Mountains

My father was an outdoor education teacher, both my parents are avid lovers of the outdoors. I compled a ten day mountaineering course in 2008 and have been getting high ever since.

Insurance for Mountaineering – read the fine print!

grey Insurance for Mountaineering   read the fine print! grey Insurance for Mountaineering   read the fine print! grey Insurance for Mountaineering   read the fine print!
grey Insurance for Mountaineering   read the fine print! grey Insurance for Mountaineering   read the fine print!
grey Insurance for Mountaineering   read the fine print!

 

I’ll begin this story with a happy ending…I think I may have found a way to get mountaineering insurance coverage for my upcoming climb in Nepal.

In short, the only way I could arrange this is to get regular, everyday medical and travel insurance, then to fork out a sizeable sum to a second company that covers medical evacuation only. This is because every company I spoke with, and there were heaps, have exclusions on insurance for “mountaineering using specialist equipment.”

At first I thought I could do what I did last time and insure with BUPA, one package. But things have changed since 2011 when we climbed Manaslu. See the (somewhat farcical) conversation I had online with a rep below:

Please wait for a Customer Consultant to respond.

You are now chatting with ‘Jeanette Jacobsen’

Jeanette Jacobsen: Welcome to ihi Bupa live chat. How may I help you?

Ben: Hi there, I am mountaineering in Nepal this October-Nov. Do you cover this sport?

Jeanette Jacobsen: one moment please

Ben: No worries

Please wait while I transfer the chat to ‘Johanna C. Kreiss’.

You are now chatting with ‘Johanna C. Kreiss’

Johanna C. Kreiss: Regarding mountaineering, we need some questions to be answered from you regarding your trip and coverage.

Ben: Okay, are these questions in the application form when I go to sign up?

Johanna C. Kreiss: we need you to send us an e-mail with the following to travel@ihi.com:

  1. A travel description of the expedition you are going on; for example route, whether you will be trekking or climbing from e.g. south, north etc.
  2. The mountains you will be trekking or climbing as well as the exact altitude.
  3. The kind of equipment you will be using, oxygen, crampons, ropes, harness etc.
  4. If you will be using a guide/sherpa and/or porter?
  5. If you are planning to stay over night during the mountaineering expedition?

Ben: No worries, shall do

Johanna C. Kreiss: Yes, and we need to look further into your trip. please be aware that we do not cover mountaineering that requires specialised climbing equipment

Ben: What is specialised? As in carabiners, ropes, ice axes

Johanna C. Kreiss: yes, exactly

Ben: Okay, that’s me out then, thanks for your time!

Johanna C. Kreiss: You are welcome sir

The Oxford dictionary defines mountaineering as “the sport of climbing mountains.” When saying  they “cover mountaineering” they are technically correct…but, by that rational, you could technically walk up the nearest hill and call it mountaineering expedition. Saying that you cover mountaineering, but not with ixe aces, crampons, ropes etc is like saying a Facebook status update is computer programming, or riding a bike to the French patissere down the corner is Tour de France training.

So, reading around a few helpful blogs  I discovered that many climbers split insurance and have one for travel/medical and one for medical evacuation. Two main options here:

Global rescue:

Looking around I found a guy on the Lonely Planet forum who described a trek to Everesst Base camp. He developed HAPE, and very wisely, his guide got him on a helicopter and straight to a hospital in Kathmandu. When he contacted the company (within 24hours like they want, still a very sick man) he was told that in the product disclaimer it says he needed to contact them first. As Yaks were available (yet completely unrealistic given his condition) they said he will not be covered. The Nepalese embassy took his passport, effectively locking him into the country until his bill was settled…this is only one mans experience and I don’t want to base my decision on this alone but, it does not look promising.

Many helicopter companies do not send out hep until they have insurance details and I don’t fancy being stuck on a mountain trying to argue with a company via Sat phone about if I need a chopper or not, I would want to just get out!

