to meet the angle of the underlying rock at the head wall. Everybody's pace slowed to an absolute crawl. Not even a step at a time was managed, half a step was considered good if only a routine could be maintained. All I could hear was my breathing as if I was sprinting yet I was moving as slowly as a tortoise. After two hours and ten minutes David called it a day. We had reached where he had wanted us to get to approximately 6750m. Who knows how we are going to get to Camp Three when we carrying our big packs again?

The Lhotse face is going to be our next big challenge as we are all feeling the effects of the altitude whilst the face itself is 55-60 degree blue water ice that even crampons will struggle to get a purchase on. Thankfully that's another day I was just pleased to get back to Camp Two and rest!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A long night

After dinner last night which consisted of soup, Dahl Bat, and tinned fruit I was tucked up in my sleeping bag at seven thirty. Breakfast was at nine o'clock this morning! I decided to do some emails to my family before dropping off to sleep.

The sunlight struck the tent at around eight o'clock and we woke to find the tent covered in frozen condensation. I've had dryer kit sleeping in a snow hole! At least there you know you're going to get wet. By 8.30 it was too hot in the tent so I clambered out of my soggy sleeping bag (thankfully still warm) to the mess tent for a welcome cup of tea.

Just before 9.00am we were all up for breakfast which consisted of porridge (I've decided I really don't like porridge and now just call it 'calories' especially with the amount of sugar I put on it to make it bearable!). This was followed by beans on toast which was ok but everything, understandably, is served on metal plates, bowls and mugs for durability. The draw back is that food gets cold pretty swiftly.

At about 10.15am we set off up through the rest of Camp Two to see which other teams are currently here. Bearing in mind the number of teams at BC it's not surprising that Camp Two is spread out in a similar manner. 

We're in the lower section of Camp Two which is where Jagged Globe have traditionally camped. It's meant to be slightly less windy and less avalanche prone. Having said that the hanging glacier behind us looks pretty huge! An advantage is that is saves half an hour on the walk from Camp One.

The views from the top of Camp Two are stunning. What look like near vertical impenetrable walls of ice and rock form the head of Western Cwm (also known as the Valley of Silence). Somehow our route picks its way up the Lhotse face, across the Yellow Band and the Geneva Spur (evocative names to anyone who has read any of the numerous accounts on the South side of Everest). Whilst I can see the summit towering ominously above (another 2450m higher) from the rear of our tent we still can't see the South Col from where we will launch our summit bid.

I've taken a picture looking back down the Wester Cwm. Our tents are the red ones on the right and the wide open glacier leading down to Camp One is on the left.
I'm sorry the quality isn't great but I'm limited by the reception on the satellite phone. The trouble is the satellites are orbiting around the earth all the time and the phone only gets a limited view of them from within a deep valley often for only a couple of minutes at a time. I need to be able to download everything at once otherwise I have to start all over again. Sometimes I can wait over half a hour to get a long enough connection.

My sleeping bag is now hanging over the top of our tent drying nicely.

I'm pleased to say feeling much better today after yesterday however I did take an Azetazolamide last night as I had a slight headache. It's seems to have done the trick.

All in all a nice day at Camp Two.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Up to Camp Two

Having been lying in our sleeping bags since 6.00pm the previous evening it was a relief to hear the alarm go off at 5.00am. I had about two good bouts of sleep with an interrupted period between 10.00pm and midnight. At one stage in the early hours I thought the tent was literally going to take off so strong were the winds.

We set off in biting winds slightly later than planned. After the excitement (danger) of the icefall the walk up the Western Cwm is relatively straightforward and without too much inherent danger except for a few crevasses and a couple of ladder crossings.

I struggled today, whether it was my pack size or the cold I'm not sure but I was the penultimate one to reach Camp Two after two hours and forty five minutes.

On arrival we had some soup and hot squash after which I just crashed out in our tent. At least we are on rocky moraine here rather than on the glacier so the tent might be slightly warmer than Camp One.

Camp Two (circa 6350m) is the equivalent of Advanced Base Camp on the north side and the facilities are similar. We have a mess tent, two Nepalese cooks with their own cook tent, a storage tent and last but not least a toilet tent.

The one thing that is really hard to grasp is the scale of these mountains. As I look out of my tent across the Lhotse face I can see the site of Camp Three which is 900-1000m higher up yet it looks physically much closer and that is what is so daunting. To give you an idea Mount Snowdon is 1065m above sea level and for those who have climbed it will know how long it can take depending upon the route chosen. We have basically got to do the same but starting at sea level but with less than half the air pressure (hence oxygen), the only upside is that our 'cafe' will definitely be open when we get there!

That's it for today looking forward to a couple of hours rest before dinner at six.

I've sent out a Spot2 location message so you can hopefully see the exact position of our tent.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Back up to Camp One

The alarm goes off at 1.30am and as I'm so comfortable I really don't want to get out of my sleeping bag. I have remind myself why I'm here and that it's not meant to be a holiday.

If feels slightly warmer this morning and my fingers remain warm as I dress. Even before getting to the mess tent I hear two avalanches, one on the Pumori side and another on the Lhotse side.

Things follow the usual pattern of breakfast then setting off to crampon point at the foot of the icefall the only difference this time is that we have larger packs.

After about an hour and a quarter there is the tell tale sound of an avalanche somewhere over to our left, but where? It's beyond the range of our head torches, everyone stops just in case it comes into view. Thankfully it passes us without incident.

Tonight it's extremely busy with Sherpas ferrying loads upto camp two and beyond. I never cease to be amazed by their stamina and speed. Whether its because we are stopping to let them pass or it's our heavier packs I feel we are going more slowly than before.

Starting at around 4.30am the night sky lightens imperceptibly at first as a new day dawns. The sky takes on a magical feel and we are able to switch off our head torches.

On the upper reaches of the ice fall there is evidence of a large avalanche that must have occurred since our last trip up. Its demolished our previous route and so we pick pur way across the new uneven ground.

We then come to a double ladder crossing and sadly the site of where a Sherpa died two days ago. For the sake of speed he chose not to clip into the handrail. Unfortunately he fell into the crevasse. His body was recovered yesterday morning by helicopter.

Almost there now, we can see the tents tantalisingly in the distance but it's another 45 minutes before we reach them. 
Camp One, the red tents are ours, Pumori in the background
Surprisingly when I check my watch on arrival it's 7.58 just five and a half hours since we left.

Brett is just a short distance behind me so after removing my crampons I collapse into our tent and get the stove on for us to have a hot drink.

It's sunny but much windier than last time. This made the trip through the ice fall quite cold but on the plus side let us hope we won't be having 35-40 degree c temperatures in the tent.

The plan for the rest of the day is to rest and sleep.

Talking of the wind, David told us yesterday evening that our mess tent at camp two has been flattened by the high winds. Apparently the winds have been much stronger up there. It means the Sherpas are having to bring that tent down to BC and carry our communications tent up to camp two before we arrive there tommorrow.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Ice Doctors

After yesterday's post can you believe it, I understand Victoria and Henrietta are arguing over who can have my car!

On a more serious note somebody must have a key stuck on their keyboard. Henrietta has told me that over 320 people are following this blog which has got to be a mistake - I've not got that many friends!

