Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chris's blog from Base Camp after her summit bid (Damphus 6,000 metres)

Getting up at 3.30 am was no fun, especially when the inside of the tent was covered in hoar frost. Group 1 hosted a very chaotic breakfast before we headed out of camp and into the darkness. Denzil, Jim and I brought up the rear of a long line of torch lights heading up onto the Damphus pass.  By day break we were already winding our way breathlessly up the snow and scree slope of the peak. We were going well – 30 steps, then stop for breath, 30 steps, then stop for breath! By late morning we reached the main summit ridge and ate lunch – a boiled egg (frozen), slice of cheese and chocolate bar. (I couldn’t face the greasy Tibetan bread). With axes, crampons and roped up we continued along the ridge, steep snow to one side and some amazing fractured rocks to the other. The summit remained hidden behind so many other false summits and by the time we were nearing 6,000m we were gasping – 5 steps, then stop for breath, 5 steps, then stops for breath – even when it was almost flat! Was it worth it, yes! The views from the summit were spectacular – up onto the 7 and 8,000m peaks of Dhaulagiri and the Annapurnas, way down onto our Hidden Valley Base Camp and deep into the valleys of Dolpo and the Kali Gandaki (where we’re heading next). Celebrations over, we enjoyed a rapid descent with ever increasing oxygen. We had been out on the mountain for just over 12 hours, a spectacular day in the Himalayas and another 6,000m summit reached successfully. At the time of writing, around half of the expedition will have successfully summited Damphus and returned safely – a great achievement!

Maggie's Blog on the last full day at Base Camp

Corrections column: I am told we can still see Dhaulagiri mountain – it is a small, insignificant looking, rounded summit in the distance, looking tiny in comparison to Tachoochi, our nearest  real peak.

Also, Doug says his blood cell centrifuge is NOT power hungry; it is another research project which uses most of the power.

Final day at Hidden Valley Base Camp: Researchers are now rounding up the few volunteers who have yet to complete the programme, including people who were too exhausted on arrival to complete even the so-called ‘sub-maximal’ step test. It’s another bright sunny day and we are sharing binoculars to watch the large party attempting the summit of Damphus. They were woken at 3.30am, with breakfast at 4pm, because the previous day’s party returned dangerously near to sunset, and the sherpas are keen to avoid walking in the dark, which slows everything and increases the risk of hypothermia. A couple of today’s party returned at 5am, having become so breathless that they realised they would not make it. We are existing here on half the amount of oxygen we have at sea level, and many people find themselves taking an involuntary gasp every so often, a phenomenon known as periodic breathing – something that Chris Wolff is investigating.

 James Anholm and Bhavini, from Santa Barbara, USA, are coping admirably with the low temperatures, investigating with Doppler echo equipment what happens to the blood supply to the lung at altitude. Volunteers are given either a drug called Iloprost, or a placebo, and then measured on a sort of exercise bicycle called an ergometer, which has been carried here by our incredibly strong and dextrous porters.

 We have been fraternising with Slovenian mountaineers nearby, thanks to our Slovenian member Petra, from Bovec near the Julian Alps. Doug’s helpers Sven and Jenny also made contact with a nearby German and Austrian group attempting Tachoochi.

 They were involved in our latest medical drama, in which we provided emergency help for one of their cooks suffering the life-threatening condition High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (Hape). He was put into our Gamow bag, with someone pumping oxygen to stabilise him. He was carried over Damphus pass and down towards our final destination, Jomsom, where we hope he has recovered. Sadly, this is a common problem, with some trekking agencies supplying cooks and porters from low-level regions who are asked to climb too high too quickly.

 Tomorrow we will ascend 250m to Damphus pass and descend rapidly to Yak Kharka, so-called because it is summer grazing ground for yaks. We hope it will be warmer and that we will get a big buzz from the extra oxygen.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Blog from Stephan (Group 1)

After almost three weeks of trekking we felt it was time that group 1 made a contribution to this blog.

 

We arrived in Beni with a simple mission – to lead the way to basecamp so that we could have first access to the sauna and jaccuzi; there was some mention of setting up some science too. Sadly we had underestimated the other groups and our own desire late starts and short days.

