Scenic mountain flight

Thursday 30th May 2013 – I had an early start this morning as I had booked a panoramic flight of Everest. The “mountain flight” is done by numerous tourists and gives good views of Everest. I was not sure how close to Everest the flight would go and I was hopeful of some amazing views.

Upon arrival at the airport I was dubious about whether the flight would take off as there was significant cloud cover. However all of the passengers were transferred to the Yeti airlines Jetstream 41 aircraft and I took my window seat.

The plane did not look in good condition compared to Western aircraft and as someone that does not like flying I was not comfortable with getting aboard. The aircraft took off at rose to 21,000′ as it flew in the direction of Lukla and Everest. We were firmly in the cloud so the pilot increased his height to 23,000′ and we were still in the cloud. He rose again up to 25,000′ and we were still in cloud and ice was forming on the leading edges of the wings and the front of the propellers. My concern for safety in the air was increasing and the pilot took some descends periodically to shake the ice off of the wings as it seriously affects the aerodynamics of the aircraft and makes it a lot heavier.

We had no view of Everest or the surrounding Himalayan peaks and after the standard 45 minute “mountain flight” thankfully we landed safely back in Kathmandu. As the flight had flown I was not entitled to a refund unfortunately and I think that they should have just cancelled the scenic flight.

I returned back to the Hotel Manaslu in Kathmandu in time for breakfast and have spent the day catching up on emails – I have a lot of these to catch up on.

Tonight, I should hopefully be flying out of Kathmandu on route to Doha in Qatar. Thanks to my wonderful fiancee for bringing my flights forward. Keep following the adventure.

Everest Diamond Jubilee celebrations

Wednesday 29th May 2013 – 60 years ago today Mount Everest was successfully ascended for the first time by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary.

I was privileged, and lucky enough, to be in Kathmandu (Nepal) on this special occasion. Celebrations were being held in Nepal to mark this special occasion.

The Adventure Peaks team had received an invitation to attend the British Embassy party followed by an invite to the Palace in Kathmandu. None of us exactly had our glad rags with us as this was an unexpected addition to our expedition.

The celebration at the British Embassy was well attended by various expedition teams and several “VVIPs”. The British ambassador in Nepal gave a speech that set the scene for the celebration and he read out a message from Her Royal Highness “Elizabeth R” – news of the first ascent of Everest reached HRH one day before her coronation and set the scene for her reign as sovereign. It was nice to hear a message from her on this occasion.

The New Zealand ambassador in Nepal then spoke and conveyed a message from the New Zealand Prime Minister. The famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner, who was the first person to summit Everest without oxygen, then gave a speech. The first woman to summit Everest without oxygen was in attendance but did not give a speech.

A cake in the shape of Mount Everest had been made and Reinhold Messner, along with a representative of Elizabeth Hawley (the compiler and verifier of the definitive list of who has climbed the 8000m peaks).

I finally bumped into Monique Richard, whom I had kept missing on the North side of Everest, and it was nice to catch up with her as I hadn’t seen her since Puento Arenas in Chile after my Mount Vinson trip. Monique had been attempting Everest without oxygen but turned around just 50m vertically from the summit – a good effort and it was nice to know that she got down safely. She has previously summited Everest from the South side using oxygen.

I got an opportunity to chat with Reinhold Messner for a short while and everyone enjoyed the refreshments and food provided at the embassy.

We headed over the Palace for the official Nepalese celebrations and had a good meal there. It was an honour to have been able to attend the 60th anniversary celebrations.

Keep following the adventure – who knows what will happen next!

Back in Nepal

Tuesday 28th May 2013 Рhaving rested in Zangmu (China) overnight we were driven down to Friendship Bridge this morning. We walked the final bit down the road to the bridge and border crossing.

As we walked down we saw our expedition equipment and luggage being off-loaded from the trucks and being given over to locals for being portered through customs and across the bridge to Nepal. Once portered across the border all of the expedition equipment and our luggage had to be loaded into Nepalese trucks.

