Summit push: Your turnaround time is 3pm.


1st February 2016. (Grab a cuppa, this is a long post!)
I fell asleep quickly only waking up at 2am to use the wagbag. It was a very mild night with absolutely no wind. I felt a flutter of excitement that I was ‘just’ 1000m shy of the summit and here I was outside at 2am with just a light jacket on. Needless to say I was optimistic about getting up two hours later at 4am ready to start walking at 5am. I couldn’t get back to sleep so cosily dozed. Bruce and I had been organised the night before so when we woke up all we had to do was eat and avoid knocking ice crystals from the tent walls onto our sleeping bags.

Johnny came by with hot drinking water,  porridge oats and a snack bar around 4:45am. There had been a problem with the stove so the start was delayed. No matter, we both felt good. We felt ready. We started hiking at 5:30am and the temperature was amazingly warm and calm. It was -16C (3.2f) and the wind was around 10-15kph. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions. Tincho commented that he’d never seen such a warm and calm summit night in all his experience.

After 5 minutes walking I had to take off my down jacket to avoid overheating. It quickly became clear that I don’t do well eating then immediately exerting myself. The nausea I’d had the past few mornings was back but I didn’t want to let it ruin my day so spoke to Johnny who gave some sound advice and within an hour I was feeling better. Over the past few days I realised I wasn’t able to keep the same pace as the boys. It really bothered me that I kept falling behind, although I was comfortable with my non-stop pace. I guess I just wanted to make sure we completed the climb as a team. I had a word with myself and said ‘you might be a few steps behind but it doesn’t make you weak, or have less of a right to be here.’

Click to enlarge

It wasn’t long after we set off that the sun started to rise and the majestic views started to unfold all around us. I’ll try to avoid a superlative overdose but suffice it to say that I’d never seen views like it. The inky star-studded sky took on a new hue as the fiery sun crept up over the horizon, gilding the distant mountains. As we approached Piedras Blancas, our first rest stop, I turned around to see how far we’d come. The sun was casting a shadow of Aconcagua right in front of me. I had never been so excited. Seeing the shadow of this peak was almost as much a goal for the expedition as reaching the top for me. Tincho took a photo of me and although my mouth and nose was covered you can see the smile in my eyes.

After the break at Piedras Blancas it was apparent I would not be able to maintain Johnny, Bruce and Rick’s pace. It’s hard to put it in words how it feels hiking at high altitudes. My body felt strong, and apart from a little intermittent calf discomfort, I felt very fit. Despite this your body just doesn’t let you function how you think it should. Each step lifting my plastic-clad foot felt like someone had ripped out my lungs and was using them as punch bags. I found myself breathing heavily, with reprieves only coming when we were faced with steep snow slopes I could get into a rhythm with. The slow pace meant my hands and feet had started to go numb but Tincho saved the day with the ‘hands under the armpits’ trick and I was good to go again.

As  each step became increasingly challenging I slipped further behind the boys. It was only a gap of around maybe 10 minutes so I didn’t let it get to me. As we reached crampon point at the old refuge, Independencia, I was pretty exhausted. Johnny helped me tie my crampon, which I was having trouble knotting. The next section was the beautiful traverse along Portezuelo del Viento. After constantly looking at a steep hill it was nice to see the landscape unfold ahead again. As we approached La Cueva (6650m), a rocky outcrop at the base of the Canaleta, I could see the boys ahead getting ready to leave. I gave them a wave and they set off up the Canaleta.

Altitude swollen face selfie at La Cueva (6650m)

As we turned the corner a little snow started falling. Knowing a storm was forecast I suddenly became particularly conscious of the time; we had to make the summit by 3pm else we’d have to turn back empty-handed. Johnny and Tincho were communicating regularly on the radio and as we started tackling the Canaleta, we heard that the boys were taking a rest stop at the top. A quick note on the Canaleta. Everyone says this is the hardest part of the climb due to the steepness and the scree. We were fortunate to have had tons of snow underfoot and the Canaleta was actually one of my favourite parts of the summit push. A good steep snow slope means you can just plod up, one step at a time. We nestled closely into the rocks on the right, and Tincho let me lead the way up at my own pace. I had a burst of energy and felt strong.

We reached the top of the Canaleta at 12:45pm and I had at least two hours to go, based on my current pace. Tincho kept positive, saying I would definitely summit but deep down I was very worried. We got the awesome news over the radio that the boys had summited and were heading back our way. We crossed paths on the trail at 2:30pm and I congratulated them. Johnny and Tincho had a discussion, which I assume included whether I could continue or not. I told Bruce I didn’t think they would let me continue and asked him how long it was from there to the top. He estimated 45 mins and my heart sank. Johnny turned to me and said, “Lexi, you have 30 minutes… go get that summit”. I was elated.

I downed some energy gel Clif Bar Shot Bloks and we set off again. It felt like we had zoomed off but it was painfully slow. I remember Tincho stopping and making me rest and thinking to myself, ‘why are we stopping, we’re so close’. I said to him “I’m going to make it, I’m going to make it“. He gently reminded me, “WE’RE going to make it“. We set off once again and I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. It felt like seconds later that Tincho pointed to a big lump of rock ahead and said “that’s it!“. Those last 20 meters felt like one of those dreams where you’re running but you can’t make progress. It was 2:59pm and I had to clamber up a few boulders to reach the very top. At exactly 3pm Argentina time, 1st February 2016, I stood on the summit of Aconcagua; a dream that I had trained, saved and planned for over the past 5 years.