On top of this Global rescue are expensive. Due to the length of the trip I would require to sign up for a year-long membership which would set me back a cool $655. Compared to the thousands of dollars a helicopter trip would cost, and considering they would likely not send one to an uninsured climber, this may be my best bet…

GEOS – leading provider: 

Currently for the evacuation insurance these guys are my leading option. I just need to confirm a little detail in their exclusions. See my enquiry below:

Hi there,
I am leaving for Nepal in 2 weeks for a climbing trip to Ama Dablam (6856 mtrs). Have medical and travel insurance but need Medical evac. Wondering if I would be covered as a client on a mountaineering expedition as I found this in the exclusions:

any Member taking part in or training for:
(a) expeditions, time trials and/or record attempts where an expedition is defined as “an organized journey or voyage for a
specific purpose: especially but not exclusively for exploration or for a scientific or military purpose and organized by a third party or an organized journey requiring a permit”.

Specifically wondering about the “organized by a third party or an organised journey requiring a permit” part…

I will update this post when I get a response and let you know the outcome of all this research.

The main takeaway message from this post is to READ THE FINE PRINT. I would hate any of you guys to be stuck in a bad financial or life threatening situation because the insurance product you bought is not what you thought it was.

Blue skies and happy feet,

Ben

UPDATE 23rd September –  GEO never replied to my enquiry,  have booked medical evac with Global resuce, individual cover was not too bad price-wise without the security update (trust a war will not break out in the Khumbu). https://www.globalrescue.com

Note: information in this post was accurate at the time of writing. This is intended as a personal memoir of my experiences and in not meant to replace your own research and information. All decisions relating to insurance are yours, and yours alone.

Training for mountaineering update

Training for mountaineering… What does it take to sit on top of tall, pointy mountains as featured in cliché motivation posters? To be honest, even though I have done it before, I still have no bloody clue. I’m completely making this up as I go! Maybe the last summit was a complete fluke. Maybe this time will be different…

In exactly one month I will be stepping off a plane in Kathmandu and heading off into the hills with a good mate of mine. Despite being busy with my studies, some relief pharmacy work and organising my book launch (scheduled for a week after I return, which will  be a challenge considering I slept for a month after my last climb), I am pleased to report that my training has come along apace. Since my first Ama Dablam training blog post  my fitness has improved immensely. My waist is 6 cms smaller and I am 7 kgs lighter. Finally I am starting to look less like Homer Simpson and more like the guy to the right!

I am swimming 3 kms two to three times a week. The last time I went to the pool I was super-motivated and busted out the first 1.5 kms without a rest. My lungs are feeling strong thanks to yet another wild theory of mine. You see, I figure that swimming is one of the best ways to train for a low oxygen environment. I have been trying to teach my body to function under ‘oxygen stress’ (my term)  by not breathing when I want and alternating between a breath every five and one every six strokes. Once I tried breaking my swim down into laps of ten. I breathed once every 10 strokes on the first lap, 9 on the next and so on. This meant that when I did breathe I needed  to be efficient. This hurt, but I could feel myself pushing through all sorts of uncomfortable I-want-to-breathe barriers. Surely all this helps my breathing efficiency. Maybe. Another wild Ben theory…

I have recruited a rag-tag ‘team’ of dudes to rock climb with. Once a week Davide, the barista from over the road, and his mate, as well as my paragliding buddy Juan join me to ‘hang out’ at the climbing gym. All the lads are new to the sport, but they love the challenge and excitement. I am loving the company, making new friends and fun of it all. Rock climbing is amazing training. When you get tired, you fall off. This gives a surge of adrenaline that makes it possible to go again and keep on climbing beyond normal tired.

On top of climbing and swimming, I train with the slack-line during breaks from my book launch and study work. I can now wear my rucksack (big red, naturally) with 12 kgs inside on the slackline. This is super-exciting considering I could hardly stand on the thing a few months ago. Also, if climbing does not work out for me, I can run away to join the circus as a tightrope walker.

