Nov 23, 2012

Time for an armchair expedition - 2 months in 12.5 minutes. Videos from Makalu & Ama Dablam!

Last week I was asked by a colleague at PwC to present at client-facing meeting  on the theme of teamwork challenges and lessons learned from my climbing expeditions and experiences on Everest, Makalu and Ama Dablam.

As I'd only just returned from Nepal after two months away I had quite a bit of catching up to do on the work front and in getting my fitness back on-form. Needless to say, I soon found myself the evening before the scheduled presentation rather frantically putting together a short video documenting both the Makalu and Ama Dablam expeditions and a short-slide deck that would supplement 45 minutes of speaking..! The results of the videos can be found below - enjoy this little 12 minute summary of the past 2 months of 'expedition life..!' 

Makalu (September - October 2012)

Ama Dablam (October - November 2012)

Nov 4, 2012

This blog is about people... and thank you's...

Perhaps an unusual statement about an adventure which, in the physical sense, has been purely ‘vertical’, freezing-cold and oxygen-limiting...! Reflecting both on the extensive preparation Makalu / Ama Dablam expedition and the two-months spent on the snowy cold slopes, this adventure has really been brought to life through the amazing people that I have met along the way....people who have inspired me, helped me, and joined me in some shape or form on this incredible adventure to just over 7000m on Makalu and the 6800m summit of Ama Dablam.
Some of these people have dazzled me with their genius and art. Others have shared with me insights about how I can live. Others have devoted their life to helping others. Some have conquered mountains while others have built business empires. Some are great artists while others have entertained with their brilliant musical talents. One thing that they all have in common is that they are passionate, talented, and amazing people who have added colour to my life and have helped to shape the moments that have made up this journey.

Autumn Himalayan Wrap-up
This autumn season in Nepal has been an incredibly memorable one with both highs and lows and lessons learned. The lows  remind us of the risks inherent to mountaineering and the fragility of the decisions made on its slopes - on Manaslu, one of the biggest accidents in Himalayan history, an accident that both guides and Sherpa had been fearing might happen but hoping to avoid since the mountain became commercially popular in 2008. All of us on the Makalu team knew someone involved in the accident, and our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this tragedy.
My nervous-decision to attempt to climb Makalu was driven primarily because of the closure of Tibet and concern about the resulting crowds and conditions on Manaslu. Looking back, I am so glad that guide Adrian Ballinger convinced me to join him and the Alpenglow Expeditions team in exploring this incredible and remote mountain. We experienced safe and stellar climbing conditions, a stunning valley and gorgeous mountain camps and reached a final altitude of 7100m. While an early jet-stream bringing 150kph winds prevented us from our final goal of reaching the 8500m summit in early October, we all left the mountain happy and healthy, and committed to returning next year to have another ‘go’. This is a fantastic result and I am incredibly proud of our performance on this formidable peak and look forward to building on this reconaissance in the autumn of 2013.
And then Ama Dablam – an iconic peak for which I’ve been training over the past two years. With its dizzying exposure, narrow ledges and knife-edge ridges I was worried that I’d love my nerve. However, it all worked out even more perfectly than I could ever have imagined. With my body fully acclimatised to the lack of oxygen post-Makalu and fully supported by a strong and talented Sherpa team and excellent guides Adrian Ballinger and Chad Peele, it was a thoroughly enjoyable climb with a straight-forward 13-hour summit day which brought us back to base camp for dinner. Conditions were incredible on the 26th of October - perfect neve on our summit push above high camp, lots of good ice on the Grey Tower, and dry granite down low between Camps 1 and 2. Our summit day offered incredible views From the summit of Ama Dablam we were treated to incredibly stunning views of the south Face of Lhotse, Nuptse, Mount Everest, Cho Oyu, Pumori, Shishapangma, Makalu, and the Khumbu Himal. Standing there looking out over the surrounding peaks was worth every second of the work that I’d put into this journey.

Thank you’s...
Throughout this journey I’ve been inspired by so many of the people that I’ve met along the way. These people have inspired me to push on to find additional strength and motivation to reach the summit of these mountains – or make my way as far as possible up their snowy slopes…! These people have included the likes of David English OBE, MBE; Christine Mills MBE; Alex Trapnell and the Hope for Tomorrow team, Sir Stirling  and Lady Moss, Charles Finch, the team at Sherpa Adventure Gear, Katy Biddulph from Striders Ege, Piers Morgan, Peter Elliott, Isabelle Santoire, the girls from the Sisterhood, the team of builders volunteering their time at the Khumbu Climbing School, Captain Ashish at Fishtail Air, our cook / chef Tashi, guides Adrian Ballinger, Chad Peele and Monica Piris, my fantastic colleagues at PwC, my family and friends… plus many, many more.
Without the tremendous support of these people life would not be nearly as fascinating and mountains would be significantly higher.

