Thursday, 29 April 2010

Monkey Business!! Posted by Matt Helliker

So after all the shenanigans over the last few weeks, we have been back in Kathmandu trying to savage any costs from this quite expensive but worthwhile recce, we headed to the ministry yesterday and as suspected got nothing back for our peak fee or LO, we didn't go down easily and at one stage were taken into a room, sat down with tea in front of 14 head government officials, explaining the fact that we will be back, but all we need is just a postponement, but things out here in Nepal are very black and white," this is law", he said with a grin on his face, Mmm yeah! so you kept telling us.

So all the equipment has been packed up, logged and been put into storage at Loben's Pad ready for the return match in Oct, whilst doing this Bullock decided to try and befriend a wild Monkey, that appeared on the hotel balcony. Monkey was the size off a Rottweiler and wasn't falling for the bullock charm, Nick soon realised that his David Attenborough approach to attempt to connect with one of our own was going wrong, and fast! Monkey jumped down from his top spot and was on the case to spoil the bullocks day! Nick looked round for a weapon, "Mmm, Mini Gun, no! that was back in his room, Pepper pot, no!" but i could see his thinking! then in a moment of desperation as Monkey was heading in for a cheeky undercut, he grabbed the smallest, most useless, wooden chair you can possibly imagine and proceeded to fend off monkey with chair whilst squealing like a 5 year old girl on the big dipper at Blackpool, all at same time. This was all very funny, as I was viewing this from about 100m away at the time.

So after all that excitement, today we are off to meet with the Helicopter boys, to see if it really is possible to get us into BC in Oct we let you know how we get on later.

We fly back to UK on the 30th April, but watch this space as will be attaching a short film of the story so far, very soon.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A Collection of Clichés by Nick Bullock.

The trouble with expeditions is you never can tell how it’s all going to work out...

(pic Matt Helliker on the walk-in, day 1. Credit NB camera Samsung NX 10.)

It's the beauty and the pain, the agony and the ecstasy, it's taking the rough with the smooth...

         ...If it were easy, everyone would do it right?

High above Pokhara, late afternoon the blond god and I reached the dead end of the rough rubble road. The wind picked up and stirred dust into dervishes. The chewed field looked like an inner city football pitch, ragged and raw and scuffed, litter strewn. Tents pitched, brew on, dark descended and with it heavy drops of thunder-rain thud into the dust.

We were on our way. The morning would be the start of the walk in. Well, that was if we had enough porters, three had already bailed and apart from the four who had travelled with us from Kathmandu, the rest were shouting and haranguing Katak, one of our guide/serdars.

The bad feeling I had from the start of this expedition remained. Bracey had pulled out ten days before flying due to circumstances beyond his control. Pete Benson came on-board only to be delayed along with the camera man Ian Burton, Laura, Pete’s wife, Helliker’s boots and all of the electrical gadgetry due to volcanic ash. They were hopefully going to join us at BC but delay after delay after delay and still no take off date.

The rain pounded lifting the dust. The porters shouted and the voice in my head joined in ‘We should have delayed, we should have delayed, it all feels wrong, volcanic dust, Bracey bailed, kit strewn everywhere around the world, climbers strewn everywhere around the world’, but expeditions take a lot of organisation and once they have momentum they are like steam rollers, difficult to stop, difficult to control, crushing all in their path, including ego and ambition and best laid plans.

The morning arrived abrupt; dawn lifted above the surrounding tree covered hills. Our camp sparkled bright and clear and fresh. My mind felt cleansed and the imminent arrival of exercise made me positive. At last we were leaving behind all of the mishap and mayhem.

Paddy fields, ploughed steppe, vibrant purple flowers and cheerful locals… And in the afternoon we stopped in a field bordering the forest. A very steep spur covered in jungle now confronted our band which had decreased by another 7 porters, but that was for tomorrow, for now, the relaxing meadow with chickens and cows, exotic bird song and fresh green grass felt friendly and relaxing.

