12kg? Impossible!

So yesterday I told you that I was about to try to squeeze a quart into a pint pot if you remember. Or more specifically I had the dilemna of having a massive amount of packing to do to get into a very small bag. The issue is that when I get to Kathmandu, my bag for the trek is weighed at the hotel, and can only weigh 12kg – yes you heard me correctly! That’s all of my kit for a 22 day expedition, all clothes, waterproofs, sleeping bags, boots, down jackets, equipment, the lot. I can tell you that my sleeping bag and Thermarest alone weigh about 3kg, and my various electrical items close on the same. It’s not even close to being funny. It all has to fit into a very small space too – i.e. the ‘expedition bag’ they gave me for the trip.

When I was told I was being sent an expedition bag I originally thought ‘oh good, a nice new bag, I could always do with one of those’. Then when I saw it I just laughed – it must hold about 50 litres max, and thought ‘no way’. Then I was told that my stuff had to fit into this bag for the trek, and could weigh not a gram more than 12kg, and so I knew I was in trouble. It almost leaves me with wearing the same exact clothes for all 22 days, and whilst I expect to be ponging to high heaven by the time I make it back to Kathmandu, there are limits as to how long you can live in the same pair of underpants – please!

So anyway this was how things looked yesterday:

The sprawling kit as of yesterday.....

And so today I have been trying to squeeze things down via stuff sacs and compression bags. The compression bags are great -I bought a couple of the Exped Tele range from Amazon, and they are great. You can even suck the air out of them like those clothes bags that you see on QVC! Anyway, things are heading in the right direction, as it now looks like this:

Heading in the right direction at least.

So I reckon that after a day of huffing and puffing (and believe me, compressing a sleeping bag and Thermarest takes it out of you in my living room, and so doing this at altitude with no oxygen is going to be a killer) I have it do I can get it all into the bag, just. All good I thought, so let me weigh it. And the answer is……..18kg.

Yep, that’s without the boots as I’ll be wearing those, and without toiletries, as I haven’t packed them yet. Oh and it is without underwear, or any clothes other than those I listed in yesterday’s post, i.e just my trekking pants and fleeces and things. I was about to throw everything out of the window in the end. I then had to think about my stuff for Island Peak, as this is excluded altogether from the above. Oh Lordy!

So I then decided to pull myself away from that and look at the rucksack situation, just by way of small distraction, as it were. My trip notes say “40-50 litre rucksack with ice axe straps”. I have to confess to being pretty bad with rucksacks this year. Bad that is in that I have already bought three :). One of them I actually used :). So which one to pick:

Eenie, meenie, miney moe.......

Now the one on the left is technically the only one that fits the bill, as it is a Berghaus 45+8 sack, and has as many attachments and pockets as you could wish for. The one on the right is the one I used for Switzerland in the summer, it’s a Deuter 35+ and has the bells and whistles too (if not all of the room). It is a great climbing sack, but not a great one for trekking though. The one in the middle is a Sprayway 30, and I love it, but it has no ice axe straps.

If I was just trekking to base camp I’d take the Sprayway, without hesitation. It is the most comfortable, has great access, has outside bottle holders etc etc. If I was just climbing I’d take the Deuter – it is made for ropes and axes and helmet etc, and I know it fits the bill. If I read the kitlist properly then I should go for the Berghaus, as it is the only one that fits the spec.

But then…..the list goes on to say that your total baggage of 15kg should be divided into your kit bag and rucksack, with the kit bag to weigh ‘no more than 12kg’. Now this means that the rucksack can weigh no more than 3kg. I can tell you that I weighed each of these this evening, and the Berghaus weighs 2.1kg on its own. Totally empty. That means I can fit in like a pair of sunglasses and maybe a bar of chocolate if I’m lucky. My waterproof jacket weighs 800g, and my camera about the same including its spare batteries and the like. What do I do with suntan lotion, lip salve, water bottle, camelback, fleece etc etc etc?

So I knew this was going to be a frustrating day. I really wanted to spend it trying to do some things around the house, maybe have some ‘me’ time, maybe even go out and not think about panicking about the trip at all to take my mind off it. Instead it is worse then before. I will get there somehow, I simply have to, but how?

Answers on a postcard please…….

Getting Scared Now

I don’t know if it is a good thing to admit if you are scared or not? As far as I am concerned, it is generally a good thing to have a healthy respect for the mountains, but to have fear, deep fear, is maybe just too much. I say this because today, I have to admit, I am now no longer just ‘looking forward’ to this trip, I am also worried, a lot.