Queue shameless brag video:

 

All those oft-forgotten balance muscles that sub-consciously twitch and keep us upright get an amazing workout on this contraption. I have found muscles down the side of my legs and in my bum, which I didn’t know existed. If you have absolutely no imagination at all, you may be wondering how slacklining would help with mountaineering. Below is a short video, which shows just how important balance is on mountains:

 

I think maybe the next goal for the slackline will be to do it as Jette throws slushy ice at me, or get her to spray me with a hose in the nighttime. She’d enjoy that!

Anyway, that’s the latest on my training for the big climb. Did I mention that the Red Rucksack now has GPS capabilities? As we climb I will be updating here via sat phone, and tracking our progress using a GPS spotter. The GPS SPOT will be stuffed in my pack and plotting our exact location to a very detailed map as we climb. Thankfully, Ama Dablam is near Everest so there are some amazingly detailed maps available of the region. You will even be able to see, in real time, which ridge line we are sitting on, and which cliff we are climbing. High tech gizmos meets Yak transportation. BOO YAH! Yeah…I’m starting to get excited, and I look forward to having you tag along!

Do you have any questions about the expedition? Do you want to know any specific details? Please comment below and I’ll try to answer any question before I go. Note: while I’m in Nepal communication will be one way, so I will not be able to see comments or answer any questions so get in now.

Thanks for joining me.

 

Adventure Underwear – stick your phone in your pants and smile

This week leading up to the big climb I was planning to write about the importance and logistics of getting to the start of the mountain in a healthy state. My plans changed, however, when an unassuming chap named Nigel emailed and kindly offered to show me his underpants, Adventure underpants no less!

Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I have no intention of monetizing this site and that the only sponsored post I have ever done was when Red Balloon offered me a free skydive last January, an offer too good to refuse…but when a a bloke offers to show me his undies.

grey Adventure Underwear   stick your phone in your pants and smileTo give you some background on this Nigel character, he is a chemist who loves to travel. Being a safety conscious soul, as he was preparing to explore South America he sewed a small pocket into his underpants to safely store some of his valuables. I imagine he spent a fair bit of time flashing his pocketed jocks to passersby as he returned home with a lot of people urging him to market the idea. Which he did. Nigel quit his job and threw himself into the world of underwear design, his labors resulting in the Adventure Underwear brand. This is a brand in the making and the 23rd of July is the official kick-starter launch. Nigel and his team are trying to raise enough interest through kick-starter to really fire off their band and I wish them all the best.

Let’s face it, money belts are dorky and uncomfortable. Money belts are easy to forget. However, most people wear underpants. You will have to take my word here as all attempts at verifying this statement resulted in guards chasing me out of the shopping mall.

As I said above, my history of reviewing stuff is limited to thoughtfully saying, “Nice coffee” or gleefully yelling “Free camping, winner!” I am winging it so please bear with me here. To use a completely inappropriate metaphor I will break this down into bite sized pieces.

grey Adventure Underwear   stick your phone in your pants and smileIdea

I think caching your valuables next to your most prized possession is a brilliant idea. When I was in Rio I stuck some money and a small map to my chest with a wound dressing as I figured that it would be a dedicated thief that searches inside scabby wounds for valuables. This worked, but, having a small pocket inside my underpants would have been much easier on my (only) chest hair when I retrieved my money later that night.
Both pockets in Adventure Underwear are waterproof to 60 meters. This is great for you water sports enthusiasts. no more leaving your keys under the wheel arch while surfing. The Adventure Underwear team are working on a females range so stay tuned.

grey Adventure Underwear   stick your phone in your pants and smile

 

Sadly Nigel thought I was joking when I suggested he make a special ‘Brown-series’ for really scary adventure.