The snow which had been falling eased and the sun illuminated the summit through the clouds. Although there were no views from the top, the light was ethereal and it was incredibly still, quiet and warm. A wind-free summit was another first for Tincho. It was just the two of us standing there on the highest peak outside of the Himalaya at that moment. Tincho took some photos for me as my camera was frozen and we briefly celebrated. It was soon time to descend.

The snow suddenly started falling fast and heavily. It was soon a total white out. Tincho asked if I wanted to get roped up and given the conditions I agreed this was the best course. I led us down the Canaleta and back to La Cueva without a single slip or fall. Upon arrival I was startled by a guy sat on the ground looking a bit helpless. I initially didn’t understand what was going on but you could tell by the sombre mood it seemed serious. He was with two guides and they all seemed to be debating something. Tincho and I had a break, removed the rope and continued down. It transpired that the guy in the cave had a knee injury and they were trying to figure out how to get him down. Apparently he was kicking up a fuss about not needing rescue. Although it was a pretty minor situation it really brought home the reality of this peak. People die here.

Tincho and I carried on down through the white out conditions and all I could think was that if Tincho wasn’t there I’d be a dead woman. From departing La Cueva I had literally no concept of where we were and put my complete trust in him to find the way. The snow was 12” or deeper in places and we both kept stumbling. At one point we gave up walking and glissaded down which was a lot of fun. I stopped for a pee break at Independencia and looking at the snow beneath me I was glad for all the pre-hydration the previous days. My urine was so dark; I was very dehydrated. I wondered how bad it would have been had I not started well hydrated. I chugged half a litre and we sped downhill once again.

As we reached Piedras Blancas, we took our final rest before the push into camp. A tiny gap emerged in the thick clouds above and a patch of pure blue peeked through, with the surrounding cloud lined with silver. In my exhausted and elated state it felt magical and was just the pick me up we needed. The last 30 minutes or so into camp felt long but we finally made it. The boys had only arrived about an hour ahead of us and it was amazing to reach camp and celebrate our success together. What a day! We relaxed for the rest of the evening and Bruce and I exchanged stories. Johnny came by with some ramen noodles covered with cheese which I couldn’t really stomach, but I forced myself to eat as much as I could. We fell asleep quickly after dinner. It had been exactly a 13 hour round-trip for Tincho and I. Not a bad day walking!

Knackered after a successful summit of Aconcagua!

From the IMG blog: “Just off the sat phone with Jonathan Schrock and team.  100% on the top.  Great conditions this morning but snowing with minimal visibility for the descent.  No matter, the entire team reached the summit and all are back safely now at high camp.  A big congratulations to Jonathan, Martin, Lexi, Bruce and Rick.  Nice job. https://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/02/01/aconcagua/summit-of-aconcagua

 

This post is dedicated to Bruce who, at the time of writing, is one day away from flying to Alaska to attempt Denali. Good luck Bruce!

Bacon again?!


30th January 2016. I woke up in the night after a strange dream about being in Russia. I had just finished reading the excellent book Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eicher, which is a true story about a disaster which occurred in the Ural Mountains in 1959 (highly recommended, but perhaps not while you’re climbing a mountain!), so it wasn’t much of a stretch to understand why I was dreaming about that.

I took a visit to the bathroom and when I returned I was chilled to the core. I shivered for another two hours in my cold sleeping bag which was soaked by condensation on the outside, before finally warming up and falling back to sleep.

A few hours later we woke up to a still, bright and sunny day so the decision to carry to camp III was made.

This meant the plan was back on track and after the carry today, tomorrow we would move in to camp III , then attempt the summit early the following morning. We had our breakfast, packed up and set off.

The terrain was fairly gentle but the deep snow which fell yesterday meant some tough slopes, again around knee deep at times.

We made good progress and arrived at camp III, 5900m, in 3hrs 45 mins. This marked the highest altitude I’d ever been to (highest before being Kilimanjaro, 5895m). Despite only being 5m higher, I felt like I had left my comfort zone and was now heading into unfamiliar territory. We were still 1000m lower than we were aiming for so I found it interesting to assess how my body was adjusting.

I stood there in Camp III taking it all in as I remembered how exhausted I’d felt in the past reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro yet here I was at almost the same altitude but carrying an 18kg backpack and I still had gas left in the tank. It was very interesting making the comparison and I considered whether a contributing difference was my role on the expedition; here I was a client, but on Kilimanjaro I am always the trip leader where my focus is on the wellbeing of my clients.

That said, I was freezing and my calf had been cramping up for the last hour, so I actually felt a bit miserable. We stashed our gear before descending fast to camp II by 4:30pm to chill out. The sun had been warming our tents most of the day so Bruce and I took it in turns to have a good baby wipe wash (4 whole wipes!). I stayed in the warmth of the tent and relaxed while Bruce took in the sun.

