I did my first fell race this weekend. Organised by Mercia Fell Runners, it was a 5k race with about 350m of ascent targeted at Novices only – those who had never done a Fell Race before. There were 78 entries and 58 participants who headed to Church Stretton to give it a go.
Lots of nervousness before the start, talking to a number of people who had turned up – with about 60% of them women. There was a definite reluctance to have tried this sport through a more regular race, with concerns about being able to do, but it was made clear that this was all about giving it a go.
They had made the course fully marshalled, so no need to be trying to work out the route. You ran between cheering volunteers who were very happy to cheer you on and give support.
I joked before hand that I would be last – my uphills are slow, by downhills are slower, but didn’t quite make that target, there were 3 people behind me 🙂 I was however last in my class. But never mind, it was a great day out and a lot of fun, i just need to keep training!
We’re into the sharp end of the trek today. We had an early call at 05:30, the intent is to get started early before the sun hits the slope in the valley and starts letting loose the rocks. In previous years, the route went up from the camp and across the glacier at a higher level, before crossing the river to the left hand of the valley. This has no change and we head down to the bottom and cross just above the end of the glacier and then climb directly up the side of the valley. This was not a great walk, landslides meant that the path was precarious and a lot of steps had to be kicked into place; there were a number of places where the exposure was high and a lot of care was needed. It was bad enough for us – the porters needed additional help in places as they had to carry their loads across the route. It got a lot better once we were into the valley; there were still bits of up and down as we went over the debris from rockfall and landslides, but it was a more gentle ascent, with a few river crossings needed. We had one very near miss, when a football sized rock came rolling down the hill between the team, missing by about 10m.
We eventually got to camp around 11am; a very different place, lots of rocks, with some snow in between. The tents were placed in cleared flattened spots, not really close together. Luckily there were enough spots and no new ones needed to be cleared. The tents were finally installed after lunch, as the some of the porters were behind us. I spent most of the day in the tent reading – it was the warmest places as you definitely needed layers to be out and about
Glacier Camp to Dhaulagiri Base Camp
4.75 hours elapsed
520m total ascent (with 40m descent)
Max elevation: 4675m (+490m)
Toilet tent/hole in ice
Dinner: Soup, rice/dal/beef jerky curry, mixed fruit
Back to our usual 6am call and then out marching off for 07:30. Today was a steady trudge up, with snow underfoot from the beginning. Easy to deal with at the start of the day when frozen, but harder going as it warmed up later. It was a very steady pace for me, the breathing was fine but the limiting factor was my legs, they had definitely reached a limit of up today, with the hips/glutes feeling really tired. There was no need to stop and rest them, I just kept plodding, but it was just tiring.
When we got to base camp, it was a mess. Around 2m of snow in places, much of it covered abandoned kit from the mountain expeditions. The guides and porters managed to dig out a few useful things and I got a total bonus – a TENT MATTRESS!! It was on top of the snow (I assumed one of the other trekking groups had left it there) and I grabbed it and dried it out before bringing it into my tent for the 2 nights we were staying. Oh, it made such a different, about 2 inches of foam providing insulation making it a very comfortable residence, even if it never quite reached lovely tent sauna temps as it was generally cold and windy, and every now again a bank of clouds rolled over camp, just blotting out the sun.
On day 2, I decided not to do the acclimatisation walk and rest my legs – just stretching. I was not intending to do the mountain, so it was less important for me to go higher in prep. It was warmer, with less wind and less cloud later on.
Dhaulagiri Base Camp to Hidden Valley
8.5 hours elapsed
605m total ascent (with 250m descent)
Max elevation: 5380m (+705m)
hole in ice (no tent today…just a tiny snow wall)
Dinner: Soup, spaghetti bolognaise, pineapple
Today was the biggest planned day – up over the French Col, the highest point for me – and then down to the Hidden Valley. Overnight, we’d got down to about -13c, so it was a chilly start. A quick breakfast, a camp breakdown and away we went. We were walking on deep snow, on a very narrow route that had been compacted by previous trekkers, only about 6 inches wide in general. Any steps too far off the path and down you went, to your knees or your hips. It made for very slow going.
First stage was to head out of camp, on the opposite side of the valley to Dhaulagiri, away from the avalanche zone. After about 2 hours, we headed up the wall of the moraine away from the glacier, but still on deep snow. First steep climb done, we could see our “summit”, the top of the French col but still a bit to go along the crest of the moraine and then up to the top of the Col. This took another 4 hours for the 2 miles (with breaks). A this point we cam across the donkeys – 2 live ones and quite a few dead. They’d been used to get kit up to base camp for the expeditions but had been abandoned with the heavy snow 2 weeks before, there was no way to get them back down apparently. So they died – I had no idea how 2 were still alive but there was nothing we could do
Now it was supposed to be an easy stroll to camp, taking about an hour, down from the coll and through the valley. Easy to was not, it felt like a never ending trudge through slushy snow – although looking at the times it was only about 2 hours, it just felt a lot longer. The relentless sun meant everything was just bright and undifferentiated and at this point, my mind was definitely not having fun, it was like I was in perpetual déjà vu, saying something and then not sure if I had said it or repeated it. We made stops for food and drink and I was fine then, just the endless trudging, looking at nothing but the feet to judge where to go meant my mind felt like I was disassociating. When I did see the tents, I wasn’t 100% sure we were actually there, given how many times I’d hoped to see them.
I made my way to the dining tent and immediately burst into tears. Five minutes later I was fine, but this was a huge emotional release of making it after what had been a horrible few hours but felt a lot longer. I wasn’t the only one upset, there had been a lot of effort by all in getting to this place.
At this point, we had no sleeping tents, no gear and the kitchen had only just got water – they had to travel 300m to get water supply. Porters were still spread out over the mountain and slowly trickling in. They were doing an amazing job but almost everyone was having a bad day.
The kitchen team pulled out a miracle and we got fed and watered. They continuously managed to create amazing meals in challenging circumstances. Over dinner, we discussed the next day. The other 7 of the team were due to climb Dhampus, but at this stage, 4 decided it was not for them, they had enough, especially given the expected conditions of deep snow. Phil, Tommy and Kathryn were ready to go for it – so they planned a 4am start.
The other decision made was that we would skip the next camp, which was only a few hours away, and pull out a really long day to head towards where we would have lunched the following day, which was a lot further down and below the snowline
Everything was late running today, but we got to bed rapidly after dinner. Unfortunately for me, my bad times had not ended – my airbed had developed a leak. More miracles – Phil came to the rescue and managed to find the puncture so was not going to be sleeping without insulation on the snow. I was very happy with this given it was -21c overnight. One final issue – I’d not renewed my suncream and overnight, the sunburn came out, which made it an uncomfortable last few days.
Hidden Valley to Yak Karkha
12.5 hours elapsed (approx., no watch for last time)
1100m Descent, to 4300
A stretch of dirt – not even a hole dug!
Dinner: Soup, pasta/sausage/veg/, peaches
I could hear the peak team leaving around 5, the rest of us had an 6am call. Everything was slower today, with breakfast not quite there. It was very cold, but the team leads were also not there and you could tell. Breakfast become quite funny, when everything frozen. First the spoons froze to the bowls; then the toasted bread literally froze on the plate, it was still about -15c. That was not finished!
Normally, we’d be finishing breakfast and things would have been packed around us, but again, a lot slower. But this could be expected given a lot of the porters gear was still frozen – as the sun came up, they were trying to defrost their boots. Things went a lot quicker once the cook team had lit a fire, they could defrost their boots there. I knew how long a day it was going to be, so wanted to get moving, we were all ready. But plans had obviously changed, instead of going with the guide, we were waiting. Two figures appeared over the horizon, trekking towards us. Chris and Dawa had come back, ready to lead us on. Pasang, Phil, Kathyrn and Tommy were carrying on up the mountain. Now we saw some action and finally started. The first 2 hours were gently (and then steeply) uphill, over Dhampus pass. Every now and again we’d get a glimpse of the 4 figures up the hill. Over the pass and we headed down for a bit, passing where we would have been camping on the original schedule. We were still trudging along the very narrow passable “solid” snow with constant sinkings to either side, which meant continuously concentrating on where the feet were placed. I’d borrowed a paid of mini-crampons and they helped a lot – I need to get my own pair for the next time I’m in these conditions.
Looking up, we could see the team had split; 2 were sitting waiting, 2 heading on up further. But they could not get all the way up in the agreed time; they needed to turn around and come back down. Phil had made the attempt, with Pasang, but it was not to be. They caught up with us around 12:30.
At this point, I thought we would have been heading down more, as we knew we had a lot of descent to do. But not on this path, we spent a lot – A LOT – of time traversing slopes, around the ridges and outcrops. This was supposed to be a not too bad path, but the snow just made it worse. There was a lot of having to kick in steps, to keep your footing, just to find somewhere to step. It was hard work; I slipped a few times, but arrested myself quick enough, even if I ended up bending the walking pole enough not to be fixable! Only a few places were objectively dangerous where you would not want to slip, most of the time it was a fairly gentle slope. This is where my lack of speed did cause an issue. It was a long trek, I was tired and I was slowing down. As the day wore on, we started walking through clouds and at this point my ability to assess footing was severely reduced, the flat light meant I couldn’t tell whether a foot placement was level or sloping, it was just flat white. There was some of this in the bright light, but it was a lot easier. I was also getting some of the same weird brain dissociation as the day before. It was also obvious some of the porters were in difficulty on the slopes with their luggage and the guides were back and forth helping them on some slopes. After 9.5 miles we finally got to a place where we could see down into the next valley – we had made it. Nearly. There was another 1.75miles, 90 mins or so and 800m of descent to go, down a dirt path. The sun was setting as I got to the top of the hill and it was dark when I got to the campsite. A reason to always carry a head torch. I was now only with Dawa, who had given his headtorch to one the guide who was heading back up the hill to find the rest of the porters – we were still 3 down at this point. Mentally I was in a lot better place than yesterday, physically I was a lot more tired, it had been at least 12 hours on my feet.
The camp was still being set up, the dining tent just a shelter, with no seats and our personal tents were not ready, some were still up the hill. Finally, everyone arrived and things slowly got sorted. Food arrived but for the first time none of us could really finish it. The cook team had done a miracle again and we all felt really bad that none of us were quite able to eat it all, we were all tired.
We eventually got to bed after 9, all of us carefully walking around the campsite to avoid the mix of animal and human faeces – it was not a nice clean campsite. Our group added some to it – there was no toilet tent or hole in the ground today. But a better night sleep was promised, we were warmer and lower down.
Yesterday was horrible but it was definitely the right decision. We had a late call (8am), a most magnificent breakfast view and only a half day walk ahead. Although it was not going to be the easiest for me, it was all about the down, 1600m is a long descent. I took it easy as the path was rough and I needed to take care to avoid missing steps. My challenge is I know I can improve my up and traverse speed, but down speed is going to be a problem as I literally can’t tell the state of where I am stepping, the distance of the down step or the level of the slope.
We hit Marpha around noon and it was lovely! A very tourist friendly main street, with shops and cafes and flags. We wandered along it, eventually heading out a little for our lodgings for the night. We were camping in the garden of a tea house, still using our kitchen team. Tents took a while – the porters were obviously having an easy day and I can’t blame them after yesterday. After lunch, some headed into town. I decided a hot shower was worth the 200 rupees, although I think I was the only one.
