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Mt Everest is a suitable challenge for our Mandy
Super Contributor

Five years ago, she had not even climbed to the top of a popular hill in Johannesburg. But on 1 April Mandy Ramsden will be starting her climb up Mount Everest.

A successful climb will possibly make her the only woman from Africa to have reached the highest point on each continent.

Mandy is a 40 year old single mother of four who is part of Standard Bank Group’s property investment team in Johannesburg.

Her childhood dream of climbing Kilimanjaro became a reality in 2006. This also set off on a journey that would take her around the world and eventually the goal reach the highest point of each continent.

We’re behind you Mandy and will be following your progress.

Visit this blog for updates and more information about Mandy’s ascent of Mt Everest.
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Not applicable
Have a successful ascent!
Super Contributor
Mandy’s trip started in Johannesburg on Friday morning with a teary family farewell and an expensive excess baggage bill.

On arrival in Kathmandu, Mandy was met by expedition leader Mike Roberts, who instantly handed her a bottle of hand sanitizers and a bottle of water, along with strict instructions around their use.

Being the first climber to arrive, she was able to chat with the rest of the team. Mandy met Chris, the base camp doctor; Caroline, who is responsible for managing base camp and looking after the 13 “trekkers” and Ang Dorjee (a sherpa) who is Mike’s second-in-command. He will be aiming for his 14th Everest summit. Mark, the operations manager, ensures that the tons of food and equipment find their way to camp – either by sherpa or by yak.

Mandy explained that Kathmandu is heaving with excited, eager climbers and trekkers heading for various peaks. She had drinks on Saturday night at Tom and Jerry’s, a bar in the touristy Thamel district. This is where she met Russel Bryce, who has become somewhat famous and notorious for his documentaries on Everest, which is aired on Discovery.

She also mingled in the company of a few other legendary figures in the climbing world including Simon Yates – who will always be the man who cut Joe Simpson’s rope in the movie “Touching the Void”.

The only way Mandy could explain her experience so far was “Utterly surreal!”

Super Contributor
Mandy Ramsden writes:

The last two days have been spent buying last minute things, sorting and packing gear into various duffels and generally chilling. Mike admitted today that it is impossible to fit the Base Camp list into a single bag of 30kgs. In spite of the strict instruction to do so, I have managed to fill two large duffels that are certain to weigh significantly more than the allocated weight (although they do contain 2kgs of dry wors, several bags of chocolates and 8 books). The plan is for climbing gear to make its way by porter and yak to Base Camp ahead of our arrival on the 9th of April.

Kathmandu is a melting pot of eastern and western culture. It’s littered with dread-locked hippy-looking travellers, having eschewed western dress in favour of tie dye and yak wool. It’s also crawling with tough looking North Face-clad types, mostly to be found nosing around the abundant gear shops . Here you can get a rip-off of any high end brand and every third shop sells “genuine Taiwanese” North Face, Mountain Hardware and Marmot down jackets for the price of a T-shirt back home.

The vibrant colours and friendly invitations of shopkeepers make it tempting to load up on touristy trinkets that will almost certainly end up in a dusty drawer somewhere. “Functional” is the rule, although the carved business card holder to which I succumbed is definitely borderline! Thankfully most shops don’t take credit cards, and cash is dispensed from ATMs 10000 rupees (about R1500) at a time, so one can’t do too much damage.

Whilst that all sounds very exciting, its hard to ignore the squalor and chaos. The streets of Thamel have no pavements and crossing them is almost as dangerous as traversing the Khumbu Icefall. Cars, bikes and rickshaws all compete with pedestrians for space on the tarmac, at high speed and with greater success. Street children and street dogs lie sleeping in flea infested heaps on the pavement, while the malformed and simple beg at your ankles for a few rupees or scraps of food. All of us occasionally choke on the acid soup of Kathmandu smog. Still, it has a certain charm.

The teams are starting to assemble. Ronnie Muhl and the South African half of his team arrived yesterday. We ate together last night at the famous Rum Doodle restaurant, where the signatures of hundreds of Everest summiteers are mounted on the wall behind the bar, including those of Sir Edmund Hillary and Reinhold Messner.

The rest of my team also arrived today and are now busy doing what I did yesterday: sorting gear and urgently rectifying deficiencies in down-town Thamel. I, on the other hand, am ready for a gin & tonic...
Super Contributor
Mandy Ramsden writes:

I’m all Thamel-ed out and ready to go.

The full team is here: 13 trekkers and 3 climbers. My fellow climbers are Tony, a Kiwi who has lived in South Africa for the last 35 years (I won’t be sure what he looks like until he removes his surgical mask) and James, a very likeable Irishman from Dublin. These are the guys with whom I’ll be spending the next two months, along with the AC guys I introduced previously. Also with us is Vanessa, originally from the US, now based in Hong Kong, who is here on a Nuptse permit, meaning that she will go only as far as Camp Two, and possibly to the base of the Lhotse face.

Our briefing yesterday was informative and a little daunting. Mike ran through the soft and hard issues. The hard issues revolved around the climbing program, only a small fraction of which can be cast in stone (i.e. the arrival date). The rest is dependent on weather and health, but can be broken up into three cycles, with the first two aimed at optimal acclimatisation and the third at a summit attempt. These cycles will take us to Camp Two, then to Camp Three and finally, to the summit. All last 5 to 6 days and all will be designed around prevailing and forecast weather conditions.

We will train and rest in between these cycles in order to remain fit and healthy (and sane). It is impossible to imagine a 2-month process with one single giant goal in mind and this program slices up those two months into segments that are slightly easier to mentally and physically digest.

The soft issues revolved around teamwork and expedition ethos, with an emphasis on open communication and tolerance. Mike also introduced the Sherpa team of 20 that will form the backbone of the expedition, and without whom there’d be no expedition.

Whilst AC will do everything they can to get us there, the rule is safety before summit. Caroline put it best: “Every other day, we are working for you. On summit day, we are working for your families”. It will be Mike and Ang Dorjee’s call whether each one of us goes up or goes down.

Lastly, we watched a short video clip of the last ten minutes before summit. I’m not sure if this was a good or bad idea. From the south summit, the summit looked miles away, but the Hilary Step- my biggest mental obstacle - looked do-able.

Nepal is roughly 70% Hindu and 25% Buddhist, so a trip to Kathmandu would be incomplete without a visit to a few temples. Our first stop was a Hindu temple (the name escapes me, mainly because Chris and I were yacking at the back of the bus. Really. ). Here, we watched mesmerized as an ambulance drew up and laid a dead man upon one of the pre-prepared funeral pyres. The Hindus here cremate their dead within 3 to 4 hours of death. The pyre is always alongside a river, into which the ashes are swept once cremation is complete about 3 hours later. Only pregnant woman and infants are buried.

The pyre is lit in the mouth of the deceased, usually by the eldest son. Once alight, the body is covered in grass and the flames grow until the wood catches. Relatives, normally only male, stoke the pyre periodically.

Around a corner sat a few men dressed in white robes and smeared in white powder. These men have abandoned all material things and live at the temple, meditating and smoking dope. Notwithstanding their aversion to belongings, they were insistent upon a few rupees per photograph.

So – this is the end of the beginning. Our Base Camp duffels left this morning, we’ve let our hair down, shopped for trinkets, imbibed some local flavour and religious custom and so far (other than Mike and Caroline who are struck down by Thamel Tummy) have remained in good health.

We’re off at around 6am tomorrow and my next e-mail should be in a few days’ time from one of the villages in the Khumbu Valley.

