Trek to Basecamp
We set off from Loboche relatively early, to get to base camp in time to set up. This will be our home for the next two months. For Pete, this involves getting out a toothbrush and laying out his beanies and jackets in order of warmth, cross-referenced with water permeability and colour. For me, it consists of upturning my pack into the tent and spending the next few months lying on top of my gear, not knowing where any of it is. Pete no longer shares a tent with me.
It was a stunning day, walking in – crisp and clear. With each step towards basecamp the air grew thinner and thinner, and every now and again, I needed to stop and take in an involuntary double inhale. For Pete, this amounted to a sort of whistle echo remix – doubling the irritation of all the hikers on the base camp trek.
We stopped for a mandatory brew at Gorak Shep, a tiny village just below basecamp. While Pete and I drank tea, Rupert charged up a hill to get a view of Mt Everest.
This was to be our last day with Rupert. I must confess I will miss the man greatly, he’s been awesome value on the trip and its sad he’s not staying longer. The last time I spent any time with him was at school where I was in the top 70th percentile of height. He has taught us much about real estate in London and modern dating methods. In return, he has learned (from Pete) that it can be 'Sometimes chickens and sometimes feathers', that 'Many come forward, few are chosen', and that, in most circumstances, 'No comms' equates to 'No bombs. I am not sure who has benefitted more? But either way, I envisage some baffled ladies on dates in both Wandsworth and Hereford in the foreseeable future.
We arrived at basecamp at about 12 pm, under startling blue skies. The HST Camp is right on the glacier, with a river trickling through camp. We arrived shortly before Mark Wood, the polar explorer who is also part of this mad cosmopolitan expedition, together with another highly accomplished cameraman, Tom. Pete and I suddenly feel a little insignificant without a film crew. We only have small iPhone video clips of Pete showing disproportionate amounts of appreciation for cups of tea, and equally abnormal enthusiasm for his heart rate (which at time of writing sits at 64bpm, for all those weirdos who seem to find this interesting). I am trying to make up for our lack of coverage by photobombing at every opportunity. The respective documentaries on Kirstie’s incredible attempt on the summit and global education programs from the highest point on Earth (Marks remarkable undertaking) will hopefully be littered with background bickering with Pete or me pulling stupid faces.
Chris has put up flags all over the camp. The Kenyan flag will sit pride of place in the middle of the camp, and at the centre of the table is a smaller Kenyan flag. I’m loving the Americans, they have projectors and hard drives full of movies, and a generator to charge stuff. On our Manaslu expedition, we spent most evenings by gaslight playing cards or guessing what Pete’s heart rate was. It was amazing fun, but with this being a much larger expedition, I think the space and extra activities will be important for us all.
Mark and Tom are great fun, although I worry are not a good influence on Pete. Lunch started with a discussion on the scenery around the Cotswolds and Stratford (where Mark lives) and concluded with a detailed planning session on crossing Antarctica (probably on a unicycle while balancing anvils on their heads). I kept a low profile, desperate not to get lured into an adventure which will no doubt see me eating my own feet to survive, but I suspect its only a matter of time before the idiot from Hereford sends an email with the subject line, 'Awesome Exped'.
I have chosen my tent down low by the stream, looking straight into the icefall. It is achingly beautiful to look at, but the creaking and groaning of it at night is pretty ominous. It was well below freezing last night, and seeing as Rupert was leaving early I lent him my big down bag for the night. I slept in multiple layers of clothing and my mid-weight sleeping bag. Having drunk possibly 50 cups of tea today, I was soon reminded of the logistical difficulties involved in extracting an unwilling three-inch willy through six inches of clothing every 45 minutes, for a piss into a dangerously full piss bottle. Tomorrow I am going to the emergency med clinic to inquire about getting a catheter. I see no reason why the second most important part of me should be both humiliated and be frozen and defrosted more times than a Christmas turkey.
Despite all this, it's good to be 'Home', at Base Camp, to settle in and start preparing. I’m also really looking forward to catching up with Jay tomorrow – our head guide on Manaslu and here. Then the expedition party will be complete.
We will be here for the best part of two months, planning and heading up on smaller acclimatisation missions before attempting our summit bid. Sitting and strategising, training on ladders and rope work, discussing gossip and news from the higher camps and watching and waiting for weather reports daily. We will have to rest, but stay strong. Acclimatise, but avoid spending too much time at altitude. Be relaxed but focused. Be team players, but also completely self-sufficient. It’s all a balancing act. As our mate Rupert, by now sitting in a warm tea house at Namche Bazar, will now be able to tell you, 'If you Rest you rust', but “You must use rest as a weapon'.