Things were laid out to dry and we sorted out the money for the tips, tonight was the last night for the porters. We all gave a little extra – they had worked very, very hard under challenging conditions. After dinner, they came in (well, nearly all, one had obviously had a little too much local drink). There was a speech by Chris and Kathryn added a few words in Nepali and then we were done.
Getting back to Kathmandu
The last few days provided a whole lot of interesting travel setbacks. The original plan was to leave Marpha early and head up the prad to Jomsom, check into a lodge and then fly out the following day, to Pokhara. But the first problem was accommodation in Jomson; whatever the original plans were, this was not happening and they could not find somewhere where we could do our own cooking (or rather, have the team cook). So no morning walk, we stayed around Marpha for the morning and then had the lunch back at the accommodation. We had a great treat for lunch – fried chicken and greens! We said goodbye to the cook team now and headed out; unlike Chris’s previous visit this was not a trekking track, but a road all the way up. Not that pleasant a walk and when we got to Jomson, the immediate reaction was not as nice as Marpha.
Next issue came with a phone call – there was no plane! The one we were booked on was grounded and the flight would not be happening. We were installed in a teahouse for a drink whilst Dawa worked his magic and sorted out two 4WD vehicles, after lots of calls. No easy afternoon for us. The bags (which had been delivered to Jomsom in a truck) were loaded up on top of the vehicles and we split between them. It was after 4 by the time we were leaving Marpha again and we had at least 3 hours drive ahead of us to get to Beni, our planned stop. The trip was not too bad at the start, a mix of paved sections with some slightly rougher bits. But as we went further, and it got darker, the road got worse. And worse. And a bit more worse. Almost all unpaved but also hit with a lot of landslides. The drivers did an amazing job of getting us there, but it was not the most comfortable of drives. I’m not sure whether it was better in the light (where I could see the drops to the river) or the dark, when I couldn’t). Every now and again we met a bus coming the opposite way, often requiring some gentle manoeuvring to get past safely.
We got to Beni and our hotel for the night; the restaurant was a little Fawlty Towers like, with many, many mistakes in the orders, but we all got fed in the end. Up early the following day for about another 3+ hours on the road. Only the first hour or so was poor, then we got onto better roads. We had lunch next to the airport and said goodbye to Tommy and Kathryn who were staying in Pokhara. Finally, we got on a plane to Kathmandu, getting to our hotel for about 19:30.
We had one full day left, so I booked a massage and a facial and then went out for a lovely Japanese lunch. For dinner that evening, we headed out to Dawa’s restaurant, which was not yet officially open but was in soft launch. An excellent local meal with local beer 😊
Overall, I loved this trip. There were a few moments of terror, but nothing really that made me question why I was doing it, as there had been on previous trips. You absolutely needed to have had some experience of similar trips and environments I think to get the most of it – I would not recommended it if this is your first time in the mountains without any trekking or campaign experience.
Reflecting on the trip.
I went on this trip to continue to get experience in mountain environments and of multi-day campaign trips. I got both of them in spades so it hit all of those needs. But I also have more work to do
Fitness! I’d worked hard over the summer on uphills, especially after some issues on the mountaineering course early this year. I was a lot better than then but there is still so much more to do. I am not fast and I have to build more speed into my uphill walking.
The training plan has been roughly mapped out for the year
I have weekends booked every month in Wales to get more hills
I am trying to be more accountable in doing ALL the planned sessions
Agility. This is a downhill issue. I will always have issues given eyes and lack of depth perception but I think I can improve my speed by working on balance and flexibility, so that when I do miss my step I am better prepared to deal with the instability
I am adding yoga to my plan
I am working on balance exercises
Self-Reliance and kit. A stupid mistake not to have the airbed repair kit with me.
More thinking and planning about what is needed – making sure I have all the spares built in. It’s a lesson learnt and won’t happen again
Micro-crampons. I had never seen or heard of these. I’m getting a set and taking a deeper look at various kit that can be used.
Mountain Skills. There were things I had never done before
Traversing. I have very little done of this so the skill of kicking out steps had to be learnt in the walk – which given the situation we were in was not the easiest. I need to look for opportunities to build these skills.
Climbing was not needed for this, but will be for future trips. I am adding this to the plan, having started indoor sessions and looking to add some outdoor stuff next year.
This part was relatively straight forward. We slowly made our way north and upwards, travelling along valleys. There was a lot of up and down and a few diversions, but nothing was too difficult. Apart from me falling into a river!
An early start today, I think the earliest we had across the whole trip. A 0530 knock on the tent with a cup of tea and a washing bowl of warm water. We got tea and water across the whole trip when we were in the tents. We were needing to head off early as the playground was going to be used for more drilling – and this was our first morning, so they were allowing more time to sort ourselves out.
We rolled out of camp around 0720 and took the road. It was a road a the start, we had to keep out the way of buses, 4WD and lots and lots of bikes. It was a steady climb; with occasional steeper bits as we took a shortcut up a slope when the road took the longer more gradual route. At the top of every climb, around every mile, we stopped for drink and rest. Looking at the later days, they were easing us into the walking, not doing too much too early.
Lunch was had around half way – about 1030! A regular occurrence on the early days, an early lunch, only a few hours after breakfast, before dinner at 6. Across the trek, lunch was definitely the most eclectic of the meals, a mix of stuff that you may never expect. This one was quite mild – potatoes and Cheese/Onion toasties. This also established the theme for most meals – carbs and more carbs.
We arrived at camp just before 2, another school playing field, with a football match being planned. They were painting the goalposts and checking the pitch. Tents were put up, kit reviewed. I decided to do some washing, which obviously caused it to rain torrentially for a couple of hours. We discovered the minor issue of tents not being quite right and some leaking, something we made sure would not happen again as we always checked in the future. Although it did not rain again, it was good practice. Post dinner, taking advantage of the “warmth” we played a lot of cards before retiring around 9ish
Sibang to Jugapandi
8 hours elapsed
1115m total ascent (with 1369m descent)
Max elevation: 1872m (+797m)
Toilet: Fixed toilet hut + tent/hole in the ground
Dinner: Soup, Pasta/sauce/veg
The wakeup knock was at 6, with breakfast al fresco – they’d taken down the dining tent early. Today we were going to be following a river, with a lot of up and then down in order to get over the various tributary streams. You could see the impact of the monsoon, with landslides etc. In one case, we needed to make a detour, on a different path which ended up crossing a river via some boulders. This is where disaster struck, at least for me. Long step, slippy stones and in I went. I was fine. The phone not so – cracked and soaked. Turn it off, get in in rice as soon as I could and I waited a few days to see how it was. End result – no camera (and it’s a phone sold on camera quality) and a touch screen that does not work well. It also screwed up the SIM..so needed to get that replaced when back. We carried on from this stream, up and then down. Looking ahead to the next uphill, another problem was spotted – there was no path. It had all been swept away by another landslide. Pasang was sent ahead to see if it was passable, but the answer was no. The detour was not as obvious this time, but just visible – we’d head straight up the hill where there was just about an emerging path that was developing. This took us, after a steep walking climb, up to the road, which we followed for a while before getting to the next “shortcut” path which led us over the next ridge. I did have a “tingly” moment on this hill – which meant I was not taking care of myself. Lessons learnt, it did not happen again as I made sure I was topping up food and water at each minor stop. The ankle was also playing up today (I sprained it badly in July). So bad legs, bruises, wet, boking out and a broken phone. This was just a very messy and uncomfortable day.
An early stop for lunch, but not for long, today was a pretty long day for the trek. We got to our night stop, which was a tea house, as things were being organised. There was a “proper” toilet here, it a hut with a squat toilet arrangement, but the tent was also put up for our use as the fixed facility was OK, but not brilliant. Tea and biscuits, general tent faffage (finally feeling I have the system OK) before dinner and games. Bed was around 8
The regular 6am start before heading out around 7:30. My notes say lots of uphill and lots of steps, the trails are “managed” to a certain extent and steps help us going up and down. This was a very short day, we stopped at 11:30, at a tiny village with a couple of houses and a tiny tea house. They put out a bowl of beer and Coke bottles, but I don’t think anyone bought. I spent nothing between leaving Pokhara and arriving in Marpha.
Our tents were set up on some terraces and we then had the rest of the day to relax and do chores. The first priority was to dry things, as much was still damp, including my shoes from the day before. Tents, sleeping bag and clothes were all laid out in the sun to dry off. We also had the opportunity to wash clothes and dry on a line, with running water from a hose plugged into a stream. Most importantly, I washed my hair! Cold water, but it was good to get it cleaner. It was more than warm enough to dry quickly. This started a trend and the other women did the same as did some of the men, who took the opportunity to strip for a full wash. Reading and resting for the afternoon before dinner and games. Early to bed for some more reading.
Boghara to Dobang
6.5 hours elapsed
1878m total ascent (with 1261m descent)
Max elevation: 2506m (+458m)
Toilet: Toilet tent/hole in ground
Dinner: Soup, cabbage/pasta/sauce, pineapple
Our largest climbing day so far, with a fair bit of down recorded. These ups and downs are what the watch recorded, so every up and down, but overall the day was up, ending up 458m higher. Usual morning timings, up at 6, head out at 7:30. There was a lot of forest walking today, which reminded my of UK forests, with rough paths and lots of routes. There were far more steps though, up and down – the last few days have pushed my calfs and they’re a little sore today. We kept an eye out for monkeys – they were “promised” in the trip itinerary – but nothing was seen. I was at the head of the walk today, they were moving at my pace. Although probably slower than some would have preferred, we were still hitting the days targets for getting where we needed to be. Three hours to the early lunch spot and then another 2.5 hours , arriving about 2 in the afternoon. There was no warm sun this afternoon at camp, we were in the wrong part of the valley and the sun had moved behind the mountains. We were all feeling the chill in the air, with more layers being put on for hanging around the camp.
There are two other groups in the camp, both French. One had been at the same place as us yesterday but the other group were coming down. It may have been lost in trnaslations, but the information we got was that they had been stuck at Italian Base Camp with 1m+ of snow and could not go any further. That was not what we had heard so far, as we’d understood we could pass further. This news made no impact on our plans, we were still heading up. Dinner and bed for 8 tonight.
The usual start to the morning, out for 7:30. It was a lot colder last night, was considering an extra layer but I did warm up in the end. We walked through a lot more forest today, starting off with broad leaves and ending with conifers; we had bamboo all the way up. It was relatively stead up with no real downs, but more undulating. Today, the group split into those that wanted to go faster – I was with the more relaxed team
We had 3 river crossing today and understandably I was apprehensive. For one I handed over my pack – we were using stones; the others had “bridges” although one was basically a narrow truck. I edged across them with care. I really need to add more balance and walking across narrow things to my training!
It was only a half day today, lunch was served at our campsite instead of partway. We had a nice terraced campsite, quite small, with just enough room for us and the French team heading up. A lovely sunny afternoon was spent relaxing, with everything dragged out for drying. Partook in a bit of yoga with Anne, stretching out the legs and back.
Soligari to Italian Base Camp
2.25 hours elapsed
500m total ascent (with 41m descent)
Max elevation: 3610m (+450m)
Dinner: Soup, beef jerky/pasta/veg +peanut sauce, pineapple and momos, potato cakes and greens on day 2.