Cheers

Mandy

PS – Dr Chris gave us a big lecture about looking after our feet. In keeping with his instructions, I took them (and the rest of me) for a 2-hour massage, the happy ending being the R200 price tag. Only following doctors orders…
Not applicable
Mandy, this sounds all so exciting and daunting at the same time. When we were at lunch at Standard Bank with the ladies, I was in awe and totally admired you for your strength, focus and commitment that you have. What does one say on the brink of this once in a lifetime journey....Good luck....you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Bernadette
Super Contributor
Dear all

We're finally on the trail. It's great to be out of the smog and noise of Kathmandu. The flight to Lukla was something spectacular - 25 minutes with the Himalaya stretched out to the left. Lukla must have the very shortest and steepest runway in the world, with a sharp drop off behind a stone wall. Certainly no room for error.

The very large group of trekkers and climbers is morphing from a single unfamiliar mass to a group of interesting and very nice individuals - plenty of people to chat to along the way. And there are plenty of other groups all heading in the same direction.

The trail is exceptionally beautiful. It's definitely spring here and the trees are full of blossoms. Prayer flags flutter up the hillsides and we occasionally come across small temples (which must be passed on the left for good karma). Many have prayer wheels inside the walls and I feel compelled to run my fingers over them like the locals do as they pass by, possibly in the hope that they will bring good luck! We've crossed several long bridges spanning the fast flowing, pale green rivers (fed from the glaciers above) and have moved through many picturesque little villages along the way. We often have to compete with animals and cows (well they're a cross between yaks and cows) for space on the trail and have been warned to remain uphill from them, so that we're not sent over the edge and into the valley below. Apparently they're very grumpy, which is not surprising given the fact that their load is tethered under their tails - looks almighty uncomfortable and would make me grumpy too.

The trek up to Namche is fairly hard work, but we made it in very good time. I think we were spurred on by the clear view of Everest from a lookout point about half way up the giant hill just before we arrived. I am in awe. Still, we're not there yet and at 3500m, I'm feeling strong (and very hungry). Tomorrow is a rest day, which will give us a chance to explore this very charming little town, which is littered with touristy shops.

So - this is the last stop with Internet access and cell phone reception. I will try to send some photos before we leave. I'm off to have a toasted cheese and many cups of milk tea (which I'm starting to get used too) while I sit in the sun and wait for the rest of the group to get here.

Cheers

Mandy
Super Contributor
Today the group split up and the climbers hiked up to the Everest View Hotel. We sat gasping over lemon tea at the spectacular views of Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam and Everest. We also passed by the school and hospital built by Sir Edmund Hillary, who is quite revered in these parts, and Chris was taught by a passing trekker how to wear his buff in slightly more functional manner (now he looks like a pirate).

Today has been a rest day, some of the team have been grappling with light headaches. Others have had to raid the imodium stash, but all in all, everyone is in good spirits. Last night, despite having already retired to bed, Chris emerged in his pyjamas to teach the late night stragglers to play Liar Dice. Not only did we learn the game, but we discovered that Ang Dorjee is a terrible liar. We also learnt some choice phrases for stupidity and futility that I will have to refrain from using in polite company. And you thought it was all spirituality, team work and good karma up here!

It felt weird not being at the starting line in Newlands this morning. This is the first time in ten years that I haven't spent Easter in Cape Town. Will give me something to aim for next year though.

Tomorrow, we'll head for Deboche (3 800m), as we make our way closer to base camp. No more mobile phones, no more internet, so the next e-mail will come from Base Camp some time after the 10th of April. If it's not from me directly, it will come from Susan Muindi, who will distribute to the group on my behalf.

Thinking of you all. Happy Easter.

Cheers

Mandy
Super Contributor
I've just emerged from my first shower since Namche. Now sporting a fresh set of clothes, clean hair and some mascara, I feel sufficiently human to make contact with the outside world. My hair had reached the staged that some form of headwear was essential at all times (out of consideration for the other team members - it took three shampoos to generate some lather!).

Base camp is a sprawling village of colour chopped out of the lower reaches of the Khumbu glacier, with a direct view of the fearsome looking ice fall.
Camps have been established between boulders and streams and pools and the occasional creaks and groans and gurgles are a reminder that we are constantly on the move.

I spent a few hours yesterday re-acquainting myself with the contents of my base camp duffels and generally setting up the space that will be my home for the next 7 weeks. Our tents are decked out with carpets and foam mattresses - extreme luxury. This, together with the freshly made yoghurt, the high pressure shower system (including wooden rack under foot) and bed tea at 7.30am, is sure to make the times in between climbing very comfortable indeed.

We've had a long and dusty journey since leaving Namche a week ago. We've met some famous people (famous in this high altitude world at least) and seen some truly spectacular scenery. We've been blessed by Lama Geshe in Pangboche - a spiritual and humbling event. Ama Dablam - the Jewel of the Khumbu - Lhotse and Nuptse have been our constant companions until shortly before reaching Lobuche two days ago.

Splitting from the trekkers at Dingboche (4400m), we headed up to Chhukhung (4800m) for 2 nights, walking up almost as far as Island Peak base camp (which overlooks a massive glacial lake more impressive than any I saw in Patagonia) and then summiting Chhukhung Ri (5400m) the following day. From there, Makalu (the 5th highest mountain in the world) could also be seen in the distance.

Our walk from Chhukhung to Lobuche took us over the Kongma La pass (5500m) in 7.5 hours - our longest day on the road yet. Mike was unrepentant when I pointed out that the AC brochure described this route as "severe". I suppressed the occasional need to bleat by recalling the 40 to 50 kg loads on the backs of the teenage porters who cheerfully trot up the valley for a meagre wage and a Rs2000 tip (approximately R300), wearing little more than jeans, a sweatshirt and a pair of trainers. We were rewarded at the top of the pass by views of Cho Oyu and Pumori, and a swift, knee-jarring 500m drop down to a cup of hot lemon in the village of Lobuche, our last stop before Base Camp.

So now we enter the next phase of our trip. The ice fall doctors have established a laddered route through the jumble of ice above us. Some 15 000m of rope is ready to be fixed to the Lhotse face and beyond. Everest's almost snow-free South face is obscured by her west ridge, but the distinctive banner cloud plumes out in the unrelenting jet stream. We will have our puja ceremony tomorrow (early - to catch the auspicious period as declared by our lama) and then get into the lower ice fall for some tuition.

Until then, we will enjoy some well-earned rest and spend some time just soaking up the atmosphere of Everest Base Camp.

Cheers

Mandy
Not applicable
Hi, Mandy,
We met over hot tea at Pilgrim's Books in Kathmandu in late March - I was sitting with Susan Marshall's (Nepal Education Group) group and we talked a bit about Scott's second-in-command in the Antarctic in 1912, Lieut. Evans - I am now back in BC, Canada and after finding your blog here on Google just wanted to wish you every success with your attempt on summiting Everest. Also, like you, I went up Kilimanjaro - but in 1970!
Stay safe, Mandy, best of luck.

Sincerely,
Joe Simpson (but not the author of "Touching the Void"!)
Super Contributor
Day 2 at Base Camp has dawned clear and still - perfect weather for a Puja ceremony. Since the auspicious period is coming to an end this afternoon, our Lama decreed that the Puja should start early-ish. Also, he'd come all the way from Pangboche and had several other ceremonies to conduct before heading home on foot, in his North Face trainers. Our sherpa team prepared the chorten and formalities began promptly at 8am.

The purpose of the Puja is to apologise to the Mountain for stepping on her flanks and to ask for safe passage and good luck - all things to be taken extremely seriously regardless of religious persuasion. The event was both spiritual and festive, with the Lama and sherpas chanting prayers, burning juniper branches and throwing rice. Crampons and ice axes were laid out to be blessed and five long strands of pray flags were attached to a central pole erected above the chorten. Base camp is now looking rather colourful as each team goes through the same ritual.

