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.

Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park – again

I have just quit my safe, regular job and am about to throw myself into a mix-bag of study, relief pharmacy work, adventuring and more writing. Not a bad crossroad to be at, but for sure I have a lot of thinking to do. My wife has picked up on my need to think, re-group, find solace and train for the Ama Dablam climb that is looming. Supportive as always, Jette says, “I think you should go hug some trees for a few days…go on, bugger off.” *Witness Danish girl being rapidly Australianised.* I quickly agree and four short days after hanging up the white coat I am at the trailhead. I don’t want to sound like one of those try-hard Indian-mystic-hippy-Bhudda type but Cradle Mountain National Park is truly my sacred ground.

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Me in mum’s jacket at 3 months old – Crater lake Jan 1978

 

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Fagus turning colour at Crater Lake

I have been coming here since before I could walk. My dad introduced many a young adventurer to nature here as he taught outdoor education. My childhood is peppered with memories of this place as is my adulthood – only a few months ago I married my best friend and fave travel companion in the shadows of Cradle Mountain. Yup, a pretty special place. But not only to me; the park is UNESCO World Heritage listed and us Tasmanians are fiercely protective of this area…so leave your guns and dogs at home please!

Despite having walked the famous Overland Track countless times the beauty of the deciduous Fagus still catches my breath. Before I even find my walking cadence I am at Crater Lake looking up at rocky walls which look as though God subcontracted the colouring to Picasso.

The hut at Crater Lake
grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again
grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

The track past Crater Lake takes a dramatic uphill turn. Following a steep push I am at Marion’s Lookout, definitely starting to sweat but very much enjoying the feeling of my headspace clearing. It does not take long for these hills to clear my cache. An elderly guide is enjoying the views beside two Asian clients. The guide and I have a quick chat as the other two speak together in an undeterminable language. They look in admiration at my too-big-because-I-rushed-packing rucksack. Leaving, I farewell my chatty friends, hook my thumbs under the straps near my shoulders then follow my feet past Cradle Mountain. My mind in happily stuck in neutral by the time I stop to sit in complete silence whilst looking at my comforting mountains.

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again
grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Soon I leave the high plateau to walk downwards through prehistoric looking palms into Waterfall Valley. A cheeky little wallaby watches me enter his grazing patch with a keen eye. Did I imagine him sighing in resignation before hopping away? Just before he disappears he gives me a second glance which seems to say ‘bugger off, I was here first…pesky humans’.

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again
grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Thankfully I am the only one (human) here so I have pick of the campsites. I shun the new hut, with the cosy gas heater and fancy drying room, preferring instead to pitch my tent next to an old hut tucked away amongst a mystical Mrytle forest almost out of sight .

 

When I wake the next morning I realise why the new hut is where it is. My tent, the old hut, and all nearby trees are covered in frost which has no hope of seeing sunlight until at least midday. Nothing else for it, still in my sleeping bag I fish around for my cooker and make a coffee (sounds simple right, wrong) then I snuggle back down to read.

The second time I wake I decide it’s time to go waterfall hunting. My last time here was with dad, he showed me all the good waterfalls so, once fed and dressed, I dig up fond memories of this trip and amble through a few enjoyable hours pushing through untracked bush and hunting for a great photo. As I explore my mind dawdles across all manner of topic, for example;

1. If Jette and I have kids will I be fortunate enough to show them this area?

2. How do Giraffes drink water, with their long necks and legs wouldn’t it just come back out their noses?

2. When will we end this ridiculous cycle of extremist Christians hating on all Muslims – Extremist Muslims retaliating with violence towards all Christians and extremist Christians feeling more justification to hate on all Muslims?

3. Did I lock mum’s car?

4. Will I have it in me to get up the next big Nepalese Mountain? (A common mind-dawdle of late)

5. Should I move on to Scott Kilvert hut?

6. Why do I always put two twos in my lists?

grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again grey Exploring Cradle Mountain National Park   again

Late in the arvo while making coffee in the old hut a amiable retiree named Paul bursts in. Well, in reality Paul just walks in normally but as I have not seen anyone for some it feels as though he has just stormed in twirling a baton with a marching band behind him. Paul is trying to reduce his girth to tackle the Appalachian trail in America next year. We have a very brief talk but I am really not in a chatty mood. Deciding to move on I pack my things and hit the trail to arrive at Scott Kilvert Hut just on dark. Having managed to all but avoid conversation for a full two days, I struggle to hide my disappointment when I find more chatty people just waiting to make new friends. They are a friendly couple who have already established themselves at the hut. I decline their kind offer to play cards and beat a hasty retreat to pitch my tent on the helipad. Reading and listening to familiar mountain noises soon sends me off to a deep sleep. (Yes, all my gear is ready to grab in case a chopper comes and tries to land on my head in the night!) Early the next morning I wake…but soon I am lulled by the still.

