The Training Begins

So as I write this I am actually on a treadmill. Strange but true! I’m obviously not running, but walking at 3.5mph, which is apparently the recommended training walking pace that I read somewhere or other for Himalayan training. For yes, indeed, the training for Island Peak starts today!

I have been dithering and procrastinating (yes, me!) for a little while as to how and when to commence this. Part of me said that I can wait a while, especially as I am currently cycling around 100 miles a week (on the good weeks that is :)), but then training for altitude walks is altogether different, and the last thing I want is to get half way up Island Peak in October and think that I really wish I had pushed myself harder. I know that I have to walk up a 55 to 60 degree ice wall to get to the summit ridge on Island Peak, and that will be when the legs are screaming, and with so little oxygen at 21,000 feet or so, that’s when I want to know that my legs don’t let me down.

And then I looked at a few suggested training programmes online. They are all different to varying degrees, but not one of them suggests that you should start training less than six months before you go. I then looked at the calendar – just over four months to go – wow, got to get a move on, and now!

So my training programme will at a high level be to almost forget about the cycling and to concentrate on the gym. This is a shame in a way, as with the summer months upon us (even if the current weather is horrible – wet and 25mph winds, temp 13c/52f) I’d much rather be out on my bike than in a hot gym. And I hate treadmills, they bore me beyond belief.

So having looked at some good sites (including Alan Arnette’s, which I love more every day), I have settled on starting with a mix of the following:

Bench step ups
Sit ups
Pull ups – (in my dreams!)
Superman push ups
Back extensions
Treadmill – boo!
And a few weights, bent rows and the like.

The idea is to get a combination of aerobic work, leg strength, and core. The core is crucial, lower back and core take a pounding and especially as for the last few days before the summit we will be carrying all of our own equipment. I have decided to try to do the pull ups, even though I am utterly hopeless at them. My legs are pretty strong at the moment but my upper body is very weak, so I need to improve things for sure.

And so at the end of a good and long gym session (I’m back now, knackered), I feel great. I also know that I have a long long way to go, and am so glad to have started today – it will get me more focussed and determined to achieve my targets. The gym was deserted too, which is nice.

Nice to have the place almost to myself at weekends

I managed just three pull ups, which is embarrassing I know, but I write it here to hopefully remind myself of how hopeless I was when I look back in a few months time. Maybe I will get worse of course :o. The rest of the exercise was fine, and I did about half an hour on the treadmill, probably a record for me! I also did about 50 sit ups, the plank, and even went for a swim afterwards.

I then thought I would test my fitness out after I had done everything, and did the ‘Cooper Test’ on a stationary bike. This is a test to check your VO2 max. When I did Kili, at the point that I started training I was at about 28, which I think was “average for my age”. When the bulk of my training was completed, I had increased my VO2 max to 45, which I was delighted with, as it put me apparently into the 95th percentile ‘for my age’ (there’s that phrase again). Well today I totally exceeded all my expectations, and here is a picture of the result:

My best result so far.......

So if I told you that I was now delighted with a score of 56 it would be the understatement of the decade.

I just need to get me into a routine now where I keep it up, and get my core strength up, a lot. The climbing course in Switzerland in three weeks time will be very telling too to let me know where I am at. I can’t wait for that to come around – mountains and glaciers in June – why have I never done that before? Bring it on……

Alan Arnette Summits Everest!

I have been following a few of the Everest blogs recently, just because I am hopelessly obsessed about the place. In between reading several books of various expeditions, like ‘Into Thin Air’, ‘The Climb’, ‘Left For Dead’, and ‘Die Trying, I also have been watching the excellent ‘Beyond The Limit’ series on DVD, which was originally a Discovery Channel 6 part series about a successful climb in 2006. I just cannot get enough in my quest for more knowledge on what it must really be like to be able to climb it.

Anyway, there are some excellent blogs out there too, and I have been following three of them closely. The Everest season is in full swing now, as May is the (effectively only) month when people get to the summit, this being because it is the only safe weather window when it actually becomes possible to even attempt it.

