Sunday, 31 October 2010

Paths of Desire by Nick

Picture: Paths of Desire from Base Camp


…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.


*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)

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.



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?


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.

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Friday, 22 October 2010

Shutdown by the weather.... again.

Pictures: Morning cloud shapes; who Nick wishes was in his tent; a new member of the team... but can he break trail at 7000m?

Last night our cunning plan was to climb through the night to get to our ABC on the East Ridge before the sun started to warm up the snowy slopes which we would have to cross to reach our highpoint.  However at around 10pm, a rather violent snow storm hit base camp and after approximately 3 seconds of deliberation we went back to bed.

The weather is starting to become a problem.  We are several days behind where we would like to be in terms of acclimatisation, and getting caught out in this kind of weather at 7500m would not be fun.  We live in hope that the weather patterns will change and we will get to see the sun for more than a few hours per day. 

If the weather is clear again tonight, we may head up to ABC, although there is bound to be a lot of fresh unconsolidated snow which is bound to make things interesting and may force us back again to BC.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


Picture: Just some of the gear needed for the East Ridge attempt.

Base Camp, a random scattering of tents situated in a wide, brown-grass clearing is enveloped. The mist swirls around the jagged other world pinnacles and blows up the crumbling gullies situated below. The mist sneaks in and out and brushes its icy finger against the tent fabric. The cirque of mountains, A3, A4, Machhapuchhre, gleam and then disappear behind the cumulous. Sleet smatters. The stove purrs. Buddhi sings.

Sitting in BC, like the cloud, I drift in and out of contemplative thought, then, like a tube train arriving at Kingscross Station, a rumble, shakes the ground and brings me out of my reverie. A serac, a massive clot of woven compressed ice clinging to the side of the surrounding cliffs has crashed to the ground, a constant reminder that we are small, insignificant and fallible, but we are where we want to be, in amongst the mountains, mountains that are ancient and formidable and unconquerable.

 Our trip has caught the imagination of the national press and being detached from what is written in the papers I have concerns. I hate hype and the trumped up terms that the media generally use when writing about mountaineering. Fortunately Ed Douglas is a mountaineer and a climber that I trust and he knows that men and women do not conquer mountains; he knows we do not scale sheer cliffs with superhuman spider-man strength; we do not tread without fear, without thought, without compassion. He knows that an expedition like this one is not a glorious account of conquering and gung ho, and walking past dying climbers while sucking on oxygen. This expedition is what really happens when climbers, that is people who live for the mountains and the environment, the space, the freedom, the adventure and the uncertainty, go to the hills. Sometimes with luck with good weather, conditions, and the fitness of the team, the climbers are successful in their endeavours, but many times they are not. Ed knows all of this and I believe his report that appeared in The Times was honest and true. I just hope that others who choose to write will show a similar amount of understanding.


Tonight, weather permitting, we hope to climb through the night to reach the previously climbed to high-point on the East ridge, before digging in and stocking a snow hole. The intention then is to sleep the night at 5900m and the following day climb along the ridge until beneath the steepening that is the 1000m technical cliff face. Hopefully, we will dig in once again beneath the face, spend the night, and then the following day we will climb half of the 1000m before reversing all the way to BC. We need to do this for acclimatisation, to prepare our bodies for the two and a half kilometre push for the summit, which is above 7000m. This will only happen if we are very lucky, and the weather and mountains are favourable and our bodies are playing the game. It is very much a question of many factors coming together of determination, skill, strength but most of all luck. It will never be a matter of conquering.


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

On weather Standby

Picture: Waiting out the weather at BC
Last night the weather was pretty bad with a few inches of snow at BC, and although the weather was nice this morning, the usual afternoon cloud and snow returned shutting down our nocturnal activities (we were thinking of heading up to ABC tonight).  Hopefully tomorrow will be better and we can actually get out and do some climbing. 
If we stay in BC any longer we will get too fat to climb with all the fine food Buddhi is serving up. 

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Into the furnace....

Pictures: Heading up to ABC; Matt sorting out the ropes.

