TEENA GATES: More than 20 Nepal earthquake survivors have died and thousands more have fallen sick due to the harsh winter that has gripped the Himalaya this Christmas. It will soon be nine months since the devastating quake that killed 9,000 people and injured 23,000 on April 25th 2015, yet thousands of Nepalese are still struggling to survive in unsecured tents and post-quake camps after their homes and villages collapsed. Two million children are starting this New Year without school, while their families struggle to find fuel to see them through the winter.
My friend; mountain buddy and long-time member of Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue was in Nepal when the quake struck. Ronan Friel’s guest blog takes us back to April of last year – when the world’s headlines screamed of the tragic events that had swept through the Himalaya. At the time, we all promised that we would not forget Nepal when the world moved on. Keep that promise now – and read Ronan’s eye-witness account from Everest, April, 2015.
RONAN FRIEL: A while back I was asked by a friend, Ian Taylor, if I would be interested in going on a trip he had organised. I was to go in the capacity of medic and guide. He knows my background well, as I had worked for his company previously and he vets all who work for him very strictly. Ian’s approach to the welfare of his clients is paramount. My background is as an active mountain rescue medic trained on rope rescue and all aspects of mountaineering rescue.
The plan for the trip was to guide a group of 22 clients to Everest base camp. The group then planned to split with a smaller group of 7 making our way up the Imja Valley to a peak called Imja Tse, more commonly known as Island Peak. We would all then meet up again back at Kathmandu. We would then have a few days of down time to see the amazing sights around the city. It would take 22 days in all from Kathmandu, to achieving our goal and returning.
We met all our clients and soon to be very good friends in Kathmandu in a lovely hotel called the International Guest House. We made all our introductions and went over a brief itinerary and route on a map just to give people an outline of what was ahead of us. As soon as that was over we went straight into business mode. We went through each team member’s kit. What to bring, what not to bring. Whether we can bring luxuries or practical things instead? chocolate or spare underwear? It’s a hard decision when it comes down to it. Ian then introduced me to the Sherpas that we would be working with for the entire trip. They were so nice in welcoming me to their country and hoping that we have a safe and happy trip. Little did I know how much I would have to rely on these few men for so much of the trip. I would consider myself competent in the hills with my abilities but these true gentlemen are on a whole different playing field. Dawa, Little Dawa, Ang Kami, Sonam, Tenbi and Purba, all of these men opened my eyes to what generous and caring people are. We were to leave for the airport at 5 am so we all packed our kit and retired for the night to be ready for our long journey in the morning.
When we got to the airport it seemed as if everyone with a North Face jacket had the same idea, it was organised chaos. Security and customs are a little more relaxed than anywhere else. Everyone was excited but also anxious. If you type Lukla Airport into YouTube it tells you that it is one of the most dangerous flights in the world. I’m a practical person so when I think about things that are out of my control I don’t let them effect my mind, what will be, will be.
After all that we landed at Lukla without as much as a skid, lovely and smooth. There were wonderful views all round of the Himalayas. The second I stepped off the plane, my jaw dropped. Everywhere I looked was a picture. I remember thinking I need to get another memory card for the camera if these are the views from the airport. We had separated into two groups in Kathmandu Airport so I was on the first flight with Little Dawa and half the group and Ian followed behind with Ang kami and the other half of the group. We all then regrouped in a lodge just next to the Lukla air field.
We got our kit together for the yak herders to take and set off up the trail to our first stop called Monju. It was a handy day, a sort of introduction day. Ian and me spread out through the group watching people’s water intake, speed of walking, any signs of needing a helping hand or just reading the group as to better take care of them. It was a short day but it was also a wet day. We were all saturated as we arrived into Monju. We arrived in to lovely cups of ginger lemon tea and milky coffee. It was our first night on the trail and in the lodges so of course the packs of cards got broken out and we all get stuck in to a few games. Everyone brought their own twist to the game. We agreed the game of the trip would be S*#THEAD, which I was called many a time after losing. We would all head to our cots around 8 or 9 to be up and ready by 7am for breakfast and out on the trail for 8. We always attempted to get up early, arrive to the next spot early and enjoy the rest of the day. It also means that if any problems arise we have plenty of light to deal with them.
