Monday, 22 November 2010

Reflections by Pete

Form and function, one of the huge joints that hold up T5; Refections in boots

The Christmas tree lights dance across the polished marble floor at Heathrow Terminal 5 as I wait for the BA1318 to Aberdeen.  Overhead massive trusses, forged joints and gigantic metal pins hold this massive structure in place but while this structure is fantastic, it is insignificant to the natural mountain architecture that we have been privileged to live amongst for the last 7 weeks.  Annapurna 3 will still be standing, the wind still ripping at its flanks when Terminal 5 is long gone, when we are all long gone.

I sit alone with my thoughts and the countless other travellers scuttling past, ready and eager to be dispatched in jet-powered metal tubes to the corners of the globe.  My team mates have scattered too, back to their own lives, their own homes, their own thoughts. 

So what did this trip mean to me?  We failed.  We failed to get up Annapurna 3 due to high winds that blew almost every day and shut down most expeditions in the Himalaya this season and cost the lives of two brave helicopter pilots who were trying to save two climbers of Anna Dablam*.  But we gave it a good shot had a wicked laugh, ate some lovely food courteously of Buddhi and all came back in one piece, friends. 

That to me is success enough.

Trying to forge a new route on one of the world's highest mountains is not easy, particularly when you choose a style with no fixed ropes, no Sherpas and no oxygen; it is a straight fight between the mountain and the climbers.  I am happy to loose this round; there will be many other skirmishes for sure in the future.

So big thanks to Samsung whose electronic gadgetry allowed us to take fantastic pictures to share will you all and to all the other companies who supported the trip – without their support expeditions like this do not happen.

Pete

*After the helicopter crashed, the Japanese climber phoned Japan to tell of the horrifying news.  He spent a lonely night on the mountain before being rescued by a second helicopter.  Pemba Sherpa (our Air Dynasty helicopter pilot) was flying in the area and quickly responded to the accident and flew close to the wreckage of the Fishtail helicopter and confirmed that there was no way the pilots could have survived.  Pemba could not assist in the rescue of the remaining Japanese climber because his chopper is not powerful enough, and is not set up for that kind of rescue.  High altitude helicopter rescues are very risky. 

Thursday, 18 November 2010

I know what you are getting for Christmas....

Pictures: Dave and his 'man-bag'; The Art Critics;  The Woof's latest fashion wear; colourful rugs.
We have spent the last couple of days rehabilitating to 'normal' life (what is 'normal' life – discuss) hanging out in Kathmandu.  Traffic, beer, people and fast internet don't seem so unusual.  Our bags are packed, air freight sorted, and whopping helicopter bills paid, which was pretty interesting. 
The helicopter money man arrived at our hotel, and immediately got his Visa machine out – this guy means business, but I got one on him by throwing down two stuffed envelopes of greenbacks.  "You want to pay cash?" "OK, no problem".  Five minutes of cheetah quick counting and they were out of there.  I like doing business in Nepal.
Today we went hunting for Christmas presents, and probably got ripped off, but hey it was good fun and Dave found the girl of his dreams at one shop. 
Tomorrow we fly home.
Thanks for all the folks who have emailed and texted, it means a lot to us.  We will be updating the blog in the future with continuing adventures of Team Samsung. 
Pete, Matt, Nick and Dave

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Back safe in Kathmandu

Pictures:  Nick and the ladies; Pete entertains the local kids; Nick is at the bottom of the kiddy scrum; The Team,   Back (L to R) Nick, Pemba, Dave, Pete, Front (L to R), Santosh, Buddhi, Matt.

After nearly six weeks of bad climbing weather, the weather gods smile and give us a small window of opportunity to escape from our home for the last 6 weeks...
A nervous Pemba pilot strolls round his aircraft as the early morning sun clears Annapurna 4 warming it's frozen body.  He hopes the battery is still warm enough to start the massive rotors; there will be only one shot then he will be calling out the RAC for a jump start.
A call on the phone confirms that Pokhara airport is open - for the moment - the fog of yesterday has evaporated, but the cumulous clouds are building.  We must hurry. 
I strap into the front seat and gaze in bewilderment at the dazzling array of dials as Pemba throws the switch draining the battery as the electric starter motor takes the load while the gas turbine catches.  After 30 seconds or so, the Jet A1 fuel is burning bright in the turbine with the exhaust temperature rising past the 600 centigrade mark – perhaps a bit hot for Buddhi's base camp baking. 
We fly close to the 'Ancient Mystics' and over the 'Lost World' of towers and crumbling minarets – this will be the last time I see this fantasy landscape as we quickly loose altitude and as we enter the Seti Kohla gorge, I feel like a small fly in a very large corridor. 
Trees!  Houses!  Oxygen! People! Six weeks of isolation has taken its toll on the senses – even the mundane is now interesting. 
I climb out of the taxi and am hit by a wave of heat – I am not sure my thermals, insulated jacket and trousers are quite necessary. 
Curious locals start to flock to see what is happening and soon I am mobbed by kids who are fascinated by the movie I shot out the window of the chopper 5 minutes ago.  Don't get too close, I haven't washed for nearly six weeks. 
Nick gets lots of attention from some girls as Matt steps out of the helicopter.  Dave chortles "you better make the most of it Nick, the handsome-one has arrived".  The girls do not react; Nick asks why - "he looks like a girl with his long blond hair" is their giggling reply.
We load up the helicopter with some of the gear and all four of us, the maximum load now greatly increased due to the low altitude as we speed to Pokhara airport only a few flight minutes away and onwards to Kathmandu, beer, traffic, international flights, wives, girlfriends, jobs, careers and crappy British weather.....
Pete

Sunday, 14 November 2010

We have some guests.

