To be honest the trip had started to feel a bit of an ordeal. I've been away from home for nearly six weeks and haven't been able to make any contact for two. Really missing Christine and the family. Also it's a small group, all men, and the conversation often struggles to get going. The Annapurna Circuit trip group was just the opposite, you really got to know everyone and at dinner the chat just buzzed.
|The tiny dimple is Mera Central|
I say had started to drag because the prospect of a walk into the big mountains got me excited again - so excited that the hanging around this morning nearly drove me nuts (good job Christine wasn't here - nuts she would have been driven). I guess everyone was a bit nervous but it took ages to get organised and the fuss associated with deciding what to do with stuff you were leaving behind reminded me why I usually walk alone.
|Approaching the glacier|
|The glacier wall|
The walk splits into two parts: a steep climb up onto the glacier and then a long walk across the glacier to High Camp. According to my GPS it was 1,000 metres of climb but that's because the GPS says Khare is 200 metres lower than the map and the trip notes says it is - and partly explains why a walk that was supposed to take about 5 hours took a lot longer.
The first half was particularly steep. It was the first sustained walking we had done in plastic boots, and with the climbing gear in our day bags we were carrying a lot more weight.
Nigel suffered first and after 2 - 300 metres was complaining of a loss of energy. We are walking at 5,000 metres; it was hot and the altitude just hit him.
Jangbu persuaded him to carry on taking all of his kit to help and he completed some of hardest parts of the walk before deciding enough is enough. He was at the back and looking up the mountain at the progress everyone else was making, which couldn't have helped.
Marc was the next one to show signs of fatigue. On the face of it he was the best one to cope with the conditions, only 9 stone, an experienced climber; you would have made him odds on favourite to get to top. No longer adopting his customary position at the front of the group, he was complaining about the change to the itinerary.
I was feeling fine but I had been in Nepal three weeks longer than everyone else.
|Roped up and crossing the glacier|
After a difficult bit of walking up the face, we were onto the glacier itself. This meant trying to remember how to put the climbing belt on as we were going to get roped up, as well as the crampons. The weather had deteriorated with the sun replaced by low cloud and mist. It had also got cold.
It wasn't long before I was just dying for the walk to end. I couldn't understand why it was so hard. You couldn't see any horizon, everything was the same white/grey colour, and you could hardly tell whether or not you were even climbing. It was just hard work. Being roped up made it worse. It was also annoying that the porters kepy rushing past without any apparent concern for crevasses. We stopped for a packed lunch on the glacier, a cold rushed affair. Jungba told me off for leaving egg shells in the snow, quite right but a little harsh given that the hard boiled egg had exploded in my bag. I was fed up.
Further up the trail we come across two tents apparently abandoned. A porter has complained of a headache and has been sent back down. The tents of course are picked up by another porter but it's a good reminder that we are all at the extent of our operational limits - even the porters are suffering.
We finally arrive at High Camp, at about 5,800 metres at around 4. I was absolutely exhausted and feeling useless and a bit emotional. It felt like every atom of energy in my body had been systematically extracted. I could hardly stand up.
|My tent at High Camp|
The camp was not exactly welcoming. Set against a rock that sticks out of the glacier, there is very little room to spare. Fortunately there was only one other walker plus guide for us to share it with. The tents are positioned on shelves on the rock and the shelves are not very level. I'm sharing with Chris the Belgian and because of the angle of the floor it's a very intimate arrangement. Within minutes of arrival I was in the tent, in my sleeping bag and feeling better.