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NSPCC/Tait 2013 Everest Expedition - Dispatch Eight

Unzipping the tent showered me in ice crystals, but finally, and a little unsteadily in stood upright and gazed around at the beautiful scene. I trudged to the wash-tent and with a -10 ambient temperature, set about shaving.

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 which 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.

Dispatch 8, Lobouche BC to Everest BC [5250M] - 9th April 2013.

05:45 am - I reached out of my toasty sleeping bag, dislodging a ring of ice around the area where my night breath had fallen, and grabbed my pants and socks from beneath my sleeping bag - the warmest place for them to dry out. Taking a deep breath, I tugged the zip down and gasped as the frigid air rushed in. In one very deliberate movement I thrust my legs into my down pants and shrugged on my down coat - time to clean up.

Unzipping the tent showered me in ice crystals, but finally, and a little unsteadily in stood upright and gazed around at the beautiful scene. I trudged to the wash-tent and with a -10 ambient temperature, set about shaving. Using only the water from a semi-frozen overnight water bottle, is a sure fire way of waking oneself up, but you are lucky if you can feel your fingers afterwards.

Still the only member of the climbing/trekking team awake, I wandered to the humming and steamy cook-tent to make two hot chocolates and one coffee for the still slumbering Tait contingent. It was time for them to greet the day, and for me to quickly load all the kit bags yet again. The Yaks were already waiting, having stood guard over the camp during the night, their presence felt owing to the incessant clanging of their neck-bells.

The boys finally awake. Shaky on their feet, their stomachs and heads are both textbook examples of the debilitating effects of high altitude. The looks on their faces when confronted with breakfast eggs were a sight to behold. The grimace was comical - but one eats to survive up here - it's rarely anticipated with relish.

At 08:45 we started the final long haul to Base Camp via Lobouche Town [a place worth skipping, so we did] and Gorak Shep, the last formal outpost before our goal and site of the solar-powered cell-phone tower. It had taken us 3 ½ long hours to finally reach the "hut in a dust-bowl" settlement - 3 ½ hours of pure torture for both Vanessa and Ethan, but I had to admire their determination. Endless hill followed endless rocky valley as the narrow path wound its way along the very edge of the mammoth glacial moraine. Competition for space was intense with us all needing to jump regularly to the edge of the path to avoid numerous yak-trains. At one point, a chap, looking very much like the lead singer of the black-eyed peas, edged past us on the back of a mangy horse - apparently too infirm to walk. The look of intense embarrassment on his face suggested his decision to descend in this manner was not his best.

After 25 minutes of Gorak rest, Oreos, Pringles and Fanta [only eat from packets] we set of on the final third of the journey. By now, thankfully, both the infamous Khumbu Icefall and the multi-colored dots of furthest Base Camp were now visible to my two flagging companions. Seth, being 6'5" and legs like a mutant giraffe, had long disappeared into the distance despite trying to inch his way forward and not gallop.

Two further hours of trudging monotony passed before my altimeter peaked at 5335m and the path ahead appeared to generally descend. It needed to as my two companions were shot. One last narrow- path descent lay ahead before "Trekker Point" [the turn around point for most non-climbing groups] was passed and the Himex Camp appeared. The relief was intense. They had all made it - not without their health problems, but they had all made it.

I ordered them to sit still and drink whilst I unloaded the kit bags once again and stocked their lime-green tent - tents perched amongst frozen, blue glacial pools and monstrously sized boulders. The Sherpa's, who had over the last 2/3 weeks chosen and tooled the camp into shape, had erected a number of the small one man living tents - it was just left for us to choose four that suited and had flat floors!

Soon, the Tait party were unconscious in their tents and I had a chance to collect my thoughts, sit still for a while and hydrate. I planned to wake them all thirty minute prior to dinner. I needed Ethan to eat something - anything at all would do.

We were all wrapped in our sleeping bags by 8:30 pm, a fierce wind battering the tents. At least the snorer of the climbing group would pass unnoticed this night. Small mercy.

We were all awoken at 05:30 by Seth departing on a photoreconnaissance mission, hopeful of capturing a beautiful, colorful dawn over Everest. However it was not to be. Instead, a strong biting wind and unusually thick, fast moving clouds thwarted his attempt - he returned to camp a couple of hours later dispirited and very cold.

Soon after breakfast, and before the weather got any worse, we walked as a group further up the trail towards "old Base Camp" - sitting at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall. Our camp is situated a short, ten-minute walk further way for the icefall for hygiene reasons. The old BC is quaint, with everyone seemingly crammed together, but this homeliness has a price - if one person gets sick, you all do. By parking our team slightly before and off the beaten track we become a self-contained unit, and hopefully stay healthy. Uninvited stray trekkers are rudely "ushered" away, should they try and be sociable.

Disturbingly, quite a high % of the team has been ill in one way or another over the last week. A Swiss movie team has been notable in this regard, with many others suffering from both vomiting and the diarrhoea. However, I despair at times by how unconcerned or disconnected most are when it comes to transmitting these bugs, seemingly oblivious to the effects some of these parasites can have on Everest ambitions. Many seem determined to learn the "hard way" - so I will continue to keep my distance.

With my family's helicopter due to arrive at 8am tomorrow, my focus will shift to the job in hand. I will try my best to narrate the journey, giving as much detail but also as much of the emotion involved in a campaign such as this.

The last 9/10 days travelling together from the grime and romance of Kathmandu to the dramatic purity of Base Camp has been one of my life's true pleasures. I am certain they are all ready to leave this harsh place and return to the comforts of Western life, but I am also certain they will soon miss this adventure. It will hook them, much as it has hooked me.

So tomorrow I repack their bags one last time. We will stand as a group next to BC helipad and wait for the rattle of the B3 as it enters the valley, its jet engine screaming in protest at the thinness of the air. With the freezing rotor wash pushing us into the ground and the engine barely coming off full power, I will hoist them aboard. With a last slam of the door and a brief salute to the oxygen-masked pilot I will pat the fuselage and watch helplessly as they vanish from my life for the next 6 weeks.

I will find this hard.


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