 

Comfort

Usually you put your undies on in the morning and don’t think about them much after that. This would be the ideal situation for Adventure Underwear. When I first put mine on I noticed the plastic pocket (which is inside a merino pocket for comfort) being, well plasticy against my skin. This was not a huge issue as after five minutes or so I had all but forgotten they were there.
I wore them with my passport in a pocket for a whole day. I could feel that it was resting snugly against my thigh, this was not a nuisance. It would be somewhat comforting while traveling I imagine. The merino they use is the super fine type not that itchy-grandma-knitted-jumper stuff your parents made you wear as a kid.

Quality

I am ashamed to admit this, but my record for wearing a single pair of underpants is just over a week. One pair, no changing. Whilst on the summit attempt of Manaslu my priorities were elsewhere, I also forgot my toothbrush but I would rather not talk about this. It would have greatly aided the comfort of both myself and my tent mates if I had worn a pair of merino undies on this climb. Merino wool is the best fabric for both wicking away moisture and stopping body odours.

The seams are a flat, non-rubbing type, great for active people. Where the plastic security pocket attaches the stitching is starting to come a bit loose but I am assured that the second generation will have this fixed by attaching the plastic pocket with velcro rather than stitched. This will allow you to take out the plastic and just use the merino outer pocket if waterproofing is not needed.
The plastic pockets are 100% recyclable, they contain no BPA’s or bad chemicals and the FDA have given them a ‘food safe rating.’    Just in case you want to stuff a snickers bar down there…

Conclusion

I have never been a big fan of money belts but hate that feeling of paranoia when I just want to relax and enjoy exploring.

I will be wearing my adventure undies (sadly not available in brown, hint, hint Nigel) both in Katmandu and when I climb Ama Dablam this October and am sure that my valuables (and tent-buddies) will thank me for it!

For updates on Adventure Underwear through Twitter go here: @AdvntrUnderwear and through Facebook go here: www.facebook.com/adventureunderwear

Disclaimer:

While this is my first proper product review I have been approached by various companies in the past but have passed on their offer. The reason is that I only want to review products which may be of interest (and useful) to my readers. The fact that I got free undies has in no way affected what I have written. If they were terrible I would tell you so. promise.

 

Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley – my first Himalayan climb

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb

This week’s adventure is a flashback to 2010 when I tackled Pokalde in the Khumbu (Everest) valley, my first Himalayan mountain climb. Our goal was this relatively small mountain just off the Everest trail, compared with the monsters that surrounded us, it was nothing more than a pimple. Pokalde is commonly used as an acclimatisation peak for Everest climbers and trekkers alike:

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climbI feel terribly alive after my recent cold bucket shower outside on the snow. With my increasingly hirsute face tingling, we set off and leave the porters to load the yaks. As we walk the visibility is virtually nil and the British members of our group are busily filling the air with disgruntled comments. I am content to just follow the fresh footprints ahead of me. Trudging along with my hood pulled tight and my eyes on the ground I pick up my revere from yesterday afternoon, ‘Great idea to contact the BBC when I return, they will need a Sir David Attenborough replacement for sure. Sir Benny Rabbit-Burrow, sounds great.

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb
I am no biologist but I have the voice, ‘Here we see a group of common idiots walking through the snow to sleep in draughty canvas structures, they eat dried fruits and berries and share a communal toilet hole.’ Easy.

Half an hour after setting off we turn left up a valley where the yaks and porters pass us. Watching them disappear I feel relief as always to see my pack securely on the side of a beast. By the time us low altitude dwellers trudge into base camp our sherpas have set up all the tents and greet us smiling with hot tea with biscuits. This is a very civilised way to trek, I start to wonder how I ever managed without porters and sherpas alone in the wilds of Tasmania.

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climbThat night is our first proper cold one. In the morning Kevin the tall Irish man with the quiet smile says that he recorded around minus fifteen overnight. I wear my thermal long johns, fleece pants, polypropylene gloves, merino top and thermal sleeping bag liner inside my very warm sleeping bag and still shiver throughout, at one stage I considered spooning Andy for warmth but that would be like cuddling a fridge.

