Everest 2014 – the first fortnight.

Sorry not to have Blogged earlier but we’ve been pretty busy trekking and  it’s been easier to Tweet (timmosedale) and update FaceBook (tim.mosedale) – whereas this morning I’ve been up and about for a while and have managed to create a bit of spare time.
I know it’s cheating a bit, but for the time being I’m copying across a few updates that I posted on FaceBook so if you have been following progress there I wouldn’t bother reading much further.
But if you haven’t then I hope you enjoy this post. In afraid that the bandwidth at Dingboche isn’t coping with photos so I’ll have to post those at another time.
So pull up a pew and I hope you enjoy the read.
Update from 3rd April:
Sadly, having typed an update for about 30 minutes, it hasn’t made it to the ether (Dear FaceBook – if posts don’t send from the iPhone App can you please put them in a drafts folder?).
Unfortunately I haven’t got the time & inclination to do the whole thing again so here’s a précis:
Flew to Lukla (a bit bumpy with crosswinds),
Breakfast at Paradise Lodge with Dawa Putti & Ang Pasang,
Bags all accounted for,
Porters hired,
Had a drink,
Had lunch (at Everest Summiteer Lodge run by my friends Phendan and Sonam Sherpa),
Trekked and had a drink at Phak Ding,
Continued on to Monjo to stay at Top Hill Lodge run by Pasang Dawa Sherpa,
Had afternoon tea,
Had dinner,
Went to bed.
Up the next morning,
Packed bags so the porters could hit the trail,
Had breakfast,
Went through National Park Entrance formalities,
Crossed the main river a few times on suspension bridges,
Up the zig zags to Namche.
Coffee & doughnuts, WiFi, lunch, more coffee, more WiFi, then hit the trail again.
Arrived at Ama Dablam View Lodge (no view) to stay with Tashi & Lakpa who visited my B&B in January,
Looked at their photos from their visit to the UK including the private audience we all had with HRH Prince Charles,
Had dinner,
Went to bed.
Up this morning,
Enjoyed the view,
Visited Tashi’s amazing prayer room,
Trekked to Mong La up the hidden staircase,
Had a drink,
Had a chat about altitude, acclimatisation and altitude related issues,
Had lunch,
Departed Mong La with snow in the air,
Arrived Tashi’s with snow on the ground,
Had a drink,
And a cheese & onion toastie,
Wrote an update,
Lost the update when signal dropped out,
Rewrote update,
About to copy and save (just in case),
And then read The Saturday Times that Ellis delivered a couple of days ago when he arrived in Kathmandu.
Then we’ll have dinner.
Tomorrow we’re trekking to Thame (via Khumjung (photos), Syangboche (tea) and Thamo (lunch)) where we’ll stay for a couple of nights before heading up the Thame Valley and over the Renjo La to Gokyo.
Probably out of reception for a few days so that’s all for now.
Update from 9th April:
We’ve been on the trail for just over a week now and, well, all is good. There was a small dumpette of snow when we came down from Mong La to Tashi’s where we had our second night and then we had blue skies over to Thame where we stayed for another 2 nights.
After visiting the monastery and having our very own private puja we moved up the Thame valley to Marylung and stayed at River View Lodge (you had to walk 75 metres or so to actually see the river but we won’t hold that against them). I’ve stayed here a few times and it’s a great little spot. Rustic and basic, especially compared to Kyanjuma and Thame, but welcoming and comfortable (enough).
The lodge is run by Ang Chutin Sherpa and her mother and considering just how remote it is and how few people come this way I am continually flabbergasted by Ang Chutin’s command of English. We got chatting and I assumed she had studied English at school (no) or learnt in Kathmandu (no) and she told me that she has learnt English from trekkers! I could understand this to be the case if she had a basic way of communicating about the menu, the rooms etc but she has full on conversational English. Amazing! And here am I with 15 years of coming to Nepal and a bunch of expeditions under my belt and all I can do is count to 10, tell the time (by the hour and half hour) and say that a meal was tasty! How pathetic.
It gets better – it turns out that Ang Chutin recently climbed Lobuche East and did some ice climbing at Phortse, back in 2004 she and her sister won the Everest Sky Race and she carries loads for overladen trekkers from Marylung to the top of the Renjo La in under 4 hours.
Anyway enough of my amazement and bewilderment. We left Marylung and had a short trek to Lungde which is the final settlement below the Renjo La where we stayed the night and crossed the pass and are now ensconced in Gokyo. Despite crossing the pass at 5,350m it’s one of the gentlest acclimatisation treks going and we are all fit, healthy and raring to go.
