Mont Blanc 2014 Day 2

Day 2 began in very relaxed style, with a lie in until a ridiculously pleasant 7.30, and breakfast at 8. We would be heading into Italy for a three day trip to attempt Gran Paradiso, the highest mountain entirely within Italy, at 4,061m, which would be great preparation and acclimatisation for our attempt at Mont Blanc later in the week.

The chalet we are staying in also doubles as skiing accommodation in the winter, and has a view of both sides of the Chamonix valley, so it was such a nice start to the trip.

View from the chalet of the western side of the Chamonix valley.......

View from the chalet of the western side of the Chamonix valley…….

....and the view to the Eastern side, the far end of Mont Blanc peering into view.

….and the view to the Eastern side, the far end of Mont Blanc peering into view.

Following breakfast our guides arrived to do a full kit inspection. We had to lie everything out on our beds so as to make sure that we had all that we needed for the trips ahead of us. I had previously made the decision to hire mountaineering boots, crampons, ice axe, helmet and harness from them, and so apart for those all I didn’t ‘pass’ on where my sunglasses. As we’d be doing a fair bit of glacier work the guide advised me to have Cat 4 glasses (mine are of unknown classification, but certainly aren’t Cat 4).

The guides then took us into town prior to getting our hire equipment, so we could buy what we needed, and also to pick up some food for the next two days whilst we were away in Italy. Once we’d shopped (I picked up a rather nice, if rather expensive, pair of folding carbon poles while I was shopping too :)) we headed back to leave for Italy on the minibus. I think pretty much everyone else had everything they needed too, other than Katya, who needed a bigger rucksack, and she picked up a really nice Millet one.

After a drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel and then a gorgeous winding run around hairpin bends across and over the Aosta valley (oh and a cheeky spot of pasta lunch too at a campsite restaurant) we began a very hot ascent up to our ultimate destination for the night, the Chabon hut in the Gran Paradiso national park.

We set off from quite high up, at about 1,800m, and it was already noticeable that the air was thinner than I am used to, and so it took a little while to adjust to it, but it was fine really, the main problem being the heat, even at this altitude.

Taking a breather early on the path up to the Chabon Hut

Taking a breather early on the path up to the Chabon Hut

Apart from the heat the main problem I had though was my boots. The guides wanted us to walk up in our mountaineering boots so as to make sure they didn’t give us blisters etc. Now me and borrowed boots don’t really get on very well it has to be said. Or moreover I have crap feet. When boots fit me I’m great and don’t have any problems, but if something isn’t quite right then it can be horrible, and here I just couldn’t get comfortable. Mountaineering boots are fairly unforgiving anyway being so stiff in the sole, but mine were just tight across the mid foot and I also had heel lift, a bad combination.

The walk was a two and a half hour trek to the hut at 2,700m. It was always really hot but really picturesque. I was so glad to arrive and my boots came off within seconds! I was horrified to find that I had failed to pack Compeed in my rucksack (it was down the valley in my bag in Chamonix), but thankfully I managed to borrow some from one of the others, and so was hopefully going to be good to go for the following morning.

The Chabon hut was my first in Italy (I’ve been in huts in France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria before though, and they are all slightly different). It was a nice hut, with plenty of room in the dormitory, and a decent bathroom too. We were of course in Italy so that meant lashings of pasta for dinner which I couldn’t wait for 🙂 The hut sleeps about 80 people, and they are building an extension to increase capacity. Everyone else was there to climb Gran Paradiso too.

The Chabon hut, Gran Paradiso national park.

The Chabon hut, Gran Paradiso national park.

There was also a good view up from the hut of our objective the next morning, Gran Paradiso itself! Although we couldn’t quite see the summit, most of the mountain and the glacier were in view, and it looked a long way up – the ascent would be about 1,400m in fact.

Looking up the glacier from the Chabon hut - the summit is hidden at the back right of the picture.

Looking up the glacier from the Chabon hut – the summit is hidden at the back middle of the picture.

Once settled in, we had a practice session putting on crampons and ropes and the like ready for the morning, as our next time doing this would be in the dark on the glacier in the  morning. Following this we all tucked in to a massive dinner of spaghetti bolognaise, followed by a big plate of stew, then chocolate mousse. It would have been rude to say no! Then it was an early night with lights out at about 9, with a quick bit of rucksack preparation ready for a 3.30 alarm call…..

We would leave for the summit at 4am the next day………

 

Mont Blanc 2014 Day One

I am in Chamonix (it is Wednesday the 16th July) on the first day of my attempt to climb Mont Blanc for the first time. Mont Blanc is a tough mountain by anyone’s definition, and stands at 4,810m, the highest mountain in Western Europe. Permanently glaciated and snow covered, there are quite a few routes to the top, and all involve considerable care and effort. Our route will be via the Grand Couloir up to Dome du Gouter and via the Bosses Ridge, and will commence this coming Sunday.

The trip is run by a company called Mont Blanc Guides, an English run business based in Chamonix, and Mont Blanc is all they do. I was immediately impressed (I referred to this in an earlier blog post) at their responsiveness and attention to detail, and they got my vote right away. It’s not a cheap trip by any means (about £2,000 for six days excluding travel to and from Chamonix), and much of that is eaten up by the cost of guides. The French insist upon a 1:2 guide to climber ratio on the mountain, which you have to say makes sense – it is sadly the mountain which probably kills more than any other.

Day one was simply a day to travel and meet up with the guides and get settled into the accommodation in Chamonix. The main events happen on days 2 to 7, spilt into three days in Italy acclimatising and doing glacier travel, and then three days to do Mont Blanc itself.

I got into town early (about 11am) after a seamless flight from Luton to Geneva, and then a minibus to Chamonix. As I had until 6.30pm to do the meet ups, after dumping my bags I headed straight up the cablecar to the Aguille du Midi, which at 3,842m has to be about the highest cable car station in Europe. It is incredibly dramatic, and a great place to just visit on foot, which so many people do (I queued for around an hour in the middle of the day, along with heards of ubiquitous Japanese tourists. The return journey was over £50 too, so they are making a bunch of money in the summer months that is for sure.

The cable car ride was amazing and the skies cloudless and crystal clear. Mont Blanc eventually came into view like some brooding behemoth ready to squash the whole valley below it. It really is a staggering mountain, and such a complex one too.

