The final expedition for the year has come and gone very successfully, with all the Himex members and also all the Adventure Consultants members reaching the summit. For us it was an uneventful season which is what we are always striving for.
I personally started the expedition and made sure that all logistics were in place at BC before returning to Ktm with a group of Japanese trekkers that Mountain Experience we handling I then spent a few days living and working in my office building changing the business structure and shifting our office from the 3rd floor to the ground floor as well as consolidating our office space so as it is more efficient. Plans that I had been thinking about whilst I was on K2. I also had a big tidy out of equipment, finding old boxes that contained such things as fax machine and the like. Having found a company that recycles such items we disposed of so much old equipment that was taking up valuable storage space, so our store now looks to be much more empty with some spare shelfing space at last. The old office I am in the process of conveying into an apartment so as I can stay here for longer periods rather than in a hotel.
This is all part of my “hanging up of boots” so as to make a structure where I can start expeditions then retreat to Kathmandu where I have a stable office structure and can keep an eye on the expedition without being on the other side of the world, but can also be active with the actual business. It looks to be very romantic to be “on expedition” all the time, and although we all aim to have a mobile office, this is somewhat more difficult when we do not always have a reliable wifi system, access to printers and scanners and the like. I am afraid it is still more efficient to be in an office.
I am now back in London and spending the first time for more than a few days at a time in my office planning the future programs. It is good to be in my own bed and to be able to cook my own meals. And I am currently working on a new website and new products. But in the meanwhile I received a rather complimentary expedition report from Dan Horne about his experience with us on Manaslu, which others tell me I should share. Normally I would thank Dan for the report and just file it away, but apparently I should share this with you.
The Himalayan Experience……experience
Whilst many are still on the hill waiting for their chance to head to the summit, I am already well settled back into life in the UK…..still 5 days before I should be sitting on the plane home….this being one of the many reasons I consider my choice to climb with Himex the best choice I could have made.
But how did I even end up here? Rewind 2 years and the only climbing I had done in my life was when I was about 8 year’s old and had climbed Snowdown – a proud moment at the time but with a giftshop at the top and wearing a new “I climbed Snowdown” t-shirt on my way down, not what the future me would consider real climbing. October 2015, I’d watched a few episodes of ‘Everest Beyond the Limit’ featuring Russell and his team guiding clients up the tallest mountain in the world, and a long forgotten childhood dream (even before I conquered Snowdon) was awakened. At first it seemed an impossible dream….do some research into mountains like Everest and Manaslu and phrases like “ultra mountain”, “highest mountain in the world” as well as the relatively miniscule numbers of people who have tackled these summits, make these places seem only available to the elite of the climbing world.
Yet, one email to Himex 2 years ago, and the ball was suddenly rolling. I was open and honest about my lack of climbing experience, a little background on who I was and Russell offered to meet up with me in London to discuss things face to face.
Of course, during my research I had discovered that Russell was the man to listen to about trying to achieve the Everest dream – not only did he possess personal records for tackling mountains himself, some faster than anyone else in history, but his company was also responsible for putting more clients on the top of mountains like Everest, not to mention the best safety record in the industry….if this idea of mine was going to go beyond a brief meeting, this was the man I’d want to be doing it with.
Not long after, we’d met up in London to meet and talk about what my motivation was for this new idea and how best to go about it. Getting some climbing under my belt was obviously priority number 1, so he pointed me in the direction of Sebastien who now runs the company in Chamonix, France, that Russell founded. Here I could undertake a climbing course specifically designed for me with the fact I wanted to climb Everest as the end goal. 6 months later and I was travelling to Chamonix to learn the basics and show/discover if I had any natural ability for the mountains.
Chamonix Experience, having been founded by Russell, has the same attention to detail and safety as all of Russell’s trips to the Himalayas, so again I was in great hands.
Being such closely tied companies, the communication between the two was excellent, so my level of competence and progress was quickly discussed between Russell and Seb, and before I knew it the next step was in place: climbing Mont Blanc.
More fitness and gym work in London, then August 2016 I headed back to Chamonix to take on my first mountain under the guidance of Seb’s fantastic guiding team. A brilliant experience over a 7 day course, again incorporating some more skills which would be useful for the bigger mountains I was aiming for, and I had achieved the summit of Mont Blanc via the Italian route in fantastic time, with ideal conditions…..another testament to how well planned out these trips are with companies of this calibre.
Upon my return again Russell and Seb were in contact to discuss my next move, and based on my performance on Mont Blanc the team decided I was ready to sign up to the Manaslu trip for 2017. A very exciting moment to hear that I had performed well enough so far to be moving up to this next level, with the endorsement of guys like Seb and Russell.
As it was quite a way off between Mont Blanc and Manaslu we decided it would be a good idea to put one more trip in the diary in between: a 7 day course incorporating summits of the Matterhorn and the Eiger in early August 2017.
Again, this trip was specifically tailored by Chamonix Experience, and went to perfection, even enabling us to summit both mountains in 3 days rather than 4….credit to the planning of the trip as well as a great indicator of how I was progressing with both fitness and skill.
A few weeks back home and now it was time for the big one: Manaslu 2017 was starting on 26th August. Flights had been booked, again with a bit of inside info from Russell on the best route to take to Kathmandu to ensure minimum problems with baggage etc, and using the expedition list on the Himex website, I felt I was fully prepared and ready to go.
