Jan 21

Half Notes 2023 H2

Right, I’m really not doing a lot of this blogging, am I.  But for my own record, here’s what I got up to in the 2nd half of 2023.

Looking up the snowy slope we're about to climb,, bright blue skies
The view up the slope to Cabane des Vignettes
  • In July, I headed to Arolla in Switzerland with Jagged Globe, for an Alpine Mountaineering Course.  It was excellent, with a lot of new skills learnt and a lot of “fun” toiling up mountains, through snow and across glaciers. 
  • I had more trips to the Brecons, In August and September. Up and down the usual hills, having my usual fun and outdoor experiences.
  • A lot of the training was with the target of the South Coast Challenge (half), which is from Eastbourn to Brighton. Unfortunately my body decided no, with a very bad hip, so I withdrew at the 25k marker. It took a few weeks before I was out again.
  • The biggest news was I took a 3 month sabbatical, before moving on from transitioning away from Strat House.  The market has been very quiet this year, with little of the work I excel at. Very few people were buying our products. We tried a few routes to new business, but no bites were had.  Given this, I took a step back to reassess where I am going – which is to move away from Strat House.  But before jumping into looking for something different, I took 3 months to just have a break.  October was about closing a few things down (I was judging some awards) and setting up the next few months.  November was time for something completely different – helping restore a nuclear bunker in Edinburgh. Then back home for December for Christmas things and more “me-time” – a mis of walking, volunteering, gaming and just chilling, something I have not really had the chance to do for years.
  • The November trip was in 2 parts – the road trip and the stay at the bunker.  With the road trip, I forced myself to be a little less organised than I would normally be and did not have all the hotels booked before I started, thus giving me some flexibility.  I did have a rough plan –  it was all about adding more cathedrals to my visited list, but I had plenty of scope to do other things, having gave myself 5 days to do the journey.  On the way up, I visited Lincoln, Ripon, Wakefield, Newcastle and Durham Cathedrals, plus Edinburgh.  On the way back, it was visits to Carlisle and Chester.  There was definitely a St Cuthbert theme to many of these cathedrals, and I added to it by heading to Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island before taking a Seal watch tour to the Farne Islands, which is where Cuthbert was a hermit for a while.
  • Other places visited on my trip included a quick stop at the Angel of the North and Bamburgh Castle on the way up to Edinburgh and Gretna Green on the way back.
  • My stay on Edinburgh was at the Barnton Bunker, a WW2 and Cold War installation that over the years had been neglected, vandalised and burnt. The team behind it are slowly restoring it with the help of volunteers and tradesman, with the volunteers doing a lot of the unskilled work, (eg lots of clearing land) but bringing relevant skills if possible.  Many sign up via Workaway.   Another push outside my comfort zone, staying with a mix of people in shared accommodation. I was lucky with my own room – although it was in a caravan with  no water or heating!  The advantage of driving up is I’d brought a lot of comforts, including my own bedding, plus an xbox (the wifi was brilliant)  We were asked to give 20 hours a week, with the rest of the time our own. Many of the team were from other countries, so did a lot of tourist activities; as I’d lived in Scotland for years not so much of that for me, but I did catch up with friends.
  • For one of my days, I headed over to Glasgow for round 2 of the application process for volunteering at the Glasgow World Indoor Athletics champs.  It was far over-subscribed as usual and I did not get one of the 400 slots.  Nor did I get a role at the Paris Olympics/Paralympics; although given the volunteer concern over accommodation that may be a good thing. I am going to be back at the MLB in London this year, as a media team lead, so looking forward to that.
  • In other volunteering opportunities, I’ve joined the “Kinver Environmental” group with the River and Canal Trust. We clearing land, weeding, hedging, litter-picking and all sorts of activities to make the mile or so stretch around Kinver lovely (and accessible). I’ve also joined the village climate committee and will be helping on their website and other things
Nov 28

Dhaulagiri Circuit Trip Report – over the French Col

This report is split into 3 posts

Italian Base Camp to Glacier Camp

  • 4.6 miles
  • 4.25 hours elapsed
  • 800m total ascent (with 210m descent)
  • Max elevation:  4185m  (+575m)
  • Toilet tent/hole in ice
  • Dinner: Soup, rice/potato/tomato sauce, pineapple
Rocky valley with some grass. Sides have a lot of rockfall
Vegetation recedes

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.