The second day of the walk-in was steep, humid, and physical. Our band of happy (the cook, the two guides and the four porters from Kathmandu) took on the challenge, smiling and laughing and singing. In direct comparison the local Pokhara porters complained and looked sullen. Later cloud swirled, rain and hail hit, the wind gusted… I shouted and whistled to help guide the porters to our shrouded camp which was a boggy flat spot cut in the spur. A pool of stagnant water was the water supply. Quickly we set up a large BC tent for the porters, then another for the cook and the kitchen boys, then our own. It was like a rough night out in the Welsh hills… Matt and I ate outside with feet lifted off the ground; the leaches were hungry. Matt grabbed the cutlery and popcorn and salt and pepper pots as they blew from the table… We had to laugh, it was a sorry situation but the weather was far from convincing… Helliker had received a text earlier in the day saying the volcanic ash stranded trio were due to fly on the 26th. Another kick in the teeth as this meant they would not reach BC for an age putting our acclimatisation out of sync and the film of the walk-in lost and Helliker without boots for acclimatisation.

(Above pic, The Kathmandu Boys in the jungle day 2 of the walk-in. Credit NB camera Samsung NX10)

Day three started clear, but soon the clouds rolled in and the hail began. Juggernaut, (pronounced juggernat but we thought that Juggernaut suited him better) was a tall well dressed (smart brown cords, stripy orange shirt) wiry porter from Kathmandu who sported a Lee Van Cleef moustache attached to a gaunt face with deep knowing eyes. Juggernaut was as strong as an Ox. He smiled readily even though he was now carrying a double load as the Pokhara porters were ditching gear quicker than seeds blew from a Dandelion head. The caravan of cheerful and sad, of singing and grumpy stretched along a misty cold moor until we found a dribble of water and an exposed camp site. Hail pummelled through the night and thunder rattled the tents.

(First pic above is THE Juggernaut, credit NB. The second shot is Camp 3 looking at the Fishtail/Machhapuchhre morning of day 3, credit MH. The shot below is one of the female porters with the Fishtail behind, credit MH. All shots taken with a Samsung NX 10.) 

Day 4.

“STOP, STOP NOW!” Matt screamed at the cook and the local guide (a guy who had been employed as he had convinced our agent’s men,a month previous on their original fact finding mission that he regularly completed the walk to Annapurna III BC) who were cutting steps into a small steep snow patch as Matt and I and several porters stood in the middle of a terminal moraine slope. Boulders tumbled and dirt flowed. Above us rocks rattled. The problem was after the snow patch a smooth steep glaciated wall of rubble continued for another 50 metres. The chances of getting across this safely were minimal, the chances of getting across with a 25 kilo load were impossible. The local guide sunk into soft snow nearly falling and screamed and turned… “Looks like he has eventually come to the same decision as us then!” Both he and the cook decided enough was enough for one day and tomorrow things would look better.

(The first obstacle day  4, the couloir of death. Check out the footsteps in the snow and think of continuing with 25 kilo on you're back while wearing a pair of running shoes! Credit MH, taken on a Samsung NX 10)


In the cloud and the swirling snow Matt and I checked out all other possibilities and decided there were none that could be attempted without fatality. We were then informed that 14 of the porters were leaving in the morning, only leaving six porters to carry twenty-one loads across a death couloir then onto, and over, a steep technical ridge followed by a 4400 metre snow covered col before dropping into the Seti Khola valley and BC… Hmm, game over!

It took 2 days to return to Pokhara from our ice encrust camp. A roof-top bus ride – swaying, screaming, jostling, laughing, ducking electrical cables, singing, mingling with the locals was the highlight of the whole trip…

(Nick Bullock on the roof of the bus returning to Pokhara. Credit MH taken with a Samsung NX 10.)

The sun set red over the shimmering Pokhara Lake. The surrounding hills swayed in the heat haze. Tourists and locals walked the quiet Pokhara street…

“We need to come back in October, it can’t be left like this, we cant just give up?”

(Above, Matt Helliker on the roof of the bus. Below, clearing the electric cables on the roof of the bus. Credit NB and MH Taken with a Samsung NX 10.)

“Yeh mate, but how do we get in to the mountain…?”