 

The adventures started about 10m into the trek; what seemed a very simple task (to cross a bridge) became a major obstacle when Petra and Dave (aka Emma Lloyd-Davies) decided to take a photo. As the rest of the group vanished round a corner Petra and Dave were faced with a simple choice – to follow the 50 porters, tents, blue barrels, sherpas, guides and their 10 group mates or to go for the small road to their right. After a couple of hours of walking it slowly dawned on them that maybe they had chosen the wrong one. Thankfully a quick bus ride soon brought them back to the rest of their group and raised an interesting possibility when Jamie asked a passing taxi, ‘How much for Hidden Valley?’

 

Further up the valley Dave managed to provide some interesting education for the local Nepali children, who now know that Westerners poo in the same way as everyone else, while Joey (aka Zoe) almost became a snack for a praying mantis.

 

A couple of days later two simultaneous disasters occurred, firstly a fear that we had run out of toilet paper and then Jamie’s trendy sunglasses were accidentally given to a donkey herder. Thankfully the toilet paper scare proved unfounded however if anyone sees a cool looking donkey near Dhaulagiri please send a message to Bangor. Jamie’s problem did result in a new game: ‘Challenge Denzil’. The idea is that you give Denzil a few odds and ends and ask for him to make it into something useful. This can range from a replacement pair of sunnies to a cold fusion reactor (which he’s still working on).

 

Fears were raised about the manliness of some group members to the extent that some of the (allegedly) female group members drew up a list of requirements to be a real man. While some of these were easy to complete (folding a map, sharpening a pencil with a knife), a few members are struggling with slaying dragons and asking directions. Olivia (aka Sam) is also finding the ‘growing a beard’ requirement slightly hard. A corresponding list of lady-like qualities (mostly contributed by Rob the Pole) provided amusement during a hard day’s walking  including looking pretty in a blizzard and having a headache in the evening.

 

We finally caught group 3 at a school campsite and put on a show of our Olympian strength with a piggy back race (girls carrying boys). This looked great until Dave decked it onto the floor. In the evening we hatched a cunning plan: to leave the flat and relatively dry campsite to take a rest day at a swamp one day further up the valley. Iestyn led the way in his trademark yeti boots through the delightful cloud forest to a wonderful campsite that featured daily rain, permanent cloud and an attractive mud finish. Realising that group 3 would still catch us up we hatched another plan to hide some of their kit...

 

The rest day produced some strange effects as Catherine began to dream of Britney Spears and Doug finally began to beat Phan (aka Stephan) in the beard competition. The next day we arose refreshed and dry for the first time in a week and decided it was time to leave the leeches behind. After a brief shower in a humongous waterfall we soon arrived at the glorious Italian Basecamp, though were disappointed by the lack of pizza or fine art. It did imbibe our team with a sense of style though and Sam realised that he could have bedhair without making any effort.

 

The final few camps before Hidden Valley basecamp featured quite rapid altitude gain and a few headaches and illness, fortunately we were able to ascend the French Pass together to reach the Hidden Valley. Knowing that there would be stocks of tents, fresh vegetables and most importantly more hot chocolate we were spurred into action. This dream was shattered somewhat when we found that basecamp was basically a shoddly errected tent and about three barrels. We put Denzil and Buffy (aka Jim Duffy) to work and A-team like they soon managed to produce a basecamp dome and a hint of electricity. The Hidden Valley proved to be a wonderful campsite with perfectly flat ground and sunlight from 7am to 5pm. The only problem was the wind that knocked down our first attempt at research tents and required igloo like reinforcements.

 

We were all delighted to see the other groups, not least of all because we could prod and poke them with different experiments and an attempt to collect as much saliva, urine and blood as humanly possible. Jamie and Sam estimate that we will be taking over 2.5kg of frozen spit back with us. If anyone would like to put in a bid for this please text Simon...

 

Despite the intense cold we are all feeling well and enjoying the science and climbing opportunities. The attraction of teahouses, restaurants and a shave is seeming more appealing by the day though! A big thank you to everyone who has sent messages to group 1 members, it is always wonderful to hear from home so keep them coming!