The team walking across a set of rocks in a river
River crossing

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

rocky campsite with porters and bags. Only kitchen tent is set up, befind are snowy slopes
Setting up at Glacier Camp

Glacier Camp to Dhaulagiri Base Camp

  • 4 miles
  • 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
snow over glacial morrain, rocky slopes of mountains on both sides of the narrow valley
Looking down the valley

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.

team sitting on bags on the snow, snowy valley in front with mountains behind
Lunch in the snow

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.

snowy camp, with paths though the snow showing depth of 1m+  One tent set up only
Base Camp. Under that snow there’s a lot of camping equipment

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

  • 5.25 miles
  • 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
snow and more snow. People in distance plodding over the snow
Up to the French Col

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

Me on the top of the Frnech col. Behind me the long glacial valley and Dhaulagiri 1 mountain
Posing at my summit

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.

Snow, snow, heading down. People plodding in the distance
Heading down from the Col. We had a long way to hit camp

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

  • 11.25 miles
  • 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.

Dawa, head sherpa, standing, with sun glowed Annapurnas in the background
One of the few photos taken by me on this day. Dawa the head guide, with the Annapurnas in the background.

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.

Yak Karkha to Marpha

  • 5 miles
  • 3.25 hours elapsed
  • 1600m Descent, to 2650
  • Nepali toilet
  • Dinner: Soup, pasta/greens/sauce,  Pineapple. BEER!

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.

Narrow street, whitewashed buildings, prayer flags. The Marpha Apple sign on hill in background
Marpha and the apple sign

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.

Full team and guides, posing for group photo.
The full team on the last day

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.

For the full set of pictures, see Flickr

Nov 28

Dhaulagiri Circuit Trip Report – up to Italian Base Camp

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!

This report is split into 3 posts

Darbang to Sibang

  • 7.7 miles
  • 6.5 hours elapsed
  • 1000m total ascent (with 331m descent)
  • Max elevation:  1075m
  • Toilet:  Toilet tent/hole in ground
  • Dinner: Soup, Chicken curry and mixed fruit.
view of dirt school playground, with group of children being drilled in backlground and our tents by the side
Camping at Darbang – a dusty school playground

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.

Green covered mountains, with a farm and village in the centre, with layered fields for rice
Hills, valleys and farms

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

The team sitting around at the end of day 1 trek. No tents yet
Waiting for things to happen

Sibang to Jugapandi

  • 8.8 miles
  • 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
mountains and valleys, still with vegetation. You can see the path across the valley
Looking ahead on the path. We go down before back up to that path

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

Jugapandi to Boghara

  • 3.75 miles
  • 4 hours elapsed
  • 1040m total ascent (with 676m descent)
  • Max elevation:  2048m (+176m)
  • Toilet:  Fixed toilet hut
  • Dinner: Soup, noodles/tofu/green beans/peanut sauce , peaches

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.

Sitting by path Two of the team overlook the valley
Break for drinks

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.

Terraces and tents, mountains in the background. Team members standing around
Sorting out the tents

Boghara to Dobang

  • 6.35 miles
  • 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.

Busy campsite, bags all out of tents, tents being taken down
Taking down the tents

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.

Dobang to Soligari

  • 4.6 miles
  • 4.5 hours elapsed
  • 1410m total ascent (with 725m descent)
  • Max elevation:  3160m (+654m)
  • Toilet:  Toilet tent/hole in ground
  • Dinner: Soup, pizza (with cabbage!)/pasta/veg +peanut sauce, pineapple

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!

tents, with team member lying in son. Small green toilet tent in background
Waiting out the afternoon. You can see toilet tent in the background

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

  • 2.5 miles
  • 2.25 hours elapsed
  • 500m total ascent (with 41m descent)
  • Max elevation:  3610m  (+450m)
  • Nepali toilet
  • 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.