The views from the pass we’re absolutely spectacular and we were blessed with a trouble free crossing. In fact they were the best views I’ve had crossing the pass and, slow WiFi connection permitting, I’ll try and post some photos later.
More to follow.
Update from this morning:
It’s 06:30 and the first helicopter of the day has just flown past going up the valley. In truth it’s very quiet on the trail (notwithstanding the fact that we have trekked a little off the beaten track) and there hasn’t been much helicopter action. A lot of the lodge owners have commented how few folk there have been visiting and passing through. Perhaps it’s related to the dates for Easter and there’s a wave of people en route as we speak? Perhaps the Lukla closures have made trekkers divert to another area. I’m really not sure.
After we arrived yesterday and fitted our bags and rooms we popped up to the bakery and chilled for the afternoon drinking coffee, eating cake and playing cards. All in all quite an easy day and certainly a relaxing one.
I’m up and about and sharing a cup of sweet milk tea in Sheeta’s kitchen. I always like to be in the kitchen first thing. Partly, first thing, it’s the slightly warmer room in the building but it’s also where the activity is starting for the day ahead with water being heated and flasks filled in readiness for breakfast and the visitors who will stop for tea throughout the morning whilst trekking.
At Base Camp I like to be in the kitchen every morning before breakfast and having a chat over a cup of tea because I’m not in to the ‘client and staff’ mentality. Obviously we mustn’t get in their way but no two ways about it the kitchen crew are an integral part of the team and we couldn’t be here without them. People associate with the Climbing Sherpas, but often neglect to build a relationship with the kitchen crew (or the porters), which is a bit if a shame.
In the teahouse breakfast is being prepared for folk coming down in half an hour or so as well as general tidying up, sweeping, arranging furniture in the dining room etc etc. It’s a veritable hive of activity.
Sheeta has very kindly given me a knotted red cord that has been blessed by the lama for me to wear (a ‘Sunndy’) and some stuff that I need to eat every so often called Chellup. It looks like a tiny seed but I’m not quite sure what it is – answers on a postcard to:
What exactly is Chellup (and what is the proper spelling),
c/o Tim Mosedale
43rd tent on the left
Everest Base Camp
The Khumbu
Perhaps your card will be delivered by helicopter at 06:30 one morning.
Today it’s a blue sky day and we’re trekking to Dingboche – a beautiful village nestled at the start of the Imja (Island Peak) valley with a mixture of old and new tea houses overlooking a network of fields that will be planted with potatoes very soon.
Yesterday was very hazy and whilst the trekking was brilliant, and we saw no one, we also had no views. And after we arrived at Pangboche it started snowing.
This morning, by contrast, is a blue sky day and I can see Ama Dablam in all its glory overlooking Pangboche and further down there’s Kangtega and Thamesurku with Kongde Ri filling the bottom of the valley.
I’m pretty sure we will be stopping at the bakery (7 minutes’ trekking from here) where they not only have coffee, chocolate cake and WiFi but also the last proper view we will have of Everest until we get in to The Western Cwm (unless we decide on a side trip to Kala Pattar or Pumori Camp 1).
I’m often asked about the difficulty of trekking in Nepal and my stock answer is that if you can walk in The Lakes you can walk in Nepal. The trails are as good, and often better, than our best paths and the main difference is that there’s the rarified atmosphere to deal with. There’s obviously the cultural shock of arriving in Kathmandu which is pretty crazy. Then there’s the amazing sightseeing venues of Boudhanath (Massive Stupa) and Pashupatinath (Hindu temple and burning Ghats) you can go to. And then there’s the Lukla flight (small plane whizzing towards a small runway on a hillside) followed by the comparative quiet of being on the trail accompanied by the sound of Yak bells. There’s the mani stones (carved rocks) and mani walls (carved ’tiles’ of stone that are arranged along the line of the trail to make a wall that you pass to the left), the amazing people, the teahouses, the massive loads that the porters carry, the views, the prayer flags, the huge suspension bridges over deep gorges, the breathtakingly amazing mountain vista, the, sometimes, more basic toilets to contend with, the cold evenings, the wafer thin walls in the teahouses, the smell of juniper or incense in the mornings and the noise of first helicopter of the day flying past at 06:30.
But apart from that it’s just like hill walking in The Lakes.
Until we arrive at Everest Base Camp, that is, and start preparing for our time on the big mountain. Then the emphasis changes quite dramatically, but I’ll save that for another day.