 

PS On a personal note, lots of love to Imo, missing you lots and looking forward to seeing you soon.

 

 

Blog from Maggie

It’s a true wilderness here – particularly at night when the sky is filled with stars and moonlight. The snow reflects moonlight, making it almost as bright as day, but the hills and mountains take on different shapes and colours. At first sight, there seems to be nothing but snow and rock. However, we’ve seen snow buntings and ravens, plus plenty of yak dung, which seems, strangely to be thrown as an essential part of Sherpas’ football practice. Where possible, we have pitched our tents on little hummocks of dry ground, Arctic tundra on which there is saxifrage, lichens and other unusual plants.

 We aim to keep the area as a pristine wilderness, and have enforced a ‘No peeing in the snow’ rule which seems to be being obeyed.  There was a big rubbish problem, dating back some years, at other camps, but we have seen almost no litter since entering the Annapurna National Park, which started at Dhalaguiri Base Camp. We have lost sight of the terrifying ice faces of Dhalaguiri mountain and have now rounded the corner to pass behind it. We have sent some of our most elite climbers up Damphus Peak – Stuart and Iestyn being the pioneers two days ago – but yesterday Sherpa Dome assessed the climb in trainers, returning just four hours, with no ropes, crampons, ice axes or any of the paraphernalia that Westerners need.

 After the initial chaos, the camp is now an impressive engine. Power supremo Denzil has rigged up one wind turbine and several solar panels, which allow all the sophisticated electronic medical tests to run. One of the most crucial is the power-hungry centrifuge used by Doug, Sven and Jenny to separate blood samples. They are measuring how the immune system works under stress at altitude. This involves volunteers stepping up and down on to aluminium steps while their pulse rate is monitored, in time to a metronome which increases in speed until they are gasping for breath. Highly toned athletes have been reduced to hanging on to their helpers for support, almost at the point of collapse. This is known as the ‘maximal stress test’ and was quite hard at Bangor at sea level. If the volunteers’ blood samples cannot be centrifuged before the power fails as the sun goes down at 4pm, all the volunteers’ suffering would be wasted.

 Chris Woolf is delighted with the results of his study into periodic breathing and cardiac output. His volunteers have to breathe into a carbon dioxide monitor while heart rate, blood oxygen saturation and blood pressure are monitored, as well as their chest expansion.

 Group dynamics are changing now that we are all together, with climbing and research creating different liaisons. No romance stories will be told here, but several people are competing to have their hand held by Dome when the path is particularly vertiginous.

13 members attempt Damphus Peak today

Three groups left BC at 5am this morning to attempt Damphus Peak this morning. Another 20 are poised to go tomorrow morning. The research is going well and the research is starting to wind down. The weather remains fantastic. All members are fit and well.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blog from BC by Toni

Stunning desolate beauty here in Hidden Valley (5050m).  We’re here for a few days whilst a lot of medical and sports physiology research takes place.  Some group members have lost weight, I might have lost a bit.

Ice on the sleeping bag when we wake up in the morning.  The washing froze in the bowl yesterday.  That’s one way of killing bugs.  No acute mountain sickness, just still feeling a bit claustrophobic in tent so tonight Damien and I dmove into the big dome party tent, which can take 40 people.  So hopefully won’t be too cold but I’m delighted to have the big high roof.

 

Had scrummy lunch, a vegetable stuffed bread with fresh veg-very tasty.  The vegetarian food has been fantastic.  Still have a small supply of gourmet coffee left for our big walk out of Hidden Valley over Dhamphus  Pass in a few days time.  Party in Jomsom to look forward to, first beer in a while.  After that our group and some members of the other groups head to Mustang near Tibet.

 

PS. Laura and Gary, thanks so much for your lovely message.  It meant a lot to  me.  Love to all.

ALL members are safely at Base Camp

I am delighted to report that all members have now safely reached our magnificent Base Camp. Two members climbed Damphus Peak yesterday and a further group will attempt it tomorrow with the final group following the day after tomorrow. It remains sunny but cold with a light snow shower yesterday which meant that the research had to finish early due to lack of power. The batteries are, however, charging nicely this morning in strong sunshine.

