Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Not quite the end of the season!


Finally winter 2008 really seems to be drawing to a close. Although there's still loads of snow up high, the valley really feels like summer time and Chamonix's suddenly ultra quiet. I love interseason! It has been the best winter I can remember in so long. Big thanks to all the people I've had the pleasure to ski with this year - it's been fab!

Recent ski highlights have included an awesome awesome powder day in Courmayeur with the hard core girlie group, including skiing the Passarella Couloir from the top of Helbronner with Susannah and Charlotte.

Guy and my little adventure to the Chevalier Couloir in Chamonix didn't quite work out as planned. We didn't actually make it into the couloir - thin blue ice, aluminium crampons, and suddenly the whole thing didn't look so inviting - so we skied back down the way we came.

I was only slightly concerned that my boyfriend was going to throw his ice axe off a cliff because it was so useless, but that drama over, the ski down was short, but very sweet! Pretty mad to be putting skis on while hanging off an ice screw though.

We've also been on a road trip to ski the Petit Face Nord of the Grande Casse (3800m) in the Vanoise National Park. Charlotte and Andy came with us, but opted for the classic Grand Couloir route instead. A long day, but an amazing face and great conditions. Bit of a shame I wasted the first few turns by having snow and ice balled up on the base of my skis (time for a wax!), but luckily managed not to bin it - and Guy made himself useful and cleaning them up for me. Thank you :o) ... All good after that!

The Grande Casse was swiftly followed by climbing and skiing from the top of Grand Paradiso in Italy (4060m) with Mark & Charlie, Chris and Siobhan ... The view from the summit is one of the best I've seen in the Alps - you can see everywhere! And was cool to look back across at the Petit Face Nord we'd skied just 2 days before. Feeling quite smug as it looks impressively big and steep from a distance.


4 big mountain days back to back left my legs pretty much in tatters so took a few days off to head back to London for a wedding. Susanna and Will's big day was a glitzy, glam black tie affair. Had to work my way through an entire bottle of fake tan just to even up the colour difference between my face and neck (I am still a girl!!), but it was worth it - even if I can't walk in heels. It was awesome to see them finally get married, after so many (on-off) years, and also catch up with a lot of old faces from uni.


I seem to have spent more nights in mountain huts in the last few weeks than in my own bed, so I'm now just chilling out at home, actually doing some work (skiing just seems to take up so much time), and getting ready for our adventure to Norway next week. Really looking forward to it - mainly just the novelty of being on holiday in a place where someone else looks after you, cooks and cleans, as well as the adventure of getting to where you're skiing by boat. Check out where we're going!


I heard recently that Emma and I have been shortlisted for the Sun's 'Britain's Most Inspiring Fundraiser' ... thanks so much to everyone who voted for us. We'll find out at the start of June. FINGERS CROSSED! Would be a totally awesome way to raise £20,000 for the Samaritans.

There's also a feature just about to come out in She Magazine's next issue about my experiences of Oggie's suicide. It's quite weird to read an article about yourself, and I expect Oggie would be mortified at the idea of being featured in a women's glossy mag ... but I think it's a really good piece.

And Powder Magazine have been in touch too about writing an article about our Cho Oyu adventure. Which I'm stoked about - Powder is the Ski Magazine bible. Plus it's so nice to be in email contact with other girls who love skiing.

I've been trying to keep as fit and healthy as I can, and went down to Annecy to run in the half marathon down there a couple of weeks ago. Was good to push myself a bit -really enjoyed it and was pleased with my time too - 1.41. Nice to know my fitness has improved and I should stay in shape for running the Chamonix half marathon and the Alpe d'Huez Triathlon in the summer. It's easier to give myself small goals to work towards rather than just trying to be strong for Cho Oyu - it's only 4 months now but it still feels a long way away!

Better get out and start running up some more hills.

Seeya, stephx

Monday, 7 April 2008

Happy Powder Days!

It's been one of the best spring ski seasons I can remember - the snow just never seems to stop coming. Yet another 20cm fell overnight last night, and it's still cold today. Crazy April weather, but really I should know by now - April's ALWAYS awesome. And to make it even better, the mountains are empty of tourists as the ski season's officially nearly over. But the touring's only just begun ...

Guy and I have just got back from the Haute Route (Chamonix to Zermatt on skis) with Mike, Kath and Susannah. Great company, good laughs, stunning views and 6 days skinning wasn't TOO much like hard work.Good training for Norway, and our fitness in general, and I was pleased to find it a lot easier than last year.

I love the whole huts adventure - it's just magic waking up in a mountain refuge in the middle of nowhere. You really feel like you've earned the 3 course meals they serve, and Swiss huts are so much better than the French ones.