Goodies for Everest

Looking forward to using these on Everest

complete with fixing mount for the super light Sony a7R I’ll have with me

and a Canon 5d MkIII

and a Gitzo tripod

and some Bushman Panoramic heads

Gobi Panoramic Head

and a prototype Rab down suit

and some Mountain Fuel

and an M60 Sunload solar charging kit

and some EDZ touchscreen smartphone gloves

Now then …. where did I put my extra large kitbag?

Everest – another photo and what it says

I don’t want to sound like I’m being the mountain police but I do find it a bit worrying that people go to Everest (or any other high altitude arena … or even any climbing situation other than a learning and coaching environment to be honest) without knowing at least something about the skills that will be required and an understanding about their gear and equipment. Being well versed so that actions become second nature not only makes you more of a proficient, accomplished and self contained climber and mountaineer, but it also means that you are more likely to have ownership of your expedition and be less of a liability – not only to yourself but also those around you.
I’d noticed this guy as we were setting off up The Lhotse Face en route for The South Col. He was having everything (and I mean absolutely EVERYTHING) done for him by his trusty Climbing Sherpa. He approached each anchor and just stood there as the Sherpa unclipped, reclipped and transferred his jumar etc etc.
Folks, this is not what Climbing Sherpas should be doing. I can appreciate that some people may well end up on Everest having not tackled fixed ropes before (but you do have to ask yourself whether they therefore have enough prerequisite experience) but if you can’t even be bothered to learn how to do this whilst you are trekking in, or sat around at Base Camp, then it surely doesn’t bode well. This was 7 weeks in to the season! How on earth had he been negotiating the Khumbu Icefall? What do people like this expect will happen if their Climbing Sherpa gets assigned to help out with a rescue, or fall ill? What then? Yes, I can see a Sherpa doing this sort of stuff on the way down when someone is jaded and debilitated … but on the way to the summit?!?
Personally I advocate self reliance, being in tune with your environment as an independent mountaineer, and being able to employ a variety of techniques according to the ever changing mountain environment. That way you are more likely to be a reliable member of a cohesive team rather than a complete liability.
When you know your gear you also know immediately when you have done something incorrect – it just feels different.  
Not only that but I also noted that he had his crampons on the wrong feet! Without being arsey I mentioned this to him in passing and his excuse was that he’d been in a rush to go for a crap that morning! But it takes as long to put them on the right feet as it does to put them on the wrong feet. Indeed, with the faff factor, it may well have taken longer. And shouldn’t he have noticed and done something about it?
When I saw them again 3 hours later … well then I got a bit more emphatic. He clearly thought I was being an arrogant task master so I asked his Climbing Sherpa if he was married. ‘Yes, sir, one daughter and two son.’ I asked if he wanted to see them again and pointed out that his client had his crampons on the wrong feet and that his client was jeopardising not only his own life but also that of him, the Sherpa. He nodded and saw where I was coming from and I made my way on towards The South Col as they took a break to sort it out.
Recently there have been calls for Everest to be closed or for companies to be more rigorous about their selection criteria. Closing the mountain is clearly not the option because when it reopens a few years later then it would be even busier with 4 or 5 season’s worth of people there. Ok, so a lot of them would have had a few years to get ready for it but I don’t really think that some folk would actually use their time constructively and we’d still end up with people being there without a clue. Only more of them, among more people and bigger crowds.
It’s down to the companies and the guides to ask for mountaineering cvs and to make sure that people are suitably well experienced. Obviously there are always going to be people who will stretch the truth about their experience but you can usually weed these people out.
Unfortunately … those who are weeded out and advised that they should do x,y and z and be ready for 2014 instead of 2013 end up going to the agencies in Kathmandu who are less scrupulous about who they take, what level of provision they offer and how professional their set up is. 
People ask more questions of the second hand car dealer about whether they should purchase a new motor than they do when parting with US$000s for an Everest expedition. The client doesn’t necessarily know what questions to ask about Base Camp services, Climbing Sherpas, ratios, oxygen, medication, high altitude issues, inclusions, exclusions, communication, logistics etc etc – but they should at least recognise that they are taking on a risky venture and there are plenty of things that they can do in advance to increase their chances of summiting.
All that they know is that they have some oxygen and some Climbing Sherpas who may have summited Everest already and they think that this is ok. But it’s not.
A Climbing Sherpa who has summited Everest is not necessarily a good Everest Climbing Sherpa. They are tremendously strong but you really want to be with ones who are not only seasoned mountaineers but who are knowledgeable, professional and who are dependable.
I could go on.
Here endeth the lesson. 