The 3-hour ceremony ended in high spirits with the distribution of large quantities of wine, beer and snacks, notwithstanding lunch at noon, and the smeering of eachothers' faces with sampa. Whilst extremely messy and highly entertaining, this tradition does have some serious roots: the white sampa represents a white beard, to indicate that we will live to old age after returning safely from our climb.

Apologies offered, our sherpas will now head up through the ice fall and start setting up camps one and two. We, however, have some work to do before we are unleashed on the mountain. We've spent a few hours doing a gear check, rigging harnesses, making prussiks and fitting crampons and tomorrow we will venture a few metres into the ice fall to practice some rope work, try out some ladders and learn a bit of ice climbing.

For the rest of today, I'll continue my quest for a bigger bottom and enhanced energy stores by working my way through the sumptuous 3- to 4-course meals that emerges from the tiny kitchen tent at what seems like very short intervals and doing nothing more energetic than leaping up to view the occasional avalanche coming off Pumori or Nupste.

I've been away for two and a half weeks now, which would ordinarily mean that I am nearing the end of an expedition, rather than barely beginning one, so its been great to see words of encouragement or some news from home.

Cheers

Mandy
Not applicable
Hi Mandy

Thanks for the great updates you have been sending us! You should take up writing....what you are up to there is just SO DIFFERENT to the life we are living here in Jhb and Standard Bank. Sounds fascinating.... You are obviously about to start some of the hard work now - enjoy it and keep safe. Keep sending us your fabulous updates.
Cheers
Super Contributor
Dear all

After two weeks on the trail, we've finally donned harnesses and crampons and had a taste of what we're up against in the next week. The experience level in the group ranges from complete novice (ie. crampons upside down) to mildly experienced (ie. crampons on correctly) and the day was devoted to learning or refamiliarising ourselves with the gear and techniques that will get us up the hill that looms before us. Mike and Ang Dorjee set off after breakfast to design a course that would give us some practice and allow them to assess how much trouble they're in.

This year, the ice fall doctors have placed 39 ladders (some single, some double), so the first challenge of the day was to get comfortable with crossing them in crampons. Easy enough for tall men with big feet, but my size fives barely fit across the rungs. Still, by the end of the day, we were confidently traversing backwards and forwards, with rope tension and without. Admittedly there was no yawning chasm beneath and I suspect the air of nonchalance that developed on the ladders may well vanish with the addition of a 100m abyss.

Next up was a vertical ladder that ran out with four or five metres to go.

Whilst I'm familiar with the use of a mechanical ascender, my front-pointing techniques were a little dodgy and my dismount over the bulge of ice at the top inelegant at best. What would have been a cool toe hook on rock became an awkward crampon jam that saw me perched on the bulge like a beached whale, much to Mike's amusement ("what was that?" were his words, I think). Nonetheless, things improved with practice and by the third or fourth go my ascent was bordering on stylish!

What goes up must come down, and therefore the ability to abseil is essential. It's all very well having the confidence to throw yourself over the ledge without having a panic attack, but it doesn't help if you drop your abseil device, fail to lock your carabiner or don't check that your harness is locked . For me, the big lesson on abseiling was the safety aspect, particularly since more accidents happen on abseil than anywhere else (Mom - I paid very careful attention).

By late afternoon, Mike and Ang Dorjee were beginning to look less nervous and we packed up and headed back for a well-earned cup of hot lemon. I'm not exactly sure whether it's a tea or just heated cold drink, and I'm certain I'd never have it back home, but up here it tastes just right.

We obviously didn't do too badly, as the plan for tomorrow is to head halfway up the ice fall for acclimatisation purposes. We will leave camp around 3am, just as our sleep patterns are returning to normal and high altitude insomnia has been conquered. But when its cold, the ice fall is stable, and we will have sufficient time to scurry up and down before the heat of the day makes the ice fall an uncomfortably hot and unacceptably dangerous place to be.

On that note, I have been asked by a few people how cold it is up here.

Thanks to the BigAte Everest survival bag I was given and the handy thermomoter it contained, I can report that it has reached 48 degrees C in my tent at midday and -10 degrees C in my tent at night. We have had some snow over the last two nights and during the day, base camp comes alive with the trickles and gurgles of streams forming from the melting ice that we're living on. (Unfortunately, Greg, there seem to be no yetis here so none of the other items in the survival bag have proven useful so far, save for the biltong that I flattened before I left!).

Lastly, before anyone thinks that what we're doing here deserves any sort of adulation for bravery or effort, spare a thought for the Columbian man we met yesterday who has one leg and will be attempting to climb Everest without oxygen....

Cheers

Mandy
Super Contributor
Dear all

The Khumbu ice fall has a fearsome and well-earned reputation as one of the most dangerous sections of Everest when approached from the South side. More people have perished in the ice fall than on any other area of the mountain, so there was an air of nervous tension over our 2.30am toast and tea yesterday morning, prior to our maiden voyage into its midst.

The level of anxiety increased substantially with Ang Dorjee's continual prayers and the smoky aroma of burning juniper wafting in from our puja chorten. Adding to the atmosphere was the general state of chaos and indecision over what to wear, what snacks to pack and whether to put on one's boots before or after one's harness, all of which seemed like life or death decisions at time.

Departure into the jaws of the beast was preceded by the throwing of rice and circling of the puja chorten, with Ang Tsering, our expedition Sirdar, praying for our safe return.

Stepping out of the heated mess tent and into the bracing cold, we jangled our way through camp, the headlamps of earlier birds pin-pricking through the darkness high above us. The entire route through the ice fall is navigated on fixed lines laid by the ice fall doctors, anchored with ice screws and pickets. Clipping on to the first one, we moved slowly and steadily through this giant obstacle course.

Moving through the ice fall is a bit like trail running. Unlike road running, where the mind and body almost detatch from one another and go in separate directions only to meet up again in a happy haze of endorphins, trail running requires your undivided attention at all times, or you may find yourself in an undignified heap. The same applies to the ice fall, although here, the price of carelessness and inattention is somewhat greater than a pair of bloodied knees and a bruised ego.

Much has been written and said about the dangers of the Khumbu ice fall, and from base camp its looks like a slice of carelessly frosted cake, but as the summit cone of Pumori became bathed in dawn alpenglow and first light revealed the frozen pools and crevasses, the towering seracs and icicles, I felt very small and very priviliged to be in this surreal, mysterious and constantly changing world.

The ice fall is not, however, a place to hang around and dwell, so we kept up our steady pace of clipping and unclipping, keeping rest breaks short and infrequent. Our goal for the day was to reach the Football Field (difficult to tell why this vast jumble of house-sized chunks of ice was so-named), some 400m above base camp and half way to camp 1, which we achieved in a pedestrian 4.5 hours.

One of the challenges of this mountain is coping with extreme variations in temperature. Within an hour of me windmilling my arms and stamping my feet to get my numbed fingers and toes back, the sun crested the Lho-la pass and we were instantly cooking in our many layers of fleece and gortex. After urgent disrobing and lashings of suncream, we continued our descent, to be met at the edge of the ice fall by a sherpa bearing cold orange juice. We stumbled back into base camp, sweaty and exhausted, some 7.5 hours after our chilly, pre-dawn departure, ready for a well-earned lunch of toasted sarmies and chips.

So today is a rest day. The team has bounced back from yesterday's ordeal and our campsite is a picture of industry and energy as we all take advantage of the clear, hot day to wash hair and do laundry. Ang Dorjee's tent site is beginning to get a water frontage, so some rehabilitative digging and channelling has taken place and he now has a rockery instead.