No in all honesty that's absolutely fantastic as although a lot of time goes into them (yes, hard to believe I know) I do enjoy writing them. The readership is almost global: UK naturally ,but also Germany, Australia, USA, Canada, Poland, Costa Rica, India, Russia and Singapore todate. Now if you think any of your friends or family would enjoy following my blog please tell them about it. It would be great to get to 500 or more. Many thanks.

It's a sunny morning here at BC but there is a biting wind making it uncomfortable to sit outside and enjoy the view. Thankfully it's warm in the tent as I intend to catch up on some sleep. For some reason I didn't sleep well last night.

Today is just for relaxing and preparing for tomorrow when we go to Camp one again. On Tuesday it's up to Camp two followed by a rest day there. On Thursday we make a sortie up to the bergschund at the bottom of the Lhotse face, whilst Friday is an acclimatisation day at Camp two before returning to BC early on Saturday morning. So we are away from BC for almost a week. 

We've got to get all of our high altitude gear up to Camp two over the next two trips up as David wants our packs to be as light as possible for our third and final push to the summit.

Now to the work of the 'ice doctors'. As I've mentioned before their sole task is to maintain the fixed ropes and ladders through the icefall.

On our last trip down we saw five of them including the head of the team. Four of them had five or six foot ladders strapped horizontally across their backs which they were steadily taking up the icefall. We will see where they've been used tomorrow.

Along side all the ladder crossings are two fixed ropes either side of the ladder. These are used for clipping into to protect you should you fall off the ladder and also to act as handrails. The idea is that you'll just dangle a few feet into the crevasse rather than tumbling to the bottom never to be seen again. The trouble with using them as handrails is that you have to put some tension into ropes. Personally I think there are more for confidence rather than aiding balance. The ladders range from being horizontal to vertical depending upon the obstacle.

As the glacier moves at about 8cm a day, a) there is less of the ladder resting on the ice either side of the crevasse and b) the handrail ropes get closer and closer to the ground meaning you have to stoop down when crossing the ladders. So far the ladders have ranged from single to doubles strapped together at their midpoint. I understand that on previous years there have been as many as five ladders strapped together to span a particularly wide crevasse.

So the ice doctors are constantly having to adjust the existing ladders as well as forge a new route when an avalanche occurs.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Death on Everest

Just before I begin the main body of this post I'll just tell you about our trip down to Gorak Shep. We set off with the sun blazing and a deep blue sky which has been typical of our stay here. It took us about twenty minutes to get to the entrance of BC and then it was along one moraine which is fairly level. After this the ground undulates quite considerably as the path weaves its way down the valley. We bumbled along chatting and taking in the views reaching Gorak Shep an hour and forty minutes later.

Unfortunately the Internet connection wasn't great but it allowed me to get up todate and I hope I've answered most people's emails/twitter. If I've missed you I'm sorry.

During lunch it started snowing and by the time we left, quite heavily. Phil said 'I'm going back slowly', well his fast must be a sprint as we made it back in one hour and fifteen minutes (don't forget that's uphill). To be fair it felt a lot easier than when we first arrived two weeks ago so we must be acclimatising. The snow continued and then we heard thunder which I normally only associate with heavy rain back home.

Ok so my earlier post hinted at 'Death on Everest'. Well that title was to get you interested as there is a morbid fascination with the mountain.

I've been meaning to write this post for a while. Easter Sunday was a possibility but I somehow don't think I'll be resurrected as a saint!

Well we are now four weeks into the expedition and hopefully within another four if all goes according to plan we will all be safely off the mountain and making our way home. (So I can continue making Caroline's, my wife, life a misery - after all I've managed for the last 26 years and I'm sure there's more left in me!!).

To be fair l could have also called this post 'Why climb Everest'.

Let's consider the statistics (I've studied them carefully as believe it or not I have no death wish). Now I don't have them to hand but can say that in recent years more Sherpas have sadly given up their lives in pursuit of other's dreams than have non Nepalese.

The north side of the mountain has historically had a higher death rate than the south in relation to the proportion of people attempting to climb the mountain. (Been there, done that and thankfully comeback).

Depending upon the years that you look at, the side you look at and whether you look at all deaths I seem to recall that the percentage varies between 5 and 12% (I'm sure they'll be some one out there who will want to take me up on these figures but I am doing this from memory).

Of course there will be the disaster years, the most recent of which was 1996 when 15 or 16 people died ( I can't recall the exact number). Thankfully in recent years the well resourced expeditions (I'm on one) have an excellent safety record and there have thankfully been only a handful of non Nepalese deaths.

In an earlier post I said that I thought there were possibly up to 400 climbers hoping to summit. Well 5% of that is 2
0. I have to preface this with 'todate' but thankfully there's never been a death toll anywhere near that.

Obviously statistics are great unless of course your number is up and you become one of them. I accept that's were the argument falls down.

Now sadly people die everyday through no fault of their own and every death is a tradegy especially for those left behind.

So why increase the odds by putting yourself in a dangerous situation and your loved ones through the
emotional stress of it all? 

Firstly there is no doubt that climbing at any level is a selfish past time as no one else can get the same pleasure (or pain) from it as you can.

I've looked at the statistics and have decided (in my own selfish way) that the risk is acceptable in relation to the sense of personal satisfaction I'll get from summiting.
After all every time you leave the house something may happen to you.

There's no doubting the immense physical and psychological challenge of climbing Mount Everest and it's one I want to prove to myself I'm capable of.

Surely it's better to have died trying to do something than go through life wishing that perhaps you should have done something. After all we only get one life, this is no dress rehearsal. 

Another reason (probably quite wrong I'll be told upon my return) is that I will have achieved something that neither of my brothers have - who incidentally have done extremely well both academically and in their respective careers, so that may make my parents proud of me (blimey this is turning into an episode of ' in the psychiatrist's chair'!!).

Ok so that's the why, what about the what if 'I don't comeback'? 

I promise to keep this short as you've done very well to read this far.

Firstly and most importantly I do plan on coming back. So I've not written a letter to Caroline to open if the worst happens. This is actually the closest I've got to one. 

So to Caroline I love you deeply. I couldn't have asked for a better wife but beyond that you have been and still are the best mother Victoria and Henrietta could ever ever have. For that I am eternally grateful. Please keep it up (sounds like a school report - obviously not one of mine!). To Victoria and Henrietta I love you dearly. Please do whatever you want to do with your lives and most importantly be happy in what ever that is. To Mum, Dad, Saxon and Neil lots of love and look on the bright side that's a couple of presents less each year to buy! Finally please shed no tears.

Phew the end (well of this post!).

Ps if it does all go belly up I've only one request. Please play 'Only the Good Die Young' by Queen. Somewhat self indulgent as I'm not good and I'm not young but it reminds of our family trip to London prior to me leaving on the expedition. 

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow with more on the work of the 'ice doctors' .

Hello from Gorak Shep

Five of us decided this morning to walk down to Gorak Shep to get a good mobile signal and also for some gentle exercise. Not sure how we will enjoy the walk back up - probably two hours.

I've attached a photo: a picture of Yaks on the moraine. Hope it works.

