NEWSLETTERS - Off season 2012

Xmas Newsletter 201227 December 2012

Hi All

The off season is not so interesting for Himalayan Expeditioners, so it is always hard to write a newsletter that might be of any interest to readers. However, I have been constantly busy with various projects that are all related to expeditions and getting ready for the next year. As we all know this last year has been a difficult one for decision making, but in the end all of our members and staff are safe and well. It has been a year where I have seen the loss of many friends, and this makes me even more determined to always try and make sound decisions.

The Himalayan Experience turn around on Everest, and the avalanches on Mont Blanc and then on Manaslu have all provoked much discussion around the world and within the guiding community. So as readers will understand I have been to many meetings and forums on how we should be conducting high altitude guiding. I was at the IFMGA – High Altitude Guiding Seminar held here in Chamonix for two days where we discussed in depth what is the responsibility of a guide at high altitude. We discussed at length how do we explain and quantify “gut feeling” the feeling that things are not correct. (Why do we decide to ski one slope but then decide not to ski another??)  In the end we realise that a guide is taking in various bits of information, but sub-consciously and that this information then becomes the feeling that then becomes a conscious decision. But why are all guides not the same, why do some make one decision and others make another decision, this is more complicated and we really cannot answer this. But for sure we know that guides are coming under extreme pressure from clients, and that there is always a will to make clients happy. Then there is the client expectation, and can a guide always guarantee to fulfil this expectation safely. A difficult question which I cannot answer. But this conference was well attended by representatives with a huge amount of experience  from many countries, which ensured a lively debate.

The Himalayan Experience relationship with Toread the Chinese clothing company that we are partnered with continues. Once again I travelled to Beijing for a hectic 3 days of meetings concerning design and marketing of the clothing and equipment that our Sherpa staff are wearing and testing. Meetings from 08.30 – 20.00 for the first two days, and then a presentation to the Beijing University of Geosciences in the evening about high altitude mountaineering. It was interesting to field so many interesting and thoughtful questions. The third day was much more relaxing with a 06.30 start and then 8 hours of walking over snow covered hills that surround Beijing. It was truly a remarkable experience to see just how many Chinese people are out enjoying this environment, but also rather shocking to see the little respect that most have concerning litter. Our group of about 30 people all carried rubbish bags and we collected litter along the way. It was a very interesting experience to walk from the affluent Beijing and very quickly to be in the poor fruit growing valleys, quite a contrast.

I was also fortunate to be invited by past Himalayan Experience  member Mark Slatter (accompanied by another Himex member Chris Dovell) to the England versus New Zealand rugby match in London. I have not seen the All Blacks play live since leaving NZ, so this was a great honour for me. NZ was the favourite team, but managed to lose the match!!!! The ambience in the stadium was electrifying and despite the loss it was a great experience to be there. Chris and I then dashed off to the opera in the evening.

It is interesting to see my very old friend and fellow guide Harry Taylor start a new business. Harry and I first met in Kathmandu in 1988 on the British North East Ridge Everest Expedition. I was supposed to be there with my good friend Paddy Freaney, but Paddy hurt his back and was unable to go, so I teamed up with Harry. Both Paddy and Harry were ex SAS, and many of the expedition members were ex military, so there did seem to be some form of connection. On that trip Harry and I became the first people to cross the “Pinnacles” on the NE Ridge, spending 3 days and 2 nights above 8,000, one of the nights in a snow hole at about 8,300m. That night it snowed a lot and the following day we had to climb upwards to get to the North Ridge before we managed to find a route down the avalanche prone slopes. An interesting and great trip that I will always be grateful to have shared with Harry. But over the years I have heard so many people who want to be associated to the SAS, or have a friend that was in the SAS and so on. Well now you have your chance, if you want to experience what this is like, but you do not have the time to become a professional soldier, here it is. Harry has opened a resort where you can train and play games. Visit his web site for more information

After Everest I also made a commitment to try and improve safety standards on Everest. This has involved meetings with the Expedition Operators Association in Nepal, and a meeting with the Ministry of Tourism and Mountaineering to try and encourage the officials to change some of the rules that effect our members safety on the mountains. The current rule book is 35 years old and many of the rules are not relevant to modern day mountaineering. This is a slow process and I do not know how much progress we can expect. Remember that Nepal is effectively without a government, so how we can expect change in the Ministry I am not quite sure, but without trying is not an option.

As part of these efforts to improve our safety, I have been working with several companies to obtain sponsorship for the SPCC Ice Fall Doctors. Several companies have offered to donate boots, clothing, tents, radios and the like to these quite people who all expeditions rely upon to put the difficult and dangerous route through the Ice Fall. I feel that with better equipment and better training that these Sherpas will be safer whilst doing their job. Thanks to Conrad Anker we have been able to get some of the Ice Fall Doctors on the Khumbu Climbing School course this winter.
I am sure that this will be beneficial.

Over the years we have seen that it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain evacuation insurance whilst climbing at altitudes above 6,000m and whilst using ropes and crampons. Himalayan Experience is proud to say that we now have a good working relationship and partnership with Global Rescue who can provide such insurance.

The winter season here in Chamonix has started well with more than 2m of snow outside my office door. The ski area is now fully open and Chamonix Experience my old company that I sold to Sebastian Rougegre is doing well and is offering many new products this year. Chamex continues to train many of the Himex clients, and we still have a very close relationship.

Personally I have been out on several short tours skinning up and then skiing untracked powder, the motive being that Chris Dovell and David McGrain (past Himalayan Experience clients) will be heading down to Mont Vinson with Adventure Network International in January. Himalayan Experience will now be offering trips to Antarctica from next season.

And finally, you may remember that David McGrain has a charity in South America, but he has also been helping with the funding of the Khumbu Culture Centre that Phurba Tashi tells me is likely to be finished by spring season next year. This is a project that has been organised by Himalayan Experience and will benefit the Sherpa staff that put so much effort into making our expeditions safe and successful.

Have a great Xmas and a safe and successful New Year.