Maggie's Blog from Base Camp

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.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Science in the cold

The Hidden Valley is a spectacular and remote valley to the north of Dhaulagiri at around 5,000 metres above sea level. Our base camp is situated at the foot of the Damphus Pass in a gloriously sunny spot. Despite the sun it is cold and quite windy. All of this makes science difficult. The various bits of electronic kit are susceptible to the cold, the low atmospheric pressure and the vagaries of the electricity supply. Everything is powered by either solar panel or wind generator and the campsite is a maze of research tents full of people doing exercise step tests, taking blood samples and powering up their bicycle ergometers. A few  machines have failed but there is considerable technical talent amongst the team and most things have been fixed with only a few major failures. All of the various project leaders are now ensconced in their various tents with an ever willing stream of subjects who, themselves, double as subjects. All battling against this most unlikely environment in which to do science.

 

From Hidden Vally Base Camp

Base Camp is now fully functioning with most members resident. Eight assorted members from groups 2,3,and 4 who were slower to acclimatise are on their way over the French Pass today so, by this evening, all members will be resident in the Hidden Valley. Most of our porters have been sent down to Marpha where it is much warmer and will return on the 20th to begin the work of dismantling Base Camp. Two members set out to climb Damphus Peak this morning and should return shortly.

 

Apart from the usual altitude gripes everyone is well. Base Camp is a stunning place and enjoys a lot of sunshine although it remains cold throughout the day. Night time temperature in the tent is about minus 13. Base Camp is at 5,050 metres.

Blog form Toni

Confessions of a very unnatural expeditionista

 

How come a luxury loving Edinburgh girl used to reading the Sunday papers in cafes comes to be camping at 5050 metres in Hidden valley, Nepal? 

 

Madness?  True love? A desire to push myself outside my comfort zone?

 

This is a tough challenge but I’m quite proud of myself and very grateful to a lovely group of natural experditionistas who have been so warm and supportive. Thanks to lovely Damien who has been a rock of support, Simon and Salley the  wise expedition leaders, Chris and Neil (love his singing and high spirits), Sue and kind doctor Carol, Stuart (owe him a beer for his kindness on the roped section of mountain), Refika, Sven and Jenny.

 

 Chhungba and Serky and all the Sherpa and porters have been amazing.

 

Challenges faced thus far:-

·         Sleeping in tent for two weeks (I have or perhaps better to say used to have mild claustrophobia!)

·         Finding leeches in tent

·         Huffing and puffing up to French Pass 5360 metres to get to Hidden valley base camp(rewarded by stunning scenery)

·         Dropped head torch down loo in freezing temperatures (yippee no leeches)

·         Two scary (for me) roped sections of the mountain

Yes, I am glad I came but the next holiday will be a city break!  Facing a lot of fears at once deserves a bit of home comfort rewards.

 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

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.  

From Group 3 camped a Dhualigiri Base Camp at 4,700 metres

We are enjoying a prefect Himalayan morning camped at Dhaulagiri Base Camp at 4,700metres. The sun has just crested the ridge and is now bathing our campsite in warm sunshine. A welcome relief from the pre-dawn chill.

 

Group 1 set off today to cross the French Pass and enter the Hidden Valley where we will establish our scientific Base Camp. Groups 2 and 3 will follow tomorrow as all are in good health.

 

We managed to communicate with Dawa, our BC sirdar yesterday and we understand that not all of the research equipment has yet arrived. It was to be carried up the very steep ascent from Marpha but some of the porters were not adequately acclimatised and left their loads short of the Damphus Pass. We are, therefore, sending some of our porters ahead to retrieve these loads so that BC can be up and running later today.

 

We are expecting group 4 to join us at Dhualigiri BC later today but we have only had limited radio communications from them. The Sherpa gossip is that all is well in their group.

 

There has been some illness amongst our staff but fortunately this is all now resolved. Rinje, one of our Sherpa Guides, became very severely unwell at 3,000 metres with circulatory collapse complicating severe gastroenteritis. Fortunately he responded to intensive intravenous antibiotics and fluids and was able to descend. We hope to meet up with him in Kathmandu on our return.

