Gary Bricknell's Everest Climb
Thursday 26th April
After our first sorte into the icefall, an important ceremony took place to safeguard the passage of Sherpas and climbers high on the mountain. It involves a local priest blessing the entire climbing team at a Puja, a ceremony that lasts around two hours where the priest chants prayers for the safety of the team. Prayer flags are erected over the alter and our entire camp to keep us safe. The ceremony also involves the sharing of offerings made to the mountain gods, including Chang, (the local alcoholic drink made from rice and tsampa), beer, chocolate, fizzy pop and a healthy dose of flour rubbed into the faces of unsuspecting friends in what can only be described as a "dignified flour fight.” It’s all rather chaotic, great fun, very relaxed, but an essential part of the pre-climbing phase of the expedition, and one that we all honour.
The next few days saw us back into the icefall at 0430am and a gradual acclimatisation, gingerly crossing the ladders that span huge yawning, bottomless crevasses, and following the chain of fixed rope through the more exposed passages. Everything is on the move in the icefall, as it creaks and groans as it tumbles out of the Western Cwm and falls around 600 vertical metres. We move as fast as we can through this labyrinth to minimise risk.
Kenton seemed very happy with the steady plod we had adopted, that over a period of four hours moved us up to Camp 1. There we fought with wind, snow stakes and tentpoles to erect a tent into which we threw sleeping bags and mats, all part of the stockpiling process of getting ready to push upwards. Camp 1 is an extraordinary place, a giant snow field that extends "into forever” with Everest and Lhotse towering above. I can now confirm that Everest is big. Very big. We then spent the night at Camp 1 in a storm that even Kenton described as "a little wild”. The whole day and night we dozed as the tent shook violently and it felt like we were about to be picked up and thrown against the mountain. Trying to cook whilst spindrift poured in through every gap was something of a nightmare, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
The next day we climbed to Camp 2, (little more than a walk, but a long flog up an endless valley with so many false summits on the way.) We arrived at Camp 2 and the place had basically been flattened due to the wind the previous night. We set about rebuilding and salvaging what tentage was useable, which brought the Sherpas and climbers closer together in a common purpose. We salvaged tent after tent with liberal use of duct tape that I kept wrapped around my water bottle for emergencies. How smug was I that this practice finally paid off! (The trekkers will appreciate this!) We were as pleased as punch as we reclaimed the camp from the storm debris.
Mountaineering at this height is exhausting. If you rush, you collapse. If everything is controlled, (even things like turning over in your sleeping bag at night,) you can control your breathing.
We are now back at Base Camp where the St. James’s Place Foundation flag flies, enjoying soda, showers, Bhim’s cooking and the occasional video on an Ipad.
This has been an amazing experience. Walking up the Western Cwm I need to keep pinching myself and remembering how long I have waited for this to be real. If I am not careful days will merge and the experience will soon be gone. Chris Bonington has a lot to answer for. In my youth, my A level results were pretty poor but I knew his book "Everest – The Hard Way” inside out. Now I am living the book for real, for myself.
More to follow in a few days.
Keep safe, stay cool,
Friday 13th April
After nine days of trekking the team finally arrived at Everest Base Camp, at 17,500 ft above sea level!
We find ourselves in a ‘campsite’ surrounded by an amphitheatre of some of the highest mountains in the world.
We all spent our first night under canvas, and for some it was their very first time camping, not helped by the constant creaking and cracking of the glacier beneath us, on which the tents are pitched. Sleep was also broken by the occasional rumble of avalanches breaking around the camp. Not quite your average campsite!!!
This morning we ventured on to the lower reaches of the Khumbu icefall that disgorges from the main Everest Basin. This is the starting point for every summit attempt from the south side. Every year as result of the movement of the glacier, the route up changes, and it is the job of the Ice Doctors (a small Sherpa team) to work out and equip the safest route. This morning several Sherpas ascended the icefall at 4am and headed with loads as high as 30kgs up to Camp 2, at 6,500 metres.