A few hours later another spectacular dinner was served. On the menu today we had a bowl of rice topped with a mountain of bacon and parmesan, washed down with a mug of hot mint tea.

Fun fact: When you’re carrying all your gear on a mountain, even grams matter when you’re packing. As a direct result of this you start doing crazy weight-saving things cutting your closed-cell sleeping mat in half, removing garment labels, shortening your toothbrush handle or even re-using teabags.

Advice: If you’re planning on saving a few grams by re-using herbal tea bags, don’t! If you fail to heed my advice know that one herbal teabag has a maximum of two uses, the third is tasteless.

After dinner it was bed time, at 8pm. Good night!

From the IMG blog: “News continues to be favorable from Jonathan Schrock and his Aconcagua team.  Calm winds and sunny for their carry today to high camp.  Plan is to move to high camp tomorrow and take a summit shot on Monday morning.  Weather forecast currently is favorable, at least through then.  When the fish are running, it’s time to go fishing.” https://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/30/aconcagua/mexicos-a-wrap-aconcagua-looking-good/

“This morning I had to wear goggles to take a shit”


28th January 2016. I had a very disturbed sleep, topped off by a horrendous snow storm this morning. Bruce and I knew it wasn’t looking good for the move up to Camp II which was the plan. We’d been up around an hour when Johnny came by to let us know the forecast and plan for the day. In his words “I always have to step outside the tent to make a decision for the day, and this morning I had to wear goggles to take a shit so my expectations were confirmed. Rest day”.

This came as disappointing news to us both as moving up to Camp II was a big step closer to the summit push and with the delays at Plaza Argentina our summit window was shrinking. That said, with a pounding headache developing, a chance to rest and rehydrate was a silver lining. Johnny came back a while later with breakfast. What a champ. Pancakes with bacon and loads of hot water for morning tea. I had taken a supply of dulce de leche from Plaza Argentina so that was added to the pancakes. It was absolutely delicious. After breakfast a visit to the ‘bathroom’ behind a rock in the snow storm was made interesting; trying to hold open a plastic bag to take a dump into, in gusting winds, is a challenge. (Overshare? Reality).

Rest days are pretty dull. Sit, wait, drink, play cards, drink, eat, drink, pee, read, pee, eat.
Add white-out snow storms and insane winds and it’s an awful way to spend the day. Perched up at 4900m in a valley we were camping in something resembling a funnel. In fact Tincho told us the next day that tents are regularly destroyed at this particular campsite due to the wind.

Being inside your tent in an environment like this is unearthly. If you listen carefully you can hear the wind gently whistling at the top of the valley like the breath of a faun on a spring day. Moments later a growling bear version of the wind creeps towards you before your ears start to deceive you and you think you’re actually listening to the sound of a jet plane going overhead. Then it hits you like going five rounds with Mike Tyson. The force of the wind distorts the tent, the poles warp, guylines become as taught as violin strings and it feels like the ground is shaking beneath you. Then silence. The mountain breathes. As Tyson himself once said “It’s ludicrous these mortals even attempt to enter my realm.

Sit, wait, drink, play cards, drink, eat, drink, pee, read, pee, eat.

Dinner time finally came around and we were treated to a yummy pasta dish with more bacon. Let’s just pause here. They say an army marches on its stomach and International Mountain Guides (IMG) who were overseeing the running of the trip (with the support of Grajales Expeditions on the ground in Argentina) know this. I think it would take a lot of persuasion for me to work with another company for big mountain objectives because of the unparalleled emphasis on bacon consumption by IMG.

I tucked into another one of my cinnamon oat bars for dessert and finished my mug of camomile tea. Another great part of expeditions, apart from the bacon consumption, is the simplicity of it. Things like doing the dishes – simple. Take one square of precious toilet paper and wipe down the inside of your Fozzils bowl (the only bowl for the mountains in my opinion – review coming later). For stubborn food residue you can add a drop of hot tea to another piece of toilet paper and it works like a charm. Dishes done, and so to bed! Tincho said that the weather was forecast to be calmer in the morning but the wind seemed to be getting worse all day.

Here’s a quote from my journal that day: “As I write, double the amount of ice has built up on the tent in the last hour. It’s freezing. I hadn’t quite appreciated how extreme the conditions could be. As I lie here, 21:26, the tent is shaking and it feels as if the ground is moving. I don’t know the wind speed but while the tent shakes, pieces of ice are falling onto my face which is only uncovered enough to breathe at 4900m. My foot keeps going dead from the cold inner boots I am wearing in an attempt to dry them out. THIS is mountaineering.

Load carrying from Camp I to Camp II


27th January 2016. I’d fallen asleep around 8pm the night before and although it was a disturbed night I got plenty of hours in. Breakfast was delivered to our tent and it was an amazing way to start the day; shredded potato with bacon and scrambled eggs!

After breakfast we got ready and we departed at 10am for our load carry up to Camp II. It was very windy and cold and we started at a slow pace on a gentle incline. The first part of the day was pretty boring actually, and the cold weather combined with numb toes and intermittent cold hands made it an unenjoyable experience. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows on the hill you know. As we continued things started to irritate me. I struggled with my sunglasses fogging up, I had a hair in my mouth and was generally irked. I then got a headache.