Today the weather dawned clear which made for nice views of the mountains however the heat rapidly built and turned the nice and crunchy snow to horrible slush.  By the time we got up to 5600m, we decided that the final slope to the ridge would be a tad risky under the circumstances, so we buried the gear in the snow (to prevent a bird intrusion) and slithered back down BC.

The new plan is to make use of the full moon tomorrow night and climb up to ABC before the furnace heats up and then continue our investigations of the East Ridge. 



Monday, 18 October 2010

Weather improving. Back up to our lofty ABC tomorrow.

Pictures:  Nepali Master class; Hunting for evening light; Base Camp downtime; Nightime Base Camp

Last night was the first clearish night we have had so far and with the moon nearly full, we were outside till late receiving a master class in nightime photography from Dave.

Today was another reasonable weather day with plenty of sun up high, but alas low cloud plagued BC which wasn't so good for sunbathing or charging the batteries from the solar panels.

We trotted back up to the snowline where we have a load of gear stashed to check out the snow conditions, and the sun has done a good job at encouraging all the fresh snow to disappear and if we get a good frost tonight, we should be able to quickly gain our ABC on the East Ridge. 

From there we will dig in to the ridge, and providing all is well we will probably stay the night in our new home, and quest along the east ridge towards the crux headwall the next day. 


Sunday, 17 October 2010

Improving weather, lots of snow in the mountains.

Pictures:  Crater Lake, a nearby glacial lake; The Water Gatherers, Buddhi and Santos return from collecting water.   

The weather cleared a bit today which allowed us to see the mountains which have been totally plastered with new snow.  As the morning sunshine hit, avalanches roared down the slopes – I think we will leave the snow to settle for a day or two.

We have played our first move, and located our ABC on the East Ridge; the mountain has shown it's cards with a fresh dump of snow.  We will wait patiently to play our next move, which probably won't be tomorrow. 


Saturday, 16 October 2010

Shutdown by bad weather

The Primus stove splutters into action with a characteristic put-put put; Buddhi adds his own soundtrack singing happily while fixing our breakfast.

Sleepy climbers wake and are greeted with rain and thick fog – hardly the weather for another day of load hauling to our ABC on the East Ridge.  We cut our losses and make a dash for the snow line to dump some gear, careful not to leave any food – plenty of expeditions have been ruined by pesky birds with sharp beaks stealing what is not theirs.

Back in BC, the sleet tries to soak through the tents and into our bones.  A freshly baked cinnamon swirl is the highlight of lunchtime which stokes the fires and keeps the damp at bay. 

Entertainment is provided by a matinee showing of 'Cash' starring Sean Bean on the latest touch-screen gadget from Samsung.  With no sun to charge batteries we are running on impulse power.  Warning - fifteen percent power splashes across the screen.  External battery located, power rebooted.  Crisis averted.  Then just as the film reaches its finale with several intriguing possibilities for an ending implanted into the grey matter, the show stops.  Panic.  The film has not been downloaded in full.  Woof Woof and Grandpa are grief stricken not because they want to know how the film ends, but because the leading lady is rather foxy.  Grrr.

It would cost the GDP of Ghana and several days of satellite air time to download the film here.   Remind me to go and watch the film when we get back.

And so we wait.  We have food, fuel and patience.  Power and sunlight may be in short supply, but enthusiasm is not.  A quick flick through yesterday's photos reminds us of what beauty towers above us and what we have to do.


PS, from Nick.

If anyone out there can tell us how the film Cash finishes, it will be most appreciated. Our version ended abruptly at the one and a half hour point, just after they had robbed the bank and the man in the lead roll,(Sam?) who is not Sean Bean, sneaked some bullets from the security guard in the bank...Cheers, it will make me most happy to know and will slightly brighten a very Welsh mingy day.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Scent of Adventure

 Pictures: A rather snowy scene this morning at BC, Matt and Pete testing their high altitude clothing.

Today has been a rest day, so Matt and Nick have both been busy writing - enjoy

Matt's Blog

Lying in my tent this morning waiting for the warmth of the sun to hit BC to encourage us from our bags as it always does at 8am, but this morning for the first time since we have been here it was gloomy with a fresh dump of the white stuff on the ground.

