Report of the British Mount Everest Medical Expedition 1994
Table of Contents
- Post Script, March 1996
- The Evolution of the Expedition
- Highs and Lows from 1990-1994
- Pre Expedition Planning, Organisation, Training and Data Collection
- Medical Research Logistics
- Medical Research
- Everest Climbing Report
- Pumori Climbing Report
- Accounts of the exploits of individual members of British Mount Everest Medical Expedition 1994
- Medical Report
- Pharmaceutical supplies and procurement
- Logistics, Sherpas and Trekking Agents
- Education: Past, present and future
- United Mission to Nepal and Church Missionary Society
- Publicity and the Media
- Filming and photography:
- Expedition Diary:
- Equipment and Gear Reports
- Was it all worth it?
- Table of Contents
Post Script – March 1996
Since the Report was first published in 1995 there have been some notable events involving members of our team and those of teams that accompanied us:
In May 1995 Alison Hargreaves succeeded in her ambition to become the first woman to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen. She did so in excellent style and return to Scotland to huge public acclaim. Two weeks later she departed for K2 as part of her ambitious quest to climb the three highest mountains in the world within a year. She reached the summit of K2 in August but was killed during the descent when she was struck by a freak storm. One of her companions, Jeff Lakes, died later that night at camp 2 after struggling down the mountain in the midst of the storm. Jeff was well known to members of the BMEME as he was a member of the Lhotse team during our ascent.
Members of the other two Lhotse expeditions that accompanied us have also made news. Erhard Loretan climbed Kanchenjunga with Jean Troillet. This made Loretan the third person to climb all 14 eight thousanders. Benoit Chamou (of the Italian Lhotse team 1994) accompanied Loretan and Troillet on their summit day but failed to reach the summit (that too would have been his 14th eight thousander. Chamou died during the descent.
The third High Altitude and Mountain Medicine Course at Plas y Brenin was, once again, a total success with two excellent non medical contributions. Scott Parazynski came from Texas to talk about his experiences as a Space Shuttle astronaut. George Lowe, a member of the 1951 Everest reconnaissance expedition as well as the 1953 first ascent team, talked about his Himalayan experiences 45 years ago.
Andrew Pollard and David Murdoch have written a book on Mountain Medicine which will be published in the summer: High Doctor, Radcliffe Press.
The first academic publications arising will soon be appearing in the medical journals. Much of our work has also been published on the Internet (see home page address above).
Sixteen months after the returning from Everest we are in the happy position of having generated a profit -£15,000. The company will shortly be renamed (becoming Medical Expeditions) and new directors will be appointed to continue the spirit and the work of the BMEME into the 21st century.
In many ways the British Mount Everest Medical Expedition 1994 was one of the strangest expeditions ever to go into the field. In all there were seventy five members drawn from all over the country with a few members coming from as far afield as New Zealand and America. Of the seven strong climbing team none had ventured above 7,500m before and nobody had had any experience of organising expeditions on anything like this scale. Many of the members aspiring to climb some of the lesser (6,000m) peaks had had very little mountaineering experience. Despite the huge costs involved the Expedition had no major sponsors and most of the mountaineering and research was to be financed by the members themselves. To make matters worse the Expedition had a set of objectives that went well beyond simply climbing Everest and a few of its neighbours. They proposed to perform 16 medical research projects, 2 environmental projects, conduct an educational campaign and promote the work of a Nepal based charity.
Not surprisingly before we left there were a few critics but the overwhelming enthusiasm of the members carried the project forward. It is, with hindsight, remarkable that the Expedition ever made it to Nepal and amazing that it achieved all of its objectives. As you will see in the ensuing pages the Expedition was most successful and it owes this success to the commitment and resourcefulness of all 75 members. Most importantly all personnel returned intact without serious accident.
The Research Teams grew over the years in scope and in stature and all research projects were completed despite the best endeavours of customs, yaks, extremes of cold and even avalanches at Base Camp. This Report summarises our preliminary findings but we anticipate that around 40 academic papers will be published in due course.
Everest evokes many images. To some it is a symbol of achievement to others a mountain of refuse and an object of derision. The popular press goes out of its way to make the image even more confusing. A few months ago a well known tabloid newspaper printed a double page spread with the bold headline, “300,000 people a year climb Everest”. The article touched briefly on the environmental problems that this influx of climbers had had and made the bold statement that the, “Boffins on the British Medical Everest Expedition are going to install a loo with a view” .
Fortunately the facts are rather different. We neither installed a super-loo nor anything like it and, furthermore, only two Westerners, one Japanese and five Nepalese Sherpas reached the summit of Everest in the 1994 post monsoon season. The impression that climbing Everest is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of another up a well worn yak track bears no resemblance to the truth. Certainly there are few technical problems on the South Col route but nobody should underestimate the difficulty of even walking on the flat at altitudes of over 7,000m. let alone the cold and sense of isolation. Mix with that the dangers of the Icefall, avalanche and altitude sickness and you have an incomparable mountaineering adventure in a place filled with history. All of those who ventured into the Western Cwm felt immensely privileged to be there.
We have been criticised for taking too many people into the Everest area but I believe that we did this responsibly. The 75 strong team was divided up into 8 groups each with very different itineraries. At no point did the entire Expedition assemble in its entirety and, most of the time, the members were spread thinly throughout the vastness of the Khumbu region at a time of the year when there were very few other trekkers in the area. All but 2 members did visit Base Camp but the arrivals of the groups were staggered over several weeks so as to minimise the numbers assembled there at any one time. Our environmental team made an assessment of the real pollution issues that afflict Nepal and demonstrated a very practical method for the safe disposal of human waste in a fragile mountain environment.