After reaching the top of the boring uphill slog you arrive on a stunning plateau with views across the Andes as far as the eye can see. It made the hike worthwhile and was definitely rejuvenating. It was there we had our long rest break for the day and had a chance to soak it all in. The next section took us on a flat traverse around the slope of the hill until the last little uphill section into camp. There were knee-deep patches of snow which slowed me up further and added fatigue to my aching legs. It was a really tough day.


From there on I found myself slightly on the higher end of 2 on Johnny’s 4-point scale (1 being top of the world, 4 being done in) and for the final push up and around the corner towards the camp and I was firmly at a 3, with trouble getting my breathing rhythm right and falling behind the rest of the team.  I arrived into camp just a few minutes after everyone else where we claimed the pitches and stashed our gear.

The way back down took around 45 minutes and was far easier. Offloading the extra gear and having flat and then gentle downhill terrain was just the rest I needed. We went back to our tents and Tincho delivered us some hot water. Drinking our herbal tea we tried to keep warm and Bruce and I chatted about the day. A few moments later there was a knock on the tent and food was served. This evening we were treated to two enormous burritos filled with rice, chicken, cheese and red peppers. Absolutely delicious. With full bellies and well hydrated we got into our sleeping bags and tried to drift off amidst the snow storm outside that was really picking up.

Movin’ on up (to Camp 1)


26th January 2016. I slept badly. When I did finally drift off I had a horrible dream about someone I knew dying, which was disconcerting. All night I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath or get comfortable. I woke up out of sorts and disorganised, not the best start to our move up to Camp 1. I rushed breakfast so I could finish packing and break camp without delaying everyone else. I was shattered. I just wanted to sleep.

We shared out and packed the rest of the group gear and despite carrying packs almost as heavy as our load carry two days prior, the hike took us 70 minutes less. Acclimatisation really does work! That said, it wasn’t an easy walk and I did feel challenged at times.

It’s strange the things you take for granted. After days of walking through the low level valleys having the trails to ourselves, it was an adjustment arriving at Base Camp where there were lots of people. Of course the three course meals, heated base camp tent, lovely loos and lots of chill-out time made up for that. Now I felt strangely disappointed that we were sharing the trail with another team on the higher mountain. Despite taking the lesser-trodden route to the summit Aconcagua is still a vastly popular peak, not least because it is one of the Seven Summits. Reality check time.

When we arrived into camp there was a bit of a fiasco as we discovered another team had stolen the pitches where we’d stashed our gear a couple of days prior. Our kit was still buried under the wind-break stones surrounding each pitch but the other team had gone ahead and pitched their tents anyway. Tincho made sure they knew they weren’t being very respectful. We found alternative pitches, moved all our cached gear across the campsite and started pitching the tents in our new spot. Bruce and I were going to share a tent going forward in order to keep the group gear weight to a minimum.

After helping each other pitch the three tents, making sure to stake them down well knowing the windy conditions at this camp, we moved in and set up our beds. Johnny had collected our empty water bottles and returned shortly after with them refilled. A little later he brought round a pot of hot water for our flasks. At Plaza Argentina base camp we were provided with the choice of herbal teabags, soup powder and cocoa to take with us for the upper mountain section. I’d gone for a mixture of various herbal teas plus a few packs of soup to keep things interesting.

I hadn’t drunk enough water during the day so figured soup would be the sensible choice that evening for the electrolytes, extra calories and also to work well as an appetizer for our meal later on (yes, I know how that sounds – I was already used to being spoilt at mealtimes!). Bruce and I relaxed in the tent and debriefed on the day as we waited until dinner time. You may be noticing a theme here… food, walk, camp, rest, food, sleep. What a wonderful way to spend a day.

So we hear a knock at the tent and Johnny is there ready to serve our dinner and top up our hot water flasks. What service! So, you know when I mentioned about the amazing meals at base camp, and how spoilt we were? Well dinner was… cheese burgers! THREE each, served in a toasted sesame seeded bun with mayo, mustard and barbecue sauce. Three, full-size cheese burgers. Yes! There are no words for the pure joy I felt at that moment. I nailed two and a half before I was absolutely stuffed.

Happy, happy. Post burger feast smile.

After dinner it was time to get into sleeping bags and keep warm. It was just 7:20pm but outside a snow storm was coming in and it was getting extremely windy. I had a slight headache due to dehydration and tiredness (or cheeseburger overdose) but I knew drinking plenty of water and having a good night’s rest would sort it out. Fed, watered and cosy in our little tent, it was time for a little bit of light reading (‘Dead Mountain’, my e-book about a fatal Russian mountain disaster) and lights out.

From IMG’s blog:
On Aconcagua, Jonathan Schrock and team have moved in to C1 (16,200’).  Plan is to make a carry tomorrow to C2.  Calming conditions forecasted for the weekend and team hopes to put themselves into position to take advantage of any good climbing conditions.” See here: http://www.mountainguides.com/wordpress/2016/01/26/aconcagua/updates-from-mexico-argentina/

Load carrying to camp 1 through the penitentes


24th January 2016.