We entered the Chinese border control building at Friendship Bridge only to escape at the other end (about 50m away being processed in a linear manner) some 2 hours later. There were queues for the passport and visa checks, then they x-rayed the bags we had on us and then there was a final passport check before leaving the building. We had almost got through within 90 minutes but there was a power failure and the Chinese officials wouldn’t process us manually so we had to wait for power to be restored before leaving the country and crossing the bridge into Nepal.

Things were much simpler in Nepal. We walked across the line on the bridge designating the border and we went into a tea room in Nepal. Here we had some refreshment and filled in our paperwork for entry to the country. One of our Sherpas then took $25, our passport, a passport photo and our paperwork from each of us and he sorted out our entry into Nepal with the immigration officials.

It was strange getting an entry permit to a country when you are already in it drinking some Coca Cola. When the Sherpa returned we left the tea room and walked to a Nepalese bus that was waiting for us. We walked past a truck being loaded with our expedition equipment and luggage. Hopefully I’ll see my kit again at some point.

We started the bus journey and immediately two major differences were apparent. In Nepal they drive on the correct side of the road (left) and the quality of the roads were significantly worse. In China we had been driven rapidly along high quality tarmac roads which had been carved into the mountainsides. In Nepal the speed of driving was significantly reduced and felt quite leisurely/relaxed.

We proceeded along the dirt track roads and as we got closer to Kathmandu the roads improved. We stopped only for lunch and the multiple police/military checkpoints.

We are now back in Kathmandu. The journey back from Everest Base Camp has gone more smoothly than expected – I have heard of people having delays of more than a week doing the same journey due to landslides closing the road, however we have got back before the monsoon season has started.

It is strange being back in a busy noisy city with lots of traffic and pollution, but it is all part of the journey home. The adventure is not over till I get home – keep following the adventure.

At the border

Monday 27th May – we got up early for a 6am breakfast and before we had breakfast we needed to have all of our kit packed up, our tents emptied and ready for dismantling.

I had packed away my tent before breakfast and was ready and eager to start the journey back towards Nepal.

We finished packing up Base Camp, including dining tent, kitchen tent, toilet tent, etc. and we were ready in time to load up the trucks when they arrived. A number of us placed items that we no longer required (e.g. our pillows, spare camping mats, spare food, etc.) in a pile for distribution between the Sherpas, kitchen boys and others in the support team. Our surda (Dorje) sorted out the distribution of these items.

We had a group photo, said goodbye to the support team members that had come from Tibet and jumped into land cruisers to travel towards the China/Nepal border.

We reversed the journey that we had taken all of those weeks earlier but this time it took significantly less time as we did not need to stop for acclimatisation.

We had a stop in Thingri for lunch, however quite a few of us did not want to stop there due to the street dogs – thankfully none of us were mauled or bitten whilst there.

Despite the best efforts of our driver, who continually did dodgy overtakes over blind summits and blind bends, we safely arrived at the Chinese border town of Zangmu.

We were to spend the night here and as such we were booked into the Gang Gyen Hotel.

I was not impressed with the cleanliness of the hotel room and the communal toilets were not the best, but nowhere near the worst that I’d experienced in Tibet. I was missing the comparable comforts and cleanliness of Base Camp already.

Having “settled” into the hotel room at this nice low altitude it was time to head out for dinner at the restaurant next door. We had a good feed of Chinese food and enjoyed a few more Lhasa beers.

It was still early in the evening so Paul, Angus, Brian and myself headed uphill in the town to find a pool table and enjoy a few more beers. We found a suitable venue and spent a few hours there before heading back to the hotel for some sleep.

The journey back to Kathmandu has started. Keep following the adventure.

Everest Northeast ridge expedition 2013 – 47th phonecast

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Waiting to leave Base Camp

I had arrived back at Base Camp on Thursday 23rd May and the rest of the Adventure Peaks team (those who had summitted) descended down to Base Camp on Friday 24th.