 

 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A C H T U N G D E U T S C H

------- A C H T U N G   D E U T S C H -------

 

Hi Familie und Freunde,

Nach 10 Tagen Doerfer und Dschungel haben wir endlich das Italian Base Camp auf 3600m erreicht. Wahnsinnig toller Ausblick. Es gab viel Aufregung in den letzten Tagen. Uns wurde nachts von einem Traeger der Laptop und ein sog. Gamov-Sack (ueberlebensnotwendig fuer Leute die Hoehenkrankheit bekommen.) gestohlen. Ein anderer Traeger ist dann Nachts noch durch den Dschungel den ganzen Weg zurueckgegangen und hat uns am naechsten Tag die Diebe praesentiert. Unheimliche Atmosphaere, weil wir nicht wussten, was die Nepali ihren Gebraeuchen nach mit ihnen tun wuerden.

Uns beiden gehts super. Haben hin und wieder Heimweh, aber wir kommen ja bald wieder.

VIELE LIEBE GRUESSE AUS DEM HIMALAYA kurz vor dem Daulaghiri.

Tausend Kuesse an unsere Mamis und Papis und bis ganz bald.

Euere Jenny und Sven

 

By Maggie (Group 2) from Italian Base Camp

Day 7: We are now 4 and a half days from the nearest road – a very treacherous road from which we saw the wreck of a bus which crashed with fatal consequences. We ascended today through dense cloudforest in a Monsoon rainstorm to reach Dobang – at 2,400m twice the height of Ben Nevis. We are very wet and having a rest day here to dry out. Everyone is well and in good spirits. ‘Doctor’ Andy and ‘Sherpa’ Matt send love to their respective girlfriends. Andy sends belated birthday wishes as well.

Day 10: Second rest day. We are at Italian Base Camp, 3,600m, and walked up to 4,000m to acclimatise and watch Group 1 climb down and up the narrow gorge towards Japanese base camp, where we all hope to break our journey to French Pass and Dalaghuiri Base Camp. It’s great to be out of the beautiful but damp cloudforest and into low Alpine tundra with sun-loving gentians in flower, and watching the astonishing cloud formations come and go below us. It’s just below freezing until the sun appears at 9am from behind the icy summit of Dalaghuiri, which we somehow have to get behind, and which was once thought to be the highest in the world. We are becoming blasé about the scenery – picture postcard perfect when the sun hits the snow-covered peaks; morning and evening.

Matt sends the following message: Hello love, thanks for messages, keep them coming! Hope you had a good time in Brazil. We’ve been trekking for more than a week now. We’re just below the snowline and getting fitter as we go, and having a lot of fun, too. I’ll try to call you when we get to basecamp. – Matt

 

------- A C H T U N G   D E U T S C H -------

 

Hi Familie und Freunde,

Nach 10 Tagen Doerfer und Dschungel haben wir endlich das Italian Base Camp auf 3600m erreicht. Wahnsinnig toller Ausblick. Es gab viel Aufregung in den letzten Tagen. Uns wurde nachts von einem Traeger der Laptop und ein sog. Gamov-Sack (ueberlebensnotwendig fuer Leute die Hoehenkrankheit bekommen.) gestohlen. Ein anderer Traeger ist dann Nachts noch durch den Dschungel den ganzen Weg zurueckgegangen und hat uns am naechsten Tag die Diebe praesentiert. Unheimliche Atmosphaere, weil wir nicht wussten, was die Nepali ihren Gebraeuchen nach mit ihnen tun wuerden.

Uns beiden gehts super. Haben hin und wieder Heimweh, aber wir kommen ja bald wieder.

VIELE LIEBE GRUESSE AUS DEM HIMALAYA kurz vor dem Daulaghiri.

Tausend Kuesse an unsere Mamis und Papis und bis ganz bald.