It was a very windy and noisy night. I’d only been asleep an hour before I awoke wondering if the tent would fly away. After a futile few hours tossing and turning, I figured I’d try relaxing to music for a while. It worked. I found my eyes getting heavy and my mind quieting. I put in my earplugs and went to sleep solidly for four hours. The next morning we had another great breakfast of yogurt, pancakes and eggs before packing the group loads of food, fuel, pots and pans and so on, to carry up to Camp 1. I was anxious about the day and how I’d cope with my first heavy load carry, particularly after a rough night’s sleep.

We set off and the day started great with us all maintaining a strong steady pace. It was very cold so we kept our warm layers on. I was quietly glad of the cool temperatures to keep us comfortable despite the additional exertion of our load carry. After about an hour we stopped for a water and snack break and I adjusted my backpack which made life a little easier.

The next section of the climb was the part of the mountain I was most excited and curious about, los penitentes. Penitentes are icy blade-like formations which are found in clusters, generally facing the sun. They are caused by a scientific process called sublimation in which solids turn to gas without first becoming liquid. These otherworldly pinnacles tend to be found at high altitude in areas with dry air and sunshine, particularly between Argentina and Chile in the High Andes. The literal translation of ‘los penitentes‘ is ‘the penitents‘, named as such because they resemble the tall, pointed hoods worn by the Catholic penitents during Holy Week processions. It is also said that they look like crowds of people kneeling in penance, looking toward God.

There are few words to describe the beauty and mystery of the penitentes. These cold, faceless figures surround you like a dense winter jungle. They seek to trick you, enticing you with the illusion of easy passage through an icy maze. They drain your energy as you tentatively progress over their unstable and angular surfaces like the steps of a first dance.

I see the penitentes as a representation of the humility required in the mountains. Individually some penitentes are large, some are small but together they form something bigger than yourself. They are a vast obstacle and a formidable challenge. To progress through the penitentes you must weave your way through their path, you cannot forge directly ahead. At times it feels like a standoff, man versus nature, but fail to stay humble and respect your environment and their sharp edges will catch you and remind you into whose territory you are straying.

The wind was picking up speed and it was getting colder. Despite the challenging terrain of the penitentes I had settled into a comfortable breathing rhythm and I felt strong and was moving well. After another two hours and another two rest breaks the bitter wind roaring down the valley towards us picked up some more. I suddenly felt myself weaken. As the penitentes grew sparse we approached a field of loose rock and scree. One step forward, a quarter step back. You’ve just got to keep going. Another hour passed and it was time for a  break. I forced myself to eat and drink as much as I could. I needed my body to find those reserves. I was tired.

The final push into camp was briefly through more penitentes which made the going easier but it was short-lived as we soon progressed up a steep scree slope with multiple switchbacks. I paused, took a deep breath and switched mental gears. I needed to get back into the comfortable non-stop rhythm I’d enjoyed earlier in the day. I let the guys get a few steps ahead of me, put my head down and walked. One step at a time, not stopping. Johnny stayed behind with me for the final section, “dig deep, just 20ft to go Lexi”. I arrived into camp just 2-3 minutes behind the others having managed my pace and preserved my energy.

We unpacked and cached our loads but not before weighing our packs. I was amazed that we were carrying only 19kg each. I calculated later that I’d carried 35% of my body weight from 4200m to 4900m that day. Tincho carried double; 38kg.

Now it was time for the descent. My right calf was screaming and I was feeling pretty drained. We were keen to move down the scree and penitentes quickly but in doing so Rick stumbled and snapped his trek pole arresting his slip. Fortunately he was unscathed. At 6:50pm we arrived back into camp after a very long day. At 7:30pm we tucked into a dinner of hot soup, vegetable stew and a tiramisu style cake with fruit. Our energy levels were so low we were all freezing. Only Tincho and Johnny finished their meal.

As we sat at the table I saw Bruce turning pale and he said he felt faint. We got him laying down on the ground, legs elevated, to recover. Our group tent had a gas heater so there was some semblance of warmth so we got Bruce huddled up next to it as he hydrated and recovered. Nobody said it, but we all knew how Bruce felt. We felt it too.

After dinner we had a chat about the day, debriefed on how we’d progressed and discussed the onward plan. It was then we learnt that the thunderstorm we had been admiring from above when we arrived at Plaza Argentina had caused 20 landslides (18 minor, 2 major) on the main highway between Argentina and Chile blocking the progress of 36,000 vehicles between the countries. As a direct result of this crisis all the emergency helicopters in Argentina had been dispatched to help with recovery. Consequently Aconcagua National Park rangers had to close ascents to the upper mountain from Base Camp because helicopter support in the event of an emergency wouldn’t have been possible so it was not worth them (and us) taking the risk.

Our plan to move up to Camp 1 the next day was put on hold. A mandatory rest day at Plaza Argentina was in order. At 9pm it was time for bed and to get cosy and warm in my sleeping bag.

What I packed for trekking Kilimanjaro in October


This is the exact list of items I packed for my most recent Kilimanjaro trek as a tour manager for The Different Travel Company for St Elizabeth Hospice in Ipswich on the Rongai route (12th – 21st October 2013).

