Today we have a very special guest post from Ian Ridley. Anglian were delighted to be given the opportunity earlier this year to sponsor Ian and support the Intensive Care Society in a fundraising activity. The aim was to conquer the dizzy heights of Everest which is a challenge of monumental proportions.
Ian has written us a fantastic blog taking you on a journey through the highs and low, challenges and successes Ian and his team confronted during their epic Everest adventure;
“Why climb Everest? Numerous people have asked me that I don’t have a definitive answer. I suppose it is the challenge. Having climbed extensively in the Alps, I wanted to push myself further. The highest I had been previously was in October of last year when I climbed Ama Dablam (6686m), which is also in the Himalayas, and approximately 20 miles south of Everest.
I decided I would raise some money for the Intensive Care Society which aims to advance and promote the care of critically ill patients. In simple terms, these are the doctors who care for patients on life support. Vital work if heaven forbid you or a relative should require their help. Anglian Windows kindly supported my efforts with an extremely generous donation of £2500
I went with a commercially run trip and chose to go from the least popular side of the North reach which follows in the footsteps of Mallory and Irving. It was also cheaper than the more popular, and considered by some to be more straightforward South Side that Hillary climbed the mountain from in 1953).
Following the flight from England and a change at Delhi airport, we arrived in Kathmandu on 4th April and met up with the final members of the group. In all there were 19 of us plus two English guides. It had an international flavour with 3 Americans, a Canadian (the only female), and a Dutch Man.
Following a final kit check and a talk on how to use the oxygen cylinders and masks we set off by bus on a 4 hour journey to the Tibetan border town of Zangmu (Tibet is now part of China). No vehicles are allowed across the euphemistically called
‘Friendship Bridge’. The Chinese don’t allow any photographs of the area and you are met by armed guards half way across the bridge. A warm welcome to China!!
No vehicles are allowed over the bridge so everything has to be unloaded and carried across by porters many of whom are women with some carrying small babies. They are all desperate to earn what I suspect is a pitiful amount of money.
After a night in Zangmu we left early and along a road that clung perilously to the edge of the valley and steadily climbed upwards via numerous hairpin bends up towards the Tibetan plateau. Our next stop was Nyalam (3700m) where we stayed for two nights to help with our acclimatisation. In the afternoon we went for a short walk up a hillside to 400om whilst the following day we climbed up to 4300m. Already it was becoming apparent that people were going to acclimatise at different rates.
Nyalam could best be described as a ‘Lego town’ as all of the buildings are a variation on rectangular concrete boxes with only has one street running through it. There was no warmth in the architecture just cold grey or white painted buildings completely devoid of any character.
Our next stop was at Tingiri another 4 hour drive away on the Tibetan plain. On the way we stopped for a comfort break at a pass at 5300m. The land was very arid and extremely dusty with no signs of vegetation. It looked to me as though we were in a desert apart from a pristine ribbon of tarmac stretching ahead in front of us. It put the state of our roads to shame. Speaking with our driver it seems as though the Chinese after occupying Tibet for its mineral wealth had spent millions of Yuan (Chinese currency) on infrastructure projects which sadly created very little employment. Somehow people just seem to scratch a living out of the land.
Now I thought Nyalam was bad however Tingiri (4500) was about to push my comprehension of poverty even further. Whilst the buildings were obviously older and had the odd splash of colour to them, wild dogs roamed the streets and we had to arm ourselves with walking poles to ensure we weren’t bitten! Rabies is apparently rife and we didn’t want to put an end to our trip so early.
In the afternoon we walked to short distance to a former monastery and our first view of Everest which the Tibetan’s call Qomolangma, which means the ‘mother of all mountains’ and it didn’t disappoint. We were 60 miles away as the crow flies and it stands high and proud looking down on the surrounding mountains.
