Running of the Yaks

This one time, at Pangboche, Dave and I got the idea to make a running of the Bulls parody called Running of the Yaks.

This is how we spend our rest days up in the hills, immaturity abounds. Running at 3985 meters above sea level sure is a challenge though!

Yaks are really slow, dumb, and are only dangerous if you get in their way.

PS ‘Proper’ mountain videos coming soon.

 

Now to arrange a flight home.

grey Now to arrange a flight home.

Mountains up where jets cruise?!

Mal had decided to go to Pokhara for Paragliding as he had unrefundable tickets and Shaun was heading to Thailand to rock climb, but I had my heart set on getting home. My ever efficient travel consultant Mel Whtye told me that my flight was closed to changes and that I would have to go to the airport and beg – time for the puppy dog eyes and a good story. Andrew came along as well to try his luck.

Enter Binita Dahal, she must have sensed our desperation to get home as she pulled out all stops to try and help us, squinting at her screen and tapping away at the keyboard she told us, “Sorry sir we only have Business Class tickets open for the Kathmandu to Singapore leg”

“This is fine, done…oh, how much is that?”
“Ummm, $150 to upgrade sir, sorry”

“Seriously, I’ll take it…” I said quickly as Andrew stood beside me nodding and grinning.

Before making the change, Binita had to wait until the flight was closed for good, only fifteen minutes before take off. She then took our money and put it into a very non-offical looking bum-bag (Fanny-pack for American readers) and handed us our boarding passes. I paid the bag weighing man 500 rupees (about US$5) and he weighed my bag to be 10 kgs lighter than it was. This saved me a lot of overweight baggage charges, or over $160 postage if I couriered it home. Binita then efficiently whisked Andrew and myself through a very long customs line, shepherded us to a waiting, empty bus and made sure we were on the plane without issue. After finishing this post I will be writing a letter of commendation for her. Here is a video of Binita, if you get to Kathmandu Airport before I do, please give her a big hug from me:

The next thing I was sitting in a massive chair next to a lovely, chatty Singaporean Obstetrician who smelt like fresh laundry. I was drinking fine orange juice and watching the Himalayas slipping by. Landing in Singapore we were met by two lovely Singapore airlines employees who showed Andrew and I to an electric golf buggy thing and whisked us away to our next flight. I have always, always wanted a ride through an airport on one of these so I was excited, to say the least.

Like the little children we are, Andrew and I were making constant Dr Evil jokes and loving the whole experience. All the while the two Singapore Airlines Employees tried to keep a straight face, but they occasionally they laughed along with us. We decided to change flights to a later one (so we would arrive in Melbourne at the same time as our bags) so I asked the driver, “Would you mind taking us to MacDonalds drive through? Then maybe we could do a few Airport laps…”

The lady seemed keen but had other people to organise, “Sorry sir, this is as far as we can take you.” If, like me, you have always wondered what it is like to ride on one of these, here is a quick point of view video:

This left Andrew and I time to walk (sadly) to the Butterfly garden via Burger King and to have a bit of an explore around Singapore Airport, arguable the best in the world.

I had yet to tell Jette that I was on the way home but I did mention in my last email that if I went quiet, then I was likely on my way home.

Home home home!

Home is lovely, my wife is lovely, Australia is so civilised…time to wade through hours of video footage, then plan the next mountain challenge.

Oh no! I have a very exciting book launch to survive first.

Mountain porn videos coming soon, so watch this space grey Now to arrange a flight home.

Blue skies and Happy Feet

Ben

PS How did a cattle class cruising shmuck find the whole business class thing? Well, definitely the food and service was better, but after a few hours I was still squirming in my seat and wriggling like a pre-schooler needing the toilet. At the end of the day I am not much of a sitter-downer. It was a nice experience, but I would never pay what they normally charge for business class. Give me farty old economy seats and my dirty old red rucksack any day grey Now to arrange a flight home.

grey Now to arrange a flight home.

Singapore airlines Business class baby!

grey Now to arrange a flight home.
Singapore airlines Business class food

 

And here I am!

grey And here I am!

Lukla runway

Again, the twin otter pilots wait on the runway revving the engines hard before hurtling towards a sheer cliff face…for me it was a bumpy, nervous flight but Mal assured us all that he has had worse. I gave Mal my video camera so he could record the takeoff. Mal also managed to record Dave’s brilliant reaction to the short take off (and Dave’s trust in his lucky penguin)

We landed in Kathmandu soon afterwards having survived the rigours of Khumbu Valley trekking. Trekking in the Khumbu Valley is a very different experience to the type of trekking I am used to. In Tasmania (where I grew up) it is possible, and common, to go on overnight, or longer, trekking trips without seeing a single human; trail etiquitte, robbery and over crowding are hardly considered. Not so the Khumbu, as I said in a previous post this trail is teeming with every sort of person imaginable: the weary climber heading home, the excited, chatty first timer, twitchy guides trying to monitor their charges, tired porters and of course myriad people trying to get up to see Everest Base Camp.