Clothes and shoes:
Scarpa leather hiking boots
4x pairs trek socks (mainly Bridgedale)
1x Compression/flight socks
1x Thermal top (pyjamas)
1x Thermal bottoms (pyjamas)
TNF Boulder Penelope shirt
Trespass lightweight trek trousers
Rab Power Stretch pants
1x Altura L/S merino base layer
1x Odlo Ninja base layer
1x Striders Edge L/S full zip hoody
1x Mountain Hardwear waterproof jacket
1x Rab Neutrino Plus down jacket
1x Rab Generator primaloft jacket
1x Marmot PreCip waterproof full-zip pants
1x Trilby hat
1x Warm hat
1x Buff
1x Mittens
1x Liner gloves
1x Fingerless gloves
10x underwear
2x Shock Absorber Sports bras
Cheap emergency poncho
Work t-shirt
Sandals for Moshi
2x Dresses for Moshi
1x Pashmina
Bra
First Aid Kit:Dramamine anti-nausea medication
Sterile gloves
Antiseptic wipes
Plasters
Wound dressings
Blister plasters
Antiseptic cream
Ibuprofen
Antihistamine cream
Antimalarial medication
Antihistamines
Paractamol
Imodium
Zinc oxide tape
Throat lozenges
Micropore tape
Tiger balm
Chapstick
Ibuprofen gel
Mouth ulcer gel
Diamox
Rehydration
Scissors
Tweezers
Off! insect repellent
Pack of kleenex
Food/Drink:2x Supreme Protein cookies n cream
Powerbar protein plus vanilla
Berry flavour Zero tablets
4x army ration ‘cherry beverage powder’
2x Asda fizzy cherry cola bottles
1x bag Milky Way Magic Stars
1x berry and cherry dried fruit
6x Mr Kipling lemon slices
Biox Aqua tablets and Steripen
1l Sigg bottle with thermal cover
Camelbak 2l
750ml water bottle
Miscellaneous:Plastic bags of various sizes
Paperwork / work manuals / Kili book
E-tickets
Cash and cards
Passport & copy
Sunglasses
2x Pens
Gaffa tape roll
2x Karabiners
6x Hand warmers
1x Padlock
Toiletries:Travel size sun screen
Body spray
Panty liners
Tampons
Moisturiser
Travel sized shampoo
Travel shower gel
Loofah
Razor
Antiperspirant deodorant
Hairbrush
Toothpaste and toothbrush
Baby wipes
Hand sanitizer
Toilet paper (1.5 rolls)
Nappy bags
3x hair bands / 1x headband
Electronics:Camera, spare batteries & battery Charger
Video camera
Chest mount for GoPro
2x GoPro
Mobile phone x2 and charge wire
New Trent portable battery pack
Petzl Tikka 2 head torch
2x spare head torch batteries
Spare LED torch
Luggage:Mountain Warehouse 100l Wet & Dry bag
Small holdall for gear to leave in Moshi
35 litre Berghaus daypack
2x Exped waterproof dry bags
Sleeping:Rab Expedition 1000 sleeping bag
Snugpak Thermalon sleeping bag liner
Ear plugs and eye mask
Thermarest 40th Anniversary Edition

1393096_10151611049186467_122651395_nObviously many of the items above include things I only used in Moshi or while travelling. My final kit bag for the mountain weighed just under 10kg and there are a few things I didn’t end up using that probably account for 750g:
The protein bars, dried fruit, one pack of the fizzy cherry cola bottles and most of the Magic Stars.

For this particular trip the only thing I wish I had brought was a few more packs of beverage powder. The purification that our porters use to sterilise our water is very chemical-tasting and I didn’t have quite enough to mask the taste. Keeping hydrated is so important and being put off the taste of water is not ideal.

What I packed for the Everest Base Camp trek in October


229473_10151032303051467_1913486090_nOn 6th October 2012 I set off from Heathrow with my team of trekkers to Nepal embarking on a journey to Everest Base Camp. For some reason I have got into the habit of photographing all my kit before an expedition which has proved helpful for others who are planning similar trips and also gives me something to base my packing on the next time I return.

Here is the total list of things I took with me to Nepal for the Everest Base Camp trek and a few notes on the things I wish I had taken, and things I could have left at home. If you happen to come across this I hope it is useful for your own planning!

Hiking boots
6 pairs of Bridgedale socks
1x compression/flight socks
2x pairs trek trousers
1x pair thermal running leggings
1x pair thermal base layer bottoms (worn as pyjamas)
1x thermal base layer top (worn as pyjamas)
1x short-sleeved shirt
1x t-shirt
4x long-sleeved base layer tops
1x fleece
1x down gilet
1x waterproof jacket
1x waterproof trousers
1x warm hat
1x Buff
1x pashmina
1x mittens
1x liner gloves
1x fingerless gloves
12 x underwear
2x sports bras
Moisturiser
Travel sized shampoo
Travel shower gel
Full size sunscreen
Loofah
Razor
Antiperspirant deodorant
Hairbrush
Toothpaste and toothbrush
Baby wipes
Hand sanitizer
Nail brush
Toilet paper
Travel towelDown sleeping bag
Thermal sleeping bag liner
Ear plugs and eye mask 
Berocca
Nuun tablets
Sweets/dried fruit
Biox Aqua drops (water purification)
Sigg bottle 1l
Camelbak 2l
Mountain warehouse wet and dry bag 100l
Small holdall for gear to leave in Kathmandu
35 litre Berghaus daypack
2x waterproof dry bags
Ziplock bags
Nappy bags
LED headtorch
Notepad and pen
Spare batteries
E-tickets
Cash and cards
Passport & copy
Sunglasses
Adaptor
Camera, spare batteries and battery charger
Video camera and battery charger
Mobile phone x2 and charger
New Trent portable battery pack
Prescription medication
Diamox
Insect repellent
Paracetamol and Ibuprofen
Plasters in all sizes
Blister plasters
Imodium
Rehydration salts
Antifungal foot cream
Anti-histamine cream and tablets
Tiger balm
Lip balm with SPF protection
Decongestant
Throat lozenges
Nail scissors and tweezers