Getting up to 3,842m made me feel a bit slow and light headed, which was a bit worrying. It is the first time at altitude for a couple of years though, and coming straight up from the valley floor is a big jump. It did concern me a bit for what was to come on the trip, but figured that there was not much I could do about it other than just get used to it, so that’s what I did. They asked people not to return to the bottom for two hours after getting to the top station (because of the sheer number of people up there) so I just hung around and took some snaps:

From the cable car on the way up...

From the cable car on the way up…

....and stepping out at the top at 3,842m. That's the town nearly 3 vertical kilometres below.

….and stepping out at the top at 3,842m. That’s the town nearly 3 vertical kilometres below.

The top of the famous Vallee Blanche glacier, looking towards Italy

The top of the famous Vallee Blanche glacier, looking towards Italy

Looking towards the summit of Mont Blanc, a further 1km above us, from the cable car station, the Dome du Gouter is on the right

Looking towards the summit of Mont Blanc, a further 1km above us, from the cable car station, the Dome du Gouter is on the right

After I got back down I had a bit of a wander around Chamonix, and realised what a really nice little town it is, and figured that spending more time here would be a good thing in days to come if there was time.

Looking from town towards the Grand Jurasses

Looking from town towards the Grand Jurasses

The Aguille du Midi and the Dome du Gouter loom large over the town

The Aguille du Midi and the Dome du Gouter loom large over the town

And the ridge leading towards the Grand Couloir looks menacingly towards town too.

And the ridge leading towards the Grand Couloir looks menacingly towards town too.

When back to “The Castle’ (the name of the in the evening, I got to meet the rest of the team that I’d be travelling with, and also our guides. We were Colin, Mick (who was also my roomie), Stuart, Rich, Katya, David, and Jonas, plus me, making 8 altogether. All were from the UK, except Katya from Moscow, and Jonas from Norway. Oh and Colin lives in Qatar, but is from Glasgow. Everyone got along really well it seemed, and I knew it would be a good group, as is in my experience always the case when like minded people come together on trips like this.

Just before dinner, our guides for the week Neil, and Marco, met us and told us that there would be a full kit inspection at 8am the following morning, after which we’d be heading out to Gran Paradiso in Italy (the highest mountain in Italy, in fact). We also met with John, the owner of Mont Blanc guides, which was nice. Dinner was accompanied by a few glasses of wine and a good friendly exchange, and everyone then retired fairly early to get ready for the days ahead. So far so good then…….the mountains await 🙂

 

It’s Mont Blanc time!

I haven’t updated my blog for some time now. I’ve had a really busy time at work, have moved house, and have all sorts of other excuses that I won’t bore you with. I also owe my blog two updates still – one my training weekend for Elbrus in North Wales, and the other the National Three Peaks Challenge. I’m happy to say I survived both unscathed, and will get round to posting the details as soon as I have time.

I am ready for this trip away like almost no other. For one, I haven’t had a week off work since May of last year. It’s way too long, and I am feeling it. Secondly I have always revered Mont Blanc. It is for me almost as iconic as Everest, if only because most people regard it (wrongly of course) as the highest mountain in Europe (that accolade belongs to Elbrus, where I will be next month), and of course Europe is where I live and belong. Just as importantly, this is a barometer for me, as I have walked and walked this year, and I think I am just ready 🙂

I am not taking MB lightly. For one, I know that over 1,500 people have died trying to climb it. Secondly it is at 4,810m (15,782 feet) and so altitude and fatigue are going to be an issue. Thirdly I don’t believe the weather forecast is good. There has been a lot of low and late season snow, which can cover crevasses and make things treacherous. What will be will be I suppose, and I believe in fate. I also know that the company that I am going with, Mont Blanc Guides, have an impeccable safety record, and won’t even attempt a summit if the weather isn’t appropriate. And that suits me just fine – I’d rather sit and watch a storm in a nice little café (or bar, better) from the town of Chamonix than be in the middle of it risking life and limb. This is after all one quarter of my whole year’s holiday allowance here!

My time there will consist of three days doing glacier training and acclimatisation, including an ascent of Gran Paradiso, the highest mountain solely in Italy (4,061m, or 13,323feet). If that all goes well we will be let loose on the big one. I cannot wait, and am just hoping for tears of joy and a summit. I’ll take just the summit in fact, and if so the other will I am sure happen!

Mont Blanc - beautiful.

Mont Blanc – beautiful.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures. The above shows just how dramatic and majestic a mountain this really is. The next below shows the route that I believe that I will be taking form the Gouter hut to the summit:

The final route to the top - the Grand Couloir may well be tricky...

The final route to the top – the Grand Couloir may well be tricky…

And finally this is a picture of the Bosses ridge which happens somewhere along the way. I just hope I’m brave enough to be able able to hold onto my camera if/when I get on it 🙂

The Bosses Ridge - I'm ready for you, I think!

The Bosses Ridge – I’m ready for you, I think!

So I set off on Wednesday morning – wish me luck, as I’m going to need it in abundance.

 

24 Peaks – Day One

On the weekend of the 7th/8th June, I took part in the ’24 Peaks Challenge’, an organised/guided trek over 24 Lakeland peaks all over 2,400 feet, inside 24 hours. The challenge is spread over two days, with approximately 12 hours of trekking each day, and 10 mountains the first day, followed by 14 the next. The event was run by Global Adventure Challenges, an organisation I hadn’t come across before, but who were great, and I’d certainly use again.

The weekend was supposed to start by being picked in Penrith railway station at 5.30 on the Friday afternoon, but unfortunately a lorry fire on the M6 and a massive 15 mile tailback put paid to that for me and for most of the other attendees. In the end I was instructed to drive straight to our base for the weekend, the Youth Hostel in Ambleside. I got there after about a seven hour drive, which should have taken four.

We were eight people altogether, and all met over an initial drink. Sener (who was to have made a wise choice by electing to not stay in the Youth Hostel but in the 4 star hotel next door – more of that later), David, Peter, Ian, Jane, Lucilia, Margaret, and yours truly. No-one had met anyone else before with the exception of Peter and Margaret, who were there to celebrate their 40th Wedding Anniversary! After everyone had assembled, and all moaned about the same traffic jam that I was stuck in, we got fed and settled in before our briefing for the next day.

View over the north side of Windermere towards the Langdales upon arrival at the YHA.