“Helicopter, we can hire a helicopter!”

(Matt Helliker in Pokhara kicked and bruised but not down, checking out the prices of helicopters ready for a return match in October . Credit NB taken with a Samsung NX 10)

Back in Kathmandu we will visit the ministry later today. It looks very doubtful they will postpone our permit until October, (it’s against the law they say!) so $2800 for nothing. $2000 for the LO even though he didn’t go in as he was waiting for the half of the team which were volcano affected, looks to be lost also, (but he was booked they say!). £1200 for two flights, £600 for change of flight costs, approximately $14000 for agent fees, (hopefully we will come to some arrangement over a part of this, although travel and cook services and porters and guides and porter insurance and Lobens time, etc, etc, etc has been used)… it’s a pretty big bill for a 5 day reccy that told us nothing apart from you cant get in the original way due to a glacier that no longer exists.

… But hey, never say never and when the going gets tough the tough get going, its never over till its over, try, try and try again, where there’s a will there’s a way… and one of my own, don’t let the bas***ds grind you down… (OK, maybe someone else used that one before)… but watch this space, October isn’t that far away and already we have permission for the express way in!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Ashmageddon by Pete

So, the whole world has stopped spinning on it’s axis because of a wee bit of volcanic ash in the air, which has now been shown to be perfectly safe, and always was safe.

Pete, Laura and Ian are now scheduled to fly to Kathmandu on Monday, and they will head straight to Pokhara and trek into base camp. As they will be travelling as a smaller party, they should be able to complete the trek to base camp in a few days, which will put them 2-3 days behind Matt and Nick. Well that is the plan. We shall see.

Matt has managed to bounce a mobile signal off a nearby mountain and has sent this update from the trek to base camp.

Matt writes:

Day 2 of the trek to base camp and we have already lost 10 porters, but fortunately the plucky porters from Kathmandu have been carrying double loads, and we have picked up some more local porters to fill the gasps. We have left the very hot and steamy jungle and only have 400m of height to gain till base camp which we should be able to complete in 2 days. Weather is very hot with massive thunder storms each night.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Nick, Pete's stand in and Matt

                                      bye from us, and Benson get you ass over here!!

Moving Out! Posted by Matt

So a decision has been made by the team that myself and Bullock will head out of Kathmandu in the morning and start walking into Base Camp without Pete and Laura Benson and Ian Burton the Film guy. They are still stuck in the UK due to flight delays along with my climbing boots, Bivi Tent, solar chargers and sat phone, Mmm.  It will be down to Geek Boy to keep you all up to date with progress on the blog, due to the fact that we will be without communcations until the rest of the team get into BC, hopefully this will be sooner rather than later!! and you will know this before we do.
By the time they arrive at least will have got the 20+  Porters into BC, set up, and come up with a bit more of a action plan to tackle Annapurna III, oh and have a massive party! Big Storm here in Kathmandu tonight, but both myself and grandad keen to get moving, I don't know if my guts could take much more, and even tonight Bullock himself started to doubt his own hotel room!!


                                           Kathmandu, Thamel.   Camera: Samsung NX10

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Manic Kathmandu!! Posted by Matt

So as im sure you have heard from Geek Boy (Pete), myself and Granddad Bullock made it to Kathmandu a few days back, before the whole Volcano thing kicked off and totally messed up plans for getting team benson and Ian, the film guy, into town a few days later for us to then all head into BC together. So this leaves us on standby in Kathmandu until Tuesday if they managed to get their flight??
If not which is looking more and more likely, myself and Nick will go on ahead on Monday with some 40 porters to try and get into Base Camp ( I say try! will explain later!) to set up and start trying to get things moving at this end. So as you can tell all a bit manic here.

