I have found it difficult to know where to start in summarising the recent trip to Nepal, so much so that I have now been back for a month and haven’t yet managed to put pen to paper. I mean where do you start!? A definitive answer seemed nigh impossible so I thought it was easiest to begin with the first unimaginative question I was asked upon my return to the UK:
Question: Did you get to the top?
The only downside with this approach was that it seemed both saddeningly short and missed out on all the inconsequential details, stupid stories, and background that came alongside the trip (i.e. interesting bits). There is, thankfully, a lot more to the Himalayas than climbing a mountain. As if my inadequacies as a writer weren’t enough the other factor playing on my mind was that we received a lot of support from a variety of different trusts, charities, and organisations to make an attempt on this mountain and essentially I wanted to write something that made us sound like money well spent, even though we failed to summit and the blend of both positive/negative emotions I have about Himalayan climbing. So, I would like to clarify exactly how grateful and privileged I feel for being provided with the funding/opportunity to visit the Himalayas in order to attempt a new route on an unclimbed face (and come back alive).
Since I began climbing, the Himalayas have represented the ‘ultimate’. Realistically they were probably my greatest untold objective. For one, they’re the biggest (which clearly means they are the best) and secondly they require the greatest investment of time/money/emotion/commitment (in fact they require reserves of just about everything you’ve got)! So, after 10 years of extensive shuffling around within the winter environment (aka. misery) the stars aligned – it was time.
We spent eight breathtaking (quite literally) days approaching base-camp. Oddly enough for someone that doesn’t like walking (I always thought running was a more sensible option) this was arguably the part of the trip that I was most looking forward to. I often feel that climbing puts the blinkers on and focusses attention solely on a route whilst running/walking tends to open your mind to your surroundings. With a few things that had happened in the lead up to the expedition (see Long Overdue) I wanted to address this and focus on the trip as a whole, becoming too preoccupied with a single mountain just seemed to be missing the point (but maybe this is part of the reason for our lack of success?).
Altitude provided endless fun and entertainment. I come from a very active background and have always felt pretty fit and healthy, aerobic endurance has always come easily; however, at 6000m I felt like an 86 year old man crippled by years of inactivity. It was incredible how something basic like walking three paces uphill or standing up in the morning debilitate you so brutally. At 6000m there is 50% of the oxygen compared to sea level, something that made climbing at Gogarth sound more and more appealing.
After what seemed like endless amounts of walking, acclimatising, and sitting around at base-camp we finally got on our route. There were a number of potential lines and the one we opted for was essentially the one that looked safest and, in my humble opinion, the best. Neither of us were particularly willing to risk our lives in the process of getting up the mountain. Safety was paramount.
That doesn’t stop the doubt creeping into your mind at 4am.
I am not sure how much detail I wish to go into about the route because I am just not sure how interesting the climbing side of it actually is. In short, we wombled up a selection of critically dangerous slopes featuring a terrifyingly thick crust of windslab, then transferred onto even more dangerous terrain that was decomposing quicker than I could climb it. My personal highlight was at our high point on day two when I found myself legs akimbo on top of a shale ridge where the only piece of protection I could find was a Bulldog hammered into the aforementioned talc-rock as a makeshift grappling hook. I then abseiled off of this non-HSE rated piece of equipment and wondered to myself – was this worth it? And without wishing to sound ungrateful the answer was as short as my original response as to whether we got to the top of the mountain:
Nothing was worth this.
A mountain consisting of the most unstable snow I have ever had to levitate up and rock quality that makes the Lleyn Peninsula look like Ceuse was not worth risking my life for. After five weeks of thinking in a tent you can go a little strange, but one of my more sane conclusions was that I like life, I enjoy living, and I don’t want to die on this mountain. I have spent the past four years dedicating myself to getting cold, driving large distances back and forth up the M6/M74, and as a result am quite tired now. I have always thought of myself as an all-rounder, enjoying each and every aspect of climbing. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the experience of the going on an expedition to the Himalayas, but I am just not sure that I am willing to give what it takes. Maybe we just had the wrong objective, maybe my priorities were too far orientated towards self preservation, or maybe my horoscope wasn’t what it could have been that week. I don’t know. What I do know is that I am thankful to be back alive and for being provided with the experience to learn a little more about my limits and come back…
I am alive.
Endnote: After getting back from Nepal I decided to hang up my ice axes for the rest of 2012/13. A change is as good as a rest. I haven’t bought incense sticks or converted to Buddhism (yet) and for those of you who know me well will know that growing a beard is out of the question. Emma Twyford has written a training schedule focussing on my rock climbing aspirations for next year. I will come back to winter climbing, but for now I feel like something a little different…
Thanks once-again to Marmot, DMM, Mountain Equipment, Goal Zero the Mark Clifford Memorial Trust, the Chris Walker Memorial Trust, Jeremy Willson Charitable Trust,BMC, Sport Wales, the Alpine Club, and The Mount Everest Foundation – we couldn’t have done it without you…