View over the north side of Windermere towards the Langdales upon arrival at the YHA.

Our guides from Global Adventures were Kate and Matt, and our driver Jim. The very comprehensive briefing told us, amongst other things, we needed to be ready with our boots on at 4.45 the next morning, so that meant a very early night for us all. The forecast for the next day didn’t look good, with the prospect of “rain, with monsoon-like outbursts”. I was glad I had all of my waterpoofs with me, and a spare pair of boots too just in case for day 2.

Whilst Ambleside Youth Hostel is in a beautiful location on the shores of Windermere, and with great facilities, unfortunately, youth hostels aren’t really known for being the most quiet of environments, and this one was no exception. In the dormitory above our room were an unknown number of children, who couldn’t have made more noise had they been an unknown number of elephants. I feared at one point in time that the ceiling would come in, or the whole building would collapse, under the barrage of crashing around that was going on. Two of our dorm went to try to ‘have a quiet word’, but it didn’t seem to do an awful lot of good. I normally sleep like a corpse, but this was just impossible. Kids will be kids, I suppose!

The next morning came around way too quickly, but we were all soon tucking into breakfast rolls and cereal, and making packed lunches, ready for the day ahead. Stepping initially out of the Youth Hostel at about 5.30am, the weather was glorious, and the lake serene and calm. The calm before the storm perhaps? We would find out……

 

Ambleside Youth Hostel - a really great location overall - I stayed there only once before, when I was 16!

Ambleside Youth Hostel – a really great location overall – I stayed there only once before, when I was 16!

After a half hour drive to the Langdale Valley, we emerged in warm and sultry conditions (T shirts in fact, weird for the Lake District at all, never mind before 6am), and began our first climb of the day, up ‘The Band’, which would lead us to the first of the 24 peaks, Bowfell. Approximately two hours later, everyone stood proudly just below 3,000 feet, and were happy that a.) it was one down, and ‘just 23’ to go, and b.) that the rapidly approaching clouds from the South had not as yet unleashed anything in our direction.

Ready to go! About 5.55am looking towards the Band, and Bowfell, unseen in picture.

Ready to go! About 5.55am looking towards the Band, and Bowfell, unseen in picture.

And looking back down from the top of the Band towards the Langdale valley.

And looking back down from the top of the Band towards the Langdale valley.

Over the course of the next two peaks, Esk Pike and Great End, the weather began dominating evertyone’s conversation, with some people saying “we might just be lucky you know”, and others including me (I’m a pessimist when it comes to these things) expecting a bit of a bath. I’ve been up in Cumbria enough times to know that it isn’t called the Lake District for nothing. I also knew that we were in very close proximity to Seathwaite (which would be the finishing point of day one) and this is the wettest place in England, with an annual rainfall of about 125 inches. It was going to rain!

And towards the top of Bowfell, looking towards Scafell Pike in the distance.

And towards the top of Bowfell, looking towards Scafell Pike in the distance.

By the time we got to Allen Crags, peak 4, one of the guides, Matt, suggested we all get our waterproofs on, “now”. At first even I thought twice, if only as I hate having waterpoofs on on warm days unless I really have to. Within less than five minutes however (I guess he’s not a guide for nothing :)) it had started. And it started with hail, and with massive cold gusts of wind. Within five minutes more, despite having on now four layers of clothes, woolly hat, two pairs of gloves, and waterproof overtrousers, I was actually cold.

This is actually one of the last pictures I took all day, somewhere around Broad C

This is actually one of the last pictures I took all day, somewhere around Broad Crag, I think.

We all trudged on in the general direction (compasses out now for Kate and Matt) of Scafell Pike, England’s highest point, if now lost in the squall of relentless lashing rain and cloud that we were enveloped in. I began to think that our day would end at four peaks, and that the only thing to do from here would be to descend (and if I’d been on my own at this point I probably would have done), but we ploughed through it, thinking it may be just a shower or two. The next two peaks, Broad Crag, and Ill Crag, were memorable for the fact that I didn’t see either of them at any point, other than as piles of stones beneath my feet. The wind and rain were relentless and almost overpowering. I was beginning to already think that I didn’t have enough clothing with me.

Amazingly when we reached the gully just before the approach to the summit of Scafell Pike, the clouds suddenly lifted. Kate told us it was all due to ‘orographic lifting’ or something like that. Whatever it was, it was very strange, but very welcome, and we got to summit peak number 7 of the day without precipitation, and a part view to Wasdale Head way below. The view for me was significant, as in two weeks’ time I’d be approaching by that route in the middle of the night during the Three Peaks Challenge. I was already wishing that I only had three peaks to face this weekend, instead of another 16 being as wet as I already was.

Great Gable (right) and Green Gable from just below Scafell Pike

Great Gable (right) and Green Gable from just below Scafell Pike

 

Summit of Scafell Pike (excuse the slightly over the top celebration!), Peter, Margaret and Sener in foreground.

Summit of Scafell Pike (excuse the slightly over the top celebration!), Peter, Margaret and Sener in foreground.

Our guides, Kate and Matt, Scafell Pike - they were happy too!

Our guides, Kate and Matt, Scafell Pike – they were happy too! As you can see, we were all dressed appropriately for this nice June weather.

Thankfully the rain kept off as we descended by the corridor route towards Styhead Tarn and towards peak 8, Lingmell, where we stopped for a well-earned devouring of our packed lunches. As Styhead Tran approached however, this was the last view of anything we would have all day, and the rains came back in persistent and powerful anger.

The corridor route down from Scafell Pike towards Great Gable - definitely the last time my camera came out o

The corridor route down from Scafell Pike towards Great Gable – definitely the last time my camera came out of my bag!

The walk up Great Gable (one of my favourite mountains anywhere on this planet) was I can only describe as absolutely miserable. The rain hammered down, the wind was howling from the side (meaning rain just forced its way through your hood and down your neck and back), and the visibility was at best about five yards. Even cairns in front of you couldn’t be seen, and by the time we eventually made the top I was already mentally descended and anywhere else but there. Shame.

To get off of Great Gable and towards Windy Gap for the ascent of Green Gable was an exercise in brilliant mountain guiding from Matt and Kate. Armed with dual compasses, they got us down a steep scramble, through torrents of water, in a situation that would have otherwise have been perilous to say the least. I wouldn’t have been able to complete that part of the event with without them, it is as simple as that.