I just wanted this to be a brief link for now to say that I am near ecstatic on reading the success of Alan Arnette, who has one of the best blogs I have ever read. Alan is an American guy who lost his Mum and two Aunts to Alzheimer’s. He is in the midst of doing the Seven Summits in 12 months to raise money and awareness for the disease. He has completed Vinson (Antarctica), and Aconcagua (South America) so far. His strapline for each post is “Memories are Everything”, which is extremely poignant. He tried to summit Everest three times previously, and got to within a thousand feet or less of the summit on each occasion, but at the weekend, 5am May 21st 2011 to be exact, he made it.

The link is pasted below:

The rest of Alan’s blog is fantastic too – brilliantly wtitten, extremely entertaining, and hugely emotional, stimulating and inspirational . I’d encourage anyone with a modicum of Everest interest to follow it. I’ll be following the rest of his Seven Summit attempts very closely over the rest of the year too, and have placed a link to it in my blogroll section. I’m giving some money to his chosen charity too, and there’s a link on his site for anyone who is interested in doing likewise.

All of this makes the dream more real to me. I shall keep reading with more than just a little bit of interest, and a huge amount desire and determination. This year will be a pivotal one for me in that respect in so many ways……..

Is Someone Trying To Tell Me Something……..?

I was going to entitle this post “Something freaked me out on the way to the bookstore”, but that wouldn’t have been quite correct, for reasons which will become apparent in a minute. The spooky/freaky part is true however…….

So what happened is that over the last few days my ‘reading materials’ have been arriving for my trip in October. On the ‘Trip Notes’ supplied to me by Exodus Travel, was a recommended reading list, and having looked at it, I couldn’t decide which of the books to buy. Now this may not surprise anyone who knows me, as I do sometimes suffer from almost complete paralysis when it comes to making what might appear the simplest of decisions. I think this is an inherent inbuilt defect of mine, or one of the many.

Take for example something like a restaurant menu, which can sometimes floor me just by itself, unless I have been to the restaurant before of course, in which case I will order what I ordered the last time I was there 99.9% of the time. I could stare at restaurant menus for ages, they are just very interesting things, and choosing is very hard. What generally happens with me is that I’ll narrow my choice down to maybe two things, or sometimes three, and then ask what the people I am with are having. If one of them is having (as they of course made their minds up very readily and certainly within a few minutes of looking at the menu) something that is on my ‘list’, then I have to dismiss everything from my list and start looking all over again. I am sure this is incredibly frustrating for everyone else, and maybe accounts for the fact that I don’t get invited out to restaurants very often.

The worst moments happen when a ‘surprise question’ is thrown at me by the person taking the order – waiters and the like, those sort of people. They can freeze me to the spot. I was in a pub the other day and narrowed down my lunch choice (from a list of about twenty items, and inside about four minutes, exceptional for me) to a Steak Sandwich with onions. I was very pleased with myself and about to turn around and go find a table, when the guy taking the order said to me “do you want that on white or brown or a baguette”. Oh heck – did he know who he was talking to? I had no idea, I mean none whatsoever! You see it wasn’t written down on the menu as such – it just said “steak sandwich with onions – £5.99”. Nice and easy see, I didn’t even have to choose ‘with or without onions’.

Now if it had said “available on brown or white bread or a baguette” I could have thought about it and chosen in advance. It would have taken a few more minutes, granted, but it wouldn’t have been too hard, even for me. Instead I am stood there like some sort of Mr. Bean lookalike, sort of half bending over and making strange facial expressions. All the while I am thinking “what if the baguette is a little on the hard side – then I will wish that I had chosen the white”, and then “but surely the brown is better for me”, and then “but brown just doesn’t taste as good does it?” and so on. I then say “ermmm, I don’t know”, which is a bit pathetic really isn’t it! I mean it is not after all the hardest decision in the world, is it? I drive myself nuts, I really do:D

Sometimes I get asked ridiculously hard questions, like when I choose some water, and I get asked “still or sparkling sir?”. Arrrrrrggghhhhhhh – I know I should be prepared for that one, but it floors me every time, it really does. Anyone reading this is probably thinking “Christ this guy is a nutter of major proportions and a nightmare to go for a meal with”. Everyone is thinking that apart from my daughter that is, who is a lot worse than me, I assure you. You have to be there sometimes, you really do, or maybe you don’t.