View to small collection of buildings that is Italian Base Camp. Behind are the lower slopes of Dhaulagiri 1
Italian Base Camp, in front of Dhaulagiri 1

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.

narrow valley, with glacier and lots of rockfall. No obvious path through
The next day’s route

You can find the full set of pictures on Flickr

Nov 28

Dhaulagiri Circuit Trip Report – getting to the start

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.

2 kit bags on the snow, with a background of mountains and blue sky
Bags at Dhaulagiri Base Camp

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. 

carpark and road, with bus parked up before the shops
A blingy bus waiting outside the hotel

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.

Picture of bus at side of road, man under neath trying to change tyre. Hills and mountains in the background
Changing the tyres

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

You can find the full set of pictures on Flickr

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

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

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.



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.



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.



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



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.



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

Other reports for this Trip:

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.



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.

Mar 18

Travel: A trip to India

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

After 6 months of preparing, getting equipment and trying to get fit, my trip to India and Nepal was ready to go. Rubbish was put out, heating turned down, everything washed up and the final elements added to the suitcase. it was time to head off for 3 weeks, my first Christmas and New Year away from the family. The first part of the trip was a few days in India before I headed off to Nepal.

The bag was hurled to work for the last Friday and the hours ticked by through the day. I’d finished off everything and it was only the last bits of admin to do. But finally it was time to head to Heathrow and my plane. A slight anxious moment at checkin, a frown at the screen. Had I failed in my plans? Was my visa OK? But everything was OK, I was away, security, lounge and finally time for boarding. Drinks provided and pyjamas, I was all set for the overnight flight to Delhi.

My journey was set up with Intrepid Travel, so all connections and hotels were arranged through them, starting with airport pickup. After a long flight, I made the mistake of not joining the long queue to pick up currency, it caused issues later when I tried to get cash – India was still suffering from the currency change that had been called and there was little available. Once in the car, we did not go that far, but there were still times I had my eyes closed, lane markings appeared to be advisory only! Definitely not a place I’d be comfortable driving in. Arrived at hotel and my first travel issue. I had no booking. A few phone calls later, nothing found. Eventually, he accepted my paper version of the booking confirmation and cleared it with the company later. One of the reasons i always print out (2) copies of everything when I travel!

The hotel was fairly basic – the travel company was mainly aimed at backpacker types – but it did for the night. A few hours sleep, and then just food and repacking. We had 2 blackouts during the afternoon, with the generator kicking in after a few minutes each time.

The next day, another issue. the hotel wanted cash for the bill (my food). I had no cash. Eventually got them to take card. Luckily, that was the last of any issues, everything else went well. Once that had been sorted out, I met up with my guide for the morning, we were going on a quick tour of Delhi, just a couple of places to get a flavour of the city.

Delhi Street

Delhi Street

The first stop was the Jama Masjid mosque, built by Shah Jahan (a name I was going to become familiar with over the next 2 days). Apparently the open courtyard can hold 25,000 people! So shoes off, a flowery robe put on and time for a wander and photos. A guess on a clear day you would have a good view over Delhi, but the haze was strong.

Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi

Jama Masjid Mosque, Delhi

Next on the list was a short walk to a Sikh temple, more shoes off, this time a scarf to cover the forehead/top of head (not just me, the male guide too)

Sikh Temple, Delhi

Sikh Temple, Delhi

Our final stop of the morning, via pedal rickshaw, was a spice market, apparently an old brothel. Now it has all been converted to shops and houses, even the central square.

Spice market, Delhi

Spice market, Delhi

The morning was just a small taste of Delhi, 3 quick stops with very good, knowledgeable guide who had a lot to say about the places we visited and India and Delhi in general. My first impression and definitely culture shock for me; my travels have never taken me to this part of Asia or to any countries like it.