The final trudge up Green Gable was only slightly more pleasant than that of Great Gable, but only because it was shorter, and the wind was now behind us. Visibility was almost zero at times. I remember at one point seeing a poor dog walk past us. It looked like it had been practically drowned, and I only hope it got to find its owner and get a.) reunited and b.) spoilt rotten when they eventually got down. This weather was now for ducks only, and then brave and hardy ones at that.

Coming down the steep and slippy path back down to the far side of Styhead Tarn was an exercise in survival for most of the way, and I couldn’t wait to get down. The cloud level was practically below the tarn itself, although once we had passed this the cloud thankfully finally lifted, and by the time we had completed the further one and a half hour walk back to Seathwaite from here, the sun was practically out.

Everyone was back at the minibus by around 6pm, a long day since our early start, but happy that we had all got though it successfully, with ten peaks down, and ‘just fourteen to go’ the next day. The minibus took about an hour to get back to Ambleside, and sat in wet gear this wasn’t pleasant. Everyone was clearly exhausted too, and from what had been a lively day with lots of banter earlier on, I don’t think I heard anyone say a single word on the return journey. I sat and shivered, and was still shivering when back in the hostel by about 7.30pm.

Thankfully the showers in Ambleside Youth Hostel are magnificent, and I could have stood there under that hot steamy water for an hour or more. I can say that with the exception of the most memorable shower I ever had in my life (that which followed a week of grime up Kilimanjaro), this was probably the second most welcome. It just shows you that a day in June which started so warm can end up so different, and teaches you that you must always be prepared for bad weather in the mountains. I made a mental note after this day to always have one more layer with me than I think I might need, and have some more (or better) waterproof gloves too.

We were all glad when finally back to find that the Youth Hostel had a drying room, although unfortunately everyone else there had filled it full already, and it couldn’t cope with the amount of kit. I hung my stuff out anyway, hoping that by some miracle that by the time 4am the next day came around, it would have magically dried. I was to be disappointed….

Here are the stats from day one…..14.2 miles of ground covered, and 5,700 feet of ascent:

http://www.strava.com/activities/151189307

 

The Welsh Three Peaks – done

On the weekend of 17th and 18th May, an outstanding weekend was had. Accompanied by 11 work colleagues, a trip to do the “Welsh Three Peaks” was undertaken, and a massive success all round it was too.

The Welsh Three Peaks are Pen Y Fan, Cadair Idris, and Snowdon. The name is due to the fact that they are the highest peaks in South Wales, Mid Wales, and North Wales respectively, at 2,907ft, 2,930ft and 3,560 ft respectively. It was part of event know as the Snowdon 500 Welsh Three Peaks Challenge, and was a charity event in aid of Prostate Cancer. About 650 people took part, 150 on the whole three peaks, and 500 for just Snowdon on the Sunday.

Leaving work at around 3pm on the Friday afternoon, we hired a minibus for our adventures, and arrived in South Wales that evening at around 7pm.

It was to be a very long weekend, and with the assembly point for Pen Y Fan being 4.30am on the Saturday, we left our hotel in Merthyr Tydfil at 4am, having had not enough sleep from the previous night (despite a remarkably sensible amount of alcohol being consumed), but everyone made it just fine.

The crew assembling - 4.20am :O

The crew assembling – 4.20am :O

By literally 4.30 or so, everyone was walking the ‘motorway route’ up from the Storey Arms car park up past Corn Ddu to the summit of Pen Y Fan at 2,907 feet. It is an easy path, and blessed by ridiculously fine weather for Wales in May, everyone strolled up to the summit very easily. Here we all are, assembled just after sunrise at about 5.45am:

On the summit of Pen Y Fan at sunrise

On the summit of Pen Y Fan at sunrise

So from left to right we have: (back row) Lyndsay, Carmen, Liz, Simon, Eifion, Sophie, Kuldeep and James, and (front row) yours truly, Neil, Khilna and Mark.

This shot was taken just after sunrise looking east towards Brecon:

Looking down from the summit of Pen Y Fan just after sunrise

Looking down from the summit of Pen Y Fan just after sunrise – I’ll never make a photographer will I?

There are not many more beautiful things on this planet than seeing the sun rise from the top of a mountain, no matter which mountain. It makes the effort of getting there in the first place so worthwhile, and blessed with weather like we had, I counted myself very lucky to be there.

With everyone back down and in the minibus by about 7am, we began the 2 and half hour journey up through Wales towards Cadair Idris, at the southern end of Snowdonia, and near the west coastline of Wales. Despite a lack of sleep, and no sausage sandwiches (a promised “burger van” never materialised), we had a good journey up and arrived just before 10am.

Suncream at the ready, and sandwiches packed, it is time to leave the van behind again...

Suncream at the ready, and sandwiches packed, it is time to leave the van behind again…

We took the “Minffordd Path” horseshoe route, the first time I had done this, and great route it is too. It is a ridge walk in the main, at about 7 or 8 miles, and tough going in places too, especially as hot as it was.

Beginning the climb up the Minffordd path at Cadair Idris

Beginning the climb up the Minffordd path at Cadair Idris

And the summit eventually comes into view....

And the summit eventually comes into view….just look at that sky – this is Wales!

The path up got fairly steep in places...

The path up got fairly steep in places…

...with some precipitous drops down from the ridge to the lake far below.

…with some precipitous drops down from the ridge to the lake far below.

Everyone made the summit at around 1.30pm or so, despite some false dawns (from me!) about how far, and around which corner, the summit actually was, and we earned a well deserved break for lunch.

At the summit of Cadair Idris, and a great spot it was too.

At the summit of Cadair Idris, and a great spot it was too.

Walking down from the summit, three of us (Neil, James and I) took a separate path to the summit of a subsidiary peak, Mynydd Moel, at 2,831 feet (well it would have been rude not to, as it was there in front of us), which was an easy walk, but afforded great views back to the summit of Cadair Idirs and the Barmouth Coast and the Irish Sea beyond.

Looking up to Cadair Idris from Mynydd Moel, the Irish Sea in the distance.

Looking up to Cadair Idris from Mynydd Moel, the Irish Sea in the distance.

The next shot puts in good perspective the ridge walk around the lake (Lyn Cau) and Cadair Idris itself:

Taken from just below the summit of Mynydd Moel, the horseshoe walk that we have just undertaken comes into view.