Plans are fluid at this stage. We expected to move to camp 1 tomorrow, but there are a variety of lurgies floating around and Mike has decided that we'd all benefit from another day at Base Camp. My cold is nearing its end, but unfortunately the team is not in sync and the mess tent is cacophany of barks and blows and sniffles. There's plenty of time though and another day of sloth is likely to do everyone a great deal of good. Its all part of the game.

On that basis, and in the absence of any major event occuring tomorrow, this is likely to be my last e-mail until we return from camp 2 sometime towards the end of next week. So have an excellent weekend and keep watching AC's dispatches for news of what we're up to. I'll write again when we return to the oasis of sanitation, technology and cullinary excellence that is base camp.

Cheers

Mandy
Super Contributor
Dear all

We decided to take one more rest day, just to be extra sure that the team is in good health before we head for Camp 1. This means that I am now several banana pancakes ahead and many hours of upward slog behind. There is no doubt that I have built up some extra reserves in the rump area which will hopefully serve me well in the forthcoming weeks.

Yesterday saw an inter-expedition trade of medical and dental skills. My crown had dislodged halfway up the icefall (yes, THAT one, Dr Key) and I was concerned that it would come out again somewhere more serious, like halfway up the Lhotse Face. Here, it would be spit or swallow or expose my fingers to potential frostbite, none of which are appealing prospects . One of Russel Bryce's Russian clients had a sore shoulder and he has two dentists in his team. Mike, a qualified Physiotherapist, kindly offered to see to the Russian's shoulder in exchange for some dentistry work for me. The mess tent served as a makeshift surgery and Chris, our team doctor, hauled out a set of scary looking instruments and a tube of rather ancient-looking dental cement from a dusty ziplock bag. Dende, our cook, brought along a bowl of water and a towel more fitting for session in obstetrics and stuck around to watch while Shari, my new Australian dentist, got down to work in the light of her headlamp.

The Russian emerged looking much happier and suggestions that some of the rest of us might benefit from a half-hour massage fell on deaf ears.

The other news is that Vanessa, our Camp 2 climber, has decided to return home. So we're an even smaller team now and I've lost my Camp 1 and 2 tent mate. Its possible that I may share with James and let Tony have his own tent, as he's the only one who has not been ill (probably since he rarely removes his surgical mask - he may look silly, but he's the only one smiling now!).
Super Contributor
Dear all

We are now back at Base Camp after a successful first acclimatisation cycle. It seems a long time ago since we left in the icy early hours of Monday morning.

Funny - getting up to head into the ice fall felt much the same as getting up to go to work: a bit of early morning fatigue, a touch of uncertainty as to how the week would work out, some trepidation over the obstacles ahead, awe as to the magnitude of the project and a sense of excitement should it all work out. We bid our base camp team farewell ("see you on the weekend" - much like many corporate types heading off into battle on a Monday morning) and set off into the darkness, the smell of burning juniper following close behind.

The ice fall is constantly on the move and the ice fall doctors head up daily to place new ladders and ropes and secure those that have loosened in the day. Seracs that towered over us previously had collapsed. New crevasses had opened up. Some triple ladders were required. Ang Dorjee prayed and threw rice, while prayer flags fluttered over sections considered by the sherpas to be particularly perilous. This time we passed through the Football Field without stopping and continued upwards, in a hurry.

As usual, what you think is the top never is, and the roller coaster of of rappels and ladders continued for an exhausting age, until at last the terrain flattened and a small gathering of tents could be vaguely discerned at the base of the Western Cwm. Our Camp 2 cooks, Zangbu and Kaji, greeted us with a thermos of Sherpa tea and we settled into what was to be our home for the next two nights. Here, life was to be much more simple and a great deal less comfortable. No more mess tents.Significantly colder. But for the first time we could see the features of the South East ridge route that dominate the tales of Everest glory and disaster.

The blue ice of the impossibly steep Lhotse face gleamed just out of the reach of the jet stream. Unbelievably, we will be camped two thirds of the way up this seemingly smooth wall sometime next week. The yellow band ribboned around Everest's west ridge, crossed Lhotse and continued along Nuptse in its journey accross the Himalayan range. The Geneva Spur, a rocky prominence formed at the meeting of Everest and Lhotse, will need to be crossed in crampons on the way up to the South Col, where Camp 4 will be situated. For a short while, the bare, black South East ridge could be seen, while the snowless south summit, the Hillary step and the actual summit came in and out of view, partially obscured by the streaming banner cloud that halo-ed out behind Lhotse.

If all of this didn't bring into sharp focus the reality of what we are facing, then the leaden limbs, the high altitude insominia, the breathlessness, the headaches and the waves of nausea were always there to remind us of the lunacy of our holiday choice. Some suffered more than others. My particular cross to bear seems to be insomnia, which is unfortunate given the endless hours to be spent within a small nylon cocoon with nothing but the battering wind and a finite supply of sudoku puzzles for company.
Two nights at Camp 1 were followed by three more at Camp 2, nestled on the glacial moraine against the west ridge at 6 500 metres - definitely the highest at which I've slept, or at least tried. If I did manage to nod off, I would wake periodically feeling as though the mountain was lying on me, rather than me on it. It was significantly colder than Camp 1 but, up here, we once more enjoyed the luxury and sociability of a mess tent (heated at
night) and the always beaming Kaji serving a nightly three course meal that did not involve soya and did not come boiled from a bag (mostly). Our maximum altitude on this cycle was 6 750m, which brought us to the ice bulge at the base of the Lhotse face, where the Khumbu glacier tumbles over into the Western Cwm.

The season is in full swing now and we have watched, fascinated, as a team of Sherpa fixes hundreds of metres of rope to the Lhotse face. These ropes will be used by almost everyone planning to climb the standard route, although not everyone contributes to the cost or the effort of installation.

The climbing strategies of various teams are also beginning to unfold and, whilst acclimatisation is the aim of every plan, its clear that everyone has their own idea as to the optimal way to achieve this. Some are spending fewer nights up high, others are heading to camp 3 as soon as possible.

Russel Bryce's team has headed up Lobuche Peak (around 6 000m) to avoid a trip through the ice fall. There are a few indivuals planning to summit without oxygen and some planning offbeat routes. The key is flexibility to allow for unco-operative weather or ill health.

So far we're well on track and it feels great to have the first planned cycle behind us. We returned to Base Camp in the bitter cold but crisp beauty of dawn yesterday morning (again to avoid the heat and instability of travelling through the ice fall in the late morning), to be greeted by a feast of sushi, fresh bagels and apple muffins. It feels especially good to have clean hair, a fresh set of clothes and an abundance of oxygen. And I finally had a good night's sleep, curtailed only by the capacity of my pee bottle.

There is an air of lethargy around Base Camp today, although most of us got down to some laundry and some have gone for a stroll. This afternoon is likely to be spent happily doing as little as possible. The evening holds the promise of liar dice and perhaps some red wine. If the weather is good, we'll do some ice climbing tomorrow. The aim of the next few days is to get as much rest as possible in preparation for our return above the ice fall, which we expect to happen on Wednesday. The world of trees and villages and yaks and tea houses now seems as remote as the world of highways and cars and mobile phones and, in spite of the comforts of base camp, the purpose of our presence here looms large.

Cheers

Mandy
Super Contributor
Dear all

We are now back at Base Camp after a successful first acclimatisation cycle. It seems a long time ago since we left in the icy early hours of Monday morning.