Kenton Cool, our guide, explained the basic route up through the icefall that involves crossing ladders spanning over huge crevasses, and as he explained for a first timer, it would take approximately 7 hours to ascend the icefall, but once acclimatised this would take four hours. Kenton’s best time is just over two hours!
Our day has been spent eating, sleeping, and getting used to the altitude, as well as a full hour’s photographic session capturing all our sponsors magazines, flags, newspapers, T shirts etc that they had given to us.
All our Sherpas look really smart now that they are wearing our St. James’s Place hats and jackets. Bhim, our cook at Base Camp has excelled himself and produced some amazing food, the best quality that the team has experienced to date. In this respect we are not looking forward to the journey home!
The team leave Roger Owen, Dorje (Sherpa), and Kenton tomorrow for the journey home, which is expected to take five days, where we fly out from Lukla.
The team are in great spirits with what has already been an amazing adventure and although they are on the way home it is only the beginning for Roger Owen. Throughout the nine days the team have been kept abreast of the fundraising total, and we are pleased to say that we have already exceeded our £500,000 target. We will continue to keep you posted on our progress, as will Roger as he begins the long process of the ascent of Everest.
Thank you again for all your support and encouragement.
The 2012 Everest Team
Wednesday 11th April
Our last blog saw the team, reach Dingboche at a height of 4,410m, where we had a couple of well earned rest days.
Moonlight Lodge is hosted by Ram and he made us feel incredibly welcome. When we left the lodge he blessed us all with prayer scarves, though he almost needed a step ladder to get the scarf over Nigel Barrington-Smith’s head!
The team have now moved onto Gorak Shep via a stop over in Loboche. As always we stopped for an excellent lunch to take on essential carbs. The journey there was far from easy. The route was long and saw the team ascend to 5,000m which took its toll, the weather was challenging and saw the team battle their way through blizzard conditions to arrive exhausted at the Mother Earth Lodge.
The higher we get, the harder conditions are becoming, and the tea lodges become more basic, dirty and unpleasant. It is so important for the team to remain healthy and keep hygiene standards as high as wecan; however as basic facilities deteriorate this becomes more difficult.A number of the team are suffering from tummy bugs but these seem to be short lived and soon pass within 48 hours.
Altitude is also becoming an issue, sleeping at a height of 5,000m and above makes a good nights sleep almost impossible. Your body isconstantly fighting for oxygen that simply is not there and as a resultyou experience a mild panic attack trying to draw in more oxygen. This whole process is extremely unpleasant. Despite all this the team are ingood spirits and today we have our first sighting of Everest base camp approximately five miles away.
We have now reached Gorak Shep, the last destination before base camp. This sits at a height of 5,200m, and is really the last outpost of the Himalayas. The team remain excited about reaching base camp where we hope with be on Thursday. Base camp is essentially a tented village that is set up every season, and despite the make shift nature of this, the facilities we are led to believe are very good and comfortable. The regular expedition operators have a well established organisation structure where the Nepalese Sirdars agree where each expedition"pitch” will be. This minimises " fisticuffs” at base camp!!
We believe there are something like 20 expeditions at base camp that will be attempting the classic South Col summit route. It could be very busy up there but our guide Kenton Cool knows better than anyone how to make the most of it...
More to follow...
Tuesday 10th April
The last couple of days have seen the team rise from 3,400m to 4,410m, only 400m shy of Mont Blanc and the highest that anyone within the team has personally climbed.This significant gain in altitude has naturally brought with itthe normal begins of altitude problems within the team, but nothing unexpected. The team are dealing with this effectively and still managing to devour apple pie and chocolate brownies at every opportunity.
The change in scenery from our climb from Namche Bazaar to Dingboche has been dramatic. The team have traversed through rhododendron forests and now the trail has opened out to reveal the true beauty of the Himalayas.