Taken from just below the summit of Mynydd Moel, the horseshoe walk that we have just undertaken comes into view.

And then the path down from here back towards the car park is pretty steep in places:

The steep path down to join the earlier path we came up on - hard going on the knees!

The steep path down to join the earlier path we came up on – hard going on the knees!

Having assembled all together again at about 5pm, we set out off up to our resting point for the evening in Caernafon, a further hour and a half drive, and about a 15 minute drive from Llanberis, from where we would start our ascent of Snowdon the next morning. After being well fed (for a Premier Inn anyway!) and after a couple of well deserved drinks, everyone hit the hay for a lie in until about 5.45am for the final leg of our journey.

Leaving Caernafon shortly before 7am in the end, we parked up in Llanberis for a bus to take us along with a number of other walkers on the Snowdon 500 to Pen Y Pass for our ascent of Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain at 3,560 feet. After some facing around for registration and the like, and a briefing on the bus, a somewhat colder and cloudier start to the day saw us start up the Pyg track at close to 8am.

Setting off up the Pyg Track, Crib Goch in the background.

Setting off up the Pyg Track, Crib Goch in the background.

Looking south over the Snowdonia National Park.

Looking south over the Snowdonia National Park.

As we got higher up the walk, the summit was unfortunately never to be seen, being shrouded in cloud the whole time.

Kuldeep tries to imagine how big or how far the summit is away....

Kuldeep tries to imagine how big or how far the summit is away….

The cloud just kept coming in....

But the cloud just kept coming in….

...until finally we made it to the top!

…until finally we made it to the top!

By the time we reached the top, the cloud was thick, and it was windy and cold. In fact for those of you who have stood on top of Snowdon before, the cloud was so dense that you couldn’t even see the cafe (a good thing, I hear most of you say :)).

After a refreshing cup of tea (well the cafe is there, so we might as well use it) and a regrouping, we set off back down the Llanberis path this time towards out minibus and the end of the journey. The Llanberis path is a 4 mile windy path that follows the train (yes, really) line, and so is neither steep or very spectacular.

The Lake at Llanberis, and our finishing point, come finally into view.

The Lake at Llanberis, and our finishing point, come finally into view.

Upon reaching our final destination, the Royal Victoria Hotel, we were presented with a certificate and managed a very refreshing drink before boarding the minibus for the five or so hour drive back to Milton Keynes.

At the finishing point, with our finishers T shirts.

At the finishing point, with our finishers T shirts.

All in all it was a fabulous weekend. I did manage to mar mine very slightly by walking into a sign in the car park shortly before we left, and cutting my head, but I have always been a bit of a klutz!

Altogether we climbed around 7,500 feet, and walked around 21 miles or so – the details are attached below from my Garmin.

http://www.strava.com/activities/142011475

http://www.strava.com/activities/142235311

http://www.strava.com/activities/142586565

And finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, we managed to raise in doing this over £3,000 for Prostate Cancer Research. The sponsorship page is still open at the time of writing, so if you can, please give us a little more if you can? Thank you 🙂

http://www.justgiving.com/Pinnacle3PeakChallenge

My next adventure is the “24 Peaks” in the Lake District in two weeks time – which I fear at 36 miles and 15,000 feet is going to hurt! Until then……

 

 

More mountains are a coming :)

In my last post I mentioned that I was looking to try to get a few more trips booked into my calendar, and as I’ve done just that, I thought I should say so right here, so here I am :).

In May I have the Welsh Three Peaks already arranged. This consists of Pen Y Fan, Cadair Idris, and Snowdon – the former two being done on the Saturday, and Snowdon on the Sunday morning, bright and early, or 5.30am for those of you like me will not be very bright by that time of the morning. I haven’t actually been up Pen Y Fan or Cadair Idris before, so it will be nice to tick off two of Wales’ most iconic climbs, even if neither of them are exactly giant peaks. The whole challenge does however involve some 19,000 feet of ascent and descent, and about 20 miles of distance covered, so it should be a really good challenge.

But the news now, is that I have booked THREE more very exciting adventures, all firsts in their own right…..

First in June, I will be doing the Three Peaks (not to be confused with the Welsh Three Peaks). The Three Peaks involves the highest mountains in each of Scotland, England and Wales, done traditionally in that order, being Ben Nevis, Scafell Plike, and Snowdon. There is this time over 20,000 feet of ascent and descent, and 27 miles of distance to cover, and all within 24 hours. Add to this somewhat exhausting schedule the fact that there is about 600 miles of distance to drive between the mountains (about 13 hours on the road, these are not motorways in the main), and you have a brutal schedule ahead of you. Oh and just to add to all that, you need to do Scafell Pike in the dark :O. Should be a fantastic adventure, of which I will tell more as the time draws near….

Then comes even more excitement in July, with, wait for it, Mont Blanc! Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in western Europe, at 15,781 feet, and is a brute.

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Here is just one of the ridges that I get to face:

The Bosses ridge on Mont Blanc.

The Bosses ridge on Mont Blanc.

I’ve never been up Mont Blanc, and never had the chance to even try it, so this is massive for me. It is not to be taken lightly at all, and has a high fatality rate. In fact around 100 people a year sadly lose their lives trying each year. Alan Arnette has a great FAQ on Mont Blanc which I will post below:

http://www.alanarnette.com/7summits/montblancfaq.php

There is so much more to say here, but again I will leave that for another time, as it deserves a good few posts of its own. I’m more excited about this than I am Elbrus actually, as it is just one of the most talked about mountains in the world. One of the amazing things about Mont Blanc is that is has a massive prominence from the surrounding valleys – something like 4,000m in fact. To put that into perspective, Mount Everest has a prominence of 3,500m from Base Camp! I have also seen it many times, from many angles, but the main angle I wish to see it from is potentially there in July………:)

So whilst I had a busy week in booking up these two lovely trips, I thought to myself – why stop there? I therefore contacted International Mountain Guides and booked up for Aconcagua! Now as you may know I have had Aconcagua booked for each of the last two years, but had to cancel it on both occasions. So without tempting fate, I am hoping for third time lucky :). I was originally going to wait to see if I made it up Elbrus (booked for August) before attempting Aconcagua, but then I decided that if I can’t make it up Elbrus then I shouldn’t be doing this whole thing, plus I really need something to aim for at the end of the year.