I truly do not understand the Everest Base Camp (EBC) thing. I have it on good authority that EBC is just the world’s highest rubbish bin, getting cleaner, but still it is just some rocks, a big mountain and holes where old toilets were dug. Why not trek to a similar height along a remote trail, enjoy some differtent mountain views and be original? Says the guy heading home from trying to climb one of the most visited mountains in Nepal.

So my ranting may be backfiring here but, oh, one more thing, only wear aviators if you are a 1960’s fighter pilot.

Okay to stay somewhat on track, Everest Base camp is around 5500 meters high. A few years ago I trekked part of the Peruvian Huayhuash Circuit which is at similar altitudes as the Everest Base Camp trek (more about this in my book *hint*). I enjoyed 6 days in the stunning Cordiella Huayhuash, was the only Westerner for miles, had the track to myself and the scenery was astounding. I made friends with two local farmers who caught trout and let me stay with them for two nights. The whole experience cost me nothing but food and a bit of altitdue sickness. There are so many, much more beautiful places to visit than shit ridden Mt Everest Base Camp, just ask me if you are ever stuck for ideas. grey And here I am!

Back at our original Hotel in Thamel the guard recognised me and saluted, I saluted back, grabbed my bags and ran to the shower.

Oh dear God. How good that first proper shower was.

Six weeks without a proper shower! The amount of hair that came out of my head was concerning, but shoulder length hair probably needs proper-washing more than six weekly. I will not detail the dead skin that came off my legs (as I wear merino tights on mountains -grr right?!), nor the colour of the water going into the drain. Suffice to say when I emerged I felt like a new man.

Now all I needed now was a flight home…

grey And here I am!

Yakdonalds – Lukla

 

Homeward bound

grey Homeward boundJust after writing my last post we got word that all the climbing sherpas were going to wait about 4-7 days to finish fixing the mountain. Fixing the mountain involves securing communal safety lines on the tricky bits for all the expeditions to utilise. This wait was due to heavy snow on the Dablam bit of the mountain. Basically it was described as waist deep pellets of snow covered with a thin crust of solid snow – not ideal for climbing (read: deadly). News which, although sad for the boys keen to push on, kind of backed up my decision to bail on a summit attempt.

This delay sadly put our team out of the game and unable to make a summit attempt. On the plus side it meant that I would have some awesome company on the trek back to Lukla! We mooted the idea of making an attempt on Island Peak but everyone was feeling completely worn and ready to go so once the news settled in, we set about organising our retreat back to Kathmandu.

Our retreat involved changing flights from Lukla to Kathmandu and then trying to organise flights home. Some of the lads were thinking about going to Thailand for some rock climbing fun but as I said in my last post, I was ready for home. Flight changes were made extra difficult as Nima, our man on the ground in Kathmandu, had been in hospital for the last ten days (Jinxed-we are trying to figure out which one of our team killed a chinaman before coming here…)

grey Homeward bound

Relaxing at Base

On our third day at base camp, and having read everything in reach, including nutritional info on camp food packets, Dave, Brendan and I made the call to lash out and trek to Pangboche to stay in a nice, civilised tea house. The trek down took about one hour – a trip which on the way up was a high altitude ordeal of headaches, nausea and tirdness -  we were full of red blood cells and ready to demolish the trek towards Lukla. Our decision to spoil ourselves with a night at Pangboche proved a huge succes as we each ate a very tasty hashbrown with egg on top washed down with a Heneken beer.

A tall, thin sherpa with a long ponytail came over saying he remembers us from Ama Dablam Base camp. He went on to say he also left the mountain early as he believes that it cannot be fixed in less than two weeks. He was on the mushroom above camp one and described waist deep snow, sketchy anchoring possibilities and conditions which, again, justified our leaving the hill alone…this time.

Sometime the following day the rest of the boys arrived and we set sail for civilisation.

Four days of uneventful trekking later we arrived at Lukla and were packed into the rattly twin otter plane ready for home. News arrived that teams were still struggling to make any progress on the hill. Silently wishing them luck we flew back to Kathmandu and the promise of a proper hot shower, maybe some Thai food, more beers and an early return home.

To round up my series on this adventure I am currently working on a few video, photo and shorter posts about an average day in the life of an expedition, the joys of acclimitisation and other logistical, but hopefully interesting, things I have learnt along the way.