At 10:30am I rouse myself enough to spend a blissful day on my helipad reading, photographing and snoozing. Who says training for a big mountaineering expedition needs to be hard work?! The following video is my entire day compressed into 13 seconds.

 

Once darkness falls I crawl into my sleeping bag having not said a single word for 24 hours. To think that some people go to expensive Thai Buddhist retreats for the same privilege. At 1am a curious possum wakes me by rustling against my tent, I stick my head out to shoo him off then look up at the shadow of the mountain where a huge wave of cloud is rolling down at me in slow motion. 20 minutes later my tent is flapping like a single aunt at a Greek wedding and the rain is pouring down.

Seven sleepless hours later I get up.

The storm seems determined to grow. I pack up all my now wet gear, fold the tent, stuff it all into my trusty red rucksack and get out of there. It truly is a cold, wet, miserable walk…but I love it. Just before finishing I make two short videos showing the wild weather.

 

I am done and back in mum’s car which thankfully was locked, I’m warm and driving home, fully relaxed, recharged and ready to face a few new life challenges, not least of which is figuring out just how Giraffes drink*.

Regarding the wild weather, don’t worry, it has not put me off from my special bush time. I just see it as good training, kind of a preview of coming attractions, for the Nepal expedition.

 

*Regarding the Giraffes I did find out. Check out this link In my search I happened upon the answer to another question which most people are too afraid to ask here.

Ama Dablam, the big decision

“We don’t want any adventures here, thank you!…nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” – The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien.

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionI have been wanting to mention the expedition for five days but needed time to gather my thoughts and weigh up the pros and cons before worrying Jette.

Saturday night rolls around, I have been going backwards and forwards in my mind about this trip and really cannot make a decision.

Pros versus cons versus pros versus cons…grey Ama Dablam, the big decision

We are on a tram heading home after a lavish Korean dinner with some friends. I really did not mean to mention it so casually while surrounded by drunken people loudly discussing football. It kind of just slipped out.

“So, I got a message from Mal the other day…”

Immediately I have Jette’s full attention. I can almost see her ears pricking up. She knows what a message from Mal means.

“Which mountain?” She asks with a half chuckle.

“Nepal again,” I reply almost sheepishly, “Ama Dablam.”

“Okay, how high? What’s the deal?” Jette asks, now in full information gathering mode.

“Well, it’s around 6500 meters high, so lower than Manaslu but more of a climbing challenge.” I feel like a used car dealer but forge on, “the plan is to warm up on a few trekking peaks on the way in.”

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionI’m honestly not sure if I can justify nicking off for 6 weeks, nor if I am up to the challenge.

“So what is the death rate?” Jette asks in a businesslike tone as if she were asking what’s for breakfast.

“No idea, ummm, much lower than Manaslu. I reckon,” Is my unconvincing reply.

Jette whips out her smart phone and starts tapping away.

“Right, so Manaslu is 2.77%, that sounds about right from memory, Everest is 1.52 and Ama Dablam, oh, only 0.43, that seems okay.”

“Yeah, seems weird googling death rates on a Melbourne Tram hey,” I chuckle, making light grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionof the situation.

“That’s for sure,” Jette replies with a wry smile. “So, main question, do you want to do it?”

“Dunno really. The timing is great, it is a mountain I have always wanted to climb and it could be a good carrot after finishing this management course.”

“True,” Jette nods. “Seems like a no brainer, go for it if you want.”

“Yeah, it does seem a no brainer, I’ll think it over for a few more days…” I lean over for a smooch, “Love you.”

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionI honestly do love that girl. After all that I have put her through she still encourages and supports my need for adventure. Jette even said vows to that effect when we got married in March. “I promise to continue to accept and support your need to go off adventuring…within reason of course…” The ‘within reason’ excludes BASE jumping. Being a lawyer you would think that Jette would have worded that covenant far more carefully. We have a running joke about how I constantly try to find, and exploit, loopholes in our unofficial but very solemn agreement. Sometimes I wake up pinching myself at how lucky I am to have her in my life. Jette has to deal with a barrage of ideas being run by her that are as close to BASE jumping as could be. Ideas like, “So, Fab* and I are going to build a kite that can carry a person…I have this great idea involving a hot air balloon thing…Fab and I have this great idea for this bridge jump…” Currently Jette has (half) jokingly put a ban on Fab and I using the word ‘idea’ in any sentence…anyway back to the mountain story.