Oct 27, 2012

Ama Dablam Summit Day Summary - Expedition Report...

Camp 1 on Ama Dablam is perched high up on a rocky ridge offering just enough of a view of the route to the summit to conjure a range of emotions fluctuating on a sliding scale between excitement and sense of “what the hell have I gotten myself into…??” 

Whilst it isn’t the most comfortable camping spot in the world, the fact that the sun crests over the mountain and hits the tents at 6.15 AM is a huge bonus particularly when everything seems to freeze solidly overnight and getting out of the deep, dark depths of a sleeping bag to embrace the day  - or rather, embrace the jumar - is made somewhat more lucrative and less baltic.

At 7am our 2-day summit push officially began as Sergey, Valdis, Chad and I left the warmth of our yellow tents and began the steep climb to Camp 2.7 - an ascent of about 300 vertical meters over technical terrain of rock, ice and exposed ridges. The allusive snow-capped summit of Ama Dablam seemed to appear closer and closer with each precarious step. It was a gorgeous day with blue skies and a very light breeze so we managed to stay warm in the sunshine and top up our raccoon-eye tans. We’d already climbed from Camp 1 – Camp 2 as part of a training rotation so the familiarity of the terrain and the ropes certainly helped to ease nerves over some particularly exposed areas which had previously made my stomach turn and my heart beat double-time..! 

The Yellow Tower:
Just before Camp 2 we were met by the infamous 12m vertical rock wall better known as the Yellow Tower. If climbing Ama Dablam was a video-game, this obstacle would be a ‘high score challenge’ and would force the video-character to do a blind-folded, triple back flip off of a can of tomato soup over a pit of crocodiles and onto the ridge of a massive stone wall. In mountaineering terms, the Yellow Tower presents an equally formidable challenge – minus the crocodiles, soup, and backflip but adding into the equation a jumar and a 10,000 foot drop off of a slabby ledge no wider than a patio paving stone. 

To make a rather long story short, I was the first to rather ungracefully jumar way up the wall, trying desperately neither to think about the wind whistling behind me nor the aquamarine-blue glacial lake glittering in the sun several thousand feet below the backs of my big-booted heels. 

Thank god style-points were not handed out for the ascent of the Yellow Tower as, apart from my right leg doing the ‘jail-house rock’ with sheer terror, I would have received a negative score upon reaching the belay ledge where Chad stood smiling broadly and framed by an assortment of colorful ropes – old and new. I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved to see him!! 

Camp Two:
Valdis and Sergey followed closely and heroically behind (with significantly higher style points) and we recomposed ourselves in Camp Two. Camp Two is better known as ‘Camp Poo’ due to the extensive garbage and human waste left behind from other expeditions. It’s both sad and strange to see firsthand how one of the most iconic camps in the Himalaya is one of the dirtiest (serious understatement) I’ve ever seen… Needless to say, we were under strict instructions ‘not to touch anything’ and kept bottles of hand-sanitizer close to hand..! Having survived the Yellow Tower I was not eager to test my luck or the strength of my gastro-intestinal system here!!

At Camp 2, we were also met by our super strong, skilled and smiling Sherpa team - Dorji Sonam Galgyen Sherpa, Palden Namgya Sherpa, Danuru Sherpa -  who had come down from establishing our Camp 2.7. For the past few years Alpenglow Expeditions uses Camp 2. 7 as it’s a safer option (and only about 10 minutes away) from the more serac-prone and therefore dangerous Camp 3. Camp 2.7 was also to be the ‘launch pad’ for our summit push very early the following morning.  

I must admit, having escaped relatively unscathed from Camp Poo, and now standing in the shadow of the Grey Tower I was looking forward to this next section being over and having the opportunity to dive into my tent! Little did I know about the vertical adventures in store!

The Grey Tower:
Straight out of Camp 2 we made our way up a steep snow ridge, climbed through the Grey Tower… aptly named because it’s grey and it’s a tower (our minds are simple at altitude). I love mixed climbing and, being acclimatized (thanks to the physiological benefits gained through our 7000m ‘touch’ on Makalu) I found the Grey Tower to be quite a treat (ok, perhaps a slight exaggeration… a new pair of Jimmy Choo’s or a bed… or even a shower for that matter would have been a greater treat…). 

The Grey Tower is infamous for its unbiased affinity for shooting rock and ice missiles on climbers daring attempt its vertical face. Having said that, today the Tower was kind to us and few projectiles came down - the ice and snow lodged in numerous rock seams combined with some solid-rock steps carefully navigated through crampon-points provided great foot-holds and the only casualty of the climb was the granola bar that fell out of my pocket into the airy abyss thousands of meters below. Rocky outcrops also provided great handholds and, when combined with some careful jumaring, the 1.5 hour section proved to be a technical but thoroughly enjoyable vertical journey with conditions and terrain not dissimilar to what I’ve experienced on climbs both in Chamonix and in Scotland. The anchors and ropes were also good which provided some comfort although I did chuckle nervously at several points when I was provided with a choice of about 9 ropes all haphazardly poking their way out of the ice-covered rock… Russian roulette alpine style. Fortunately the ‘new rope’ was pretty obvious!