Come back later as I shall be posting another post today 'Death on Everest' - not as bad as it sounds but I suspect it will be quite moving!
Bye for now

Friday, 20 April 2012

Descent from Camp One

As my Twitter of yesterday afternoon said - the weather changed! By 4.00 pm local time we were in a thick blizzard very reminiscent of a white out on the Cairngorm plateau but even colder. It passed after about two hours and after boiling some more water and eating some food Brett and I said good night at 6.45pm. It was a very long evening helped partially by listening to my iPod.

Well at 4.30 this morning it was completely pitch black when the alarm went off. Switching on the head torch revealed the whole of the inner tent covered in ice crystals from our breath. We quickly stuffed our damp sleeping bags and insulating mats away (unfortunately this won't do the down any good but I'm sure it'll dry when we are back up there in three days time).

I managed to get cold fingers again this morning (you can tell I'm a slow learner). By the time I'd put my crampons on they were numb. Thankfully I always carry some big mitts and after half a hour they were nice and toastie ( I think I can hear my parents tut tutting even from here!).

After such a good trip up yesterday I struggled today. I was able to keep up but I just felt exetremely lethargic. Whether it was the altitude, a poor nights sleep or dehydration I'm not sure. I suspect it's certainly the latter two as I've crtainly got signs of dehydration which I plan to attend to during the day. Also last night wasn't the most comfortable of nights sleep. As for the altitude I was short of breath during the evening so I had my first Azetazolomide of the trip (is this the start of a slippery slope?). This kicked in after about an hour and certainly helped. Unfortunately one side effect of the drug is an increase in urine production - not what you want when you are in a sleeping bag! There is a way around this of course, you have to have a suitable recepticle. Obviously it's got to have a wide mouth but also an adequate capacity. Unfortunately a litre isn't prooving sufficient!

We set off down through the ice fall at 5.45 am and wthout incident made it to BC three hours later as David had predicted. Once again I stopped and picked up my emails/twitter/Facebook updates. I know this is starting to sound like a stuck record but I do really appreciate all of your comments and good wishes.

After a full English breakfast (well almost if you like salami as opposed to bacon and tinned sausages - to be fair it was very tasty) David gave us a debrief: he was very pleased with our time up to camp one so much so we can have an extra half hour in bed so that when we go in three days time we will arrive just as the sun hits the tents! We will then progress the following day up to camp two for around four days.

After breakfast I collapsed back in my tent hoping to get some sleep before lunch but it was just too hot and stifling. I decided to do some washing and to get some more fluids down me. The best bit of the day is that we were due to be going back up in 40 hours time but David's decided to give us another rest day which is reflected in the timings I've already given. I'm so pleased!! After lunch I'm looking toward to an afternoon siesta as the clouds are already starting to bubble up lower down the valley.

Now the news you've all been waiting for: David says that if everything continues to go as it is and the weather is ok we could be looking at a summit bid of mid May. I can't give the exact date yet as we would like the summit to ourselves!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Camp one in just over five hours

We made it to camp one which is at an altitude of 6100m at 7. 25am this morning after setting off at 2.00am.

The sun hit our tents which had already been pitched for us by the Sherpas approximately 30 minutes later. It's currently over 40 degrees Celsius in our tent. All we want to do is sleep yet it's just far too hot. To make matters worse there is no breeze! We are literally cooking like a boil in the bag meal. Having said that it must get windy here as the Sherpas have tied the tents down with rope in addition to the usual guy lines.

I've given up trying to sleep hence I thought I'd have a go at the blog.

The climb up through the ice field was thankfully undramatic except for an area that had obviously avalanched yesterday and we had to pick our way around it. Most haunting was seeing a section of fixed rope buried beneath a rectangular block of ice that was easily the size of a minibus. Nobody would have stood a chance.

Above the icefield the ground flattens out into the Western Cwm, the valley that leads upto the Lhotse face. The scenery is absolutely stunning. I just hope the photos do it all justice.

From our camp we can see the site of camp three high on the Lhotse face at 7300m and then the line of the route to the south col. The summit of Everest is peering ominously down on us. Pasang says that camp two is about another three hours up the valley but it's hidden from view by the terrain.

Once we reached camp one we unpacked our gear and ate some snacks. Brett who I am sharing a tent with has kindly melted 5 litres of snow, roughly half what we need to drink to stay rehydrated. My turn later.

The view out of the front of the tent is across a wide snow capped glacier across to Pumori. Compared to base camp it's so tranquil. There's not a sound.

We all seem to have coped well with the increase in altitude though I have a slight headache. Probably dehydration or the intense heat.

I'm rapidly praying for some wind as Brett's threatening to strip down to his underwear!

Sorry to say its too hot for any humour today - what a relief I hear you say!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Preparations for camp one

The morning has been spent preparing for our early start tomorrow morning (David kindly informed us that it's up at 1.00 am and off at 2.00am - so spare a thought for us at about 9.30 pm uk time!).

Whilst it's sunny there's a strong wind which is making it feel quite chilly.

We've assembled two days worth of food which includes: two main meals (one of which is dehydrated), drinks, soup, tuna, pepperami, flapjack, nuts, an assortment of snacks and chocolate bars. I don't think we will starve however I know the real problem from last time is trying to force yourself to eat and drink as the altitude surpresses your appetite.

Thankfully the Sherpas are going to carry our sleeping bags and food up to camp one so that's 4 kg saved which I'm very grateful for. We have to carry the rest of our personal gear as well as some of the other kit we will need higher up the mountain: ie down boots, down mitts. David has suggested taking a little at a time to make things easier. I suspect our packs will be around 10-12kg. Plus big boots and crampons (4kg) and climbing harness etc (1.5kg).

Talking of big boots I've included a picture of one of my high altitude boots together with its silver inner boot. To give you an idea of size that's one of my trekking boots on left!

There was a lot of helicopter activity this morning and speculation is rife that Prince Harry may be making an appearance in support of the Walking with the Wounded expedition. However David announced mid morning that they were in fact helicopter evacuations.

So what's BC like. Well it's a bit like a mini tented city - think Glastonbury without the mud and whacky backy! Having said that there is a lot of incense being burnt.

David reckons there are about 40 teams this year who have each set up their own little enclave with personal tents, a mess tent, one or two cooking tents and some stores. BC here is much more like ABC on the north side which is also set upon a glacier. It's a very sociable place with most of the team leaders knowing one another. There's also a good deal of co-operation for instance this afternoon (here comes yet another helicopter over head) all of the team leaders are getting together at Russell Brice's behest to discuss and finalise the fixing of the rope all the way to the summit from Camp 2.

So how many people are here? If we assume each team has an average of say 10 climbers (we are 8) then there wil be 10 Sherpas to support them on summit day, plus say 5 BC staff ie cooks etc and there's potentialy around 1000 people here! I don't think it's quite that many but it could easily be 800. Now I know what you're all thinking what about all that waste, well it all gets carried out and used as fertiliser.

In comparison on the north side two years ago there were 7 teams and a Chinese army barracks! My own view is that the south side seems colder than I remember the north. A plus is that all of our Sherpas and camp staff seem a lot more relaxed on this side. We are also in a bowl with mountains on three sides which is a stunning backdrop even though we can't see the summit.

Talking of two years ago we bumped in to Kenton Cool again yesterday and I wasn't sure whether to mention that we had a mutual friend in common. Let me know Heather!!

