It’s nearly Nepal time!

I’ve just discovered something which has absolutely staggered me, and that takes a lot usually I can tell you. And that is, it has been almost 11 years since I wrote a blog post about Everest Base Camp! It seems so ridiculous that I don’t even believe it myself, and so if someone wants to correct me then please do so, as I can’t find one! Sure I will have mentioned it more than once I am very sure, but I haven’t actually blogged about a trip there in all that time. And why might I drag this up you might say? Well I am going there next week (again) that’s why!

In fact if I were to write a soliloquy here and now about my life, and in fact this is probably part of just that, it would have to include the words Nepal, Kathmandu and Everest Base Camp.

Let me rewind. I first went to EBC in 2011, and to say I loved it would be the understatement of all understatements. In fact the first time I was fortunate enough to stand at the foot of the world’s tallest mountain I blubbed, unashamedly, like a baby. There are no words, still, that I can find to describe that feeling, and I have been back twice more too!

For me, to be fortunate enough to be able to go on an adventure which takes you to this place, is just the best thing that you can do. Phrases like ‘living my best life’ and ‘the adventure of a lifetime’ are almost entirely inadequate. I think I wrote first time round, that amongst other things, for those who like high mountains and beautiful age defying scenery, the place has nothing close in terms of a parallel. As just one statistic, the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas, which is Aconcagua in the Andes , is 6,962m, or 22,840ft. In the Himalayas there are over 100 mountains above this height. You stand in awe, lost for superlatives, at the momentous and staggering beauty of it all. And that’s just for starters!

My first appearance (2011) in front of Everest, which is in the centre of the picture in the background.

My first trip to EBC was as part of of an unsuccessful attempt to climb Island Peak. I wasn’t ready, had no idea what I was doing, and that contributed to some altitude sickness. My mind was made up very firmly by the time I reached Kala Pattar (where the above photo was taken, which is THE vantage point for Everest) that I would be heading down next. And for those who don’t know, at Everest Base Camp you cannot see Everest at all. At Kala Pattar (about 400m higher than base camp) you get the best view – not bad is it?

Amongst so many other things that I learned on that trip, it was probably the reverence with which the local communities and indigenous people, (the Sherpas), hold Everest, that stuck the most. Just the name, Chomolungma (“Mother Goddess of the Universe”) tells you enough. But you also learn along the way that from children to the very old, these mountains are sacred in every way. Indeed many peaks in the Himalaya (I love just using the singular term for them) remain unclimbed as respect for the Gods who look over them and the people who live, breathe and respect their holy shadows.

The trip left an indelible imprint on me. Thrilled me, inspired me, and led me to do many other adventures in the mountains far and wide, from South America (twice), to Russia (of all places) to many trips to the Alps. This having already been to the roof of Africa, Kilimanjaro, too. So much so that in 2017, when having decided that I would never have the physiological capacity or ability to stand on the very summit of Everest, I had to go back. It was a magical trip. I’ve no idea why I didn’t blog about it, but it was fabulous.

The magic of that first trip, was, if anything ever better second time. I had a better understanding, a better appreciation of the culture, the landscape, the history, and the people. The first time I was in a daze almost (literally in fact, at times). When you are there the first time it goes by in a flash, and you are concentrating on your objective. The second time you understand why you are there. Everyone will have their own reasons. For me it wasn’t even one thing (to be at the foot of the greatest/tallest/most majestic thing on planet earth), but so many others. I loved Kathmandu alone for example, before I even got to the Himalayas. So much so that I booked an extra two days there just to hang out in the streets and shops and suck it all in.

I also loved the prayer flags, to the extent that my every house since that first trip has had some prayer flags flapping away in whatever garden I have had. I love the prayer wheels, the mantras, the gompas, the stupas, the whole ‘om mani padme hum’ thing, the food (dal bhat and Sherpa stew anyone?), and the people. The Nepalese people I have in fact found to be the most humble, welcoming and friendly people of anywhere I have ever been. They are so ridiculously proud (and rightly so) of their traditions, music and culture. They exude this from every pore. It is palpable, beautiful and infectious.

Durbar Square Kathmandu – no good if you don’t like birds, or cows!

And so in 2018, I did it again. Same trip, just different travel company. 2017 was Ian Taylor Trekking, and 2018 was Exodus. For me, the difference between the two was huge. With Ian Taylor Trekking the whole time was incredible. Our guide, Ang Kami, was incredible, as were the rest of the team. The tea houses were great, and it was just a brilliant and amazing adventure, where your enjoyment and experience was always first. It was also educational, and exhilarating, even more so than the first time. With Exodus in 2018, although the trip and experience was as good as ever, I found that Exodus scrimped on money to every extent they could (and I’m being kind!), and it took away from the overall enjoyment a bit.

In 2017 I finally got to actually sleep, in a tent, at EBC!
And here is the shot at the entrance to EBC itself, a picture which hangs on my wall at home and always will.

In 2019 I was determined to go again. Although I may have waxed lyrical above about the whole thing, I don’t think I could ever put into words on a page just what it feels like for me to be there. I’m often asked in fact, given what a big world it is out there, why I would keep going back. The answer is really simple – I love it beyond compare to any place I have ever been to. I can go on my own and feel utterly fulfilled in every one of my senses, and more.

In 2019 though, with my then partner Mel, we had none other than the New York Marathon (my first ever) in the November to get through, and that was such an incredible highlight on its own that I didn’t even miss Nepal! I did however, or we both did, book to go Nepal in March 2020. It would have been my first time to do the spring (climbers, pre-monsoon) trek to EBC. However, the world would sadly close its doors of course to foreign travel that very month. Bags were packed, and it was I think 6 or 7 days from getting to the airport when Covid would have other ideas for us and of course the rest of humanity.

So since March 2020, if I said here that I’ve been somewhere between itching and desperate (much closer to the latter) to repeat the whole thing, then it would be a huge understatement. It is my first proper trip post pandemic, apart from the Berlin Marathon. I’ve booked myself two days each side of the actual trek so I can take in again all of the sights and sounds and smells of Kathmandu. Ian Taylor Trekking will be my guides. Although I have to say that (despite the fact that I’m very happy to be going with them) I could indeed guide myself these days :).

A tiny bit of Thamel, in the centre of Kathmandu.

So, given the fact that I didn’t blog the trip with Sheree, Al, Pip and many others in 2017, or Mark, Emily, Em, Ali and others in 2018, this one is getting the full treatment! Every trip is wonderful, and the people are always special regardless.

So roll on Thursday, and a flight to Kathmandu via Doha will start the adventure off.


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?