Landing here on Thursday, i was looking forward to some rest at the hotel that Nick had sorted for us, "Its cheap, but really clean and quite" he tells me. Great! I said. thinking back to my last expedition with him to Peru a few years back, thinking he said the same then, but it turned out to be a hoval! I know he's changed and now being close to retirement im sure he likes a bit of comfort!!! Nope, I was wrong. After Bullock knocked the guy down from $10 to $6 per night the keys where handed over with a checky smile from the owners face, i walked up the stairs, found the door, turned the key to my room, and forced the door open over the blood, mud and cum stained carpet, to then attempt to peel, and yes, i mean "peel" the sheets back off the bed to view more nastiness under the covers, Mmmm think i will sleep in my clothes tonight, oh and a hat! at 8pm a Generator started up outside my window and continued until 4am this morning, it was like sleeping in the arms of a jack Hammer! Nice, thanks Grandad!

After packing yet more kit into duffals this morning, i managed to get onto the roof of the hotel and had a wicked workout, 2.5 hrs of P90X, Google it! its a amazing workout program given to me by my personal trainer Michelle! the guy who runs the session on the DVD is a bit of a cock, but if you can see through that is a great program, this was much needed and helped to clear my mind as exercise always does.

Camera: Samsung NX10

Just been out to dinner with our Agent Loben, to try and make yet more plans with all the hold ups we are having. Also learnt tonight that 3 of Lobens men who went into our BC a few weeks back to figure out the best route in, didn't make it all the way in, they where a day short and stopped due to snow! as nore did the last expedition to this side of the mountain in 2007 make it to BC, mmm could be an interesting few week!!

Also thanks to Rob Fairley who has given Loben some info and Photos, which we now have on our blog.


A bad feeling while cloud Busting in the land of the blond.

Let’s not pull punches – bouldering, trad climbing, sport climbing, ice climbing, Scottish winter climbing, alpine climbing, Roller skating, football-cricket-baseball-basketball-rugby-cricket … when would a cloud of volcanic ash affect these activities?


So here you go, how about this…

Gaz Parry climbs the Big Issue, a difficult rock climb in Pembroke, Hamilton fastest in Chinese practice, Liverpool chairman predicts bright future, Chambers refuses to indulge in drugs talk, Maja Vidmar 8b+ on-sight… Effected by volcanic ash? Caused by volcanic ash – shut down, breaks down, closes down because of volcanic ash… NO!

Not affected by volcanic ash we have completed and experienced the following; Ministry briefing completed, permit safely to hand, Liason Officer ready, conditions of expedition signed, bus booked, porters ready, the way in checked out, freighted barrels and boxes safely stored in the hotel and re-packed into porter loads… bitten by mosquitoes, headache from dirty chemicals swilling about in the local beer, sweating in the tropical heat, fighting off the tiger balm-hashish-rafting-bungee jumping-trekking-climbing-chess set-wooden violin-singing bowl sellers …


Sitting in the walled yard at the Thorong Peak Guesthouse in Thamel the breeze gently swims through long leaves of the hanging plants. Chatter and the chink of beer glasses. Car horns, beep, beep, beeping… A dog barks, and barks, and barks and yelps, and barks … A bustling street. Liz Hawley sits opposite. Matt Helliker, the blond bombshell to the right and Loben, agent par excellence, to the left. Liz has recorded, interviewed, questioned, logged, commiserated and reported on climbing in the Nepalese mountains for approximately 50 years… We cover some details of our expedition… Then out of the blue she tells the blond bombshell to be his own man and move hotel, (she is always badgering me for staying at the Thorong Peak Guesthouse) and as ever she commends us on our imagination for attempting a climb that is different. Ama Dablam, Everest, Cho Oyo… “I’m so fed up with them; you always choose interesting objectives…”

Liz pushes a piece of paper across the table; it’s a list of all expeditions that have attempted to climb Annapurna III. I look on with slight trepidation…2 out of the 5 expeditions didn’t even make it to BC… I lean back and wonder if they were shut down by volcanic ash?