Picture: The Base Camp helipad with guest.

I lie awake, my breath adding to the hoar frost on the inside of the tent.  It is quiet outside apart from the distant roar of the wind tearing at the summit ridge of Annapurna 3, the very thing that had denied us an honest attempt at climbing this massive hulk of crumbling rock, snow and ice. 

The stars twinkle, no cloud; our magic carpet may yet arrive.  I wake the boys, it is 5am, and we promised to be ready for first light.  We hurry around creasing frozen tents into reluctant bags – why do they not make tent bags bigger?

The sat phone twinkles, it is Captain Pemba, he and the magic carpet are grounded due to fog at Pokhara airport, meanwhile we bathe in glorious sunshine looking down on a foggy blanket.  And as if to mock our attempts to climb these lofty peaks, the summit ridges of Annapurna 3 and Annapurna 4 eject volumes plumes of icy debris 2 km into the sky in an extraordinary display of raw energy.  Go away, you are not welcome they say.

We give up on going home today as the clouds roll over base camp snubbing out the warmth from the sun.  We fire up the stove for a coffee, and begin to pitch our damp tents, then all of a sudden, creeping like a lion in the long grass, there in a sky a helicopter!  How Pemba managed to find his way through the clouds I do not know, but he is here, and we are going home. 

He lands, "two people and one bag" comes the payload order from the pilot.  I struggle a big bag into the cabin, and shout across the makeshift helipad for another warm body.  The boys are reluctant; perhaps they can see the fog consuming the visibility.  I buckle up tight as a breathless Dave climbs in beside me. 

We take off into the gloom, hoping Pemba can see more than I can.  He can't.  I worry.  This is going to be one hell of a ride!  We circle, and land again at base camp as a puff of cloud totally surrounds us.  We idle on the helipad as Pemba jumps outside to examine the situation.  Not good.  After about 30 minutes he surrenders to the clouds and shuts the engine down as the shriek of the gas turbine drains away.

The lifeless, cold helicopter begins to freeze, ice forming on the blades – now I am sure that is not a good thing, but Pemba seems relaxed as we wrap the battery in a duvet jacket to keep it warm overnight. I don't think it is possible to jump start a helicopter by pushing it down a hill.

So we have two visitors for the night, a Europcopter B2 helicopter lurking in the mist, and it's Master Pemba who un-acclimatised is already suffering from lack of oxygen, but he has a bottle of the good stuff which he is going to snort through the night.

Hopefully the morning will bring good weather and that we can defrost our magic carpet to safely get us out of here, but nothing is that simple in these big mountains.....

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Time to go home

Well that's us just about packed up ready for Pemba to arrive tomorrow morning in his helicopter to take us and our gear back to Kathmandu – the only snag is the weather which is not so good for flying.  In the past few days, the cloud has quickly built up and by mid morning, base camp has been shrouded in cloud with freezing rain - hardly the kind of weather for happy flying.

We remain hopeful that there will be a weather window tomorrow, but we shall need to see....

Pete

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Calling for Pick up. (hopefully)

Pictures: 1, Nick, fully loaded on the way down, after 2 grim nights in the snow cave at 6000m. 2, Pete, down climbing after reaching high point, before being beaten back by the gale force winds. 3, Nick and Pete, heading up to Matt at the beley, battling cold hands and feet in the -20 tempertures.

 

A few days back on the East Ridge we were beaten back by high winds, since then we have spent time in BC, resting and trying to come up with a plan.

After expert forecasts, which predicted a slight lull before the return of the jet-stream, we are not going to get the chance for a second summit attempt. The winds are far too high, and after almost being blown from the ridge and getting frostbite on the last attempt, it really makes no since to wait and go back up. After all our efforts it's gutting to bail from here with "nothing in the bank" summit wise, but with these expeditions this is not what it's all about.

 Blue skies have been luring climbers into the mountains elsewhere only to be beaten back by high winds. Epics have been happening across the range. We have heard of a few teams getting into trouble and having to be rescued, one of which, on Ama Dablam, has resulted in the loss of a pilot and his winch man. Their helicopter was flipped by high winds on the return journey to rescue the second member of a team after the first was lifted to safety. The outcome of the second climber is still unknown to us.

We are now waiting for our helicopter to come pick us up, early morning on the 14th, keep fingers crossed for us to get out as the weather is somewhat mixed and we are running low on food. But don't worry, we have already made a call that we will eat Dave before anyone else if things get desperate, there is still far more meat on him than any of us, even after his Base Camp diet.

Matt

High Altitude Baking

For those of you interested in knowing a little more about the magic that goes on inside Buddhi's Cook tent, thought I would reveal the secrets of the High Altitude Baking Oven and have also included some mouth watering screen grabs (from my NX10) from when I was filming Buddhi and Santosh making a scrumptious cake.

