Ben – Me Gusta los montanas!

Me Gusta los montanas!

Sorry, I am a bit knackered so this will be a quick what-are-we-doing-next update!

Yesterday we got up to Ama Dablam Base Camp (ADBC) and were reunited with our poons, crabs, axes and other climbing gear.

ADBC is set in an incredible amphitheater of mountains with Ama Dablam holding watch over the whole site, quite an imposing guard! I really wish I could share some photos but they will have to wait.

Today we had a lazy morning in lieu of having an expedition leader… Mal stayed at Pangboche the previous day with a slight case of poolemia (a great way to lose weight). When Mal arrived around lunchtime today he was refreshed and ready to roll. After sorting gear out of barrels, Bish, Shaun and I headed off up a nearby hill for an acclimatisation walk. The air got thinner but the views opened up and allowed us to see right down the Solu Khumbu Valley to Pangboche and beyond. I stopped on a nice flat(-ish) rock and enjoyed the sun, leaving the two boys to go up a bit further. Half an hour later I figured they had decided to go for the summit of Ama Dablam and I was getting cold so I returned to base. The boys only went up to around 5000 meters and were right on my tail on the return climb.

Tomorrow we are going up to tag camp one, leave some gear then return to base.

The following day we plan to sleep at camp one, then maybe push on higher to sleep at camp two – pending acclimatization and how everyone is feeling.

I will try to update as we go, rest assured that we are all having loads of fun, we are getting colder and slower but are working hard toward our goal. It is really great to be finished with the extended trekking part of the expedition and to be gearing up for the climbing part.

Blue skies and happy feet,

Ben

How do you keep on going?

How do you keep on going?

Day four in the Khumbu Valley, our first proper rest day.

The boys are all outside in the sun washing clothes and listening to music while I am huddled inside the teahouse typing away at my computer.

I will resist the urge to wax lyrical about the beauty of the area, if you want that kind of thing just google “Solo-Khumbu” and you will be treated with a million different blogs all trying to capture a unique perspective on this amazing region. Okay, maybe I will wax-on just a little for the sake of good order. Imagine the biggest, sexiest mountains in the world spilling down to fertile valleys holding small towns adorned in cheery Buddhist flags and a shroud of mist. Brown ribbons of trails run all over the place. On those trails are dotted myriad colourful trekkers staggering about with jaws open and a stunned expression on their faces – the sunned expressions are either due to lack of oxygen or wonderment at this big landscape. Here you will find every type of trekker imaginable: The chiseled man with shiny new trekking pants (with black knee and bum pads) smirking at you through his aviator sunnies, the larger retiree-types who slowly trek and chat amiably, the determined Chinese trekker covering every piece of exposed flesh in Hello-kitty scarfs, surly Swedish trekkers who never get out of the way and one homeless-looking guy with a filthy red rucksack, long oily hair and faded cotton clown pants brushing the mud, “Hi!”.

Just recently I asked the boys how they keep on going when they’re feeling tired, dirty, hypoxic and generally sick of it all.

Here is how you keep on pushing through pain barriers on extended high altitude treks:

1. Jokes – you have got to have a sense of humour. If you can laugh despite feeling tired, homesick and ready for a hug you are halfway there.

2. Music – James Brown, Metallica, Beyonce – it does not matter which genre you prefer. Music helps to block out the pathetic sound of your gasping and serves as a distraction from that fact that your knees are about to explode. I have a special motivational playlist for times of crises. It has songs dedicated to important people in my life. I like to think about these people as I trek, sometimes when really desperate, I imagine them cheering me on.

3. People watching – No matter how tired and ready for a break you may be feeling, other people serve as a distraction. What is that lady in the leopard-print tights and flouro pink crop top thinking? Does the bald guy realize that his entire forehead is about to peel off in one single burnt flap?

4. Mountains – Mountains help. At the risk of sounding like the tree-hugging, Gaia-loving hippy that I am, mountains have a certain aura about them, a presence or power which give weary trekkers a boost.

5. Snickers bars, coke, lollys, water – “I will have a small bite at the top of this ridge-line.”

6. Dummy-mode – This is Andrew’s secret weapon. Just switch off your brain, take in the scenery, switch on your legs and go. Step, step, step – dumb feels no pain!

7. Tag the sherpa – trying to keep up with a 4 foot nothing local who is carrying 100kgs of roof beams is fun, for a short while.

8. Guilt – nothing makes you dry your eyes more quickly than being passed by a 12 year old girl running up the hill on her way to school.

9. Motivational quotes/mantras:

“Pain is just weakness leaving your body” – Mal

“Pain is temporary” – Buddhist quote

“We are having fun, we are having fun?” – Me

That is about it for now guys. I now have to find a young priest and an old priest to help perform an exorcism on my trekking socks.

Next update from Ama Dablam Base camp. Things are about to get fun!