Unfortunately we had to bail out of the penultimate day between the Dix and Vignette huts. It was -20, really windy, and with grim visibility - not the ideal place to be stuck on a glacier at 3800m. The forecast for the next day was looking crap too, so we opted to turn round and ski down to Arolla over the Pas de Chevre. Shame not to finish the journey, but we wouldn't have made it to Zermatt with the weather, and had a great powder day to make up for it.

We've also been skiing over in the 3 Valleys a couple of times, including nailing a lovely 400m couloir on the Aiguille du Fruit with Emma, more of the Toule Glacier steeps, as well as some mind blowing powder on the Aiguille de Midi (WOW!).

Our girlie day last week was fab ... headed back to the Rectaligne Couloir, which was in amazing conditiion. Perfect powder turns all the way down, as well as avoiding the biggest avalanche I've ever seen (skier's left of the Rectaligne). Fortunately by the time it happened, we were well away and watching the powder clouds from a distance. A pretty impressive spectacle and amazingly no one was caught. Makes you realise how small we are, though - especially watching one poor guy make a narrow escape being chased by the slide over the moraine. Luckily he made it up onto a ridge and out of harm's way just in time.

April looks set to be a great month with lots more touring on the cards. Guy and I are planning on heading to La Grave next week to check out the Southern Alps steeps. Plus there are lots of lines around Cham we've been vaguely eyeing up.

We went to check out a couple of couloirs near the Amethyste glacier yesterday - 2 hours skinning in baking sun and crusty snow, only to find that the routes we were originally thinking of had no absolutely snow in at all. Not what you need! But, not an entirely wasted effort as the classic Y couloir and another line on the Col de Passon both look in pretty good nick. Unfortunately we were too late in the day to give them a go (as well as just plain knackered from the Haute Route), but the ski down was actually great as the snow had softened up. Hopefully later in the week we'll be more psyched for it and get lucky again with the weather (as well as our arses in gear a bit earlier).

It looks like a gorgeous powder day today, but unfortuntately I'm sat inside nursing a sore knee - a silly twisty fall on the Haute Route followed by an over ambitious run yesterday means I'm hobbling around a bit. Clearly Chartreuse seemed a good option for curing my aches last night, so my head's not feeling too hot today either. But hopefully it will be all healed in time for next weekend's half marathon in Annecy!

Monday, 18 February 2008

Winter in Chamonix - Jan / Feb 2008

An Epic Start to the Winter

It was a magic start to the winter season, but I missed the beginning of it. Quite bizarre to be boiling hot in Thailand, getting loads of reports and photos of waist deep powder in Chamonix. I totally loved the massage course I was doing over there, but typical that the one season I'm not there at the beginning, is the one that's totally epic.

But I've more than made up for missing the first few weeks! I've been skiing and touring loads, and generally wondering how it's possible that, even though I'm not managing Planet Subzero any more, there still aren't enough hours in the day!

Skiing highlights so far include some properly deep deep champagne powder on the Glacier du Toule in Courmayeur, skiing the Rectiligne couloir from the top of Grands Montets, a lovely day-tour to the Floria couloir and Les Buets, and some awesome powder turns in St Anton. Plus my first big fall of the season - in front of clients, obviously - a proper rag doll, 10 cartwheel, yard sale, which was miraculously totally painless. Fingers crossed I've got that out of my system and won't be repeating it.

Other than skiing, I've been home for Christmas with Mum and Archie's family, which was lovely - massive turkey and trimmings dinner, and Archie's grandchildren to keep Santa alive and stop us dwelling on who was missing. I've been working part time on corporate events for Mountain Leap, so had a few days in Courchevel 1850 (breakfast with Gordon Ramsay no less), and 10 days schmoozing with airline execs in St Anton. Pretty hard work, but good fun, and got to see how the other half live. I really have to work out what I'm going to do with myself after Cho Oyu. It's all very well not really working ... and far too easy to fill my days ... but it doesn't exactly pay the mortgage.

Get Fit Mission:

In the mean time, I'm on a mission to get as fit as possible so I'm strong for Cho Oyu. It's already starting to get lighter in the day for longer, and sunnier in the valley, and even though it's still mid winter, time is flying, and Cho Oyu is getting scarily close.

I've somehow been persuaded to sign up for a triathlon in Alpe d'Huez in July, as well as the Mont Blanc half marathon in June. It's all Phil's fault. So I've been running lots as well as skiing, and have splashed out on some cross country ski kit. Guy nearly kills himself laughing every time I go 'skiing the fun' in lycra tights and silver spangly boots, but I figure if you're gonna do a ridiculous sport, may as well embrace it and look ridiculous too. I'm also starting to turn into a triathlon geek, working out training schedules and scouring the internet for tips. I don't even have a road bike yet, and I hate swimming in cold water, so I'm not quite sure why I thought this would be a good idea. Watch this space!