*Fabio or Fab is a great friend of mine and my main co-conspirator when it comes to stupid, but really fun ideas.  

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionWhen climbers write about their exploits they regularly forget to mention the people at home. Last time on Manaslu while descending we didn’t update the blog for a few days as the route had changed so dramatically, due to beautiful sunshine we enjoyed on the ascent, that we were not really sure when or how we would get down to base camp. As my emergency contact Jette suffered terribly during this silence. Whenever her phone rang she thought it would be bad news. Jette’s situation was not helped by a work colleague who spent half an hour explaining in gory detail why the descent is the most dangerous part. By the time I called Jette from base camp (by the way her phone showed “Ben-emergency phone” and caused her to rush out of an important meeting in tears) it took me a few minutes with my grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionsunburnt tongue, altitude affected voice, crappy satellite reception and fatigued voice to convince her that I was really me and that I was completely safe and everything was okay. “I love you and will be home soon.”

Previously whilst acclimatising there were days when Mal and I were relaxing in the tent, eating Snickers bars, doing Suduko challenges and casually growing more red blood cells. I figured that it would be silly to send an email with no news but later learnt that Jette was imagining random rock falls and other calamities during these times of no contact. No news is not always good news.

Over the next few days I grapple with why I would want to freeze my ass off, scare myself silly, put my system through high altitude torture for weeks and cause my loved ones concern just to climb a silly mountain. Jette and I have settled in a grey Ama Dablam, the big decisioncomfortable home near the beach, all my high altitude gear has been shipped back from Nepal and packed away and I have been considerate enough to grow a decent belly for Jette to snuggle up to during movies. We have plans for the future which involve our own business, a house, maybe kids. A settled life. I am really happy with where I am and look towards our future with puppy-like glee. Why don’t I just go to a tropical island and have my hair done in those fetching little plaits?

Genetics. Maybe this is all a quirk of genetics. My father suffers a similar condition. He regularly nicks off into the Tasmanian bush to trek and explore only to return with cuts, bruises and more recently, a dislocated pointer finger. Dad is approaching 70 and continues to be a seemingly unstoppable force. Mum has always said that she would rather tolerate this than be married to a boring slob drinking away his life in front of the television. I am inclined to agree, but can only hope that Jette’s understanding continues as long as mum’s has for dad. Early indications are hopeful.

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionFreeze frame. Research suggests that voyeurs record things not always for a sexual kick but because they fear the passage of time. Maybe there is something in this. Before I had done any climbs I used to read books about mountains – a lot – and formed the misguided opinion that people who climb do it solely for those few moments at the top. I have met a few people like that, but honestly they are completely missing the point. I certainly remember the feeling when we ran out of ‘up’ and turned around to see the whole world splayed out like some surrealist painting. More important I remember moments; when Soph and I made a stupid film dedicating the expedition to ‘The Foundation for Land Rights for Gay Dolphins’; when Mal and I played thin air guitar on the trek in; Norbu, the cook’s assistant’s boyish glee when I gave him my ice axe as a present; my first proper shower in 7 weeks…freeze frame, full definition, never to be forgotten moments. This is the big attraction for me. To step away from the ordinary and to bathe in the stunning clarity of those moments, the friendships and the memories.

grey Ama Dablam, the big decisionSo anyway, cutting to the chase. Am I going?

You know how couples often have children around two years apart? I reckon this is due, in large part, to the fact that two years is about how long it takes for a mother to forget the anguish of childbirth and for her to start looking back with happy, misty eyes at baby photos, small booties and tiny cribs. To forget the pain that baby’s big head caused. Guess how long it has been since Mal and I last swung on ropes together?

 

Recently I have been finding myself looking over Nepal photos with happy, misty grey Ama Dablam, the big decisioneyes so, to use a metaphor I’ll regret, I guess my vagina has healed. With the full support of my lovely wife (who may just be looking for a break from my ‘ideas’) I am off on another adventure in October.

I will keep you updated and plan to blog all the way in and up as long as we can arrange the technology.

For now it is time to hit the gym, this belly is not going to fix itself!

Heat stroke symptoms, a practical class

grey Heat stroke symptoms, a practical class4am Saturday morning I roll rather unsteadily into McDonalds Devonport with my friend Mark who has been showing major heat stroke symptoms for some time now…

“What you want Marky-boy?”

“Quarter pounder with cheese and a sprite”

“In France it’s called a Royal with cheese, metric sys…never mind, How you feeling mate”

“Not great”

“Haha, this kind of fun activity will do that to a bloke!”