It was a late start today, as we only had a short walk. Again, there was a split, with myself and Gordon taking the relaxed way. More uphill, more woods, more stream crossing, a really lovely morning stroll. Italian Base camp is situated perfectly, in a bowl, with Dhaulagiri 1 behind and on the right and other smaller mountains on the left. It’s got a “lodge” and a permanent residence (which had satellite tv and solar electricity) and with sleeping rooms and terraces for camping. It also has a few toilets, so we had a brick building instead of a tent at this camp, that was going to be our home for the next two days.
Our donkeys caught up with us today, bringing more provisions and the heavier mountaineering gear we’d left behind. Lunch, stretching and gear drying were the first things to happen, before Anne and I went for a small walk out along our route to the next camp. Down the slope behind the camp – and at the bottom we had a really hard time working out how we would get to the next part of the walk, given there was no obvious path across the glacier and a lot of the paths/steps on the other side of the river appeared to be covered by landslides. We’d find out in a couple of days.
Not the best night’s sleep, combination of altitude hitting and the donkeys sounding like they were wandering around all night very close to the tents! We had a planned lie in on the morning, but I was awake and up around 6:15, so sat and watched the light, as the sun hits the top of the mountains. The French team and a sole Spanish trekker headed out this morning, after only one night at camp, obviously on a far tighter schedule. We had a guide and 2 porters head out too, to make a drop of food and equipment at the next camp and to see what the conditions were like so we could make a go/no decision to carry on.
Our acclimatisation walk today was supposed to be a “gentle stroll” which basically consisted of heading straight up the side of Dhaulagiri to get a lot more altitude. An additional 350m added, up to 3960m.
In the afternoon, there was kit check for the rest of the group who were planning on tackling Dhampus and also a chat about the emergency kit and altitude. I volunteered to be the test subject for a demonstration of the Portable Altitude Chamber, which was definitely an interesting experience. You get zipped inside and they start inflating it until it becomes a hard, rigid shell. We used a barometric altitude watch which showed I’d dropped down the equivalent of 2100m. You have to keep pushing air into the PAC, because otherwise you’re in danger of asphyxiating from CO2 – I could definitely feel the impact as I started to yawn a lot.
One final dinner and off to sleep. it was about to get a lot harder from now one. We were heading through the pass.
This trip was originally booked for October 2020. But we all know what happened that year! It moved first to 2021 and then finally to 2022. We were a go.
The trip was picked based on providing skills needed to get to my long term ambitions. I don’t know if I will end up climbing a big mountain, but on the journey, there’s lots of things I need to learn. For this one, the key skills were around tent and kit management, combined with weather extremes and varied terrain. The circuit definitely provides that! It’s not a well-travelled route; there are minimal tea houses as in other parts of Nepal and for a week or so, there is nothing but the landscape. So you need to be self-supported for a large part of the trip. For this group, organised through Jagged Globe, this was with a full team of porters, sherpas and a cook team, carrying all the tents, food and equipment we would need. Some stuff was sent up the trail on donkeys for a resupply, but everything we needed had to be carried in one way or the other. It is also not a popular route with porters, as it is hard work and the weather/underfoot surfaces are not the best. On asking if any of our porters would want to do it again, the answer was NO!
Mid October arrived and I was all set to go. Everything was checked and packed. Then came the email…a late monsoon and heavy snowfall meant that the trek may not be viable. Looking at news stories, I could see why. The Dhaulagiri climbing teams had abandoned the mountains, with reports of avalanches and deaths; a trekker had allegedly being killed in the pass by an avalanche (although reports on this were sketchy). We’d be going to Nepal, but we may end up doing a different trek – the decision would be made by the time I got there.
The travel gods were not on my side though…the getting there proved problematic. We were flying Qatar, via Doha, and I was on the afternoon flight (there were others on the team on the earlier flight). Arriving at checkin, my app was telling me I was on the next morning’s flight. The incoming flight was delayed about 3 hours, which meant I would not make my connection, which meant they autobooked me to the following day. There were plenty of other Jagged Globe clients in the same position; some got on the original and waited at Doha for next, others were put on different flights. We all got there in the end, but with a far reduced time in Kathmandu. I ended up getting lucky – got an upgrade from the Doha – Kathmandu flight, so at least I managed to get some flat sleep before getting in at 0230 on the Monday morning. It was only a short stay though, we left the hotel at noon on Monday, heading back to the airport, this time the domestic flight to Pokhara.
A couple of hours delay on the flight (not unusual) but we made the quick hop of about 25 mins. Now we were delivered to a really nice hotel for the night, finding time for a good meal and a couple of beers. Not too early start the next day as we changed to our next mode of transport – a blingy bus. Heading out, we passed what appeared to be the marathon for the National Games of Nepal – not on a closed road, but running along the main highway. Pretty soon the “highway” description started to not be true, tarmac sections began to be interspersed with unpaved roads and eventually all we had was unpaved, the width of which varied depending on the landslides. It has been a bad monsoon session, there were quite a few landslides. Having replaced a punctured tyre, we arrived at Beni for lunch and then back in the bus for the last stage in a vehicle. Finally we turned up at Darbang, where we found the team and the tents pitched on a school playing ground, which was playing host to groups of teens being drilled by the authorities. We got ourselves sorted, picked out the heavier gear (boots, axes etc) to be loaded on the donkeys that would meet us up the trail and then settled down for our first camp meal.
We had a cook and 3 kitchen boys who turned out the food for the trekking group and all the porters. The general consensus was it was amazing food for the conditions and we almost always finished off all the food, with little appetite loss seen, which is quite unusual. Off to be under canvas for the first time and we were ready to go.
So who were the trekkers? There were 8 of us, one who had only booked the week before.
Anne and Phil. The youngest on the trip, from Stourbridge. I’d met Anne at the pre-trip weekend, the only other one who had made it from the team. This was their honeymoon – they’d married in March. They had a lot of outdoor experience in the UK, Alps etc but had never been to Nepal
Tommy and Kathryn. A semi-retired couple, who were in their 2nd month in Nepal. Making the most of their travel time
Then we had the three single travellers. Jesper, from Denmark; Donald, who’d worked all over the world but was now retired; Steve, who’d booked last minute. All three had done a lot of trekking and mountains, a very experienced group
Our guide was Chris Groves, whose role was to act as liaison with the local team and to keep us all safe (and enthusiastic)
I’ve split this into 3 posts, so click through to read the next ones, which are far more about the trekking
Yes, another month with improved motivation. Not perfect, but getting there.
(+3, some great quality sessions)
37 hrs (- 11. back to more normal parameters in
events, no 12 hour walk in there, up 10 on Jul)
(-27, again not skewed by a 35m event, so therefore in line with plan,
up 30 from AUg)
This month was topped and tailed by events. At the start of the month I did a 25km walk,
called the Thames Bridges Trek.
Organised by the same team who organise the ultra’s I do, this was a
walk from Putney to Bermondsey, crossing over all the bridges. All on pavement, so not the best for the
feet, it was still an excellent event.
The month ended with Ealing Half Marathon. definitely not raced! Used this as part of a heavy training
weekend, with 10 miles done the day before.
As ever, amazing organisation for the closed road event and massive
local turnout of support. I really do love this race
I returned to Chamonix for a running and yoga weekend, organised by Adharanand Finn, Tom and Rachel Bonn Payn. I was concerned about this, as “beginners welcome” and “need to be able to complete a half marathon” are conflicting messages in the sales bumpf! I was both right and wrong with my concerns. I was, by far, the slowest. My fitness training has not been targeted at running up hills but at slowly slogging up them carrying weights! But the team were amazing and made it work. I had some great runs and walks in the mountains. The yoga was also enlightening, being specifically designed for runners. This meant I enjoyed it rather then spending the session not being able to do a lot, which is my usual state.
I have finally purchased my weight vest. Now I’m wondering
if I can get it on a plane so I can do weighted walks in Germany
August was better than July, definitely in motivation. Felt I was back on the plan and starting to
see results of training coming through.
20 activities (-2 but all quality, not just to
and from gym/work)
46 hours activity (+19 hours (although slightly exaggerated
due to one event)
128 miles (+57)
Not every session was completed but overall, I think a good
month of training. My strength training
went up a level, I’ve now started step ups/down with the mountain boots, whilst
carrying weights. I’m going to be getting a weight vest to add to this – and makes
it slightly more aligned with actual mountain work, as I’ll be carrying weight
in pack, not in hands. One of the most boring sessions was the hour I spent
running up and down the Chiswick Bridge steps, in the rain. My calves ached for 3 days! I am going to be adding calf raises to the
The month included a half marathon (which was my slowest
ever, as not doing any speed work obviously means you have no speed. I spent 3 days on the North Downs Way,
carrying kit but stopping in hotels.
This was a good training event, although hills could have been more.
I wrapped the month up with an ultra – 35 miles walked along
the South Coast, from Eastbourne, out along the Seven Sisters, cutting inland
up to the South Downs and then down to Brighton and Hove. 14 hours total, 12 walking, I cut 2 hours off
my last 55km from last year, so a good result.
More importantly, it’s 2 days after and I’m feeling pretty good, so the training
is definitely working.
14 weeks left for training and it intensifies again in September.
July was basically a disaster when it came to training. And
I think that is obvious as I’m only now just writing about it. Travel, illness,
trainer being on holiday, all conspired to drive away any mojo and determination
I had.. And that’s just not good enough. Thankfully August is turning out
better, but that’s for the next report
22 Activities (-8)
27 hours of activity (-)
71 miles (+8)
But you look at the number and it does not appear too
bad. Fewer activities, but I was
recording less of the short walks/runs to office or trainer. Slightly more
miles and the same time spent in training.
But it should have been higher, I missed a lot of planned sessions and the
tracking I do on fitness markers did not show much progress. So I held steady,
but did not improve.
During the month I did 3 trips to Box Hill, trying out
different routes each time, but practicing steady uphill walking and then running
flats and the safe downhills.
I took part in a free women’s 5k race around the Olympic
Stadium,, run jointly by BBC Get Inspired and UK Athletics. The lovely thing
about that was the start and finish were in the stadium and it was great to run
around the track.
The last week of the month involved a trip to Chamonix,
where the plan was to do a mix of working and walking. Unfortunately, a stomach bug put paid to that
and I only managed 1 walk, but it was excellent. 5.5 hours of walking, 1500m
elevation and then 8 minutes down in the cable. I’ll be going back as it’s an
excellent place for walking.
The month started well, with a local run and then a trip
down to Box Hill, with a friend, to get to know the place and do some initial
walks. This was kept slow as my friend
was not that fit, but it game me a chance to check out some hills for later use
The next week was a Germany week. I tested out my ability to
do routines in hotel rooms – so yes to that, but only managed one small run.
Back to Box Hill the end of the week, to find some more hills. I’m happy now with the options I have, if
this is going to be my usual place.
The following week was also Germany, and this was far better
for getting out for sessions. I had a good
session with Trainer, then a hotel strength session, instead of going to the beer
festival! I also went for a run with colleagues there, something I’m going to
try and do everytime I visit. A run home from park run then a longer run round
Richmond Park finished off the week.