Plans and Adventures:

Soooo excited about going to Norway in May with Guy, Oli, Dom, Tom, Andy Egg and Rhi. Can't wait! We'll be staying in Lyngen Lodge, well into the Arctic circle, and ski touring from a boat every day. Will be pretty similar to Greenland last year, looking for interesting steep lines, maybe some first descents, BUT none of the roughing it in a tent at -30 degrees. This time we're going in style, and get a bed, hot water, and yummy food cooked for us in a lush luxury cabin. Bring it on!

Emma and I were also planning on going to ski tour Elbrus in Russia in May, but looking at dates and our work commitments, we don't think it's going to happen this year. So now thinking of joining her, Will, Roz & Tim and travelling to Iran to ski tour Damavand (5600m) in April. It's still up in the air, as we're waiting on visa info, but it sounds like an amazing trip, skiing in a largely unexplored area. Quite strange that we'll have to ski in veils though!

Cho Oyu Fundraising:

It's been a year since Oggie died. Amazing how fast it's gone, and still as hard to understand. Strange that 12 months ago I was running around Cambridge sorting out his funeral. It still doesn't feel very real. Although I am coming to terms with the fact that he's just not here any more. Very sad!

I recently read an article in The Times about depression in the workplace, which brought it home again how common mental illness and depression are. Apparently 1 in 3 people will suffer some form of mental illness in any one year. Yet no-one talks about it. Perhaps I'm being naive, as I'm very lucky that I've never suffered personally, but surely it's possible to help people more easily if the problem is recognised and treated earlier? Part of that is to increase awareness of the symptoms, and make depression a less shameful subject.

I really hope that our project to raise money and awareness for The Samaritans will help remove some of that taboo.

Our sponsorship mission is well underway and we've received great support from Salomon, Suunto, Dream Guides, Smartwool, Ski Club of Great Britain, SHE magazine, and Cooler magazine, who have just re-launched their website. We're hoping to secure an airline sponsor, which would be a total result, and are about to start the next phase of letters targeting anyone we can think of who may be able to help.

The support from friends and family has been amazing and the interest elsewhere has been brilliant!
Thank you :o)


Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Nepal Part Deux - 3 weeks, 3 peaks, and an awful lot of walking ...

20-22nd October - Kathmandu

It's actually disgusting how much food it's possible to eat in Kathmandu! So much to choose from and so little time. Emma is working as a trek leader for this part of the trip, and the rest of the group have now arrived. They seem cool, if a bit quiet - jet lag and first day politeness? I'm sure it won't take long ... Figured a little bit of culture wouldn't hurt, and went on a random tour of Kathmandu's temples - including a visit to the capital's biggest Hindu crematorium. Pretty bizarre to be watching people lugging bodies around and burning them on open pyres, right over the river where there's loads of children swimming. Very over Kathmandu now and cannot wait to get back to the mountains. No more shopping and no more fried food!

23rd October - Kathmandu

Our first taste of Kathmandu flight chaos. Didn't realise there was a 3 day backlog of people trying to fly to Lukla, so spent an entire day sitting on the floor of KTM airport. Managed to take off finally, but just circled round Lukla with no break in the cloud and had to fly back to Kathmandu. Pretty disappointing. Back to the hotel for more reading and troughing food. Fingers crossed for tomorrow ...

24th October - Kathmandu / Lukla to Phakding

Wahey! Still a pretty hairy flight (spent most of it with my face buried in my rucksack - I'm really not into Nepali style flying tin cans), but managed to land through a gap in the clouds. So good to be back in the mountains! Hung around Lukla waiting for lost luggage, before a gentle walk to Phakding (3hrs). Can't get over how busy it is compared to Mera. Really glad we did that first. Went for a run to see how well this acclimatisation thing works. Such an amazing feeling to be running at 2600m not feeling out of breath at all! Really enjoying the trip set up, and everyone has relaxed into it and starting to be themselves. Everyone seems cool, although quite funny to see the banter between Keith, Ken and Nick - all vying for place as alpha male. Met a quy called Tim in Lukla (who knows Guy) - few warnings about what to expect on Lobuje East - 80 degree ice and waist deep snow. They didn't make it up. Hopefully it will be in better nick by the time we get there.

25th October - Phakding to Namche Bazaar (3400m)

Just cannot get over how many people are on this trail. Busloads of Japanese, hundreds of Yaks, and no chance of walking any faster than snail's pace. Not used to this bimbling along after walking at normal rate on Mera. Steep climb into Namche - pretty cool to be here - it's the Sherpa capital and one of those places I've read about so many times. Awesome view from our tents - really liking having my own tent to spread out in, and amazingly still have phone reception.