Anyway, as I was saying about the books, I got a list of nine books from Exodus, all about either Nepal treks or the Everest region. Some people would have chosen one or two. Some people may not have chosen any. I looked at the list and thought (no, I won’t tell you what I thought, it’ll take all night) ‘oh bugger, what do I do now?’. What I then did was to study the list more closely and found out that I already had two of them and was currently reading them both (as I couldn’t decide which one to read first – I have about twenty other books beside my bed for the same reason). So I thought, “I know, I’ll buy all of the remaining seven”, and so I did. Easy, see!

So here I am looking at the expanding pile of books coming into the house, and stacking them on my bedside table (I never, ever read in bed either, so why I do that I don’t know), when I realise eventually that I didn’t receive seven books but eight. And here is the point of the title of this post too: I should say here that within me, despite my absolutely apparent inability to do anything more than just to trek to base camp (and I hope I can achieve at least that), is a desire to climb the big one. I cannot think of anything more exulting or exciting, or difficult, or with as much sense of achievement next to it, even for people who climb mountains all their live, let alone me. In fact I am also, coincidentally (or actually not coincidentally at all) watching a few DVDs that I bought on climbing Everest too. Just out of ‘interest’ you understand….

So anyway, there amongst “Trekking in the Everest Region”, “Everest, A Mountaineering History” and “In the Footsteps of Tenzing Norgay”, and the others is a book that I did not, I can asssure you, buy. I know that because it is not on the list, so I wouldn’t have even known about it. And if I had I would have had to choose it from a list or something :). The title of the book? It is called “Die Trying”. I kid you not. The subtitle is “One Man’s Attempts to Conquer the World’s highest Seven Summits”.

I will read the book, eventually. I hope, for one, even if perhaps there are a few waiters and waitresses around these parts who think otherwise, that the ‘book’ has a happy ending……

Island Peak

So having decided to climb Island Peak (or Imja Tse, to give it it’s correct name), I thought I’d put some information up here for those who (like me as of a month back) haven’t heard of it before.

The mountain of Island Peak is 6,189m (or 20,305 feet) high. It is officially a spur, or ridge extension coming off part of Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain on earth (the other three being Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga). It was apparently named in 1951 as it appears to look like an island in a sea of ice when viewed from Dingboche, a popular trekking stop en route to Everest Base Camp. It was first climbed by a British team as a preparation for the first successful Everest trip that same year. One Tenzing Norgay was part of the team, apparently.

Imja Tse......

It is classified as a PD+ climb. PD stands for Peu Difficile in Alpine terminology, and a list of Alpine and other terms are included in the link below:

There are apparently two ways to the top. There is a base camp at about 5,100m from where you can make a summit attempt, or a high camp at 5,600m, leading to a shorter summit day. As far as I understand it , where you start from depends upon the conditions at the time and also the group doing it (i.e the climbing sherpas will assess snow conditions etc. and the liklihood of the group being able to sleep at the higher altitude). When I did Kilimanjaro the highest we slept was at about 4,800m, which was a struggle, and so this will in either case be a step up for me. We will stay in tents whilst there. All being well we will be reasonably acclimatised as we will get there after having been to Kala Patthar (5,545m) at Everest a few days before.

After base camp there is a climb and a scramble to get onto the glacier, after which it is a crampon and ice-axe approach. The final 250m or so is on fixed ropes, involving jumars and harnesses. A climbing sherpa will fix the lines for us, and the slope is at about 55 degrees on ice. The final ridge up to the summit looks terrifying to me, I cannot describe it in any other way.

Here is a picture that someone took on the summit:

I so want to be stood where they are....

From the top, as long as the weather doesn’t hamper the view, there will be views of Makalu, Lhotse, Kangchenjunga (three of the five highest mountains on the planet). Everest itself will be hidden behind Lhotse, which at 8,500m or so, will still tower some 2.5km above us, even at the height we are at. Staggering!

The descent is an abseil down from the summit ridge over the headwall, and back over the glacier. Apparently there are potentially crevasses which may need the use of ladders to get over.