A couple of guys are going down to Gorak Shep this afternoon but I'm just going to relax and drink as much as possible ready for tomorrow morning.

Next post from Camp One!!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

2.00am wake up call

Before I tell you about today's trip through the ice fall firstly can I thank all of you who have either sent me a Tweet or an email. I do enjoy reading them. Unfortunately it's difficult to reply because as you already know there's no mobile signal at BC. I was able to pick them up as I noticed when we descended the icefall last time that at one point which is flat and also not beneath any seracs, there is a direct line of sight with Gorak Shep where the 3G mast is. It doesn't take too long to download the messages but I think David might get a bit fed up if I asked the team to wait whilst I replied!

Do check out the interactive Spot2 page as I set it off this morning.

This morning we set our alarms for 2.00am which David assures us is the earliest we will ever need to (apart from summit day). It was much windier than a couple of days ago which helped to lift the temperature by a few degrees. I also wore some warmer gloves so getting to the mess tent by 2.30 seemed a bit easier (either that or I'm getting used to the discomfort - frankly after this trip there really is no excuse to have the heating on at home).

Well you won't be surprised to learn that trip through the ice was very similar to two days ago except that we went higher.

I'm pleased to report we didn't encounter or hear a single avalanche until we were back at BC and even that was well off our route below Lho La.

At one point just before the ice steepens to circa 55 degrees I looked up and all I could see was a line of head torches criss crossing the ice much like white Christmas tree lights draped across a High Street. It looked like an army of worker ants but with head torches. Indeed the Sherpas are just like ants taking it in turns to carry vast loads for our comfort and safety ever higher up the mountain.

The Sherpas are paid by a combination of weight (normally no more than 15 kg) and size. I even saw a Sherpa carrying a large propane gas cylinder up. I understand that the going rate is 25 us dollars a carry up to camp two (higher rates apply higher up). Very little by Western standards but a lot by Nepaese standards. To protect their wellbeng they are not meant to carry more than 15 kg but I suspect much like the European Working Time Directive they can opt out. It is not uncommon to see them carrying double loads.

Unlike the porters lower down the valley who are very ill equipped in terms of footwear ( ie plymsoles or flip flops!) and clothing the Sherpas on Everest get a very generous equipment allowance and they are all as well kitted out as us.

The only other thing of note was that one section higher up is just like an upturned box of Lego that has to be the site of an avalanche. Whether it's this year's or last, I don't know. All I can say it's extremely slow to cross!

Tomorrow is a rest day before we head up for our first night at camp one so I thought I'd tell you abut about BC and how it compares with the North side. If you've got any burning questions just post a comment and Henrietta will pass it on. You can ask to remain anonymous if you wish!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Puja Ceremony

Well the Bhuddist Gods were kindly looking down on us this morning as I unzipped my tent to be greeted by streaming sunshine, blue skies and our Sherpas putting the finishing touches to the granite alter that they had been preparing since first light.

On the top of a small morraine they had built a rectangular alter to place gifts for the Gods for our safe passage to the summit and more importantly back down again.

Rather embarrassingly I almost didnt make the ceremony! It had been due to start at 9.00am and the last I had heard was that we were waiting until Adele, Ronald and Scott, who are hoping to climb Lhotse, to arrive. So it was with some embarrassment that one of the Sherpas's came to get me at 9.45am when the ceremony had already started (without Adele and her team).

I quickly ran over carrying my ice axe and crampons which were to be blessed and joined the rest of our team.

The Puja itself is fairly relaxed with talking and drinking allowed whilst the Lama chants prayers for our safe journey. Incense wafts across the morraine and the sherpas prepare the prayer flags for draping across our camp. Drinks on offer included sweet tea and 'Chang' a potent alcoholic concoction made of fermented rice. I can't help feeling this approach might swell congregations at home!
After approximately and hour and a half of chanting and rice throwing Adele arrived just in time for the flour throwing and face painting. This entails having your cheeks and nose covered in flour. After this it's time to have a drink: a coke, a sprite or of course a beer! Our first alcohol since Kathmandu. Our Lama was quite young and very thoughtfully refrained from anything alcoholic. The rest of us enjoyed a San Miguel beer which at 5% alcoholic content went straight to our heads. This was swiftly followed by three shots of whiskey each.
After the ceremony two of the 'ice fall doctors' kindly joined us (well wouldn't you if there was a free drink on offer). It was reassuring to see that they were quite old and obviously very experienced.

Cian did his best in typical Irish style to make sure that the party (sorry ceremony) continued in a most convivial manner.

We are all now assembled in the mess tent waiting for lunch all feeling rather light headed which is of course due to the altitude! The sobering news is that we are up at 2.00am tomorrow morning.

I've finally worked out how best to dry my washing and that is to put my washing line inside my tent. The problem with putting it outside is despite the sunshine the air temperature is rarely above freezing. Putting my washing inside and venting the tent allows my clothes to dry at around 15 degrees c if the sun shines.
The other thing I've noticed is how uneven my tent floor has become. During the day the tent acts as a large heat trap which is melting the ice beneath the tent. Thankfully my sleeping mat is about 10cm thick so I still get a good nights sleep.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Sunday 15th

Ah well this is round two at today's post! I've just lost nearly two hours of single finger typing on this damn phone! I was about to bore you with the longest post yet (so perhaps there is a God up there). Anyway here we go again. It's going to be a very long night for me.

I'm lying awake in my sleeping bag and my watch says 3.20am, another 40 minutes until the alarm goes off. Nervous anticipation prevents me from dropping back off to sleep. Four o'clock arrives and I give myself just another couple of minutes to enjoy the warmth of my sleeping bag that has cocooned me for the last six hours. Right, it's got to be done and in one long sweeping movement I undo the zip on my bag and within a millionth of a second all that warm air has been replaced by what feels like a blast of freezing Siberian air.

The race is on! I slip on a pair of lightweight gloves to prevent my fingers from going numb. First it's my thick socks, then my walking trousers, straight over my thermals (must keep moving to try and stay warm), another thermal top quickly followed by two more jackets. Almost there, just my double boots to go - too late I've lost the race my fingers are numb. Despite having added pull tags to my boots my hands are little more than clubs as I struggle to pull them tight. Lesson learnt: thicker gloves next time!

(Well its now 21.45 Nepalese time, we've had dinner and watched a film called ' Dejavu'. Quite apt bearing in mind what's happened. Oh and it's -11.8 in the tent. The things I do for you guys!)

I pick up my pack and stumble into the mess tent. Most of the team are already there. No one is talking and everybody looks chilly. I force down some porridge not because I want to but because it's fuel for what lies ahead. Then a porter brings in a large frying pan of plain omelettes. Who ordered these we ask? With a broad grin the porter replies 'good food, make strong for mountain'. So I force one down more out of graditude than desire. Much like after imbibing too many lime cordials on a Saturday night, come Sunday morning you know you should eat something. (especially adapted for the Duchy and St Catherine's schools- see I am trying!).

I've blown the budget and included a photo of a ladder crossing to whet your appetite.

