Oct 14: Rest day at Dhalaguiri Base Camp. We are pitched on a moraine-covered glacier, which meant an uncomfortable night, with very cold rocks underneath our tents, and the roar of half a dozen avalanches and rock falls – fortunately reasonably far away. We actually witnessed an avalanche on our walk, at a safer distance than Group 1, who experienced a shower on to their campsite at Japanese base camp. ‘Sherpa’ Matt adjusted the rocks this morning and re-pitched his tent. We were all subdued on arrival, suffering from mild altitude problems. The air is so thin at 4,600m that we only have 70 per cent oxygen in our blood, compared with the usual 97-99 per cent. We are also short of toilet paper and hot chocolate, so today some of us made the 20-minute trek uphill to visit Group 3 campsite, who were very hospitable. We realised that our campsite wasn’t so bad, since we are further from the avalanches and rock falls.
They will have a headstart for tomorrow’s long slog up to French Pass, where Sam and Jamie will be camped to test our fitness. We then descend to our final destination, Hidden Valley, at 5,100m, where we stay for five days. The two sports physiologists will be providing us with either an energy gel or a placebo – no one knows which is which. We also have to consume green or red drinks, which confusingly are both yellow. One is an energy drink, while the other is coloured water with artificial sweeteners. Everyone has their own opinion which is which. We also have to complete psychology and sleep questionnaires as well as measuring our urine output and weighing every item of food we consume, just to add to the fun. All the difficulties are put into perspective by the magnificent scenery, with the white peaks lit up at night and strange cloud formations. We received a pep-talk last night from the real athletes – Group 1 – who had gone to French Pass on their rest day, just for fun. Group morale is high, despite the difficulties, and cohesion is cemented by rivalry with other groups.
However difficult the final leg, it seems unlikely to match the very hairy descent from Italian Base Camp and across the glacier course, for which some of us had to be roped to a Sherpa, or at least hold hands – very romantic. Some of the real mountaineers are trying out their snow boots and crampons, while the rest of us are getting wet feet.
Martin and Katharine send best wishes to their family – it will be interesting to see who gets there first, as Catherine is proving to be quite a mountain goat.