We are roused when the young cook shoves tea through the tent’s entrance and we set about getting fed and ready to tackle our first Himalayan mountain. Getting ready at altitude, even the relatively low altitude here, is hard work. We are at a place where rolling over in your sleeping bag sends you gasping for air for ten minutes. High altitude doubles the time it takes to pull on plastic boots, affix crampons and don climbing harnesses. We hit the mountain at about 5:15am and climb. We climb a lovely sharp little snow slope which is good fun, but then climbing becomes a sustained haul across an uninspiring scree up to a final section of exposed rock. A few members of the team turn back early which does not bode well for the upcoming challenge of Island Peak, or Imje Tse as it is known locally. I am unsure if it is happiness, fear or cold, but my eyes well up as I dig my unwieldy plastic boots into a slight crack in the rock, pull myself onto that tiny summit and look around.

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climbgrey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climbAs I am busy clambering over rocks the sun has been unveiling an amazing view for our little intrepid group. What I see painted in front of me in shades of grey with some pink steals away all words. I am clipped into a safety sling with my jaw agape and just stare down the Khumbu Valley. The six of us perch on a precarious little summit ledge and celebrate while soaking up this expansive view with careful back slapping all round.

On the descent I do my first ever single rope abseil with about five hundred meters of exposure below my bum. Due to my inexperience and clumsy gloves I end up slipping and falling into a fellow climber’s lap where she greets me with a giggling, warm hug. Our leader Andy spots my poor form, ‘Hey Ben, have you abseiled alone before?’

‘No mate, never without a second person belaying me from above anyway. She’ll be right.’

 

Not for the last time, I get into trouble for not telling him something like this.On the way down the long snow slope towards base camp I really lose energy and start getting a terrible headache, fighting off a desperate desire to just sit down and sleep I make it back to camp and into my sleeping bag for a quick rest. I fully understand now what ‘proper’ climbers mean when they say that the top is only half way. The adrenaline of a summit wears off leaving behind a breathtaking fatigue and nausea. Having completed our first ascent before lunch we enjoy a lazy afternoon squinting at small camera screens and comparing photos…I could get hooked on this climbing business.

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb

 

grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb grey Pokalde in the Khumbu Valley   my first Himalayan climb

 

 

Ama Dablam – My mountaineering training regimen

Please do not get the wrong idea. I’m not writing this because I, in any way, think that I am some kind of fitness guru. Quite the opposite really; my view on exercise is simple: the more uncomfortable a training session is, the better it’s going to be for me. If you have an image popping into your mind of me in a packed gym running naked on a treadmill, well sorry, you’re thinking of the wrong kind of uncomfortable. That, or you’re some weird, stalker, beard-o-phile which is just awkward so please move on…anyway, what I mean is that my view on training is simple; the more I am sweating and gasping (and sometimes quietly sobbing) the better it is.

No, I’m writing this because I thought it would be interesting for those who don’t have the chance, or desire, to climb big mountains to find out the process involved in getting those nice, smiley summit pictures that often end up captioned with: “BELIEVING! – is half of doing” or “AMBITION! – aspire to climb as high as you dream”. Also, I thought I would afford my climbing friends the chance to read about my preparation and to shake their heads with a pitying smile.

In the lead up to this climb I will post on various topics like the technology we use, logistics on and off the hill, communication considerations, the clothes and gear I’ll be using and the food we eat. If you have any other things you’d like me to write about regarding this trip just ask.

Since reaching the decision to join Mal on this October Ama Dablam mission I have launched myself full throttle into mountain mode. You may be wondering what level of fitness I’ll need to drag my sorry ass up this highly coveted peak. Or you may not be wondering, in which case why not check out my post titled Drunk Russians which talks about peasants being drugged by their government.