I was handed back to my driver and we headed to the next stop – the long 200 km drive to Agra for the other main attraction on my stay, the Taj Mahah. The main reason for doing this little trip before heading to the Himalayas was to get over jetlag; I reasoned that if I was travelling via Delhi, I should take a look at one of the main attractions.

The driver was excellent through the Delhi streets; I’d (sort of) stopped flinching at every beep of the horn, of which there were many, and I had time to look around me a little more to see the different lives, from upmarket flats to a small spot on the side of the road. Such wide contrasts. Street markets consisting of piles of shoes or clothes or produce with people many deep around the piles. Are there spotters or do people not take things when they easily could? Long stretches of road with clothes hung to dry along the central reservation fence. Once out of the city, the drive was along toll roads, it could have been England – fields, hedges, yellow flowers. A few hours later and we arrived in Agra and I started to my animal count – cows, horses, goats and even camels were seen.

Just a hint of the Taj Mahal, there was heavy haze and there was no clear view. Because of that, it was not going to be a dawn trip, but a more sensible hour of 9:30 pickup. We managed to get there before a main rush; on the way in, we were straight up to the ticket office, by the time we came out, there was a long queue.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

Another great guide, knew all the best places for photos, wanted to make sure I got all the classic views, although was a little surprised I didn’t want my picture on ‘that’ bench along with everyone else. He was good at fending off the ‘official’ photographers and other vendors.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

A low walk up the gardens, plenty of photo ops and then up to go inside the building itself. As foreign tourists, we got the cover up booties instead of having to take off shoes to enter the building. Inside was actually a little disappointing; not as much to admire as the actual building itself. Outside definitely better than inside.

Taj Mahal, Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

In the afternoon, time for a visit to the Agra Fort, the 3rd building associated with Shah Jahan – he was imprisoned here by his son for 8 years.

Agra Fort

Agra Fort

A return now to the hotel for the rest of the day; if I wanted to go and explore, the driver would be available to me. i took that as a strong hint to not to wander around alone. I wasn’t going to do that, i realised I did not know enough about how the country works to be comfortable doing that. Beer and food in the hotel, plus a ring side view of the wedding parade that went by.

Agra Wedding

Agra Wedding

My final day in India was a long travel day. Pick up was at 8; the driver doe this trip between Delhi and Agra all the time, taking groups up and down. He does it 2-3 months at a time and then returns north to see his family for a few months. We first traveled to Fatehpur Sikri, the capital of the Mughal empire from 1571 to 1585 (when it was abandoned due to lack of water).

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Another new guide to take me around; unfortunately, this one was not that good, i got the key points but that was it. the guides do appear to have a fixed script and tend to want to go through it; this was the least fluid and the least likely to change based on my questions, he stuck to the script.

We parked the car, then got on the bus to the palace. The first of the money transactions took place – the bus, my ticket, the guide ticket at the end, the bus and then the parking. If India is to continue to drive to be a cashless society, as I saw from the press and the large promotion of mobile pay, then it has a long way to go before these transactions get altered.

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

After the palace, the long drive back to Delhi, getting back to the hotel about 4, an hour waiting around and then off to the airport for my flight to Kathmandu. Eventually got into my hotel there at 11:45, tired and ready for bed.

I was not comfortable during my trip to India; I partly expected this from what I knew about the place, a reason I’d never visited before. Too chaotic for me, I prefer a little more order. It’s not on my list of ‘must go back now’, although I’d be open to explore a little more at some point. But even so, I did enjoy the trip and loved what I saw.

Flickr Photos:
Fatehpur Sikri

May 31

A trip to Gloucester

After spending the first day of my bank holiday weekend in Worcester, on the Sunday I explored the town of Gloucester. A day similar to the previous in that it took in Cathedrals and museums. First of all was Blackfriars Priory, founded in 1239, dissolved in 1539 and bought by a local alderman who turned it into his house. It was still lived in until the 20th century. the main church now has had all of the floors and rooms removed, just leaving the shell.