The next day was going to be a long day. We were heading from Monju up the valley climbing all the time to Namche Bazaar where we were going to be taking 3 days for acclimatization. We would be going on different training hikes gaining altitude each day and coming back down in the evening. We entered Sagarmatha Park that day too. It was a great day; sun splitting the sky and the entire group were gelling nicely. We could see the friendships sparking already. I stayed at the rear as back marker to help or motivate anyone that was finding the going difficult. We always had fun at the back chatting and laughing the whole day along the trail.
We stopped at a suspended bridge along the way to take a break. We were all taking photos and rehydrating. Suddenly, one of the group stepped out of an oncoming porter’s way but inadvertently stepped off the start of the bridge area and down the side of it. I thought when I saw her fall off the bridge that it was lights out. She fell about 12 to 15 feet down into a ditch area rather than the 1,000ft fall just metres away. She had a severe break to her right ankle. As a mountain rescue medic I dealt with the injury and got her assessed and splinted. While I was doing that, Ian was organising an evacuation plan and helicopter evacuation. We also had a doctor and a nurse on the hike with us, so the casualty was in very good hands. We got her back up onto the bridge and then without any hesitation the Sherpas decided that they would take turns and carry her down to a suitable heli landing zone further down the gorge. As they carried her I went alongside protecting her ankle along the way from any more damage. We got the heli in and the casualty out without any trouble and got back on the trail. It was an experience that made the group realise just how things can go from good to bad in a split second. I am happy to say that despite suffering a severe leg injury our group member received excellent care and after being treated in Kathmandu flew home to recover and recuperate.
We headed back up the valley on towards Namche and caught up with the rest of the group and had a well-deserved lunch / dinner. The next day we all went up to a museum in Namche. We then visited a memorial to Tensing Norgay. There were amazing views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse and Ama Dablam all in one vista. It was truly spectacular. I took umpteen photos but after a while I just sat on the grass and let my eyes take it all in. It was for me one of the most beautiful views I had ever come across in my life.
The next two days were spent chilling out in the afternoons after small morning hikes. We all got to acclimatise well and were really fighting fit when we set off for our next stop in Tengboche further up the valley. The days were glorious with sunny mornings and with views that stopped you in your tracks every time you looked up. To our right the whole way up the valley, standing at an impressive 6,814 mts, was Ama Dablam. The mountain seemed to glare down upon us all day screaming “climb me”. Maybe it was just me but I may have fallen for her allure. She certainly could draw you in. I may have a couple of photos of her!
Tengboche up to Dingboche was a lovely walk traversing along the windy valley all the time gaining height. It was at this point that we started to notice people feeling the effects of the altitude. We were driving home the message to people to drink, drink, and drink (water, by the way! No Irish jokes!). A lot of the time it was down to dehydration and once we were taking in around 4 to 5 litres of water per day it helped immensely.
We stayed in Dingboche for two nights and we had an acclimatisation day with a gain of 400-450mts and then back down. That evening as usual we all sat around playing cards and chatting about the coming few days. Madison Mountaineering team happened to be staying in the same lodge and we got talking to Alan Arnette that night about his group which was heading for Everest and possibly with Lhotse included on the same climb.
The next day we all headed for Lobuche. As we got into camp, the weather changed with massive clouds rolling in along with a heavy dumping of snow. The snowfall continued all night. When we awoke there was a solid dump of around a foot of snow. It was unfortunate but after a lot of debating and discussion, Ian had to make the decision based on what was safest for the group. That decision was to descend back down to Pheriche and cancel going forward to Everest base camp. It snowed for a further 3 days after this. It was a tough decision but the safest and correct decision for the group.