It is now just six days (six days? – holy cow!) until I go to Island Peak. Today I wanted to remind myself of what I am I up against, to get ‘into the zone’ as it were, and so I did a little googling. As well as various YouTube videos of planes landing at Lukla Airport (and some not landing at all – I am still very haunted by the fact that none other than Sir Edmund Hilary’s wife and son were killed there in a crash landing) I came across various ones of the Island Peak climb. So I have posted one of them below.

The bits in particular at 1:46, 2:32, 2:47 and 3:16 give me the heebie jeebies. Did I tell you that I was scared of heights? Yes really! Check this out, the guy, who incidentally looks far more composed than I will ever be at sea level, let alone 21,000 feet with a cliff face each side of you whilst balanced on a tea tray width of ice, is at times on his hands and knees. I don’t think I’ll cope, seriously, with that section.

That’s all I have to say for now. I have so much to write about over the next few days, but it will have to wait. For now, I just need to absorb this, and worry a while. It is getting serious. Very very serious.

Oktoberfest – good preparations?

So I realised today that it is wayyyy too long since I updated my blog, but I have been really busy. Poor excuse I know, but it is true. Some of it has been work, some of it has been play, some of it (but not nearly enough :o) has actually been training, but I know as I sit here now that I am in not nearly good enough shape, and that with just three weeks to go that it is too late to do a significant amount about it.

In the last month in fact, I have been away four times, which is nigh on crazy. I have been to Cannes (work, mostly, with a smattering of nightlife thrown in too :)); San Francisco (well Santa Rosa in fact, and most definitely not work :)); the North East of England (Great North Run weekend, but no running for me); and then Munich last week for the Oktoberfest. Now I’ve decided to blame my son Dan for last one, as it is in fact his fault, which seems as good a reason to blame someone as any!

If you have followed this blog since last year, you may know that I went to the Oktoberfest then too. On that occasion there was a (somewhat puny admittedly) excuse, in that I was also en route to climb the Zugspitze, and the Oktoberfest was a nice little prelude (and indeed postscript :)) to that little foray. It ended up in a drunken mess of course, but I did not have a trip to Island Peak facing me, and so I could, I trust, be forgiven a little letting down of the few strands of hair that I have remaining.

So when I was there last year, amongst the several drunken texts I sent was one to Dan, which went along the lines of “I promise to bring you next time”. Well two months ago I thought I had got away with that one, as I was starting to ramp up my training programme for Island Peak. He of course hadn’t forgotten at all, just like I wouldn’t when have done when I was a 20 year old who fancied going to the Oktoberfest a lot. So when he said those immortal words “Daaaaaaaaaaaddddddddd?”, I knew there was only one result. I had my arm well and truly twisted right up my back, probably.

I shall post only picture here, one of he and me. It is about the most sensible one that I have.

Do not ask me if I am wearing lederhosen!!

Anyway, we had a belting time. If anyone reading this is thinking even slightly as to whether going to the Oktoberfest is a good idea, I’d say only one thing – go. It is just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on, and I probably made the same statement last year too, and if I did, then it must definitely be true. We spent three days there, which was more than enough, believe me. Sang our heads off, drank every part of our bodies off, and just had a blast. We even went and did a cultural tour of Munich whilst there too! It makes me very happy to be able to have such a great time with Dan – I am a lucky Dad indeed.

I have now been back for three days, and spent one of those (well a few hours of one of them) back in the gym. Good idea, I thought – not, said my body. It is quite simply frightening how much inside a week you go backwards. I have to push myself now or I will regret things badly in a few weeks time (I go in just three weeks time now!!). Trouble is, in the meantime, I am away in Paris for the rest of this week (work, almost entirely, but probably a bit of socialising thrown in for good measure :)), and then back for just two days before I go to Dallas for six days (work, sometimes, some golf, and some probably very serious socialising thrown in whether I like it or not – I should tell you about ‘the carrot’ at Bob’s Steakhouse sometime!).

I am also very very close to having all of my kit for the trip. Trouble is, that ‘all of my kit’ is probably more than twice the weight that I am going to be able to take. Time for some serious sorting to be done in my spare time! More of that in my next post.

Anyway – the blog is back………the preparations, of (mixed) sorts, are ongoing too. I am now seriously excited about it – in a very mixed and balanced way this time though – more of that next time too – and soon, I promise.

Nine weeks to go – woop!