For more information about what skills are required then have a look at this page of suggestions as well as some notes on how to use jumars on fixed ropes

It will have been much more tricky for this guy to put his crampons on the wrong feet than to put them on the right feet.

On a slope where you want to have perfect footwork and you need your technique to be just so it can all end up going drastically wrong when a crampon pops off because of a compatibility issue.

The Times Editorial – I concur.

A very good editorial piece in The Times today. Hadn’t read it when I sent my last Blog update an hour or so ago but I’ll quote the bit that I think sums it all up:

‘To make it safer, Nepalese authorities are considering installing fixed ladders up the Step for the climbing season. Their motives are laudable but their solution is wrong.

‘Every year Sherpas already fix safety ropes all the way up the Step, mainly for the use of high paying clients of commercial expeditions. These make it technically straightforward even for inexperienced climbers. What no amount of extra equipment bolted to the rock can do is turn amateur adventurers who spend most of the year in an office into elite mountaineers. Ladders might, in fact, fool more people into thinking Everest is no more than an arduous hike.

‘The chance of climbing Everest is open to anyone, and the local economy depends on those who pay to compensate for lack of experience or fitness. The way to keep the death toll in the “death zone” down is not to pretend the climb is easy. It is to remind people that it is hard.’

I couldn’t have put it better and more succinctly myself.

Ladders on The Hillary Step?

In the last few days there has been furious debate on the news and in social media circles about whether ladders will be installed on the Hillary Step as if this is going to be a solution to the congestion that can occur on summit day. When there are only a few folk around on summit night it won’t make much difference, but when there are a reasonable number of folk it could actually make the situation worse.

Should this guy with a helmet on his rucksack, useless quickdraws on his harness and crampons on the wrong feet be on Everest in the first place? Bearing in mind that at every rebelay his jumar was changed over by his Climbing Sherpa will a ladder on The Hillary Step make him a safer climber or an even bigger liability than he already is?

There are a number of problems about getting ladders to the Hillary Step in the first place and this will be a particularly hazardous venture. How on earth can the expedition companies and wannabe summiteers possibly justify putting the lives of Climbing Sherpas at risk just to potentially shave a few minutes off the time it takes to negotiate the Hillary Step? And once they are there there will be an assumption of safety – a bit like assuming that all bolts are safe when rock climbing – which may compromise people who aren’t judicious in their assessment of the situation. And then there is the danger of getting hung up on a ladder whether that be a person slipping and ending upside down with their leg jammed between a rung and the rock or catching clothing or equipment on a part of the ladder and not being able to extricate themselves accordingly.