26th October - Namche Bazaar (3400m)

Acclimatisation day - went for a walk up to 4000m to the Everest View Hotel. Pretty impressive views - funnily enough - of Amadablam and Everest. The monsoon finally seems to be over and so far (touch wood), we've had amazingly clear weather. Sat in the sun for a couple of hours, chilling out, and mooched around the shops and market in town. Very chilled, and have relaxed into the idea of being cooked for and looked after. Life's hard!

27th October - Namche Bazaar (3400m) to Dole (4000m)

To make up for our lost day, combined 2 into one, so quite a long walk from Namche to Dole. Lovely easy path, and gentle ascents. Finally the route has cleared up and the Japanese army seem to have gone into hiding. It's amazing some of the people you see walking this trail - half of them don't look like they've ever walked further than once round the block. Lovely lunch on a terrace overlooking Tamserku and Kantega.

28th October - Dole (4000m) to Machermo (4400m)

A very easy walk, climbing 400m gently along the hillside. Took 3 hours over it, although probably could have done it in half the time, but lovely to enjoy the first truly clear day - so beautiful. Stunning views along the valley to Cho Oyu. Still can't believe we're going there in less than a year. Scary - but exciting too. Went for a talk about acclimatisation at the medical centre. Funnily enough, the only person who really needed to hear it (Keith), was in bed suffering from AMS. An executive decision has been made to stay here 2 nights, to let everyone acclimatise. Quite a few people have headaches, and we need to practise jumarring for the peaks. Think Emma and my acclimatisation advantage is wearing off now - it's been 2 weeks since Mera. Also not feeling super hot - possibly due to excessive haribo eating. Definitely getting colder and my sleeping bag is the warmest place to be, so tucked up by 8pm. Might have to move back in with Emma for warmth!

29th October - Machermo (4400m)

A bad night's sleep - fever and diarrhoea all night, so very glad we're not moving anywhere. Felt like shit (boom boom) all day. Knackered and achy ... went for a little walk up the ridge above Machermo, and practised jumarring and abseiling in the afternoon. But ended up bailing and just crawling back to bed. Feeling very sorry for myself!

30th October - Machermo to Gokyo (4900m)

Managed to drug myself up enough to bring the fever down and get some sleep, but still feel totally rotten. Rattling and empty and feverish. Not much fun. Have started on the cipro so hoping for a miracle cure! Walked (slowly) from Machermo to Gokyo - hard to appreciate the stunning views when you feel like death warmed up, but the lakes were beautiful. Too much information, but have never known diarrhoea like it, and getting worse. Want a cuddle!!! My health aside, Ken managed to put an end to his trip by falling down the stairs in the lodge - and breaking his arm. Looks pretty serious, but fortunately he's a doctor and came armed with horse tranquiliser pain killers. Helicopter on its way first thing in the morning.

31st October - Gokyo Ri (5360m)

Definitely feeling better this morning - so nice to be vaguely human again, and good news that the drugs must be working. Was starting to get worried I'd have to bin the trip. Saw Ken off in the helicopter (nearly got taken out by it while crossing the river - scary moment). Poor guy! Lazy morning in the sun, chilling out, having a shower (yey!), and drinking tea. Hiked up Gokyo Ri this afternoon - Absolutely stunning. Watching the sunset on Everest brought tears to my eyes - feels like such a priviledge to be here. Honestly so beautiful how much the colours change.

01 November - Gokyo towards Cho La

Relatively easy walk from Gokyo towards the Cho La. Camped below the pass in the middle of nowhere at 5050m. Would have been beautiful if the mist hadn't come down. Not sure if I'm looking forward to Lobuje East - feel so much better but still pretty weak and feeble and have lost a lot of weight very quickly. Would be great if it wasn't muscle, and from funny places. I have skinny calves and armpits now. Weird.

02 November - Cho La (5500m) to near Lobuje (5000m)

A long day's walk (8 hours?) over the Cho La Pass to another random campsite, not far from Lobuje. Feeling kind of over it now. Sick of being skinny and cold all the time - even if it is the most beautiful place I've ever been!

03 November - Lobuje (5000m) to Lobuje Base Camp (5200m)

Walk and scramble up from our camp to Lobuje Base camp. The peak is over 6000m so summit day is going to be massive. Pretty cool camp site perched right on a rocky ledge. Wouldn't want to take a wrong step in the middle of the night. Stunning views and sunset.