Mushroom Ridge:
We made good time climbing a snow-rock-ice chute off of the Grey Tower to gain the ridge traverse, better known as the infamous "Mushroom-Ridge". Mushroom Ridge can only be described as a very bizarre but fairly stable rock formation with ice and snow cornices tenuously stuck to a knife-edge ridge. The Ridge is famous – or rather, infamous -  for no other reason than that it has been known to be white-knuckle-inducing heart-stopping-ly terrifying…. For approximately 1 kilometer one must walk along the rocky, icy, snowy ridge no more than 30cm wide with an abyss of thousands of feet falling away at either side. I’d heard and read horror stories about the ridge but again, found it in excellent condition - not quite to the point where one could do kartwheels on it -  but it did offer occasional-enough solid snow / ice and rock footing (straddling, crawling, tip-toeing, inching…) With the help of a Palden Namgya Sherpa, and doing everything in my power not to look down I found my balance on the ridge and made my way across.  The final stretch…!!

Camp 2.7 & overnight: 
We followed the ridge to the right side of the base of the Dablam, where I looked up - overjoyed, relieved, a little bit emotional (yes, I shed a single, frozen tear or two… or ten…) -  to see Camp 2.7 beautifully carved into a giant ice buttress and sat on a narrow ledge no wider than a single tent. Sergey, Valdiz and Chad were already there waving comfortably from their tents and boiling water from snow. It was great to see that we’d all made it, unscathed, were in fine form and ready for an ‘exciting’ high-altitude evening of boiling water and discussing the nutritional benefits of freeze-dried food and other very educational, stimulating conversations which filled our hypoxic brains with wonder.

Whilst it was only about 3.30pm, it felt like it had been a very long day with both mental and physical challenges that had really pushed my limits. Having said that, the day had made me realize a great deal about myself. Sitting in the tent on the narrow ledge, re-hydrating, recounting and laughing over the events of the day made me realize and reflect upon how far I’ve come in mountaineering terms over the past few years… From having an absolute, white-knuckle fear of heights (we’re talking in-door, household ladders!) several years ago through to today where I consistently entrusted my life to two tiny stainless-steel fork-like front-points with a 10,000 foot drop at my back and now sleeping in a tent on a ledge no wider than a tub protected by ropes no wider than a shoe-lace attached to a tempramental icy buttress… Has this been ‘development’, is my brain severely suffering from sustained lack of oxygen or am I just becoming ‘mad’ in my old age?! Either way, it’s soooooo worth it..!

Day 2 - Summit Push from Camp 2.7:

In spite of the fact that comfort was hard to come by and a good nights sleep eluded me, 4am rolled around far too quickly. From within the warm depths of my sleeping bag I‘d already anticipated the typical summit day early start. By the time I heard the Sherpa’s stirring in the neighboring tent, I’d already started to go through the mental check-list of the things I’d need to do as part of the finely-tuned ‘sleeping-bag to summit’ journey. Hand-warmer taping, summit-sock fitting, down layering, water boiling, backpack stocking, head-torch adjusting, helmet donning, crampon fitting, mitten tightening…. (I’m sooooo ‘low maintenance!). I’d been pre-warned that it was going to be bitterly cold so was doing absolutely everything in my power from our 6300m perch to do what I could to prepare for the baltic vertical journey that lay ahead. For once in my life, I was more concerned about doing everything I could to resemble the Michelin Man rather than a fashionista… a diva in down.

We inched our way out of the tents, clipped on our safety and geared up our jumars and left the relative comforts of Camp 2.7 shortly after 5am – everyone was super psyched and raring to go. In spite of my nerves, I was happy and warm and excited to climb!! I knew what lay ahead was a relatively straight-forward steep and dramatic climb to the summit of one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. And it was well within our reach! It was time to put in some work and take advantage of all of the work that we’d been doing to prepare for this iconic and unforgettable climb.

We started out of Camp 2.7 with two easy pitches of dramatic but very solid 40+ degree snow-ice to the side of the Dablam – a section which can be prone to some ice-fall. The sun had not yet hit the mountain so we climbed in the shadow and under a light breeze. Conditions were far from tropical – but they were certainly not bordering on arctic… and we did our best to move efficiently in temperatures bordering on -20 degrees. Adrian and Sergey led from the front with their usual efficient speed and skill whilst Valdis held up the middle and Chad and I formed the end of our vertical conga-line. We had the route to ourselves and again, found it in perfect condition with deep, solid snow-steps leading us to the 6800m summit. The trick was to find a rhythm and keep moving. Apart from a few stops to warm hands and take a drink I managed to do this under the watchful eyes of both Chad and  Sherpa Dan Nuru.