The centre of Gloucester is pretty compact and just a couple of street away are the docks (GLoucester used to be a fairly large port on the Severn). The former industrial area has been turned into a shopping and pedestrian areas, with a couple of decent museums.


The first one I visited was a military one, that told the history of the Gloucester regiments, along with a lot of local stories. After a good wander round that, it was back to the other side of town to go round the cathedral – on a Sunday the opening hours for tourists are shorter, due to services. Just round the corner is the House of The Tailor of Gloucester, as in Beatrix Potter fame.

Gloucester Cathedral

At Gloucester Cathedral, there was another volunteer tour guide, this time for a tour round the crypt. My favourite story of that was of Robert Cuthose, the eldest son of William the Conquerer, who dies before he could succeed his father. During the WWII, his burial statue was stored in the crypt, on top of a large storage box that had been sent up for London – the Gloucester vaults were deemed to be fairly safe. At the end of the war, the box was revealed to hold the throne of England – so the Prince had ended up ‘sitting’ on the throne. The other royal burial in the cathedral was Edward II, a not quite successful King who ended up being deposed and disposed of. Edward was not the eldest, he only inherited when his older brother died – Alphonso, a name that cold have been interesting as an English king :-).

Gloucester Cathedral

The final museum of the day was back at the docks, the Gloucester Waterways museum, all about the canals and the life spent on the canals.

British Waterways Museum Gloucester

A very good two day trip and 2 cathedrals knocked off the list. I’m busy planning my next one now – looking at a double header of Peterborough and Ely.

May 10

A trip to Worcester

This was the first half of my weekend away, a chance to go and tick two cathedrals off my list. Worcester is only 40mins by train from my base in Gloucester, but trains were only every 2 hours, so I had to make sure I kept to good timings.


I was hoping to take a quick look at the Guildhall, built in 1721, but it was closed for a private function. I only got to see the statues of the Charles 1 and 11 outside.

Worcester Cathedral

A short stroll down the High Street to Worcester Cathedral and it turned out I was just in time for a guided tour. It was a quiet day and there were only 3 of us on it, but we got a good trip around the history of the place. Although weirdly, the tour guide missed out two of the key burials in the building which was surprising given their impact on British history. First of all, Arthur, Prince of Wales was buried there, who died in nearly Ludlow. If he hadn’t there would have been no Henry VIII, no reformation, no Church of England and no Elizabeth 1. It would have been a very different country.

Worcester Cathedral

The second burial was of King John (well, most of him, his heart was buried in Newark where he died). Without him here would be no Magna Carta. I’m pretty sure that the changes associated with that may have come about eventually, but John was the catalyst. Arthur had a very ornate chantry for his burial, but John was placed right there in the chancel in front of the alter.

Worcester Cathedral

Although the foundations are Norman and a lot of the fabric is medieval, the cathedral has been extensive restored and there is a lot of George Gilbert Scott around the place

Worcester Cathedral

Just round the corner from the cathedral, there was the remains of the Royal Worcester Porcelein works, with a shop and a museum but it looks like the rest of the place is being turned into houses.


Heading back into town, I took a Tour around the Tudor House, run by a local community group, with a series of rooms set up to illustrate the house through various ages as it was occupied by a variety of trades such as weavers, tailors and bakers. In the 1800’s, it even had a bowling alley.

Worcester Tudor House

The final visit of the day was to the town museum, which had a lot of interesting displays, including one of Worcestershire Sauce through the ages. I was disappointed there was no history of Worcester display, as I tend to like learning about the towns like that.

Worcester Museum

Jun 15

An F1 Pit Lane walk

Canada is one of the few F1 circuits that offer access on the Thursday before the race meet starts. You don’t even need to have a race ticket to access the track. So off we went to hang around the pitlane for 3 hours – along with a lot of other people! But it was not that crowded, the circuit had done this plenty of times before and had the organisation sorted. A queue, a bus to the pitlane and then the chance to queue up for driver autographs or just walk up and down the garages.