04 November - Lobuje East Summit (6000m) to Lobuje village

Probably the most physically demanding day of my life! 1.30am rude awakening ... chiapatti and eggs (oh my god, so many eggs), followed by a steep rocky scramble from 5200m to 5600m. Pretty hard work in the dark at that altitude, and some fairly scary moments in big boots on rock in the cold. Some surprisingly difficult bits - especially considering the group aren't climbers. Donned crampons at the snowline for a shortish walk across the glacier, before the jumarring began. Seriously hard work. Would have been easier to climb it without the fixed ropes and my jumar constantly jamming, making it twice as hard work - but need it for safety. Considering I was on good form on Mera, I found the climb amazingly difficult. Very disappointing to feel this rough, but think my body hasn't had time to recover from being ill - just couldn't get into the zone and enjoy myself, plus had a banging headache by the top. Made it to the summit - just - but felt pretty rough and not in the mood to appreciate the views! Desperately wanted to get straight down - knackered, suffering with the altitude, dehydrated and way too much sun. Miserable walk / abseil down in sugary snow and beating rays, before finally making it back to base camp to collapse in the tent. Hauled ourselves up half an hour later (no rest in this boot camp) to pack up our tents, and hike down to Lobuje village. Started at 1.30am and finally limped into town (which is a total dump) at 5.30pm. Long day!

05 November - Lubuche to Gorak Shep (Kala Pattar) (5500m)

A lazy start after 13 hours sleep, and feel so much better after yesterday. Definitely fried a few brain cells I think, so it's good to have a chilled one. Go for a mellow walk with Emma up the valley. Kind of aiming for Everest Base camp, but we know we probably won't make it (it would be a 9 hour round trip and we don't leave camp until 10.30). We both too tired from the day before and stop off in Gorak Shep to hang out, drink coke and eat (more) chocolate. Sit in the sun, chat to other trekkers, before deciding to walk up Kala Pattar to see if you can see Base Camp from the top. Change my mind and end up scrambling along a ridge to find my own little viewing point. Can't see camp (there's a Thai group there at the moment), but enjoy a pretty amazing view - completely on my own, surrounded by the biggest mountains in the world - all making their rumbling noises - throwing rocks and avalanches and groaning glaciers. Missing Guy a lot - it's a long time to be away from each other, and wish he could be here to share some of this! Gentle walk back to Lobuche for dinner. Really looking forward to getting back to Lukla / Kathmandu - my body feels like it's falling apart. Need a rest day and some non trek food! Feel sad that I've had enough ...

06th November - Lobuche to Kongma La (5500m) to Camp

A lovely walk from Lobuche (what a relief to get out of that place!) over the Kongma La. Took it steady, admiring the stunning views of Cholatse. Camp in a gorgeous spot just after the pass, right by a lake, with Pokalde (tomorrow's peak) looking down at us, and Amadablam towering down from across the valley. Share a tent with Emma for warmth. Feeling quite nervous about tomorrow's ascent after my disaster on Lobuche East. Really hope I make it up - even Fergie's been up there! Starting to think Cho Oyu is a ridiculous idea.

07th November - Pokalde (5800m) to Chukung

Take everything back!!! What a cool day. Woke up at 4 and watched the sunrise over Amadablam as we walked the first section of Pokalde (steep rocky path). Absolutely stunning. The top 100m was a rocky scramble / climb - so nice to feel like we're actually climbing something, rather than snow plodding on a fixed line. Good to have to think about where to put your hands and feet, and a couple of actual climbing moves. So much fun and awesome to still feel completely fine at the summit. Amazing views in the early morning, including a massive avalanche on Pumori, that must have come pretty close to Everest Base Camp ... or at least it looked that way. Think everyone in the group really enjoyed themselves - totally lifted spirits and changed the atmosphere. Funny that this climb was the one I was least looking forward to - kind of going through the motions, but yet turned out to be the day I've enjoyed the most. Bimble back down for an early lunch, before walking down to Chukung to sit in the lodge for hours, and trough a disgusting amount of pringles. End up making ourselves feel sick, but nice anyway! Even rewarded myself with a freezing cold bucket wash. Took half an hour in my sleeping bag to get the feeling back in my feet, but good to feel clean.

08th November - Chukung to Island Peak Base Camp

2 down, and 1 to go, it's starting to feel like we're getting near the end of this trek. A gentle walk up the river from Chukung to Island peak base camp. Feeling really nervous about this one - we're camping at 5200m and going straight to the summit at 6200m, missing out high camp because there's no water there. That would be fine in the Alps, but it's a big day over 5000m. Base camp is a dump, and a crazy wind tunnel, making it really cold. Share a tent with Emma again for warmth. Massive pre-climb pizza dinner (how do they make such good pizzas up here??!). Ram so much food in for energy that I'm too full to sleep!