You don’t need to be a climber to climb Everest – but personally I am a firm advocate of the fact that if you are coming to Everest from a climbing and mountaineering background then you will be better placed to be able to cope with the ever changing conditions on the hill. Not only your ability to react to the changes throughout the day, or the changes in the weather, but also the ability to react to the ever changing terrain – which includes your ability to safely negotiate through the Khumbu Icefall, tackle steep icy slopes on The Lhotse Face and scramble or climb up and over The Yellow Band, The Geneva Spur and The Hillary Step.

Ascending The Geneva Spur.
Approaching this from a climbing and mountaineering background will allow you to tackle it safely and efficiently. The non climber will struggle and it will feel a lot harder than 7,900m elevation it is situated at.

I am not saying that non climbers need not apply … but that non climbers ought to at least take some form of responsibility for themselves and get suitably well versed prior to the trip. See the list of skills I recommend aspirants should have.

As ever I will bore you with my analogy that if someone was going to do The London Marathon they would undoubtedly get off the sofa and on to the roads and down to the gym. After a reasonable amount of training they would probably sign up for the odd half marathon and then up the training schedule towards the time of the event. Equally you would’t expect to be able to free fall from a plane or do a 45m Scuba dive without first having done some training and possibly some courses to gain certification. So why do people expect that they can just attempt Everest? And when they do attempt it and either fail miserably or die in the process why is everyone up in arms and surprised about it? Sadly there are people who die every year during marathons around the world but people aren’t shouting from the roof tops that marathons should be banned or regulated or that the cost should be increased.

There will always be the programmes on the telly about the inexperienced chap or chappesse who climbed Everest, and this will always attract the occassional non-climbing-mid-life-crisis-armchair-mountaineer … but what they don’t realise is that perhaps the person on the programme was naturally predisposed to being good at altitude, maybe they had actually done a bit of training and the programme wasn’t fully honest, maybe they had a very good team of Climbing Sherpas, lots of oxygen and brilliant weather conditions. And maybe they were just plain lucky.

The wannabe Everest summiteer then signs up with a cheap crappy company who don’t have a good handle on logistics, don’t have very good Climbing Sherpas, don’t have enough (or even any) oxygen, don’t have a strict 1:1 summit day client / Sherpa ratio, don’t have weather forecasting, don’t mentor their clients during the trek in, don’t have high altitude medication issued to everyone AND know how to use it, don’t train their clients in oxygen protocols etc etc. And then that person, who is already a liability to themselves, becomes a liability to everyone around them.

Am I going to feel a duty of care to that person or am I going to try and make sure that my clients are nowhere near them and are not being endangered as a consequence? The latter for sure.

The 2nd step. A slightly bigger cliff than the Hillary Step.
© Stuart Holmes www.lakespanorama.co.uk

So back to the thorny issue of ladders on The Hillary Step. Yes there is a ladder on The Second Step on the North side of Everest but this is a slightly different proposition and it would not be correct to try and compare like for like. The Second Step is a much steeper and much more difficult piece of terrain and without the ladder there would be a huge risk of people succumbing to exhaustion trying to ascend this rocky corner. The Hillary Step is a much smaller rocky outcrop and can be negotiated in a matter of minutes by well versed climbers. A ladder, or ladders, may well give people a false sense of security and encourage more climbers to try and attempt the summit on the same window.

This is akin to there being a good weather forecast on a Bank Holiday Monday, a couple of crappy days and then an equally great forecast on the Thursday of the same week. If you can take a day off work mid week when are you going to travel from London to Brighton? Sure, if you go on the Monday you could start early to avoid the queues but undoubtedly at some stage of the day it will be busy on the roads, busy in the car parks, busy in the shops, on the beach and in the pubs and cafes. So surely going on the Thursday when it is quiet would be a better solution? Avoid the queues rather than add to the queues.