The next day 10 of us broke from the main group and headed for the Imja Valley. We were heading up to Island Peak base camp. We stopped in Chhukhung for two days to acclimatise a little more and to pick up supplies for our summit attempt.
In the morning we headed for Island Peak base camp. The day was overcast but with incredible heat still getting through and reflecting off the fresh snow, it was very unusual. We were all worried that if there was too much snow it would put an end to our summit attempt. As we arrived into camp, Ian, Magda, Paul and I got to work setting our tents up and getting everyone settled. After this the Sherpa team had the brew on and we were all supping hot coffee and lemon ginger teas. It’s the little things that matter! That evening we managed to have 6 of us play cards in a two man tent, quite impressive if you saw the tents!
We had a full day of training the next day, firstly ascending the ropes using a jumar then traversing along the top using the same method and on to a descending line using a figure of 8 and safety line. We pushed everyone hard that day even when it started snowing and the weather got very cold; we kept pushing people saying that ‘if you can do it in this weather you can do it in any weather’.
The next morning we packed our tents up and headed for high camp. We wanted to get there just after lunchtime, get to bed, have some sleep and set off for the summit at 12.30 or 1.30 at the latest. It all went pretty much to plan and we were all en-route for the crampon point in good time and in high spirits. We got geared up with harness and crampons, and roped together to cross the crevasse field ahead. Ian asked me to go first and keep an easy pace and he stayed at the rear to keep a good eye on the team. We came through the crevasse field efficiently and headed for the headwall which is around 250 mts of 60 degree ice. Our lead Sherpa had made easy work of it and had gone ahead to fix our own new lines so we wouldn’t have to work with insufficient ropes that may have been damaged. The headwall really put us through our paces and really made us earn the summit which all of us, fortunately, got to sit on top of.
We then headed back to Chukkung for a well-deserved sleep after starting at 1.30 am. We finally reached Chhukhung at 7 pm the next evening. It was a seriously long day! The next morning I woke at 6 am to a very bad situation. In the midst of all the excitement I had overlooked my very cold feet and the next morning they were still icy cold. On closer inspection I discovered I had mild frost bite to both big toes and blistering on the toes on either side. Ang Kami, Ian and me discussed it and decided that the best course of action was to heli out and get medical care for my feet rather than walk out with the risk of more damage. I got a heli ride to the Ciwec Clinic in Kathmandu where I received excellent treatment. I got released from hospital the same day and went to the hotel to chill out and take care of my feet for 3 days while the others made their way out. It was unfortunate but hey I got a lift out and was at the bar before the rest of the group. I was a little frostbitten but what’s an expedition without a little frostbite!
The rest of the group got back after winding their way back down through every village that we had passed on the way up with a bit more pace and with the joy of having reached the summit of Island Peak. It was all relaxing and sightseeing from now on, once back in Kathmandu.
We all went out to a small village on the outskirts of town to see a load of skilled woodcraft artists and have a look at the monasteries. On the same day we went to see the monkey temple and it was lovely, really nice weather and a feeling of peace all around it. It was lovely and relaxing even though it was full of people it just seemed to have a calming effect on me.
The next day, Saturday 25th April, a few of us were going to do a bit more sightseeing and shopping in the local markets. Viktor and Paul were going to go shopping and then meet up with us in Dunbar square. Magda and me were going to go for a decent coffee and then visit the Sherpa shop before following the lads up to Dunbar square. All was going to plan till we came across this little local market and had decided to go for a closer look. Just before we entered we were laughing at how dangerous the roof looked from the outside. The market was of bamboo structure with plastic sheeting over the top and tyres in the sheeting to stop it blowing away.
I was shaking like a leaf and the ground was vibrating beneath me..