Our Sherpa support team have been working hard to clear all of the various camps on the mountain and get everything packed up at Advanced Base Camp to come down to Base Camp on yaks.

We cannot leave Base Camp to return to Kathmandu until our Sherpas and equipment are back down here. The Nepali Sherpas are on our group visa and must travel through China back to the border with us.

Earlier today, Saturday 25th May, a train of yaks headed up to Advanced Base Camp from Base Camp and we are expecting them to return tomorrow carrying our equipment and residual supplies from Advanced Base Camp.

We are hopeful that the CTMA (China Tibet Mountaineering Association) will send transport on Monday 27th May to Base Camp for us so that we can get to the Chinese-Nepal border at Friendship Bridge that day.

All being well, we hope to cross back into Nepal on the 28th May and get back to Kathmandu the same day.

I am looking forward to getting to a lower altitude as that should help with getting rid of the mucusy cough/cold that I have had for an age now.

My eye sight has not returned 100% in my right eye and will need specialist assessment by an ophthalmologist to see how much damage I have done and whether there is anything that can be done to prevent a re-occurrence of my vision loss at extreme altitude as I still want to achieve my third life goal of reaching (and safely returning from) the summit of Everest before the age of 50.

Although I did not reach the summit of Everest on this occassion the charities whom I am trying to raise funds for should not be penalised – I tried my best but, medical constraints prohibited me summitting. So if you have enjoyed following my Everest adventure, and have not yet done so, then please consider making a donation to one or more of my choosen charities by clicking on one or more of the links below and make an on-line donation:

Alzheimer’s Disease International

Assynt Mountain Rescue Team

Society for Radioligical Protection Benevolent Fund

Thank you for showing your support through your donation(s) to these worthy causes.

I’ll keep you all updated of our journey leaving Tibet. Keep following the adventure.

No Everest summit bonus

My attempt to scale the world’s highest summit was never going to be easy, but as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, that I considered success on Everest as coming back alive with all of my digits intact.

This I should achieve unless something unexpected occurs during my travel on the way home.

I had not for a moment considered that I would have issues with my eyesight and due to eyesight issues I did not get an opportunity to try to achieve my summit bonus.

I have heard of people whom have had eyesight laser correction surgery becoming temporarily blind at high altitude and this is why I have never had my short-sightedness corrected to date. So what happened to me on the mountain that thwarted my summit bid?

Well everything started fine, we departed Base Camp on Thursday 16th May for Advanced Base Camp as planned and I did this journey a little quicker than previously, arriving at Advanced Base Camp a little tired but that is to be expected when you are nipping up to 6,400m (which is higher than most mountains in the world).

We then rested at Advanced Base Camp for 2 days and on Sunday 19th May we headed up to the North Col camp again. I made better time up to the North Col despite carrying heavier loads in my rucksack associated with the forthcoming summit bid and I felt really good and strong as we brewed up drinks. Unlike last time at the North Col I had a relatively good appetite and managed to get at least a 1,000 calories in me before getting some sleep.

I started Monday 20th May with a healthy 800 calorie freeze-dried meal and prepared myself for a big day upon which we would push up to Camp 2 at about 7,850m (25,750ft).

I had previously walked up to 7,200m from the North Col without supplementary oxygen, but for the push up to 7,850m I had supplementary oxygen loaded into my backpack. This made a rucksack that was already heavy an extra 4kg heavier and hence more tiring to lug skywards.

I started the trek to Camp 2 without using supplementary oxygen, but after a short while I opted to start using it – partially to make progress up the steep snow slope easier but also to start reducing the weight of the cylinder that I was carrying.

Initially I started on an oxygen flowrate of 1.5 litres/minute and I immediately noticed a difference in my performance. At the same time as starting to use oxygen I had emptied one of my two litres of water out to reduce my rucksack load by a further kilogram. Every gram makes a difference at altitude.

I continued to slog my way up the relentless snow slope with a brief stop at around 7,500m to increase my oxygen flowrate to the planned 2 litres per minute. Despite 33% more oxygen I did not notice any major improvement in my performance, perhaps because you get more tired the more physical exercise you do on a particular day.