This is my year of the mountains – the one to really test myself and see if I am up for maybe 6 of the Seven Summits…….if I do what I have just booked for then that’ll be three out of the way by the end of the year, or almost – Aconcagua will start in December and end in January. More, much more, on that to follow too. Nearly 7,000m more, in fact……..better get training, and hard.

Aconcagua - so far away still......but getting nearer.

Aconcagua – so far away still……but getting nearer.

Berchtesgadener Alps, continued…

So Thursday night of the 12th July saw Anna and I making a rapid ascent up from the Königsee towards the Funtensee, a lake perched at about 1,700m in the Berchtesgadener Alps, right on the border of Germany and Austria. Our planned destination was the Karlingerhaus, a mountain hut where we had planned to spend the night.

Having set out late at almost 5pm for what was signposted as a 5hr journey, we wondered whether we would make it, especially at it was raining hard. This made conditions underfoot, on what was a very steep ascent, harder going, and also meant the light was fading quickly.

In the end we needn’t have worried, as we made the climb to the hut in exactly three hours, arriving a little before 8pm. The hut was a very welcome sight nonetheless, and it was nice to hang up wet waterproofs, get the boots off, and step into what proved to be a very cosy and welcoming hut.

The Karlingerhaus, by the Funtensee, Bavaria

The lake by the Karlingerhaus, the Funtensee, has a particular record attached to it. It has recorded Germany’s lowest ever temperature, at a staggering -46.9 degrees C, just ten years ago. Caused by its North Easterly position in the mountains, it gets practically no sun for six months of the year, and it also sits in a depression. Due then to the fact that cold air is heavier than warm, when the cold air comes down from the mountains above, it has nowhere to go, and just sits there.

There was however no cold to be seen this night, despite the rain, as the hut was packed with people, and each of the dining rooms (three rooms in total) was full of revelry. In fact it was so loud you could hardly hear yourself think! I have never been in a hut and seen so much alcohol consumed! Having eaten some delicious potato soup with sausages, and had a couple of very welcome German beers, we ended up sat in the middle of what became a schnapps-fuelled signing contest between German and Dutch climbers. We ended up having two choices – which was to sit in a corner and watch, or to join in, so we chose the latter. It was about as raucous a night as you will see or hear in a typical rugby club on a Saturday night post-match – awesome entertainment is all I’ll say!
Waking the next morning with a fuzzy head was soon eclipsed by the feeling of waking up in the mountains. There is something so absolutely wonderful about it for me. It is the antithesis of any time you wake up on a normal Monday morning and think “oh bugger I have to go to work today”, and such a tonic. Even when I stay in the highest alpine huts and have to get up at 5am it is still that same “let me get at it” sort of feeling.

So today’s trek would take us from the Karlingerhaus into Austria (the border is within a mile of the Karlingerhaus) across the so called Steinernes Meer, which translates as ‘stony sea’. It is a vast expanse of ‘karst’ type geology – here is a link to it for more information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steinernes_Meer

The bleak landscape of the stony sea was exacerbated even more by the weather that faced us. It started with rain, and then just basically got wetter.

Setting out from the Karlingerhaus before the weather got bad….

but entering the Stony Sea it sooned turned cold and wet.

The Stony Sea was hard work in the weather. The rain lashed down, visibility was low, and the wind blew hard. I hadn’t expected to be decked out in full waterproofs, including gloves, and still be cold, in July, but that’s the mountains for you, and shows you that you always need to be prepared.

Some of the paths were still covered in deep snow, and with the cold and wet air it made some of the conditions underfoot a bit heart in mouth at times.

Heading up a snowy gully in the Steinernes Meer

We had originally hoped that once in the Snowy Sea area that we would be able to do a couple of the peaks that are around there. There are around 50 peaks with a prominence (i.e. above the base of the area, which all sits at over 2,000m) of over 50 metres within the area, and a total of around 20 above 2,500m. Two of the best known are the Breithorn and the Schönfeldspitze, both around 2,600m. Sadly we couldn’t even see them due to the conditions, and so we ended up just heads down and heading for some cover at the next destination, the Reimannhaus hut.

The walk up to the Riemannhaus (2,177m) ultimately took about three hours from the Funtensee, and we were very glad to just arrive. Here is a picture of it in sunnier times below:

The Riemannhaus in sunnier times, not quite the view that we got.

I did not even get my camera out so hard was the wind and rain as we approached. I also ended up with the contents of my rucksack soaked through, as the wind had (unbeknown to me at the time) ripped off my rucksack raincover somewhere on the way there. I have almost never been so glad to get inside a building as at that time.

The hospitality in the hut, once we had squeezed the water out of gloves and my rucksack contents, was wonderful. We also had what I can only describe as the best Goulash that I have ever had. It was absolutely delicious, and washed down with a steaming mug of black tea it made for one of the most memorable meals I have ever had.

We sat in the Riemannhaus for probably an hour and a half, dried out, drank more black tea, and contemplated next steps. Our proposed destination that night was another hut called the Ingolstaedterhaus, which would involve another three or four hour climb through the wet and wind, and on snowy ground. Alternatively we could stay where we were, in the warm, and be safe. It was not an easy decision…………

Himalayas Days 17 and 18, still in Lukla

So having decided not to fill blog posts up with boring days in Kathmandu, I have now skipped through to Sunday 6th November. Since I last wrote, which was Friday, my third day in Lukla, I spent all of Saturday and all of Sunday doing pretty much exactly what I had done on the three days before. Mornings were waiting for helicopters which never came, afternoons in Fakebucks getting a bit of wifi and catching up with the outside world (if very very very slowly, the connection was slower than any old dial-up I ever remember.

The weather however has been exactly the same, and it has rained with low cloud both days, which means that no aeroplanes whatsoever have landed here now for six days now.

The odd break in the clouds offers a bit of a glimpse of the runway.

This plane (the only one here) has been here since last Tuesday and not moved.

Then a few beers in the ‘Irish Pub’, and then back to base for the evening of sitting and listening to everyone else’s tales of how near and yet so far the helicopter that never came really was.

A good thing happened mid afternoon today (Sunday) however, in that the rest of the Island Peak Group made it down the mountain. I had already heard their summit news from Val, the excellent Exodus guide who had made it down to Lukla a day before them. So basically, my huge congratulations to each of Tony, Rob and Dave, who all successfully submitted Island Peak, all 6,189m of her, on 3rd November at about 7am. I am really looking forward to seeing their photographs from the top.