After a day of needed rest, the weather has cleared for a few hours allowing us to prepare for our outing in the morning. Sorting the climbing rack, clothing and the food for the route, which mainly consists of Maximuscle Viper and Promax bars.

The plan tomorrow is to carry a heavy load to our high point from a few days back, dig a snow cave on the ridge and load this with some of the gear and food we will need to take on the east ridge using the snow cave as an advanced base camp.  Depending on time we will hopefully descent back to BC tomorrow night for a good night's sleep before we take it on to the next stage!

That said it's pouring down outside now, which means quite a bit of snow up high.

If you have been following us, you will know that freelance journalist Ed Douglas travelled with us into BC for a few days to write a piece for the Times newspaper.  Ed's personal view of the expedition should make the Times this Saturday and I guess we will have to wait until we get back to the UK to see what he has written!

Nick's Blog: The Scent of Adventure




Post monsoon Kathmandu has the smell of success. When I say success, what I mean is the climbing team are all together in the same city; boots have made it, tents made it, the cameraman David Reeves made it. I threatened Alastair Lee that if David turned out to be a knob I would be hot footing it to Sheffield. But in this new sweet smelling scenario David is a cool guy. The climbing gear is packed - the electronics are packed - the food is packed - the Camera batteries are charged - the climbers are charged - Ed Douglas is charged - the Samsung notebook has Google Earth downloaded onto the hard drive - the helicopter is washed and waiting - the pilot Pemba from Air Dynasty is not only excited to land in a valley he has not landed in before, but he is psyched - and Loben has employed Buddhi, the best cook in the world, who is driving to Pokhara tomorrow with a van full of gear and food and cook equipment. Success is a thousand miles away, but still, the smell of a dream going right is Apple Pie.


A week and a day later.


Its possibly been the worst weather yet today. But as we have hardly spoken of weather this will mean, not-a-lot.  Snow fell through the night and after a brief spell of broken cloud and sun, we now have wet sleet. Since changing objectives from the Southeast Ridge to the East Ridge success feels a long way off. A lot of suffering is to come. The East Ridge of A3 is truly a Himalayan giant taken direct from the pages of Venibles and Fanshaw's masterpiece, Himalayan Alpine Style. It is a massive challenge which may have several layers of scent, some will be bitter, some sweet, some sharp, maybe even ammonia, but be sure an adventure will be had.


Bags are now packed, tomorrow, we are ready to repeat the 1300m of ascent, from two days ago. Success will be reaching our high point with a stash of climbing gear, food, gas, clothes, sleeping bags, a shovel, a stove and excess air in our lungs. We hope to dig a snow hole big enough for the three of us, stash the kit and return to BC all in the day.


Tomorrow will only be truly successful and smell Pomegranate sweet when the red glow of our mess tent is spied from the heathery moraine above BC, David's bright light sat atop his camera draws us and the whoop of Buddhi calling us home is heard.



Thursday, 14 October 2010

The path to Annapurna 3 unfolds...

Pictures: Machhapucher from the slopes leading up to the East Ridge;  The first sortie onto the slopes of the East Ridge which towers above Matt; Himalayan snow wading with something rather large in the background ; Nick and Matt enjoying Base Camp sunshine after a 13 hour effort the day before.

The scale of the mountains out here are immense,  Annapurna 3 and Annapurna 4 tower above us for nearly 3 kilometres, and no matter how many times you look at it, the NE face of Machhapuchher never fails to inspire. What a privilege to spend time among these giants.

Yesterday (Wednesday) it was time to actually do some climbing as we have been here for nearly a week;  The initial traumas of flying straight to a base camp at 4600 meters have all but passed. 

Always keen for more suffering, Woof Woof, Grandpa and I, wheezed, coughed and spluttered our way up and onto the start of the East Ridge of Annapurna 3, an ascent of 1400m and setting a highpoint for the trip of 5900m narrowly beating the high point of the helicopter ride.  This acclimatisation gig is really good fun? 

