Apr 29

Race Report – London Marathon 2019

Holding up medal a tthe end of London Marathon
Got the medal!

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.

Runners in fancy dress
Fancy dress

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.

Before the marathon, in front of the start line. wrapped in cape
My cozy cape

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!

Me in front of the Cutty Sark
Cutty sark

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 atmosphere.  Amazing!

Me on TowerBridge

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.

Me on the Embankment, in fron of Big Ben/Elizabeth tower
Nearly there

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.

Me just before the last 200m to go on the Mall

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 finisher again!

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.

Apr 02

Trip Report – Lessons from Kilimanjaro

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.

Me in front of the wooden sign on top of Kibo, the main summit of Kilimanjaro,, Snow on the ground
At the summit

This the third part of the story, including some practical advice and considerations . Part 1 is about the first week of the trip. Part 2 covers summit day and getting back down

  • 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.
    • Waterproofs.  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 quickly
    • 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!
  • Slowly slowly.  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.
  • TRAIN!  Train 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 friend.
  • 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.
One of the team taking a photo with three of our guides
Some of the guides

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.

Snow and glaciers on the top of the mountain, Looking out across the clouds,
Looking down
Mar 26

Trip Report – Climbing Kilimanjaro: Part 2

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.

This the second part of the story, all about summit day and getting down the mountain. Part 1 is about the first week of the trip. Part 3 will add some practical advice and considerations.

Kilimanjaro mountain, covered in snow, peaks over the jungle
Kilimanjaro

A full photoset can be found on Flickr

Sat 16 Feb

  • Barafu to summit and back to Barafu
  • Distance: 7:01m
  • Walking Time:  10:32
  • Elevation Gain: 1251m
  • Max Elevation: 5865m (official height is 5895m)
Looking down from summit, over a glacier
The view down

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 along.

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.

Me at Stella Point, in front of sign showing altitude of 5756m
Stella Point

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.

View of from summit, looking down the path with people still making their way up
Looking down from summit, the final stretch

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.

Me in front of sign at Uhuru point, summit of Kilmanjaro, heght 5895. Snow on ground and blue skies
Cold at the summit

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 to take.

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 went away.

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
  • Distance: 4:24m
  • Walking Time:  4:00
  • 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
  • Distance: 5:32m
  • Walking Time:  3:03
  • 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 sun.

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.

Me, drinking a beer at the end of the trek, looking rather tired
A well-deserved beer

Mar 26

Trip Report – Climbing Kilmanjaro: Part 1

Sun rising over Kibo, Kilimanjaro
Sun rising over Kibo, Kilimanjaro

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.

This the first part of the story, about the first week of the trip. Part 2 will cover summit day and Part 3 will add some practical advice and considerations.

A full photoset can be found on Flickr

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 environment.

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.

Kit bags piled on luggage trollies
Collecting the bags

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 net!!

(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
  • Distance: 2.85m
  • Walking Time:  2:03
  • 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.

A queue of locals, waiting to get their loads weighed
Local crew weighing loads

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.

Clearing in the trees. Local crew packing up the tents and gear.
Packing up

Mon 11 Feb

  • Big Tree Camp to Shira 1
  • Distance: 5.1m
  • Walking Time:  4:28
  • Elevation Gain: 814m
  • Max Elevation: 3534m (camp sign said 3610m)
Trekkers walking on path through trees
Heading uphill through the forest

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.

Scrub and small trees, looking oput down the plains, with more mountains in the distance
Heading up to Shira Plain

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
  • Distance: 6.44m
  • Walking Time:  4:24
  • Elevation Gain: 473m
  • Max Elevation: 3890m
Tents and ground, covered in Frst. Sleeping bags over chairs drying in sun
Frost

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 honey. 

A wider view of the campsite, with hills in the background
The campsite

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.

The team with Kibo in the background
A rare group photo

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

The ridge line up to Cathedral Peak, view obscured with mist and clouds.

Wed 13 Feb

  • Shira 2 to Baranco, via Lava Tower
  • Distance: 6.3m
  • Walking Time:  6:15
  • 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.

Lava tower Camp sign, detailing distances to next camps, with Kibo slopes behind
Lava Tower Camp.

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!

Dry and dusty path leading across a brown slope
Mountain slopes

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
  • Distance: 3.34m
  • Walking Time:  3:49
  • Elevation Gain: 380m
  • Max Elevation: 4205m
View over campsite, with the Baranco wall cliff at the back of the Camp.  Mountain peak behind
Baranco wall, with Kibo behind

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. 

Cliff face, with a queue of people walking up the path
The snake of people up the Baranco wall

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 in queues.

Looking down the path of the Baranco wall, with a poter carrying a load up the path
Carrying loads

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 the camp.

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
  • Distance: 2.31m
  • Walking Time:  2:42
  • Elevation Gain: 610m
  • Max Elevation: 4640m
A look at the hill up from Karanga Camp as the groups start heading up
Heading out from Karanga Camp

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 Friday morning.

Some of the team sitting in chairs in the final campsite
Setting up in Barafu – notice the orange loo tent

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!! 

Looking up the path out of Barafu camp, with trekkers slowly heading downhill
People slowly trickling down from their summits

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.

End of part 1 – Part 2, summit day, next

Nov 01

A weekend in Garmisch Partenkirchen

Looking south across the Alps

Looking south across the Alps

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.

A view from Zugspitzen

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

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.

Zugspitzplatt

Zugspitzplatt

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!

Eibsee lake

Eibsee lake

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

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.

Ski jumps

Ski jumps

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

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

Entrance to gorge

Blue water and bronze leaves

Blue water and bronze leaves

Water falls

Water falls

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.

Rock formations

Rock formations

For the full set of photos see on Flickr: Zugspitzen and Eibsee and Partnachklamm

Oct 14

EBC Trek: Back down to Lukla

After all that effort making our way up, it was a lot quicker getting back down to our starting point.

Back down the valley

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

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

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

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

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.

The end

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.

Oct 14

EBC Trek: Everest Base Camp

We were nearly there..one more trek.

A glimpse of Everest from Base Camp

A glimpse of Everest from Base Camp

Thursday 22 Dec

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

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

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.

Khumba Glacier

Khumba Glacier

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

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.

Icefall

Icefall

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!

Oct 08

EBC Trek: Namche Bazar to Lobuche

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

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

Porters and Loads

 Phortse Path

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

The trek from Namche Bazar to Phaortse

Mon 19 Dec: Phaortse to Dingboche

Looking back at Phaortse

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.

Prayers

Prayers

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

Sunset from Lobuche

Phaortse to Dingboche

Phaortse to Dingboche

Tues 20 Dec: Dingboche Acclimatisation

Acclimatisation walk at Dingboche

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.

Himalayan Valley

Himalayan Valley

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

Acclimatisation Dingboche walk

Wed 21 Dec: Dingboche to Lobuche

Yaks

Yaks

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

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.

Memorials

Memorials

Field of memorials

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.

Fried potato

Fried potato

Walk Dingboche to Lobuche

Walk Dingboche to Lobuche

Mar 26

Kathmandu to Lukla to Namche Bazar

Donkey Train

Donkey Train

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.

The Group

The Group

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

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.

Lukla Airport

Lukla Airport

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

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.

Villages

Villages

Phakding (2610m) to Namche Bazar (3440m)

Phakding to Namche altitude

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.

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge

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.

Everest Glimpse

Everest Glimpse

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.

Namche Bazar

Namche Bazar

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

Acclimatisation walk

Acclimatisation walk

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

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.