Neither of us wanted to get autographs – the queue was long, you never knew who you would get and neither of us tend to collect them – so we just went straight to the cars, taking lots and lots of photos. We also saw quite a few drivers heading out for their track walk.

Back into town and a bit of tourism – the Notre Dame Basilica. Built by the Francophone community, it’s completely different to the churches I usually visit, with the English reformation stripping out all the decoration back to the raw stone. I prefer the unadorned grandeur, but I can see the reasoning behind the decoration.

Montreal June 5 2014

We ended the day with a trip to Crescent St, which is blocked off and turned into a F1 party street, with lots of sponsor stalls and events. This is supported by the official sponsors; a few blocks over on Peel St seems to be slightly more unofficial, with non-sponsors getting into the act. Both a fun places to wander around! We bumped into a few F1 fans we knew from Twitter and ended up with a few drinks.

Jun 15

On the train to Montreal

Wednesday was another travel day. I met up with Sofia at the train station and we jumped on the 5 hour trip to Montreal. Definitely not as much beautiful countryside as out last train trip (Prague to Budapest) but pleasant enough. The plane trip itself would have been cheaper (we went business), but when you add on costs to get to and from airports, the time for that, the time waiting, the train was a far more pleasant and convenient experience, when you add in the large seats and the free drinks and meal.

The rest of the day was basically eating, a few drinks and a lot of lazing around! The hotel was to the north of the town centre, near the Village and the Latin Quarter, with a high level of students and good, cheap places to eat. The row of pink balls all along this section of the street gave an indication that this was the ‘Gay Villiage’ – or that could be just because that is what it was called on Google maps!

Jun 05

Some time in Toronto

The day started with coffee and chat. Gaming, game design, trademarks, AI, the future of humanity, startups, population growth and Malthus. Just your everyday small talk 🙂 A great chance to talk about different things, that I don’t have chance to think about in my everyday job.

Next, off to the airport for my next phase of the trip, heading up to Toronto. Newark airport was pretty painless, except for the need of Air Canada to charge for bags – why not just put it in the original price. They were not overjoyed at my insistence of paying cash though. Especially as there were a lot of crumpled dollar bills!

My original plans for Monday night fell through, so instead I headed to Canoe, a gorgeous fine dining Canadian restaurant, where the tasting menu included things like elk, pickled maple leaves, stinging nettle puree and coniferous cream. The chef makes a point of using local ingredients as well as bringing in his influences from Japan, with the desert of rice cake, green tea custard and red bean sherbert. I sat at the kitchen table and watched the chefs rush to meet the demand of a full restaurant, which was pretty good for a Monday evening. I absolutely adored this meal!


Tuesday dawned foggy and damp but the sun quickly came out and the humidity went up. The first thing to do was sort out a phone sim for the week – despite the wifi ubiquity around and about, the F1 circuit won’t have that, so need to be able to connect there.

Toronto 3 June 2014

Then a walk round town before meeting Jeremy for lunch and catching up about the last 6 years or so since I saw him. More walking and another catch up, this time with Rick – it’s probably been 8 years since I last met him.

Great to spend the first few days of the hols just catching up with old friends, before heading off to Montreal to make new ones!

Toronto 3 June 2014

Jun 05

New York and New Jersey

It’s another holiday! This time to the continent of North America, with a combined trip to New York, West Milward (In New Jersey), Toronto and Montreal for the F1.

Emoisre state

An easy trip to Heathrow and all the way through the security ended with a slightly worrying beep of the machine as I went to board. Had my ESTA run out, what was the problem? It turned out to be a nice surprise instead as the computer had said yes and I was given a lovely upgrade to World Traveller Plus – bigger seats, small cabin, Yes, a good start!

Food done, sleep done, no issues with immigration, remembered how to use the subway and made my way to my hostel for the evening – where possible, I’m sleeping cheap and eating expensive! The Chelsea International is probably your typical hostel, standard welcome, rooms with lockers, basic functional place. But, clean, tidy, secure and works fine.