It’s dark now…dogs bark, cars in the rubble street peep, peep, clunk, peep… generators growl. (The power cuts are for 12 hours every day now) Deep Purple wannabe bands screech out the lyrics, “smo, o, o, o, o, o, o, ke on the wa, a, a, a, a, a, ter, a fire in the sky” (bet that didn’t leave a cloud of dust that stopped Europe’s air traffic in its vapour trails) And the blond bombshell still amazes me with his blondness, (Evidence for my prejudice are as follows… Sends the link for this blog to approximately 500 people but sends the wrong address. He has made a film that features him more than anything or anyone else. Complains about my tried and trusted hotel because it doesn’t smell sweet and he found some crumbs in his bed linen! Gets drunk on one bottle of beer and wakes up with a hang over. Has problems with slightly spicy food after eating in the Mo Mo Star (a classy joint with great food if ever there was one). Has packed several books, most consist of climbing books, ((definitely not want you need on a climbing trip!)) and another book is a self enlightenment thing the type that most of the hippy, cheesecloth wearing, chanting, travellers who walk around the Thamel streets read before ‘finding the true meaning of life’ . He has also freighted 2 intellectual, good read magazines, FHM mag and Mens Fitness mag!) and to top it all, I asked him if he had downloaded any films to his smart little laptop…”Erm yeh mate, yeh, I’ve got 6 workout films, amazing mate, we can get ripped at BC!” FFS, give me strength, (but not from one of the workout movies!)


… But, against all odds he did actually make it to the airport and catch the correct plane, more than I can say for the others… And the excuse they use for delaying the expedition is a volcano has erupted in Iceland and the sky is full of dust…

I’m getting a bad feeling about this one…the planned sociable walk in is looking like it may not happen and the blond bombshell and I will be heading in even before the others land…


Friday, 16 April 2010

Satellite Test: Posted by Pete

This post and picture has been sent via satellite from the bad lands just north of Glasgow city centre! OK nothing new about that, but Pete has cobbled together a system which should allow blog updates and pictures to be directly published to the Annapurna blog using minimum bandwidth.

Providing we can get a signal, we will be updating the blog with all the banter from Base Camp and beyond.

All systems go....well almost.

Matt and Nick have arrived in Kathmandu and have been busy completing all the chores and buying food but unfortunately the rest of the team have been delayed in the UK due to the volcanic ash that our friends in Iceland have been sending this way.  Pete, Loz and Ian should now arrive (!?) in Kathmandu on Tuesday morning and then straight to Pokhara to begin the trek into Base Camp.  This only puts us a 36 hours behind schedule, but I will believe that when we all get out there!


This delay does however allow gadget-boy (Pete) to fully test the solar power station and satellite email system that will allow updates from Base Camp and await the arrival of the Bivi tent which is somewhere between Herefordshire and Glasgow.


Team Changes

At short notice, Jon Bracey will be unable to join the expedition in Nepal, although he will still be part of the team acting as Expedition co-ordinator and meteorologist from Chamonix, France.  In his place, Pete Benson will be joining the climbing team for the attempt on the SE ridge of Annapurna 3.  Pete has been climbing with Nick all winter and will make a good (but fatter!) replacement to Jon.  Thanks to Jon for all the hard work he has done up to now to make the Expedition happen.

Trekking into base camp with the climbers will be Laura Benson and Ian Burton who will be filming and taking photos for Posing Productions who are going to make a short film of the Expedition. They will be staying at base camp for a few days filming before trekking back to Pohkara.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Thoughts... By Nick Bullock.

Conversations, (most recently with Robert Shauer, a great alpinist and one of the team of two, ((Wojciech Kurtyka being his partner)) that climbed what is for me the greatest ever alpine style ascent in the greater ranges, the shining wall on the west face of Gasherbrum IV) posts on blogs, e-mails and articles have made me think about the forthcoming expedition.

Why Annapurna III and why the Southeast Ridge? Why alpine style? Why live this mountaineering life that provides discomfort, uncertainty, apprehension, on occasion sadness and at times terror?

Alpinism is attempting to climb with minimum impact and maximum commitment. Alpinism gives great rewards both physical and psychological. You learn a lot about yourself when you go out on a limb. In the run up to the climb voices constantly squirm, burrowing into the depth of youre drive and ambition. On the days before the voice speaks increasingly louder. And throughout the climb the voice shouts and nervous glances to the left, to the right, to the horizon and above to snow covered rock and below to the gaping emptyness and into the eyes of partners and into you're psyche are frequent. You learn very quick about who you really are and what is motivating you. Cut loose without a bolt kit, fixed rope, porta ledge – lead as free as you can, second by climbing not jumaring, keep youre sack on if at all possible, give the hill a chance and reveal the red-raw hidden beneath the bravado and ego.

