Leader: Chris Harling. Departed 2nd April
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All but one of the team are now in Kathmandu having enjoyed a lovely meal out tonight. Tomorrow we will be applying for our Chinese Visas and enjoying some time to see the cultural centre of Thamel and catch up on a little sleep!
We are on our way up Manang 3500m in the Annapurna area to acclimatise for 3 days before we enter China. It’s very hot low down so the team are looking forward to ascending to 2600m tonight on the exciting jeep ride up the first section of the Annapurna circuit.
After a long drive to Besi Sharha on the 5th we were too late to drive up the jeep track for a further 6 hours that day! We elected to overnight at possibly the only proper hotel in town which had its own outdoor pool – bonus!
Next day we boarded our two jeeps and began what turned out to be a 11.5 hour journey on rough tracks from 700m to 3500m. It was 25C and sunny as we left at 7.30am and dark cold and snowing at our destination, Manang, that evening.
Armed with a map and a glance at the surrounding mountains the next morning the team set off on its first acclimatisation trek in fabulous bright sunshine with stunning views in all directions. Our high point for the day was crossing a ridge at 4250m from which we commanded an awesome view of the Annapurna range and of Chulu West behind us. The gps owners in the group all confirmed we had covered 18km and climbed 1000m that day – not bad for our first day out and first day in the Himalayas for some.
We seemed to be acclimatising well so I planned to gain a little more height the next day by climbing a lower spur of Chulu Central via a yak herders path I spotted the previous day. We stumbled upon a lovely yak pasture at 4500m and soon we were all laid out in the sun gazing across the valley to Annapurnas II, IV, III and Gangapurna – just stunning. Half the team wanted to push a little higher to reach 1000m above the village, whilst the rest wanted to equal the height of Mt Blanc at 4810m. We strung out as we followed a fine ridge with an icy wind blowing, Mt Blanc’s height was passed almost by accident so we pushed on to 5000m where we found a small rocky bump on the ridge which became our summit for the day. We were all very pleased by our progress since this was only our second full day at altitude!
We spent our third day resting and relaxing in Manang before heading down to Besi Sharha on the 10th by means of a 9.5 hour jeep descent ending in sweltering conditions – the outdoor pool was a heavenly way to end the day!
Despite a 3 hour delay flying out of Kathmandu, we are now thankfully based in Tibet and have enjoyed a very touristy day looked after by the Tibet Mountaineering Association.
Yesterday we breezed through immigration and customs in the immaculate Lhasa airport, the staff being friendly and pleased to see the first climbing groups of the season. Our guides met us and took us in beautiful sunshine and a comfortable 21C to our bus. Soon we were picking our jaws off the floor as we walked into the lobby of the suitably great title of The Brahmaputra Grand Hotel. We were certainly being well looked after!
Today we have been taken on a tour of the Potala Palace, the internationally known “seat” of numerous generations of Dalai Lama.
Tomorrow we are off to Shegatze the second city of Tibet sat at a dizzying 3800m. 2 days later we hope to arrive at Everest base camp and the serious business begins…
After the delights of Lhasa, next stop was Shigatze for an overnight and a final opportunity to procure that most prized possession for low cost internet access at basecamp … a Chinese SIM. Problem is you need a Local electronic ID card to buy one – I know as I went to 4 different shops to try to buy one. I’m now an expert in mimed conversations about all things mobile phone.
The answer, a persuadable Tibetan guide to get one for me. I managed to buy credit all by myself, the next day though… I think…
A spectacular 8 hour drive across the baron dessert of the Tibetan Plateau taking in numerous army check points manned by teenage soldiers wielding nasty looking machine guns and matching expressions. Nobody is sure what they are actually guarding or what threat groups of climbers pose to one of the most empty areas on the planet, but anyway.
We arrived in Tingri, the last staging post before heading off into the wilds cross country towards Base Camp. We crossed the famous Lakpa La pass en route and reached a new altitude for the trip of 5200m all in the comfort of our Chinese coach!
we left Tingri after only one night and we boarded our coach bound for Base Camp. What used to be a 8 hour shakedown in a Landcruiser on rough tracks is now a 3 hour drive on brand new Tarmac and perfectly engineered inclines. This included countless switchbacks over a 5200m pass which would get any keen cyclist hot under the collar – highly recommended if you like punishing climbs at altitude on deserted smooth Tarmac.
On the descent we were treated to a few tantalising glimpses of our objective, towering over all surrounding mountains like a gigantic pyramid standing 60 miles away.
