Newsletter 118 April 2007
Welcome to Himex/Everest 2007. Firstly it is worth explaining, for people who have been expecting an earlier dispatch, that the reason it has taken so long is that frankly not much has happened. Our progress has been nothing but routine so far, and identical in almost every respect to expeditions of previous years.
We all congregated in Kathmandu, in the romantically named "Yak and Yeti" hotel during the last days of March and beginning of April. The hotel was relatively luxurious compared to previous years - we had been gifted this little bit luxury owing to the vast numbers of staff building the new American embassy. Having expected to depart Kathmandu on the 3rd of April, we ended up being delayed until the 5th, owing to a South China Air overbooking glitch. This was hardly a hardship, as most of the team simply continued to sight-see or took to the pool sun loungers.
Our luxury was in stark contrast to the misery and hardship Russ, Dean, Mogens and Mark Whetu were suffering having left Kathmandu on the 3rd for the short, brutal overland drive to BC, through Zangmu, the Chinese border. Russ was in charge of a convoy of ten huge trucks, packed to the hilt with our equipment and provisions. It's more than a tough journey, and these guys had to endure rapid altitude gain over a very short period - not for the faint of heart.
We left the hotel early on the 5th in two coaches and headed to the airport. Amidst unexpectedly huge crowds, we all successfully checked in and were soon on our way. During the 2 hour flight to Lhasa, the lucky people on the left hand side of the aircraft managed to catch their first fleeting glimpse of Everest, standing proudly above the stunning Himalayan range. The excitement was tangible.
Upon arrival at a now very modern Lhasa airport, we endured the tediously inefficient immigration process without mishap, eventually congregating on the forecourt and boarding two modern coaches for the drive into Lhasa. What was originally a 2.5 hour journey, now only takes an hour owing to the recent addition of a spectacular new tunnel though an adjacent mountain. Having arrived in Lhasa, our coach pulled up outside a spectacular 5 star hotel. We all de-coached, and poured into the beautiful reception area. It was quite jaw-dropping. However, 15 minutes later it was determined that we had arrived at the wrong hotel, and so sheepishly we had to reboard the coaches. Our driver owed us all a beer - it was very funny.
A little later, successfully checked in at our correct hotel, we all met for lunch and then divided for sightseeing. We were slowly acclimatising, as we walked gently everywhere, drinking copious amounts of water. Over the subsequent 3 nights/two days we expected to feel the first meaningful effects of altitude, having jumped from 1,400m in Kathmandu, to 3,600m in Lhasa. However, our visits to various monasteries made the acclimatisation process easy, as we walked gently everywhere.
On the 8th, we once again boarded our coaches, and headed off for our next destination - Xigatse, only a little higher at 3,900m, and a 4-5 hour drive away. Only a couple of years ago this drive was arduous, owing to the simple fact that the roads were unmade and rock-strewn. With the sealing of the road surface, we made double-quick time, and ingested much less dust [if any]. Xigatse, is another Chinese "new town", growing so quick the bemused locals appear to struggle to keep up. We were only due to stay one night here, so immediately upon arrival, a small group of us, led by Bill Crouse ventured into the "backstreets" to buy the expedition's meat. We soon arrived at the local abattoir, which was a sight to behold. Used to the clinical approach of the western world, we were stunned to see meat processing Tibetan style. Having satisfied our ghoulish desires, we loaded the meat aboard, stopping once more enroute for the hotel to purchase frozen chicken and pork. The rest of the team simply visited the grand local monastery, famous for the largest Buddha in Tibet, some 10m tall, or simply wandered to manic streets, searching for the internet cafes.
The following morning, under crystal blue skies, we once again boarded our coaches for the slightly longer drive to Shegar, a relatively desolate town, and hotel that resembled an ex-military compound. This is where we started to lose the worldly pleasures that we had all grown so used to. Hot water and electrical power suddenly became erratic, but true to the form of previous years the food was once again very good. We were due to spend 2 nights here at a new elevation of 4200m. Having taken the first arrival afternoon relatively easy, the following morning we all coached into New Tigri, the adjacent town over which towers an old, semi destroyed Tibetan fort, at the top of a hill which tops out at 4,500m and from which we hoped to catch a glimpse of a still distant Everest. This was effectively our first real exercise for a while, and it was nice to stretch both the legs and lungs. Sadly Everest was obscured by cloud, but the exercise was far more important.
The following morning, pre-dawn, we boarded our coaches for the final 4-5 hour leg to BC. Once having negotiated a bizarrely sighted Chinese check point, our good luck with the sealed road ended. Our pace having slowed, we climbed to the crest of the final high pass before BC, hoping to see what is the most spectacular view in the world - almost the complete Himalayan range. Two hours later, and little before our expected arrival time we passed the famous Rongbuk Monastery, and started to negotiate the rocky surface that is BC. Unfortunately, our coaches with their long wheel-base got beached on the undulating surface. Unable to proceed any further we all piled off and simply walked the remaining 400m. We had arrived.
The tented city that Russ, Dean, Mogens and an army of Sherpa's had built was a sight to behold. Not only were all the personal, mess, cooking, communication and toilet tents all erected, but standing out in the foreground of the mountain was the brand new "Tigerdome"- a relatively huge structure, of ingeniously connected framework covered with a white, insulated skin. To one end of this skin was a huge window with Everest standing proud in the distance. Inside, standing on a level hard floor was an array of furniture, from loungers to pull-out sofas, and a small bar with classic bar-stools. in one corner stood a flat-screen TV, and DVD player, alongside an Aga-style heater and chimney. this was a triumph of logistics.
The respective teams slowly chose their tents and started to unpack, moving very gently owing to the severe altitude adjustment to 5150m we had just made. It was suddenly very noticeable that the air was thin. The following day was a strict "do nothing" day as we let our bodies adjust. The remaining days, up until today the 18th have been spent hiking and resting on consecutive days. Most if not all of the members and film crew have slowly got to grips with the altitude, with no one apparently having too hard a struggle.
Russ has been very busy organising the next step of our journey - our trip up to ABC, which will begin tomorrow. The first group will leave in the morning and consist of a mixed group of climbers and film-crew. the first leg over the first day will take us up to Interim Camp at a rough elevation of 5800m, halfway up the long glacial moraine that eventually ends at the North Col. The second day will see the journey to its conclusion, climbing the remaining 600m to ABC.It is acknowledged as tough couple of days, as its essentially "new" altitude, without the luxury of descending to sleep. Most people will feel rough for the first few days after their arrival. Our equipment will journey to ABC on an virtual herd of yaks, arriving maybe one day ahead of each team.
Whilst we make our way gingerly up to ABC, Phurba and his team of supermen Sherpas have not only built the ABC camp, but also so far fixed rope to the North Col. Over the coming two weeks they expect to carry loads and fix rope completely to the summit. This year they are also removing the rope from previous years, fixing in place a second ladder beneath the second-step to alleviate congestion. When I term these guys supermen, I mean it. Without them we wouldn't stand a chance of succeeding, and for that the whole team, climbers and film-crew offer their thanks.
We start moving tomorrow - more later.