Blues skies and happy feet,

Ben

Ben – The Beasting

The Beasting of Ben

It is 5am on Saturday morning. Last time I saw 5am on a Saturday I was staggering around Hobart, a drunken university student in search of a souvlaki. This time I was woken by a rude Israeli man who thought that outside my room would be a great place to hold a loud conversation…I got up to (not so politely) tell him that it wasn’t! The cheeky bugger said, “Shut your door then” I just stared him down with my crazy morning eyes and wild hair, he left shortly afterwards. “Hi my name is Ben and I am most definitely NOT a morning person…”

Being wide awake, I am now downstairs drinking black tea, listening to the planes take off from the airport next door, as in right next door, I could spit on the planes should I so desire. I am tired so please bear with me if this blog is a bit scattered.

Oh look, something shiny…

Blog update…hmm.

Two things you should know about proper mountaineers (which as a non-proper mountaineer, I have only recently learnt):

1) They abbreviate everything: Crampons = Poons, Ama Dablam = AD, Ama Dablam Base Camp = ADBC, Going Overland a lot = GOAL.

2) Words take on a new meaning. To walk along a glacier, sweating like a fat lady in a bakery is not called ‘trekking’, it is called ‘Beasting yourself”. When you have spent a day covered in snow, trudging along slippery, muddy tracks and wishing you were home with a hot chocolate it is not called ‘lousy’ it is called ‘less than ideal’.

I left off last time with skanky, oily shoulder length hair and in desperate need of a shower. Pleased to report that I managed a bucket shower in a small, cold room. This is quite a trick as, in the cold, when you pour water over yourself you get warm, then random parts (think: the extremities) start to get immediately cold. I managed to wash the last few weeks of trekking out of my hair. I am pretty sure that when I pulled all the loose hair out of my brush it ran off under the door, but maybe the poor light was playing tricks on me.

Our retreat (for want of a better word) back to Thamel has been quite enjoyable.

Everyone is now well acclimatised, pack fit and getting used to each others’ potty humour. I remember that Mal once said, and I agree, that it is a good thing to have at least one girl on expeditions to tone down the testosterone. With seven boys the jokes are becoming increasingly, umm, raw…What’s the hardest thing about Rollerblading?

Day one of our return to Lukla was uphill. This is a double edged sword as I have a dodgy right knee that prefers going uphill, but also I have a lazy attitude which prefers going down. The smoo had firmly settled in the valley closing out any views, but also keeping us nicely cool under the effort. Smoo is fog/cloud/drizzle-stuff. Up and up we went, then around, then up. Occasionally the smoo would open up a dummy hole to give us a glimpse down impossibly big valleys which were dotted with terraced farms, short trees and I-don’t-know-how-to-describe-the beauty-of-this-area, views. A dummy hole is when the entire sky is smoo, but then a patch of blue shows, making all the dummys say, “I think it’s clearing.” Read my blog and you will learn actual meteorological facts kids, just wait until I get onto technical climbing terms!

Late in the afternoon, just as the smoo was turning to proper rain, we got to a tiny, shit-ridden teahouse 300 meters below the pass. We had climbed around 1600 meters (for actual information on place names, heights etc, check out Mal’s updates: www.verticalresources.org). Had we done this climb as un-acclimatized people we would be suffering, like that pale looking guy in the corner with his head in his hands, but as we were acclimatized to 5000 meters it was just a big walk.

The teahouse was overrun with nice smelling trekkers just starting from Lukla and the more pungent variety going out to Lukla. Settling in to relax with a snickers Bar and a tea someone, I don’t remember who, went to the toilet and returned with a somewhat haunted look. When people travel in Asia they tend to come back banging on about squat toilets. In the hills of Nepal a decent squatty is a luxury. Mostly toilets are a hole covered with some planks and a hastily built shed. Wobbly floorboards make the experience rushed, non-existent ventilation makes it multi-sensory. Remember the scene in Lord of the rings, where they are at Mount Mordor and one Hobbit slips, the lava can be seen boiling below his legs as a friend pulls him back up onto the ledge? Yeah, that.

Moving away from toilet stories (However, if you want just one more toilet story, check out the first chapter of my book at www.redrucksack.com/book there is a ripper in there, one which I shudder to recall…) The following morning we woke at 5am and readied ourselves for a big push down to Lukla.

Before going down, we had to go up. The pass had, until recently, been closed due to the storm. We slowly glaciated our tired way up 300 meters to crampon point, then traversed a lovely crunchy, grippy slope. Being early, the smoo had yet to close in and the views were expansive (I wonder when I’ll run out of descriptives? When I start describing everything as ‘radical’, you’ll know I have exhausted my vocab). We could see right down huge valleys to little terraces and forests. To our surprise a lot of groups were coming over the pass in trekking boots, with no crampons, and certainly no skill. One large chap at the tail end of a European group nearly knocked me off the hill when he slid past uncontrollably. It was kind of comical, but mostly, “Do not knock me off the hill with your lack of skill, champ.”