The next 2 weeks were where it all went wrong. I had some days in a clients office in London – and I’d forgotten how tiring the commute is! Then I sent the week in Amsterdam and had meetings and meals out, so did not manage to put in the time I needed for sessions. This is all a mental battle, I do have the time available, but my brain plays tricks with me and I end up not doing anything – even though I have kit with me. This is what I need to focus on for this month – hitting all the planned sessions. I did manage to get out to the Chilterns for a different walk route. Nice to go, but Box Hill wins for closeness.
The last weekend in June, I went to Yestival, so again, no longer walks done. However, I was inspired by lots of great talks, including one by Jo Bradshaw, about her challenge to do the 7 Summits. I chatted with her about Aconcagua and it reinforced the need to get the training done…unlike Kili or EBC, you can’t get by with just general fitness.
Trainer sessions seem to be going well, the weights are
slowly going up and then I’m taking some of exercises and adding them to my
sessions at home.
So mixed month, with some things to think about. My official 6 months plan started on 24th
June, so I am slightly ahead of that, but this month has shown that it can easily
slip away if I don’t keep on top of it.
My first report on OFR. I started off calling this Operation Fit Rachel…until it was pointed out as I’d just ran a marathon I wasn’t exactly unfit, so Fitter it is. But it’s all relative. I may have had the stamina and the mental stubbornness to plod around 26.2 miles, but I was still getting out of breath running up a flight of stairs and I had absolutely no strength or toning in most of the muscles, especially the core. That’s not good enough for my end of year target, so I need to make a massive step change in what I do.
Why am I doing this? Because
I have booked a trip to “climb” a seriously large mountain in December and I
need to be fitter than I have ever been to give me the best chance to do this.
There’s no actual climbing involved, as it rock faces or ice walls, it can be “walked”
up but it is a serious undertaking at altitude that I need to have the right
The first month therefore was all about setting things up
the right way to give me a chance to succeed, which meant 3 things:
sorting out a training plan
finding a personal trainer
getting the right equipment at home
The first part was relatively straightforward. The expedition company recommends a book
called Training for the New Alpinism as a starting point. This is an excellent read about how to go
about training for mountains. Having read that, I could have attempted crafting
my own plan, but I went the easy way and purchased a plan. So I now have a daily plan for the rest of
the year, which suits how I work – it’s in the spreadsheet, I need to do
it. This usually works, especially when
I keep the goal in mind. We’ll see how it goes.
To help focus, I’ve also booked a number of events during
Aug: Half Marathon
Aug: 55km ultra along a hilly coast
Sept: Half Marathon
I made the decision to find a local personal trainer, mainly
to keep me accountable. I’ve tried remote
training before, which has worked, but this time I felt I needed the requirement
for regular face to face meetings. A fair
bit of research into local trainers and I found a couple of possibilities. One intro meeting later, where we discussed
requirements and I’ve signed up with a local guy with access to a private gym a
mile or so away. The focus of these sessions will be building
up the strength in the body, so one session week with him and one at home.
Finally, I’ve added a couple more pieces of equipment for
home training. I already have weights, kettle bell and resistance bands. I’ve now
added a pull up bar and, most important of all, a step. It took me a while to find the right step, as
I needed one that could be set quite high and most of the ones available only
go up to 15cm. I needed one that I could raise to 30cm, or 1ft in height. A lot
of my training requires uphills and steps and living in London, there’s not a
lot of that around so it’s hard to do any hills in the midweek. But a step will help that, especially as I
slowly start to add equipment and weights to the workout. At some point I will
be doing sessions in the mountaineering boots and a weighted pack.
In general, I have had a good start to the month, hitting all
of the planned sessions over the last few weeks, even if not completed fully to
Looking at my records I have recorded:
29 activities – 15 runs (which includes short
runs to and from the gym), 7 walks, 7 strength sessions, 3 of those with the
I spent 1 week in the Lake district, getting in a few walks
and still working. This did not go quite
to plan, due to a cold (the first one in over a year) and bad weather, but I did
manage to walk up Scafell Pike).
The challenge is definitely going to be getting in enough
hills; I see myself taking a lot of weekend trips to various places, although probably
a lot of Box Hill and the downs.
After a few years failing at the public ballot and instead marshalling
on the course, this year I got into the London Marathon through the marshalls
ballot – a number of places are offered to the groups that volunteer. As the decisions were not known until
January, it’s not for everyone, but as I was training for Manchester, I thought
it would be great to do another race 3 weeks later.
As I was in the last pen at my start, there was no need to
get their too early; the 7:47 train meant I got there just after 9, plenty of
time until my planned start of 10:48. I started
from the Green start, which is the middle one – so you definitely needed to be
there in time to cross the course before the running started. This start was where all the Guinness World
Record attempts were starting from, so there were some impressive costumes on
display. Looking at these, along with watching the
screens meant that time ticked along nicely. I was cosy in my trial cape – something
the marathon was doing in an attempt to cut down on plastic waste. Before I
knew it, it was time for a last minute loo visit (nobody queuing at that point)
and time to get into the pen.
We were a few minutes later starting than scheduled, but it
was not too bad. It was a very smalls
tart, so little pushing or moving around to get some space. I had no ambitions for this race, in fact, I planned
to be slower than last time! As my first London was such a blur, this one I
intended to slow down, enjoy the sites and the crowd and take lots of photos. As I slowly went past the 6 hour pacer, I had
a chat, he was running on his own, planning to pick up a few people on the way
as they slowed down. I intended to do my
best to stay in front of him, but not too hard!
The first few miles were pretty quiet, heading east, not too
many runners and not too many spectators.
We first of all joined up with the Blue start runners and then later the
Red start, when it got really busy – and the crowds picked up. The main joining point tends to be full of
runners waiting for friends and family so they can join up with them. The main
joining point is also when you turn the corner and start to run west, heading
into town for the first time. Slowly the
crowds pick up, but there are still sections when there are just a few outside
their houses. The first big spectator
session is in Greenwich, especially around the Cutty Sark. Loud and raucous,
they definitely give you a boost and speed you up!
The miles tick by, Deptford and Lewisham and Rotherhithe,
all with their own local ambience. Sometimes there’s a church congregration
out, sometimes a set of pubgoers, dancing along to the music. I’d run
consistently up to this point, now was the time to switch to run walk…generally
a 5:2 run walk patter, with extra time for sites, slopes (not too many of those)
and water stations.
Bermondsey Tube station comes into view and I know it can’t
be far until the turn across the river. You follow the main road, the crowds
getting heavier and louder and you take the right turn and there it is, Tower
Bridge. The first time I ran London, I shed
a few tears..I’d made it this far, the famous crossing but I kept going. This time, I walked and just soaked up the
Over the Bridge and another right turn, away from town
again, heading out to the Isle of Dogs and Caray Wharf. It’s a dual carriage way here and you can see
the runners, 8 miles ahead of you, heading back into town on the final stretch.
I’d run pretty much
In Limehouse, another right turn and into narrow
streets. The crowds press in, all good
natured, but you need to take care. A
big ushaped loop and back through into dockloads. This is where your gps system
goes haywire, with all the buildings, the trace zigzagging to either side of
the road, with all the tall buildings.
Your final mileage will always read higher because of this stretch (mine
read 26.83 at the end, with a lot of extra feet recorded in this section)
Finally you turn and head back, back to the highway. I saw no-one on it when running back. The sweeper bus had passed by and people had
joined or given up. The pack up lorries and crew were there.. Sweeping up the rubbish,
taking down the mile markers, cleaning the paint off the road. It’s a huge job to set up and take down the
event, but they always seem to manage it, although I’m guessing there will be
bottles and gel packets still out there.
22 miles, 23 miles. A few people I know were marshalling along
this section, so a bit of chat was had. The crowds were still strong even now,
so high fives and jelly babies taken on board. I still (mainly had a grin on my
face) but it was hurting now. The mind was still having fun, the body less so.
Every other walk break I was chatting with family on whatsapp and sending the
occasional photos, looking at social and just letting them know what was going
on. Here’s the Tower, not long now
The Blackfriars underpass – not as long or as steep as I
remembered. But still as sticky from the Lucozade on the floor. Mile 24 and the
embankment. The final stretch! So many people,
I just couldn’t help but grin and keep looking around. As I said to one of the
water station helpers, it was absolutely amazing.
The embankment is packed, with lots of charity cheering
stations. I spotted my favourite sign
again – Go Rachel – not for me, but I’d seen it at least 4 times and it definitely
applied. Round the river bend and there’s
Elizabeth Tower, in scaffolding but the clock face visible.
A turn next to Parliament and police rather than marshalls
watching the crowd. A deep crowd but surprisingly quiet, the reason becoming
obvious as I passed a guy in hand cuffs next to a bike. Had he made a wrong
turn or just decided to do something stupid.
Westminster Square, a glance over to the Churchill. Less
than a mile to go, lets keep pushing on, run walk still in action. 800m sign, 600m, I see people from my local
park run with a big sign, they were waiting for me (excellent photo!). 400m and the last but one turn. There’s the
sign for 385yards…so that means 26miles is done! Buckingham Palace ticked off
my photo list and then onto the red pavement of the mall to the finish line. Quieter
than I expected here, the grandstands fairly empty and not replaced by the
general crowds, but all eyes were on the finish. One final push and there I was. A marathon
Medal handed out, new cape obtained, photos got, then the
goody bag – why wasn’t there chocolate?
Even better, chocolate covered slated peanuts would have been heaven! No stopping to be done, had to keep moving.
The brain had switched off and I felt every step, no running possible now, just
foot in front of foot, heading out, time to get to the train station. Why are all
these people in medals looking fresh and walking so fast (yep, fitter people
who finished a while ago!)
Station, train, one final effort. A shower, washing off the
salt crystals and finding the painful chafed bits. A glass of wine, some
takeaway Indian and the day was done.
In February 2019, I took the trip to Tanzania to attempt to trek up Kilimanjaro. One of the largest freestanding volcanoes in the world (as it says on the sign) and definitely the highest mountain in the continent of Africa, at 5895m, the trip would take me higher than my Everest Base Camp trek.
Choose the longest route you can
afford/find. None of the routes are great
for acclimatisation options, as not that many opportunities to climb high,
sleep low. The routes all seem to have a very large final day climb, with the
most popular route from Barafu climbing 1200m for the last climb. That’s a lot and
a reason why so many turn back. So look
for opportunities to spend time as high as possible.
Check the reputation of the local company. Kilmanjaro
trips are big business and not every local company spends the money needed to
kit out and pay the local team enough.
Read the kit list. Follow the kit list. It’s
there for a reason! And if your company
does not provide a kit list, consider somewhere else! For most, Kili is a one
off, it’s a challenge for charity, or a tick on a bucket list, and many will
never need the kit again so will either skimp on it or decide not to take
it. If you can’t afford to buy, then
look to hire or to borrow. I’d suggest
these are the key things you need to focus on:
Sleeping bag. It gets cold, really cold, so make
sure you will be warm at night. You’re unlikely to sleep brilliantly with the
altitude, but don’t make being cold a factor too. Use a liner as well, and warm
night clothes to stay warm
Down jacket. You spend a lot of time not
walking, hanging around camp. The jacket keeps you warm. You could always add
extra layers but that is also extra weight.
Gloves – mittens are definitely best for the
summit night. I had 2 pairs of gloves
but it was not enough, I borrowed mittens and put them over my base gloves and
I was fine.
It rains and they will stop the wind too. Essential.
