A little climbing in Switzerland anyone?

Well what would you say to that? In June, with ice-axes, and crampons on glaciers, and scaling big peaks of 14,000 feet with ropes and harnesses and stuff? I’d say you’re mad, if you asked me to do it. Completely barking in fact. So why the heck have I just paid over £1,000 to do exactly that? Let me unwind a bit here……

OK, so three days ago (or was it two?). I think I decided that I wanted to go to Everest Base Camp. In fact I did decide just that. But then I decided that just getting to EBC wasn’t going to be enough, and so I had to ‘throw another mountain in there somewhere’, as you do:) That’s what got me to thinking of either Island Peak, or Mera Peak (see last blog post for details). And I got to those two because of all the trekking companies that I have googled, those two trips just appeal the most. Both are higher than Kili, both get me views of the highest mountains on the planet, and both let me climb to a summit. I get that incredible, outstanding rush of adrenalin, achievement, satisfaction, happiness, that getting to the top of a mountain gives you, or gives me at any rate.

I have looked at four different companies to get me there, and all seem great. They are, in no particular order; Safejourneys, Jagged Globe, Exodus, and Responsible Travel. Each has a tweak or a twist to this and that, but pretty much any of them will get me to where (I think) I want to go, and at the time I want to do it, which is in the next available weather window (i.e when the monsoon passes) which is October/November time this year. I have emailed or spoken to each, and they have been very responsive and helpful. In each case one thing is apparent – Island Peak is not for the novice. It is classified as PD+ in mountaineering parlance, and needs the use of jumars, abseil devices, ice axes and crampons. These are beyond me altogether right now. Not wanting to be beaten however, I thought therefore that I would ask if there was a way that I could take a crash course or something like that. And lo and behold there is…..

Which brings me back to Switzerland. I was told by one of the aforementioned companies (in fact it was Jagged Globe, they have been great), that if I was to take their Alpine Introduction course in Switzerland, that they would let me go and climb Island Peak with them. And before you get cynical here, and think “they’re just trying to make extra money out of people”, actually that’s not the way it happened, so I should explain that differently. I, in fact, asked all the questions here, and asked their permission, as opposed to the other way round.

In any case, the course in Switzerland looks great. I get to learn, and that is great for me. I love to be educated – that is a great thrill in itself. When googling various things about Everest the other day (I have turned into a sad geek here already I know) I came across this great quote from Sherpa Tenzing (as in the Sherpa Tenzing, the first man up Everest in 1953 with Edmund Hillary), which goes like this: “To travel, to experience and learn, that is to live….“. I love that, I really do. So the course itself covers things as follows, amongst others:

– Glacier travel.
– Crevasse rescue.
– Route finding and navigation.
– Roping-up and short roping techniques.
– Appropriate ice axe and crampon technique.
– Movement on Alpine terrain (rock, snow and ice).
– Belaying and protection.
– Mountaineering on routes graded Alpine F to PD.

I get to climb a few 4,000m peaks along the way apparently (sounds easier said than done of you ask me), and in 8 days I hope to learn a lot. They have also said that if I want to ‘take my fixed-line equipment with me’ (oh yeah, I’ll just grab it out of my drawer I said) then they will teach me those techniques whilst there too. You see, they don’t do fixed line stuff in the Alps, apparently. My God I have so much to learn, and so much to buy!

So anyway, the point of this is that I am booked! 18th of June it is, off to Arolla in Switzerland. Exciting, it is 🙂 I should get all of the details in the mail tomorrow.

Meantime I have a 60 mile bike ride coming up in four days time to distract me, which I am really looking forward to. It is my first ever ‘Sportive’, and I want to go and raise a few quid for Breast Cancer, which is the main charity for the ride, which is ‘The Classic Oxfordshire’. It’s all go, it really is………….

Decisions decisions……

It would appear that one of the things about Everest Base Camp (let’s call it, as most people seem to do, ‘EBC’ for short) that frustrates you from the very off, is just how to do it in the first place. There just appear to be some pretty large and complicated decisions to take. The two biggest issues, for me at any rate, are the time it takes, and then what to do alongside it, if anything. Let me explain further.

