The Summit Push
The 14th of May 2012, 4am, Everest base camp. We are up and ready for a gruelling 7 days on the hill, and if we are lucky enough we will get our chance to stand on top of the world.
Roger and Paul who will be waiting for the second weather window got up early to wave us off. This was great, especially as we were all feeling pretty nervous, having them there cracking jokes helped to dispel the butterflies.
We began through the icefall about 5am. There were 6 of us in our climbing team, myself, Matt and Becky, collectively known as the kids with our mean age of 21. A French lady, Valarie, an American dude, Rick and our guide Dr Rob Casserley. We move through the icefall at a good pace having travelled through it so many times before. I felt strong and completely psyched for what lay ahead. I enjoy the icefall; it is unstable and dangerous but also exciting and beautiful. We reached camp 1 in good time and sat in a tent for a while raiding leftover food supplies. Unfortunately all we could find was pate and some strange looking tuna. We then headed for camp 2, its only took about 2 and half hours but it’s a slog in the midday sun. A bit of excitement came when a massive avalanche erupted off Nuptse, and headed straight for us causing me and Becky to drop our bags and run for our lives (sprinting at over 6,000m is not easy!). Luckily it wasn’t as big as it first looked and didn’t reach us, but I did think for a moment that it was game over.
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Message from Team Mollie
We are delighted to announce that Mollie summitted Everest on Saturday morning the 19th May and got safely back down to basecamp on Sunday night. We have spoken to her and she is in great spirits and wearing her frost nip like a badge of honour. Huge thanks go out to all her backers particularly the wonderful Mark Evison Foundation (link) and also to the many other individuals and organisations who have contributed in so many ways.
It is a shame some of the press keep getting it wrong though, many congratulations to Leanna Shuttleworth and Becky Bellworthy, both younger than Mollie who also summitted successfully this weekend.
Mollie is now on the 30 mile trek back to Lukla airport from where she flies to Kathmandu and home next week to celebrate.
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Friday 11th May 2012 - Pangboche mini break
We have just returned from our little holiday down the valley. We have spent four nights in Pangboche, resting, eating and playing various sporting events (of which I am reigning Frisbee champion!) We have been waiting for a weather window for our summit attempt and had about a week of bad weather so decided to drop down to Pangboche at 3950m. This is a reduced altitude of 1,400m and therefore much better place to recover and gain energy than basecamp would be.
In the next week there is a weather window opening up, when the jet stream will lift from the summit and winds will be significantly reduced to hopefully below 20mph. So depending on changes in this window, around the 14th we will leave basecamp and head straight to camp 2. We will then have a rest day there and the following day head to camp 3 located halfway up the Lhotse face.
Leaving camp 3 can be thought of as the beginning of our summit day, from this point we will be on oxygen and climbing at seriously high altitude. We will leave early in the morning, cross the Yellow Band and the Geneva Spur and then finally reach the South Col and our final camp. Depending on the weather up there and the amount of other climbers going for summit we will either spend a few hours here or a whole day and night (if the weather is not perfect or if it is too busy), before we head out on the long haul to the summit!
So how am I feeling about this huge challenge ahead...? At the moment I am very excited, this is the grand finale of a project I have been working on and putting so much effort into over the last year. I am of course slightly apprehensive too, this is going to be tough, there's no hiding that. But overall I am still pretty relaxed, I am quite confident at this stage that I will make it, but if not I can always come back in the future! Anyway I am off to climb a big hill, fingers crossed for a summit on the 18th or 19th May but that all depends on the weather!
Wish me luck!
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Friday 4th May 2012- The Lhotse Face
We have just finished our last acclimatisation rotation on the mountain before the big summit push. We reached camp 3 on Mount Everest at 7,100m. It’s not thought that the body can acclimatise much above this altitude and we will start on oxygen at camp 3, so no need to go any higher until the real deal!
On the last rotation we were on the mountain for 5 days, most of which were pretty full on! When we left basecamp we headed straight for camp 2, skipping camp one altogether. Largely because we are now a lot more adapted to the high altitude and can cope with longer days on the hill. But also our camp 1 was no longer standing. Two days before this a massive avalanche came off Nuptse just above camp 1. It wiped out almost everyone’s set up at camp one and quickly travelled down into the upper part of the icefall. By some miracle no one died. Only one person was seriously hurt, a cook boy, who was quickly helicoptered out of camp one.