Step 1. Find yourself a big flat bottomed pot with a well fitting lid.

Step 2. Hunt around for 3 equally sized stones and place them in the bottom of the large pot.

Step 3. Find a smaller flat bottomed pot / dish with a lid that you want to use for cake mixture/ bread dough balls or some other tasty meal etc.

Step 4. Once the mixture/ dish you want to bake are in the smaller pot, put both pot lids in place and seat the whole arrangement onto a low heat for about 45 min to 1 hour (depending on what you are baking).

Buddhi is cooking on a gas stove but the same arrangement can be placed on a small bead of coals etc. In simple terms, the stones create an air gap to prevent the ingredience from burning. The reason for the well fitting lids is so that the hot air circulating around the smaller pot/ dish does not escape.

I can smell the vanilla essence from the cake wofting through the campsite as we speak J

Happy Baking.

 

David

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Flora and Fauna

So for those of you who like plants, I thought I would take you on a little tour around BC and show you just some of the Flora and Fauna that we have been living amongst. I am no horticulturist but I have tried to group the plants. There are a lot more different kinds of grass and some other flower species, but thought this little tour might interest you.

Sorry about the poor light but the urge to grovel around BC only struck late this afternoon.

David.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The winds have shut us down.

Pictures: Pretty clouds = evil winds

 

Today we commissioned via Andy Houseman in Kathmandu a specialist mountain forecast from a meteorologist in Switzerland (the joys of Satellite communications!) which was reviewed by Everest guide and 8 times summiteer Kenton Cool (who should know a thing or two about Himalayan weather), and it is not good.

 

There is a very active and consistent westerly air stream which is predicted to blow at 50 mph above 7000m for the foreseeable future with only a brief lull in 36 hrs time.  Given that the temperatures above 7000m are -20C, you can see why we are not racing back up to get frozen.  Kenton says that he has never seen such a consistent and strong air flow, which we have seen for ourselves today while watching the snow plumes blow off Annapurna 3.

Our lift out of here is booked for the 15th, and we are low on food, so there is no time to wait for the winds to drop; we have given it long enough.  There will be no summit for us this time, but an expedition like this is not just about getting to the summit...

Today we went for a wander to look at a line on the South ridge of Annapurna 3 which tops out at around 6000m, but the ice lines are melted out at the bottom and the glacier approach is something out of a computer game with some grotesque giant hurling boulders down the path you would like to climb. 

So we have a few days to relax in the sun (base camp is a different world meteorologically speaking to the summit of A3) and take in the stunning scenery of this remote and wild place for the last few days of our expedition. 

Pete

Water Boys

Pic 1. Our water supply (on a good day)

Pic 2. Filling up

Pic 3. The walk back to BC.

So the last two days in BC have been somewhat interesting. We have been exploring some of the area (searching a couple lines that the boys have had their eyes on over the past month) and of course been having fun along the way. In fact we were so distracted yesterday, we arrived a couple hours late for lunch and as we all expected, Buddhi was not impressed. After apologising to Buddhi a number of times, the team all found a chair and a spot to enjoy the afternoon sun. Of course Buddhi popped into his tent and rustled up some tasty egg fried veggie noodle soup. I chucked to myself, being reminded of my childhood and being told off by my mother for being naughty, I wonder of the boys shared the same sentiment. J.

This morning I followed Buddhi and Santosh on their daily water run to film them filling up the BC water bottles at a nearby mountain stream. I must admit, I was not really expecting anything special but I absolutely loved the experience. The stream itself was very small and in fact resembled more of a trickle from a leaking tap. The way the boys harness this small volume of water is so simple, it is undeniably brilliant! They have cut the bottom off a typical plastic cool drink bottle, wedged it amongst some rocks at a small step in the stream. The large opening of the bottle was facing upstream and the smaller end protruding out over the "step", creating a mini "drinking fountain".

The water containers that they are using are also quite fascinating, the one large industrial blue 35 litre bottle original contained the fuel that Buddhi uses to cook with (we stopped taste the fuel in the water about 2 weeks ago) and the other two 5 litre bottles are those rather common opaque foldable water bottles resembling a musical accordion. (Although common, when emptied into the larger barrel we have at BC, they have a rather satisfying way of shrinking in your hands as the water empties out, so fascinating in their own right).

Perhaps my favourite receptacle is the large curved aluminium jug used for transferring the water from the "mini drinking fountain" to the water bottles. It is thick and solid and almost resembles the kind of pottery jugs you might expect to find in archaeological dig. It too has a very satisfying look and feel about it, especially when watching the shimmering glacial water running off the stream bed and flowing into the bottom of this heavy metallic vessel, listening to the almost metallic echo of splashing water as it fills up.

During the time it has taken to write this blog entry, you might be interested to know that Buddhi and Santosh had built a largish "H" out of rocks in preparation for our helicopter flight back to civilisation in a week or so. I am hoping that it was just an activity to kill time, rather than it being an actual reminder for Pemba the Pilot for where to land.

David.

Back down at Base Camp due to high winds.