Funny - getting up to head into the ice fall felt much the same as getting up to go to work: a bit of early morning fatigue, a touch of uncertainty as to how the week would work out, some trepidation over the obstacles ahead, awe as to the magnitude of the project and a sense of excitement should it all work out. We bid our base camp team farewell ("see you on the weekend" - much like many corporate types heading off into battle on a Monday morning) and set off into the darkness, the smell of burning juniper following close behind.

The ice fall is constantly on the move and the ice fall doctors head up daily to place new ladders and ropes and secure those that have loosened in the day. Seracs that towered over us previously had collapsed. New crevasses had opened up. Some triple ladders were required. Ang Dorjee prayed and threw rice, while prayer flags fluttered over sections considered by the sherpas to be particularly perilous. This time we passed through the Football Field without stopping and continued upwards, in a hurry.

As usual, what you think is the top never is, and the roller coaster of of rappels and ladders continued for an exhausting age, until at last the terrain flattened and a small gathering of tents could be vaguely discerned at the base of the Western Cwm. Our Camp 2 cooks, Zangbu and Kaji, greeted us with a thermos of Sherpa tea and we settled into what was to be our home for the next two nights. Here, life was to be much more simple and a great deal less comfortable. No more mess tents.Significantly colder. But for the first time we could see the features of the South East ridge route that dominate the tales of Everest glory and disaster.

The blue ice of the impossibly steep Lhotse face gleamed just out of the reach of the jet stream. Unbelievably, we will be camped two thirds of the way up this seemingly smooth wall sometime next week. The yellow band ribboned around Everest's west ridge, crossed Lhotse and continued along Nuptse in its journey accross the Himalayan range. The Geneva Spur, a rocky prominence formed at the meeting of Everest and Lhotse, will need to be crossed in crampons on the way up to the South Col, where Camp 4 will be situated. For a short while, the bare, black South East ridge could be seen, while the snowless south summit, the Hillary step and the actual summit came in and out of view, partially obscured by the streaming banner cloud that halo-ed out behind Lhotse.

If all of this didn't bring into sharp focus the reality of what we are facing, then the leaden limbs, the high altitude insominia, the breathlessness, the headaches and the waves of nausea were always there to remind us of the lunacy of our holiday choice. Some suffered more than others. My particular cross to bear seems to be insomnia, which is unfortunate given the endless hours to be spent within a small nylon cocoon with nothing but the battering wind and a finite supply of sudoku puzzles for company.
Two nights at Camp 1 were followed by three more at Camp 2, nestled on the glacial moraine against the west ridge at 6 500 metres - definitely the highest at which I've slept, or at least tried. If I did manage to nod off, I would wake periodically feeling as though the mountain was lying on me, rather than me on it. It was significantly colder than Camp 1 but, up here, we once more enjoyed the luxury and sociability of a mess tent (heated at
night) and the always beaming Kaji serving a nightly three course meal that did not involve soya and did not come boiled from a bag (mostly). Our maximum altitude on this cycle was 6 750m, which brought us to the ice bulge at the base of the Lhotse face, where the Khumbu glacier tumbles over into the Western Cwm.

The season is in full swing now and we have watched, fascinated, as a team of Sherpa fixes hundreds of metres of rope to the Lhotse face. These ropes will be used by almost everyone planning to climb the standard route, although not everyone contributes to the cost or the effort of installation.

The climbing strategies of various teams are also beginning to unfold and, whilst acclimatisation is the aim of every plan, its clear that everyone has their own idea as to the optimal way to achieve this. Some are spending fewer nights up high, others are heading to camp 3 as soon as possible.

Russel Bryce's team has headed up Lobuche Peak (around 6 000m) to avoid a trip through the ice fall. There are a few indivuals planning to summit without oxygen and some planning offbeat routes. The key is flexibility to allow for unco-operative weather or ill health.

So far we're well on track and it feels great to have the first planned cycle behind us. We returned to Base Camp in the bitter cold but crisp beauty of dawn yesterday morning (again to avoid the heat and instability of travelling through the ice fall in the late morning), to be greeted by a feast of sushi, fresh bagels and apple muffins. It feels especially good to have clean hair, a fresh set of clothes and an abundance of oxygen. And I finally had a good night's sleep, curtailed only by the capacity of my pee bottle.

There is an air of lethargy around Base Camp today, although most of us got down to some laundry and some have gone for a stroll. This afternoon is likely to be spent happily doing as little as possible. The evening holds the promise of liar dice and perhaps some red wine. If the weather is good, we'll do some ice climbing tomorrow. The aim of the next few days is to get as much rest as possible in preparation for our return above the ice fall, which we expect to happen on Wednesday. The world of trees and villages and yaks and tea houses now seems as remote as the world of highways and cars and mobile phones and, in spite of the comforts of base camp, the purpose of our presence here looms large.

Cheers

Mandy

PS: Why do self-inflating thermarests only self-inflate when being wrestled into their storage bag?
Super Contributor
Dear all

Firstly, many thanks for your messages of support and apologies if I don't respond individually. Please know that each message is very gratefully received and read over and over, especially when I'm feeling a little down. I'm told that homesickness, impatience and boredom are three of the major reasons for failure up here, and you've played a major role in keeping those at bay.

We're almost at the end of our rest period and have spent some time this morning packing food for Camp 3 and running through some gear choices. The snack bins are a child's fantasy, with boxes and boxes of sweets, chocolates and biscuits to cater to every taste. Whilst at home these would be difficult to resist, here they hold little appeal save for the fact that they contain calories and calories are what is required to move us upwards and keep us warm.

Everyone has benefited greatly from the oxygen-rich and pancake-abundant environment of base camp and we're all psyched to get going with our second acclimatization cycle, notwithstanding the impending 1.45am wake-up call and a breezier weather forecast. It seems that we're in for a bit of snow for the next few days, which will give us a different set of conditions to those we encountered on our first cycle.

The plan, weather and energy levels permitting, is to sleep one night at Camp 1, one or two nights at Camp 2 and one night at Camp 3, with another night at Camp 2 on the descent. Some of our gear has been left up at Camps 1 and 2 so we should be travelling a little lighter this time. Mike and I will be sharing a tent at Camp 3, mainly so that he can keep an eye on my breathing and general health (this will be a new altitude record for me). I will be pleased to have some company and another body contributing to the temperature levels in the tent. The fact that he is well over 6 foot and I am well under will make an interesting fit. We won't be using bottled oxygen this time round, the idea being that the body needs to have an opportunity to experience the oxygen-shy environment and adapt accordingly. Mike assures us that this will be the worst night of our lives (preceded by the hardest section of the climb) - a very cheery thought indeed!

The unusually sunny afternoon will involve a change into tomorrow's climbing clothes (it's way too cold to even think about doing this in the early hours), some dithering over battery charging, hand warmers, medication etc. and most likely a nap (we do a lot of napping here).

So - cheerio until next week some time. I will be having a technology-free week until we return!

Take care!

Mandy
Super Contributor
Dear all

Difficult to grasp, but we have completed our acclimatisation phase and are now looking forward to some hard sloth in Pheriche for at least 3 to 4 days.

We left base camp in the early hours of Wednesday the 28th of April with the aim of getting to Camp 3 at around 7 300m sometime in the following 3 days. Weather forecasts from various sources around the globe predicted snowy conditions for Thursday and Friday, with fine conditions for the weekend. This seemed confirmed by the bright halo around the almost full moon as we followed the by now familiar juniper and rice routine around our puja chorten as we set off towards the lower ice fall.

This was to be our third pre-dawn sortie through the ice maze and once again it held some surprises. Previously solid ladders fluttered anchorless, and we followed the tracks onto freshly formed bridges. Arm rappels had morphed into abseils and the roller coaster football field had almost flattened beneath previously absent ice cliffs. Newly strung prayer flags fluttered over perilously angled towers and the usually gentle and encouraging Ang Dorjee barked through his prayers at any sign of hesitation.