Down we went to below the snow line, to the tree line, through farms, past Yaks blowing trails of steam out of their noses, and over big gullys bridged with fallen trees, and finally into Lukla. Back at the same teahouse where we started around 14 days ago (again for actual information see Mal’s updates!). We sat in the courtyard drinking, you guessed it, tea and rubbing our thighs absently. We had descended over 2000meters in a day and were feeling it. A large, fresh looking group arrived and amongst them was Sidi! My old mate Sidi.

Sidi, or Sidi Mamma was our climbing sherpa on Manaslu in 2011. We get along really well and I hold him in huge regard after how he helped me on the summit day. We had summited the bastard (you know that you have ‘properly’ climbed a mountain when you can only refer to it as ‘the bastard’ or ‘that F#%king hill’ for years afterwards). On the way down Mal and the boys were going to stay at camp three but I wanted to go lower as I was feeling a bit off. Long story short, I got a little bit lost, in my tired, hypoxic state I wasn’t thinking straight and was super scared. Sidi got out of bed and came to my rescue, we went to camp two together and spent a cold night spooning under my sleeping bag (Sidi had left his up at 3).

Note: My wife Jette has given me limited permission to spoon other men: when I am cold and scared on a mountain…and as long as I am the big spoon.

Sidi, Mal and I retired to the dining room to drink tea and catch up on the last few years. He was thrilled that I am now married, I am thrilled that he has another baby and is looking happy, fit and prospering. This random catchup had me grinning throughout the night. Sadly we will miss Sidi by one day in Kathmandu so will not have the chance to take him and his family out for a Thai feast this time.

Being that we are now hitting up the Khumbu valley we will be using Yaks to carry our heavy goods so we held a small function for our porters where we filled them up with Ratchi, tipped them generously and sent them off to paint the town red. Mal and the boys went out to play pool but I stayed in and caught up on emails.

Today we are off up the Khumbu, I am really interested to see how the area has changed since I was here last in 2010. I’ll keep you posted.

Blue skies and happy feet (finally),

Ben

PS – For all the parents of members out there reading this, all the boys are doing well and are having fun. I’ll be letting them do an update on my blog after we have packed away the POONS and CRABS at ADBC. A reader has requested more interesting information about Andrew than his size and the state of his beard, but sadly this is still a work in progress.

PPS – if you have any questions, or want me to write about any specific aspect of this adventure please feel free to ask in the comments section below. I have a trusty Admin who can send me details of requests.

Oh and the hardest thing about rollerblading is telling your family that you are gay.

Cabin Fever

As I reported last, we were initially happy when Mal found his missing half meter of snow yesterday. However, we were less than pleased to see it continue, and continue, and… Last night tent poles broke under the weight of the onslaught. Bish and I woke every hour or so to bash the walls of the tent clear of snow. Towards early morning our bashing became more enthusiastic, yet futile, as the tent became almost completely buried save for a small pyramid at the very top of the dome. Poking our heads out of a small gap at the front vestible like two confused meercats, we were met with a post apocalyptical world of white: here is my impression of what we saw:

Cabin Fever part 2

One word to describe 7 men sleeping in a teahouse, Farty. We woke to, you guessed it, more snow. Mal went down the hill a bit to check the conditions but soon he was back with grim news. The steep slopes we struggled up to get here are now all packed with snow and ripe to avalanche. The team at high camp have yet to surface and we have serious concerns for their safety. I am sorry for the lack of jolly metaphors but really, we are ready to be lower, on the move again and off this damn hill.

After lunch, the following day we decided move, we heard that a team have pushed a trail halfway up the hill to us and are sure that this is as good as it will get to move lower.

A short highlight reel of what followed:

-We beasted ourselves down the glacier to Tagnak to be met by a jolly team of French climbers, also suffering cabin fever, but waiting to go up.

-Eat, take some photos of the mountain, sleep.

-Cruise down the valley trying no to dwell on nasty rumours flying about of the fate of the other team up high.

-Get to Khote.

-Set up tents

-Email family members to say Hi.

-Buy Pringles chips and bliss out in the sun writing this.

We are going to tackle the pass tomorrow and hopefully get to Lukla by the 21st, or there abouts. In the meantime I will be washing my skanky, oily shoulder length hair and attempting get my jolly-metaphors back.

More soon.

Note: This blog is a recollection of my personal adventures. I maintain this blog purely for my (and hopefully your) entertainment. I have resisted the urge to re-tell unconfirmed stories of peril, frostbite and death up high. My lighthearted approach to story telling should not be confused with a blase philosophy, or flippancy about others’ traumas. Should any of the unconfirmed reports that we have heard prove true, my heart truly does go out to those affected and their families. If you want actual news about what recently happened on Mera Pass, or the entire Himalayas due to this storm I suggest you look it up on a reputable news station.

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