As regards time, a trip to most mountains, even Kilimanjaro, isn’t going to devour 90% or so of your annual holiday allowance. Everest on the other hand does – the shortest trip I can find anywhere at all takes 18 days, and so there is three weeks holiday gone right there. Some trips are longer. Kilimanjaro, even allowing for travelling each way to Africa, is just a 10 day jaunt. You could do say Mont Blanc in four. You could even do probably three or four of the other Seven Summits in no more than 10 days, and that includes summitting. With EBC you don’t even do that – you just trek a long way to a pretty desolate rocky campsite (OK, so just not any desolate rocky campsite :)), and with no view of Everest even from there. I think that is why it is to some people a little frustrating. More of the time factor later however.

Now as regards the “how” – take also two of my friends for example, one of whom has been there, and the other one who wants to go. The one who has been (whom I shan’t name) is delighted by the whole experience etc etc, but really wished he’d gone to Annapurna, for better trekking and better views. The other, whom I shall call Paul (which is his name after all :)), wants to go to EBC, but would find the thought of not being able to climb it (i.e. Everest itself) very frustrating indeed, and I empathise with that totally. That is, after all, what mountains are there for. He’d also like to see Annapurna (and who doesn’t!), and would prefer to combine the two. Trouble is that would take even more time (they are not exactly next door to each other even if they are both in Nepal), and so for me that means it is Everest and Everest only…..

Which brings me on to the second problem therefore, i.e, what to do ‘with’ it, by which I mean ‘alongside’. I feel like I have to be able to climb something (using the word ‘climb’ in it’s loosest sense of course given my abilities, or lack of them). And so when I looked at the various trekking companies who do Everest (and there are bunches of them), there are a few ‘add-ons’ that you can do. I therefore got to looking at two in particular, one being Island Peak, and the other Mera Peak. Island Peak, which sort of sounds to me a bit innocuous, turns out to be a bit (and that may be the understatement of all time) scary. See for example the video below which I found on Youtube. Look in particular at the section from about 2:40 – 3:40, and these people are lucky in that it appears to be a calm and clear day – imagine if the wind was blowing, and bear in mind also that this is at about 21,000 feet:

Now Mera Peak, which I have only heard of because there is a Berghaus jacket named after it :), is apparently the highest trekking peak in the Himalayas. It is, at 6,450m or so, higher than Island Peak (6,189m), but less of a technical climb to get there. Here is someone’s Youtube video from the summit – you still need crampons and ice-axes and the like, but no technical climbing as such. You also get to see 5 of the world’s 6 (or is it 7) highest mountains (Everest, Makalu, Lohtse, Cho Oyo, and Kangchenchunga) from the top. That has to be outrageously exciting:

So anyway, I could do Mera Peak probably, even though it is around 1,500 feet higher than Kilimanjaro. Island Peak, although a little lower, is a different ballgame for me. You need fixed line experience, and jumars, and ascenders, and cow’s tails, whatever they are. I haven’t got the skills it seems, and that means that they are probably going to make it impossible for me, unless…………….more in a later post on that one, I’m not being beaten yet!

And of course to do one of these two little sidebar jaunts adds another four days on to your trip. So instead of 18 days, it becomes 22 or 23 days. Does any of this put me off? Not on your Nelly!!

I have the bit between my teeth, I am the dog with the bone. I will do this. It has become bigger than even Kilimanjaro, and is not yet off the ground. I need to get it there, and will be concentrating all my efforts on it for the foreseeable future. It absolutely consumes me at that the moment, and that is a wonderful thing. I have so much that I need to learn, and I even bought another seven (yes really) books on Everest and trekking in Nepal off Amazon yesterday. Oh and yes a shiny new camera too 😀

More of these deliberations very soon, including an interim climbing (yes really) trip in the offing to Switzerland. I must be mad…….