My name is David Tait - I'm an NSPCC Trustee and 'charity mountaineer' having now successfully climbed Mount Everest four times - in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011. I climb to raise both awareness and money for the many violated kids - one of whom was I. This is my first of many dispatches that will accompany my effort to summit for the fifth time. I hope you follow along, find it interesting, and spread the word. There are many children in our society who know only too well that monsters truly do exist.
Everest Base Camp 5250m, 13th April 2013.
A glance at my watch - 11:30 am mountain time, 06:45 London time - still another 45 minutes until my family land at Heathrow. All very tough.
I sit in the White Dome, a large geometric, aluminium framed dome tent which when first seen and entered quite literally amazes. Within its circular walls lie chrome deck chairs, a couple of metal framed couches, a makeshift bar [with three stools], a 'private" recess for Internet [laptop] and finally a small flat-screen TV. Everything within this wonder-dome is stored at Gorak-Shep, the town that precedes Base Camp, and "yaked" 2 hours to our barren spot on the glacial moraine over the 2-3 weeks prior to our arrival.
The superhuman Sherpa team then set about carving flat tent-beds from the rocks and assembling not only the complex white-dome, but all the other tents, which include the small living pods, large mess, cooking, storage, communication and toilet/shower units. The quantity of work they are confronted with each season is quite daunting - but typically they attack each lung-busting challenge with staggering enthusiasm. Their camp-maintenance work never ceases as the ice is constantly moving and melting - hence the infrastructure needs a hands-on approach to avoid decay and collapse.
At 09:00 this morning, a little after breakfast, I stripped down to trousers, boots and t-shirt, donned my pack and carrying only a sweat-shirt and Arctryx plastic jacket, took off for the summit of a peak that sits just behind BC which we call "the other Kala-Patar." This rocky hill was amusingly mistaken for the "proper" Kala-Patar, [a trekker peak and vantage point] some years ago by the incumbent guides - I wont ever let them forget it. I chose to climb alone, early and ahead of a following group so that I could move fast and test my legs and lungs without appearing to "big it up". I charged to the summit, lungs screaming, took a picture of Shawn [my 9 year old son's school mascot], a 20 second video of the staggering view [the ability to send video to the site is still being fixed] and then raced down. One hour twenty, camp to camp.
A little about the "nitty-gritty" of tent life.
I retired to my frosty tent at 8pm last night, soon after dinner, having filled one of my water bottles with hot water, which, when thrust to the foot of ones sleeping bag acts as a splendid hot water bottle. This same bottle, having cooled by the morning then acts as drinking water - and so the cycle continues.
I trudged the short distance to my personal pod, as-always stopping en-route, turning off my headlamp and gazing at the apparently magnified stars whilst enjoying a final, pre-bed pee. Turning to my icy tent, I predictably struggle with the already frozen, stiffened zips, which guard my little haven. Successfully opened, I reverse in and close the outer door.
Teeth are brushed, spit ejected into the tiny, dirt-floored vestibule before any clothing is reluctantly peeled off. Firstly, pockets of my down coat and trousers are emptied - gloves, gator, lip-ice, anti septic gel and any random, but essential pieces of electronics are transferred to havens safe from the brutal overnight temperatures. My Mac Air, plethora of charging cables, BGAN and phones are stashed within my bulletproof pelican case, hopefully protected enough from the elements to survive another day.
Deep breath taken I shrug off my billowing down coat and wriggle from my down trousers, piling them carefully and finally covering with my Arctryx [windproof plastic] jacket to prevent ice forming on the soft fibres. There are few things worse than putting on a cold-stiffened coat in the early morning. I dive inside my welcoming, but nevertheless freezing sleeping bag and shiver for a few moments as the nylon tries to mirror my diminishing body heat.
My watch and headlamp are hung above my head from a convenient cable that circles the tent - ear plugs are warmed, squeezed and thrust into my ears to expand - the deep cuts that plague the ends of my fingers are cleaned and dressed with antiseptic cream, my nose blown and then the inside painted with Savlon, my lips covered with Nutrogena "lip-ice" and finally a last, sizeable chug of foul tasting melted glacial water is swallowed.
With a final consideration given to whether any form of drug is needed [headaches, Nausea] and whether its possible given the temperature to leave one hand outside the sleeping bag and read [holding my kindle], I finally zip the bag as high as possible, pull on Vanessa's wooly hat [which slips down nicely over my eyes and acts as eye shades, and close my eyes.
I am very lucky - I can sleep standing vertically, so it isn't long before I have slipped into unconsciousness. However, many are tortured, night after night by an inability to fall asleep - an altitude side effect - and a few have even succumbed and returned home, such was their misery. One can stare into blackness for only so long.
Nature will inevitably call at some point during the hours of complete blackness. Options are of course limited - One can crawl from the warm depths of the sleeping bag, try and not dislodge the ice which has encrusted everything you touch, force yourself into freezing clothes and venture outside, or, if you are lucky enough to be male, you can resort to the "pee bottle".
I have two 1.5 litre opaque canisters, which I take pride in almost filling each night. However there is a science to peeing in ones sleeping bag. One "leans" a little to ones preferred side and having guided oneself through the wide-neck starting gate, relaxes and prays. Only when one hears the familiar tinkling of collecting fluid can you be totally sure you have not missed and are ruining your sleeping bag [and expedition].
Now is not a time to fall back to sleep - one must maintain strict concentration and keep one finger thrust deep within the bottle as an indicator/alarm that maximum capacity is close to being reached. An overflow and even worse, a dropped bottle, aren't worth contemplating. The bag will never dry from exposure to such a deluge and the smell would be appalling.
The screw top is diligently replaced and the bottle placed outside the bag within easy reach. On particularly cold nights one has the option of cuddling your just filled pee bottle - the warmth very welcome.
The night continues, the first glimmer of dawn noticed at about 04:30. I wake myself at 06:00 to begin the morning ritual.
PS: Please don't forget why I am here. Many children suffer as I write and you read - please try and give generously - all money flows directly to the charity [I am self-funded]. Please pass this tale on to others - awareness is everything.