Better acclimatised, we reached Camp 1 an hour faster this time. By now, the moon halo had given way to a rainbow around the sun. Known as a sun dog, this solar phenomenon is caused by the refraction of the sun's rays through ice crystals high in the sky - another confirmation of impending snowfall.

Disrobing down to a singe layer, we discussed our options over cheese, crackers and cold juice served by the ubiquitous and cheerful Kaji. We could stay at Camp 1 for a night and risk being trapped by the risk of avalanche off Nupste for one or two days, or we could continue to Camp 2, requiring the stamina to continue for at least another three hours in the scorching heat of the Western Cwm. The prospect of dispensing with a frosty start and earning full rest day made the decision unanimous, and we completed our longest day so far - ten hours - a fair test of endurance. We trudged into Camp 2 to be greeted by Kaji once more (he's fast), this time bearing a flask of hot sherpa tea, closely followed by dark snow clouds billowing up the Cwm and spilling over Nuptse's lower ridge.

Like Base Camp, Camp 2 is perched on the edge of the glacial moraine and is alive with gurgles and creaks. Its also exceptionally dirty, with the detritous of many years of expeditions scattered about the rocks and ice.
The rusty tins, odd shoes, bits of plastic and general waste all conspire to present a very similar scene that a Johannesburg runner may encounter along the Braamfontein spruit. Perhaps only the discarded oxygen cylinders are a reminder that we're aiming to climb the world's highest garbage dump. Still, there is some effort underway to clean up the mountain and, this year, there is a small (underfunded) expedition assembled specifically for that purpose..

Whilst we had certainly earned one rest day, we hadn't expected two. After a day of lurking between the mess tent (conditions are good up at Camp 2) and our own tents, doing nothing but eat, sleep and occasionally read, we were ready to face the shiny blue slope bearing down above us. Other than a light nocturnal dusting, the promised snow had not materialised and we had spent much of our rest day keeping an eye on the ant-like activities up and down the fixed lines of the Lhotse Face and psyching ourselves up to do the same.

We were surprised then to be woken by the scratch of snow on nylon rather than Zangbu's gruff wake-up call, which usually heralded the misery of an alpine start from Camp 2. Nonetheless, Mike's decision was to pack up and decide later. That Zangbu was still in bed was a good sign that he'd decided already. The Sherpa team was particularly reluctant to move, and that was ultimately the deciding factor.

The following day dawned still and clear and brimming with Sherpa enthusiasm. Two days of sloth behind us and the prospect of beers and beds in a Khumbu valley lodge ahead catapulted us from our down nests and into the mess tent for a fortifying pancake or four. We jangled our way out of camp and plodded towards Lhotse, still snug from the mess tent heater and unconcerned about the light wind beginning to pinch at our cheeks.

The terrain that took two hours to cover on our previous cycle took only an hour this time, and in that hour the occasional ripple of breeze transformed into blasting waves that cascaded the freshly fallen snow over the edge of the gaping bergschrund at the base of the Lhotse face, where we now stood fiddling with ropes and jumars. These were not the conditions we were expecting. Out came the "just in case" down jacket.

After a somewhat inelegant start over a sizeable crevasse and up an ill-fixed ladder, I managed to front point my way to a vertical position and over the first bulge of blue ice, while Mike unhelpfully bellowed over the wind that he'd always just walked up to the first anchor on previous trips.

The route meanders over and around the course of the glacier, sometimes flattening, sometimes bulging, always treacherously angled and mostly glassy blue. The previous traffic had left some vaguely chipped steps, but mostly a good firm kick of the crampon was required to get a confident stance.

And so it went on for six hours. Clipping and unclipping, burning and trembling calves, fumbling with carabiners in unweildy mitts, cramping fingers. We moved at an excrutiatingly slow pace, three or four steps at a time mustered from monumental physical and mental effort, then nothing, until breath returned, heart moved back from throat to chest and head instructed another go. Until Mike shouted "tents". He was standing on a small ledge a short way above, beside a small oasis of orange and yellow. I managed, without stopping, the ten consecutive steps required to get me onto that ledge.

Our sherpas had established Camp 3 on a small precipice carved from the ice of the Lhotse face, just a tent- and a boot-width and anchored with ice screws and a great deal of rope. I recalled the tattered remnants of tents along the way, victims of vicious winds and careless tethering, and hoped that Lakhpa Dorjee and his team had done a better job.

What ensued was surely the most miserable night the trip so far. We tossed and turned and gasped in the thin air while the maelstrom raged outside. We popped diamox and disprin. The Camp 3 snacks and meals that we cheerfully assembled at base camp several days before were poked and prodded and shunned as distinctly unpalatable. Mike and I turned to a packet of bland digestive biscuits and laboured through several of those, washed down with black tea. The hours ticked by slowly and the storm showed no signs of abating. Mike confirmed that there were no circumstances in which we would hang around up here and we would leave as soon as the night released us, regardless of conditions.

Which is what we did. We abseiled down the Lhotse face in the waxing and waning visibility, communicating with the tug of a rope, the roaring wind stealing any shouted instructions or queries. Snow blew through carelessly fastened zippers, into hoods and down necks, filling mitts and stinging cheeks for the three intense hours it took us to reach the bergschrund. We stumbled into Camp 2, eyelashes and eyebrows frosted, the hair that had escaped from my beanie caked in chunks of ice. And so ended our Camp 3 experience. And our faith in the weather forecast.

Our trip down to base camp the following day was uneventful and even pleasant, marred only by encounters with three Himex climbers being carried down on oxygen, one of which was Shari, my Australian dentist. I guess our night at Camp 3 was still better than hers at Camp 2.

So we've arrived back at base camp and are clean and acceptably fragrant once more. We all seem to be in reasonable shape. Most of us are suffering from the dreaded Khumbu cough to some degree. James and I have very sore lips and my tongue is sunburnt. Fred - I can hear you suggesting that if I talked less my mouth would be shut longer. Some have blisters. Nothing serious and certainly nothing to rouse Chris's concern. Tony's suggestion of a nasal decongestant was countered with a bowl of steaming water and a towel, delivered without much sympathy. Chris's most valuable contribution has been his wicked sense of humour, and none of us have escaped as targets..

There's an air of pre-holiday excitement as we pack for Pheriche, a village in the valley some 1000 metres below base camp. The idea is to get some oxygen and some rest and do as little or as much as we like.

There are quite a few teams that are ready for a summit bid and all indications are that the ropes to the summit should be fixed by tomorrow (the 5th), opening the way for the early birds to get up and out. In the meantime, we'll keep watching the weather forecasts (!) and will time our return from Pheriche accordingly.

Once again, thank you so much for all your messages of support. Today is my 40th day away from home and to come back down after our interesting Camp 3 experience to a full Inbox was heartening and very encouraging. I will send out an update on our return from the valley.

With much love

Mandy

PS: Before leaving Johannesburg, someone asked me if I was scared. I remember joking that I was more scared of my children looking after my house for two months than hanging off the Lhotse face. I've changed my mind. By all accounts they're doing a great job and I've now hung off the Lhotse face.

Super Contributor
Dear all

Hello from Hotel Himalaya, our conveniently located oasis of warmth and civilisation in the heart of the metropolis of Pheriche. Sitting at 4 200m, the air is treacly sweet and thick and everything seems a little clearer and a little more civilised. The restorative powers of oxygen are evident in the reduced hacking and nose dabbing and the reappearance of Tony's long-absent, Everest-sized appetite and I have slept through the night for the first time in many weeks.