The hotel (now that’s a word that conjures up a certain image- for instance pleasant surroundings, a clean room, running water and probably electricity!) was more akin to a minus five star hostel if such a grading was possible. The three bedded rooms were filthy, so much so we all chose to sleep in our sleeping bags for fear of being bitten by some bed bug. There was no running water in any of the buildings except I hope kitchen! Whilst the sanitation was a communal hole in a wooden floor that was left to accumulate untreated (think ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and you’d be spot on). In fact spot on isn’t the right term as a number of people’s aim was appalling! Just to finish it off you would listen to the sound of the roaming dogs barking throughout the night.
Enough of how grim Tingiri and the hotel are. The next day we climbed 600m up a hill with excellent views of Everest and the Tibetan plain. As the winds picked up around lunchtime you could see mini tornados tracking their way across the plain whipping up the sandy soil as they went.
By now we were starting to get impatient having seen Everest and so we welcomed the next day when we drove the final hundred miles to around to base camp. Unlike the South side which involves an 8 night trek there is now a road all the way to base camp which was built by the Chinese for the Bejing Olympics in 2008. (They carried the Olympic torch to the top on it’s way to the opening of the games and in the process decided to stop anyone from climbing the from the North Side that year!).
On the way we passed the Rongbuk monastery, the highest monastery in the world sits beneath Everest 10 miles up the Rongbuk glacier.
Before you finally reach base camp there is an armed check point were passports and climbing permits are checked (Climbing permits are a very useful source of income for the Tibetans and Nepaleese).
We arrived to find our individual tents and the two mess tents had all been set up before hand by our Sherpas and kitchen staff all of whom had travelled from Kathmandu. Base camp (5200m) is situated at the end of the Rongbuk glacier on a large plain made of stones and small rocks. Although there were apparently just over 200 people in all of the teams hoping to reach the summit that included all of the Sherpas, kitchen staff etc, and there was still plenty of space between the teams. Ominously there was also a canvas army barracks.
We then had a couple of further acclimatisation days reaching 6000m before setting off up to Advance Base Camp (ABC) at 6300m. On our first trip we broke the 15 mile journey up wit ha camp at 5800 to help us acclimatise. The journey involved walking up and down over rough glacial moraine (unconsolidated glacial debris made of soil and rock) which was extremely tiring and was to become my ‘bête noir’.
By now some of the group were struggling with the altitude and walking at very different paces. However the route was safe and so everyone proceeded as they wished and stopped for breaks as they wanted.
The effects of altitude can come as a shock the first time you experience it. For those who have been skiing you may have felt the effects when you climb stairs in a high resort or a mountain restaurant. You know you body should be physically capable of moving more quickly but it just doesn’t respond with the vigour you would expect. Our bodies can adapt with time to an altitude of approx 5500m but beyond this height the body is actually deteriorating as it can not receive the necessary amount of oxygen to maintain all of the bodies systems.
The following day we put our crampons (a metal frame of spikes that are attached to your boots) and double layered high altitude boots on for the first time to climb up to the North Col (7000m) via a steep 400m head wall of snow and ice. Gingerly walking over ladders that span open crevasses (cracks in the ice) certainly concentrates the mind!
After another couple of nights at advance base camp we made the gruelling 15 mile trek back to the relative luxury of base camp. Following a few rest days spent washing (both ourselves and our clothes) and watching DVD’s on a generator driven television in the evening (we did have some luxuries), we then made the return journey to ABC. Following a further rest day we made the tough ascent back up to the North Col staying the night there before trying to climb up to 7500m to further our acclimatisation. I had a miserable night’s sleep as I just couldn’t get comfortable (I had somehow picked a tent that had been pitched on an icy hollow). The following day I was exhausted and just didn’t have the energy to put my boots and down suit on so along with a couple of others stayed behind. It wasn’t long though before some of the group returned one of whom had numb fingers and the initial stages of frostbite. That afternoon we returned to ABC and then on to base camp.
There then followed a period of two weeks whilst we were waiting for a break in the weather that would enable us to set off on our summit push. We had daily weather reports emailed to us from the USA. All we were looking for was a period of reasonably settled weather for 5 days and wind speeds of less than 30mph for the summit day. For most of the year the winds pummel the summit at 100mph as the summit at 8848m (29,000ft) reaches in to the jet stream at the height commercial airlines fly. It is only in May that the jet stream traditionally moves away for a brief period of two or three weeks.