Travelling through the icefall on the way to camp 2 I felt pretty strong and quite quickly got out of that ice maze. I stopped at the wreck of camp one for a drink and then the sun came up. Travelling through the Western Cwm when the sun is up is a hot experience.....it completely zaps all of your energy. Temperatures in the Cwm can get well above 90 F, largely due to it’s sheltered location and the sun’s reflection off the glacier. Therefore the rest of the journey to camp 2 was slow and rather painful.
The next day we had a rest day at camp 2, to recover from the journey up and to prepare ourselves for the infamous Lhotse Face! Camp 2 is an interesting place to hang out.....It’s located on the edge of the Western Cwm at 6,300m. When you lie in bed you can hear the roar of the jet stream buffeting the summit of Everest over 2,000m above you. It sounds a bit like the roar of the ocean, so if you close your eyes and imagine hard enough you can pretend you’re at the beach....(sipping cocktails and sunbathing...?) Life at camp 2 can be hard, mainly due to the altitude, operating at this height is hard, you have very little energy, a reduced appetite and there isn't too much entertainment either!
However, the next day we had a very exciting prospect. We were going to climb the Lhotse Face to camp 3. We walked for just over an hour to the bottom of the face, put on our crampons and harnesses. As soon as we stepped onto the face the winds picked up incredibly. We pushed on for around 50m up the face with ever increasing winds. When a large gust came you had to stand still and brace yourself against the wind. At one point a gust blew me off both my feet! We weren’t making any progress....so after half an hour on the face Kenton made the decision to turn around and head back to camp 2, we would try again the next day.
We struck some luck the day after, winds were significantly reduced. We left camp 2 at 7am and were at camp 3 just after midday. But wow such an epic climb up the face! The whole of the Lhotse Face has fixed ropes on it, so we jumar up the ropes. It’s a tough climb, the face had very little snow on it so you are kicking your crampons into hard blue ice. As it’s still early in the season steps have not yet been kicked into the face by other climbers making the job pretty tough, especially at 7,000m!
The other thing about the Lhotse face is the rock fall, either rocks dislodged by other climbers above or rocks coming from high up on the tops of the mountain. These rocks from high up travel so fast it feels like a meteorite, they make a loud whooshing sound as they fly past. You don't want to get in the way of one of them! Camp 3 is an amazing campsite. It’s carved out of the side of the Lhotse Face with amazing views up to the yellow band and the south summit and down through the Western Cwm. We only spent a few minutes here to catch our breath and then we abseiled back down the face and walked back to camp 2. Exhausted, but very happy to have reached camp 3 on Mount Everest!
The next day we quickly got down to basecamp for some much needed R & R. We are now fully acclimatised, so the next time on the mountain will be the real deal, the big summit push! However this could still be some time away. We have to wait for a weather window , this will be when that roaring jetstream lifts from the summit of Everest. It will give us the opportunity to climb up there and if we are lucky enough the chance to stand on top of the world.....
Wednesday 25th April 2012 - Camp 1 & Camp 2 Mount Everest
Yesterday we returned to base camp after a couple of very exciting nights on the big hill. We started early sunday morning around 5am, up again through the uncontrollable world of the Khumbu icefall. We moved faster this time due to our further acclimatisation. It's a weird place the icefall, it almost feels like a living creature that holds your fate in its hands. Its beauty is quite enchanting....but the less time spent in its presence the better.
We arrived at camp one around 9 30 am. Camp one is located on the flat plains at the head of the icefall. As we arrived the winds were picking up so we bunkered down in our tents and started the endless process of melting snow to drink and cook with. I was sharing a tent with Roger, a very cool dude, ex marine and all round nice chap. Arriving at camp one at 9 30am meant we had to spend 22hours in our tent. During the day the suns heat makes life at camp one a very hot place. The wind throughout the day picked up incredibly, creating lots of spindrift throughout the camp. Therefore we had a system of ventilating our tent from the heat. As soon as the wind dropped for a moment we would open all the doors of the tent to cool us down. However very quickly the spindrift would pick up again, showering us with snow. so we would lock up the tent again and be at the mercy of the sun's heat. This process went on and on until the sun finally set around 6pm, then it got cold, very cold.