Nail brush. There’s so much dirt and dust, your
hands get filthy so extremely useful
Hand gel. Buy your usual amount and buy another
bottle. It’s essential for all stops and
eating opportunities. Also take moisturiser for hands, as it dries them out
Painkillers and general travel medicine. I was surprised that some had not brought these
(or had not brought enough) and they had to ask others. Take headache tablets!
Your guides should be making sure you are doing this. If they’re too
fast for you, then raise your voice and ask.
There’s always going to be someone faster than you, but that does not
mean you need to keep up with them. Another reason to pick a longer schedule,
it gives more time and hopefully you’ll never need to rush too much. There’s nothing wrong with splitting up
groups if needed to allow pace to suit all the team.
Take your preferred snacks for summit night. Your
appetite will be low (it’s high, it’s dark, your body clock is all over the
place) and you’ll find it difficult to eat, so have something with you that you
know you like – both sweet and savoury.
uphill, lots of uphill. If you have no uphills near you, then find stairs. Go for long walks, to build up your stamina.
This is about having legs to go for long periods of times and legs than can go uphill
for ever. So think about body strength as well. Lunges and squats are your
Practice with walking poles; don’t turn up
having never used them. There’s videos around, but just getting our there with
them, trying them on flat and up and down hills will give you a confidence with
using them. They do help with saving energy when used correctly and with maintaining
stability on the up and down hills.
Most of all enjoy yourself. I can guarantee that at some
point you’ll wander why you did this. You’ll be tired and hungry and grumpy. You
may be hurting and miserable. You may be cold and feeling terrible. But think
about what you are doing and what you have done to get there – it’s an achievement
and you should be proud. Even if you don’t make the summit on the last push,
you’ve still got our there and tried.
In February 2019, I took the trip to Tanzania to attempt to trek up Kilimanjaro. One of the largest freestanding volcanoes in the world (as it says on the sign) and definitely the highest mountain in the continent of Africa, at 5895m, the trip would take me higher than my Everest Base Camp trek.
Slowly, slowly we got into line and headed out through camp.
It was all uphill and we were completely reliant on the guides to keep us on
the right track through the campsite.
You caught glimpses of other groups, of other tents, but in general you
had no idea where you are. Paths wound
different ways between the various clusters of tents and I can imagine it would
be easy to get confused – in fact, we apparently did later, a halt was called
and the guides gathered to discuss, eventually deciding on the right way.
We’d been put into various groups, based on predicted speed,
with each group an assigned guide. If we
had gotten separated, we would at least have the group. For most of the climb, this was not needed,
we managed to stick together. The groups
meant that for most of the time you stayed in the same order, with your vision filled
only with the backpack or heels of the person in front. You just plod on,
following in their footsteps, a long conga line heading up the hill.
The plan was to stop about every 2 hours, although the times
varied as we tended to stop at specific areas.
Short stops, just time for a quick drink, a bite to eat, even if few of
us had much appetite at this time of night, at this altitude. We’d all been issued with a snack collection,
gels and bars, some cake, some sweets. I
brought most of mine back down – but if you have your favourites, take them
As we started out, about 1am, the clouds were gathering and
it soon started to snow. Just lightly,
with a light wind, but it did not stay like that for long. More and more snow came down, the wind got
harder. Often all you could see in the
torchlight was reflected snowflakes, staying close to the person in front was
important. Trudge, trudge, trudge, up
the zigzags of the path. The wind appeared
to be coming from the East, directly into your face for one zig, then into your
back for the next zag.
I remember looking at my watch no long after 4am. The first
glimmers of dawn were still at least 90mins away. The now was coming down hard
and sticking, my hands were freezing and my breathing was heavy. This was the lowest point, but I kept focusing
on just one step and the next– I knew if I could make it to dawn, then my
chances were good.
In my memories, it was dark and then it was light. I know I looked up as the sky was slowly
lighting up, but did not take much in of surroundings. I just started feeling more confident that
this was doable. We started to hear
voices. People were above us and had made
the crater rim, or had walked around from the other routes up. But it was still snowing. At this point, as the sun was rising, our UK
guide spoke up and let us know we may not get everything we wanted. The snow was sticking and the paths were
getting slippy. He was concerned that if it didn’t stop, then we would have difficulty
getting back down, he needed to raise the risk and let us know that he may end
up turning us back. Risk management
here, let us know, let us take in the reality.
We heard and we agreed to abide by the instructions. And all eyes kept looking out for breaks in
the clouds, hoping it would stop snowing.
And as we kept going, the clouds started to part. Blue sky was seen, small patches at first, then larger ones. The sun was shining on the snow – everyone got their sunglasses out. (although I forgot to apply suncream, so red faces later). The snow stopped and we made our way to the crater rim and the first summit sign at Stella Point. There were still plenty of clouds, drifting around
Time for photos at last, I’d taken none on the way up – we’d done the steeper uphill parts, all that was left was ¾ mile around the crater edge, a gentle stroll at lower levels. It was now we started to separate out. Energy running low, breathing hard, there was nothing to do but plod further and keep looking ahead. I ended up on my own for the last part, with just a guide behind me, who eventually took my pack for the last bit. gain memory plays tricks, it can’t have been that slow! But it was – my watch shows it took 75 mins to go that distance, an interrupted walk of steps and rests. The group spread out, as they rested, as they took photos, as they plodded on.
As you approach the last bit, you watch the successful
trekkers get their photos, in groups, on their own and then head on down. Talking to the others, there was a lot of
similarity in feelings. Relief, pride,
satisfaction and tears. We’d done
it. And so had the rest of the group, we’d
done it together.
No group photos for us, but we took turns to grab photos for
those who were there. I was in the first batch to get there, and watched the
rest make their way up the final stretch.
Our photos done, it was too cold
to wait around, so about half of us headed back down to Stella point, ready to
head downhill. A little more time on the
way down to take more photos, but there was an urgency to leave, to get back to
a little more air, a little more warmth.
My chest and throat were starting to feel really tight and I
started coughing a lot, with wheezing on every breath. When I got to Stella Point, the main thought
in my mind was to head down quickly, and this was agreed with the head local
guide, who sent me on down ahead of the others instead of waiting around for longer. Which means I missed the drama behind me.
A couple of the team were feeling nauseous, and there was
some vomiting. Worse, and far more dangerous, was one of them started to get
disorientated, staggering on their feet and not talking sense. They’d been fine on the summit, they’d taken
my photos, but by the time they’d started the walk down, altitude sickness had
them in its grip.
The medical kit was split across the guides, but not all the
boxes had all the drugs. Yells and waves
from above and my guide and I sat and waited – one of the team came running
down and got some additional drugs…before running back up and administering
them. They checked me out, but my symptoms were stable and we were doing the
right thing, so we carried on down as fast as possible – which wasn’t that fast. It took us just under 3 hours to get back to
camp, with my downhill speed. You take a
slightly different route back down; with the sun on the slope, a lot of the
snow had gone and the ground has softened.
It was sand and scree so there was a lot of controlled sliding on the
way back, the quickest way to get down.
You keep going, on and on. At this point you’ve been going
for 10 hours or so; the sight of tents ahead raises the spirits. Yes, you’ll soon be able to rest and have
tea! Those hopes are soon dashed though,
the tents you glimpsed were Kosovo Camp, not Barufa and there’s far more path
Eventually, gratefully, I was there.
My breathing was still wheezy, I had no voice, but nothing was getting
worse. Time for liquids and a rest, time to lie in sleeping bag in the sun and wait
for the rest – who proceeded to trickle down in 3 groups.
Our illest member was already there. They’d been “carried”
down, supported and moved down by guides and then more help from porters who’d
made their way up following a call. Drugs had been administered at the top and
more were provided now. Thankfully,
everything was working in the right way.
1200m lower and all symptoms were receding. A few hours later and there was no trace of
them, except a small headache.
Not so mine, I was still wheezy and coughing. Drugs were provided for a number of options,
the general agreement was it was altitude induced bronchitis, the lungs had
been triggered by the cold and reacted. That definitely appeared to be the
case, I had my voice back the following morning and over the next week it slowly
The day was not yet finished though, we still had to make
our way down to the next camp, this time Mweke Camp. This is a further 1500m of
descent, heading directly out of the park instead of back around the
mountain. The 3 of us who were not fully
fit headed out first, along with another team member, this time with porters to
carry our bags.
Barafu to Mweke Camp
Elevation Loss: 1500m downhill (approx.)
We all had the memory of the pre-trip report saying this
walk was pretty straight forward and fairly level. We all think that the speaker was referring
to the final bits of the track we’d do the next day, as this was by far the worst
section of the mountain. Most of it was
rocky, slippy, lots of steps down and extremely eroded, especially from Millenium
Camp downwards. Extremely hard to
negotiate and no one had fun. It took
our group 4 hours; we were overtaken by another bunch of the team at one point –
and our member who’d been the illest was feeling well enough to join them, whilst
we carried on at my slow, not breathing very well pace. If I went too fast and got
out of breath I ended up coughing, so we
went at a pace that kept the breathing easy.
At some point, about 30mins out I think, it started to rain.
And rain even harder. The rocks got
slippier and visibility was getting worse as it got darker. Finally we made it
to the camp, heading down the path another 10minutes to find our space. Mweke was very similar to the first campsite,
in that we had little space and the tents were all very, very close. The
majority of us were now here, but one group of 5 were still on the track. By radio, we established they were only about
30mins away, but that was in normal conditions, not in the dark and rain.
Porters were sent back up to help – with extra torches, and they were soon making
their way to the tents. There’d been a
few slips and slides, but everyone was in one piece.
A quick meal and time for bed. It had been a LONG day, awake
at 2330 and it was now about 2030. 11 miles covered, 14.5 hours walking, 1200m
up, 2700m downhill. That’s a LOT of effort in the team. We had one final effort the following day, but
our time on the mountain was nearly over
Sun 17 Feb
Mweke Camp to Mweke Gate
Elevation Loss: 1400m downhill (approx.)
Time to finish this and get to the hotel. The last stretch was fairly straightforward,
some rocky sections but much of it had been worked on. The guides had a cunning plan – the lead
local guide and the UK guide would run ahead and sort out the signing out – in the
same way the first day was busy, this would be also. So they headed out,
jogging, and the rest of us plodded after them.
e were back in the jungle now, trees all around us, but occasionally there
was a break and we could see the mountain, now snow covered, shining in the
The group definitely spread out now, I think it was about
45mins between the first and the last, but there was no rushing to be had. Legs
were tired, brains were tired and it was better to take it slowly then risk a
fall. This time my downhill appeared to
be OK and I kept up with the first group, so settled down to wait with a beer.
Once all there, the bags and kit all loaded, it was time for
the farewell ceremony. Some groups had
obviously done this at the previous camp, this company does it at the
gate. The team all gathered, the local
crew sang the goodbye song and the tips were handed out by category. And it was
done. We’d finished our walking. All that was left was to head home.
First port of call was the hotel. Excellent service here, we all got a room for
the afternoon, to shower, to rest, to sort out the bags. Then food, a little shopping for some in town
and we were finally, finally done. We piled back into the van and headed to the
airport for our evening flight back to the UK via Amsterdam.
In February 2019, I took the trip to Tanzania to attempt to trek up Kilimanjaro. One of the largest freestanding volcanoes in the world (as it says on the sign) and definitely the highest mountain in the continent of Africa, at 5895m, the trip would take me higher than my Everest Base Camp trek.