“You got that right brother”

About 7 hours prior I watched as Mark vomited all sorts of green liquid onto the ground, he was retching away with big dark shadows under his eyes. Shortly after this event I was forcing my red eyes to stay open and focus on a wildlife encrusted road with all the intensity of a fifth year medical student performing his first prostate exam.

By this stage you are probably making assumptions, thinking I am crazy to be drink driving and that we are starring in one of those “mates don’t let mates drink/drive” advertisements, you would be sorely mistaken… The culprit here is bushwalking. To be more precise, bushwalking and underestimating terrain, possibly also overestimating ability.

Since July this year Mark and I have been planning a bush walk together. Over many months of eager anticipation our plans changed from doing the Overland Track with another friend to tackling Frenchman’s Cap in the remote South West to going along the easy Lees Paddocks Track with a few bottles of wine and posh food before finally settling on simply packing super light (I was carrying 16kgs with all my food, clothes, tent and sleeping gear) and cruising about the Central Highlands, making plans day by day.

The first few days are glorious, we enjoy an easy, if somewhat hot trek up the Arm River Track through myrtle and eucalyptus forest, we lunch at the palatial New Pelion Hut amongst tired Overland trekkers before plodding onward and somewhat aimlessly up the Pelion Gap. Mt Pelion East to our left and Ossa to our right greet us like old dolomite friends. Back in an area that is more home to me than the house where I once lived in Devonport I find myself talking to the hills,

grey Heat stroke symptoms, a practical class“Hi Pelion, Ossa, haw have you guys been I missed you guys” (if you have read any of my previous blogs you will know by now I am somewhat weird, and proud of it!)

The only reply is the cawing of black currawongs quickly leaving the scene of their pack raiding crimes. These black crow-like birds can open zippers with their beaks to steal peanuts in the pockets of packs; packs left behind by people sidestepping up nearby peaks. Whipping out the cooker Mark and I watch the water boil as we silently enjoy the amphitheater of mountains that loom stark grey against a bright, hot blue sky. Mark generously lets my talking-to-mountains moment pass without jest, this hardworking father of two feels the same reverence as I do for mountains. Two French men return from Mt Ossa to discover the contents of their packs strewn around the small platform.

“The birds can get into your pack mate”

“Really…”

One does not seem convinced, the tension is evident as they discuss in French whether to confront us about raiding their abandoned packs or to move on. The moods quickly lightens when they spot signage depicting birds opening packs along with explanations of this clever bird’s behaviour. Mark and I finish our drink, pack up and continue climbing.

“Looks like a good spot mate”

“What a view!”

“This will do eh”

We set up our bivvy bags (gore-tek coffins which just pass for tents on light weight missions) on a ridge amongst Tasmania’s finest mountains, eat in almost gospel like silence then watch the sky turn from shimmering blue, to pink, salmon, grey and black, before we maneuver into our respective beds, zip up and try to sleep.

The morning sun brings a complete lack of motivation so we wash a muesli bar down each with a coffee and stroll downhill to enjoy a day of swimming and lazing in the magnificent pool near historic Old Pelion Hut. Old Pelion hut was built in 1895 to house the mine manager when the Mole Creek and Zeehan Mineral company were exploring the area for copper. There are old mines surrounding the hut, the biggest is about 60 metres long and glistens gold in torch light at its deepest, surely great fun to explore. I think it’s brilliant that the area was not rich enough in deposits to be completely raped for profit and that this hut is one of the few remnants of a gun-ho era left in this park, my church. When the miners left in the 1920’s Old Pelion Hut was used by cattle men. When the cattle men left the snarers moved in, they went snaring in the winter to catch possums when their coats were thicker and worth more money, seems a hard way to earn a living. The hut is exactly as it was in bygone days, one can imagine the crackling of eucalyptus branches in the fireplace warming cold trappers, except that the fireplace was removed in the 1970’s to prevent this important piece of heritage being burnt down. Oh and those wankers who think they need to carve their names into the soft King Billy Pine weatherboards, no one cares if you “were ere” feck off, sorry, anyway…

grey Heat stroke symptoms, a practical classThat night we lean against the hut outside eating dinner and have a conversation which is to completely change to tone of the walk. I put my pasta bowl aside and pull out the map;

“I think we need some off track action mate, what do you reckon?”

“Yeah we have been a bit soft”

“Up Mt Oakley, then along the ridge, then we can either chill at this lake marked just here, or we can go down this creek back to the track”

“Looks fine man, the terrain does not look too hard judging by these contour lines and it is only about eight kays”

“Deal”

“Done”

“Small medicinal whiskey sir?”