The climbing was actually pretty good starting up easy snowy slopes, weaving up snowy runnels leading to a beautiful snow crest, with the final pitches being particularly fine on perfect snow ice.  The usual afternoon cloud had made an early appearance which was actually quite a blessing as on the few occasions when the sun did poke through the mist it was like being in a microwave oven. 

When we finally popped out onto the ridge, the air to the north was very clear and we were treated to a beautiful view down towards Humde and over towards Manaslu.  I could imagine trekkers on the Annapurna circuit enjoying some chi in a wee teahouse looking up at the northern flank of the Annapurna massive – perhaps one day I will feel content to be amongst the mountains, rather than climbing on them with all the stress and hardship that comes with this way of life.

Before the clouds rolled in, we got a good look at the rest of the ridge, which is immense. It will be a very committing venture, with no options to drop height quickly if the weather breaks, or one of us suffers from altitude issues.  The technical crux of the route we think will involve a 500m mixed face of snow, rock and ice which looks harder than the headwall on the North face of the Droites in Chamonix and 3000m higher in altitude.

Our plan is to make two or three acclimatisation forays probing ever deeper and higher onto the ridge until we are ready for a final push from base camp to the summit.  While the final 2.5 km should not be technically too demanding, it is all above 7000m, so we will definitely be deploying the 4 paw drive traction unit known as the Woof Woof to break trail – we might have to put a leash on him to stop him running away.

Today (Thursday) we have spent in base camp, enjoying the sunshine – the clouds didn't roll into after lunchtime – and some fine food from the base camp kitchen.

Buddhi's base camp secrets part 2.

Whatever next?  After restaurant quality food, which has included, pizza, lasagne and banana pie, this morning we were all enjoying an omelette muffin, nothing too unusual about that, until you learn that Buddhi freshly baked the muffins this morning.  'Are they all right', he enquired, 'I can bake some more if you are still hungry?'  This guy is a total legend, and good food is so important up here.  So throw away your Smeg cookers and melt down your Aga for scrap, all you need is a $15 Primus stove. 

Ciao, Pete

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Acclimatisation begins...

Pictures: Matt gets to a new level playing 'NOVA' on the Samsung Galaxy Tab; Buddhi excels once again with a delicious base camp banana pie, both taken on the Samsung NX10 camera.

Yesterday was spent looking round trying to get to grips with the topography of the area and coming up with a plan to climb a new route on Annapurna 3. Today has been spent in BC getting kit sorted for the morning, ready for a hit up to the East Ridge on A3 to make a stash of some gas and to acclimatise to 6000m, hopefully!  We will return to BC tomorrow evening to rest for a few days or so before we try to get any higher on the ridge; acclimatisation will be the key for this 7.5 km ridge, 2.5 km of which is above 7000m. 

Weather is still mixed but predictable, sunny in the mornings then clouding over bringing snow, but thankfully not too much!

Down time is spent either listening to tunes, or watching movies on our Galaxy tabs, how cool are these things?

All team members are well save for a few snivels - trying to shake off a cold is not that easy at 4600m.


Monday, 11 October 2010

The SE ridge secrets remain..

Pictures: Glacier trotting, Buddi the wonder chef, Annapurna 3 east ridge, Matt assessing the SE ridge.


Today we trotted across the glacier to have a look at the far side of the southeast ridge, the side you can't see from base camp. It was like a war zone!   The glacier is a total mess with house size crevasses guarding entry to the initial 1000 meter rock buttress which is loose, broken with very few climbable lines.  Last night's snow was quickly melting in the morning sun, turning the sinuous slices of ice we were hoping would be our express elevator to the main part of the ridge, to mush.  Snow, water and rock thundered all around, not the kind of ground which you would, or could climb with massive boots and a 10 day rucksack. 


The only other feasible line to the right of the centre of the buttress is severely threatened by massive seracs (ice cliffs) which would be likely to carve at any time flushing any wood-be Annapurna 3 suitors down the sewer.  Others could use this route if they dared, but we have too much to live for and nothing to die for. 


The route Nick Colton and Tim Leech pioneered in 1983 (they are the only climbers to have set foot on the ridge proper) is now totally impassable and is regularly pummeled by thousands of tones of ice from the rapidly retreating glacier above. 