I’d booked with Jagged Globe last summer, once some of the
job stuff had settled out and had been training for the climb for a few months. As ever not quite enough, but more than I had
my Nepal trip.
JG do a pre-trip meeting, so I’d travelled up to their offices
in Sheffield a couple of weeks before the trip. All but 3 of the group also
made the trip; we sat through some talks about the trip, about altitude
sickness and about kit, before doing a couple of walks, one in Sheffield, one
out in the Peaks. An excellent idea,
allowing the team to meet before the trip and get to know each other in a low stress
Sat 9 Feb
An early start to the day, with a 0630 flight from Heathrow.
I’d gone out the night before, to avoid having an early taxi – and I’d taken
the opportunity to get an upgrade to the flight, as a treat for myself. Not all the group were at Heathrow – many were
starting from their local airports and we met up in Amsterdam, where we also
met Jamie, our guide, for the first time.
I say we met up – bad weather in Amsterdam meant that there
were flight delays and one of the groups did not arrive in time. They got to Amsterdam too late and had to
stay 24 hours. There was some discussion
whether or not they would join us, but they ended up taking a slightly shorter
day one trip and met us at a second camp.
They’d have one less day to acclimatise, but luckily it did not matter.
A reasonable flight to Kilimanjaro Airport, with KLM.
Getting through immigration took a long time though. Not all the team had got
visas in advance – nor had they got cash to pay for them so there was quite a wait
to get things sorted. I was first
through and started to gather all the bags, but total wait from start to finish
was about 2 hours. I’d definitely advise
you to get a visa in advance if you can, otherwise have the right amount of
cash (dollars) available.
A hour’s journey by road to the hotel, some food and drink
and we were finally in bed for about 1am – once I’d sorted out the mosquito
(all my time, distances and elevations were through my Garmin. Time and distance usually relatively
accurate, elevation less so)
Sun 10 Feb
Lemosho Gate to Big Tree Camp
Elevation Gain: 402m
Max elevation: 2785m
A planned early start, with breakfast for 0730. The intent was to leave for 9, but we were
about 40mins late once all the admin had been done. The road trip this time was about 3 hours, as
we drove to the other side of the mountain for the sign in point at Londorosi Gate
(2250m). Once there, lots of waiting. We
had to sign in, then wait for the porters to organise themselves, split the gear
and get weighed in.
For a group of 14 trekkers, we had 1 UK guide, 6 local
guides and 46 porters. Yes, a LOT. Unlike
Nepal, there is no infrastructure of tea houses and everything has to be
carried with the team. So that’s tents for everyone; gear; mess, cook and toilet
tents; cooking equipment; food (although we did have a re-supply of this); and
all the safety gear. There is a weight
limit which is enforced and checked as you go up the mountain, hence the need for
so many people.
Due to the late start, we were one of the last teams to
leave the check-in area – back into the van for
drive to the actual start, at Lemosho Gates (2100m) , another 30 mins.
Here, the porters’ loads had to be weighed again before being let onto the mountain.
We slowly followed them, a 2 hour or so trek through
rainforest. The last uphill led us out
onto Mti Mkubwa, or Big Tree Camp (2650m), where the team had not yet got
themselves sorted, with the final tents being put up in the dark. It was a very cramped camp, in amongst trees,
with tents overlapping at times. You could tell that not everything was working
well, as the vegetarians had not been catered for either, but first day
complications soon got sorted out and the rest of the camp sets ups and cooking
went well. A meal of cucumber soup and spaghetti bolognaise set the tone for
the meals – soup, starch/sauce, followed by fruit usually.
As usual on trips like this, not the best of nights, especially
as my airbed developed a leak that we could not fix in the trip, but enough
sleep was eventually obtained.
Mon 11 Feb
Big Tree Camp to Shira 1
Elevation Gain: 814m
Max Elevation: 3534m (camp sign said 3610m)
Today was a little longer, starting off in montaine forest
and heading up through scrub to “moorland” as the sign at the next camp said.
We’d still not seen the mountain (it was behind clouds on our first day) but by
the end of the day had still only had tiny glimpses.
We started to hit some proper uphill in this stretch, and
the introduction of “pole pole” ie slowly slowly. Although it wasn’t as slow as
some liked, the group starting to break up into smaller groups. With the number of guides available, this was
not a problem. In general, we managed to
stick together over the days, but some days were harder than others. For some it was the uphills. For me, the
downhills were when I got split off, especially with lack of depth perception
and the need to check steps down for distance.
We had our first documentable incident today, a near
miss. Not far out of camp we caught our
first glimpse of local wildlife, a bunch of monkeys. As we stopped to watch,
another, either accidentally or on purpose, decided we were under there tree
and suddenly a large chunk of branch came crashing down. luckily it missed us
all, but could have done quite a bit of damage if we’d been under it.
Out of the forest, into more scrubland, the growth getting
shorter and shorter. We got to the
campsite at Shira 1 (3610m) at around 2, in time for tea and lunch, before resting
for the rest of the afternoon, mainly indoors.
It had started raining around noon and carried on for most of the rest
of the day. A pattern was set for the
weather, clear in the morning, clouding over in the afternoon, which carried on
for the next few days.
Today our remaining 3 team members had arrived. They’d been driven up a different way to a
trail head which meant they had less than an hour to walk. They had still had their adventures though –
the Land Rover they were in finally bit the dust, and they ended up hitching a
lift on top of a lorry for the last stretch!
Another pattern emerged as well, the early nights. The routine tended to be dinner around 1930,
then in the tent for abut 2030, read for a bit and then sleep. Although then the sleeping pattern tended to
be sleep through to 1 and then doze for rest of the night. Not the best, but it was generally OK.
Tues 12 Feb
Shira 1 to Shira 2
Elevation Gain: 473m
Max Elevation: 3890m
Awake at 0645 and suddenly, the mountain was actually there.
The skies were clear (we had a frost)
and the peak now loomed in the distance.
We could now see what we were facing.
It was still in the distance, we had a plain to cross before we got to
the real foot of the hill, but it was definitely there.
Everything gets packed up before breakfast – the porters
want to start taking things down, so day pack and carried luggage needs to be ready
to go. Breakfast throughout the trip
always started with “porridge” – not sure it was oats, but definitely some kind
of grain and probably water. Then eggs, or fruit, or pancakes. Always tea, lots of tea, usually taken with
Today we started to see a few health issues. Definitely headaches, and some stomach issues. One thing that is drummed into everyone was
always, always use sterilising hand gel before hands go anywhere near the
mouth. We had no serious issues with
stomach illness, but it was more about the change of diet and routine than an
infection. We were also provided with sterilised water throughout the trip – although
I was carrying tablets, I did not need to use my own, as they made up large
batches for every stop. The water is
collected from the mountain – sometimes from miles away in some camps, so we
often came across porter groups coming and going from collecting water.
Today was another “easy” day, 4.5 hours walking but less
climbing as most of it was across the plains.
We were heading to Shira 2 camp, with a posted altitude of 3850m, only
200m or so higher than previous camp. But it’s a key 200m increase, as the vegetation
gets a lot, lot less.
Unlike Nepal, it was not as easy to climb high and sleep low
on this trip, due to the nature of the terrain; we did make a detour to climb
Cathedral peak, at 3872m – so not actually that much higher, but it was a “peak”. We were in mists and clouds at this point, so
the views were not that good. This
involved some scrambling and a little walk along a ridge line
Wed 13 Feb
Shira 2 to Baranco, via Lava Tower
Elevation Gain: 738m
Max Elevation: 4634m
Woke up today to one of the best views; the tent looked out
over the plain, with Meru peaking out of the clouds in the sun, and behind me,
Kibo covered in ice. After breakfast, there was a little bit of reorganising needed. Jamie decided to take a look at the bags and
see what we had – and move quite a bit out of the backpacks into the luggage
bags. Some because they weren’t needed,
others because they thought they could not fit in the bags (if you take a down
jacket out of its stuff bags, it’s a lot easier to squeeze in!)
There was definitely a little bit of guilt brought out at
this moment in some of the team, as things were put into the bags carried by
the porters. Having 46 people carrying
stuff for you is a lot to take in (in Nepal, we had only 4, as no camping kit
needed). From what we had seen, the guiding
company we were using locally (Keyes Hotel) do pay well for the job and Jagged Globe
do provide kit. There’s a promotion
route for porters. Not sure of the usual
path, but each level had a specific tip requirement – the carriers, the serving
team, the kitchen team, the different guide levels. I hope the toilet man was paid well! Groups all had portable toilets, put up at each
stop in its own little tent. The toilet
man carried this and managed it, emptying it our regularly into the camp drop
toilets (which were NOT a nice environment). Our guy was excellent – and mainly
invisible – keeping the facilities faultlessly clean and tidy.
Today we definitely had an up and down ahead of us. We would leave the Shira Plain and head up to
Lava Tower (4600m) before heading back down to Baranco Camp (at 3900). So
again, little altitude gained in our overall walk, but at least the chance to
get some acclimatisation in. And now we
were moving less towards the mountain and more around the main cone, moving
anti-clockwise around to the path to the summit.
The paths were slowly getting busier as various routes
combined, so groups were passing up and we were passing some groups, depending
on pace and on stopping routines. Today
was a packed lunch day, which we took on the way up to Lava Tower. When we got to the Tower, we saw that quite a
few groups had had lunch there, with mess and toilet tents all brought up to
that location. We saw this on a few
days, with lunch breaks all catered, but our team either had shorter day or
carried lunch with them.
Going down the 700m to the next camp took quite a while.
There were some quite steep bits, along with a lot of gravel and it was quite
busy. The group did split up into
smaller groups, although not too far, with about 5mins between the front and
back. Baranco is a very large camp site
and as usual, we appeared to be quite a way from the sign in point!
The usual evening routine, this time with a chat about the
challenge of the next day – the Baranco wall, which appears to get quite a lot
of bad publicity and cause some concern
Thurs 14 Feb
Baranco to Karanga
Elevation Gain: 380m
Max Elevation: 4205m
Looking at the numbers it does not look like it should take
as long as it did. Just over 5k not that much elevation gain across the walk to
Karanga Camp – at 3995m not really that much higher. We’re again travelling around the mountain,
not up it.
Bit we did have the Baranco wall to cope with. How the team
approaches this seems to depend on where you are spending the evening – not everyone
stops at Karanga camp, instead carrying on an extra 4k (or 4hrs or so) to Barafu
Camp (at 4673m). Those teams started the climb early. Others were like us, less
to do that day and so could start later.
If you have the time, I’d definitely recommend taking as
long as possible to do the trek. Although the profile is not brilliant and
causes issues because you don’t do a lot of high/low days, the longer you can spend
on the mountain is better.
We started as late as possible…we sat and watched the
trekkers tackling the wall, a snake of people. There were 2 main bottle necks
we could see that cause lots of jams, it appears there was a lot of slow
progress and waiting around for this part of the day. Once the lower choke point had cleared, we
headed across camp to the climb, which means we had a steady walk up with no waiting
The Baranco wall definitely has the most challenging terrain,
a path that makes its way up a cliff space. But there’s no real climbing and
only a couple of difficult scrambling points that you need to concentrate on.