We were inside the market for just a few minutes when the earthquake hit. The market went completely black, a few moments before the shaking started. As soon as it started we knew this wasn’t normal and that we needed to get out of there. We had passed an exit on our left about 20 mtrs back and I grabbed Magda and we both made a dash for it. There was a lot of screaming and crying, it was surreal. When we got outside we followed a few locals that were congregating just outside in an open area but we were still surrounded by electricity poles and masts. I didn’t feel safe so we kept on moving and found a large square without any buildings and no overhead lines. I was shaking like a leaf and the ground was still vibrating under us. A local man came over to us and calmly asked if this was our first earthquake? He told us to sit down and wait, as there would be aftershocks. We sat for a while in complete shock finding it hard to comprehend what forces could move us like that. It was extremely frightening. After about 20 mins we decided that we should continue on up to Dunbar square as it should only be around five mins from where we were. We wanted to regroup and make our way back to the hotel. En route we had to take a minute to stop and sort our heads out, the adrenaline was still firing around my body in fight or flight mode and I couldn’t stop shaking or even think straight. Having Magda there helped to keep me focused. I had someone that I felt responsible for and that I needed to keep safe.
We continued up an avenue just down the road from Dunbar square when a second shock hit us. We ran down the road to an island in the middle of the road where a lot of Nepalese had gathered away from the buildings. We got talking to two guys on the roundabout/Island and they had told us that Dunbar square was completely destroyed and there would be no point in continuing up to it. We decided we would head back towards the city and assess the situation as we went along. It was complete chaos. Roads had split apart, buildings had been completely flattened; there were people crying and screaming all around us. One siren turned into two sirens until it just sounded like one continuous siren. As we were walking down we were passing a large park and it seemed like hundreds if not thousands were congregating in it. We continued on passing by fallen buildings and collapsed arches until the roads seemed un-passable.
It was becoming apparent this was a lot more serious than we thought…
Walking by the back of some shop or store room we noticed locals were buying water. We picked up some water not knowing how long we may be displaced. We had already been 4-5hrs without water or food. Both of us decided that we should go and sit in the park and try to contact our families to let them know we were alright and then try and contact the rest of the team. Luckily I got one call out to my family as did Magda. It was becoming apparent that this was a lot more serious than we first thought. We managed to get in contact with Ian and he had the rest of the team all together and safe. He was delighted to hear we were safe and well too, you could hear the relief in his voice! It was getting close to 4pm and we didn’t have any kit or gear to take care of ourselves if we got stuck out in the dark. We started making our way back to the rest of the group. Buildings were down all over the place. Every street we went down there was devastation and 100’s of people were wandering around in shock at what was happening around them. We kept feeling tremors, they were only minor but they still made us shake. When we got back to the hotel it was hugs all round, we were so lucky that the entire group were safe and uninjured.
That evening we put a plan together to get all our gear from the rooms one by one and set up a camp in the courtyard. Thankfully, our Sherpa Dawa came by later and was ok too. He and his son, Sonam, were uninjured. It was great to see them. He said he had tents that we could set up in a waste area out behind the hotel with nothing overlooking it.
We had our camp set up and it felt good to be out of the hotel. For the next three nights we stayed in the tents. We ventured out in search of any place serving food or hot meals and then returned to the hotel courtyard. We worried every time there was an aftershock. As we walked around the streets we started to see the amount of damage that had been caused. It’s quite incomprehensible how or where they will start to rebuild. If houses weren’t damaged, adjoining properties were, so they were still unsafe to go back inside. There were complete neighbourhoods absolutely decimated by the whole event. Outside the city was going to be even worse off. The houses weren’t as well built and the resources just weren’t on the ground to help. In the entire 4 days after the event we didn’t see one ounce of government help or aid to any of the locals and we were in their capital city. I could only imagine the damage and lack of resources outside the capital. The only help that was going on was from local to local! In the aftermath of the earthquake a shop that opened for a few hours a day still sold water for 25 Nepal rupees. They never raised their prices. There was no exploitation, no greed. It just shows the character of the people. I am convinced even when they have nothing they would still give you the shirt of their back.