We've now been here for four warm, spacious and lump-free nights and there's a general air of torpor about the sun room where we hang out in feline repose, stretching and yawning between books and meals. At least that would be a fair description of me. The others have managed to dart around the surrounding hills every morning with the energy of the nimble-footed baby yaks that dot the hillsides at this time of the year.

Our little valley vacation got off to a disappointing start when the day of departure dawned snowing and miserable and we were forced back to our tents to retrieve an extra thermal or two and a thicker pair of gloves - a bit like heading for your annual summer holiday at the sea side wearing a woolly jersey. Still, spirits were high and the gortex -clad team set off for Pheriche after breakfast, Mike's rather complicated directions ringing in our ears as we optimistically applied lashings of sun cream.

Whilst Tony and James raced off at high speed, Chris and I took our time and plenty of photos as we trotted along the glacial moraine and marveled at the extent of the Khumbu Glacier and the expansive Himex camp (complete with dome tent containing a 42 inch television, reclining chairs and a cash bar)..
We pottered along in deep discussion as the wind picked up and the clouds dropped. Pheriche finally appeared through the mist some seven hours after departure, just as the "when are we there" feeling began to set in.

Unfortunately, we've had to say goodbye to Dr Chris, whose constant nausea, absent appetite and alarming weight loss all indicated that further descent would be most sensible. By all accounts, this seems to have worked and Mike left him in Pangboche after his first hearty meal since Chhukhung. We will miss his sharp wit and outrageously funny dinner table banter enormously.

Whilst it's all very well to be enjoying the luxuries of a perfectly horizontal bed, almost first world plumbing and a nightly mug (or two) of box red, this is not really what we're here for, and the seeds of boredom and impatience are beginning to take root. Groups of climbers have come and gone over the past few days, sharing experiences and trading war stories, but the primary focus of everyone is the weather. The first window has come and gone, brief as it was, and allowed for the fixing of ropes and a handful of westerner summits. The forecast for the next two weeks makes for gloomy reading. The optimists have spotted a day or two of when the wind is expected to diminish slightly in its brutality somewhere around 12 or 13 May, but Mike is looking for something slightly more sustainable, so its unlikely that our summit bid will be launched much before 20 May, or even later.

With that in mind, the team will have to keep itself positive and occupied for quite a while longer. Tales of capitulation emanate from almost every camp. Some are casualties of altitude, others are casualties of attitude.

Several fed up (and wealthy) individuals have flown out by helicopter to Kathmandu, only to find the lure of civilisation too great and the appeal of another trip through the ice fall somewhat diminished. We, in the meantime, will try to remain appreciative of our magnificent surroundings and hold on to our new found health. And while its been great to be on holiday, I'm rather looking forward to getting back to the comfortable familiarity of base camp, closer to the goal.

Take care

Mandy

PS: I've managed to pick off most of dead skin from my lips and they're looking less lizard-like, but now my roots are showing rather badly. Time to head up to a place where a beanie will cover all evils!
Super Contributor
Dear all

Very good to be back "home" after our 6-day valley sojourn. The morning of departure dawned crisp and clear and each of us enthusiastically bolted from the Lodge, eager for a day of solitude in hills. James and I opted for iPods - a definite "keep out" sign. We've now spent six weeks together and a fairly intense event looms ahead. It seemed fitting to rather spend the day with Jack Johnson than with the rest of the team.

It felt rather good to sail up past groups of heaving trekkers, foreheads resting on their trekking poles as they gasped out "Namaste". We're definitely stronger and better acclimatised. And I seem to be the only one to have put on some weight since I arrived in Nepal (although, disappointingly, my cups no longer runneth over!).

Base camp is melting out as summer approaches, and we've returned to a world of rushing streams and swirling pools. Large rocks are perched precariously atop of diminishing platforms of ice and my tent is now at a distinct angle..
A hand has churned up not far from the helipad and rumour has it that a few other body parts have surfaced in the lower ice fall - all macabre clues to some old, sad mysteries and grim evidence that the Khumbu Glacier grinds its way down from the Lhotse Face at fairly rapid pace.

Nonetheless, the rising temperatures and shifting campsites are barely noticed and the almost sole focus of attention is now the weather. Weather forecasts for the next two weeks have come in from all over the globe and are as varied as the opinions of a room full of economists (although hopefully more correct). A concensus view seems to have formed that the 16th of May will be a fair summit day, with the 17th becoming slightly windier.
The window is expected to slam shut quite abruptly around noon on the 18th, which leaves little time to flee from a potential thrashing.

Those eager to try their luck have either left base camp or are leaving early tomorrow morning. Some of these teams finalised their acclimatisation program well before us and depart with their sanity barely in tact. Many of them are small, independent and fairly strong teams that have a good chance of getting up and down before getting into trouble. We, on the other hand, do not fall into the nimble and quick category and will sit through this window, together with some of the other big teams, and wait for something more promising towards the end of the month.

I feel fairly sanguine about this decision. The idea of leaving for our summit push having only just arrived back seems a little rushed. Leaving in a few days' time will give us a chance to get our heads around the task ahead and give us some time to get properly sick of base camp. The trade off will be the possibility of a bit of a crush as Himex, IMG and Alpine Ascents set their sights on the same timetable. Between them, they will put roughly 100 people en route towards the summit. Talk is that this should be somewhere between the 21st and 25th of May - still well within the text book guidelines.

The morning has been spent running through the oxygen drill. We've fitted faces to masks, masks to regulators and regulators to cylinders. The plan is to go onto oxygen on arrival at Camp 3 (which our sherpas report is still standing, in spite of the gale that's raged up there for several days).
We'll stay on it at various flow rates, depending on whether we're sleeping or moving, until we return from a summit bid. Its hard to know what to expect and, having not used it before, none of us is aware of our individual receptivity to supplemental oxygen. Its all looking a lot more serious at the business end of the expedition.

Still, there's a few days to go before we start packing for the South Col and we'll have to keep ourselves amused until then. There's washing to be done (ourselves and our clothes) and a little inter-expedition socialising to do (in that order). There's talk of turning the medical tent into a movie house. We may wander off to stretch our legs and eyeball the challenge ahead from the summit of nearby Kala Patar or Pumori Base Camp. Somehow the days here seem to go quite quickly. In the meantime, we'll keep watching the weather ....

Take care

Mandy

Super Contributor
Dear all

This morning base camp is alive with the cheers of summit success. The gamble of the dodgy weather window of the 17th has paid off for many of the teams that sat on the South Col in a state of uncertainty until late into last night, while the rest of us eavesdropped on their radio frequencies from the warmth of the base camp mess tent. This is great news for us. Not only is it highly motivating to know that a summit is possible under less than ideal conditions, but it means roughly 100 fewer people aiming to be there at the same time as us.

After almost eight weeks away from home, our summit attempt is upon us and we'll be setting off in the early hours of tomorrow morning for Camp 2. Mike has studied the heiroglyphic charts and tables from various angles and it seems that wind speeds may be within an acceptable range around 22 and 23 May. He has the unenviable task of making the call between a fairly breezy but do-able summit day and the chance that better days may exist later on or not at all.

Food bags for Camps 3 and 4 are packed and we've had a lengthy briefing covering every tiny feature of the route to the summit, culminating in a short video clip of AC's successful summit attempt in 2007. Mike, as usual, did not mince his words and ended by reminding us that summit day was one day on which he, Ang Dorjee and our sherpa team would be working for our families and not us.

The plan is to spend two nights at Camp 2, one night at Camp 3 and then head up to Camp 4, where we'll rest before leaving for the summit push sometime that night. The actual hour of departure will depend upon several factors, one of which will be congestion management amongst the larger groups. Each of us will be teamed up with a Sherpa who will remain with us at all times. It's all desperately exciting and, if I'm honest, quite daunting.