Rounding past the Dablam, we followed the fluted but very easy and solid, 30-48 degree snowfields over one rocky-outcrop that ultimately led to the summit of Ama Dablam. Whilst I was relatively acclimatized, this did not stop me from feeling the altitude and the cold. With Chad and the Sherpa Dan Nuru offering both encouragement and support, I managed to slowly (and perhaps rather ungracefully!) amble my way to the summit just as the sun hit.  As I neared the top, Adrian, Sergey and Valdis had started to make their way down. 

The 6800m Summit of Ama Dablam:
I wish that I could say I summited with an air of dignity and strength and power however I must admit that I could do little but fall to my knees as I came over the crest of the final slope and onto the flat summit. And there I sat for a minute as a wave of emotion came over me – happiness, wonder, achievement, and gratefulness to have had the opportunity to climb this mountain with the support and encouragement of such a fabulous team…. 

From the summit of Ama Dablam we were treated to incredibly stunning views of the south Face of Lhotse, Nuptse, Mount Everest, Cho Oyu, Pumori, Shishapangma, Makalu, and the Khumbu Himal. Standing there looking out over the surrounding peaks was worth every second of the work that I’d put into this journey. I felt so tiny amongst the tremendous Himalayan peaks but at the same time, felt so strong and fortunate to have had the opportunity to have been a member of the Alpenglow Ama Dablam team. Huge, huge thank you to Dorji Sonam Galgyen Sherpa, Palden Namgya Sherpa, Danuru Sherpa, Chad Peele, Adrian Ballinger, Sergey and Valdis and Monica Piris as mission-control in BC for this fantastic experience and for all of your encouragement and support..! A special additional thanks to Chad for sacrificing his fingers to take photos for me when my camera-battery froze!! I owe you a bottle of Nepal's finest rum...

Rather than go through the play-by-play of our tedious (but speedy!) descent from the summit I’ll summarise by saying that it went without a hitch and was (surprisingly) much easier than I thought it would be. Even the Mushroom Ridge seemed to pass without drama and I descended the Yellow Tower with significantly more grace (and speed) than ascent..! We reached Camp 1 in record-time and decided to make the most of the creature comforts (Tashi’s fabulous cooking and a bottle of whiskey) in Base Camp.

A million Thank You's to the Alpenglow Expeditions Team...
On behalf of the Makalu-Ama Dablam summit-team, I’d like to extend a huge, huge thank you to everyone who has been following along and for supporting us during these past 2 months. It’s been an adventure of epic proportions and the fabulous memories will remain for many years to come. See you in the Fall 2013!!! 

Exhausted but happy in Camp 2.7
View of Ama on our Summit Day during the walk down
Sergey, Heather, Valdis
On the summit with, Hope for Tomorrow charity

Oct 26, 2012

People You Meet Along the Way: 6800m / 22,300 feet Ama Dablam Summit Success!

AMA DABLAM Summit Success!!! Super happy to report that we summited this gorgeous 6800m mountain yesterday morning and are now safe and sound back in Base Camp enjoying the warmth and food! -20 degrees with a light wind under a clear blue sky and lots of VERY steep, exposed climbing - what an experience!!! Will post more pictures and a full blog update soon. 
Thank you so much to you all for all of your messages of support and for following along via this blog.... and huge thank you to Alpenglow Expeditions guide, Chad Peele, Sherpa Danuru (who were with me every freezing cold step of the way!!) as well as team mates Sergey, Valdiz and Adrian Ballinger for their encouragement, support, humour and for sharing this crazy mountain with me!!

Route to the summit

Steep Grey Tower
The iconic Camp 2
The fixed line(s) - pick a colour...
Recovering in Camp 2.7

The People You Meet: Truly Inspirational Christine Mills, MBE - Hope for Tomorrow Charity

 The blog entry before the epic Ama Dablam "summit day" account may seem like an unusual place to (re)include the profile of a truly inspirational person who I've "met along the way" - and one that certainly inspired me to push on through the past two months on both the Himalayan 8500m giant Makalu and the stunning 6800m technical peak, Ama Dablam. Christine Mills, MBE and the charity founded by Christine, "Hope for Tomorrow" have provided me with heaps of strength and energy to put one foot in front of the other over the past months both in preparing for the expedition and during my time on the mountains. 

Christine is certainly more than one of the 'people you meet along the way'. She is someone who I feel incredibly fortunate to have met and I genuinely can't be more delighted to have had the opportunity to support Hope for Tomorrow to bring her vision and personal commitment to bring cancer treatment 'closer to home' through mobile chemotherapy units.