09th November - Island peak summit (6200m) to Chukkung

Get woken up at midnight for 'breakfast' - more eggs!! Feel like I haven't slept a wink. Manage a cup of tea before we get going. Start off in normal boots for a rocky scramble up to 5800m. Really cold (-20?) - thankfully my hand warmers are doing a good job, but my feet are freezing. Make good progress at a really steady plod - no stops. So much better than stop start as you can actually get into a rhythm. Climbing in the dark always seems deceptive - you're half asleep and can't see what you're doing and where you're going, and it's amazing how quickly time goes. Crampon point is a 45 minute faff, waiting for everyone to get their freezing cold boots on with icy hands. Hard to keep warm while we're standing around ... The short glacier crossing is very slow. You have to move at the slowest person's pace and a couple of the group are really suffering in the cold and at altitude. Amazed I feel totally fine. Dawn breaks as we get towards the final climb - 150m of 50 degree snow, before a long ridge to the summit. Takes a while to get going as the fixed ropes are tangled, but once on them, I make pretty steady progress. Nice to just get into a zone and plod on in your own rhythm - ice axe, step, step ... Definitely feeling the altitude, but feel so much better than on Lobuche. Bimble along the ridge to the summit pretty slowly - the little rises are killers when you can see the end in sight! Wait on the summit with Dave for the rest of the group to join us. Everyone makes it up - for photos and congratulations, before we peg it down. The weather's coming in from the next valley - high clouds but lightning is worrying. Last peak done - we're on the way downhill from now on in!!! We're all pretty exhausted by the time we've walked back down to base camp - at around midday, but so much better than Lobuche East. Soup and tea, before packing up and moving back to Chukkung. The walk back (3 hours), seems to take forever - by this stage it's pissing with snow and we've already been on the go for 12 hours solid. But much better to get down the valley for the night, than sleep in the windy base camp with the next groups around us getting up at midnight and waking us up. Absolutely knackered, and crazy to be going to bed in the snow. Have a few shots of Keith's whiskey to celebrate the start of the journey home - more than enough to send me straight to sleep.

10th November - Chukkung to Phunki Tenga

12 chilly hours sleep and wake up to 20cm of snow. Have been so lucky with the weather, I'd almost forgotten about rain / snow. Amazing how quickly we get back on the main trail and 'civilisation'. Strange after so many days in the middle of nowhere to see so many people again. But so much quieter than at the start of the trek. Lunch in Pangboche, followed by a visit to the monastery in Tengboche. A long descent to Funki Tenga - so nice to be back below 4000m. I'm sure it's psychological, but I feel like every breath of air is bringing my strength back. Feel amazingly healthy - and so nice to start being warm again. Being cold all the time is hard work.

11th November - 16th November

A gentle walk out of the valley, back along the river to Lukla. One final night of drinking wine and chang and dancing to Nepali cheesy disco tunes with the porters (you had to be there), followed by a flight to Kathmandu ... and back to civilisation, red wine, steaks, beeping horns, and hot showers.

What an amazing trip. It's had its moments, but overall, it's been such an incredible experience. We've done a lot - 4 c6000m peaks, a skiing first on Mera, and an awful lot of walking - in some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. It will be nice to have a break, but I can't wait to go back next year - Nepal is a very special place, and the people are amazing!

In the mean time, I'm so looking forward to Thailand - the beach, climbing, seeing my boy, green curries, fresh fruit ... hanging out with my mates, and just chilling. Then there's the winter ... apparently it's the best start to a ski season in the Alps for the last 10 years.


Friday, 19 October 2007

Skiing from Mera Peak (6400m)

05/10/07 Kathmandu to Chutanga

So cool to be finally on the move. After an early flight from Kathmandu, walk from Lukla to Chutanga (3500m). First lesson learnt - put waterproofs on the minute it starts pissing it down ... managed to get everything soaking just 10 minutes before getting to Chutanga. We just didn't think it was worth it as we were so close, but it's impossible to dry anything up here with no sun. In spite of having arranged porter / guide support only from Tangnag, we appear to have a full team of people walking in with us. They don't understand why we want to stay in tea houses, and have tried to persuade us to sleep in the tent. Not too sure what's going on but just going with it ...

06/10/07 Chutanga to Tuli Karka

A big day over a 4600m pass (Zatrw La). Pretty much the equivalent of climbing Mont Blanc. Both feel great up to about 4200m, but the last few hundred ms is hard work. Just got into a rhythm and plodded on - much better to try and keep walking, even if it's slow, then stop start all the time. It's been cloudy all day, but the odd glimpse of peaks around are amazing - they just go up and up! Crazy to be nearly at the top of Mont Blanc, but yet we're still in the foothills here. The real mountains haven't even begun. At Tuli Karka, have a headache, and don't feel much like eating, but not too bad.

07/10/07 Tuli Karka to Khote

Hardly any sleep (so smoky in the tea house and partying Nepalis next door) plus a banging headache, so glad to walk down to Khote (3500m). Carry our own skis (lots of weird looks - we're miles from the snow) as the porters struggled so much yesterday and didn't even arrive in camp until 8pm - in the pissing rain. Felt so sorry for them! 6 hours walking steeply downhill is hard work physically, but the headache soon goes. Finding being looked after all the time quite weird - but our sirdhar, Sia, and the cooks are so lovely and smily. Quite embarrassing to have a team of 4 porters, 3 cooks, and Sia just for 2 of us, but guess that's how it goes. Arrived in Khote to find loads of people (3 routes into this valley meet here), but hot showers (bucket of warm water with a tap). Yey!