A final check point allowed us accesses to the famous Rongbuk Monastery – the highest permanent habitation in the world – and a few minutes to soak up the ambience. Finally Everest towered over us despite being nearly 20 miles away.
10 minutes later we bounced into basecamp, still in the 30 seater coach, and drove right up to our awaiting tents and Nepali staff. Brilliant.
The team was acclimatising well and we all enjoyed a lovely lunch and dinner. Next day was spent sorting equipment, organising yaks for the carry up to ABC (advanced basecamp) and counting all manner of items from chocolate bars to oxygen cylinders. Personalising tents and taking lots of Everest landscapes occupied much of the time too.
on 21st we left the relative luxury of Base Camp and began the long and winding trek up to intermediate camp. Despite being harsh underfoot on the shifting morrains the views were tremendous, especially in the direction of Nepal where Pumori dominated the skyline.
We made it into camp ahead of the yaks carrying our bags and tents which was a shame as bad weather was funneling up the valley towards us. It was a race against the elements to get our tents put up ahead of the snows!
Next day we completed the final 8km to ABC which is always a battle as the body fights the lack of oxygen heading up to 6400m. We beat the yaks again and huddled in the kitchen tent as the winds swirled around. When our kit arrived there was a tremendous sense of teamwork as we struggled to put up 9 tents in strong winds. Each tent took a minimum of 6 people to put up including humping large rocks to the right spots to tie the tents to. Despite gasping for breath, it was a great effort from everyone!
Next day was a rest day and the winds continued to pummel the tents. It was too windy to erect our fancy dome mess tent, so we all spent the day unsociably in our own tents, apart from attending to the occasional call of nature!
We used the 24th to walk up to the base of the North col to see if the winds were calmer there. The trail up the morrains seemed to have vanished since last year and it was a battle just reaching the glacier. It was a wild walk in gusty winds to the base of the fixed ropes on the hard ice of the glacier. Some of the team called it a day here and the rest made it varying distances up the newly installed ropes,while Mick and myself it to the col itself doing many impressions of fish out of water on the way.
Staggering back down to ABC it was great to see the Sherpas had been busy putting up the mess tent and on entering, feeling the warm of two gas heaters and the view of a table full of hot flasks and condiments waiting to be consumed.
We all felt we had earned a rest day today in preparation for “North Col, Take 2” tomorrow
Having enjoyed a second “rest” day at ABC on the 25th, spent sheltering from the relentless blasts of wind descending the glacier from the North Col, the team was inspired and invigorated for a second attempt at climbing the fixed ropes to Everest’s northerly saddle.
A noticeable confidence in the gait of our climbers was present as we stride and poled away from the tents. We soon powered up to crampon corner, and began eyeing up the challenge above. The ropes were a little busy with Sherpas and a few climbers heading up and several team members complained of being held up – show offs!!!
Once on the slopes of the col it was much more sheltered from the harsh winds, but still bitterly cold. Most of the group had their big down jacket and summit mittens on. Plenty of others were in their down suits – proudly on display like a new Goretex jacket on Boxing Day.
Apparently Andy T was held up for a moment on the traverse before the final steep section by a multi-tasking Chinese climber, who was, according to Andy, simultaneously radioing his progress to Base Camp AND emptying his bowels, with apparent disregard for those waiting.
Meanwhile our Swiss hero Devis, each step taking him higher than he’d ever been before (by over 2000m) was storming his way up having been battling with a similar condition to Andy’s new Chinese friend. This would be his last chance to reach the col and his determination was discernible from 150m below as I started up the ropes for the second time in 48 hours.
90 minutes later 5 proud expedition members were sat at the end of the fixed ropes on the North Col looking directly up the intimidating upper slopes of Mt Everest. Devis couldn’t believe he had made it and was beaming with delight as I forced him into different locations for his photos and proof of being over 7000m!
Mick and myself, our second time here in 48 hours, couldn’t believe how much better we felt this time – from impersonating the final gasps of a landed fish, to strutting about like Ueli Steck. Ok slight exaggeration.
Since the successes of the 26th, we have descended back to the relative luxuries of Basecamp down at 5100m, said our goodbyes to Jon, Sally and Devis who were whisked away at 7 this morning, to begin their voyage back to the normalities of home life.
Our dome mess tent feels more empty now but we have plans afoot to rearrange the tables to a more radical layout than the standard expedition, long thin format. Other jobs as we rest here for 5 days include, washing clothes, reorganising personal tents (again), eating treats from home, trying to put on weight and keeping up with social media.
Now 24 hours at Base Camp Andy T has finally cracked and has been seen shuffling towards the shower tent – or were his “8 day” clothes commanding his movements?