I have been inspired by her vision, her personal commitment to the charity and her tireless efforts to bring cancer treatment closer to home through mobile chemotherapy units. Over 3000 patients have been treated so far, saving over 70,000 miles of travel. The charity's ambition is to have one mobile-unit in every county in the UK.

If you are interested and inspired by Christine's story, finding out more about Hope for Tomorrow and would like to join me in supporting this amazing cause please refer to the websites below:

Hope for Tomorrow:
Hope for Tomorrow profile on blog:
To contribute to Hope for Tomorrow:

Christine very kindly provided me with some 'expedition' answers just before I departed on this my most recent adventure into the Nepal Himalaya.... 

If you were to go on an expedition for 2 months and hand-pick a team of individuals to be on your team, who would you pick and why? 

Christine: If I were to go on an expedition for 2 months and hand-pick a team of individuals to be on my team, I would like to invite the following to accompany me:

Sir Stirling and Lady Moss – great friends through thick and thin whom I treasure, and without whom I wouldn’t contemplate commencing such a challenge.  Stirling being the ‘Gadget Master’, will be a marvellous asset as he will no doubt bring along with him all the latest devices and technology, to keep us on the right route.

Derek Bell – for his wonderful sense of humour and his renowned endurance, having won the Le Mans 24 hour race 5 times.  Derek is a great friend, and was managed by my husband David for over 20 years.

Dr David English – who wanted to climb ‘Mount Hope for Tomorrow’ with me, and offered his ‘services’ as my Sherpa/Guide.  David will add his enthusiasm and inject energy into the team, keeping us all smiling with his jokes and stories.

Mary Berry – a Bath schoolgirl and AGA cook extraordinaire, Mary would provide wonderful food and a little of the ‘home comforts’ that we would miss up on the mountainside, one of which for me would be my 1934 AGA, with its constant warmth and promise of wonderful cuisine.

Chris Rea – as our very own ‘Bard’, so that we can sit round the camp fire at night, listening to his wonderfully distinctive husky voice as he commemorates our mountainside adventures.  Chris has been a long standing and valued friend of mine and David’s over the years.

Dr Sean Elyan – to ensure the health and wellbeing of my team, I couldn’t go without Sean, with who’s help I launched the Charity back in 2003.  Sean and I share the same vision and I know that with his company on the ‘climb’, we’ll always arrive at our destination, no matter what obstacles may lie in our path.

What was the biggest mountain that you've ever climbed - either figuratively or literally..?

Starting the Charity Hope for Tomorrow has been one of the biggest ‘mountains’ that I have ever climbed.  A humbling and rewarding journey, that wouldn’t have been the same without so many ‘People I Have Met Along The Way’ and as David English so rightly said, “…we will climb ‘Mount Hope for Tomorrow’ together, but we will never reach the top, because we will be forever reaching out for a higher plain…”

On the summit with Hope for Tomorrow &  Bunbury Cricket

Oct 22, 2012

The route to the summit...

Camp 1 on Ama Dablam is perched high up on a rocky ridge offering just enough of a view of the route to the summit to conjure up a range of emotions fluctuating on a sliding scale between excitement and awe to a touch of intimidation and sense of “what the hell have I gotten myself into…??”  You really get the sense you’re no longer ‘trekking’ and that you are well and truly on a very big mountain and that you are definitely "on expedition…."  

Our basic but comfortable camp was high enough on the rocky, slabby ridge to allow us to overlook the other teams perched on narrow rocky tent platforms - high altitude voyeurism. Whilst it isn’t the most comfortable camping spot in the world, the fact that the sun rounds the crest of the mountain and hits the tents at 6.15 AM is a huge plus particularly when everything seems to freeze solid overnight and getting out of the deep, dark depths of a sleeping bags to embrace the day is made somewhat more lucrative (but definitely still difficult!!)!

We arrived at Camp 1 in good time after a walk up from Base Camp – a walk that generally takes about 2.5 hours over gradual, straightforward terrain – most of which can be navigated by nimble-footed yaks. The final section (un-yak-accessable) which can be slightly precarious over giant bouldery terrain is relatively straight forward with a bit of dexterity (however wouldn’t be recommended after a few gin & tonics…) it always is a welcome to see the camp perched about 100m above, a view framed by colourful red, blue, yellow and white prayer-flags fluttering in the breeze.

For me, the start of a “summit push” can be intimidating experience. I’m a chronic worrier (something that I need to learn to manage!) so the opportunity to take time out to reflect and mentally prepare for the four days ahead was most welcome. Looking up at the route that evening in the alpenglow I knew that I was in for quite a challenge... which made me both nervous and excited. 

Our schedule is:
Day 1: Base Camp to Camp 1 (5400m)
Day 2: Camp 1 – Camp 2 (5750m)
Day 3: Rest Day – and breathe!
Day 4: Camp 1 – Camp 2.7 (6300m)
Day 5: Camp 2.7  (6300m) – Summit  (6800m)– Base Camp (hurrah!!)