Eventually there appeared to be a semi reasonable weather window and so with much excitement and trepidation we made our final preparations and set back off up to ABC. However this time the trek took me 9 hours as opposed to 7 hours last time. I should have been getting faster not slower and put it down to the really bad cough that I had developed back at base camp.
The plan was that after a days rest we were to push over the next five days on up to the North Col, then Camp 2 at 7800m, Camp 3 at 8300m and then to the summit descending back to Camp 2 and then ABC.
By now four of the group had returned home and another had decided to stay at Advance Base camp realising that the mountain was too much for them.
All went well for me except that my cough was getting progressively worse coughing and I now had bronchitis. After a sleepless night at Camp 2 (no doubt keeping my fellow team members awake by my constant coughing) we put on our oxygen masks for the first time and set of to Camp 3 passing into what is commonly referred to as ‘the death zone’ above 8000m where the body can only survive for a very short period with out additional oxygen. The 500m climb should have ‘only’ taken 5 or 6 hours. I say only as this height would normally be climbed here in an hour. It took me nine and a half. Something was wrong. I knew hopes of a summit bid were fading fast, whether it was the altitude or my cough, probably both I wouldn’t be going any higher. I rang my brother, who is an intensive care specialist up via a satellite phone and described my symptoms. His advice was simply to get back down as soon as possible. It wasn’t until my return that he told me that I sounded so bad having lost my voice from coughing constantly that he would have put me on a ventilator had I been back home.
I didn’t want to let Anglian down so asked another member of our team, Brendon, to carry a banner to the top together with a small bear that I was also hoping to take to the top on behalf of a local primary school.
Of the remaining twelve who set of that evening at 10.30 pm to climb through the night to reach the second step high on the ridge at dawn, only four made it to the summit. Fatigue and equipment failure together with deteriorating weather prevented the others from reaching the summit. Thankfully Brendon was one of those to the top enabling Anglian windows to conquer Everest!
I made the decent back to ABC and after a days rest pushed on back to base camp desperate to get to a lower altitude that contained more oxygen. At 8000m there is only a third of the level of oxygen that there is at sea level.
After clearing the mountain of our kit we left base camp on 27th May, having arrived on the 11th April, returning to Kathmandu via a 16 hour drive and the luxury of a bed. The hot shower and beer were pretty welcome too!
Unfortunately on my return to the UK I continued to feel ill and just putting it down to fatigue however after developing a high temperature I was admitted to hospital for 9 days were they ran numerous tests. I hadn’t realised how much blood I had in my body they took so much! Eventually I was diagnosed with Hepatitis E that I had picked up from some contaminated water ( I it was suspect a bottle of water that had been refilled and sold to me in Tingiri- it was overly full and I didn’t remember hearing the seal break when I opened it- by then I had drunk most of it.). The effect on the liver builds up over a period of 6-8 weeks so effectively my summit hopes were dashed a long time before hand.
I am pleased to report that I am now on the mend and that there shouldn’t be any long term effects. Only problem is I’m still not allowed to drink alcohol although my wife says that’s a good thing. Can’t imagine what she means!!
Am I pleased I went. Yes it was a fantastic experience and I was fortunate to be amongst such a great group of people. Even Helen the only female said in a follow up email to us all what an amazing time she had had.
Would I go again? Right now, no. I suspect it’s rather like child birth you go through an awful lot of pain which numbs with time and you have another. So perhaps: ‘Never, say never’.
One final thought can’t anyone climb Everest. Well if you have the money, yes some body will take you. You may have heard about a young American climbing Everest this year aged 15. I met him and he was nice chap however he was on oxygen from ABC but he made it to the top. There again a Scot in another party unfortunately died two days after our summit attempt whilst descending. I’m glad to be back in one piece and as the saying goes ‘the mountain will always be there’.
Once again I would like to thank Anglian Windows for their generous donation and I raised a total of £3638 for the Intensive Care Society from family and friends”.
Anglian Home Improvements, formerly known as Anglian Windows. Support local communities and charities since 1966.