I truly feel guilty about getting out safely. I know that I shouldn’t but I do. I feel for the guys that I made friends with and I worry about their families. They are truly the salt of the earth I cannot speak any more highly about them. I would give them the shirt of my back anytime! This tragedy will go to the back of people’s minds once the news stations decide to pick something new to report. What we do now will define who and what we are. It is human nature to help others, well I think it is and if there is anyone reading this that can or will help please do not hesitate to get in contact with me. RONAN FRIEL – email: email@example.com
If you can help, donate to https://www.facebook.com/golivillagetrust/ or your own preferred charity, but don’t forget Nepal in 2016.
Dreams really do drive reality in the very best of worlds… My guest blogger, Flora “the explorer” McKnight had a dream, which turned a doctor’s diagnosis into an opportunity; and brought her to another place and time. Read on.
I woke up in a sweat after yet another restless night. “I wish I was in the Antarctic” I muttered to myself while jumping out of bed to rush to stand in front of the freezer.
I showed all the signs and symptoms in my early thirties for “the change” but no doctor would test me. One doctor eventually trusted my instinct and finally, at the age of 38, I was diagnosed with peri-menopause. Many women who have suffered through or are still going through “the change” will understand that the night sweats are unbearable at times. Give me the moodiness or forgetfulness any day but please, not the dreaded night sweats!
So that’s how the journey of a lifetime began for me. As the sweats increased so too did my dreams of visiting Antarctica and as if by magic, a Facebook sponsored story directed me to New Horizon Expeditions website where they were organising a special once off trip to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Excitedly I clicked on the link and was completely drawn in. I had goose bumps reading about it and not only that but the date of the trip co-incided with my 40th birthday! Immediately I registered my interest and as soon as the information pack came back I knew that this was it, now or never, go for it woman, be cool! Booked, deposit paid, no turning back.
I had a year and a half to prepare for my trip. Slowly paying off lump sums, purchasing base layers, mid layers, outer layers, gloves, hats, ski socks etc. I even went to Finland to buy an extra warm down jacket in case I might be cold there. (Heaven forbid!)
Wednesday 28th Jan 2015. I stood at the agreed meeting point waiting for my fellow passengers and group leader to arrive. Now I can be a little bit of a worrier and so obviously thoughts started to enter my head like “what if this is a scam?”, “yer man has legged it with all my money”, “may as well go home now and hide in the fridge for 3 weeks”. Finally I spotted our group leader waving at me from the check in desk; drama over, take me to Antarctica!
Long journey to Buenos Aires for a two day stopover then on to Ushuaia (The End of the World) for another stopover and this was where we boarded our ship “The Ushuaia”. The build-up of anticipation from the airport right to this moment is indescribable. We had all waited so long for this moment and could barely contain our excitement. I myself shed a few tears but put it down to the dodgy hormones! Our leader kitted us out in magnificent “Shackleton 100” body warmers and matching hats. We were the envy of the voyage, everyone wanted one! We felt so special to be part of this wonderful expedition.
That “special” feeling continued as we slowly made our way to The Great White Continent via the notorious Drake Passage. Sea sickness comes in waves… Great, big, 30 to 40ft waves!! Some were affected more than others but luckily I was upright in the bar by later that evening drugged up with ginger capsules and dunking Jacobs ginger snaps in to my ginger tea! I shared a small cabin with a lovely German girl who obviously felt the cold more than I did and kept turning up our little heater full blast. As soon as she was asleep I would creep out of my bunk and turn it down again. This saga continued throughout the whole journey with neither of us commenting or asking “do you mind?” It was just the way it was and we were both happy with the set up!
As we cleared the passage we gained confidence in our sea legs and all were upright by the time a call of “ICEBERG, STRAIGHT AHEAD” could be heard from the bridge. We all rushed out on deck and sighted our very first iceberg in the distance. We were well and truly on our way South.