That evening I dined on Nepal’s finest “raman noodles” with the decadent kit-kat chocolate for dessert and did my best to rehydrate and stay warm by wearing nearly every layer of clothing that I’d brought up. With about 40% of Harry Potter on my kindle, my sleeping bag offered a lucrative and warm hideaway and I had no problems falling asleep..! Big day ahead...!!!

Oct 21, 2012

Ama Dablam Summit push is ON!

It’s the evening before we leave for our Ama Dablam summit push and I am sat in my tent trying to soak up the last bit of warmth before we begin our ascent of the stunning snow-covered pyramid centered firmly in my horizon. We’ve been here at Ama Dablam base camp less than a week and have spent the time resting from our Makalu adventure, eating, sleeping, carrying loads up to Camp 1 and preparing our minds and bodies for the forthcoming challenge. Being acclimatized has certainly helped make the journey up this mountain thoroughly enjoyable supported by a stellar team of Sherpas, fantastic guides and wonderful team mates who are always ready to share a laugh. 

The forecast for our expected summit morning is fantastic with almost 0 winds and a balmy -17 celcius temperature (practically tropical!). The ropes are all in place, our bags are packed, the puja blessing ceremony scheduled for the morning…  I won’t deny it – I’m psyched and ready to climb..! 

We’ll spend 2 nights at Camp 1 and then 1 night at Camp ‘2.7’ before making our final push to the 6800m summit on the morning of 26 October, Nepal time. If all goes well, we will be back in Base Camp that late-afternoon.. ready for a few glasses of rum!

The People You Meet....

Throughout this journey I’ve been inspired by so many of the people that I’ve met along the way. These people have inspired me to push on to find additional strength and motivation to reach the summit of these mountains – or make my way as far as possible up their snowy slopes…! These people have included the likes of Sir David English,  Christine Mills, Isabelle Santoire, Sir Stirling Moss, Charles Finch, the Sherpa, Piers Morgan, Peter Elliott, the team of builders volunteering their time at the Khumbu Climbing School, Captain Ashish, our cook Tashi, guides Adrian Ballinger and Chad Peeleplus many, many more. Some of these people have dazzled me with their genius and art. Others have shared with me insights about how I can live. Others have devoted their life to helping others. Some have conquered mountains while others have built business empires. Some are great artists while others have entertained with their brilliant musical talents. One thing that they all have in common is that they are passionate, talented, and amazing people who have helped to gently shape the moments that have made up this journey – both at work and at play.

Without the tremendous support of these people life would not be nearly as fascinating and mountains would be significantly higher.

On that note, I will post this final blog in the hope that my next will be accompanied by a summit photo and tales of base-camp mojito celebrations. Many many thanks to you all for following along on this  ‘mountaineering journey’. It’s not just the mountain but the mosaic people you meet along the way that make life such an incredible adventure….

Will post again in 4 days time..! ;-)

Oct 19, 2012

Heading up the Mountain! Ama Dablam Camp 1 Gear Carry....

 I’ve had the so-called privilege of slogging, unacclimatised, huffing and puffing, air struggling to reach the deepest, darkest depths of my hypoxic brain up snow slopes and rock faces on various mountains across the world. During these times I pass each heavy footstep dreaming of the day when I can ‘walk’... no, skip... up these slopes and actually stop to enjoy the views rather than feeling like I’m about to keel over in exhaustion as my eyes glaze over…. 

Well, today the day came and all of the time and effort that we put into acclimatizing on Makalu rewarded us in ways that exceeded all of my hopes..! All I can say is, “Being acclimatized is AMAZING. Being acclimatised is the best thing EVER. Mountaineering is actually FUN!!!!!"

We set of from the comforts of basecamp at an absolutely FREEZING hour of 7am (the sun hits camp at 7.36am!). Even a 6am ‘hot towel with black tea’ does little to entice one from the warmth of a sleeping bag when the temperatures outside of the tent are well below zero. Having said that, as soon as we got moving and started to climb up the first grassy slope the warmth soon reached my finger tips and I found my stride… and never looked back..!

The climb up to Camp 1 is mainly on a grassy trail at a comfortable slope with absolutely stunning views all round. This is then followed by a short steep section of bouldery terrain with some nice big granite slabs. With the mighty face of Ama Dablam clearly in our sights, we took every opportunity to stop and take photos and take pleasure in the fact that we were walking at a comfortable pace without huffing and puffing..! Cholatse, the mountain that I attempted in the spring, was to our backs – also an absolutely stunning peak and illuminated by the sunrise – it made for a fabulous walk and had me dreaming of future projects and challenges.