We left the mess tent in silence so as not to disturb other people as we picked our way through the morraine and the other camps to the bottom of the icefall. This was rather futile as every time we walked over some frozen water it would crack and shatter. Alternatively your boots would slide from underneath you as the thin covering of rocks gave way to reveal the ice below. I'd curse at the wasted energy.
Once at 'crampon point' we would don our harnesses and crampons and make our way onto the sea of ice. Initially the wave of ice are quite gentle much like the tide coming in at a wide sandy bay but soon these ripples grow into huge waves that tower 60 feet above you.

The icefall extends over 700 m in altitude and probably a mile and half in distance. A crack team of Sherpas dubbed the 'ice doctors' have the unenviable task of not only setting a route through this maze of ice and snow but also maintaining the numerous ladders that have been installed to cross the crevaces. They will also re route the trail through the ice as it shifts over the coming weeks and as avalanches block the route. This is without doubt one of the most dangerous points on the route and why most people choose to travel through it at night when the temperatures are lowest. The ' ice doctors' are funded by most of the large teams including Jagged Globe.

As we travelled up through it a number of the team had their first experience of crossing ladders. Now a single ladder placed across a crevace is fairly simple to cross when horizontal. Add an angle whether up or down and it becomes more tricky as you try gage where your crampon teeth will best fit on or between the rungs. Things get even more interesting when two or three ladders are strapped together!

I turned around to see base camp still in shadow yet beyond was the backdrop of Pumori with the sun reflecting off its snowy flanks bathed in a clear blue sky. What could be more stunning? Suddenly there is the typical 'whoomf' sound of an avalanche that we have become accustomed to hearing over the last week. But this time it's close, very close! A quick glance up reveals nothing. I look around for a place of refuge. The noise, it's getting louder but from which direction? Then off to our right approximately 150m away we see a plume of snow and ice cascading down below. Thankfully the ' ice doctors' had chosen the right route - this time.

Being at BC you get to hear of and sometimes meet some very famous names in climbing: yesterday it was Victor Saunders, before that it was Russell Brice. We also understand that Uli Steck (of two and a half hours up the north face of the Eiger fame) is also coming to BC.

Well today whilst climbing through an area of the ice fall known as the 'pop corn' because that is what the ice looks like I was caught up by a gentleman who I recognised. Now this will make Henrietta my youngest daughter very jealous, but it was none other than Kenton Kool who is hoping to make his tenth summit this season. We exchanged pleasantries and shook hands (I didn't think it was the place to ask for his autograph H!).

We continued climbing up until about 8.00am and I felt alive. The climbing was steep, every foot placement into the snow and ice had to be right. My breathing was under control - fast but not laboured. The adrenaline was flowing through me and for the first time on the trip I knew I had done the right thing by coming back for a second attempt. Perhaps I could finally put the demons that have played on my mind since my last attempt two years ago finally to rest. If only I can stay fit and healthy.

We turned around having covered about 30% of the ice fall and were back in camp for 9.30 am. Our next foray should take us to nearer 60% before we travel all the way through to sleep at camp one.

The rest of the day was spent showering and doing some washing.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Big Mitts

This morning we went into the lower reaches of the icefall again and practiced our jumaring and abseiling. Pasang and Mingma had set up a course over the seracs that we each had to complete three times wearing different sized gloves. The last being big mitts. Trying to grip your ascender or screw a karabiner closed with these on is nye on impossible!

Just after lunch Jeremy appeared at the door of the mess tent bearing gifts. Well actually a couple of things my parents had sent out (a bottle of whiskey would have been better!). He also kindly brought me some chocolate. I suppose it's only right that I give him a plug. He is without doubt the best optician in the South West. Look up Jeremy Savage Optometrist, Tiverton. (I was going to put a quip in here but that would be little what I've just said. I just take the free spectacles!)

He and his friend Rob had left Lobuche at 7.00am this morning to reach BC. Needless to say Jeremy looked out of breath much as we did when we first arrived a week ago. Rob had decided not to come to our camp instead choosing to return with their guide to Gorak Shep where they will be spending the night. They hope to climb Island Peak and Lobuche peak in the coming week or so.

I've spent the afternoon preparing my kit for tomorrows early start (4.00 am!) as we venture further into the icefall before the temperature rises too much. If I remember I'll switch on my Spot2 so you can see how far we get. We should be back at BC by 11.00am Nepalese time so you'll probably all still be in bed!!

It was Cians' birthday yesterday and Adam did a fantastic job of preparing an excellent chocolate cake with hot chocolate sauce.

Last night we watched 'Killer Mountain'. If you thought Cliffhanger and Vertical Limits are poor climbing films this film is postively dreadful. It just makes you wonder where people get the money to make such third rate rubbish - mind you we watched it!!!

Well that's it for another day except to say its snowing very heavily at the moment with snow sliding off the sides of my tent like mini avalanches. The upside is perhaps it won't be too cold when we get up tomorrow morning.

Friday, 13 April 2012

First view of the Lhoste face

This morning as part of our acclimatisation process we walked back out of BC and up to the approximate position of BC for those who choose to climb Pumori. I had the Spot2 set to 'track' so you might be able to see our route on the interactive map if it was working ok. The route up was very reminiscent of the route up the side of Pen yr Ole Wen directly from Ogwen Cottage in North Wales (apologies to all Welsh speakers if the spelling is incorrect!) but with only half the oxygen.

Our reward was an excellent view into the upper reaches of the Western Cwm and the sun glistening across the Lhotse face, an 850m wall of ice that has to be climbed to reach the South Col.
Actually the best bit for me was getting a 3G signal from Gorak Shep! Consequently I was able to check my emails and Twitter. Sadly not Facebook though (I know they'll be a number reading this saying 'that's no great loss').

Whilst it not possible to thank you all personally I do enjoy getting the messages so please keep them coming.

For those of you who have kindly posted comments on the blog there is a delay of approx 24 hours as all comments are moderated first. This is primarily to make sure my brothers don't post anything inappropriate! We got back down to BC for lunch and the afternoon has followed its typical (thankfully) lazy pattern.

Well it's been almost three weeks since we left the uk and our beards are coming along nicely. Sadly despite my mother's genes I don't think I'll win best beard of the trip though - David had a head start! (I can afford to be a bit cheeky at Mum's expense as at her age she will have forgotten by the time I get home!!).

Looking forward to tomorrow as after our usual play in the icefall in the morning I'm hoping to meet up with my friend Jeremy who is also out here in Nepal hoping to climb Island Peak.

Now I wonder what film it will be tonight? (don't worry Heather, Top Gun is there waiting to be seen). Last night it was a knock off copy of the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo with Daniel Craig. A couple of the guys found it quite hard to follow but it helps if you've read the book (or trilogy). Best bit for me though is that it means I won't have to take Caroline to see it - a few bob saved! Actually I've already been served with yellow card for some of my observations (humour). She's threatened to change the door locks.
Ah well bye from EBC. Ps yet another avalanche has descended whilst I was checking the above.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Day 5 at BC

Well we've been in BC for five days now and thankfully moving around the camp and across the moraines has got ever so slightly easier. Whether this is a sign that I am slowly acclimatising or more likely I've learnt to move more slowly!

Life in BC revolves around meal times so much so you could almost set your clock by them. Adam our BC manager and chef has done an excellent job at producing a very varied and filling menu to date (we've only had Dahl Bat once since arriving here). Last nights Yak stew with mash pototoes and green beans was superb but it was surpassed by the dessert. He had said that he had tried to make some chocolate brownie during the afternoon but it hadn't worked. So imagine our delight when he produced chocolate brownie crumble and custard. There must have been 1000 calories a serving! No one uttered a word until our bowls were empty.