 

Namche Things I wish I hadn’t brought:
-Biox Aqua drops – the bottles leaked and I lost all my water purification meaning I had to purchase bottled water which contributes to waste disposal issues in the area. I wish I had taken the tablet version of Biox Aqua.

– Base layer top – I brought four but I could have left one at home. However, it was actually quite nice to have something clean and dry to change into each night for the evenings in the teahouses, then being able to sleep in my thermals.

– So many snacks. You can buy almost EVERYTHING in Namche and virtually every teahouse sells snacks, fresh fruit, chocolate and drinks.

-Down jacket. I’m umming and ahhing about this one. I only used my down jacket twice; once for the first 30 minutes in the morning on the walk to Base Camp then again when we stopped at BC for photos and it had started to cool down.
I also used it on the night/early morning ascent of Kala Pattar – I overheated and fainted as a result.
If I returned to the EBC area I’d probably still bring my down jacket because I know it’s very warm and (it was too expensive not to get good use out of it) but I’d probably rely more on thinner layers including my Primaloft jacket (which I didn’t have at the time) with my waterproof over the top.

Things I wish I had brought:DSCF8046
– Vaseline – your face dries out in the dry high altitude environment, particularly around your nose and lips. You can buy this in Namche (which is what we did).

– Another lightweight Buff (you can buy these very cheaply in Namche) to ensure I always had one to cover my nose/mouth from the massive amount of dust. I would bring 2-3 or anything which can be used to protect your lungs from the dust.

– Dry cough medicine – I ended up with Khumbu cough and some soothing medicine would have been nice. I could have picked this up in Namche.

-More money than stuff! Along the trail you can buy tea, coffee, snacks, apple pie, clothing, medicine, gifts, maps, toiletries, water, hot showers, battery charging, internet access and lots more. I wish I had taken more cash to indulge in some of these luxuries and contribute to the local economy.

– Camp booties or slippers for inside the teahouse (or a clean pair of trainers). Apart from not wanting to trail dust and dirt around the teahouse, it’s always nicer to change your shoes in the free afternoon and evenings. For the acclimatisation afternoons wandering through the towns trainers would have been more comfortable.

Obviously packing for a trip is very personal to each individual so obviously this post is simply my personal opinion based on my single experience trekking in the Everest region in October 2012.
My husband has pointed out I may well be able to pack more gear than other people being small and slim, compared to him at 6’6 who struggled to keep within the weight limit for the Lukla flight.
Happy travels!

Striders Edge update


So not so long ago I wrote a bit of a review about some Striders Edge gear that I was given for Christmas. If you didn’t read it, check it out here. Sometime before receiving these wonderful items I had been searching the internet, sports apparel clothes shops and even keeping an eye out in charity shops for a long-sleeved, hooded base layer top that would be suitable for running in autumn/winter or cool spring days. Would you believe there was not a single one to be found that fitted the bill? I searched everywhere and eventually ended up finding a bright blue/high vis yellow loose polyester jacket from TK Maxx. The hood was enormous so fell down while I was running, it was so loosely cut that putting things in the pockets would make the bottom hem jump up and down with each stride. Long story short, it didn’t really fit the bill for running.

I was so desperate to find one that I even contacted Striders Edge via Twitter, knowing that they always replied and perhaps could consider making one for me. Of course I expected a reply (which I did get) but I had no idea that months later, this week in July 2013, they would Tweet me to let me know they had actually made one: “can you remember you once asked if we could add a hood onto our engineered climate map products? Well we did it x” And here it is…

From Striders Edge website: http://www.stridersedge.com/ec-map-hoody-crag-grey/

You can find this (crag grey) and a pink one (raspberry fuchsia) here: http://www.stridersedge.com/ec-map-hoody-crag-grey/

It’s not uncommon for companies to say “We listen to what the consumers want” but I am absolutely astounded and impressed that my humble request was listened to and acted upon. I will be placing my order soon and will be creating another blog about that once it arrives.

Striders Edge, you have a customer for life here.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Berghaus BIOFLEX Light 35


Last year I was fortunate  enough to get my hands on a pre-release Berghaus Bioflex Light 35 rucksack. It was an absolute delight tearing open the packaging to reveal the Atlantic Blue pack I was soon to fall in love with.