We were heading up to Camp 1 to drop off our technical equipment to save us having to carry the equipment to Camp 1 during the climbing rotation for our summit push. When every ounce of weight matters we do everything that we can to conserve the valuable energy that will be needed during the main part of the climb. As I’ll also be carrying warm clothes and food on my next climb up to Camp 1, every opportunity to get rid of extra weight was most welcome. 

Camp 1 is perched on a ridge in the sunshine and providing a fantastic view of the route to the summit as well as the other Camps. Whilst the tent spaces are limited and the nights will certainly be cold, Camp 1 is stunning and will likely be the more comfortable of the 2 that we’ll be using on the mountain..! We made it up in about 4.5 hours and took an hour to refuel, take photos and start our descent back to Base Camp. A fantastic, rewarding, and satisfying day that really highlighted the levels of fitness we achieved on Makalu and the degree to which acclimatization makes such a big difference.

Between the 4 of us, we celebrated that evening over a delicious dinner complimented by Nepal’s finest rum and toasted to our next foray onto this stunning peak.

Oct 17, 2012

The People You Meet: Building the Khumbu Climbing Centre (KCC) Community Building

High in the Himalaya and deep in the heart of the Khumbu valley near the beaten track to Everest, there is a quiet pastoral village called Phortse that is perched among the clouds and overlooked by the stunning west face pyramid of Ama Dablam. Phortse was a key stop on our route to Ama Dablam base camp allowing us to visit the home of many of our team of Sherpas. Hiking up to Phortse in the warm afternoon sunshine from the gaping gorge of the Dud Kosi river, we were immediately treated with spectacular views and our first glimpse of the terraced fields, yak dung drying in the sun, humble stone houses, a rolling birch forest, grazing yak and seemingly endless views of the Khumbu in the shadow of the holy peak, Khumbila..

A ‘foreign’ sound soon reached our ears as the ‘tap-tap-tap’ of hammers on nails and the faint rumble of a drill broke through the air and mixed with the grunts of the yaks roaming in the terraced fields. The sounds grew closer as Chad, Valdez and I settled into our lodge – our home away from home for the evening before our final stop, Ama Dablam Base Camp.

The source of the foreign sound was quickly revealed as we looked out of the window of our lodge – a group of builders thoroughly absorbed in their trade huddled over a large plank of wood laid on an impressive foundation of a building which looked to be in early stages of construction – The Khumbu Climbing Centre (KCC) school – a project that I’d heard about from our team of Sherpa from the village. 

Background…. (from the website:

In the spring of 2002, Jennie Lowe-Anker and her husband Conrad Anker envisioned a project for the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation. They noticed the proximity of Phortse to abundant ice and rock climbing. They realized a need for better technical training for High Altitude Porters. Statistics showed that a staggering one third of all deaths on Everest were Sherpa. Few had the skills that most Western climbers accept as foundation. The Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC) was launched in 2003 and over the past eight years has become a successful vocational program for indigenous people. Each winter for two weeks, technical climbing skills are taught along with English language, mountain safety, rescue, and wilderness first aid. 

Over four hundred Nepali men and women have attended KCC but due to limited time and space, hundreds more have been turned away. In 2007, the Nepali KCC board expressed a desire for a building to house the Khumbu Climbing Center, allowing for year round classes in Phortse. Land was donated by two local families and legally secured. ALCF collaborated with Montana State University's School of Architecture (SoA) to design the structure. Ongoing creative support of the project is part of the SoA service learning curriculum of "Mountains and Minds". 

Men at work…

As we stood fascinated by the flurry of activity taking place, we were approached by one of the builders, Tim Harrington, the founder of Harrington-Stanko Construction ( with over 35 years of experience in specialised building projects in the Boulder, Colorado area. He and his team of builders also from Boulder were intrigued by the KCC project, inspired by the cause and volunteered to travel to Phortse and donate 3 weeks of their time to help work on the foundation of the building and oversee some of its construction. Tim’s daughter who has spent considerable time in the region told her father that it would be a project that would capture his heart – and she was not mistaken. With a warm smile in his eyes, Tim confirmed that he hasn’t looked back since..! 

We were given a quick overview of some of the key features of the building – the solid, stone walls (traditional dry-stack stone construction) encased by wire-mesh (handmade from a spool of wire on the construction site) are earthquake proof. Even more remarkable is the fact that the bricks for the walls are hand-chipped on-site from stone quarried just outside of the village by locals involved in the project. Additional insulation - passive energy harvesting – will replace the burning of Yak dung, currently the main source of heat. (National afforestation programs and conservation severely limit the use of wood.) This will dramatically improve Nepalese health.

Another example of the local ingenuity involved in the project is the way that the long cedar (?) planks are meticulously cut. Using a string that served as a ‘level’ and one very long saw set perpendicularly between two beams, two locals were hard at work cutting the large planks.