This weekend I was booking three forthcoming trips through work to Cannes, Paris and also Dallas when I began to look at the calendar. It then dawned on me that I have all of a sudden just nine weeks to go until Island Peak. Where did that come from? Through a combination of other things that I also have going on, I have also worked out that I am actually at home for just three weekends before I head out to the Himalayas. And that is downright scary, especially when you are a bad planner and procrastinator like I am!

Here was me thinking that October is a million miles away, and then all of a sudden, boom, I’m now worried that I don’t have enough time to do what I need to do, i.e. get mountain fit, buy new kit, and just be prepared without panicking, but then that’s me – I know what I’m like – and that’s why I’m worried. If I can do anything, anything at all, tomorrow, instead of today and get away with it, I will 🙂

I duly therefore started having a look at the Exodus (the travel company that I am going with) website to see what I might need. I also registered for their forums to see if I could meet some fellow travellers there. Success! The site has a ‘departure lounge’ forum and I managed to introduce myself to two of the fellow travellers (not sure how many are going in total yet) via a post I put up there. There is a guy called Dave and his wife Maureen, and also Martin and his wife too. One of them mentioned being somewhat nervous about the flight to Lukla, which I have to say is preying on my mind too. More about that one in another post.

I checked first as to what I need to start thinking about, and the first two I came across were vaccinations and visas. It seems I can get my visas for Nepal (two required – one for immigration, and one for trekking – the Nepalese collect fees from trekkers too) upon arrival in the country, so that is a tick off the list, although I’ll need four passport photos too it seems. The vaccinations are more vague – looks like I need Polio, Tetanus, Hep A and Typhoid. I may need Meningitis too as apparently there was an outbreak of it in Kathmandu a few years ago – will need to delve deeper. Then there is the Diamox question – I took it on Kili, but who knows if it helped or not?

Then I have the problem (and it is a big one) of kit, and it is twofold:

1. Getting hold of the right kit in the first place.
2. How to limit what I take, as the luggage allowance is just 15kg.

1. The ‘right’ kit.

So I need to take, as a minimum:

4/5 season sleeping bag
Thermarest
4/5 season down jacket
Walking boots
Gaiters
Walking trousers
Waterproofs
Trainers
Windproof gloves
Fleeces and mid layers
Base layers
Rucksack – 40 litres
Ice axe
Plastic climbing boots
Crampons
Down mitts
Harness
Karabiners
Prussic loops
Slings
Helmet
Jumar
Figure of Eight

This list is obviously before any ‘normal’ clothes that I might need. There are at least 14 of those items above that I do not even possess.

2. 15kg Weight limit

15kg – really? Are they serious! I reckon that two pairs of boots, a down sleeping bag, thermarest and rucksack come to about 10kg alone. That’s before toiletries, suntan lotion, snacks, climbing equipment, and whatever bag I take to put it all in. Oh yes and clothes. Ridiculous!

When I went to Kilimanjaro I took the bare minumum on the 7 day climb itself, and my duffel bag weighed 18kg. That was not including my boots or rucksack, and there was no climbing equipment whatsoever then.

I am told however that the 15kg is a strict limit, enforced by the flight to Lukla in the Twin Otter. This is really going to be a nightmare of massive proportions! Meantime I suppose I should start to try to get hold of some of the equipment itself. First 5 season sleeping bag that I googled retails at £600. You can hire them apparently for £75, but would you want to sleep in someone else’s sleeping bag? Not me!

Oh and finally I got a reminder today that I had to pay for my trip. It just occurred to me that if I look at all the holidays I have ever taken in my lifetime, this is by far and away the most expensive of them all, and that is before I spend a fortune on the above missing items. Holiday – did I really say holiday?

Let the games begin….and learn those lessons well.

I’m very happy to say that my blog is getting lots of new traffic recently, so thank you to you, whoever you are, for reading it. The course that I did in Arolla was great in so many ways, but one of them was that I got time to collect all of my thoughts, collate my pictures, and pull everything together before I got back. It helped massively that I took my iPad with me to put it all down on – I have had my iPad for about a year, and most of the times sits there as a big underused toy. It does however come into its own at certain things and that was certainly one of them.

