I am buzzing because I have just ticked my third peak in the Solukhumbu, a beautiful mountain called Island Peak.
At over 6000m Island Peak is an expedition in itself- requiring days of hiking through the khumbu valley, past the village of Chukung and up onto a high plateau, before the summit is gained by a long walk up to the edge of a glacier overnight, from the glacier the bergshrund is reached and then fixed lines lead up steep ice and snow to the summit ridge.
Along the summit ridge and on the summit itself are the most amazing views of Ama Dablam, Lhotse and Baruntse- it is a truly spectacular final few meters. It was a great climb and I owe a big thanks to my good friend Jon Gupta and his company JCG Expeditions for running the exped.
Jon pulled a team of 10 climbers together for the trip, we were a mixture of abilities but all had the most amazing experience. For me, it was the perfect acclimatisation for Lhotse- it was also great fun being in an big team rather than trekking alone as I was thinking of doing before Jon invited me along.
The team have now left and are heading back to Lukla, and from there- kathmandu then home. I said goodbye to them yesterday in Pangboche, and I am still here, missing the banter and the games but also looking forward now to lhotse having gotten some 6000m's of altitude and hopefully a fee extra red blood cells to help me out on the big climb.
Jon has a pretty awesome expedition of his own planned for the summer- check out 'ESL12' on google for more information and to wish him luck with his record breaking attempt of the snow leopard award.
Lhotse, pre-expedition thoughts
For the first time in two years i am about to attempt another 8000m peak, my third after Manaslu (2009) and Everest (2010).
Lhotse is the world's 4th highest peak, and makes up a significant part of the Everest range- the famous south col route is the point where Lhotse and Everest join- as a result, much of the route to the summit follows the Everest south side route.
At 8501m it is a formidable climb- like the Everest climbers I will be using supplementary oxygen from above camp 3 (in the middle of the Lhotse face), down suit, high altitude boots and expect to be pushed to my physical and mental limits to reach its rocky and jagged summit.
Am I nervous? Yes. I know the route well and am therefore much more aware of the dangers. I am also highly aware of how quickly things can go wrong. Ignorance is bliss and I definitely do not have that on my side this time around- I have seen seracs collapse meters from me in the ice fall. I have past people who were one day alive and a few days later dead. I know how it feels to just try and *breathe* at 8000m. I know the suffering- the extreme weight loss, the exhaustion, the cold.
So why go back? Well, it wasn't all bad. Everest was the most incredible experience and the best two months of my life (thank you VocaLink and Dream Guides/Himalayan Guides). I guess that part of attempting Lhotse is to re-live that experience. The ice fall is deadly but it is also like nothing on Earth- the most beautiful sight is this world of ice bathed in dawn light. The Western Cwm is breathtaking and the feeling of satisfaction at taking the last step into camp 3 after a long day on the lhotse face is indescribable- mainly because you are too exhausted to put the emotion into words.
The absolute best thing is a cup of hot grape Tang being pushed into your hand as you return to base camp after a few days up on the hill. You sit on a rock with the sun on your face, your thirst quenched and you are alive- life is good.
You get used to the cold, the routines of looking after yourself, being safe and as your body continually adapts you get stronger, faster and more psyched for the summit bid. By the time the weather window comes, you and your team mates know each other- you're friends, you know their motives and what makes them want to climb- you want them to achieve their dream just as much as you want yourself to.
The stress of not knowing, and the physical stress on your body as you go through the summit bid probably ages a climber by a good few years. It is not until you take that last step out of the icefall, sit down and take off your helmet and crampons and look back Jo at the world you have managed to escape from do you realise just how much your body has been through. The wright lifted from your shoulders- the memories of the summit forever imprinted in your mind. A cup of grape Tang in your hand. And your thoughts can finally turn to home. The sense of relief is overwhelming.
Beyond that, lhotse is an entirely new challenge. After climbing AMA Dablam last autumn I realised that my technical abilities had improved, I was more skilled and confident and was (thankfully as always) coping well at altitude. Lhotse was now a realistic goal- the summit day is steep, very steep- following a couloir and then a rocky ridge to a tiny summit. It sounds scary, but it also sounds like an incredible climb- and I really want to give it my best shot.
Lastly, I cannot wait to be back in the company of those who make these expeditions possible: Kame Nuru, Padaua, Lakpa Onjchu, Dorjee, Lakpa, Jabu, Bhim, Pasang Temba and Henry and Rob to name but a few.
The risk is there. I cannot say that I have 100% accepted it, as after all- no mountain is worth dying for, and the chance of dying is probably quite significantly higher here than if I was to spend the Spring back in Wokingham. So how do you justify it? I am starting to think people will think I am obsessed with death- but actually, I am just trying to work things out in my head. The truth is- you can't justify a climb like this, it is selfish and risky and a mistake could be finite. I will take each day as it comes- I am ready and willing to turn back at any moment. I know what I have waiting back for me In England- my family and friends, and that is more important than any summit. Staying alive is the most important thing.
For now I am in Pangboche village at Sonam's lodge, aiming to be at base camp this weekend. We start our climb soon after, aiming to summit in one of the weather windows from mid-May onwards.
I'd like to thank karrimor for their continued support and for making this expedition possible, and for the kit that I will use throughout the expedition- including my X-Lite rucksac which has been on many expeditions with me now and is undoubtably the best pac I have used.
TAG Heuer have also been a continued and valued source of support for my Himalayan climbing, and after wearing an Aqua Racer to the summit of Ama Dablam, I am now hoping that my ceramic ladies watch will withstand the pressure in the death zone- it has so far worked perfectly up to 6100m.
To Dad, Mum, Rob, Maggie, Nanny, Margot, Belinda, all my friends and family- love you and miss you and cannot wait for a summer of BBQ's (why is it that I always crave a BBQ whenever I am out here?!). Love you all. Bxxx