“Does the pope shit in the forest!”

We are right about the first bit, the next day we get to the top of Mt Oakley in plenty of time to enjoy a few hours soaking up expansive views (framed by shimmering blue skies) and testing our nerves by standing too close to sheer cliffs. Sadly we are a bit off target with the second bit, the off track section of our walk. I have both compass, map and a GPS which I am learning to use, I know all the mountains surrounding us on a first name basis and am confident in the use of both map and compass, as is Mark. The terrain, however, throws us a curve ball. Prickly, knotty, bastard thigh high scaparia bush is really hard to push through, it is hot and soon we are out of water, the small lakes (or ‘tarns’ in Tasmanian speak) marked are all but dry. Mark is rapidly running out of steam and I am getting grumpy. I kick at the bushes with my leather boots which proves a complete waste of energy. It takes us three hours to cover what we hoped would only take one and arrive at that bloody “lake marked just here” tired, thirsty and ready to get out of the sun. A quick drink and dipping of feet in the cooling water has us deciding to push on down the creek towards the track, a few short kilometers downhill. Again the terrain completely throws us, we should have bought a more ‘zoomed in’ map to get a better idea of the terrain. Familiar mountains abound with which to aline our maps and triangulate our positions, we both agree on our position but seem to not be making very good time at all.

It is getting dark, I am grumpy at our slow progress and decide to leave Mark resting by the creek. Pushing on down to the track alone I leave my red bag top (which doubles as a bum-bag) on a tree then return to get my main bag and Mark. Mark thankfully is still here, he has not panicked at being left alone at dusk beside a black creek in a spooky forest with trees that have reaching fingers right out of some cartoonish Halloween special.

Through teamwork and sheer stubbornness we negotiate the thick foliage surrounding the creek and burst onto the track very relieved to be here. Mark immediately-and thoroughly-throws up and I start worrying about his health. Previously I thought he was just tired and slow but now it is clear that Mark is suffering from a solid dose of heat stroke. Bloody hell…heat stroke, how do you treat that again? I hope he does not start convulsing or fainting in the grey torch light. What would I do then?

He is stumbling a bit, throwing up a lot and apologizing even more.

“God bro, sorry, I had no idea you were so crook”

“Yeah man, I just wanted to get to the track before dark eh, sorry about this, I am soft”

“Bullshit, you are sick man, chill out, sweet tea? Water?”

It is now 10 pm and completely dark. We realize that there is a good chance Mark will feel even worse in the morning so we push on to the car. Concerned, I walk behind my mate who stumbling occasionally like he is drunk, he sips water constantly and soldiers on despite clearly wanting to just sleep and rest. I am impressed by the man’s fortitude against the odds, and on an empty stomach!  We stop a few times for soup and tea. I nearly shout for joy when Mark does a wee, he is starting to get some water into his system! Beauty!

We arrive at the car at 2am, both completely exhausted and ready for civilization. Two hours later McDonalds and a mutual decision that Mark will not drive home an extra hour to Legana sees me showered and tucked into bed at 5am. I quickly fall asleep, but not before Mark pops his head into my room to say;

“Type three fun man, type three…

Climbing philosophy, It does not have to be fun to be fun


I have just been researching future climbs on the Jagged Globe website and stumbled upon the climbing philosophy quote by mountaineer Andy Owen. The quote reminded me of a conversation I had with my mate Mal last October.

Two days before this conversation I crawled – almost in tears – over the 5150 meter high Larkya La pass in snowy, cold conditions. I was suffering rather explosive gastroenteritis, on the way I had a weird conversation with a German chap. He spotted me hiding behind a rock as every drop of liquid was purged from my digestive tract post haste, watching with interest for a while he said;

“Are you OK there?”

I looked up and saw only a silhouette, I forgot to mention that we faced a big day and started walking at around five in the morning.

“Yeah mate, I’ll be OK”

What I really wanted to say was;

“Fucks sake, what does it look like you fucking fool!”

Surprisingly though, throughout the crawl over the pass I never once wished myself out of this experience, sickness is just a natural part of trekking in Nepal, especially for idiots who accept the grubby nailed farmer’s offer to, “Come in for a cup of milk tea”. This is a classic example of type two fun, but I am getting ahead of myself…

I am getting to the conversation with Mal, promise! …two days later I was all but recovered and feeling rather proud of surviving this ordeal. The mood of the expedition had slightly changed, we were on an eight day trek back to civilisation after a very exciting climb, everyone was starting to get slightly reflective, borderline laconic. The adrenaline had all burnt off and we were winding down.