So now having been back for two weeks I am in training, and serious about it too, for Island Peak. Whenever I go away, I always try if I can (though never consciously, as it were) to learn something, even if it is just a little thing, hopefully about me. On this trip I learned at least three things, which in no particular order of importance are as follows:

1. Listen to what people who know more than you tell you. Sounds bleedin’ obvious, doesn’t it? Well it should be, but I don’t always listen you see. Take as a case in point my camera. I own a very good Panasonic TZ7 digital camera. 12 megapixels, 15 x zoom, idiotproof, takes great pictures. I bought it just last year for Kilimanjaro and it continues to serve me well. I wanted better though. With Everest Base Camp and Island Peak looming, I thought ‘What if I had one of those fancy DSLR cameras – that’ll get the money shot, won’t it?’. So I researched until I was blue in the face.

Cut a long story short, I spent a month buying up every photography magazine youm have ever heard of, and some that most people haven’t. Joined a few photography forums too, asked around, that sort of thing. Went into Jessops about 18 times. In fact I went into three different branches of Jessops about 18 times each. Decided that the thing for me was a Canon 550D. Looks great, big long lens on it, takes great pictures apparently and that sort of thing. I bought it and took it back after two days. Why? Well a.) it was huge, like massive, and wouldn’t have even fitted in my suitcase let alone a rucksack, and b.) after I took a bunch of pictures with it, I compared them side by side with ones I took from my Panny point and shoot, and I couldn’t tell the difference.

So that should have been that, shouldn’t it? Well for most people it would have been, but I don’t apparently listen, even to myself. I therefore asked a few more questions on various forums, and the advice from everyone, bar none, having told them what I wanted, and was expecting, was to “keep your Panasonic”, and “don’t bother with cameras with manual adjustments, especially when you don’t know anything about them”. Perfect advice. So here is my new camera:

The Sony NEX-5 - great camera....

At the ‘bargain’ price of £600, I decided that I had to have this. It is the smallest camera with interchangeable lenses, has a DSLR type sensor, and well, takes photographs and video. Excellent! Trouble is, when you are a.) hanging off a mountain, and b.) trying to minimise weight, you don’t need a camera with interchangeable lenses, and you certainly don’t need one that weighs about 4lbs and which takes up half your rucksack. What is even more galling, is that having got it back from Switzerland, whilst the pictures it takes are fine, and the ‘panorama’ mode is all well and lovely, I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between it and any other camera. I don’t after all even print photographs – I just download them and they sit there on my laptop like everyone else does. The ultimate telling factor was that I took more pictures with my iPhone than I did with the Sony – it was just too cumbersome to get out of the rucksack, especially when you are dealing with ice-axes, ropes and the like.

So when I go to Everest Base Camp, I will take my trusty point and shoot, and happily pull it out whenever the mood takes me, and just enjoy the pictures afterwards. Lesson learned for sure. Anyone want to buy a camera?

To be continued……

Switzerland Awaits!

So my Alpine adventure to Switzerland is very nearly upon me. I will by the weekend be in a place called Arolla, Switzerland. I will be there for a week, staying alternatively in a hotel in the town or in mountain huts, depending upon what the day’s activities are at the time. I have to say that I am ridiculously excited, but also not a little nervous. The course will include ‘proper’ climbing up 4,000m or so mountains, and that makes me a little edgy as I am just so inexperienced in that area, although that is of course why I am going in the first place:)

The internet reliably informs me that Arolla is tiny. It sits at the end of a the Vall d’Herens in the south of Switzerland in the municipality of Evolene. It is at about 2,000m, and has a population of just 200. There is not even a bank. It looks quite pretty, and has a number of 4,000m peaks surrounding it, some of which I will (I trust) get to see from the very top. It sits on one of the most famous of all mountaineering trails, the so called ‘Haute Route’ which connects Mont Blanc in France to the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Here is a link to the Arolla website:

http://wanderland.myswitzerland.com/en/orte_detail.cfm?id=313286

And a piccie of some of the mountains – I think the one at the back in this picture is called Pigne d’Arolla, one of the ones we will climb next week:

The mountains around Arolla....

And this is a closer view of the summit ridge on the Pigne D’Arolla itself, and where I believe the glacier training will take place:

The snowfields/glacier on the Pigne D'Arolla.

The hotel I am staying in on the other hand, looks like it needs a bit of updating, to say the least. A few reviews of it I have read online have used descriptions like ‘comedic’, and ‘like that place in The Shining’. Comedic I can cope with, I believe, but I don’t need Jack Nicholson pouncing on me with an axe in the middle of the night!