We made several landings over the next few days. Penguin colonies at Gourdin Island – Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adelie. We observed them go about their business picking up stones and feeding their chicks. Brown Bluff on Antarctic Sound was our first Continental landing and pretty special for all of us. Hydrugga Rocks, where we saw our first Fur and Weddell Seals. We sailed through the Lemaire Channel with views of massive glaciers on either side of our ship. The most spectacular scenery I shall never forget.
Our most Southerly point @ 65.15 degrees brought us to Wordie House on Winter Island. The house of James Wordie, Shackleton’s geologist, is kept as a historical site for the Antarctic Treaty system.
From there we moved on to Vernadsky, a Ukrainian Research Station. The station first discovered the hole in the Ozone layer! The station had a wee bar where a bottle of whiskey was produced and a rendition of “The little pot stove” was sung by Frank Nugent. (Mountaineer & explorer and member of the Irish South Arís – Irish Antarctic Adventure team which attempted to sail a James Caird replica lifeboat named Tom Crean from Elephant Island to South Georgia.) We were privileged to have him along with us on our trip.
Pleneau Island saw us zodiac cruising through hundreds of icebergs of all shapes and sizes while being chased by Leopard Seals! At Paradise Bay (aptly named) we cruised through the calmest of sea gazing at the huge glaciers all around us. I don’t think a word was spoken from any of us other than the odd “wow” and you could almost hear the gulps as people tried to swallow the lump in their throat.
A visit to the Argentine owned Brown Base, named after Irish born Admiral William Brown (creator of the Argentine Navy), saw us climb to the top of a snow covered steep hill and slide on our bums back down! A truly unique experience and yes, this was the day of my 40th birthday. What a way to celebrate!
On Deception Island we climbed a black glacier covered in volcanic ash. Walker Bay gave us our first sighting of Elephant Seals. Pendulum Cove saw a few brave souls take the polar plunge which of course I participated in!
Antarctica is often imagined to be a quiet, solemn, white continent yet it is far from that. The thunderous echoes of falling glaciers, the barks from the seals, the nattering from the penguins, the blows from whales, the many birds swooping overhead, the clear crisp icy blue of the glaciers, the aquamarine of the sea at the base of each iceberg, the browns and greys of the rocks, the black volcanic ash, the red from the krill, the pink from guana (penguin poo!) all contributed to the amazing sounds and sights of this wonderful, beautiful, inspiring Continent.
I feel privileged to have spent time on this unspoilt continent. Privileged to have spotted Orcas, a Skua attack and kill a penguin chick, a school of dolphins play beside our ship at night disturbing the phosphorescent in the water which gave us a transfixing display that can only be described as the Aurora of the sea. Privileged to have met some amazing new friends and to have gained a small insight to the harsh conditions our heroes Shackleton and Crean endured.
Did I fulfil my dreams? Absolutely. Did I fulfil my purpose? Absolutely. Well, if only for a short time during the polar plunge and sneaky behaviour with a cabin heater but never mind, life blows hot and cold ~
“Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all”. Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Guest Blog by: Flora McKnight (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It wasn’t on the itinerary, but the mountain was there, perched behind our beautiful Hotel Finca Los Llanos and thanks to Travel Department for adding on the extra and making it happen. Our walking holiday in the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range has come to a spectacular Continue reading
My heart is bursting – and it’s only day one. It’s not bursting from effort, or exertion, or altitude or attitude – it’s bursting because I’m among friends, doing wonderful things, in a Continue reading
“Ya know, we’re not walking at your pace – we’re walking at the team’s pace”. That’s what Greg Mulligan said to me, as we were coming down the mountain today. He was talking about our latest day’s training in preparation for climbing Mount Elbrus. He’d read my recent blog about my ‘Walk of Shame’ when I got pulled up to the front of the line, because I was slow. Now he was putting me at ease about the pace, and I just thought what a lovely thing to do and way to do it. I’m definitely going to put my back into it even more now. I don’t want to let the team down. That’s what we are you see, we’re TeamElbrus and we’re going all the way.