As I adjusted this oxygen flowrate I thought that I would have a quick drink from my other water bottle. I was shocked to notice that the entire contents had leaked due to the lid not being tight and it had frozen into some of my clothing laying in the upper section of my rucksack. Great – 1kg of frozen undrinkable water. I had to continue the climb up to 7,850m camp without any form of hydration. This was not good.

At the end of the snow slope at about 7,700m the character of the route to Camp 2 changed and we scrambled up a rocky ridge wearing crampons. Due to the rocky terrain the ropes that were there for our safety were in a noticeably poor condition – for example there were sections of rope missing and in other areas the heavily frayed 7mm ropes had their core strands exposed. It took a while to safely pick our way up the rocky ridge to where our tents were pre-pitched at 7,850m.

I have never before seen tents perched on such a steep ridge and going into, or out of, the tents required considerable care to avoid plummeting to a near certain death. Once you were cocooned inside your tent you were relatively safe as you were on the most relatively flat ground around.

I arrived at 7,850m camp a bit later than I had hoped and was fairly tired and very dehydrated. In the final half hour pull up to camp I had been thinking that I had an issue with steaming up of my protective sunglasses so after I crawled into the tent and removed the sunglasses I was surprised to see no significant difference.

My left eye was working fine, but when I tried to use my right eye it was like trying to look through grease-proof paper. I could see shapes but had no clarity, no depth perception and limited colour information. Was I about to go blind? Was it permanent?

One thing was for sure and that was that I could not go any higher up Everest for this medical condition could get worse and suddenly losing a significant proportion of your eyesight is very scary – especially when you know that you have to get off of the mountain.

The section from North Col camp to Advanced Base Camp involves over 350m of abseiling down incredibly steep snow/ice slopes whilst crossing crevasses and seracs so not an attractive proposition when partially sighted.

The fogging over of my right eye could have been an early indicator for the potentially fatal condition of High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), however I had no other significant symptoms of it (e g. serious headaches) and I hadn’t been taking any drugs that would have masked it (e.g. paracetamol or ibuprofen) so I didn’t think I had HACE or AMS, but not seeing properly is not what you want at almost 26,000ft altitude.

Some people may not have said anything about losing part of their vision when they are so close to the summit of their dreams. From Camp 2 we were less than 1 mile horizontally, less than 1000m vertically and less than 24 hours away from the summit of Everest. I had my tent companion, Nick, look at my right eye and he noticed that it was dissimilar to my left and so we tried to take some photos for future reference – it is not easy to take photos of eyes in a tent with poor lighting.

I knew that this was a serious health issue and spelt that the end of my summit bid. I did not want my eyesight to deteriorate further or permanently as it would affect the future quality of my life and may prevent me from seeing my fiancee looking stunning as she walks down the aisle at our wedding later this year – why hadn’t she let me see her in her wedding dress before this expedition?

Nick got ahold of our Adventure Peaks guides Paul and Rob for me and we had a discussion about my eyesight. This concluded, with the answer I expected, that I had to descend and not push on to the summit as the condition could deteriorate further.

As I exhibited no other signs of AMS or HACE we decided that it should be safe for me to remain at Camp 2 that night (7,850m) and descend in the morning, but if my condition changed then I would have to descend immediately.

As a precaution against HACE I took 12mg of dexamethasone immediately followed by 8mg in the morning (dosages were checked with the off-duty doctor with significant altitude medicine experience who was also a team member).

I cranked up my supplementary oxygen cylinder to deliver 4 litres per minute and was provided with a spare emergency cylinder to use at the same flow rate throughout the night for when my original cylinder ran out.

At 7,850m camp, despite having loss of vision in one eye, I felt really good and still had a healthy appetite so I managed a freeze-dried meal for dinner and had plenty of drinks to gradually rehydrate.