We have just spent 5 quite leisurely days at basecamp, recharging the batteries – in our mobiles as well as in our muscles. The team has been amazed how busy you can be at basecamp without having a whole lot to do.
Jobs that have been squeezed into the hectic daily routine have been:
Folding clothes, organising own tent, auditing treats and chocolate bars, fixing radios, charging electrical devices, showering, hair cutting, writing diaries, washing clothes, staying well hydrated, to name but a few.
We have been having after dinner movies of varying intellect, for example the easy to follow plot of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the complex period classic that is Top Gun, which amazingly was the first viewing for Andrew S!
We broke out the UK bought sponge puddings tonight and I volunteered to make the custard which meant switching my leader’s hat for my chef’s hat and asking permission from basecamp cook Angmu to use his pots and pans as I made proper custard for the first time using the custard powder, milk, sugar and a lot of frantic stirring – a fair effort at 5100m and an unfamiliar kitchen!! Luckily it turned out well and it was enjoyed by all.
Tomorrow 3 May, we head up to ABC in one long trek which is never easy despite us being much more acclimatised than last time. The plan is to have a rest at ABC before climbing the North Col and spending at least 2 nights there. We will attempt to climb all the way up to 7500m on the middle day in a bid to nudge our bodies into a frenzy of red blood cell production prior to our summit attempt around 2 weeks later if the weather is kind to us.
So spirits are good and the whole team is healthy and looking forward to the next phase of the expedition.
A quick update from Chris over the Sat phone. The team are moving up to the North Col tomorrow, the winds have dropped and all going to plan.
Update from Chris over the Sat Phone, on the 6th May the whole team ascended from ABC to North Col and Spent the night there, on the 7th they set off with the aim of reaching 7500m with 3 members of the team (Chris, Andy Taylor and Mick). Reaching this point with the rest making 7200m before descending back to North Col.
The Weather was really hot on leaving North Col but quickly got colder as the winds picked up and was almost too cold at the point where they turned back. Everyone spent another night at North Col before descending back down to ABC today except Mick who is spending an extra night at North Col to help with his acclimatisation before attempting the summit without oxygen. The team will now head back down to Base Camp for at least 5 days keeping an eye on the weather looking for a window for a summit attempt.
The team is now back in the “dense” air of Base Camp, enjoying a whole 50% of sea level oxygen level. It really does feel like being at sea level – appetite restored, energy in abundance and small abrasions start to heal quickly.
The last 7 days has been a real test for the team. Firstly, climbing back up to ABC in a single push – a brutal effort which punishes the legs, with the last section seemingly going on for infinity. Taking between 6.5 and 8.5 hours to cover 10.6 miles and climb 1300m gives you an idea of the nature of the difficulty. We took two days rest to recharge the quads then headed up the fixed ropes to the North Col, for the second time (3rd time in Mick and my cases). This time we were laden with sleeping bag, down suit, food for 2 nights and bags of determination! I somehow beat our Sherpas up there (young Purbha would have arrived first but he was spotted dancing and doing ‘reverse crab’ moves half way up) and my prize was to shovel snow and help put tents up while the team arrived in various states of sense of humour!!
Sleeping at 7000m is a good test of acclimatisation and most achieved some quality sleep interspersed with a little ( or a lot, of coughing – sorry for the disturbance Andy!) We all made it through the night – except the Sherpa trio who were up and away by 1.30am , taking their first trip up to our top camp at 8300m with tents and oxygen. We continue to be astounded by Purbha, Purbha and Lakpa’s energy, strength and speed.
Waiting for the tents to be warmed by the sun we had a more leisurely start. The overnight growth of ice on the inside of the tent is a familiar annoyance, with every tiny movement or inadvertent brush causing a shower of tiny crystals to fall. Breakfast ranged from boil in the bag “All day breakfast” to chocolate puddings or hot granola with raspberry’s. This was followed by morning ablutions – which was a luxury this time as we had a toilet tent in close proximity to the tents – James and Andrew S were the luckiest, being only a couple of strides away – strangely they saw (or smelt) it differently.
I had advertised the day climb to 7500m (those wanting to sound all knowing, call it “tagging 7-5”) as “a whole world of pain” to the team in a light hearted manner to help their motivation. We set off around 8.30 and soon strung out along the ropes of gradually increasing angle. It was hot to begin with and we all had our suit tops hanging down, sleeves tucked in waist. This soon changed as the clouds came over and the wind increased with each step up the slope. The euphoria of actually climbing on the slopes of Everest was apparent and it was amazing for us to look up and see the finer detail of the NE ridge. The other amazing sight was the matching black and yellow Rab Down Expedition Suits insulating the first four climbers in the chain … how smart we looked!!!