All the way today, was up in two cable cars and one chair lift, all the way to the snow line, high on Elbrus. The target was to get up into that thin air and accelerate our altitude training, while getting used to all the high-altitude gear. For some, it was a new experience to walk in the heavy, rigid-soled boots. These will protect us from the cold on the ice further up, but take a bit of getting used too. TeamElbrus coped well, walking from the last cable chair lift, up past the Barrels, and towards the huts where we will be staying tomorrow night. The Barrels is the name for a series of barrel-shaped huts, that high altitude climbers use as a base camp for climbing to the summit. There a series of hut-type bases along the mountain’s south side, that offer shelter to mountaineers looking towards Elbrus’ volcanic twin peaks.
We reached just under 4,000 metres today, moving up through the snow at a steady expedition rate. Kicking in and moving upwards, one step at a time. I assumed my now usual position up the top of the line, but I didn’t feel stressed today. My breathing was regular and I reckoned I could have kept that pace up for hours. That’s a really good thing – because on summit night, that’s what we’ll have to do. We could be 13 hours out on the ice. But that’s another day’s work.
The pictures here are: the girlies (me & Phyll), a Greg & me ‘selfie’ in the cable car, and me & Will walking through the snow. The shots are again by Joe, who’s rapidly becoming the ‘team snapper’.
The team handled the altitude well today and even had a dance with a bunch of Russian climbers, out on the ice. For anyone who’s travelled before with Pat Falvey Irish and Worldwide Adventures; you probably have an ‘Aroo-chi-cha’ idea of what went on. The all-girl Russian team were suitably impressed with our musical skill and our lovely strong men with ‘size 12 boots’. I thought the ice all around us would melt and run off the mountain right there and then. But the girls were swept away by a man in a snow plough and our lads had to settle for cheese sandwiches and a baby cucumber before turning back downhill.
Tonight at dinner we’re expecting a major briefing to determine the next few days. It’s time to leave our low mountain base and pack up all our gear. Tomorrow night, we’ll be sleeping on Elbrus.
Tomorrow we get serious.
I’m pretty much in the ‘lost and found’ category at the moment. When I decided to climb one of the Seven Summits, I was fighting fit and looking forward to training hard for six-months of mountain prep. The year started well, heading off to practice walking on snow and ice in Scotland in January, heading to Norway in February to play in the snow and check out my gear in some really freezing temperatures. I had a year-planner and Excel chart, all colour-coded, with gym, yoga, swimming, cycling, mountains… it was all going brilliantly and then I fell.
I cut my leg badly when I slipped on a rock, out running on Spinc in Wicklow. I got it stitched and thought I’d be back in a flash, but people wiser than me were proved right when I couldn’t really use my knee for the next 6 weeks. Even then it was a full two months before I could train properly.
In the meantime I was starting my own business which was great, but stressful and strangely lonely, because I am used to working in a big office environment and now I am based at home. They don’t tell you about that in ‘entrepreneur school!’ I was sitting at home; bored, sore, stressed and a bit scared – with a fridge sitting behind me and I’m sorry to say that I put on a couple of stone in as much time as it takes to pick up a sandwich! So with six weeks to go, I had to face loss of fitness coupled with carrying more weight.
I hope I’ve done enough. I kept practising my yoga while sitting on a chair and working out in the gym with my leg isolated from the routines, and I finally got back into the sea to start swimming again. I have worked really hard in the last month, balancing training against protecting my injured knee and losing weight. I also got a huge amount of help and advice from friends, colleagues and online through Facebook and Twitter. Not to mention Tony Nation from Pat Falvey Irish & Worldwide Adventures – who literally ‘walked the legs off me’ over the gorgeous Galtee Mountains in the last few weeks.