You can read the specifications and details here: http://store.berghaus.com/p/backpacks-rucksacks/mens-bioflex-light-35-rucksack/420812/

I should perhaps point out at this stage that yes, I am a female and have a ‘mens’ pack. At 5’6, I have a long torso and short legs meaning that for rucksacks I have to go for the ‘mens’ fit instead of the ‘ladies’ fit. This isn’t just specific to Berghaus but in my experience it applies to all brands of rucksack. ‘Mens’ and ‘ladies’ fit is just a label Berghaus have used instead of the gender neutral ‘medium’ or ‘small’  (but that’s a debate for another day!).

The Bioflex technology is an innovate idea focused on a free-moving hipbelt for optimum comfort and fit and I am very, very impressed. To date I have used this rucksack for three different types of activity.

1) Trek to Everest Base Camp
12 days of hiking in the stunning Everest region of Nepal was probably one of the best test runs I could do for this rucksack. I have always used Berghaus rucksacks for hiking trips and the difference between the Bioflex Light and the previous ones I have used is black and white.

– The hip belt is wide and soft and the padding feels like it moulds to your hips (almost like memory foam), which makes the free moving part of the belt incredibly comfortable even when carrying a fairly heavy load.
The Berghaus website says “The waist belt is attached to a BIOFLEX® Light pivot; this allows the pack to move with you as you walk providing a higher level of carry comfort and weight transfer.” This is no exaggeration; it is exactly what the Bioflex system does and my opinion is that this system made each step easier, particularly when hiking at altitude where carrying even a small load can feel arduous.

With this being my first major use of the rucksack I did come across some teething problems. Adjusting the shoulder straps and back system for comfort took some playing around with and at times people pointed out that the rucksack was leaning left or right where I had over tightened one or the other shoulder strap (although despite this, at no point did I feel unbalanced- possibly due to the Bioflex system).

2) A walk in the hills, Lake District

14361_10151110864281467_1342138151_nA month after returning from EBC I was out in the Lakes with some friends for a crisp winter walk (read here for the story). The Bioflex Light came with me again, this time loaded with gingerbread, hot chocolate and other essentials for the hills. By this point 12 days of hiking in Nepal had got me totally used to the feel of the rucksack and I had adjusted the system to fit me like a glove. It was like I was hiking without any kind of pack. Weightless, comfortable, cosy.

– The Bioflex Light is a 35 litre capacity and is perfect for me – I like to have plenty of room in my rucksack so it’s easy to dig around in, and to have the option to help lighten other people’s loads if required. It looks larger than 35 litres on the inside, yet smaller from the outside (I’ve managed to use it as hand baggage on multiple occasions with no problems).
One of the things I adore about the Bioxflex light are the mesh zip pockets on the hip belt. As soon as I start walking I get a runny nose so one pocket fits a pack of Kleenex and the other is the perfect size for sweets! The side pockets are roomy too, easily fitting a 1-litre bottle into each.

3) Introduction to Scottish Winter Mountaineering

Scottish WinterI love trekking and have been doing it for almost 6 years but this year it was time to take things up a notch and try my hand at mountaineering. The Bioflex Light travelled up to Scotland with me (Easyjet didn’t even question the size of it for hand baggage) and new skills were learnt in Glencoe with JCG Expeditions.
Being nimble but sure-footed in the Scottish hills in winter is essential and carrying a cumbersome rucksack would be a sure-fire way to losing balance and possibly sustaining a serious or life threatening injury. The Bioflex Light reigned supreme again, hugging my body and to a degree, keeping me warm on the chilly winter days.
-The only possible drawback I can seee to this rucksack are the two small buckle clips that close the main hood are quite fiddly to undo and clip up again. I found I had to take my gloves off to do it, which in a winter scenario is a time waster and depending on the conditions, possibly risky to your fingers (particularly if you dropped a glove in the meantime). I also wonder how robust they are, given their size. Only time will tell.

 

Final comments
There is a large front pocket under the bungee cord which is made of the same soft, stretchy fabric for the side pockets. There is a small hole at the seam of the side pocket where I suppose I caught it on something. This gives me some cause for concern about whether the other areas might end up with a hole and I’ll lose something from them.

Apart from the questionable fabric mentioned above, it’s great to see Berghaus returning to using good quality, water resistant (rip stop?) fabric for this rucksack. The Bioflex Light has renewed my faith in the brand, after it had previously been shaken by the quality in the Freeflow packs dropping below that which I would consider acceptable (to the point where I wrote an email of complaint to the company). I’m pleased that things are on the up and I will now consider Berghaus for gear going forwards.

As with most hydration systems, the inner pouch isn’t long enough to fit the older version of the CamelBak (Omega) without it poking out from the elasticated top. It really makes no difference to the function, weight bearing or appearance but it’s just something that bugs me. I am yet to test it with the newer version of the CamelBak (Antidote), which is shorter and fatter, but I suspect this will fit much nicer.

It’s a real pleasure to find a rucksack in my favourite colour!

The real test for this rucksack will be on Mount Kilimanjaro this May. It will be my third ascent of Kili. I used a Karrimor pack on my first trip, Berghaus Freeflow on my second and the Bioflex Light will join me on my third ascent. Being able to compare the load bearing at altitude on a trek I’ve done twice before will be when I can say for sure what I think of it.

Big thanks to Berghaus for creating, to date, the best rucksack I have ever used.

Happy travelling!

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