Of the others, Stefan had tried but had to turn back, and each of Bruce and Ben had decided that it would be too much, and did not set out. They all made it to high camp though at 5,600m, and the photos look stunning from there even. As I look back now and reflect, there was no way I would have made it to the top, not feeling the way that I did, and so I did the right thing with hindsight in coming down early. I feel much better for some days rest, despite the tedium of not getting out of Lukla. The mountain will still be there should I decide upon some later occasion to try again, so there is nothing lost for me.

So anyway, each of them, having picked Mo up where I had left her in Tengboche five days ago, made it down the mountain, somewhat wet due to the rain, and settled in to the North Face Resort for the night. They had already heard that Lukla was a.) full, and b.) closed to air traffic, so there were no surprises in store for them really when they got there. They unfortunately had to stay in tents too, which made me feel a little guilty as I still had my room, although my room was by now so damp that I wondered if a tent would actually be a much dryer place.

The view down the mountain from Lukla, the tents in the foreground the sleeping quarters for the Island Peak returnees.

We celebrated everyone’s ‘coming down the moutnain’ in the Irish Pub, and then back at the Lodge in the evening we did the tipping ceremony. It is customary on these trips to pay your porters and guides to thank them for their support whilst out on the mountain. Each of us put in approximately US$100, and so they all seemed pretty happy with their share of the spoils, presented to them with appropriate aplomb by Bruce. We also bought them two bottles of the local rum, Kukira, which they duly despatched between them inside about an hour. Bruce and I had some of this noxious fluid also in a hot chocolate, and that was sufficient to give me rather a thumping head in the morning – I thought it was AMS all over again for an instant!

The forecast is much better for tomorrow, and so there are hopes of getting some of us out of here. There were significant gaps in the clouds at times today for the first time, and tomorrow could apparently even be a sunny day. Here’s hoping………

Everest Base Camp Trek Overview, plus map

So here is a brief overview of the trek which I undertook, and also a few notes on the places and the geography of the place, which I hope puts it all into context:

Under the “Map and Places Visited” section further down there is a pointer to where I went each day, referenced to a copy of the map that I took on trek with me.

Dates

I went on trek on the 19th October 2011, and returned on the 9th November 2011, a total of 22 days. This should be an ideal time for anyone wishing to visit Nepal. It is a principally very dry time of the year, being after the summer monsoon, and the weather is fairly mild for most of the trek.

Climate

Expect (daytime) temperatures of 25C or so In Kathmandu pre trek, and temperatures warm enough for shorts in the Himalayas if the sun is shining for the first few days. Nightime temperatures in the Himalayas will always be below 0C, even in the tea lodges (see below). When you are above about 4,500m, expect even daytime temperatures of below zero. I will talk about kitlist and clothing separately.

Trek Organiser

I went with Exodus Holidays. If you copy and paste this link here:  http://www.exodus.co.uk/holidays/tni/overview  into your browser you will get all the information you need to tell you if it is the sort of trip for you. There are also trek notes, prices and what have you, in case it piques your interest more to make you wish to do it yourself. I should say that this was the first time I had travelled with Exodus, that I have no affiliation with them whatsoever, and that I found them to be excellent in every regard. I compared Exodus primarily against Jagged Globe before going, and I have no reason to suggest that Jagged Globe would have done a better or worse job. I am still very happy with my choice though.

Brief Overview

My trip was to take in essentially two elements, which are highlighted on the overview map included below:

The first is a trek from Lukla, at the base of the Himalayas, up though to Everest Base Camp and Kala Pattar, which is (although technically very much a mountain in its own right at 5,545m) the iconic and much celebrated viewing platform for Mount Everest herself. The second would then be an attempt to scale Island Peak, at 6,189m on of the highest ‘trekking peaks’ in the Himalayas. It is called a trekking peak as it is capable of being climbed as part of an organised trek, even though it does involve technical equipment including ropes, jumars, ice axes etc to get to the top.

To get to Lukla where the trek, and almost all Everest treks that have ever been, starts, it is necessary to fly from Kathmandu. Once at Lukla you are in the Himalayas themselves. It is at 2,800m, or around 9,500 feet. From here there are no cars, no transport of any kind in fact other than two or four legs. The four legs bit refers to either yaks, or djos (a cross between a cow and a yak, used at lower altitudes), who carry the bulk of the loads throughout the region for trekkers and locals alike.

The region is called the Khumbu, after the glacier and river that flows from the south face of Mount Everest. As can be seen from the maps the geography is all in Nepal, but borders Tibet (in fact half of Mount Everest is in Tibet too), so many of the influences in the region are as much Tibetan and Buddhist as they are Nepalese.

Type of Trek

There are essentially just two types of trek available in the region. You can either camp in tents, or go into tea houses, or combine the two. Most trekkers opt for the tea houses, as they provide a roof over your head, and they also provide hot food, cooked and prepared for you. A typical tea house has a dining room, twin-bedded rooms, and a toilet or two. Some toilets are western style, most are ‘squat’ style. Some toilets are indoor, some are outside. Most lodges don’t have shower facilities, but some do, often just a hut outside where they will pour hot water over you for a few quid. Although there are ‘bedrooms’ you will still need a good sleeping bag to stay there. Our trip was tea house all the way except for nights 13 and 14 below, which were in tents.

The lodges by the average Nepali standards are actually pretty clean, but don’t expect western style cleanliness or warmth. I measured -5 C in my bedroom one night, and running water of almost any kind is fairly rare. They will typically have one heater in the whole lodge, which is a yak dung fuelled stove in the dining room. Be prepared otherwsie, especially higher up, to keep your hat, gloves, thermals and fleeces on inside the lodge. Most have electricity of varying quality, depending upon their solar heaters etc.

Most lodges charge around $1 or $2 a night for you to stay there, and make their money on food. The food is varied, fairly plentiful, and of a good standard.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the lodges that Exodus used. It is fair to say that some of the lodges we saw en route I am glad that we weren’t staying in. It is also very true that the higher you get up the mountain, the facilities get more basic, more expensive, and dirtier as a rule. Again that is to be expected – getting anything up to 16,500 feet will take forever by yak train, so don’t expect a lot.