Pictures: 1) Matt battles to coil the rope in the wind, 2) Pete on the final pitch to the snow hole, 3) Nick's watches the flag from the snow hole, 4) The Samsung weather station.

We played our hand...

It looked like the weather had changed, or at least that the winds would be more favourable after the northerlies that nearly blew base camp away.  After that wind event, a calm day tempted us back up to our lofty snow cave advanced base camp at 6000m on the east ridge.  Everything was calm and settled when we arrived after the tiring 1500m ascent from base camp, which turned out to be very stressful as the initial snow slope has started to melt out revealing rotten gullies and tumbling rocks which were using us as target practice!  Safely installed in our snow hole we went to sleep dreaming of calm weather.

The day dawned bright and very breezy, which started to get progressively worse as the morning wore on forcing us back into the snow cave and the warmth of our sleeping bags.  Even with all our clothing on, 5 minutes outside was enough, enough to tell us that at this altitude frostbite would be inevitable and worse still higher up.  We dose.  Clouds fly by.  We rig up a flag outside the snow-hole to monitor the wind speeds from our insulated cave.  The flag strains at its violently flutters all day.  Not good. 

On the radio, Dave relays a weather forecast: winds decreasing, then gale force winds to approach mid week.  We sleep, hoping for calm weather.

On the third day, the winds have dropped at 6000m, but our eyes gaze across to Annapurna 4 which is being beaten by savage winds, the plumes of snow detail the abuse.

We question.  We talk. We review the situation: a couple of days of good weather, then gales are forecast, probably right on the day we would be summiting, all going well.  And then there is the descent - long, arduous and technical, including a 2 km horizontal section back to our snow cave. 

Nick, a battle-hardened veteran of 17 mountaineering expeditions around the world sums up the situation as we hastily convene a conference in the snow cave: "we need at least 7 days of perfect weather to try and get up this mountain and off it safely, and on the basis of that forecast (which has been fairly reliable to date) we have, 3 days".  We cannot deny the facts: in 4 and half weeks, there has hardly been a day without massive plumes of airborne snow from the peaks, why should anything change?  We discuss.  We are all driven climbers and after all the time and effort we are perhaps 3 days away from our goal, but the chances of getting there and back look bleak.  We are realists.

These big mountains are unforgiving.  We will put our project on hold for the moment while we review weather and discuss options and of course eat lots of Buddhi's amazing food. 

Pete

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Houston

Pic 1. Team Down Climbing the Snow Slopes

 

Pic 2. Buddhi and Santosh waiting to greet the team at the snow line.

 

Pic 3. The team coming down to BC.

 

After spending the majority of the morning scoping out the snow hole for signs of life, finally, I spotted the guys alongside their winter home wearing a selection of colours.( Red, Green and Blue) There seemed to be quite a lot of traffic, back and forth, back and forth, 09h00, 09h30, 10h00... The boys should have left by now. "Why are they still milling about the snow cave at such a late hour?"

 

SPECULATION: They didnt want to spend too long at the base of the Pillar and hence where planning a later start.

 

SPECULATION: They know the weather starts to reveal what it has planned for the day in the late morning and are waiting for about 10h00 to make a decision.

 

FACT: 10h15 and they are on the move. Buddhi, Santosh and myself are relieved they are finally on their way. BUT not the way we expected, they where abseiling down the mountain.

 

Realising that the team are on their way back to BC. I thought it appropriate to once again, mission up the mountain and surprise them with a bit of camera interrogation and bring up something nice for the boys to snack on. So packing my bags with all the toys and some tasty Mango Frooti drinks. Headphones on and scrolling through Matt's MP3 player, I came across "Salmonella Dub" which had a fantastic rhythm matching my mountain plod. Saying goodbye to Buddhi and Santosh, I made my way back to the same spot I greeted the team off from, just days before.

 

Hanging around the snow line for about an hour and a half, they finally reached us. When I say us, I include Buddhi and Santosh. On my way up the mountain, I was flapping my arms around like a bird in time to one of the music tracks (generally looking like a bit of a tit) turned round to find Buddhi and Santosh right behind me laughing their heads off at my silly wing flapping action. Seems like they figured they might as well come up the mountain and see what the news was…. Flip Flops, skipping up the mountain side. How unfit do I feel now?

 

Well the boys are back, safe and sound and the Frooti drinks I brought up definitely brought a smile to their faces.

 

I would like to tell you the whole story but I don't want to spoil the other guys fun. They are eagerly waiting for me to get off this netbook to get their story online.

 

David

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Evening Update

"Paging Dr Faggot, Paging Dr Faggot" the words echoing across the Annapurna valley this evening as Piglet opened the lines of communication. Of course this is an ongoing joke and originates from the film "Hangover". The team are all warm and tucked away in their cave, having just finished dinner consisting of tea and butter biscuits. Of course it was not long before the usual Buddhi food related questions cropped up. For those of you who are interested, it was a lovely thick tomato soup with popcorn, a massive bowl of tasty veggie noodles and then apple fritters for desert.........."BASTARD!"a very destinctive Scottish accent echoes across the valley!