We have had all extremes of weather since our arrival, from heavy rain lower down the trail to heavy snow fall, which hasenabled the team to engage in the numerous snowball fights along the way. There is nothing childish in this behaviour, it issimply brought on by the extremes of altitude!
Each evening nominations are heard for the hotly contested yellow T-shirts "Himalayan Bunny of the Day” awards. These are awarded to members of the team who have shown complete stupidity during the course of the day in front of colleagues, by making stupid observations or asking ridiculous questions. Normally in this environment there is no such thing as a stupid question, however we are discovering that within the St. James’s Place team there certainly is!
Examples such as:
"Is that Everest over there?” or "Do they make Toblerone in Switzerland?”are examples of worthy winners.
The walk from Namche to Dingboche gave the team it’s first sights of Everest,and the typical spindrift blowing from the top was a sight to behold.
We visited the famous monastery at Tengboche and of course, the bakery. (Editors comment – this is sounding more and more like a trek between baking establishments than a hike to the top of the world...)
As well as views of Everest, as the team climbed towards Dingboche the trailopened up to reveal the mountain, Ama Dablam another significant sight onthe team’s journey towards base camp.
The trail is getting harder as the altitude increases. The facilities are becoming increasingly spartan and normal living conditions are more challenging. Above our current height, no one lives in the winter as the air is simply too thin, and temperatures plummet.
Sleeping will become more difficult and uncomfortable from this point on andthis is something that the team is becoming more aware of.
We hope to be walking into base camp sometime Thursday where the teamwill spend two nights under canvas for the first time. This will be particularlychallenging if the temperatures are as low as we are led to believe, circa minus 30.
Expect another update shortly.
Thursday 5th April
We are all sitting in the Everest bakery at Namche Bazar, at 3,472 metres demolishing apple pie and cinnamon slices, washed down with a latte or two! Team Everest has announced their arrival in the Khumbu.
Since leaving the UK on Saturday evening, we have experienced Kathmandu and Nepalese life at its very best. Most of us have not visited a third world country before and have been astonished at the lack of resources and extreme poverty; yet people still seem to go about there every day lives with a smile.
We took dozens of teddy bears to the malnutrition centre run by Children Of theHimalayas, who benefit from Foundation funding through the incredible work of GinaParker and Simon Russell (both SJP Partners.) It seemed appropriate to visit the centre we had heard so much about, a place where children are returned to goodhealth, before we set out on our 120 mile walk to Base Camp. Gina and Simon showedus around, and All of us were touched by the incredible work of the staff in helping the children, and educating their parents in the principles of good nutrition.
The plan was to fly the following day into Lukla, a crazy airstrip hanging off the side ofa mountain. It slopes at 20 degrees and is often quoted as being the "most dangerous runway in the world” Hmm...
Three of the team caught an early flight with rest following in two aircraft. Bad weather rolled in, causing an 11 hour delay and still no flights. Kathmandu departures lounge is definitely not Business class!
We have learnt a new phrase: NFN (Normal for Nepal). We are applying this with diligence at every opportunity!
24 hours later we arrived jubilant at their arrival in Lukla, with clear skies, ready to start our journey. Not only had we survived the flight and landing, we could at last begin our trek.
After a second breakfast and our first taste of lemon tea, (and tea lodge toilet facilities), we strode forth with gusto to our first stop off point to the village of Monjo.
The walk involved a starting height of 2,800 metres and walking down through the valley through forests, rhododendronsand magnolias in full flower. The scenery was simply breath taking, and a welcome distraction from the puffing and pantingas we got to grips with the altitude.
The following morning announced the arrival of a number of invasive ailments ranging from headaches, sore limbs, and delhi belly (the Nepalese version). All of the team soldiered through it. It is testament to all the training have done togetherthat we helped out one another through the various difficulties through the day - team spirit at the highest.
Tomorrow brings a welcome rest day after what has been for most a very challenging and at times stressful orientation to Nepal and the conditions.
We have also just found a nightclub in Namche...