Euere Jenny und Sven

Crime and Punishment DOBANG 2,500 metres

The afternoon drizzle had begun as we climbed steeply up through the jungle. We had had a magnificent morning descending into an improbably steep valley alive with the noise of the rushing river and the ever present clamour of crickets. Along the way we had seen honey combs on a rock overhang above the steep path and were watching out for the monkeys that group 1 had spotted the day before. Lunch had been at a tiny clearing with a solitary hut and a few impoverished residents.

 

By the time Sally & I reached Dobang the rain was falling steadily and we moved quickly into one of the few tents that had arrived before us. The heavens then opened with a huge thunder storm that sent flash floods through the campsite and caught those that were plodding up the path behind us. Over the next few hours porters and members arrived all chastened by the violence of the storm. Late in the evening, Chomba, our Sirdar, became very agitated when he realised one porter load had not arrived. The porter apparently knew the way and Chomba quickly jumped to the conclusion that he had taken his advanced payment and done a runner. Chomba set off into the night and the storm with a head torch and a radio to hunt down the culprit and the missing load. We were left to spend and an anxious night contemplating the loss of the Expedition’s Gammow bag (an essential piece of safety equipment) and all of our communication equipment. The radio crackled unintelligibly through the night as Chomba searched the jungle.

 

By dawn Chomba had paid a hefty ransom to the villagers at the lunch stop and had found the gear stashed in the jungle. Sherpas were sent down to effect an arrest and by lunchtime two bound and bedraggled locals were led, on a rope, into Dobang where they were roped to a stake for some ritual humiliation. Allegedly they had stolen the load and the porter had then fled in terror. We will never know the truth but the crime was reported to the local official and all equipment was returned.

A tale of two Tataopanis

The bus dropped us at Beni 10 days ago which is at the confluence of two big rivers, the Kali Gandaki and the Magdy Khola. It is from there that we started walking – or at least most of us did! Within yards of the first campsite two members of group 1 paused to take a photo and, in doing so, lost sight of their group. They asked directions for Tattopani which they knew was the name of their planned lunch stop. Sadly for them there are two Tattopanis. One on the Magdy Khola and the other up the other valley. Thus they spent the first 2 hours walking up the wrong valley and had to retreat by jeep in order to catch up with their group at Babichur – their second campsite.

from Italian Base Camp 12th October

Groups 1 left Italian Base camp at 3,600 meters today en route to Japanese Base camp at around 4,000m. Groups 2 &3 are taking rest days at Italian Base Camp which is gloriously sunny and spectacularly positioned below the impressive wall of Dhaulagiri.

 

We have heard from group 4 on the radio whom, we assume, are 2 days behind. Unfortunately although their radio is transmitting well they do not appear to be able to receive our transmissions and so we have been unable to converse with them and thus we have no, more detailed, news from them.

 

All members of groups 1,2 &3 are fit and well apart from some minor coughs and colds.

 

We will be posting more messages to the blog site in the coming days as the weather is now improving and we will be taking more rest days as we acclimatise to greater altitude.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Posting from Group 2 (by Maggie)

Day 2

Camping in a steep-sided valley alongside a tributary of the river Kalashandaki, underneath a precarious rope bridge with loose metal struts dangling dangerously above tents. We thought we had seen the full variety of Nepalese hill village life – a sick young man being carried in a wickerwork chair, mothers with babies tied to their backs with colourful shawls. From the hill opposite, a train of heavily laden mules, zigzagging down an impossible looking path and across the rope bridge. Two women realised their cow would refuse the bridge and shoed it through our closely packed campsite, in and out of our tents and finally across the river. On Day 1 we got the lowdown on cultural clothing conventions in the hot thermal baths in Tatopani. One pool, with half for men in short underwear (though one of our group’s Speedo trunks caused sharp intakes of breath and tutting), and the other half for women in shorts and bras. If you are young and attractive, you pin a sort of teatowel in front of your breasts.  We later enjoyed white-water swimming, fully clothed, in the river underneath the rickety rope bridge.