The journey looks quite eventful too. The trip does not include travel, so it is ‘make your own way there’. After a flight to Geneva I have to catch a train to Sion, and then I believe two different buses to get me up to the resort. It should take about 4 to 5 hours all in. Should be interesting, but I am sure with typical Swiss efficiency it will all be pretty smooth. I look forward to the trip – it all adds greatly to the adventure.

I am finally nearly ready with all of my kit, I think. Over the last week I have had a bit of a splurge, and bought myself a new climbing rucksack (Deuter Guide 35+), a new Primaloft climbing jacket (Rab Generator Alpine), a new Mountain Equipment holdall, and various other bits and pieces like gaiters, glacier glasses, Sigg Bottles (they don’t recommend Camelbacks), a buff (!) and several pairs of climbing gloves. I have also packed my fixed rope system that I bought for Island Peak, in the hope that I will get some help and tuition with it too, although fixed lines are not part of the teaching for the week. I will be amazed if I get below the weight limit of 23kg for the plane, so there may well not be many ‘normal’ clothes coming with me!

Some of the kit that I will hire over there includes helmet, ice axe, plastic boots, belay equipment and ropes, and also crampons. I look forward to the glacier travel and also crevasse rescue parts of the course in particular. Crevasse rescue looks terrifying!

I’ll do one more post on Friday before I go with some pictures of all my kit. It all feels like this is the start of a new part of my journey, and almost of my life. If next week is successful for me, then not only does it springboard me into being able to climb Island Peak in October (and of course if it doesn’t go well then I won’t be climbing it at all), but also towards climbing more mountains. My ultimate goal from here is as many of the Seven Summits as I can – it may take some time, and it will certainly take a hell of a lot of resolve, effort and money, but I am very determined. I don’t want anything to get in my way, and certainly not Jack Nicholson!

Switzerland gets closer….

One of the slightly frustrating things about doing the jaunts that I am doing is just how much kit you need for each one. The even more frustrating thing is that the gear almost never overlaps, and so you end up having to buy new stuff almost each and every time. Take boots for example – I have a very good pair of Meindl Burma Pro which I took to Kilimanjaro, and they are totally outstanding. When I go to Switzerland in two weeks time however they will be redundant, as I need to have “B2” (i.e ones which take a particular type of crampon) boots. When I go to Island Peak later in the year I then need “B3” boots, and so will have to go shopping once more. This all adds up when B2 and B3 boots are upwards of £300 a pair.

I realised today that as I have effectively only one weekend to go before my Swiss trip that I had better get my shopping list taken care of. I have just had a busy week where I was in Dallas on business, and then tried to get prepared yesterday for next weekend’s cycling ‘sportive’ – a 129 mile timed ride through Hampshire and Wiltshire called the ‘Magnificat’, with about 2,000 people taking part I believe. I therefore cycled about 60 miles or so to get the legs back in trim.

So today armed with the Jagged Globe “things you must take with you” list (I ignored the “nice to have’s”) I went off to various outdoor places and emptied my wallet in most of them. I had to get ‘mountaineering trousers, Schoeller or equivalent”, a ‘prussik rope’, some glacier glasses, some short gaiters, a crampon bag, climbing gloves, and all manner of other things that I have just never had need nor use of before. With some of the more technical stuff (ice axe, helmet, crampons, long rope, belay equipment) I get to hire those whilst out there, otherwise it would have been an even more horribly expensive day.

Each of these things took time to buy. When you are as naiive as I am, and you walk into a shop asking for prussik, you had better hope that the person you are asking knows what they are doing, as I couldn’t have explained or clarified for them if they had asked me one single question further! As it turns out I still got mightily confused however – my equipment list for example went on to (thankfully) elaborate “3m of 6mm soft cord” next to the word “prussik”, and so I thought I would be ok. The guy who helped me however said “are you sure? That’s way too long for prussik – don’t you want two lengths of 1.5m?” How the heck was I supposed to know?!! I came away with one length of 3m, and he helpfully showed me how to tie a prussik knot. I suppose I can chop this length in two if I need to shorten it right?

When I finally got home I laid all of my stuff out, and am just wondering how on earth I am going to be able to even lug all of this stuff over to Switzerland with me. What with two rucksacks, approach shoes, warm jackets, fleeces, harnesses and all of this lot, I have no idea whether there will be room for my dancing shoes on this trip at all! Maybe the world will be a better place if I leave them at home anyway, and I am sure that the mountain huts in which we will stay will just be places for sleeping anyway, and maybe even the odd beer or two at the end of a long hard days climbing. Oh heck, now I will have to find some room for that somehow:)