Today we had another three hour foray into the icefall this time venturing another 100m higher. The sun was beating down and those of us wearing black really suffered in the heat. (Unfortunately that's really the only colour I've brought as it hides the dirt so well).

On our return whilst drinking hot squash (sounds odd but very thirst quenching) we witnessed a large avalanche cascading down the western face of Lho La just above BC. The snow and ice was falling for at least five minutes. We're grateful for being near the middle of the Camp!

Once again the afternoon was spent either reading or sleeping. I'm amazed at how much I am sleeping and wonder whether this is a result of the lack of oxygen or the physical effort of moving around. Perhaps it's a combination of both.

To give you an idea of how dry things are (which seems odd given the amount of snow and ice around and beneath us) my thermometer says the humidity is 10% outside and currently -4 (@17.40 local time). At home I doubt it rarely drops below 50%.

Well that's the end of another exciting installment of life at Everest BC!

(now I wonder what's for dinner-all we know is it's chicken, not that I've seen any since Namche Bazaar).

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

A morning on the icefall

This morning we all put on our high altitude double boots for the first time and walked over to the icefall to practice putting on our crampons with different thickness of gloves. In addition we practiced our crampon technique: front pointing, traversing and descending.

Despite only being out for just over two hours we were all exhausted!
Our plan for the next four days is similar with the aim of going apprx 30% up the icefall on Sunday before our Puja ceremony on Monday. We then hope to climb approx 60% of the icefall on Tuesday with our first foray up to Camp 1 next Thursday . Well that's the current plan subject to the weather. Highlight of the day for me was a satellite call with my two daughters, Victoria and Henrietta. It was great to hear their voices. 

I am writing this in the mess tent whilst we wait for dinner which I understand is Yak stew and mash. Four of the team are playing cards, one is reading his kindle and a couple are chatting. We've got a small propane gas heater that struggles to keep the temperature above freezing. The evenings film choice is very democratically decided: each evening we take it in turn to choose three films and then we vote on which of the three we would each like to watch. Tonight it's 'Million Dollar Baby with Clint Eastwood'.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A cold day at BC

Well I spoke too soon. There's no sunshine today only low cloud and snow showers. Outside temperature at 12.05pm local time is - 2.6 degrees c. We've spent the morning fine tuning things here at BC ie the electrics and important luxuries such as the DVD player!

This afternoon we had an equipment check of our harnesses, ascenders and crampons etc. David's experience certainly counts as he is firmly of the opinion that moving efficiently will get us to the top rather than taking loads of gear that won't get used.

This evening we invited the two Doctors who are manning the ER tent over to join us for an evening meal. Always pays to keep in with the medics even though we hope we won't need their assistance!

So once again the enormity of the task ahead has been weighing heavily on my mind since our arrival at BC. Whilst in pure mathematical terms there is only another 3500m of ascent I know from my last attempt how hard each and every metre will be. Looking at the Khumbu ice field stretching high above us my mood swings from one of 'what on earth I am doing here' to a more positive 'I'm sure it can be done' whilst trying to remember that I got to 8300 m last time quite ill.

I'm not looking for sympathy (after all its my choice that I'm here) or indeed encouragement as the determination to succeed has to come from within. Nothing abit of PMA (positive mental attitude) won't over come! As they say 'pain is temporary pride is forever'.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A day at Base Camp

The sun hits my tent at about 7.45am and the temperature quickly rises within the tent from an overnight low of -14 to + 28 degrees c in little more than an hour. As well as the warmth waking you there is the drip drip sound of water falling onto your sleeping bag or worse still on to your face as the condensation that froze during the night quickly melts from off ceiling of the tent. During the night moisture from your breath has also frozen around the top of the sleeping bag like a giant frozen lion's maine.

I choose to slip my outer clothes over my thermals as despite the inner tent temperature it's still -3 outside as I blearily make my way to the mess tent for breakfast. Thoughts of personal hygiene, changing out of my thermals and teeth cleaning can wait until at least 9.30am. This morning I hung out my washing again that had frozen and also read my book for a couple of hours.

After lunch I walked the 25 minutes to the entrance of what is the designated base camp area to try and get a better mobile signal, sadly without success. It was good to stretch my legs but it is really difficult to explain to you just how hard any physical activity is at this altitude. You are constantly gasping for air. Hopefully things should improve over the coming weeks as right now none of us know how we are going to get much higher!

I got back to my tent at about 3.15pm and dozed for half an hour being woken by the dropping temperature. Knowing that it's only getting colder and whilst it's still 8 degrees c I have just got back into my thermals again to save having to do it once it's much colder. With my opened sleeping bag drapped over me rather like a duvet I'm writing this post. Our evening meal will be around 6-6.30pm and I'll be tucked up in my sleeping bag by 8.30 pm latest.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Day one at BC

After a particularly cold night eveybody agreed at breakfast that they hadn't slept well, mainly because of the altitude. According to my thermometer it got down to-16 outside my tent last night and -14 inside! 

Talking of tents we've each got a MSR four man tent which means we've got acres of space to spread our kit out. 

This morning we were able to have a shower and do some washing. Whilst its about 21 degrees c in the tent when the sunshines in the shade it's only 2 degrees c which means some of my clothes have literally been 'freeze dried'! Perhaps that will help to kill the bacteria!! 

Sleeping on a glacier is an unusual experience as through the night you are woken to the fairly frequent noise of creacking and cracking as the glacier moves beneath us. We've been told that we'll have to repitch the tents at least once during the trip as the glacier is continuously moving. I just hope a crevasse doesn't open up beneath my tent. Subsidence could take on a whole new meaning here! 

Well I hope you are all having an enjoyable Easter. Not a chocolate egg in sight here.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Base Camp

This morning we climbed up above Gorak Shep to Kala Patter a hill at 5500m that overlooks BC, the Khumbu icefall and of course the summit of Mount Everest. It looked huge and it seems incomprehensible that we may well be standing on the summit in 6 or 7 weeks time. 

We then descended to make the final 2 hour walk along the morraine to Base Camp which we reached at lunchtime. To get this far we have walked for 53 miles and climbed over 6550m. 

Our camp which will be our home for the next 7 weeks is towards the upper end of the glacier quite near the start of the icefall. The next couple of days are apparently rest days for us to sort out our kit and get used to our new home. 

Everyone is quite exhausted: whether its the altitude or just the relief of being here! More tomorrow.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Lobuche to Gorak Shep

Well after almost 12 days of trekking and gradual acclimatisation we are due to arrive at Base Camp tomorrow. Everyone is looking forward to the next stage of this epic journey. Not least because we are all getting fed up of living out of a bag that has to be repacked most mornings! 

 We woke this morning to 10 cm of snow on the ground and thick cloud. We certainly couldn't have done yesterday's walk in today's weather. 

 The walk up to Gorak Shep is only a couple of hours or so although we made a detour to have a look at the Italian Research Station. This is a pyramid shaped building that was built 21 years ago by the Italian government originally to confirm the heights of Everest and K2. Nowadays it is available to any research institute wishing to undertake scientific research into any subject that would benefit from being undertaken in such a location. It's no longer limited to just high altitude research. 