From there the trek back goes back over what is apparently a really fantastic ridge to a place called Phunki Tenga, and then eventually back to Namche Bazaar and the airport at Lukla. That will be day 20 of the trek, so there is a huge amount to get done in that time, including Everest Base Camp on the way.

If I told you here and now that I was excited about this, then it would be the biggest understatement that I may have ever made. I actually never thought after Kilimanjaro that I could ever rekindle the feelings that I had then. Little did I know that I would be doing this so soon afterwards, or that it would be as much of a thrill as it is to be heading out to the Himalayas.

So that’s Island Peak then. It is beyond my ability level, and will be way beyond my comfort zone when I am there, no matter what I do between here and then. I want to push myself though, as hard as I can, and this will not, I already know (or should I say I hope!), be my last trip to the Himalayas……….

Bring it on – I am already counting down the days.

I’ve only gone and booked it!

This is an extremely quick update, as well, I’m at work, and supposed to be doing other things. Except I’m not. I have just BOOKED IT!!

On the 19th October 2011, I shall be flying via Delhi to Kathmandu, and then on to Lukla for the start of the trip proper. Some time around the 31st October I will be at Everest Base Camp (I can’t believe I am actually writing this, I really can’t), and then around the 4th November I will (I pray!) be at 6,189m, or 20,300 feet on Island Peak. The trip is 22 days altogether.

I have so much to do, so much training to do, so many things to buy, so much blogging to do 😀

For now I will savour the moment (and get back to work, if I can concentrate at all, which is unlikely), of this:

Everest, here I come!!!

Jumars, Prussic Loops, and a Larks Foot

So I decided I should start to get myself up to speed with what equipment I would need the other day, and the recommendation came from the Jagged Globe guys (with whom I’ve booked my forthcoming Alpine Introductions course) that I should get myself a fixed line system and practice with it. I therefore thought I should best find out what the heck a fixed line system actually was, and it has opened up a whole new (and frankly terrifying) world. Welcome to jumars, prussic loops, HMS Seagate fasteners, cow’s tails, and the like!

It seems that a jumar is an ascending device, which acts like a one way ‘grabber’, so that it moves freely one way, but not at all in the other, thus enabling you to move up a fixed rope. I have no idea at all what a prussic loop is, or indeed what the difference is between a D-shape and an HMS carabiner, and that is despite going to buy them at the weekend (and in fact now owning them!).

It seems very odd, that having been fortunate enough to have spent a fair few occasions in my life trekking or otherwise in the mountains, I have never even come across these terms. I think I abseiled once as a kid, but as to knowing what equipment you actually need (other than rope that is :)) for it leaves me at a loss altogether.

So there I am in Cotswold Outdoors at the weekend, and I tell the guy that I have a (very well put together, with pictures for people like me :)) list of equipment to buy. Every question I asked however, was met with other ones that I didn’t understand. Phrases like ‘belaying’ , and ‘slings’ and ‘figures of eight’ would come up, and I just wondered if I really would be better off doing something much safer and easier to understand, with words and phrases in English too. Maybe like dominoes or something?

I mean, what is the difference between harnesses? They are surely all the same, aren’t they? And why do you need climbing trousers? And what is a B3 boot? Why might I want 9mm rope? Should I get the 8mm instead? Or the 10mm? How do I know? And what on earth is a Larks Foot knot? If I can’t tie my cow’s tail rope device thingy using one am I going to fall off the mountain? These things could, after all, be rather important, at the very least. I also at one point in time ended up in the shop suspended from the ceiling in a harness, and I thought I was going to spin upside down at one point, flying-trapeze like.

All of these things therefore leave me very uneasy. I desperately want to book my trip to the Himalayas, and would hate it if I missed out and they got booked up soon. But I also feel like I should wait until after my climbing course next month to help me shape my trip. I could book the less-technical (but higher) Mera Peak trip, but that would mean I wouldn’t get to see Everest Base Camp. If I do Island Peak then I get to go to EBC en route. And although everyone who has been tells me that EBC is very much an eyesore at the very best, you just have to go there, don’t you? I mean, every Everest Expedition there has ever been (at least as far as I know) has made the trek up to EBC, so you are following in the footsteps of Hillary, Bonnington, and all the greats. I can’t go to the Himalayas and not tick it off the list, I really can’t.