Reaching 7200m was amazing effort for James, Andrew S and Ali and they called it a day here – there was a rumour they only turned back so they could watch what was possibly the world’s highest ‘drone’ flight taking above the North Col with the Polish team and a very nervous drone pilot!
Meanwhile, Andy T, Mick and I soldiered on in strengthening winds and snow. We passed our Sherpas descending from 8300m who looked like they’d just been for a stroll round the park. We just about had the energy to clasp gloved hands and pass on our thanks for their efforts.
After about 3 hours and 41 minutes (not that I was timing it) I reached the rock outcrops which mark 7500m where the North Ridge really ramps up. I was mildly fatigued. No, I was spent, done in, finished. Looking down I was pleased to see Mick and Andy T still ascending. It was apparent they were equally enjoying their climb – leisurely strolling up the snow slopes with a spring in their strides…
Determination was shown in abundance and they both also made it to 7500m. A great effort particularly as this was a new height record for Andy, and also in that he created and carried a 5cm ice stalactite on his now bushy moustache during the ascent.
We liked the North Col so much that on return we spent a second night there. Then the next morning, there was a varying level of enthusiasm for packing up and heading down to ABC in the heat of the still morning. It’s amazing how hot a tent can get even at 7000m at 9.00am. Ali was keenest and was away pre 9.00am, some of us dosed (and snored) till much later before sliding down the ropes past numerous groups of climbers heading upwards, many with the familiar grimace of the Himalayan climber wishing they were somewhere else!
We left Mick all by himself to benefit from an extra day of high acclimbatisation prior to his artificial oxygen free attempt at the summit. He came bouncing into ABC mess tent the next morning in time for breakfast and a few jokes about bedtime stories over the radio.
The call for BC luxuries was strong and we all headed down in a snow fall which obscured the views for most of the way. Some headed straight for the shower on arrival …some didn’t. I’ll name no names. And you’ll never know.
We have spent a very pleasant 6 days at Base Camp, eating, drinking, resting, recovering and preparing our bodies for what is to come.
The weather forecast arrives via email each afternoon and it is full of data and predictions on a plethora of variables. We are especially interested in wind speed, direction, temperature, humidity, precipitation and jet stream movements.
From leaving Base Camp to arriving at the summit takes 5 days of climbing but with a rest day or two added in at Advanced Base Camp we must look at predictions for around 7 days ahead. So far the wind forecast has modelled wind speeds which are generally above the safe limit for climbing. This has delayed the Chinese rope fixing team and there are currently no fixed ropes above 8300m. Hopefully this will be completed during a brief lull in the winds on the 18th and our route to the summit will be open!
The south side has had several ascents already, mainly in stronger winds and the risks of frostbite has been high. Patience is often necessary to watch conditions change and the forecast to improve.
While we have been weather watching, there has been much discussion and sharing of information amongst the main expeditions on our side of the mountain. I have had the pleasure of talking to many expedition leaders and we all agree how important it is to share information and work together. It’s a great working atmosphere which benefits us all.
Finally we have a consensus of sorts – the possibility of a summit window during 21 – 24 May when wind speed at summit level should remain below 10 knots or 18km/h and unless there is a significant change to the forecast we could be looking to summit on the 22 May.
So tomorrow, the 16th we head back up to ABC, all with high spirits, good health and a very high red blood cell count after nearly 6 weeks of acclimatisation.
We are all looking forward to the challenge ahead and hope we are fortunate to have favourable conditions as we progress onto Everest’s higher slopes.
19th May 1:45pm
Chris has called with an update on the Sat phone. The team are now at the North Col relaxing and preparing themselves for the next few days ahead.
The rope fixing team finished the final sections to the summit today so everything is now in place allowing attempts from the North Side to begin. There is 1 team ahead of them but conditions still look to be most favourable on the 22nd with lighter winds.
As soon as we receive any updates including through the night of the summit bid we will update this page so keep checking for updates.
20th May 11:19am
Chris sent a text this morning to say the team are now at Camp 2. It quite windy but the tents are securely tied to the mountain. All the team are doing fine. For the clients using oxygen they would have experience using it for the first time for real from 7500m to Camp 2, they will rest/sleep on oxygen overnight. Tomorrow the team will head up to Camp 3, the highest campsite in the world. From 8250m the team will launch their summit attempt usually aiming to depart between 9:30pm – 10:30pm local time on the 21st May with the intention of reaching the summit early morning on the 22nd May. We hope to be able to keep this news page updated through the summit night for friends & family, although with best laid plans sometime communications can be problematic in the temperatures the team have to operate in.