In my case climbing in the greater ranges is me and a mate. On this climb it’s me and two mates. We will walk to the foot of a big hill that is in the back of the beyond, acclimatise, make a plan and set out. The objective is secluded and guarded by rock walls the size of the cliffs of Yosemite Valley. Towering and dark and intimidating. Packing our bags beneath the ridge with a limited amount of food, a limited amount of clothing, we will begin to climb in the hope that our experience and drive and determination will keep us going. Once the ridge is reached it will no-doubt present the usual technical ridge type challenges, unprotected traverses around gendarmes that may or may not be reversed, technical, unknown climbing, the voice shouts, what gear, what holds, what hope?. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve performed in the past, you’re body and mind at altitude can suddenly decide not to cooperate and of course the weather is uncertain.

After the summit, the same drive and determination that has kept us going for a possible 7 days will have to get us back down, and getting back down is not straight forward – no fixed umbilical cord to slide, no bolts for an easy anchor. At the moment we are thinking reverse the ridge (long and arduous and time consuming). Down climb the ridge to the right, (unclimbed and unknown). Down climb the ‘standard’ route, (unknown and leaving us in a different valley with a possible 5 to 7 day walk to BC).

A big part of alpinism is dealing with all of this … all of this, unknown. You can sit and say “well isn’t everyone in their day to day life dealing with this, which of course they are, but climbers and more specifically alpinists who are attempting new routes in the greater ranges, new routes climbed in a style which is giving the mountain a chance, choose to take their unknown beyond the realm of what most are comfortable. If this sounds arrogant, it isn’t supposed too, I completely understand that life is precious and something to be savoured at whatever level, but for me and people like me life is also something to be questioned and pushed and then it becomes rich and full.

Failure on this type of climb is common. The Southeast ridge of Annapurna III has been attempted five times and to my knowledge the ridge has only been reached once! Failure is something that makes this type of climbing what it is. Failure is what makes success something so far removed from what the glossy magazines and newspapers can comprehend they do not report it or want to begin to understand. To the media in general, a label has to be attached to a climb to turn it into an understandable objective. Many people who climb mountains, purely climb, or should i say haul up on fixed rope, to get to the top by whatever means, for whatever means, the thought of attempting a climb that is as unknown, as uncertain as the Southeast Ridge would not be guaranteed enough, it would not be good enough or well know enough to inflate their standing in the minds of the ignorant and easily impressed.

On his blog, The Mountain World, Dougald McDonald has written an interesting essay about the article in Alpinist 4 that is called unclimbed. Interesting for me is one of the comments written about the essay by Peter Beal who asks, “Do you have the feeling however that while these objectives are interesting to certain climbers, that they are no longer the topic of a larger discussion even within the climbing community?” I’m sure he is right, but have they ever been, and if they were, has mountaineering just turned fast food like many other aspects of climbing?

Successfully climbing, or, successfully failing on the Southeast ridge will be a deeply rewarding and soul seeking experience, it will bring about spiritual growth, it will make the climbers (Pete Benson, Matt Helliker and me) reliant on each other as soon as the first step is taken. There will be no Sherpa’s, no helicopter rescue, no other teams to run for to help, no oxygen, no fixed rope to easily slide back to safety and no bolts for certainty. Memories will last for life and the lives and character of those who have attempted (my mates and me!) will be enriched and changed for ever. This is what attempting to climb in a style where the mountain holds most of the cards is about. It is about putting yourself out there and seeing what you are made of, it is not about desecration, it is not about success at any cost, it is not about ruining the dreams and a finite resource for future parties.


Friday, 9 April 2010

Annapurna 3 on Google Earth

You can fly around Annapurna 3 on Google Earth if you cut and paste the following coordinates into the search box:

28 35' 05.50" N, 83 59' 24.65" E

The Objective - the SE ridge is just about visible.