Map and places visited:

Route map in yellow of the whole trek to and from Lukla

OK so am not sure how easily the above map is to read for you, but if you click it (like all other photographs on my blog) it will expand:) I will explain further below….

The days of travel are as follows:

Day One and two were travelling, and spent getting ready for the trek in Khatmandu.

The days below correspond then with the dates as planned in the trip notes, so the first entry “Himalayas Day 3” is the first day of the trek proper. You will see however from my blog (although I haven’t yet posted it all as I write this) that it didn’t all work out that way for me. This is the way that it was supposed to be therefore.My blog entries will ultimately tell you why things ended up as being different.

The places referred to are more fully described in the individual entries in my blog, and are as marked on the route in yellow on the map above. Most of these places are just settlements of perhaps 20 or 30 houses and lodges, but they vary greatly. Basically again as you get up the mountain everything is less abundant. There are probably 30 lodges and 100 buildings altogether in Lukla, the first and lowest point on the trail at 2,800m. By the time you get to Gorak Shep at the top, I think I saw three building in total. I’ve not provided links, but Google of course is your friend as always.

The distance from Lukla, our starting and finishing point, to Everest Base Camp, is approximately 35 miles, so the total distance covered including Island Peak is probably something like 80-85 miles I would say.

Himalayas Day 3 : Lukla (2,800m, 9,200ft) to Phakding (2,600m, 8,530ft)

Himalayas Day 4: Phakding to Namche Bazar (3,440m, 11,287ft))

Himalayas Day 5: Namche Bazar to Kyangjuma (3,650m, 11,976ft)

Himalayas Day 6: Kyangjuma to Phortse (3,850m, 12,632 ft)

Himalayas Day 7: Phortse to Dingboche (4,400m, 14,436ft )

Himalayas Day 8: Dingboche to Nangkartshang Peak (5,083m, 16,677ft) and back to Dingboche

Himalayas Day 9: Dingboche to Lobouche (4,940m, 16,208ft)

Himalayas Day 10: Lobouche to Gorak Shep (5,180m, 16,996ft), via Everest Base Camp (5,360m, 17,586ft)

Himalayas Day 11: Gorak Shep to Lobouche via Kala Pattar (5,643m, 18,515ft)

Himalayas Day 12: Lobuche to Chukkung (4,730m, 15,519ft) via Kongma La (5,535m, 18,160ft)

Himalayas Day 13: Chukkung to Island Peak Base camp (5,100m, 16,733ft)

Himalayas Day 14: Island Peak Base camp to Island Peak High Camp (5,600m, 18,364ft)

Himalayas Day 15: Island Peak High Camp to Chukkung via Island Peak summit (6,189m, 20,300ft)

Himalayas Day 16: Chukkung to Tengboche (3,900m, 12,796ft)

Himalayas Day 17: Tengboche to Monjo (2,835m, 9,302ft)

Himalayas Day 18: Monjo to Lukla (2,800m, 9,200ft)

After Lukla the trek ends with a flight back to Kathmandu for a day’s recuperation before returning back home to the UK.

If there are any questions or comments on the above, then please let me know – I am always very happy to have feedback or constructive criticism as to how to make it all more useful and/or easier to understand.

It’s here, it is finally here

I almost cannot believe that I am writing this post. Tomorrow I will set off on the adventure of my life, to Everest Base Camp, and to (hopefully) the summit of one of the world’s great trekking peaks, Island Peak.

Island Peak, Himalayas, 6.189m

Since I decided to do this trip I have always felt incredibly nervous about it. So why do it, you may ask? Well there are several reasons why it is happening, and so let me explain.

Firstly I needed since doing Kilimanjaro to push myself higher and harder, and this has both of those elements.

Secondly I have a love affair with Everest, the whole notion of it, and have become a junkie to books, films, websites about it. I claim to have so far scratched only the surface of it, but I had to go there and see it, it has become a pilgrimage in that respect.

Thirdly, it is because of so many people saying that Everest Base Camp is so, well, uninteresting, that I had to do something else to combine it with. I am told that EBC is dirty, that you can’t see Everest itself from there (or not the summit anyway), that it is ugly and featureless. I care about none of those things of course – for me just being there will be the greatest thrill imaginable.

Fourth, it is about reaching a peak. If you have followed my blog previously you will know that whilst I don’t spend a lot of time on mountains, my greatest emotions seem to come out when attaining a summit. It can be a small ridge in the Lake District, or a massive climb with fixed ropes and ice axes like this one, but the attainment and the achievement is always the same, and something that I can scarcely put into words.

This trip actually is the product of a number of things, most particularly a conversation between me and a friend Paul, of “Darina and Paul” fame from Kilimanjaro (see previous blogs again, or let me know, I can send you links if you ask me nicely :)). So after we had been skiing earlier this year, Paul said that he’d like to go to Annapurna. I did too, but I felt that I couldn’t go to the Himalayas without at least seeing Everest, it just wouldn’t have been right for me. Paul then said that he wouldn’t like to just go to Base Camp without climbing a mountain, and I agreed, it would be frustrating. So we agreed to not do the trip basically, although then I decided that I just had to go and do it. Paul is now doing the New York Marathon, and will be off there soon (whilst I am away in fact) to do just that. So to Paul (and Darina, and Jason, and Ryan, and everyone else who is doing it) – I wish you the very very best of luck.

This trip for me is harder by a long chalk than anything that I have ever done. I will spend over a week at altitudes over 5.5km up in the air. I will be climbing an ice ridge which totally freaks me out.

I am so excited about it that I don’t know if I will sleep tonight at all.

There will be no more blog posts from me until I return from my trip, as I do not have the means to get them up here live as far as I know. I will do a daily diary however, and will describe to the fullest the things I experience, and this will be posted when I am back.

I am going on the same path as that followed by all of the great Everest expeditions themselves, from Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay, to Reinhold Messner and Ed Viesturs, and all of the mountaineering greats. I will move from the Dudh Kosi Valley to the Khumbu, passing through evocatively named places liked Namche Bazaar, until I reach the mighty Kumbu Icefall, which is the glacier coming down from Everest herself.

When I (hopefully) reach my destination of Island Peak, I will from the summit at around 20,400 feet be amidst (and be staring at) three of the highest five peaks on earth.

The words ‘bring it on’ seem sorely and hopelessly inadequate. I hope I am up to it……may I say wish me luck?