Before I climbed Manaslu in 2011 I read everything I could find about the beast and came to the conclusion that this climb was mostly a very steep walk without much pulling-self-up-ice-cliffs-with-fingernails action. Sure, there were some very scary bits that we ‘walked’ over (see below), but the whole staring-with-cold-eyes-at-vertical-walls-of-ice action was limited.

grey Ama Dablam   My mountaineering training regimen

While training for Manaslu I was living in Aarhus, Denmark with my then girlfriend (now wife) just across from the pool. Through research and first hand experience I know that, at altitude, limiting your load  is crucial to success. Hence in preparation for Manaslu I just swam. Cue Forest Gump voice, “I just sa-wam Jenny…” I swam so damn much, around 6-8 kilometres a week, that I would not have been surprised to have seen little gills forming on my neck.

Once a friend of mine, Andy Chapman, wisely told me, “You climb a mountain with your legs, Ben, not your arms.” This is so true. To this end there was also a lot of bike riding involved leading up to this climb. Not the flashy lycra-clad kind mind, but more the type where I nicked Jette’s bright blue City-girl bike (complete with basket and bell) and just rode around the place. I’d ride around town happily mumbling the three Danish words I knew as people openly laughed. Although I looked completely retardacious, the rusty chain and rotten bearings of City-girl just made my legs work that little bit harder for every kilometre I went.

grey Ama Dablam   My mountaineering training regimen

Ama Dablam seems to have a ‘few’ steps

So, my training plan. In the  expedition notes for Ama Dablam Mal has written: There are a number of technical rock steps to climb as well as steep snow slopes to the summit. This causes me some concern as I know that Mal is prone to that oh so common trait of many ‘proper’ climbers; that is to completely under state things. For example: I once spent a rather un-cosy night with Mal huddled in a tent at 7450 meters. Overnight we recorded a temperature inside the tent of minus 25 degrees celcius. In the morning Mal bounds out of his sleeping bag, turns on his Go-pro and looks into the lens with a wide grin. “Morning here at camp four, bit of a cold one last night…” So when he says, ‘number of technical rock steps’ I am preparing for the worst. I am not picturing steps like you have at home but more steps with a vertical face the height of a house…yeah, sorry Andy but I may need some upper body strength for this one.

The core of my training for Ama Dablam will stay the same as for Manaslu; swim Forrest, swim! Not only is it great for general fitness but it also gives my lungs a beaut workout which is great for gasping down rarified air. I am currently swimming around 4-6 kilometres a week and want to build from there. Thankfully a good mate of mine is training for a Marathon so we are able to keep each other honest at the pool. To complement this I have just put together a weights program to build upper body strength for those few rock steps that I am so dreading….okay, I stole my wife’s program and changed the weights.

The classic route that we will be taking up Ama Dablam involves a number of extended, exposed ridge line walks. Sounds easy right? You just walk up a dizzyingly high knife-edge and don’t fall off! Technically that’s right. From a climbing perspective alone, ridge-lines are not that hard, but (there’s always a but!), at altitude, under pressure in a fearful and hypoxic daze I will need good balance to come naturally.

grey Ama Dablam   My mountaineering training regimen

Some cabbage-smelling hippy slacklining

To help my balance I have been mucking about with a slack line. You have likely seen clusters of hippies hanging out in a local park with drums, bright pants, scrappy dogs and those rolled ‘cigarettes’. You probably have also seen them on occasion get energetic enough to sling a racket strap between two trees and try to balance on it, well, that is slack lining. It is incredible just how good a core muscle and balance-y workout this game is.

I am, however, doing it without drugs or drums.

Speaking of drugs, this brings me to my last point. I have *GASP* totally quit alcohol for the four months leading up to this trip.

Nothing worth doing is easy, well, apart from sleep and hugging loved ones. Oh and relaxing on…fair enough, lots of good things come easy but this sport which I so enjoy is not one of them.

 

 

 

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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