Day 3

Bladder competition – we are measuring input and output for the medical experiments, causing much merriment. George was so fascinated by the mule trains that he almost fell off a cliff not watching where he was going. We passed the porters in a hill village, obviously enjoying a good lunch, and we also stopped for more than two hours, assuming we must be fairly near our final destination. We took a small steep path downhill, which seemed endless. Heavy rain started and the light started to fail. We were puzzled as the Sherpa led us well below the altitude where we were expecting to camp. Eventually we arrived at an isolated shack with a wooden table and bench outside, covered by a leaky tarpaulin. We sat as darkness fell, and the bewilderment turned to alarm at the thought of having to pick our way up or down the steep hillside. After half an hour, we saw our cook emerge from a nearby field – it transpired that we were actually at our campsite already, but that only half the tents had arrived, and none of our sleeping bags or other belongings. We ended up sheltering in a one-room Nepalese peasants house, where the cook served us a slap-up meal while two tiny children slept on the bed beside us. It seems the porters were celebrating the Nepalese festival of Dashain a little too enthusiastically and had to be escorted with their heavy loads down the hill in the dark by very cross Sherpas. The final porter arrived with our belongings at 11pm, by which time we were fairly fed up. None the less, and despite an infestation of leeches, the whole occasion was an important group bonding exercise, and we were up at 5.45am next day, determined to make an early start.

Day 4

Most scenic campsite so far, with  another river bathing opportunity, but this time so rapid flowing and cold that only George was brave enough to go in. Today we have joined group 3 ; much time spent in exchanging stories.

Tonight Group 1 and Group 3 are camped together in the tiny Himalayan hamlet of Baghur. We climbed up today from the valley floor at 1,400 metres to our campsite at 2,000 metres. Shortly after we arrived the afternoon clouds moved in and the rain began. As I write there is a gentle patter of rain on the flysheet of the Mess Tent and we are looking out over the mist covered jungle. A handful of grubby, Tibetan looking kids are peering into the tent daring each other to come in.

 

It was an interesting climb from the valley up through dense bamboo forest before breaking out into the grassy hillside.  Then, all of a sudden, the “path” lurched upwards and became an exposed scramble up 60 metres of precarious rock with impressive drop offs to the raging mountain river 500 metres below. Neil became very quiet and then finally asked to go first as he didn’t want to contemplate the scramble for any more time than he had to. By now the route was swarming with our Sherpa staff who teetered up it with the 30-40kg loads and flip flops. One of our Sherpa guides, Serki took Neil’s sack and he followed bravely up the ropes. The scramble climbed steeply then dropped down into a grassy gully before descending back to the path where we all met up with a much relieved Neil. He is now definitely committed to the trek as he doesn’t want to retreat this section and there is no other way out other than over the French and Damphus passes. He is definitely owed a beer!

 

We spoke to Edith in group 2 last night and they seemed to be having a long day. They had been caught out by the afternoon rains before reaching their evening campsite. We haven’t been able to raise them on the radio since because but this is not at all surprising as we are trying to communicate in a very narrow and convoluted valley system which makes any communications difficult. We haven’t yet been able to communicate with group 4 who are about 3 days behind.

 

Tomorrow we drop down before climbing back up to 2,500 metres and, hopefully, staying the night at Dobang.

 

Because of the narrowness of the valley our satellite signal is quite broken up so I hope this message gets through.

 

On the 7th October Group 1 strolled off for Dobang and Group 2 arrived in good spirits at Baghur.

 

Kathmandu and Pokhara

The team gathered in Kathmandu and groups 1,2 and 3 left together for the short flight to Pokhara. We had a few scares in the domestic terminal of the airport when wallets were reported as stolen but, in fact, they all turned up packed in various safe places later in the day. We had even managed to acquire 2 extra items of luggage by the time we got to the Hotel Barahi.

 

We met up with Stephan, Zoe, Jamie and Sam at the hotel and they began a frantic bout of research. The hotel was full of people doing step tests and dribble tests whilst the pool was taken over for the under water weighing tests.

 

Dinner at the Moondance then a late night with last minute briefings for the medics, the climbing teams and the group as a whole. The researchers had nearly everyone up by 4.20 am for the last round of tests before boarding the bus the Beni.

 

Groups 1 & 3 left Pokhara at 3pm  and group 2 followed the next day.