While wandering past the small township of Goa, through fields of wild marijuana, Mal turned to me. Wisdom gained from his years of slogging up icy mountains was showing in his eyes as he said;

“Do you know about the four types of fun Ben?”

“What’s that?”

“The four types of fun, never heard of them bro?”

“No idea mate, something to do with how hard you work to have the fun?”

“Well…”

We strolled along the winding valley and Mal explained his theory to me.

“Well Ben, type one fun is fun at the time and fun afterwards”

A classic example of type one fun is eating a ripe strawberry or dancing in your boxer shorts.

I once lived with a bloke called Simon Turk. Simon and I are great mates and we used to take great delight playing cruel jokes on each other. One time as I walked between the shower and my room with only a towel around my waist I made Simon look up from his breakfast with a cheery “Good morning”

Just as he looked up I dropped the towel, stark naked.

Simon covered his eyes but quickly did a shocked double take. I had done a ‘testie tuck’ or ‘manjina’ Simon’s expression at my apparent Barbie’s Ken-like lack of genitalia had me in fits of mirth, however, Simon took a few hours to fully appreciate this piece of comic genius.

This whole experience for me was definitely type one fun. Fun then and fun afterwards but for Simon it was probably closer to type two…

“Type two fun is not fun at the time but fun shortly afterwards”

Type two fun, like my crawl over the pass involves a relatively quick bounce back. Like rock climbing for the first time, it is certainly not fun as you desperately claw at grips while not trusting the rope to catch you. As soon as feet reach terra-firma again you realise that it actually was fun and want to go again. The more you partake in type two activities the more they resemble type one. Example: I have a terrible fear of public speaking but by actively seeking opportunities to do just this I have managed to make it morph into type one, however,

“Type three fun is not fun at the time but after months, sometimes years, you realise that it truly was fun and begin to consider doing it again”

Type three fun is the most rewarding. It generally means that you have launched yourself completely out of that cable TV watching comfort zone and have seen or done things which you never dreamt possible, or you have just done something plain stupid. Climbing really big mountains or running marathons are both type three activities. Also doing stuff which is just plain stupid…

In April 2011 got chatting to a short-ish, muscly Brazilian chap about his big surfboard bag while waiting to drop my bags off at the Santiago airport.

“Hey mate, how many boards you got stuffed in there?”

“Only two, and all of my clothes for the month”

“You off to Sydney as well?”

“Yeah, to see my sister, then to Bali for some surfing”

“Nice, Bali’s good hear”

“World class, my name’s Ian”

“Ben”

We dropped off our bags and wandered the international airport aimlessly, our journey linked by a six hour layover.

“Hey Ian, did you know you can pay fifteen dollars Australian and hang out in the VIP lounge?

“Really, I am keen”

“Well, free grog, food and wi-fi, let’s do it”

Five and a half hours later we staggered out of the VIP lounge reeking of whiskey to find our gate, we had drunk the best part of a bottle of whiskey and I was ready to collapse in my seat and sleep the flight away. Boarding passed in a blur. Ian swapped seats to be beside me. He relieved a grateful young redheaded girl originally seated by my side from being stuck next to this bearded, whiskey-smelling man who had been in transit for two days (My transit went from Marseille France to Rio to Sao Paolo to Santiago, Sydney then home. A quirk of my flight bookings it was cheaper to go this way than to sneak around the back). Ian all but passed out by my side, not before talking loudly right throughout the safety speech. I stared at the bloody seatbelt sign intently as we took off and made a mad dash for the toilet as it went out.  Waking briefly in New Zealand for our short fuel stop I then slept all the way to Sydney. Finally on home turf after ten months exploring I felt refreshed and in sync with the time zone change, if a bit dehydrated. Ian, however, was in a bad way. Once relieved of the plane he ran to a toilet and relieved his stomach of all its contents. I never did see Ian again, he was a lovely chap though and we occasionally send each the emails and I have a standing invite to visit Ian in Brazil, despite his suffering. I think Ian would agree that this experience was type three fun for him, it was more a type two for me.

“Type four fun is not fun at the time, never fun afterwards”

Anchors failing, paraglider wings collapsing, ending up in a wheelchair, avalanches, bashing your thumb repeatedly with a hammer and so forth. Nothing more to say, I have never experienced this type of fun, thankfully.

For me, fun it is most rewarding when a type is reduced; when something that absolutely terrifies me the first time is not so bad the second time. Personally, fun is best when it pushes me completely out of my comfort zone. This is what drives some people to fly further, climb higher and do what others may consider stupid or irresponsible.

Having said that though, if the fun-type of an activity reduces to the point of complacency many type two activities can quickly become type four. Which is best avoided.