In the style we wish to climb, the SE ridge does not look feasible for us and we have made a decision to change our objective the unclimbed East Ridge of Annapurna 3.  While being slightly technically easier, several expeditions have tried this route to the summit and have failed.  It will be no picnic and has a long and committing 2.5 km section to the summit above 7000m. The total length from the snow line is 7.5km 


We came here to have a laugh and climb Annapurna 3.  Our dream was to find a route onto the SE ridge and follow our hearts to the summit.  Today we realised that our future does not lie in the SE ridge.  However we remain sanguine and our minds are now re-calibrating for the East Ridge. 


Perhaps with a different approach, more climbers, more gear, bolts, and more rope you could force a route up the lower buttress of the SE ridge, but that is not what we are about.  We have small rucksacks and wish to tread lightly on this magnificent mountain.  The challenge of the SE ridge still remains for others, and as for it being one of the last great challenges of the Himalaya, well there is no doubt of that, but looking around from base camp, I can see quite a few more last great challenges…..


The Secrets of Buddhi's Base Camp cooking – Part One



How do you bake a cake at 4600m in a tent with no oven? 



The 'oven' is created in a large pot which has water in it and is placed on the primus stove.  The cake is then baked in a smaller pan which is placed in the water sitting on a couple of stones so the cake base is not burned by the direct heat  of the stove.  Simples.


In the next episode we find out how Buddhi creates such base camp favorites such as cinnamon swirls, thin crust pizza and tuna lasagna. 

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Unlocking the secrets....

Yesterday the climbing team headed up to the snow line at 5100m to gain some height passing the remains of previous camp which included a large rusting gas cylinder slowing being eaten and returned to the earth.  Other items included a large jar that Nick has snagged as a pee bottle so he doesn't have to get out of his tent at night and a most puzzling arrangement of 3 padlocks that were deliberately left on a flat rock.  Perhaps they were placed as a metaphor, and each of the three locks represents the three climbers and we are here to unlock the secrets of Annapurna 3.

Pictures: Annapurna 3, Matt's Birthday cake, the Trip Hazard aka David Reeves.  All photos taken on a Samsung NX10.

Matt celebrated his 30th birthday at base camp yesterday and Buddhi baked a surprise Birthday cake which is pretty incredible given that we are at 4600m and Buhddhi only has two Primus stoves to cook on! 

David Reeves the camera man who I'm sure won't mind me saying is not waif, stated before flying in that he would like to lose a tad of weight. Well we are happy to say his A3 diet is on track with projectile vomiting and a lack of appetite. David has even slowed down on the filming and is seen lying prone in various around BC, causing a trip hazard!

Ed Douglas left BC this morning by taking the Dynasty Air express taxi out.  It was a big relief for Ed as he has several deadlines to meet. Needless to say we had loads of empathy with Ed's situation, and at no time did we suggest that Ed may be stuck for a long time. In the end, the chopper whizzed in early doors, snow clouds billowed and cut a furrow while we dived to zip tents. The mountain soundtrack we have already become accustomed was swallowed with thudding and in a shot the paparratzi was whisked away. Ed texted us an hour and a half later informing that java cappuccino was being relished. Hmm, me thinks Ed got his own back for the never getting out quips!

Weather seems to have settled into a bit of a routine, clear cold, the cloud build up  and a smattering of snow. Tonight the smattering appears to be a little more persistent.

Tomorrow we plan to recce the approach and possible entry onto the SE Ridge, once this has been done we can see even if it possible to access the ridge and start to make a plan.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Shock Horror - Helliker Turns 30

A wee birdie tells me Mr Helliker turns 30 today and he's been trying to keep it quiet.  I've attached a link to his video camera thoughts about turning 30 whilst at Base Camp.  It's probably better the 'older members' of the team don't see it. 

I'm going to text the sat phone to spill the beans and get the boys to get Bhudi to bake him a cake, even though he'd probably prefer a Birthday Maximuscle shake!