08/10/07 Khote to Tangnag

Such a difference to have a good night's sleep - don't think I moved for 10 hours. Gentle and beautiful walk following the river from Khote to Tangnag (4200m). From here the acclimatisation is gradual, after the shock of the Zatrwr La pass. Starting to feel like we're properly in the mountains. Really busy on the route now that the 3 paths have merged. Still haven't met anyone coming the other way who's made it to the top ... too much snow. Which is good for us. Hoping we'll arrive just in time. Apparently there are other skiers there (Japanese). Shame - we were hoping for first tracks! Went for a little acclimatisation walk to a lake above Tangnag - so beautiful, and Mera (we think) popped her head out of the clouds to say hello. Amazing - but scary. Still so far to go ...

09/10/07 Tangnag - acclimatisation day

Walked up a ridge behind Tangnag to acclimatise. Made it to 5000m - the highest I've ever been - before the route got too dodgy. Snow and loose boulders overlooking a certain death drop. Decided not to go any further ... Felt good on the walk, but the banging headache kicked in again on the way down. At least it's both of us feeling crap. But how the hell are we going to make it up Cho Oyu if 5000m feels like someones sticking a burning spike through your brain??? Couple of nurofen later and all's good. Such wimps ... not sure we're cut out for this suffering thing!!!  Summit day is starting to feel closer - hoping for good weather. It's been pretty grim so far. Looking forward to it, but sort of dreading it at the same time. Can't actually imagine getting to the top and skiing off right now.

10/10/07 Tangnag to Khare

Arrived in Khare feeling good - no headache at 4900m show's we're acclimatising well. Weird day of suddenly turning into an emotional wreck (tired?) so take myself off by myself for a bit. Such a beautiful place (first time we've seen it in proper sun) and can't help but wish Oggie and Dad were still around to see it. Got all our ski and climbing kit out in the camp to check everything, and put the ipod on. Dancing around to cheesy tunes in the middle of nowhere in Nepal has got to make you smile. Plus love the clunk of climbing gear after 6 days of walking uphill and not seeing any snow. Wish we'd brought our rock shoes - there's a few people bouldering. Looks cool. So practised prussicking up a rope instead - seem to be attracting a crowd of people who are wondering what the hell the 2 crazy English girls are up to.

11/10/07 Khare to Mera La

Hiked up to the snowline with our skis and skinned up a couple of hundred ms in the whiteout. Awesome to be on skis again, although properly hard work at 5200m, and quite scary as we couldn't see what we were doing. Followed some ski tracks for a bit (the Japanese guys?) but decided to ski down after 150m ... crossing avalanche debris that had come from a cliff above, which we didn't like the look of, not being able to see it properly. Awesome to ski again though (Sia keeps calling it ski play - so funny). Decided to hike up the walking path and ski down a 2nd time. Properly hard work (struggling with altitude and tired) but really enjoyed putting some more turns in. Felt good when we got back to Khare.

12/10/07 Khare

We were supposed to go up to Base Camp today but decide to have a rest day in Khare as I woke up with a minging cough / cold - think it's fine, but a bit of blood is enough to worry us into staying put. Don't feel ill - so think it's just a bit of a chest infection from the day in the smoky tea house in Tuli Karka, plus working my lungs quite hard yesterday. Double dose the antibiotics and chill out at camp for the day. Nice to air our kit, sort our stuff out and wash my hair!! The cooks are so sweet and feed us garlic soup and ginger tea - seems to work, as feel really good by the evening. Sia persuades us to go straight up to high camp tomorrow - apparently it's at 5500m (not 5800m as it says on the map).

13/10/07 Khare to High Camp

So much for 5500m! Hiked up to Mera La (fine) and then just up and up and up ... to funnily enough, 5800m. Feels neverending with beating sun, and relentless glare - at one point think I'm going to pass out as the ground starts moving - remember to breathe and it stops! Arrive at high camp feeling like total shit. Both of us just sit in the tent for half an hour unable to do anything useful. Shovel nurofen for the headache and decide to take a diamox each. Feel better instantly and come back to life within a few minutes. Was worried we wouldn't be able to go any further, but loving the drugs! Watch a beautiful sunset overlooking all these peaks I've only read about ... Everest, Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Makalu ... wow!

14/10/07 Summit day!