American Wagyu Carpaccio

A quick lie down and then out for my a meal, at Craft. I thought about the tasting menu but decided it was too much after a day of travelling so settled for American Wagyu Carpaccio, Monkfish and chard, finished with Banana Tartin with Peanut butter icecream. Enjoyed it and everything was well sourced and well excuted, but the nothing outstanding. Waiter was great but some of the servers not so much – my starter got delivered to wrong table..

Next morning, I jumped on a 90minute bus ride out to the wilds of New Jersey, to see a friend from my New York days. Breakfast at a 24/7 diner than out to the stables to see his horses and spend some time helping out building a fence for the stables, which is a rescue centre relying on volunteers to get things done. It was quite a change to be out in the sunshine doing physical work instead of sitting in an office all day.

US Day 1-2

We finished the day at a local sushi (local in these parts being a 20min drive away!). And at that point an early night to chase the jetlag away was needed.

Horses and fences

Feb 09

Visiting Naples Part 2

The dry (if overcast) weather that I had for the day round Pompeii did not hold for the rest of my stay and there was plenty of rain around. For the rest of my trip I’d planned walking round Naples, Churches and Museums. My Lonely Planet guidebook had a good walking day set out and that’s what I sort followed!

I started off at one of the city gates, the Porto Nolona. To get there, I’d jumped on the Metro, which is surprisingly modern and clean (given the rest of the city). The city had got various artists to design the stations and they were all pretty nice!


The walking tour took me round ancient streets and churches. Having visited a lot of Uk cathedrals, visiting those in places like Italy, which never went through the Reformation, is always slightly disconcerting. Colour and pictures and paintings? What is this! I’m used to them being plain, with the stone only forming beauty. The sheer number of images is mind-blowing, especially when you see some of the painters. The Caravaggio Le Sette Opere di Misericordia was particularly wonderful. So much to see and wander round, I never got to all of them.


The history of Naples in the 20th century is not the best, a town beset by a lot of corruption. But I think it may have been responsible for the historical legacy of the old town centre, with it’s lanes and small roads, the surprise squares and statues. It was not modernised at all and is fascinating to wander round. Certain streets are home to specialists, such as Via San Gregorio Armeno, which is full of presepi makers – figures for nativity scenes.


I made sure I had time to try the local speciality – PIZZA! I went to Pizza Gino Sorbillo, generally regarded as one of the best places in town for pizza and it was brilliant – both the busy restaurant and the food 🙂

Naples Food

At this point, I decided it was time to head inside for slightly longer as it was getting a bit wet. As I walked towards the Archaeological Musem I was totally bemused by the attitude of the locals to the rain. It’s as though this was a once in a lifetime event and they had no idea how to deal with it. Just a little sprinkle had people heading for cover. It’s not as though you couldn’t get umbrellas…for most of the weekend, you couldn’t go a block without seeing opportunistic salesmen.

Naples (1 Feb 2014)

The Musueum was great, with lots of Roman art and lots from Pompeii. Again, I think it would have been great to be able to see the artifacts in situ as such, how did they display the various artworks alongside the everyday objects. The mosaics were amazing, to think these were basically floor coverings. the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Room) was also fun – flying phalluses with bells on! Seriously, what were these for?

Museo Archeologico Nazionale

I was back at a museum on Sunday, this time the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte. Loads of paintings from masters, including Raphael, Titian and my favourite Caravaggio. There’s a LOT in this place and it’s well worth getting the audio guide, even if the translation seems odd at times and the narrator has difficulty with some of the names. As well as the art collection (most of it came from the mother of Charles VII of Bourbon), you also get to wander round the royal apartments.

Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

I really enjoyed my time in Naples, there’s so much to see and I only touched the surface. I’d like to go back to see Herculaneum, to see more of the museums and sights and spend more time wandering around. That said, Naples does not give the impression of being welcoming – it’s in the architecture. It’s all closed and square, with shutters, with lots of grafitti, with no glimpse of what is behind the walls. I never felt unsafe, but the streets themselves seem to tell you to watch out and don’t bother them. I fully recommend it though, but probably go with friends and be prepared.