The guys asked me a bit of trivia based on the film "Victor" they wanted to know the name of the Rugby Captain (Not the actor's name). Embarrassingly, I am South African and could not answer them, so if anyone out there knows the answer, please feel free to drop me an email and I will pass it on.

So the plan is to leave early tomorrow and attempt the long traverse. They are considering alternative options if the wind continues as it has for the past month, but they are limited with both time and food, so their options are also somewhat limited. Only time will tell.

David.

Snow Hole Down Time

Pic 1. Location of ABC

Pic 2. Reflections in a Galaxy Tab.

 

I received an early radio call from Matt this afternoon. He said that they have decided to spend today in the snow hole. Apparently the winds are strong and very cold on the ridge and despite their early morning efforts in starting the long traverse, they chose to turn back and try it again tomorrow.

Again, they were eager to hear what Buddhi was rustling up in the cook tent for lunch. Deep fried chips , fresh bread with.......Matt said they have been rationing the cheese pasties that Buddhi made for them yesterday and although they are tasty and hit the spot, they where all hoping Buddhi and Santosh would pop up the ridge with a flask of hot water and a hot dinner. Normally Buddhi is the first to jump up and sort things out, but after hearing Matt on the Radio, he burst out in laughter and I suspect the Team got the answer they didn't want to hearJ.

Otherwise today I have been catching up with organising my video library and backing up everything. I played around with getting some shots with the Galaxy Tab and ended up getting distracted with the amazing views.

 

David.

Push to the TOP

Pic 1. Setting off from the Snow Line

Pic 2. On the move, still 5 hours till ABC.

Pic 3. Buddhi and Santosh lighting a fire and saying a prayer.

 

Yesterday morning the team headed off for their final attempt of the East Ridge on A3. The skies are clear, the winds appear to be behaving and the snow has finally settled. This time there was no alarm clock set for some ridicules hour, we had the luxury of having the suns warmth fill the mess tent, while enjoying a good mug of coffee, bowl of oats, an omelette and some of Buddhi's amazing freshly baked cinnamon rolls. J

Being the BC cameraman on the trip, kinda means you got to film stuff, and despite the arsenal of cameras and video recorders that the boys are taking with them up the hill. I felt this specific occasion warranted a mountain side PAP session. Leaving about 20min ahead of the team, I slowly made my way to the highest altitude of my life with all my camera toys, 5030m and I reached the snowline. For those of you, like me, who have mostly only ever been around the 2000m/ 3000m mark, will appreciate the absolutely stunning views you get at 5000m. But only after of course, your lungs stop burning, your heart stops pounding through your ears and you wipe the ridicules expression off your face, trying to suck every available particle of O2 out of the thin air. Grandpa, Whoof-Whoof and Piglet showed little signs of even breaking a sweat (Which is probably a good thing considering they still have another 2500m vertical height gain and a hell of a lot more traversing ahead of them). Of course their demonstration of fitness prompted me to "man-up", composing my "Hoover breathing antics" and get on with filming and interviewing them while they prepared for the more technical section of the days assent.

After saying our goodbyes, I stayed around the area for a bit, soaking up the scenery and also spotted our two local eagles soaring around the area. Being higher up and closer to the action, I was able to film them with more detail than before and on my return to BC, Buddhi has identified them to be Vultures and not the Eagles we originally thought.

With fewer people in BC, Buddhi and Santosh have also had some time to go out exploring the outskirts of BC. They were both very excited on their returned, carrying a large bunch of Junifers branches. Apparently it is a traditional Buddist and Hindi prayer ceremony, burning branches of the bush in a small built up rock area and praying for those up the mountain to have a good journey and a safe return. Traditionally, the prayer would be accompanied with prayer flags and flags of the nationalities on the expedition, but Buddhi says "not to worry that we don't have any flags, they need all the help they can get from the Mountain Gods".

Had a call from Matt last night, everyone seems to be well and coping a lot better with the altitude than they did the last time they where up there. None of their food has been raided by birds (always good as it has ment the end to many an expedition in the past). There is no wind up on the ridge which is fantastic but they did experiance some scary rock fall as they where weaving through the rock bands (area in the attached picture).  The boys are all settling down in the snow hole now in their nice warm down sleeping bags, making dinner and a brew. They will be waking up early tomorrow and start making their way along the lower part of the ridge to the base of the Pillar, where they will be pitching their tent for their second night.  

 

David.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Lost World

Picture: The Ancient Mystics, just part of the Tolken landscape which sits below base camp.

The weather continues to confuse us; either the clouds roll in and sprinkle unwelcome snow, or the skies are blue, but the mountains are full of anger with hurricane force winds above 7000m, their vengeance visible by the kilometre-plus plumes of snow. 

Two nights ago, we got a taste of the mountain elemental forecast when base camp was hit by strong winds at 3 o'clock in the morning, which sent Buddhi into a whirlwind of activity storm-guying and dumping rocks on the cook tents for the rest of the night to prevent them from being blown away.

To escape the winds, Matt and I went on an oxygen holiday and decided to explore the landscape below base camp, which sits on a 2 kilometre thick shale band.  Over the millennia, the wind and rain have eroded this shale into the most fantastical landscape of immense towers, minarets and other shapes and forms straight from a Tolken novel.  Our progress into the oxygen rich environment was stopped at a 1000ft waterfall which had effortlessly cut into the soft rock leaving a perfect pipe to allow the cyan melt-water to charge through.

