Is Someone Trying To Tell Me Something……..?

I was going to entitle this post “Something freaked me out on the way to the bookstore”, but that wouldn’t have been quite correct, for reasons which will become apparent in a minute. The spooky/freaky part is true however…….

So what happened is that over the last few days my ‘reading materials’ have been arriving for my trip in October. On the ‘Trip Notes’ supplied to me by Exodus Travel, was a recommended reading list, and having looked at it, I couldn’t decide which of the books to buy. Now this may not surprise anyone who knows me, as I do sometimes suffer from almost complete paralysis when it comes to making what might appear the simplest of decisions. I think this is an inherent inbuilt defect of mine, or one of the many.

Take for example something like a restaurant menu, which can sometimes floor me just by itself, unless I have been to the restaurant before of course, in which case I will order what I ordered the last time I was there 99.9% of the time. I could stare at restaurant menus for ages, they are just very interesting things, and choosing is very hard. What generally happens with me is that I’ll narrow my choice down to maybe two things, or sometimes three, and then ask what the people I am with are having. If one of them is having (as they of course made their minds up very readily and certainly within a few minutes of looking at the menu) something that is on my ‘list’, then I have to dismiss everything from my list and start looking all over again. I am sure this is incredibly frustrating for everyone else, and maybe accounts for the fact that I don’t get invited out to restaurants very often.

The worst moments happen when a ‘surprise question’ is thrown at me by the person taking the order – waiters and the like, those sort of people. They can freeze me to the spot. I was in a pub the other day and narrowed down my lunch choice (from a list of about twenty items, and inside about four minutes, exceptional for me) to a Steak Sandwich with onions. I was very pleased with myself and about to turn around and go find a table, when the guy taking the order said to me “do you want that on white or brown or a baguette”. Oh heck – did he know who he was talking to? I had no idea, I mean none whatsoever! You see it wasn’t written down on the menu as such – it just said “steak sandwich with onions – £5.99”. Nice and easy see, I didn’t even have to choose ‘with or without onions’.

Now if it had said “available on brown or white bread or a baguette” I could have thought about it and chosen in advance. It would have taken a few more minutes, granted, but it wouldn’t have been too hard, even for me. Instead I am stood there like some sort of Mr. Bean lookalike, sort of half bending over and making strange facial expressions. All the while I am thinking “what if the baguette is a little on the hard side – then I will wish that I had chosen the white”, and then “but surely the brown is better for me”, and then “but brown just doesn’t taste as good does it?” and so on. I then say “ermmm, I don’t know”, which is a bit pathetic really isn’t it! I mean it is not after all the hardest decision in the world, is it? I drive myself nuts, I really do:D

Sometimes I get asked ridiculously hard questions, like when I choose some water, and I get asked “still or sparkling sir?”. Arrrrrrggghhhhhhh – I know I should be prepared for that one, but it floors me every time, it really does. Anyone reading this is probably thinking “Christ this guy is a nutter of major proportions and a nightmare to go for a meal with”. Everyone is thinking that apart from my daughter that is, who is a lot worse than me, I assure you. You have to be there sometimes, you really do, or maybe you don’t.

Anyway, as I was saying about the books, I got a list of nine books from Exodus, all about either Nepal treks or the Everest region. Some people would have chosen one or two. Some people may not have chosen any. I looked at the list and thought (no, I won’t tell you what I thought, it’ll take all night) ‘oh bugger, what do I do now?’. What I then did was to study the list more closely and found out that I already had two of them and was currently reading them both (as I couldn’t decide which one to read first – I have about twenty other books beside my bed for the same reason). So I thought, “I know, I’ll buy all of the remaining seven”, and so I did. Easy, see!

So here I am looking at the expanding pile of books coming into the house, and stacking them on my bedside table (I never, ever read in bed either, so why I do that I don’t know), when I realise eventually that I didn’t receive seven books but eight. And here is the point of the title of this post too: I should say here that within me, despite my absolutely apparent inability to do anything more than just to trek to base camp (and I hope I can achieve at least that), is a desire to climb the big one. I cannot think of anything more exulting or exciting, or difficult, or with as much sense of achievement next to it, even for people who climb mountains all their live, let alone me. In fact I am also, coincidentally (or actually not coincidentally at all) watching a few DVDs that I bought on climbing Everest too. Just out of ‘interest’ you understand….