And the guides are excellent at making sure there are no issues at all. We all
made it up with little difficulty, taking just under 2 hours for just over a
mile of distance. The rest of the day
was a steady down, a steady up and down and then one last steep scramble up to
In general, I was coping with the altitude, but the days
climbing had caused by back to get tight and that niggled me through the rest
of the trip.
Fri 15 Feb
Karanga to Barafu
Elevation Gain: 610m
Max Elevation: 4640m
This was an extremely short day, under 3 hours, as we made
our way to the highest camp of the trip.
We started out at nine and made camp before noon. Today was all about
resting and sleeping, for tonight we were heading to the summit. Over lunch, and again over dinner, we discussed
the organisation for the final climb, the kit needed and the timings. The plan was to have dinner around 1830 and
then “breakfast” for 2330, with the intent to start the climb before 0100 on
Barafu camp definitely felt the largest, the tents are
spread out over a large area. There’s a higher camp (Kosovo) but most people
appear to stop here. All you could do
today was pack your things and then rest. There was a lot of repacking!!
I managed to get some sleep in both sessions, which felt good. A wake up call at 11:30, breakfast at midnight and then we were ready to go.
As the year slips into autumn, I thought it was time to get back out into the hills. After some time spent looking at options, whether to fly or not, whether to drive, I decided on a visit to Garmisch Partenkirchen, just a 3 hour train journey from Nuremberg. It’s got mountains and lakes, hills and gorges. Seemed perfect for a walking weekend.
I booked a hotel just by the station, easy to get to Reindl’s is perfectly placed and has a good reputation, although the initial impressions were a little off – I’d arrived around 10 and there was no longer anyone in the kitchen, so no food possible. But luckily, this was the only misstep during my stay.
Looking down from the top of Zugspitzen
Awakening on Saturday, the skies were grey. Not what was forecast, I was expecting sun, but luckily this arrived a few hours later. One last check of the weather report and today’s plans were finalised. First, a tip up the mountain! Zugspitze is the highest peak in Germany. I’d briefly considered hiking up to the top, but there was not enough light/time available and the huts were shut, so that was not the best option. Instead, I took the easy way – a train. Just behind the main station, you can find the Zugspitzbahn, a hourly train that can take you almost all the way to the top. It’s not cheap though – 53E to get you there and back. It starts off like a normal train, until you get to Grainau, when it changes to a cog train, to get up the incline. Further on, from Eibsee, they’re also rebuilding the cable car, replacing the previous version that was built in 1963. The new car is going to be able to take nearly 3x more people (120 instead of 44); it will be quicker than the train with far better views!
Looking down on Eibsee
But for today, just the slower train (the total trip is about 75mins) that heads up and then though the mountain. The train takes you to Zugspitzplatt, on the southern side of the mountain. From there, you transfer to the Gletscherbahn cable car (you can do this as many times as you like, it’s covered in ticket price) for the final section up to the top. During the winter, the Zugspitzplatt looks like to be a ski centre, with plenty of lifts to take you back up the slopes.
For my visit, most of the top of the mountain was a building site, as they upgrade the cable car station connecting to Eibsee. However, you could still get around enough of it to take in the views. To the north was the view back down to Eibsee, to the south and east the Glacier, the ski slopes and more mountains, to the west were the mountains of Austria.
You can also take the final climb to the top of the mountain, by leaving the terrace, down the stairs then up a small via ferrata route to the top. Quite a few were doing this (I did part of it, not feeling like the final scramble). I wonder if there are many accidents because it’s a long way down!
Reversing my route, I wandered around the station area for a bit; they’ve installed a few information boards, there’s a chapel and you can just wander around, or eat and drink in one of the 3 or so restaurants there (there’s also a couple of restaurants at the very top). Back on the train and this way I get off at Eibsee – the ticket covers you breaking up the journey. More bars and restaurants on the lakeside near the station, but my goal was to circumnavigate the lake, a trip just under 5miles. It’s a wonderful path around the lake, a sparkling clear body of water, with mountains all around. There were lots of people doing the same walk – I’m guessing in the summer it gets completely packed. Even families with pushchairs were doing it, although as most of it is not paved, that looked a hard job!
Zugspitzen from the Eibsee
Back at the hotel it was time for some cake – they offer free cake in the late afternoon – and then spa time. There’s a pool and a sauna suite available (wet and dry saunas, plus a steam room). Then I ended the day with a superb meal at their restaurant. (actually I ended the day watching F1, but that is proabably not everyone’s choice). They do a good fixed price menu option and is obviously a popular place, as it was nearly full, not bad for ‘out of season’.
Sunday arrived and as forecast, it was raining. After breakfast and checking out, my plan was to stick closer to home – the famous Partnachklamm (Partnach gorge), a 700m long, 80m deep gorge that was declared a natural monument in 1912. By the time I was ready, the rain had stopped and luckily, did not come back when I was out and about. It’s an easy walk of a couple of miles to the gorge, out of the hotel, follow the river along the Geologischen Lehrpfad “Die Steine des Alpenraums”. Basically, that’s lots and lots of rock examples. Each sample is labelled and usually has information, although it’s only in German.
Past the Olympic stadium and the ski jumps that are in regular usage. Given the sizes of the jumps, from small to Olympic, I assume they teach ski-jumping here as well. You keep following the river, which can take you right to the gorge. But not that path for me, I’d decided I’d go up into the hills and come back down the river, so I branched off and started the climb. You follow a narrow road up to Partnachalm before dropping back down the side of the valley, along a steep and winding path.
In the hills
It was here I started getting traffic, as many seemed to have the same idea, doing the route in the opposite direction. The gorge costs 5E, but on this day, there was no-one guarding the top of the gorge path (not sure if there would be on busier days) so you just start the walk. All the way along, a narrow path has been carved/blasted out. Parts of it are tunnels; there are no lights so you rely on windows (or phone torches).
Entrance to gorge
Blue water and bronze leaves
It is marvelous and magnificent. At this time of year, there are swathes of beech leaves, that glow like wet copper on the rock. The water is milky blue and rushes down, drowning out most conversation. Fully recommend this as an outing from Garmish, it’s amazing. At the bottom, you need to pay your money. Most people travel up the gorge and then appear to come back down, with the fitter ones heading up the valley to walk down the other way.
That was it, time to get back on the train north. A superb weekend away, in an area that is an outdoor
enthusiasts paradise; hiking in the summer and snow sports in the winter.
After all that effort making our way up, it was a lot quicker getting back down to our starting point.
Back down the valley
Friday 23 Dec
The best views of Everest from this valley are from Kala Pattar; watching the sun rise over the mountain was the plan for the morning. But not for me. I decided that I needed the rest, the cough was still plaguing me and chest hurt – getting up before dawn to breathe in ice cold air was not a good idea. It was not a late lie-in though, we were still out the door before 8 to walk down. The distances downhill were planned to be longer, there are fewer days to get back to Lukla. Our target was 1100m lower, the lodge where we lunched on Monday, 4 days ago. Eight hours later, by a different route to the one we used to go up, I made it, one of the last. The day had not been a good one for me, lack of sleep, accumulated tiredness meant today I was really slow, not wanting to miss a step. A hard day, I was glad to get to the cozy dining room and get hot food, before being able to sleep all the way through to 8!
Boiling water using solar power
Saturday 24 Dec
Today we ran out of weather luck. We’d had blue skies and sunshine all the way up the valleys, but today, the clouds came over, it was grey and dull, the mountains were hidden, no views for us today. A new route again, we travelled on the east side of the river, our target Tengboche Monastery after a shorter walk of only 4 hours. Lunch was the ‘famous’ pizza, which was pretty good, a change from the usual. Time to relax before a visit to the monastary, to listen to one of the ‘services’ a series of chants. Finally, as we were leaving, the clouds broke in places and we Everest came back into view, floating over the clouds.
Floating above the clouds
Today also brought us one of the funniest episodes; a local herder had 3 yaks who became very, very interested in 3 cows that were grazing outside the lodge. The poor man was trying to get his yaks away and he’d run after them, herding them one way and the other before one of the yaks would break off again and he’d have to start again. Finally, one of the guides joined in and between them they managed to separate the groups and get the yaks moving down hill!
Sun 25 Dec
Christmas Day. Waking up to look out and watch the sun rise, te tips of Everest and the surrounding mountains glowing as the sun caught them. This has to rate as one of the best hotel views in the world.
Dawn light on Everest
Another long day planned; all the way down from Tengboche and then back up the next mountain, finally connecting with the good path into Namche. A break for lunch – no turkey here, but a cheese sandwich and chips were very welcome. Down the long hill and keep moving along the valley to our lodge for the night. I’m tired now, I want a shower and non-carb based food. It’s becoming a slog, retracing the steps. I think jumping on a helicopter at Namche would have been an ideal end of trip treat!
Mon 26 Dec
Last day! 7am wake up, eggs for breakfast then the long trudge to Lukla. Traffic jams all the way back – there’d been a delay in flights, creating a backlog of people and now they were all making their way up. Again, a reminder how lucky we had been with the lack of crowds.
People and donkeys queuing
Along the river, cross the river, along the river, repeat. Long breaks, we’re nearly done now. Finally, our final lodge. Drop the bags, off to find a bank for a little more cash. A visit to ‘Starbocks’ for a welcome hot coffee, free wifi and cake. Sit and while away the afternoon, watching snow fall where we have just travelled. Realising how lucky we were with the weather.
That’s the end of my diary. An early flight out in the morning, back to the Kathmandu hotel to pick up the luggage left. I had an extra day at the hotel, the safety day just in case we could not fly out of the mountains, which can often happen. Very little was done, just chilled out. The back home, flights via Delhi home for 30 Dec, in time to
lose out the year.
This trip had pushed me harder than any other. I’d underestimated the fitness needed for the uphills; I had the stamina to take the long days but not the leg strength needed. Downhills were hard, that’s confidence more than anything else. Not sure I’ll ever be too good at that! Despite all of that, it was an amazing trip, in a fabulous country and I’d love to do it again.
Today was the big day, our final ‘uphill’ day. We had one of our earliest starts, up at 5:30, out the door at 6:30 as dawn was breaking. Off we went, heading to Gorek Shep; minimal plants, moss and lichens with occasional grass clunps. Glacial moraine, rocks and dirt, and increasingly, ice. There’s a path of sorts, a way though, but it’s ephemeral, disappearing and changing over time. The ground moves and there’s no fixed way. We pass a few coming down the way, on their way back from their trek. Nods and smiles – they’ve achieved their goals, now it’s our turn.
Heading up along the valley
A few hours later we arrived at Gorek Shep, a small cluster of buildings that caters for trekkers. Time for breakfast number 2. Time to leave behind things, only taking the essentials as we head out for the last section, planned between 2-3 hours.
Sign posts to Base Camp
The start is easy, a flat sandy section, then gradually heads up, alongside the glacier, through more rocks and dirt. Up ahead, you can see the target, a bowl of mountains, the end of the valley.
