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……..

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…….


The phrase “there are simply not enough superlatives in the English language….”, is one which I feel is becoming overused these days. I quote this because I hear it a lot, and heard it recently whilst watching a video of Michael Palin’s fantastic “Himalaya” series on DVD. He used it when seeing Everest for the first time, and I can only say that I hope to join him in coining that phrase for myself.

Today then is a landmark day in my life. I have decided that I will trek to Everest base camp, come what may, hell or high water etc. It has been brewing for some considerable time of course, but today was the day that did it. I may look back in years to come as to what catapulted my thoughts into this state of dedication to the mountain, and so I should write them down here, for posterity if nothing else. They will follow in later posts.

The decision making process has been going on for some time I should say – maybe even for years, but recent events have got me to where I am now.

Everything was ultimately so complicated though, and so more of that in later posts too.

In recent weeks I have read several books on the 1996 Everest disaster, in which 12 climbers lost their lives. The books by Jon Krakauer and Anotoli Boukreev tell quite vividly different accounts of an awful and frightening occasion, and what they both did for me was make me want to climb the mountain. Yes CLIMB. I can’t climb a tree, but that’s what they make me want to do. That is where I got to with Kilimanjaro – I felt that the more I read about altitude sickness, and scary stories about how you might die up there etc, the more I wanted to be there.

With Everest it is more than that, a whole lot more. For one I can’t climb it. I am not capable (I have literally no climbing experience whatsoever), couldn’t afford it (it costs around £50,000 for a trip these days, before equipment and flights etc), and certainly haven’t the time (they recommend about 72 days I believe in the region to acclimatise etc. before going up to the top). Despite all that why do I find myself researching climbing trips to not just this but the whole of the Seven Summits?? Well let’s see where that all gets to….

For now I the important thing for me is that I am back on track – the time is now! In the past 48 hours I have deliberated over so many things: Who to trek with? (there are so many travel companies out there); What equipment do I need?; Whether to just do Base Camp or to combine it with another peak (much more of that later…..); Which camera to buy? :); How soon to do it? etc. The most important thing (though very definitely never easy for me) is to concentrate firmly on the most important objective – to get to see Everest, preferably from the ‘classic’ view point, which is apparently from a place called Kala Patthar, from where you get views like this:

Everest from Kala Pattar

I can’t even comment on the above right now – there are no words, let alone superlatives, that could tell you how I would, no, how I WILL feel, when I get to see that for myself.

So when I stared this blog 18 months or more ago, I had no idea when I named it “To Kilimanjaro and Beyond”, what the ‘beyond’ bit might be. Well for now it is going to be to pay a visit to what the Nepalese Sherpa call “Chomolungma”, which translates to “Goddess Mother of the Earth”. Now how exciting is that?