Beyond the waterfall, we could see a hidden valley, untouched by man guarded by 500 meter shale towers.  In the meadows, veloceraptors flocked terrorising their prey, and in the skies, dragons belched sulphurous flames, and all the time the giant ice encrusted mountains looked on knowingly 3 kilometres above.  They have seen this all before. 

We have been a base camp for 1 month, and the views still impress and terrify.  I feel incredibly humbled to think that only a few people have ever clapped eyes on this landscape, and without taking to the skies in a metal dragon, this elemental landscape will only be for the few who have good reason and ambition to venture into this wilderness.

Today, there are no plumes from the summit ridges of A3 and A4 and there are no clouds in the sky.  Maybe the jet-stream winds have got bored and are terrorising some other hapless souls on other mountains, or perhaps it is a trap to lure us back into the cold oxygen starved mountain environment. 

We have two weeks food left and soon we will have to play our final hand in this ludicrous giant casino. 

Pete

Update 17:00hrs:  Today the weather has been perfect, blue skies and what look like calm winds in the mountains and we have decided to show our hand...  Our bags are packed and we are heading out tomorrow hopefully for the summit of Annapurna 3 by the East Ridge if the weather and conditions allow.  We have 6 days of food and gas, and are estimating 5 days to the summit... but we shall see.  Dave is going to keep the blog while we are away. 

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Watching the weather.....

Picture: Optimism amongst the snow.

The last few days have been spent mooching around base camp recovering from our wee soiree up the hill and watching the weather.

We have had 3 days of unbroken sunshine, a day of snow, and now, clear mornings with cloudy afternoons.  Always when we catch a glimpse up towards Annapurna 3, enormous plumes of spindrift dance around reminding us that it is better to be down here than up there.

We wait.  We wait until the winds drop (will they ever?) then we will pack our bags and see where we get to...

Pete

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Paths of Desire by Nick

Picture: Paths of Desire from Base Camp

And…

…once again, I'm sat in the orange gloom of the BC tent. I'm drinking coffee out of a steel mug, coffee that was brewed in my old Buletti Italian aluminium stove top. The tent fabrique flutters. Santosh, Buddhi's brother-in-law, sings a gentle Nepali song while cleaning dishes outside. I shiver thinking of numb fingers. But the stove purrs inside the cook tent. Instant relief.

I look at the sharp light stealing from beneath the BC tent's valance. White stinging light, it pushes into the orange gloom. The brightness signifies snow laying on the dark earth outside. The weather has thrown a curve ball.

I finish my Nepali organic coffee, a rich brew. Then I ease from the broken camp chair. The coffee runs through my body speeding my heart. Unzipping the door of the BC tent, I step outside. Snow flows over the side of my sandal and wets my sock. Socks and sandals. Not so cool Bullock!

A white windy world embraces me. Small frozen pellets fall and twist and spin on the ground. The pellets remind me of hay seeds from a summer meadow while haymaking as a kid on the edge of Huntley Wood in Staffordshire. The seeds would blow and collect in the stubble and highlight the tracks of animals. Buddhi joins in with Santosh's singing, and I'm back surrounded by the mountains. Mountains covered in winter.

Once untouched, our BC camp now shows signs of ware. The ground is rough, its like a million rag worms have slithered beneath the surface of our earth beach, but now there are faint paths. The paths, usually difficult to pick-out, are highlighted and stand proud as they collect the snow like felt-fuzz.

A well trodden white walkway to the veg pit. A white weaving line towards the water source. A large white square in the middle of our personal tents, once the bed of the vomiting trip hazard David, and the whitest line, the deepest walkway, is the one toward the shit tent.

Outside the swaying cook tent, three hessian sacks full of rubbish bow. White weight bends the sacks. I imagine they each need a wooden walking stick. Empty bean, pineapple, mushroom tins fill with snow. An empty Scotch bottle collects snow around its broad shoulder, although its thin neck remains proud. It saddens me to think of the fiery contents we finished off last night while laughing and piss taking and bullshitting. While and planning of the climb ahead. The snow was not imagined then. The snow was not imagined as the four of us, in the dark, stumbled into the frosted star lit night with dreams and emotions and excitement. Tomorrow is Monday, the day before we go.

And as I stand, looking out from BC, looking toward A3, or what would be A3 if it wasn't clouded in, I watch our well worn path grow faint.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Sparring amongst the mountains.

Pictures: Descending into the clouds; Matt quests out onto the east ridge; Pete cutting a snow bollard.

Crunch, my boot punches through the top-layer of snow revealing the fleshy powder beneath. A jagged mountain crest blocks as the sun ducks low. Yellow, red, brown and blue hues reflect from the cloud while the hips, legs and ankles of the mountains are covered with a cumulous skirt, modesty to cover their beautiful curves. The evening breeze shifts the cloud, stings our skin and waters our wide eyes. BC tents glow in the valley below, then they are hidden once more by cumulous. Stars show themselves and compete to outshine each other in a massive sky. The thin white mist of the Milky Way stretches. And we are so filled with the scene, even the glow of BC and the thought of Buddhi's cooking is placed on hold …

Matt, Pete and I have spent two nights in a snow cave at 5900m. We left BC at 1.45 am on Monday morning and reached the ridge at 1.30pm later that afternoon. The ridge was a different world: a world of blasted, freeze dried skin. The searing wind wanted us out of there. This world had minus fifteen and when the wind joined in with the bullying, the chill took on a force as hard as the Tyson hook connecting to the chin of Fat Jesus*.