Please let me know if there is anything that you want to specifically know about.

Blue skies and happy feet.

Ben

grey Homeward bound

Ama Dablam from Pangboche

Ama Dablam – the second big decision

Gosh I have forgotten how hard, and fun, acclimitizing on a big hill can be! We slogged our way up to Yak camp (just below camp one) and left some gear then returned to Base to rest. It took about five hours of hard work, and cruel false ridges, to get to Yak camp, then about two hours return.

The following day we packed more gear and returned to Yak camp. This time our bodies had taken the hint and made more red blood cells to allow us to more efficiently work in the thin air. The going was still tough but we made it to Yak camp, sorted out gear and crashed.

The following day, we wandered up to Camp one. Camp one is, in a word, incredible. It is set on a ridgeline under the imposing peak of Ama Dablam and affords views right down to Pangboche, across to Namche (well the mountain above Namche) and you can see the route to the summit of Ama Dablam. The famous, and fearsome yellow and grey towers loomed above us. Bish and I shared a tent which was set on a built up platform of rock and snow right at the high side of Camp one. The camp is so steep that our tent was mostly on terra firma but around the lower edges was hanging in thin air. It was weird to put a water bottle down only to have it slump like it was in a hammock, hanging in the fabric of the tent floor. With mild altitude headaches and aching bones we ate our dehydrated meals on a ledge outside our tent then crawled into our beds. The plan was to climb up and ‘tag’ camp two, then to descend, rest and ready for a summit bid.

Due to space restrictions, Bish and I were forced to sleep top to tail so my feet were kicking his head and vice verca. Being as cold as it was (minus ten by 6:30pm) we had stored everything inside the tent. My head was between my stinking boots and Bish’s stinking feet. Bish was on the ‘drop-side‘ of the tent so he was rather motivated to stay closer to me than to the edge, no way would I begrudge him this!

Not for the first time on a mountain, I did not sleep a wink that night.

My mind was working overtime, trying to justify being in this unforgiving environment while my awesome wife was at home, alone in Melbourne worrying about my safety. Without wanting to cause the families of the other lads on this exped concern – they are all proving to be great, safe, level headed climbers – I was struggling to justify being here, an environment where one silly mistake could well have serious consequences.

I tossed and turned all night and got out of my tent in the morning knowing that I would have to make a hard decision.

Mal bounded up to our tent full of enthusiasm with a big grin (bloody morning people) to ‘give me a hard pill,’ “C’mon Ben, time to go mate.”

“Sorry Mal, I am not feeling it today, I am going to pass on this one dude…”

“Seriously! All the hard acclimitizing is done though Bro…”

“Yeah mate, I’ll just chill out here, enjoy the view and let the other boys go for it…”

“Fair enough, your call mate.” It is great that Mal gets it, he is not one of those summit or die type dudes but is happy to let each member make their own call without undue stress – this is meant to be fun after all!

Soon I was alone at camp one, chilling out amongst astonishingly beautiful mountains. Clear blue skies all around me and views that would make any self respecting geologist gush, combined with local birds soaring the ridge and that soul filling mountain silence left me in a contemplative mood. I relaxed on my rock thinking of home, wondering if I would regret this decision, but pretty sure I had made the right call. The last thing you want is to go for it half assed, nervous, or distracted – and I was all three. The good thing is that I seriously, seriously enjoy playing on mountains with good dudes – and we have done plenty of that. In no way do I judge the success of an expedition on a summit. To do this means gambling months of hard slog on one or two days of the right conditions (physical, mental and weather), if you just enjoy the process then every trip is a success…like I said, I was in a contemplative mood!

So there I was, sitting on my sleeping mat brewing a coffee when I go up to get something out of my bag. A gust of wind grabbed my mat and whipped it over the ridgleline. My intrepid sleeping mat then soared the ridgeline higher and higher before catching another gust to well above the next ridge. In a rather graceful flight it then flew around and around 200 meters down, to land at the feet of a surprised French climber who rolled it up and bought it up for me… at least my sleeping mat is up for being extreme and pushing limits on big, pointy Himalayan mountains!

Now, as for the other boys…they are currently resting at base camp, nervously watching conflicting weather reports with fingers crossed hoping for a weather window. I will be staying down at base camp with Dave, (who has forgone a summit bid for similar reasons as me) we will be checking the boys’ progress if they do get a summit window, and then it will be a few more days trekking back to Lukla to face that scary flight out to Kathmandu.

I am sure that we will come across more blog-worthy moments before this expedition is though so stay posted.

Blue skies and happy feet,

Ben

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