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.....

1 comment:

  1. Found this link from the shortlist website,thoroughly enjoyed your blog and pics. all the very best and heres to a safe trip home for you all,as someone else who commented said,you have been given a little insight to conditions on this mountain and she has allowed you to leave always be gratefull!