A hole was dug into the ridge top, which turned out to be the top of a massive serac, a balancing clotted ice monster teetering on the crest. "It will do." It will have to do as the three of us spent five hours digging on day one, and four hours digging on day two. Also on day two, we found our little single skinned tent. Stupidly we had left it on the ridge on our first soiree without marking the position. An avalanche probe search, like looking for a body, eventually located our little tent. In the wind though, I wonder its worth for higher up?

Waking, in our hole, day three, shuffling, turning, stamping, feet are frozen blocks in the bottom of our sleeping bags. The sky, a clear blue frozen pond can be seen through the door, but the wind can not. Pete, the first to brave the minus 10 reports, "FECKIN FREEZING," in a Franky Boyle Scottish guttural. I wish I could laugh like I do at Boyle's hard cutting humour, but I can't.

At last we set off in an upward direction. The wind jabs. Ridge climbing is not the most sensible. We have ropes, but they are not the type that run along each side of the ridge ready to catch us and spring us back. Our ropes lie and flap and twist along the ridge crest. We do need to gain altitude though, so we continue. Climbing, aiming for the massive face on the far left of the ridge, we are half way up the gendarme looking down onto our overhanging serac snow hole, but because of the poor rock, and the howling wind, we decide to traverse the steep fluted snow face we can see from our BC approximately 1500m above.

Fingers are wooden, the wind tears at clothing, it whips spindrift into soft exposed skin, it chafes and blisters lips but we are stood on the ridge now, to the left of the gendarme. We shout at each other just to be heard, "LETS GET DOWN, lets get down, yes, down…" Enough is enough, it is, after all, only an acclimatisation trip!

Crunch, my boot punches through the top-layer of snow revealing the fleshy powder beneath. Pete and Matt are dark tiny outlines silhouetted below. They stand close, and on the tip of the snow-spur where we will stash the ropes. Mountains shimmer in the evening alpen glow and the trauma from the last three days of chilling effort pails when compared to what we now look at. The summit of A3 is far away in every aspect, but here we are, fixated and mesmerised and surrounded by savage beauty. And I know this is the reason we climb mountains.

Nick

*Fat Jesus is a character in the film Hangover who steals Mike Tyson's tiger and receives the painful consequences for his actions. Hangover is a film we have been fortunate to watch twice now, here at BC. Thanks Samsung for the download, Hangover has made a big impression on the team.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Coming Back to BC early.

Picture: Headtorches on the mountain.
 
About 3 hours ago we got a call from Nick to let us know that they would not be staying in the Snow Cave Tonight. They will be coming down to BC (which I think has a lot to do with the amazing food) but it might also have to do with a bit of frost bite.
 
Nick did mention that they managed to go along the Ridge but I will let them tell you all about that.
 
I just thought I would drop you all a line as I am sure, by the time they get back to BC they will not be to keen to write a blog entry. Probably will get something posted tomorrow.
 
But for now I have included a photo of them coming down the mountain with their head torches.... It is absolutely pitch black outside (no moon)
 
David.
 

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

News from the Boys

Picture1: Nick on a Stroll (kinda Abbey Road like)

Picture2: Experimental Product shot.

Picture3: After dropping my camera during a night shoot, my next shot looked like this.

 

I spotted a figure on the ridge this morning around 08h00. I had assumed that they have opted to leave the "lost tent" search for their return journey and advanced along the ridge to the base of the main Pillar. Probably traversing the 2,5km along the Northern side of the East Ridge ( based on the fact that I had not seen them since this morning.)

But like they say, never assume! I received word from Matt at 18h00 with a more cheery vibe from the group than I received yesterday. Nick and Pete where shouting out in the background, and although they had built their cave to small and had woken up to -15deg C, 60km/h winds and where all badly craving salty food. You could easily pick away at the moans to find a very happy team (they are a tough bunch). They where shouting out " steak, chips, salty......., deep fried....., avocado, wine, Woman" their wish list went on and on..... They all insisted I find out what Buddhi was preparing for dinner in BC and after a brief rundown including. Mushroom soup, prawn crackers, spicy vegetable pasta and apple fritters for desert.... the moment I released my finger off the radios button...I heard shouting and laughing as if I had intercepted a call coming from a rowdy bachelor party.

Further enquiries into the day's events revealed that they did go back to the stash point and find their missing tent and a number of other missing gas bottles. They stayed at ABC for the rest of the day and pimped up their snow hole, which apparently is now a lovely, spacious, warm and comfy home. Just after coms, they started sending a series of flashes from their torches down to BC which was a welcomed greeting for Buddhi and Santosh who where both returning the favour, accompanied with their warm and friendly laughing and cheers. Apparently this tradition between Nick and Buddhi of flashing the torch goes back a couple years to previous expeditions.