Still - before we get carried away, our weather-watching wait may not be entirely over. The weather forecasts change daily and Mike will continue to ensure that today's decision remains appropriate. If necessary, we will hang out in the comfort of Camp 2, where Kaji and Zangbu will keep us well fed and well hydrated until we can safely head up.

So - this will be my last e-mail for a while, but you can keep an eye on our progress through AC's dispatches, which should occur daily and possibly more frequently on summit day. And before there's any panic over the absence of news, it should be noted that the last missing dispatch was caused by an unfortunate combination of a visit from the Himex leadership and a bottle of whisky, from which it's taken this novice high altitude drinker a few days to recover.

Cheers

Mandy
Not applicable
Hi Mandy

This is absolutely awesome!!!! Well done for making it to the top. We look forward to welcoming you back.

Susan
Not applicable
Congrats Mandy,

Very inspiring, the courage and determination you had is awesome. Looking forward to hearing about your next adventure!
Super Contributor
Dear all

Where to start? It’s been just over a week since my last e-mail and it’s been a week of desperate physical lows and great emotional highs. Our summit push began in the early hours of last Tuesday morning with some dispiriting new information. It’s never good news when a weather system gets a girl's name, and Hurricane Leila, lurking in the Bay of Bengal, had begun to feature in the commentaries of the various forecasters in a worrying sort of way. The jet would lift, the weather window was expected to open, but it was possible that this unwelcome guest would sneak through and ruin the party.

The plan was to get to Camp 2 and watch Leila's progress from there and we crunched off into the icefall to join the other summit hopefuls with the same "now or never" attitude. As usual, the ice fall was different and hard and now full of bottlenecks at the precariously placed ladders, and the Western Cwm was the same oven-bowl that baked the ant-like trail of climbers as they wove around the vast crevasse fields zig-zagging between Nupste and Everest's west ridge.

Mike remained optimistic about the 22nd as a summit day, but warned that, to be in a position to take advantage of the first and best looking day of this ever diminishing window, we would likely have to endure pre-window high winds at Camp 3. Climbing the Lhotse Face was no easier the second time, only now we could look forward to some respite from the discomforts high altitude living in the form of bottled oxygen. While this sounds all very comfortable, the reality of life with piece of plastic over your face is somewhat messy. Almost unfeasible volumes of drool pooled against my face and trickled onto my bedding as the promised winds brutally battered the tent, filling the vestibule with snow and bringing uncertainty to our onward progress. Despite the O's, no-one slept, and yet, at the forecast hour on the morning of the 21st, the wind died almost completely. We set off for the South Col, feeling quite smug about the fact that both the Mountain Trip and Alpine Ascents teams had retreated in the face of the maelstrom and were now at least a day behind us.

The journey to the rocky, barren, windswept South Col took us over the distinctive (and more vertical than it looks) Yellow Band and up over the Geneva Spur in five steamy, soggy-chinned, lung-burning hours, looking much like a sumo wrestler as my down suit made its thigh and bottom-enlargening debut. Mercifully hidden from view until now, the route to the South summit reared vertically before us. Tony, James and I slumped down in an exhausted heap and nervously surveyed the terrain whilst our Sherpa team wrestled with tent poles and fly sheets between gusts.

The 24 hours that followed must surely be the most mentally and physically exhausting that I have endured. Everything happens very slowly at 8000 metres, and our wake-up call came two hours before our 10pm departure, heralded by the light patter of snow fall on nylon - not something on the forecast. There are abundant accounts of the climb, some written by celebrated climbers, others by blind men, amputees, oldest, youngest etc.

These are stories I've devoured over the last few years, but I don't recall any that suitably describe the scratch of slipping metal on rock as a crampon fails to catch its chosen stance on the near vertical South summit rocks. I will go back and look for reference to the downward-sloping rock slab at the top of the Hillary Step and the gap nearby that will hold captive a carelessly placed boot. Much of this took place in the dark cold of early morning, but as I struggled with my desire to give up and head down, dawn's glow on the horizon and Mike's gentle "are you sure about that?" kept me moving upward, until, in the distance, I could see the jumble prayer flags fluttering at the top of the world.

What a privilege to step onto that small snowy plateau with Mike on the occasion of his fourth summit, and without whom I would have surely given up. And how impossible it would have been without Pemba Chote, my Sherpa shadow, who brushed aside any clumsy attempt to clip onto ropes, checked and changed my oxygen bottles, was my brain when I was too exhausted to think straight. How small the giants of the Himalaya looked from this angle.

Those of you who've been following our progress through the AC dispatches will have seen the happy summit photos. What they don't show are the tears, the frost-bitten cheeks, the frost-nipped fingers and toes, the buckling knees and the 13-year old American boy who cheerfully arrived from the North side with his parents at the same time as us. We stayed for around 20 minutes, savouring the moment in spite of the discomforts (and cursing as camera batteries failed in the cold). And then it was time to get the second half underway. Those who have climbed with me before will know of my dislike of descent and tendency towards doing it on my bottom. Unfortunately, the result was a trail of down billowing in the breeze from the seat of my down suit, much to the amusement of all. Fourteen hours after departure, we stumbled back onto the South Col, fell into our small, warm, yellow dome and slept solidly for the first time in weeks.

Summit day is really a three-day event, a fact we'd considered and accepted and triumphantly overcome. What we weren't prepared for was a final ordeal through the ice fall. Veterans of unsuitable weather, the heavy snow fall overnight at Camp 2 failed to deter our enthusiasm to get home to base camp.

Much of the descent's discussion had revolved around the exquisite notion of a shower and clean clothes, the prospect of a celebration, the thought of thick air and carpeted tents. So donning our warmest, driest gear, we weren't going to be put off by a bit more thermal misery. Until we realized that we were breaking trail in thick snow carpeting a shifting crevasse field and burying the safety lines. It took seven wet anxious hours of low visibility until Caroline, Ang Tsering and the kitchen staff appeared through the snowflakes, waving a huge banner and bearing celebratory beers (and other beverages, but I was very thirsty). Legs wobbling more than the day's efforts had caused, I picked my way through the last slushy bits of the Khumbu Icefall, up through lower camp and into our little AC oasis.

Hard to believe it’s over. I don't think its sunk in yet. The summit party was great fun, with lots of Nepalese music and dancing and dangerous liquid that was poured from the tea pot (its apparently very rude to decline). We all gave short speeches. As I type, the shower tent is being dismantled.

James and Tony left this morning, leaving only Mike, Caroline, Ang Dorjee and I. James and I were both teary eyed saying goodbye - we've shared such an intense ten weeks. We'll hopefully start our three-day walk down the valley to Lukla on Thursday. Integration into civilisation will start with a night or two in Kathmandu (which will probably be fairly uncivilised, in truth).

All that remains is to thank you for your incredible support. Your e-mails have sustained and encouraged me and made me feel not so far away from home. A few have made me cry (one or two even had James in tears). I'm both desperately excited to see my children and deeply afraid of the forthcoming bout of re-entry disease I know will descend the minute I get on that plane next Wednesday and for which I apologise in advance. And I fully intend to get round to every single offer of a glass of wine and catch up.

Yours, tired but very very happy.

Mandy
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Congrats on a supremely tough job. Well done, Mandy. I had a feeling that you'd make it to the top, after our chat over tea at the Pilgrim Bookstore in Kathmandu late last March. Sincerely, Joe Simpson (BC, Canada).
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There is someone probably waiting for you. You did it. You've inspired a lot of people. I'm proud to say that I'm one of them.