So anyway, there amongst “Trekking in the Everest Region”, “Everest, A Mountaineering History” and “In the Footsteps of Tenzing Norgay”, and the others is a book that I did not, I can asssure you, buy. I know that because it is not on the list, so I wouldn’t have even known about it. And if I had I would have had to choose it from a list or something :). The title of the book? It is called “Die Trying”. I kid you not. The subtitle is “One Man’s Attempts to Conquer the World’s highest Seven Summits”.

I will read the book, eventually. I hope, for one, even if perhaps there are a few waiters and waitresses around these parts who think otherwise, that the ‘book’ has a happy ending……

Island Peak

So having decided to climb Island Peak (or Imja Tse, to give it it’s correct name), I thought I’d put some information up here for those who (like me as of a month back) haven’t heard of it before.

The mountain of Island Peak is 6,189m (or 20,305 feet) high. It is officially a spur, or ridge extension coming off part of Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain on earth (the other three being Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga). It was apparently named in 1951 as it appears to look like an island in a sea of ice when viewed from Dingboche, a popular trekking stop en route to Everest Base Camp. It was first climbed by a British team as a preparation for the first successful Everest trip that same year. One Tenzing Norgay was part of the team, apparently.

Imja Tse......

It is classified as a PD+ climb. PD stands for Peu Difficile in Alpine terminology, and a list of Alpine and other terms are included in the link below:

There are apparently two ways to the top. There is a base camp at about 5,100m from where you can make a summit attempt, or a high camp at 5,600m, leading to a shorter summit day. As far as I understand it , where you start from depends upon the conditions at the time and also the group doing it (i.e the climbing sherpas will assess snow conditions etc. and the liklihood of the group being able to sleep at the higher altitude). When I did Kilimanjaro the highest we slept was at about 4,800m, which was a struggle, and so this will in either case be a step up for me. We will stay in tents whilst there. All being well we will be reasonably acclimatised as we will get there after having been to Kala Patthar (5,545m) at Everest a few days before.

After base camp there is a climb and a scramble to get onto the glacier, after which it is a crampon and ice-axe approach. The final 250m or so is on fixed ropes, involving jumars and harnesses. A climbing sherpa will fix the lines for us, and the slope is at about 55 degrees on ice. The final ridge up to the summit looks terrifying to me, I cannot describe it in any other way.

Here is a picture that someone took on the summit:

I so want to be stood where they are....

From the top, as long as the weather doesn’t hamper the view, there will be views of Makalu, Lhotse, Kangchenjunga (three of the five highest mountains on the planet). Everest itself will be hidden behind Lhotse, which at 8,500m or so, will still tower some 2.5km above us, even at the height we are at. Staggering!

The descent is an abseil down from the summit ridge over the headwall, and back over the glacier. Apparently there are potentially crevasses which may need the use of ladders to get over.

From there the trek back goes back over what is apparently a really fantastic ridge to a place called Phunki Tenga, and then eventually back to Namche Bazaar and the airport at Lukla. That will be day 20 of the trek, so there is a huge amount to get done in that time, including Everest Base Camp on the way.

If I told you here and now that I was excited about this, then it would be the biggest understatement that I may have ever made. I actually never thought after Kilimanjaro that I could ever rekindle the feelings that I had then. Little did I know that I would be doing this so soon afterwards, or that it would be as much of a thrill as it is to be heading out to the Himalayas.

So that’s Island Peak then. It is beyond my ability level, and will be way beyond my comfort zone when I am there, no matter what I do between here and then. I want to push myself though, as hard as I can, and this will not, I already know (or should I say I hope!), be my last trip to the Himalayas……….

Bring it on – I am already counting down the days.

A little climbing in Switzerland anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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