Upon landing the pickup had already been organised and a short, somewhat bumpy ride, through Kathmandu, and we arrived at the delightful Hyatt Hotel….and within seconds were greeted by Russell and Ritchie and welcomed into the hotel. I think we sometimes take for granted how seamless things can go – hours earlier I was alone in the airport in London, then 2 flights later I had all my bags with me and was sipping a beer with the guys I’d be spending the next 5 weeks with in Kathmandu, all without a single problem.
Before we knew it, we’d repacked our kit into the expedition barrels which Russell then had whisked off from the hotel on their long trip via foot to basecamp – more organisational wizardry that to Russell seems totally normal but to me seemed incredible.
A couple of days later we leave the hotel early in the morning to be taken across to the airport, where I expected a certain level of disorganisation – wrong again….within 30 mins we were through the airport and were standing next to the helicopter that would be flying us to Samagon. This trip was around 40 minutes and breathaking, cameras at the ready for photos and videos of the views as the giant mountains started to come into view….quite a change from the French alps who could only boast peaks of around 3,800m!
A painless landing in Samagon and a quick walk to our rooms at the tea house and straight away we were undertaking our first little trek into the hills – Russ knew the plan like the back of his hand to get us acclimatised and ready for the summit and this plan was already under way without us even knowing it!
3 days in Samagon, with similar treks each day, some cards in the evening and fantastic food cooked each day by the Himex staff and we were ready to head to basecamp. So far not a hint of a headache, upset stomach or any of the other things people had spoken to me about when undertaking these sorts of trips….we were being looked after by a team of people who knew exactly what they were doing.
The walk to basecamp was about 4 hours into the clouds, but given our previous days off acclimatising, well within our capabilities.
We arrived to discover a camp that had been already set up well in advance, in the best location, with facilities that would have looked at home in a UK music festival accessible by countless trucks, not walked 4,500m up a mountain by yaks and porters; again, experience showing through.
For the next weeks between mountain rotations this basecamp was our home, and we were provided with tea at 7am in the morning in our tents, 3 excellent meals per day and even the odd evening of merriment with ‘guide brews’ and red wine.
Outside of basecamp rest days, we stuck to a well thought out plan of rotations up the mountain, lead by our guide Ritchie, giving us the chance to make slow but steady progress up the hill to increase our acclimatisation to ensure we would be ready for the summit push. Some days were tough as we expected they would be, but we kept pushing on, hitting the targets we’d been set and sticking to the plan, and due to our early arrival and consistent pace we avoided any crowds on the mountain and were often the first to the various camps and so could enjoy some incredible moments alone on the mountain.
Our summit push became a good lesson in how to roll with the punches and adapt. Having reached camp 3 we had planned several rest days at basecamp, before heading up. However, the weather forecasting that our team uses suggested an incoming weather system with lots of snow which could well have left us at basecamp for one week or more before it would have been safe to go up the hill. After some deliberation and discussion between climbers, Sherpas and Russell/Ritchie, and assessment of the health and fitness of the team, we decided that we would make an early push.
A routine climb to camp 1 had become ‘relatively’ simple and fast by now, so early the following morning we were able to be up and on our way to camp 2, again at relatively high pace. Upon arrival at camp 2, given the early hour in the day and the fact the team was still feeling strong, a key decision was made to head to camp 3 after a couple of hour’s rest at camp 2. This would then put us in a great position to make a decision on how we should attack the rest of the mountain, given it still looked like the weather would change in the next 2 or 3 days.
At camp 3, we immediately started our usual process of melting snow and eating some food, before deciding we should get on oxygen in late afternoon and get some sleep…..aiming for a midnight departure hopefully all the way to the top via a quick pause at camp 4.
The 11pm wakeup had us ready an hour later, and we were on our way. Despite the new experience of wearing a downsuit, and it being pitch black, I felt safe and fit and was more than happy that I was now following directly in the footsteps of Phurba Tashi up the mountain (our regular guide had decided to descend and run things from basecamp due to a bit of ill health; a tough decision for him but one made for the best of the team) 3.5 hours later and we arrived at camp 4 for a brief stop, check of how we were feeling, and then off we went again.
As the sun started to rise at 0630, and we were approaching 8,000m, the views around us were as incredible as I had hoped, not to mention the fact that our early start and assault on this early window meant that we were the first ones on the mountain this high….breaking trail with someone of Phurba’s calibre/reputation is certainly a story to tell.
We continued our climb at a steady pace, and as promised Phurba fixed some rope to the true summit of the mountain – a very tricky cornice that not every climber has the chance to climb, so again I felt privileged that I was able to make it there when many others have to make do with the ‘normal summit’.
A quick descent to camp 4, and Phurba and I decided that we were going to make the trip all the way down to basecamp that day – I was extremely happy that I felt strong enough to attempt this as I think most people would stop at camp 2 on their way down then descend the rest of the way the following day All in all it was about an 18 hour day from C3 to summit then B/C, which I hope would give me some idea of what the summit day on Everest would be like.
So, in the space of 2 years I have gone from no mountain experience, to 4 summits including an 8,000er and I have now signed up for Everest 2018. And this is all down to the experience and guidance of both Himex and Chamex, and really does go to show that these dreams are attainable even if you think that surely it’s ‘just for other people’.
Here’s to success next year on the tallest mountain on Earth!!