Now down to the glacier, and a warning to make it quick – rock falls are possible, we need to keep an eye out. Across we go, to the ‘photo opportunity’. The cairn that gets built every year for visitors, that gets festooned with flags. We’d made it, we’re at 5,380, a vertical climb of 2.5km since we landed at Lukla
Cairn, flags and memories
Silence, except for the ice cracking and groaning, the occasional bang as snow and ice break off . The slopes to slip down to the valleys. We’re the only ones there, everyone else had left and our small group had the place to ourselves. Deep blue skies, black and white mountains, the jumble of the Khumba Ice fall as it tumbles down lip of the mountain, and above us, the tip just barely visible, is Everest, tantalising us as it’s done ever since we first glimpsed it on the way up the hill to Namche. You don’t go to Base Camp to take a good look at Everest, you go for the journey and the challenge. Everest is just the beacon that guides you.
Done, Made it. A quiet sense of achievement. On my first day in the mountains I didn’t think I’d make it, but here I am, goal reached.
So what now? There’s no quick way back, we have to cover all the miles again – at least it’s ‘downhill’!
Back down the valley to be reunited with our gear. Gorek Shep was the most basic of all the lodges we stayed at – and the most expensive. It’s just a few tourist lodges; everything has to be carried up, so things are kept to a minimum and charged for at a premium. We’d were told they’d tried ‘western’ toilets, but they froze too often and cracked..so squat toilets were the only ones available (most of the other lodges we were had got sit on loos, even if no proper flush). But we had food, a bed, and some warmth with the dung fire. One final check of stats – HR106, %O2 83. Looks like my body coped fine this time. Time for bed!
I’m guessing by the time I finish this report on my Everest Base Camp trek it’ll be a year old? Anyway, let’s start this again. When you last read an installment, we’ made it to Namche Bazar and had just finished our first acclimatisation day. Next we were heading further up the valley.
Leaving Namche Bazar
Sun 18 Dec: Namche Bazar to Phaortse
Early mornings started in earnest; up at 6:30, out walking by 8:15. A long hard day ahead, multiple terrain, following a slightly less followed track. Blue skies and warm weather at least made it pleasant to walk in. Before we hit the trails though, we had to escape Namche Bazar, about 20 minutes walking up through the town, lots of steps. One area appeared to be a staging post for yak trails; with one batch starting out as we went by. Possibly the most dangerous part – I was saved from a knocking by a rapid reaction of a guide as one of the yaks suddenly decided to change path and head at me! Once out of the town, we found the nicest part of the trail, well made and wide, hugging the hillside. Another 20 minutes, we went by the man responsible, someone who seems to spend his days making the path, accepting donations from all the trekkers. Beyond that point, it got a lot rougher.
Porters and Loads
Looking towards Phaortse. the blue roofs in the distance.. The wide path to the left
We climbed all the way to our lunch stop, at 4375m, a lovely place where we could look down on our evening stop. After lunch, at 4375m, the path got narrower, rockier and edgier – a lot more edges. We went down and down…and at this point it was really brought home how I hate downs. Distance judgement off, never quite sure of step, head down focusing on my feet, never looking around. The a break, a river crossing and uphill again. The paths up to the village are so dusty, you’re continously breathing it in and everyone is starting to develop a cough from this, which continues for the trip, not helped by altitude. The village of Phaortse is different from any places we stop off, less touristy with fewer lodges. narrow walled paths between fields. Finally our lodge, owned by an Everest Climbing Sherpa – the certificates are in the common room. Dinner (dhal bat) and obs (HR96, %O2 87) and early bed.
The trek from Namche Bazar to Phaortse
Mon 19 Dec: Phaortse to Dingboche
Looking back at Phaortse
We were out the door early today, 7:45. Altitude was really starting to bite, with many of the group not having to slept well. Up out the village, around a muntain and then one horrible bit down. I have to admit to having a little cry when I got to the bottom of that path, a stress release given how terrified i was all the way down. For me, that was the worst path of the whole trek, not something I’d like to repeat! In general, today was a slow day for all. The effort was telling in the legs, it was a hot day and the path was difficult. We’d split up by lunchtime, with 15mins between front and back – but as they kept telling us, going at own pace, slow and steady, was best way to deal with the effort needed and the altitude impact.
So far, I’ve been fine with symptons (except for breathlessness) but some in the group having bad headaches and dizzyness. We’re being reminded to drink lots, which is made more important with the temperatures. A long day, only reaching the lodge just before sunset, when it’s time to change from tshirts to full thermal kit – it gets cold! Time for food and obs – my HR is 119, struggling a little, %O2 83. Unfortunately, the day has proved too much for AF, – a %O2 of 64. That’s serious. Rechecks and concerned faces all around. Decision is drink lots of warm water, rest for now and check again in the morning before decision made.
Sunset from Lobuche
Phaortse to Dingboche
Tues 20 Dec: Dingboche Acclimatisation
Acclimatisation walk at Dingboche
Unfortunately, AF did not get much sleep – I was in the next room and heard her couging a lot. Very very early, I hear lots of coming and going from the room, checking things out. No improvements, so a decision was made to evacuate her down the mountain when she could still walk, even if she needed support – accompanied by 2 guides and a porter. A guide was back for lunch, reporting that she was feeling better at lower altitude, after food and drink and was now on her way further down under her own power. So now we were down to 6 – AF’s boyfriend had been told to stay with us and finish the trek.
Today was our 2nd acclimiatisation day, so a late start of 9am was allowed. Today’s route is simple – straight up 400m or so to about 4800m, then down for a late lunch before lazing (and drinking) the rest of the day away in our suntraps of rooms, gloriously warm. I needed it, as I now had a touch of the cold that had been brought into the group, leading me to have a very poorly chest. At the end of the day, HR was down to 106, %O2 up to 86.
Acclimatisation Dingboche walk
Wed 21 Dec: Dingboche to Lobuche
Now onto the final stretch. An easier start to the day, as we travel along a glacial valley, a fairly horizontal walk compared to some. Plenty of yaks grazing, minimal steps to go up and down.
Mountains and valleys
It’s a short morning, by 11:15 we were at our break stop. today, just soup and lemon tea. At this point we joined the more regular route and started to run into a few more people on their way down the large hill next to the lunch stop. Making my way up it, I regretted the lack of carbs at lunch, something a bit more solid would have sat better. 🙂 In addition, throat was extremely sore, with cold air and coughing, so all in all, not a happy person this afternoon.
At the top of the hill, a rest and a chance for contemplation in a filed of memorials to those who had died in the mountains, many on Everest.
Field of memorials
The final stretch was more glacial valleys, relatively steady slopes, far more opportunities to take in the scenery. A few cereal bars had made me feel a lot better and I really enjoyed the atfernoon ‘stroll’ to our lodge at Lobuche, for an early stop around 2:30. Here we had more company than usual; we’d been meeting up with a couple at most of the night stops, but there were a few more here. Lobuche apparently is lodges only, no permanent residents.
The meal menu was the usual, a choice of dal baat, fired potatoes or fried noodles, sherpa stew or the occasional momo. By this point I’d kill for steak and spinach! Today’s stats were HR118 and %O2 86.
Despite having little to do on my first morning in Kathmandu, my body clock still woke me up at 6:30am, which was probably a good idea given the next few weeks of early mornings ahead of me. Lazy breakfast and a brief wander around Kathmandu before heading towards the briefing, which is the time to meet my travel companions for the next 2 weeks.
In the group we had 3 from New Zealand, 1 from Australia and 3 from London (including myself). An 8th person was supposed to be joining us, but never turned up. We did initial introductions, filled in paper work, got a briefing on altitude sickness and an overview of what we would be experiencing in the next few weeks. Then off to buy last minute things before meeting up again for dinner and early night. first day was very low key.
The start of the next day was less so; meet up time was 5:15am, we were booked on a 6:15 flight. Now we started to see the type of peple we were traveling with. Four of us were early (that would include me), 2 were bang on time and the last? The last had to be got out of bed and helped finish suitcases as they’d heard 5:45 somehow! No matter, it was a short ride to the airport, some random security, a pick up of our hand written boarding passes and then we wait for them to call the planes.
Unloading at Lukla
Lukla flights tend to be first thing in the morning; the turbulence and visibility gets worse later in the day. So you have planes doing a shuttle run every morning, with very quick turnarounds. We were on the first flight out. grab your seat, any seat, a quick briefing and off we went. No cockpit lockign here, we could see right through the window. The airport has a reputation – you land uphill, into a cliff, quick get unloaded and the plane picks up the next lot and flies back down the slope.
Our bags were grabbed by our guides and we headed off to breakfast before starting the first day hike.
Lukla (2840m) to Phakding (2610m)
Lukla to Phakding altitude
You’re reading that right, the first day is downhill. It’s a try out day, a day to check your gear and how you are coping. Total distance is about 5m, but you have the start of some altitude and a few uphill sections to try out your legs. It took us about 4 hours and we were in the lodge in time for lunch. For the rest of the day we chatted and lazed around; after dinner it was the first of our early to bed days, which tended to be a theme as we headed up the mountain.
Phakding (2610m) to Namche Bazar (3440m)
Phakding to Namche altitude
the first day’s hike definitely lulls you into a sense of false security. This isn’t too bad you think..welcome to Day 2 which quickly disabuses you of this notion. We carry on walking along the river valley, crossing over various suspension bridges, back and forth on both sites of the Dudh Kosi River. You pass through lots of litte villages, all catering to tourists in some way. And you’re learning the best way to avoid yaks (and variants) and donkeys. Yak and donkey trains take priority. They’re the goods movers of this part of the mountains, more so than people.
We’re still in wooded country, trees and rhododendrons. but we’re getting glimpses of snow covered mountains ahead. Finally we catch a glimpse of the famous double suspension bridge. The bridge is amazing, the thought of what lies ahead less so. An 700m climb straight up towards Namche. Ouch, seriously hurt. slowly, slowly, one foot at a time. Lots of steps, lots of dust and loose stones, the paths are not the easiest. You can really feel the reduced oxygen available by now, you’re out of breath almost with every step.
We do get our first glimpse of Everest though; a view point perfectly aligned with the valley beyond. Just the tip – although that’s all we usually see, just the top of a mountain hidden behind others.
Finally, finally we reached Namche and climbed up more steps. The whole village is built around a bowl in the hills, so there are steps everywhere to get between levels. Never has a lodge been so welcome! And food, I’m not yet bored of the choice of potatoes, rice or noodles.
Another lecture on Altitude sickness, a reminder to start taking Diamox and a time for measurements – HR (120) and O2 (88%). These would be taken daily to assess our adjustment.
A day in Namche
No advancement today, time for acclimatisation. We go for a further up the hill, to the National Park Headquarters and the famous status of Tenzing Norgay, with more views of Everest. The weather was blue skies again, something we had a lot of during our trek. It was surprisingly warm, we were all in a single layer for most of the daytime Then back down in time for lunch (fried potatoes and cheese for me). This was our final chance to buy any trekking gear, or to stock up on food. Also more chance to find out about the team. Myself and T are the least experienced in the bunch – and possibly the least fittest. Despite the training I’d done, it was not enough. R is definitely the fittest and you could see at times over the trip his frustration that he needs to stay with us slow people, but that is the risk when you come along with a random group. We all charged up phones etc and took a chance for a hot shower, the last one we would see for a while.
Tenzing Norgay and Everest
Another early night, but not after my stats were checked. HR had come down to 96, my body was adjusting; the O2 was still at 88%. I was happy – sleeping the previous evening was not easy, i really thought that I was not going to be able to go further. My first time at altitude and all you can do is follow the rules – walk slowly, drink lots of water, take the pills and hope your body adjusts.