Friday, 8 October 2010

A3 Team arrive at base camp

After a wild helicopter flight somewhat reminiscent of a Vietnam war film, flitting and twisting in the deep walls of the Seti Khola gorge, the team including Ed Douglas and David the cameraman have arrived at their chosen BC without any mishap. The Base Camp, in the end was the higher of the two possible choices at a height of 4600m situated at a large gassy flattening with stunning views of Annapurna 3, 4 and the sacred peak of Machhapuchher. 


Pemba the Air Dynasty pilot did an amazing job ferrying 7 people and a tonne of food and equipment up to base camp which had to be done in stages, decreasing the helicopter weight as higher elevations were gained.  The views from the helicopter were stunning, first passing over the fertile and lush farmland north of Pokhara, then climbing up into the deep Sehti Khola gorge where the first drop of weight was made.  Weighing less, Pemba could then fly the helicopter up even higher to recce the various base camp locations that had been spotted on Google Earth and at one point took the B2 to 5400m flying close to the SE ridge of Annapurna 3 before we settled on a great base camp at 4600m.  Pemba made 7 drops at the base camp from the intermediate drop zone before high tailing back to Pokhara as the cloud had started to bubble up. Over here the clouds have big rocks in them! 



Pemba landing at the Annapurna 3 base camp


Going straight from 800m to 4600m is not an ideal way to acclimatize and I personally wouldn't recommend it, it hurts, but everyone is now slowly getting used to the lack of oxygen, and the suffering is good practice for the BIG suffering to come.


The next few days will be spent taking it easy and slowing learning and observing the character of the mountain to develop a cunning plan to climb Annapurna 3.  In the mean time Bhudi the cook will be keeping us well fed with his fantastic food.




Machhapuchher at dawn from base camp



Thursday, 7 October 2010

Advanced Team at Base Camp!!

Report from Pete sent by text:

"Weather Good.  Three runs to intermediate drop zone with an advanced team already at base camp!!  Rest of team and equipment to follow."

I'll keep you updated as I receive more communication.  Laura

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A3 team are airborne!

The team have now mobilised to Pokhara and the weather is looking good for flying into base camp tomorrow (Thursday).
The Air Dynasty helicopter flight from Kathmandu was going pretty smoothly until there was a loud bang at the back of the cabin which caused some concern to the occupants in the cheap seats at the back.  After some worried looks, the source of the noise was found to be a bungee cord which had come loose and shot across the cabin and was trying to make a break for freedom through the window.
Pete riding up front

The boys after the bungee incident
Just before landing at Pokhara airport, Pemba showed off his piloting skills by diving into a deep gorge, tracking the Eurocopter B2 along the meandering river at 80 mph before smoothly landing at the airport much to the delight and horror of the passengers.
Unfortunately the afternoon cloud was obstructing the mountains, so we will have to wait another day to see Annapurna 3.
Dave has been busy strapping numerous Samsung video cameras to the helicopter so we should be able to get some awesome shots, and if we have time, Pemba has agreed to fly as close and as high to our objective which will be extremely useful for determine our climbing strategy and getting an idea of the conditions on the route.  
The master technician at work - Dave
 The plan tomorrow is to ferry the equipment and people (4 runs) up to an intermediate drop zone and from there drop some weight in order to get into our base camp which could be as high as 4800m if you believe Google Earth.
It is a clear night in Pokhara so here is hoping....
Nepal from the air

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Satellite Test Blog from Kathmandu

The team has made significant progress from their previous effort by actually all managing to turn up in Kathmandu safe and sound with all the gear and we have spent the last 2 days unpacking and re packing, testing and re testing and going though all the necessary paperwork at the Ministry - we now have a permit.


We met with Liz Hawley the collator of the Himalayan database which is an authoritative database of every Expedition in Nepal who required us to fill in her forms for this years entry.


We met with Pemba the Air Dynasty helicopter pilot today to finalise the drop zone for BC with the help of Google Earth and there appear to be two options for Base Camp which Pemba spotted on a recce mission a few days ago and the call will be made as to which location on the first flight in.


Climbing team members, Dave Reeves the cameraman and Ed Douglas the Journalist will all fly to Porkhara by Chopper tomorrow afternoon, then if all goes well will fly to BC on Thursday morning. So keep everything crossed for us.


The Team