Anyway, for the record, I came out of Cotswold Outdoors (thanks to Nick in there, he was great) with a Petzl Corax harness, 2.5m of 8mm rope, an HMS carabiner, a D shape carabiner, a Petzl right-handed jumar, and a roll of duct tape. Maybe the duct tape is for my mouth to stifle my screams, who knows? All I have to do now is tie the damn things together, and then learn what do do with the bloody thing. Larks Foot knot instructions anyone?

‘Oh my giddy Aunt’, as they say……..

RIP Severiano Ballesteros – 1957 – 2011

I decided some time ago (in fact from the start) that my blog would never be about trivia, or even things much more important than that, like relationships and family. Those latter things are the truly important things in life, and putting thoughts down here in a blog about them can firstly never capture them properly, but also is just not a medium for them. Not for me anyway. The only exception I think I have made to this is when on the eve of my trip to Kilimanjaro, I put a post up about my Mam, who had died ten years previously, and I wanted to pay tribute to her, as I was climbing Kili to (amongst other things) raise funds for Bowel Cancer, from which she had ultimately died. I say this as a bit of a precursor to this post, but not an apology for it, as I wanted to record today as an exceptionally sad and emotional day in my life, and one that I will reflect on in my future endeavours and efforts in life.

Today the incredibly sad news was announced that Severiano Ballesteros, former world no.1 golfer and five times major winner, died from Brain Cancer, after a long illness stretching from 2008. I don’t remember the last time that I cried, but that happened today. Severiano (or just “Seve” as he was universally known) was an incredible icon, inspiration, and hero to me. I was brought up with golf by my Dad, and was lucky enough to see a lot of golf from inside the ropes as a part time European PGA tour caddie during the mid 1980s. I was also lucky enough to have met him and caddied in the same group as him, when I was caddying for fellow Spaniard Jose-Maria Canizares.

I followed golf and Seve’s career quite arduosly, and having been at probably ten British Open Championships from around 1981 to 1990, he was always (alongside my other childhood hero Jack Nicklaus) the one I looked out for on the course. When Jack Nicklaus walked down the 18th fairway the crowds would roar, and give him a standing ovation for his fantastic achievements, and it made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. With Seve the crowds would follow him everywhere, which was often where he was, so wayward sometimes were some of his shots. And that was the thing about Seve – he was a marvel, a magician, a genius in every sense of the word, but he was also almost ‘human’ – he could sometimes just knock one into the trees like the average golfer. It was then what he did with it when it was there that made him so special. I remember seeing Seve play shots that I thought were impossible – he left me speechless altogether.

Seve, for the record, won 91 professional golf tournaments, including five major chamionships. He also has alongside Jose Maria Olazabal an unparalleled record in foursomes at the Ryder Cup, and his determination at that event simply made it what it is today, no question about it at all. I have to put the following clip in here, which is from the 1984 British Open at St Andrews, where the expression upon his face at sinking the winning putt epitomises so much of how Seve played his golf, and entertained at the same time:

I want though, to remember Seve for so much more than just his achievements in terms of golfing prowess. The following tribute, which was his Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show, is very fitting indeed, and shows the mark of the man:

Seve’s ruthless determination to win is also embodied in this quote, made I cannot remember when, but it is just him all over:

“I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back, and wish them luck, but I am thinking, ‘I am going to bury you.”

For me, Seve was also the ultimate professional. It stood him above golf, and above sport. He had flair, yes; talent in abundance; drive and determination in spades. But he also had something else – he fought like a tiger, but was fair and graceful in defeat. He did anything and everything to win, and often did, but was so passionate and majestic in the way he carried himself, at all times. He transcended sport itself in fact, and made not just people who didn’t follow golf follow golf, but people who didn’t like sport at all like golf. He made them like Seve, because you couldn’t not like Seve.

He was a true gentleman, and an incredible ambassador for his country, for golf, and for life. He had passion, determination, and was and always will be, a winner.

Seve, you are my hero, the person I admire most in all of sport, and I cannot see that ever changing.

Rest in Peace.