I’ve lost a stone, but I’m still overweight for my height. Training after an injury was a difficult dilemma to find myself in, with a whole range of advice, which came down to the same thing: “be patient and don’t overdo it”. It was deeply frustrating, and again, I hope I’ve done enough. I just do not know if there is enough in the tank to get me up that cold, icy, incline that will bring me to the top of Europe. I’ve lost fitness, my size 14 shape, and a bit of confidence. I’ve found friends, knowledge, insight, technique, and a new business.
The countdown is almost over. We fly from Dublin to London on Thursday, then fly to Moscow – and the big adventure kicks off on July 11th. I’ll be blogging whenever I have signal and power and I have a friend who has agreed to pass on messages if I don’t get to update Facebook or Twitter for a few days. I’ll report in full by July 25th.
This is the last time I am going to be thinking about fears or failure. Like Pandora’s box, I know I need to put doubt back under cover and lock down the lid. I am as good as I can be and that’s as good as it gets. I am off to climb Elbrus…. x
I ‘Walked The Line’ and I proudly get to wear the T-shirt, and raise the mug – thanks for a brilliant workout from Dublin Wicklow Mountain Rescue. Their mega annual fundraiser had two challenges, a navigational chase and a straightforward 25k hike for those who were willing to follow the signs! I chose the latter, but the physical demands were no joke. It was a tough, long day out and I came home delighted in just over 6 hours. To be honest, I had a secret weapon, the latter part of the hike was down through Spinc – my favourite mountain. I was actually heard to say ‘this is my patch’ as I trotted down the stones towards the Miners’ Village – and you know I meant it. Yep I guess I’m declaring it. Spinc is MY mountain – so there! (I’m not actually being facetious – that mountain rescued me from being 23 stone and stuck in a cell of my own skin, and my own making. I owe a lot to that mountain). The other benefit from ‘Walk the Line’ was accidentally turning up just 2-minutes before registration closed, and ending up ‘walking the line’ on my own, which I hadn’t really planned. It left me picking out way-paths and finding my way around the hills in a way I hadn’t done before – and I learned a lot – lessons that came in handy later in the week….
A trip to Lough Sheelin cooled my heels after Wicklow – when I turned up to provide boat cover for my brave ‘Get Off The Couch’ colleague Karen Bowers, who swam her first 1k ‘wild swim’ in the beautiful County Cavan lake, surrounded by master swimmers and the fantastic long-distance swimmer, Fergal Somerville, who turned up to coach her, after recently adding an elusive North Channel Crossing to his previous English Channel crossing. That man is inspiration in a set of speedos, and I have permission from his wonderful wife Margaret to say so. (Incidentally that woman is the best power-bar chef this side of either channel!).
A couple of days later I was back in the water again – this time in Donegal. In bright sunshine, myself and buddy Vera Baker ‘Girls on Tour’ headed north with kayaks strapped to the roof of her heroic Jaguar and two bikes jammed inside, along with wetsuits, paddles, running gear, hiking gear, and high heels. What other way to travel? Well as Vera’s son commented wryly as he saw us reverse out – “it wasn’t that we couldn’t do it – but probably that we shouldn’t“!
We hit the ground running when we arrived in Donegal in bright sunshine and instead of heading for shelter and our lovely home for the next three days, we made straight for the beach and launched the boats. It was a good call too; we woke up to winter conditions the following morning, with the mist so thick we could hardly see our boots as we made our way towards Errigal. That solo-navigation stuff in Wicklow helped with my confidence, as we strolled back down the mountain on a bearing and walked straight into the car park to our absolute delight. Boasting to my Mountain Rescue buddies may have been a calculated error however – I’ve been told I’m navigating next time out!
Lots of thanks are due to lots of people after my last set of adventures. Love you all and hugs will be distributed in due course. x