Tomorrow they will be climbing the tower directly beside ABC (a tower which appears to be a little pimple of a hill from down in BC) and then continue towards the big 1000m high Pillar at the end of a 2,5km ridge traverse.  They will be coming back to ABC for tomorrow night and will then make their way back to BC on Thursday for some R&R (with specific instructions to Buddhi on a their wish list dinner menu )

From my side, while the guys are up on the hill, I have had to find things to do to keep busy. Besides attempting to film Matt's rock weight training area in a stylised "Top Gear" kinda way, I have also been grovelling around on the ground filming tufts of grass blowing in the breeze with rather tantalising and sexy backdrops.

I also caught my second glimpse of a pair of large Eagles above BC. Was rather brief compared to the last 45min display of their majestic manoeuvres and flight patterns, but also a reminder as to how incredibly isolated we are up here. We of course have a daily visit from our local Raven (aka. That Bird ) scavenging away in our compost heap. Other than him I have not even seen an insect.

Looking forward to hearing back from the boys tomorrow, missing the banter and constant quirky surprises.

 

David

Monday, 25 October 2010

Snow Cave at ABC

Picture: My MS Paint Skills

So the team are out on the mountain today. They left BC at 01h45 this morning. Pete had made a nice brew for the boys and spent the rest of the freezing morning prep time trying to fix his troublesome boot laces. Matt was happily sipping away on his mug of tea while talking to the camera. Nick,mmmm..cameras really do bring out the very best and the very worst in him. This morning might be considered the latter. During the usual "stick the camera in your face routine" out popped a cleaver and a rather unexpected bottle of 2% American Style Maple Syrup...mmmmm... I was out that mess tent pretty quickly!

The boys left in a positive and cheery"ish" mood, head torches weaving a path through the frosty dark landscape. I filmed the bobbing head torches disappearing into the distance and then went straight back to my warm sleeping bag to wait out the arrival of those warm highly anticipated shafts of sunlight.

This morning at a more forgiving hour I started looking for the team on the mountain and it was not until 09h00 I spotted them making their way up a large snow face. I was able to track their movements until 11h30 before clouds block my view, by which time they were about 100m below their first main objective (the start of the East Ridge, ABC).

200m below their current position they had stashed some kit from previous attempts onto the ridge. Their plan (I am sure you know how fixed those are) was get to the ridge early and then spend the rest of the day digging a snow hole and ferry the rest of their kit from the stash point. Hopefully having enough time to watch the sunset with a warm brew and bunking down for night in their homely snow cave.

At 17h20, I spotted the boys again on the start of the ridge and at 18h15 I received word from them. They are all very tired and have had a slight setback by losing their lightweight tent that was left at the stash point previously. The afternoon winds up there are apparently a total nightmare, but for now the guys are settling down for dinner in their snow cave and having an early night. Tomorrow, they intend digging up the mountain side looking for their tent. It has been a long day for them and could sense the exhaustion so didn't want to ask too much. Will keep you all posted but for now I am sure  Grandad, Woof Woof and Piglet can all do with a bit of luck, Fingers crossed everyone they can find their tent.

 

David  aka. The Trip Hazard.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sat phone text update

Pete has just texted to say that the weather is good but cold.  They are deploying at midnight onto the east ridge to ABC and beyond to 6500m then back to BC.  They'll be out for 3 nights?

Laura

Saturday, 23 October 2010

More snow ... and a bit oif sunshine.

Pictures: Night time snow, The Big Avalanche, The Elixir of Life

This morning I wake in a dark, ice encrusted tent.  This is not how it was meant to be; we had the snow storm and the bad weather yesterday. It was suppose to be all good from the moment we closed our eyes, right until the end of our trip. That's what we were telling ourselves anyway.

I wait for 8am, for the sun to warm the tent and for my cold body to feel able enough to exit. I unzip the door and force the fresh snow back. There is much more snow than the night before and there is even more than night before that. This isn't good.

Buddhi calls us for breakfast. "ooh, ooh". We all sit outside the BC tent in the bright warm sun, watching the snow melt. We enjoy our coffee, the sun dazzles. Buddhi calls "avalanche!" We scramble to our feet and stare.  A massive airborne avalanche erupts down the 2500m face of A3, travelling at over 200mph, 1km wide, and 500m high, and who knows how deep. We watch, wait and wonder, is BC far enough away? Amazed by its beauty and power, this was truly the biggest avalanche any of us has ever seen. We were at a safe distance, about 1km away, but at the time we all had our doubts. All of this reminds us why we are not climbing now; this is why we are waiting. Its painful, we want to climb, but in these big mountains you can't push it out in marginal conditions, it's a waiting game, but it's a game you need to play, and play well.

After the morning's excitements, the three of us have been out getting some exercise, trying to stay fit, trying to stay healthy for when the time comes that the weather decides to give us a break. We do after all have the time, food, and loads of motivation to wait this bad weather out until our time comes.

Many thanks to everyone who has been sending us emails and text messages, it's nice to receive friendly mails and to hear what's happening in the big world outside of our tiny one.

Email us: britishannapurna3@googlemail.com

Matt