21st May 10:00pm Nepali Time
The whole team reached the top camp between 12:30pm & 2:30pm Nepali time today. For the last 8- 10 hours they have been resting, cramming in what calories they can manage to consume and trying to keep hydrated. After years of preparation for each memeber of the team it all comes down to the next 8 – 12 hours to achieve, what for some will have been a life long ambition, of standing on the highest point on earth.
Chris called to say the team left right on time at 10pm Nepali time and so far everything is looking good for their bid. Mick is continuing to not use oxygen, but has made the decision to carry 2 cylinders just in case. All being well the next update will be from when the team reach the NE Ridge in hopefully a couple of hours time.
21st May 11:45pm Nepali Time
Chris has just made a very brief call. The team have made it to 8400m, the junction point with the NE Ridge. All the team are going well. They are now 1km from the summit, albeit it normally takes 6-8 hours to climb that final kilometer!
22nd May 04:40am Nepali Time
Great news, just after first light, Mick Allen is the first climber to reach the summit this morning. He switched over to using oxygen from about 8400m after his feet started to get really cold, so a really sensible decision by Mick to carry the oxygen. The oxygen made a huge difference and he started to get feeling back in his feet after 10 minutes. Not sure if he was also drinking rocket fuel while he was up their but he’s made the summit in fantastic time. The rest of the team are still making their way up towards the summit and will hopefully join him soon.
22nd May 08:30am Nepali Time
Another succesful summit bid is accomplished. A big well done to the team for their efforts. Chris has just left a very muffled message (he didn’t take his mask off when talking), it seems despite having signal and trying to keep the sat phone warm in his suit he was struggling to make a call connect. From what I’ve been able to decipher from the call Al Ball & Andrew Smith decided to turn round just below the 1st Step and are back down at Camp 3. The rest of the team carried on and reached the summit around 5am Nepali time Mick, Chris, Andrew Whyte & Phurba, closely Followed by Andrew Taylor & Lhakpa. They are now on descent to Camp 3. At the time of the call Chris was with Andrew Whyte and about 25 minutes away from camp where he will call again. Andy Taylor is not too far behind with Lahkpa. We wish them a safe journey back down the mountain.
22nd May 11:44am Nepali Time
Chris has just called in from Camp 3 to give an update on the teams progress and clarify the events of the summit morning. The weather forecast the team received turned out to be pretty accurate, early on the clouds were coming and going and there were light winds, but the increased humidity menat that it did eventually cloud out and there was a light dusting of snow. The winds did pick up later on to around 20 knots, which didn’t cause major issues for the summit bid, but the wind combined with the humidity meant that their suits & zippers were rimmed up with ice, causing a Chris a problem of not being able to get the phone out of his suit for considerable time, as well as radio microphones icing up.
The team decided to have planned split departure times with Mick, Al & Phurba leaving at 8pm last night, Andrew Taylor, Andrew Smith & Lhakpa at 9pm and Andrew Whyte, Chris & Phurba at 10pm. Al Ball & Andrew Smith decided to head down with Phurba just below the 1st Step at around 8550m, a tremendous effort for both of them, and are now down at Camp 2 and planning to clear down to the North Col today.
Mick reached the summit around 4:40am followed by Chris, Andrew Whyte & Phurba at 5am. Andy Taylor & Lahkpa reached the summit around 5:30am. Due to the wind & cold Chris said they spent around 15 minutes on the top before heading back down the mountain.
Mick is already on his way down to Camp 2 at 7600m. Chris, Andrew Whyte, Andy Taylor, Phurba & Lhakpa have been having a bit of well earned R&R at Camp 3, and just as Chris was calling in, they were about to set off down to Camp 2.
Well done to everyone and especially to the sherpa staff for managing to get everything in place despite having one week less to do it all in. The team will now be looking forward to some good food and the comforts of ABC & BC over the next few days.
22nd May 17.25 Nepali Time
Chris has called in to let us know that the team have moved safely down the mountain and are ready for a good night’s sleep, they will now be enjoying the thicker air that the lower altitude brings.
Mick, Andy T, Andrew W, Chris and the Sherpa’s are all at Camp 2 at 7600m. Al B and Andrew S are back down at ABC. We will hear more from them tomorrow when they are all back at ABC.
The team are now relaxing at ABC waiting for the sherpas to clear down today from 8300m. We expect the team to be at Base Camp and all of our equipment cleared off the mountain tomorrow. Hopefully we will have some photos of the teams outstanding efforts for you soon.