Having shared all this philosophy, however, sometimes it is nice to just eat a juicy, ripe strawberry while dancing in your boxer shorts.

Manaslu expedition – lessons learnt

grey Manaslu expedition   lessons learntI had many important lessons when on my Manaslu expedition with Mal in October last year, not least of which are the four golden rules of good mountain communication:

1 Thou will not assume knowledge in others.

“The sat phone does not work on the hill babe, but we’ll be right”

2 Thou will always consider the other person on line.

“I’m in some tricky terrain man”

“Can you get back up to camp 2?”

“I’ll try” *Radio silence, Mal exhausted but starts preparing for a rescue*

3 Your voice changes at altitude.

“Is thith Yeh-the?”

“Yes, who is this? What has happened”

“Is thith Yeh-the…”

4 Thou will never assume the worst.

“Melanie, I am in Kathmandu, call me soon”

grey Manaslu expedition   lessons learntIn October last year I climbed a mountain called Manaslu in the Gorkha region of Nepal. Manaslu is 8162 meters high and quite remote, for me it was an incredible adventure and the fulfillment of a life long dream. I learnt a lot about what to (and what not to) tell loved ones before, during and after such a climb. I climbed with Mal Haskins who is a serial adventurer, world class paragliding pilot, professional mountaineer and (I am proud to say) a good mate. My experience is embryonic compared to Mal. Mal has had his head firmly in the clouds for years since he shelved a promising career as an electrical engineer with the Australian armed forces to, as he says; “Get into the hills Bro” He has guided in Nepal numerous times-most notably on Lhotse which is an imposing 8000 meter high lump of ice and rock very near Mt Everest. Mal has lead climbing trips in Peru and is constantly dragging paid clients around his now native New Zealand. For Mal a climb of New Zealand’s Mt Cook is just a standard day at the office. Me? Well, I have survived a ten day mountaineering course in New Zealand, climbed to just over 6000 meters in Nepal and turned back just below the summit of Cotopaxi in Ecuador due to bad snow pack conditions. Embryonic.

You are wondering, no doubt, what was I thinking when I signed up to tackle this intimidating beast with a small team of four climbers. Put simply, I love being on mountains, even without the plan of getting to that final pointy bit, I love prancing around in crampons, swinging off ropes and looking at the view from high places. Like many people I find peace in the hills. In big hills I find inner peace flavored with awe and wonderment. My initial goal was to climb to a camp at 7450 meters and to film Mal flying past me. On this mission Mal was planning to not only summit but to also launch from the top with a speed wing and skis. Speedflying is a sport where people use a small version of a paragliding wing and skis to zoom down mountains occasionally kissing their slopes with skis while reaching speeds of up to 120 kilometers an hour. In the thin air above 8000 meters Mal was expecting to go much, much faster than this and no one has attempted such a feat. On the climb I felt strong, conditions were not right for Mal to fly and he didn’t need a cameraman so I pushed on to the top. I would have been really happy to reach my initial goal of 7450 meters so when I found myself enjoying half an hour at the pointy bit gasping for air and snapping self portraits I was beyond ecstatic.

As little as I knew, my girlfriend and emergency contact Jette knew even less. While Mal and I were crunching onwards to the top Jette was frantically chewing her nails back in her native Denmark.

‘Thou will not assume knowledge in others’

When I sent Jette an email casually mentioning that the phone did not work on the hill I assumed that she would figure we had regular scheduled radio contact with base camp (base did have contact with the outside world should we need to order an emergency KFC bucket or even rescue helicopter). However, Jette thought that Mal and I were bumbling about on an 8000 meter high hill without any communications at all, this caused her significant angst.

The second communication law involves use of radios. Mal and I reached camp three fairly late in the afternoon, we were extremely tired after four big summit days, however I decided to continue down to camp two with the understanding that Pemba was planning to follow shortly with a load. I happily set off in the afternoon light and Mal crawled into his tent, comforted that I would soon be in good company. However, Pemba changed his mind and instead of descending with gear he went to bed at camp three, completely exhausted he didn’t tell anyone. This would have only meant a lonely night for me at the abandoned camp two…had I not got off trail. As the sun set I veered too far to the left and what started as ankle deep and supportive snow became soft, thigh deep snow. Each time I broke the thin, icy crust I would lunge, pull myself up, roll onto my belly and stand to take a few more steps. Every few steps the crust gave way and I fell back into thigh deep snow. Now, every time the crust broke and I broke through I was convinced that I would fall into a deep crevasse. After four days going up and one down I was understandably exhausted and very, very scared.