The track up to Gorak Shep narrows after Lobuche and seemed even narrower in the snow as we made way for the numerous porters and yaks making their way to EBC. There's no doubting the popularity of this route. 

Today's ascent was only a couple of hundred metres and it was nice to arrive at our lodge in high spirits and with relative ease compared to our previous two days. 

Things only got better when Phil proudly shouted out ' my dongle is working!'. Not to be confused with an anatomical euphemism those of the IT generation will know this meant Ncell had repaired the mobile mast. Once again we had an Internet connection!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Over to Lobuche

Getting up in the morning doesn't take long. In fact you way to do it as quickly as possible. Bruno and I can be dressed and have our gear ie sleeping bag packed away in less than 15 minutes. Very handy considering it was only 1 degree c this morning in our room. Once you've unzipped your sleeping bag you can't afford to stop moving or you'll soon freeze. 

Talking of rooms like the price of goods as we've got higher the size of the rooms has decreased no doubt as the cost of materials rise. The lodges have now resorted to having the doors hung so that they open outwards into the hall to ensure that there is no wasted space within a twin room. We have to climb over our bags to enter and leave the room, however it beats camping each night. 
On the Kongma Pass
We woke to crystal clear skies this morning and our walk took us to Lobuche via the little used Kongma Pass at 5550 m. Early on we heard the haunting sound of an avalanche and looking across the valley we saw this tremendous plume of snow racing down the north eastern flanks of Ama Dablam. Thankfully the slope was gentler than yesterday and I felt much better. This was the first day of the trek in to BC that I wore my lightweight boots. Up until now I've been wearing walking trainers which have proved very comfortable. Today was much rockier and we were walking for part of the day in 8 -10 cm of fresh powder snow. So I grateful for their extra support and warmth. On reaching the pass we could see Lobuche some 600 m below across Khumbu glacier. This end of the glacier is known as a 'dry' glacier as the tons of compacted ice are hidden beneath rocks and stones - glacial moraines. It took us almost an hour to cross the 1 km wide glacier as the path criss crossed and undulated across the glacier. A nasty sting to the end of the day! The walk took just under seven hours with a total of 900m of ascent. Everybody is pretty exhausted including David which is reassuring! Today as an experiment I set the Spot2 messenger to track our route. Hopefully this means that you should see a bread crumb trail of our position every ten minutes. You'll soon work out which are the up hill and down hill sections. We are now only two days away from base camp.

The speed of communications and 24 hour news

Unfortunately the mobile data signal is still down which is frustrating but the satellite phone enables me to contact anywhere in the world within minutes subject to a clear view of the sky and the orbiting satellites. 

Climbing and high altitude are dangerous arenas to put oneself in and there will undoubtedly be some news of accidents or incidents to report during our expedition. 

 Prior to starting the blog I had set one rule in stone and that was to delay the reporting of accidents/incidents by a minimum of 48 hours. There can be nothing worse than for somebody reading something on the Internet before being informed about it first. 

You may say I shouldn't be reporting anything at all or perhaps I should wait longer than 48 hours? Overall I don't think we can air brush out the bad news. I will though avoid giving names or details that might enable identification of those involved. 

Two days ago whilst we were over at Pheriche and after the first 10 minutes of the high altitude talk a young teenager unfortunately had an epileptic fit. He was part of a uk school trip and I'm sure by now his family will have been informed. According to the leader there was no prior history on his medical declaration form. I'm pleased to report that the lad recovered quickly and suffered no injuries thanks to the prompt and expert care of the doctors who were giving the talk. 

These doctors come from all over the world and voluntarily give their time for free. I'm pleased to say that our camp will apparently be adjacent to the medical centre that they man.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Shivering in the lodge

Since lunch I've written the two previous posts which have taken me about two hours to bash out on a second hand iPhone I bought for the trip. 

Three of the guys are playing cards, David's asleep in the corner and I'm sat here shivering - the movement of my right index figure is unfortunately unable to generate sufficient heat to keep me warm so I'll probably retire shortly to the warmth of my sleeping bag. 

Below are a couple of things that haven't fitted into previous posts Since moving above Deboche we've left the tree line behind and now the land consists of dry arid scrub. The monsoon season will soon be here (hopefully after our summit attempt) which will breath some life into the fields. Today on the way down from our climb the dust/ sand was so fine it reminded me of my childhood and the sand at Rhosneiger on Anglesey. 

The days seem to fall into a fairy regular pattern ie early up, walk until lunchtime and then the afternoon is free. Today I'm doing my utmost to avoid an afternoon siesta as I find I don't sleep as well at night (that's why your being subjected to three posts today!). We usually have dinner at 6.30 so by 8.30 most people are in their sleeping bags which can make for a long night. 

It's now snowing again outside so I am about to go to my room, crawl into my bag and read my Kindle. Now I've never been a fan of one of these but for trip like this it is fantastic as you can bring so many titles along. The drawback is we can't swap books amongst the team. Having said that I can furtively read ' the ultimate guide to train spotting' without any abuse!

The toilets don't get any better

Up to Chukhung Ri 5535m

After setting our alarms for 6.30 am we had breakfast which consisted of porridge, mixed omelette with garlic and toast. We set off at 7.30 for our first Nepalese summit, reaching it two hours and fifty minutes later. 

Now I could leave it there and let you think that everything was fine. I've got this dilemma: do I give you a sanitised view of life on this trip or do I give you the 'warts and all' version. I suspect you'll find the latter more interesting although possibly more alarming for my family. The other problem I have is that to date I've been able to send a daily post and I'm not sure how long this will continue. I'll do my best to try and send you something interesting each day but don't be alarmed if I miss a day. I say this as when I made my own way down to ABC on the north side from Camp 3 I was so exhausted I didn't have the energy to send a text to my wife saying I was down safely. You can imagine the distress this caused! 

So back to today, the first 700m went ok and I was able to keep up with the rest of the group (there were six of us as Nick had decided to stay at the lodge) however I really struggled with those last 100m. So much so I even thought about not going any higher but what sort of signal would that give to David. I continued up a few paces at a time struggling to set up any type of rhythm which I knew would be vital if I was to get to the top. Instead all I could hear was my heart beat thumping between my ears as my body tried to extract much needed oxygen from the air. Occasionally I felt dizzy and was stumbling which I knew was bad. Thankfully the top appeared in sight just 20m ahead and on reaching it I collapsed on to a flat rock for some much needed rest. What was strange was that once I was stationery I felt fine. I just had no energy to climb any higher. Even though I was only a short distance behind the group I told David how I was feeling and then three others pipped up saying how hard they had found the last section ! It was reassuring to know I wasn't alone. The lack of oxygen meant I forgot to set off my Spot2 gps messenger. I suspect this won't be the last time! 

So we had climbed up 800m to where the air pressure is 480 millibars (roughly half that of sea level) - no wonder we were struggling. After an energy bar ( why do they always taste of cardboard) we dropped back down to our lodge for lunch. 