The next morning we woke early to again start the process of melting snow for breakfast and to drink throughout the day. At 7 30 we left camp one to begin the long trudge to camp two. It was bitterly cold as the sun had not yet risen, giving the need for balaclavas and big down coats. The route from camp one to camp two heads straight through the middle of the Western Cwm. This is what I had been looking forward to. The Western Cwm is a massive valley, often called the valley of silence. To the left of me was Mount Everest looming above, directly in front of me was the massive peak of Lhotse and to the right was the beautiful Nuptse. It's a truly amazing place and a total honour to travel through. Especially after the unstable environment of the Khumbu icefall, the Western Cwm seems such a peaceful experience.
When we arrived at camp two , we witnessed the destruction of the winds from the night before; our camp had been flattened. Tents had been ripped apart, poles snapped and our mess tent was a mass of bent metal on the floor. After a quick breather we began to help the sherpas re build camp 2. We quickly erected some new sleeping tents and strongly tethered them to the ground. The sherpas then started on the mess tent, they worked like a well oiled machine. In very little time the mess tent was once again standing, held together with rope and duct tape. After camp two was rebuilt we spent the rest of the day eating, chatting and reading. Letting our bodies adapt to the camps altitude of 6,300m (getting pretty high!) Luckily we all seemed to be acclimatising well. You would get out of breath if you walked somewhere too fast, but no headaches, loss of appetite etc!
The next morning Roger and I left camp one at 6 30am to head back down to BC. Walking through the Western Cwm as the sun was just rising over Lhotse was beautiful, totally amazing, I think I was smiling to myself under my buff most of the way......experiencing the Westerm Cwm was what I was looking forward to the most on this mountain, it completely lived up to expectations. We were back at BC around 10am and just in time for a late breakfast! We now have a few rest days here until we head back up the hill to touch camp three and acclimatise further before the big summit push!
Thursday 19th April 2012 - Everest Basecamp
I am currently sitting on a rock outside my tent at base camp, prayer flags are blowing in the wind above my head, I am surrounded from all angles by massive white peaks and the Khumbu icefall is sprawled out in front of me, carving the way to the summit, which elusively hides just out of sight behind the west ridge.
We have been living at base camp for 5 days now and it is definitely starting to feel like home. So far we have had two forays into the icefall. The first was just for a few hours to familiarise ourselves with the terrain. The 2nd trip in, the day before yesterday, we had a load carry to camp one. We took up sleeping bags and mats to enable us to sleep up there on the next trip.
The Khumbu icefall is truly an experience. It's located at the foot of the Khumbu glacier, where the glacier has hit the more solid rock at the bottom and compressed. Creating a maze of blocks of ice ranging from the size of a small car to a large house. The thing about the icefall is that it is continually moving, potentially up to a meter a day. This means passage through the icefall is one of the more dangerous parts of climbing Everest; as you are negotiating your way through a pretty unstable environment. However this is easy to forget when you are in amongst this beautiful ice world...at least until you hear a big creak and decide to move a little faster...
The route to camp 1 is apparently very fast this year. It took us just over 4 hours to get there on our first visit, where in previous years it could take double this time. Which bodes well for us, less time in the unstable icefall, less time not drinking/refueling and more time to recover at camp.
In a couple of days we will head back up to camp 1 to spend the night and possibly at camp 2 as well, depending on how we are acclimatising. Rest days at base camp are very important to increase acclimatisation and recover from forays on the hill. These days are pretty relaxed affairs at base camp. The biggest decision I have had to make today is whether I should drink tea or coffee at breakfast. However saying that we did have a pretty intense game of monopoly yesterday afternoon...
Wednesday 11th April 2012 - Gorak Shep
Currently in Gorak Shep, a very small but busy village and the last point of civilization before Base Camp. Tomorrow we will be arriving in Base Camp and getting ready to finally start the ascent of Mount Everest!
I have been trekking for 8 days to get here, it's been great fun with some big highs and lows. I have been walking in with a trekking group from Saint James Place who are on a charity trek to Base Camp and have raised over 500,000 for their foundation! An amazing effort! They have been a lot of fun with their constant banter and daily awards for the 'dong' of the day where the 'winner' has to wear a yak bell all day, and the infamous yellow t-shirt awards which thus far I have managed to avoid! They have also been incredibly generous in donating over $1,000 to my ActionAid appeal... and all I had to do was show them my tattoo of the chickens...