The building will be the first earthquake resistant and passive solar structure in the region. It is open-source to encourage building in safer and more sustainable ways. Once completed, it will house climbing gear, educational materials, an indoor training wall, library, solar showers and community centre, providing the capacity to generate income for the KCC program to continue and thrive.

That evening we sat with Tim and his team and shared travel stories and jokes whilst being entertained by Mingma, one of the boys from the community who had developed his skills as a card-shark and discovered the rather explosive properties of a can of Coke when shaken…

Making bricks from stone

Tools of the trade for brick making

Earthquake proof wall with insulation

Wire mesh made on-site to encase the walls

Hard at work ensuring all is level...

Image of what the final building will look like and overview of foundations

About Alex Lowe and the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF)

Alex Lowe was not only one of the great alpinists of his time, he was also a man who had a remarkable impact on many of the people indigenous to the high mountain regions where his expeditions took him. Alex was blessed with many unique gifts including the ability to climb the world's most challenging peaks, and the capability to connect with, and love, the people he met in some of the most remote areas of the world. His sheer enthusiasm for adventure and compassion for the difficult lives led by these people stands as a continuing inspiration for those who knew and admired Alex.

The Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF) is dedicated to preserving his legacy by providing direction and financial support to sustainable, community-based humanitarian programs designed to help the people who live in remote regions of the world. This foundation carries on Alex's spirit of adventure.

For more information or to contribute please visit the ALCF website,

Oct 15, 2012

Enroute to climb Ama Dablam - Back in Namche Bazaar....

Following a delicious breakfast of porridge, cereal and bottomless cups of tea from a spotlessly clean lodge we set out under a cloudless blue sky from the small village of Monjo this morning up 'Namche Hill' to the thriving metropolis of Namche Bazaar... As usual we are graced with absolutely breathtaking views through the Khumbu Valley in the shadow of Everest off in the distance.  I've done this walk now numerous times and the views never cease to disappoint. The narrow path cut into the side of the hill  and heavy yak traffic means we often walk in a long and winding 'trekking train'; the sounds of the white-water of the Duda Kosi river far below broken only by the 'clink' of our trekking poles chipping against the rock underfoot and the occasional porter carrying small battery powered radios playing what I can only assume is the Nepali Top 40.

The smells along the trail enliven and overwhelm the senses. The valley is filled with smell of sweet blossoms, richy fertilised earth turned over by local farmers planting potatoes in their fields, the intoxicating smell of crushed juniper underfoot, the sweet milky smell of the porters carrying their heavy loads,  and the occasional pile of steamy yak dung planted unceremoniously in the middle of the trail. Whilst it is a rather unique combination of scents and not altogether unpleasant, I don't suspect that 'Eau de Nepal' will be bottled and sold in a French perfumerie any time soon.

While the path is undulating and steep in certain sections, it is by no means impossible and for anyone considering a trek in the Himalayas where they can enjoy relative 'creature comforts' (beds, culture and hospitality of the local people, fantastic food, breath taking views...) I would highly recommend it. There are literally people of all ages, shapes and sizes along the trail making the experience their own. 

A challenging part of the walk has been to try and stay on the left side of the 'mani-walls', 'stupas' and prayer wheels which are found along auspicious sections of the trail and at the entrance to the numerous villages through which we pass. Mani walls are generally about 4-feet in height and can range from 4 feet - 30 feet in length and are made up of flat stones carved with the mantra (prayer) "Om Mani Padme Hum" which means (roughly) 'Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Diligence, Renunciation, Wisdom'  Given the early arrival of the high winds on Makalu last month I refuse to take any chances with charma and have been giving each stupa, mani wall, and prayer wheel its due respect!

Spinning the written form of the mantra around in a Mani wheel (or prayer wheel) is also believed to give the same benefit as saying the mantra, and Mani wheels, small hand wheels and large wheels with millions of copies of the mantra inside, are found not only in Nepal but everywhere in lands influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. 

We made it up 'Namche Hill' in almost record time and settled into our gorgeous lodge which looks out over Namche. Breathtaking view of many mountains and routes (the Losar ice climb will be EPIC in a few weeks time!). SO many things to do, so little time.!

It's also been great to see old friends here - Tsadam, KC at Sherpaland, as well as the team here at the Internet Cafe and the bar downstairs where I've spent (perhaps!) too many evenings enjoying the hot rum punch...!

Our group 'splits' tomorrow as Valdes, Chad and I (taking advantage of our 'Makalu Acclimatisation' continue on to Phortse and then on to Ama Dablam Base Camp. The rest of the team will continue with their acclimatisation here and meet up with us in a few days time.

It's great to be back in the Khumbu and to be moving on tomorrow - am very much looking forward to our day into Phortse, meeting up with the Sherpa team and the adventure ahead on Ama Dablam..!

Police checkpoint to check permits...