Having said that it is always difficult to try and get people to hang back, and wait for the next summit attempt, because they are anxious that another window may not appear, they are anxious that they don’t want to pick up some mystery illness during the next few days and they are bored of being at Base Camp. People know that they need to have cleared their in tray for the whole of April and the whole of May but they start bullshitting about needing to get back to the office because there’s a meeting at work and so they have to go on the first summit wave not the next. There’s also the perception that they have been relegated to the ‘B’ team. No two ways about it, it’s better to be on the quieter day with less traffic, less potential for queues and probably less of the inexperienced people there as well.
So potentially ladders will be hazardous to put there in the first place, add to the objective danger and add to the queues. And let’s face it, there’s also the issue of not wanting to try and make it somehow ‘easier’ and increasing the number of people who assume that they can attempt Everest with no prior experience. There are already enough reasons why people don’t summit.

Challenge by choice comes in to effect and this should, to a certain extent, equally apply to Everest.

End of expedition Everest photos. Take note …

Everest end of expedition photos explained.
This is Partha, and Partha has just returned from the summit of Everest.
As have Susan and Jen …
and Giles.
I really think that it is testament to them, as self sufficient mountaineers in their own right, that they came back from the summit of Everest without looking gaunt, blistered, sun burnt and dehydrated.
Yes, there was obviously a certain amount of direction and leadership from me, and we had discussed during the trek in about the importance of looking after ourselves, the importance of concurrent activity and the consequences of becoming dehydrated. But there is only so much that I can do and it was up to them to then put all that, and more, in to practice.
As an example, if you don’t drink enough one day then you’ll possibly be ok the next. But if you don’t drink enough each day during the expedition, then over the period of 7 or 8 weeks this will have far reaching consequences. Dehydration can not only have a marked effect on your performance but also makes you more susceptible to the effects of altitude (AMS / HACE / HAPE) and more prone to frostbite and hypothermia.
So on arrival at Camp 1 and Camp 3 my team didn’t just sit on their rucksacks, take in the view and give themselves a hearty pat on the back. They busied themselves getting a cooker on the go and started melting snow. Then after a rest and getting their breath back they had a drink ready and immediately set about getting another batch of snow melting. 
That amounts to at least an extra litre or so every day that they were taking on board compared with less disciplined folk on the hill – which partly accounts for why so many people come back from Everest looking dishevelled and drawn.
Not so my illustrious group of mountaineers – they look like they have just popped up CatBells (except for the facial growth and a slight aroma, that is).
It all sounds easy in the comfort of your own living room but believe you me it takes a certain amount of motivation to muster the energy to do even the most simple of chores.
Another area where they looked like they were seasoned mountaineers on a day outing was their approach to maintaining themselves each day whilst on the trek and the mountain. Less experienced folk will forget the importance of sun cream, sun glasses, layers and, again, hydration.
With my lot they responded to the ever changing conditions instinctively. For example, when negotiating through The Khumbu Icefall at some stage the sun comes up (happens every day but you’d not have thought it, the way that some folk react) and my team would realise that it was time for sun cream. However, there is little point applying suncream and continuing only to stop 15 minutes later because you are hot. And then 10 minutes later because you are thirsty etc.
So this is where concurrent activity (otherwise nicknamed blackcurrant activity) becomes really important – as well as making you more efficient which, in turn, means you’ll get to camp that bit sooner and start brewing up and sorting yourself out.
First off it’s time to assess where to stop – little point stopping in a dangerous area and far better to keep moving for an extra 5 minutes, even though you’re in the sun, to get to an area free from objective danger. Next it’s rucksack off and suncream, lip salve and sunglasses on. Whilst you’re at it you may as well have a quick bite to eat and every time you eat you should have a drink (drink is more important than food and food more important than sleep).
It’s now time to remember that you were moving in the cold of night and have plenty of layers on and, guess what, within 5 minutes of starting out again you are going to get hot. So right at the last minute, and after the obligatory photos, it’s time to change gloves, take your woolly hat off and pop a sunhat on under your helmet, layer off until comfortably cool, pop your rucksack on and get going.
This routine applies not only to everytime the sun pops up but you should be doing similar things whenever you have any stops for, say, popping crampons on or putting your harness on.
My lot managed this with aplomb and I think that the photos speak for themselves. Well done them!