I slept well on the oxygen and by the morning I had regained a considerable amount of my vision. Continuing up the mountain was not an option as the condition might re-occur so on the morning of Tuesday 21st May (my fiancee Sarah’s birthday) I headed back down to Advanced Base Camp via the North Col camp. My eyesight was sufficiently restored such that I could make this journey unassisted.

I later found out that there was an individual on another expedition at top camp (8,350m) on the same night who had gone completely blind and who needed assistance back down the mountain to safety.

One expedition team member had been told to descend by our guides (for non-medical reasons) so I rushed off ahead to North Col camp and got snow melting in advance of their arrival to help them rehydrate during descent and I cooked lunch for the two of us before nipping down the fixed lines from the North Col.

At the same time, our Adventure Peaks team colleagues proceeded to ascend to top camp at 8,350m. The team of 6 remaining clients, 2 UK guides and 6 Nepali Sherpas were positioned to commence their summit bid at about 10pm on the 21st May.

By this time I had been back at Advanced Base Camp for several hours and was wishing that I was with them poised to reach the roof of the world. Through the use of supplementary oxygen overnight and during descent, and by descending to a lower altitude, my eyesight in my right eye had recovered to about 95% of normality. This was good.

I then stayed up through the night and during the 22nd May to assist in communicating with Adventure Peaks in the UK how each individual was progressing during their summit bid and subsequent descent. This led to almost real time reporting on the Adventure Peaks website of progress on the mountain – my previous communications experience via radio in the Assynt Mountain Rescue Team proved to be very useful during this exercise and the families/friends of those attempting the summit were grateful for the updates.

I was pleased that all 6 remaining clients, the 2 UK based guides and 6 Sherpas summited from the Adventure Peaks team. I just wish that I was one of them, however if my eyesight had deteriorated further higher up the mountain then I could have joined the fatality statistics for the season (8 fatalities on Everest so far in 2013).

Most importantly, they all got down safely to Camp 2 (7,850m) that night and down to Advanced Base Camp on the 23rd. During the day on the 23rd I descended back down to Base Camp to be in a more oxygen-rich environment and further promote the recovery of my eyesight.

My fiancee, Sarah, has been doing some internet research and what may have occurred is a relatively unknown condition of “High altitude retinal hemorrhage (HARH)”. I’d never heard of this condition that can affect perhaps 5% of high altitude mountaineers and is associated with hypoxia.

I still have not shifted the mucusy cough/cold that I have had since the Khymbu about 5 weeks ago and this will have been affecting my ability to transfer oxygen into my bloodstream so perhaps this was a contributing factor.

If I have had HARH then my eyesight should fully recover within 8 weeks of getting to low altitude. As soon as I am back in the UK I intend to visit my optician to determine whether I have permanently damaged my eyesight slightly in my right eye and whether it was HARH. If the causal factors can be identified then solutions can be put in place to prevent a re-occurrence of the condition in the future.

So although I did not make it to the top of Everest I was able to continue the scientific study into high altitude mountaineering radiation doses as one of Sherpas agreed to carry the radiation detectors for me from 7,850m camp to the summit and back. I look forward to getting the dose output results and performing the associated analysis for a future scientific paper.

Although I did not reach the summit of Everest on this occassion the charities whom I am trying to raise funds for should not be penalised – I tried my best but medical constraints prohibited me summitting. So if you have enjoyed following my Everest adventure then please consider making a donation to one or more of my choosen charities by clicking on one or more of the links below and make an on-line donation:

Alzheimer’s Disease International

Assynt Mountain Rescue Team

Society for Radioligical Protection Benevolent Fund

Thank you for showing your support through your donation(s) to these worthy causes.

I am now at Everest Base Camp on the north side so although there will now be little mountaineering I will continue to post blogs of developments during the long journey home. Keep following the adventure.

Everest Northeast ridge expedition 2013 – 45th phonecast

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Everest Northeast ridge expedition 2013 – 44th phonecast

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Everest Northeast ridge expedition 2013 – 43rd phonecast

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