My highlight of the trek came on Sunday morning, despite a lack of Easter eggs... it was a truly amazing day. Our head sherpa Dorjee took me aside in the morning before we left for our trek and said that when we arrived in Pangboche I would need to go and visit the Head Lama of the Khumbu to be blessed to climb Everest and then we would go and visit his family at their home in the same town. When we arrived in Pangboche the four of us that are climbing from our trekking team headed off with Dorjee to meet the Lama. This was a truly humbling and quite an emotional experience and definitely helped us reflect on what lies ahead. We then went to meet Dorjee's family at his home. His wife, two small children and a collection of other relatives. They had also invited 6 Lamas from the town to come and bless us as well. This involved a 20 minute ceremony involving lots of chanting, horn blowing and rice throwing. By the end of this day I felt very blessed indeed!
Tomorrow is the biggest day of the whole expedition so far. Finally I will arrive at Base Camp and it will all get a lot more real. The SJP trekkers are staying at Base Camp for a couple of nights before heading back along the trail and I'm sure it will be quite sad to say goodbye, I have really enjoyed gettting to know them all over the last 8 days. When they leave we will venture into the Khumbu Icefall, maybe touch camp 1... However we will not sleep there until after the 18th April - This is when we are having our Puja ceremony which will ensure us safe passage on the mountain! All very exciting stuff! I will try to keep this up to date as well as twitter, however may get trickier as we get into the expedition! Hope everyone at home is well X.
Friday 6th April 2012 - Namche Bazaar
Here we are in Namche Bazaar! This is probably the most famous and largest town on the trail to Everest basecamp. All trekkers and climbers heading for Everest will pass through this great town full of tea houses, bakeries, kit shops and even an irish pub.
So carrying on from the last blog... we did head to the airport on Tuesday, but only to sit in the departure 'lounge' for 11 hours, drinking hideous coffee. We were waiting for the weather in Lukla to clear and enable us to land on the 100m runway. However, when the weather in Lukla cleared the weather system moved to Kathmandu, so we could land but not take off... so no flights on tuesday!
After such a full on day at the airport we headed back to the hotel in Kathmandu for the night to try again in the morning. On Tuesday evening a lot of my climbing team had arrived in Kathmandu, we are trekking in separately but I went to meet them at their hotel for dinner. They all seem super cool and I think we are going to have a lot of fun on the mountain!
So Wednesday morning skies were clear and we took the hideous 45 minute flight to Lukla. I hated everyone of those 45 minutes but a lot of the others seemed to enjoy it.....strange!
From Lukla we trekked for about 6 hours to the town of Monjo where we spent the night in a tea house eating Dahl Bhat and drinking lemon tea. The next day we trekked here to Namche and are now on a rest day to acclimatise to the altitude here at 3,440m.....so just another 5408m to the top of the world!
2nd April 2012- Kathmandu
When I woke this morning I experienced that split second moment of fear when you have absolutely no idea where you are. It was super hot, there was a crazy dog barking nearby and noisy birds singing outside. Then the realisation flooded in....I'm in Kathmandu, tomorrow I am flying to Lukla to begin the trek to basecamp and then the climb of Mount Everest begins! I smiled to myself and felt complete relief that I am here and this project can finally happen! It has taken just over a year to get here, months and months of training, trying to secure sponsorship, climbing trips and so much preparation. But here I am sitting in a sticky internet cafe in Kathmandu about to start a BIG adventure.
Last night the SJP trekkers arrived after a long flight, they all seem like a lot of fun and totally excited for their trek. Also in the group are two mountain guides from Chamonix, one of whom, Emily, it turns out we both got into this outdoor business through the Dorset Expediitionary Society. Also in the group is my new roommate Doc Natalie who is the medic for the SJP trek. And then of course Kenton and his cameraman Keith. From the stories I heard from Keith last night it sounds like he has done some amazing filming from Human Planet to mountaineering and hanging out in volcanos, he is rather inspiring...
Right off to get some bits and bobs around Thamal and some good coffee (my 3rd today... it’s too good).
Flying to Lukla tomorrow, however completely not looking forward to the flight! If you don't know about Lukla youtube it now and wish me luck!