The final group – Me, George, Sue, Jo, Catherine, Dave, Kelly and Ellie -- arrived at Hidden Valley yesterday, making this the first Medex expedition in which every single member has made it to base camp. We had a grand get-together in The Dome, where we were welcomed by ‘Fuhrer’ Simon. It was a tight squeeze to fit in all 46 of us, which was a good thing because we needed the close body contact for warmth. At 5,050m, some of us get breathless with the slightest exertion, while others are bouncing around like Tigger, playing football, and running between each group’s campsite. It was a hard slog up from the end of Dhaulagiri glacier and morain to a sharp wind-swept ridge which we followed, slowly, for about 1km, and then dropped to the French Pass research tent. Participants had to ascend a carefully graded 100m with pulse monitors strapped to them, having previously consumed 350ml of the magic red or green drinks, and red or green gels, confusingly labelled A and B. At the top of French Pass, the wind dropped and we could see the wide snow-covered Hidden Valley, surrounded by exciting, but frightening-looking peaks, including Damphus, which some of us will climb in the next day or two.
Group 2 was pleased to be reunited. An intrepid six – Edith, James, Bhavini, Katharine, Emma and Matt – set off first to replace five members of Group 1 who had to stay at Dhaulagiri to recover from altitude sickness. Chris, Martin, Andy and Haydn made it up next day, followed by George and Maggie. After the sun comes up at 7am, it is easy to appreciate the magnificent scenery. It’s more difficult in a blizzard, or after the sun goes down, when cold hands and feet become major pre-occupations. Simple tasks like washing, going to the loo and brushing your teeth become major undertakings when everything freezes straight away. Our cook tent can usually provide hot water if asked, and the food has improved immeasurably since our cook, Lal, recovered from his urine infection. We keep up morale with small luxuries such as chocolate.
The morning after arrival, before breakfast we have to dribble into a bottle and give a urine sample. We are also weighed and have our ears and eyes looked at. Apparently hearing deteriorates at high altitude. We also have the notorious ‘step’ test, which for some people involves very breathless maximal exertion.