I sat in the snow watching a truly spectacular sunset paint nearby peaks while trying for about half an hour to get Mal, or anyone, on the radio without success. I gave up and prepared for a very lonely and cold night out in the elements alone. Survival is not guaranteed when outside overnight on big hills, even inside our highest camp with four people crammed into one tent we recorded minus twenty-eight degrees. Finally Mal, who unknown to me, had been trying to follow my progress visually without success, turned on the radio and we had a crackly conversation:

“Ben, you there? Do you copy Ben?”

“Mal, when is Phemba coming down? I’m a bit off the track and in some pretty deep snow…”

“Um …. it appears that Phemba is not coming down tonight bro … Can you manage your way back to the track and come back up?”

“%^**….$%^^% – I’ll try man….”

I turned off my radio to save batteries and backtracked, comforted that Mal was now aware of my predicament.

‘Thou will always consider the other person on line’

Mal grew increasingly concerned at my lack of radio contact and decided to send Sidi Mama (our other climbing sherpa) down to get me. In my own little world of pain I did not consider Mal and had not even turned on my headlight in the dusk light. I did not have the presence of mind to realize that a bright light on my head may help both Mal and Sidi to find me. Finally back on the trail I was met by Sidi who aided a very exhausted (emotionally and physically) me down towards camp two.

When Sidi reached me I still had not thought to turn on my headlight or radio and all that Mal could see was a lone headlight (which he knew was Sidi’s) going down to camp two. With the limited knowledge available to him Mal grew concerned that I had fallen into a deep crevasse and was in real trouble so he started quickly preparing his gear for a rescue. Finally down at camp two Sidi thought to radio Mal;

“Mal, this is Sidi – Ben and I are now are C2″

“Whew, thank F#$K, goodnight”

Sidi and I had a very cold, hungry night under a single sleeping bag at camp two. I was more than happy to only be a bit cold but in good company. When Mal came down to the following day he spotted the tracks from my little adventure and commented on how close to the trail I was. This brought home just how easy it is to get confused and scared when at altitude and beyond tired. Next time I’ll just stay at camp and drink a cup of tea. Lesson learnt.

Mal’s finance Sophie was stationed at bast camp where she radioed us weather reports and updated the expedition website (www.speedfly8000.com) with information, she also kindly offered to send Mum, Dad and Jette personal emails of our progress to keep everyone in the loop. During our descent Sophie was kept very busy retrieving useful weather information for us and with monitoring progress so for the two days of our descent she did not have a chance to contact the outside world with an update.

When I did arrive at base camp and despite telling her I would only ever email, the first thing I wanted to do was to call my normally unflappable girlfriend. At the time of my call she had not had any news for two sleepless nights and was at a conference, it is kind of ironic that the conference was about her employer’s safety protocols. Jette sat next to a mountain climber who spent the entire morning gleefully telling her countless stories of missions gone wrong on descent and with ensuring she was fully conversant with the fact that descent is the most dangerous part of a climb. Right before she had to do a role play about the dangers of staplers her phone rang and displayed “Manaslu Emergency Phone” Understandably concerned Jette grabbed her phone and ran into the hallway. This is where I managed to unwittingly upset her further. ‘Your voice changes at altitude’

Standing beside my tent at base camp I had bad reception and my voice was different due to exhaustion, altitude and emotion. Mostly my voice was unrecognizable due to a recalcitrant tongue. Numerous blood noses caused by the thin, very dry air had blocked my nose and forced me to mouth breath while climbing. With UV’s flooding in my mouth my tongue had become sunburnt and was swollen, red and sore. I sounded like a patient after root canal surgery. She did not recognize the voice that repeatedly asked;

“Is this Jette?”

I could not recognize the voice squeaking

“Who is this?”. Finally I managed to convince Jette that it was really me calling with good news of a successful climb. Lesson learnt.

The last communication lesson was not a first hand one. My sister Mel was relying on both our expedition website and on Mum for news. She had noted no updates for a few days during our ascent and had emailed Mum asking for news of her little brother. A day after sending this email Mel received the following message;

“I am at Kathmandu, call me now”

Mel immediately assumed the worst, picturing Mum in Kathmandu weeping over my corpse she found a teaching aide and left her classroom quickly to contact Mum. When Mum picked up she asked Mel,

“What size is your son wearing these days?”

“Why are you in Kathmandu? What has happened! Is Ben OK?”

“What, Yeah, I am just buying your kids some clothes, what size does Ameer take now?”

“Oh…thank F#$K, Kathmandu, the clothing shop, yeah?”

“Yeah, where else?”

‘Thou will never assume the worst’

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