Managed to get a couple of hours sleep, and woke up at 2am to start the summit attempt. Emma feeling really sick, but I feel good. So far! Decide to go for it - it's only 600m to the summit. Make slow and cold progress for what seems like hours, until the dawn breaks and we can start to see where we're headed. Keep clenching cold hands and feet to keep the blood flowing. Manage to keep the plod going, ultraslow, but steady, so even though we were the last group to leave, we were 2nd on top. Thought I felt f*cked until I saw one of the guys from Exodus collapsing all over the place. A final steep (40 degrees?) section to the summit, and we're on top!

The ski down is a mixed bag. The very top section is the only steep bit, with a certain death drop on one side and massive bergshrund on the other. Pretty hairy start - but all good. Managed to link a few turns, realising quickly that what we thought was going to be a cruisy ski down was actually pretty tough. The top half of the ski is hard work, breathing wise (oh my god, you have to stop every 3/4 turns to get your breath back), but the snow was actually ok. Breakable crust, but it's hard enough to ride on top of most of the time. As we get lower down, our legs, lungs and skis are all over the place. Plus the snow just gets harder and the crevasses closer and closer. Decide to stop skiing (snowploughing?) at high camp, and walk down. Would be dumb to have got this far then end it by welting into a crevasse because we're just too tired to control our skis!

First girls? First Brits? Definitely first snowplough ... Who cares? Not exactly a powder run, but just soooo amazing to be skiing down looking over at Everest and Cho Oyu. WOW!

Finally get back to Khare about 12 hours after we started. Can honestly say I've never felt so tired from a day's exercise. We just collapse back at camp - too knackered to even eat. Unheard of!

15/10 to 17/10 - the long walk out.

Now that the summit's been reached, can't wait to get out and get back to 'civilisation'. 3 days seems like a long time to walk when all you want is a shower ... but finally make it back to Lukla, hot water, a proper bed, a glass of red wine, and time to reflect. What an amazing trip - and so lucky. If we'd have tried one day either side we wouldn't have summited because of the weather. Big smiles and hugs from our crew, and jump on a bumpy flight back to KTM.

18/10 - 19/10 - Kathmandu

So nice to be back in Kathmandu. Just chilling, shopping, and EATING!!! All this wandering around at 5000m is definitely good for shrinking. Bring on the chocolate cake in Helenas ... 2 more days then trek 2 starts - 3 weeks in the Everest region, including Pokalda, Gokyo Ri, Lob\uche East and Island peaks. Really looking forward to it, but think it will be a totally different experience as it's so much more 'on the beaten track'.



Thursday, 4 October 2007

Hello from Kathmandu

It's been enough of an adventure getting here, and we haven't even made it to the mountains yet!

BA managed to panic me on the first leg by losing my skis. Thinking it was all over - no skis, no climbing kit, no warm gear ... no adventure, I had to hug the nice man who eventually found them an hour later. Then, my Dhaka to Kathmandu ticket wasn't at the desk it was supposed to be at. That had closed down 2 days previously. Several rants and another hour later, a nice bloke found them for me. Finally - all sorted! What more could go wrong ... Etihad even produced Hagen Daaz chocolate ice cream and red wine for the journey.

Perfectly relaxed and starting to get really excited ... til it turned out that the flight from Dhaka to Kathmandu doesn't actually exist.

I can't recommend anything about Dhaka ... or GMG airlines (yeah, right, who???) ... 24 hours of total boredom, one death defying tuk tuk ride, one $75 dollar bottle of wine (whatever, don't ask, but we needed a drink and it's ramadam) ... but finally we're both in Kathmandu.

I love it!

We fly to Lukla at 6am tomorrow and the plan is to trek to Mera peak (6400m), summit, and ski down. It'll be 19 / 20 days round trip, the first half pretty much on our own, and the summit days with a climbing sherpa and cook / porter team. We've spent a couple of hours over lunch with a guy called Ian, who works for KE with Emma, and who's been up Mera 32 times. Good to get the low-down and plan our route - as much as you can when we haven't even seen the mountain before. Starting to get a bit nervous, but our porters and cook will be walking the same route as us, so at least we can't get too lost ...

Next update when we're back in 2 weeks!


Monday, 1 October 2007

And ... we're off

So, it's midnight, and I've got to be up in 4 hours to get my flight.
Guy and I had a great time for 2 weeks climbing in Corsice and Sardinia. Not sure it did my fitness training (or waistline) much good, but the climbing was fab and the scenery is beautiful.
Emma has just been up Kilimanjaro ... twice ... with her Exodus clients, so she's in full on mountain mode. I've been sleeping up the midi top station (much to the amusement of the lifties), so I'm 3800m ready ... And apart from a climbing scare in Wales, and some seriously last minute packing, we're all set. Bring on Nepal!
I'm struggling to get my head around what I'm supposed to do with skis, and I'm sure there's about a million things I've forgotten, but I'm sure we'll work that one out when we're there ...
See ya,