I'm pleased to say I'm feeling much better now at a level of 4750m and I've hardly coughed at all today which is great. Nobody said this was going to be easy!!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Up to Chukhung & the dreaded Khumbu cough strikes

Since my fever I have had a blocked up and runny nose. It seems to be more of an allergic reaction rather than a cold. Up until yesterday I had prided myself on going sufficiently slowly to breathe through my nose and had hoped to maintain this strategy up to Base Camp. I've also been wearing a buff (a tube of material worn around your neck a bit like a small scarf) over my nose and mouth to try and keep some of the dust out of my lungs. 

Today I had no choice but to breathe through my mouth and by the time we reached Chukhung I had developed a dry hacking cough! It's extremely frustrating as we are only one week into the trip and I know from past experience that it will only get worse. People have broken ribs from the constant coughing higher up. 

The walk up took us one hour and fifty minutes to walk the 5 kilometres and 400 m height gain. 

Most of us felt lousy and quite lethargic on reaching the lodge 'Yakland' - it's ok Disneyland need have no worries. 

Four of us decided to push on up for another hour and 150m as tomorrow, subject to the weather, we plan to climb up to 5500m. At the turn around time the cloud descended and we returned in a full blown snow storm. It was just like being up in Scotland! 

What I did notice during this bit of the walk was that my cough stopped and I put this down to breathing through my buff. So I now look as though I'm about to hold a bank up as i'm wearing inside the lodge - I may look odd but I'm not coughing! 

After lunch I retired to our room and gave Bruno a fit of the giggles as I put on a builders dusk mask that I have brought out with me. Like the buff it must just raise the temperature and the moisture content of the air I inhale. 

So we are now waiting for dinner and I've got a typical mild AMS headache. Hopefully it will be gone in the morning. As you can probably tell not feeling great at the moment.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Food and hygiene

You can tell I had too much time on my hands today by the number of tweets/posts. I'm aware that there is a wide age range of people who are following my rambling drivel. I suspect it is somewhere between 7 to 80+. So I suspect that the primary school teachers at the Duchy School in Bradninch and St Catherine's in Heathfield, both in Devon, may well have had some tricky explaining to do! So sorry.

Protein to date has been limited to cheese, eggs, tuna and some chicken. So it was with great relish that this evening we all tucked into a yak burger with mushroom sauce together with chips and steamed vegetables. Pasang had told us at lunchtime that a yak leg was due to be delivered during the afternoon and the lodge owners had done a tremendous job butchering it into such a good meal. Adam's now got a seriously high benchmark to reach!

It was also slightly surreal as we were also watching a replay of the Tottenham Swansea match via satellite tv.

Talking of food brings me onto the subject of hygiene. I do hope you've eaten before you read this! It's no wonder so many travellers succumb to upset stomachs, including myself, as hygiene levels are so much lower than at home . Ok so the lodges we are staying in have a porcelain toilet but it's very rare for it to be connected to any water. It's emptied by dipping a small receptacle or jug into a large bucket of water to manually flush it. The transfer of bacteria from just this one action must be tremendous and that's before you've touched the latch or lock! No toilet paper is allowed down the toilet so this is deposited into another bucket just to the side of the water bucket! Often there is a wash hand basin outside the toilet and whilst there is a tap the water supply is intermittent. We all use a hand gel before all meals and after going to the toilet. I suspect this only has a limited effect as having seen inside the kitchens your local Environmental Health Officer would have said establishment closed down immediately. I've also quickly learnt to clean my teeth without any water. I know it sounds very grim and I'm not wishing to pass judgement as the Nepalese suffer none of these problems. It is just part of the experience. All I can say is things are substantially better here in Nepal than Tibet!

A true rest day

The overnight temperatures in our room was 0.7 degrees Celsius last night. So chilly that the condensation had frozen on the window. Reminds me of Home Farm House (my wife's parents house). It's only going to get colder once we reach BC.

Whilst the lodges are stone built the roofs are normally corrugated iron. Internally everything is constructed from plywood and consequently a major fire hazard. They are often L shaped with the dining room and kitchen at one end and the bedrooms at the other end. The dining room is the only heated room and the wood/yak dung burning stove is often not lit until 6.00 pm in the evening. (as we are close to the equator the sun sets and rises around 6.00 ish).

Unlike the north side where you can drive into base camp everything on the south side has to be carried in either by porter or on a yak. Consequently the price of goods increases the further you move away from Lukla.

For instance the price of a bottle of water has steadily increased from 100 rupees to 250 rupees here at Dingboche (approx 80p to £2.00).

Today has been an auspicious day as I've had a shower and cleaned a pair of socks. The underwear schedule was thrown off course by an accident quite early on but thankfully the current pair are holding up well!

The rest of the morning was spent reading.

I hope you are finding at least some of the blog interesting. I'm operating in a vacuum at present as its very much a one way conversation so do post comments or ask questions and I'll do my best to answer them. Otherwise it'll be more of the same!

This afternoon we walked over to Pheriche for a talk about high altitude sickness at the Himalayan Rescue Association first aid post. It's aimed mainly at trekkers but was nevertheless interesting. The doctors will also be manning Everest ER at Base Camp which is great. Facilities like this are so much better on the south side.

Whilst at Pherche we took the opportunity for another coffee and cake stop! Thankfully it also doubled as an internet cafe.

You can tell David's trying to put off the moment when we start to loose weight.

We move on again in the morning.

Cyber cafe fun

Convinced one team member is on an Internet dating site. He's looking for someone horny with dark hair, a mild manner who wants a long term relationship. Only replies so far have been from Yaks!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A rest day around Dingboche

Yesterday was Adam's birthday and much to all of our surprise a birthday cake complete with candles was proudly carried into the dining room after dinner.

Type: probably chocolate. Icing: shaving foam both in consistency and flavour. Actually to be fair the cake was very good bearing in mind the very limited cooking facilities- even more so as we've only seen a wok so far!

I played around with my sat phone after dinner trying to send yesterday's post. Hopefully it went but at great cost. I think today's will be a more reasonable £ 2.50 or so.

I woke this morning with a mild headache but resisted the urge to take any analgesic. Instead I knew I had a 700 m climb ahead of me.

You see a rest day to most people including myself would be just that a day of rest. Perhaps a bit of washing but primarily taking things easy. On this trip it means we will be staying at the same lodge for another day and that actually the day will be the hardest yet!

As you can imagine fate has thrown seven men together and like peacocks feathers have been fanned as we each weigh each other up. Whilst I'm not the oldest I certainly, at least outwardly, appear to be rather out of place amongst these whippet like characters!

So when David explains what the options are for the day either a 700m acclimatisation climb or a true rest day the red mist appears and the testosterone comes out in bucket loads. We eye each other up, nobody is prepared to blink. It's obvious what we all thinking: Are you really man enough to take on this challenge which lets face it is only a pebble in the stepping stones that lie ahead to reach the summit? So despite not feeling a hundred percent I feel I have no choice but to accept the challenge. I can't afford to show any weakness at such an early stage.

To be fair both Carlos and Brett decided to stay at the lodge as neither were feeling well. After two and a half hours we reach our objective and take in the stunning scenery. Despite being at a height of just over 5000 m and with a clear view down the valley there's still no mobile reception. After returning to the lodge for lunch I have a really deep afternoon siesta and wake feeling so much better. No headache and no loss of face yet! Men eh! For the medics reading, resting pulse is late 50's, oxygen saturation between 78 and 82. I'm hoping the latter will improve!