Far from being a refuse tip Everest was in near pristine condition thanks to the efforts of many clean-up expeditions and the reduced traffic in recent years. I am glad so say that we left the mountain in the condition that we found it.
I hope that by drawing contributions from across the Expedition that this Report will be more than a compendium of statistics and will evoke fond memories for those who took part. The Expedition was remarkable in that all 75 members were bonded by a strong sense of common purpose. It is impossible to describe the exhilaration of being involved with such a happy and successful project but I hope that this Report will go some way to convey the remarkable team spirit enjoyed by so many.
The Report paints a broad picture of those who took part , their projects and their exploits. Inevitably there are also a lot of dry fact and figures that may be of use to future planners as well as reports on borrowed, donated or discounted equipment.
In spring 1990, somewhere between Lukla and Jiri after our first trip to the Khumbu, Roddy Kirkwood and I realised that an Everest expedition was within the reach of ordinary mortals. We had spent the previous month climbing on trekking peaks and had shared much of the walk in with our New Zealand friends Rob Hall and Gary Ball who were in the process of making their first successful ascent. We had glimpsed the heart of an Everest expedition and our appetites were wetted.
A few months later, during a wet weekend in Wales, I got talking with Andy Pollard, who it seems, had been thinking about climbing Everest for years. Before I knew it Andy had, with typical efficiency, written a host of letters to trekking agents and signed them in my name. Within days the replies came rolling in. Most of them said that there was no chance of climbing Everest this century but one talked of a cancellation in 1994. We followed it up and by December 1990 we had an option on a permit. All we needed to do was find the Royalty (or peak fee) in full ( then £2,400 ).
By March 1991 we had found a few people willing to speculate with their hard earned cash and we sent the money off to Nepal – we were committed. In the early days we were wonderfully naive about the fund raising process and assumed that corporate sponsors would be falling over themselves to sponsor a bunch of doctors climbing the highest mountain in the world. We were very relaxed about getting the funds because our budget at this time was based on a peak fee (Royalty) of £2,400.
Within weeks of getting permission we were delighted to receive the patronage of Mr Chris Bonington and Dr Charles Clarke whose presence on the headed note-paper gave the Expedition some early credibility. Lord Hunt became our third patron in 1992. The pre-eminence of our patrons undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the prestige and eventual success of the Expedition.
Our first crisis came in December 1991 when the Royalty was raised to $10,000 by the Nepalese Government and made to apply retrospectively. By now we had recruited the nucleus of the climbing team. Charlie, Roddy, Andrew, Aidan and I met in Stirling to decide whether to continue. It was the first time that we had really got together and talked about our plans in any detail. It emerged that none of us had any real idea how to raise the cash but that we were all extremely enthusiastic and committed to the project. We decided to advertise for paying members of the climbing team and await the result. By then we had reasonably firm ideas about the research that we planned to do and we began to form a fledgling research team.
We placed the briefest of advertisements in the climbing press and for weeks my phone never stopped ringing. I was receiving about 5 phone calls a day from all over the world and was staggered by the overwhelming enthusiasm and support that people exuded over the phone. At the same time a few articles appeared in the medical and Scottish Press and they too generated a flurry of enquiries and even donations. We decided to organise an open meeting in the Lake District to gauge the support first hand.
In March 1992 over 30 complete strangers gathered at Dunmail Raise for the weekend and it became obvious that the mixture of medicine and mountaineering in the Everest region was a very powerful attraction. We had a great weekend of parapenting followed by a meal at the Old Dungeon Gill Hotel and the idea of a Support Group acting as guinea pigs for the research was born. With so many people now on board there was now no possibility of turning back.
In May 1992 the climbing team met in Oban and talked about attracting corporate sponsorship. There was lots of talk about “sexy packaging” and hype but nobody really came up with any good ideas.
The next bombshell erupted a few days before our next meeting at Blea Tarn in July. The Royalty rose from $10,000 per Expedition to $10,000 per person. Despite the horrendous weather and the gloom and pessimism preceding the weekend I emerged from it convinced that the Expedition would go ahead. If the level of enthusiasm amongst the Support Group had been high before it was now in the stratosphere. Jim Milledge attended the meeting and agreed to be our Research Advisor. He inspired us all with his excellent talk on the A.M.R.I. trip in the Old Dungeon Gill Hotel. Ronnie Robb was asked to join the climbing team and Alison Hargreaves also applied.
After that meeting Hannah Sutter kindly agreed to act as our legal advisor and drafted a Support Group contract, formed us into a limited company and registered us as a charity. What would we have done without Hannah? We prepared a colour brochure which Ronnie miraculously got printed and wrote a handbook which defined exactly what the Support Group would get for their money. By September we were ready to start taking £200 pound deposits which were designed to translate enthusiasm into commitment. I cleared off to South Africa leaving my Mum to field the deposits as they flooded in. Within a few weeks we had received 40 deposits with 2 years to go before the Expedition was due to leave.
An October meeting and public lecture in Hyssington turned out to be a major turning point for the Expedition. In the audience was a relative of a trekking agent in Nepal who later made the trip to the UK to capture our business. Thus begun our relationship with Thamserku. A relationship which saved us in the region of $30,000 and meant that with a large Support Group the Expedition could be largely self financing – but this is all still for the future.
While I was overseas Andy Pollard ran the Expedition. In February 1993 Mark Hoyle organised a press launch at the Aonach Mor ski fields. Brian Blessed agreed to come and give a lecture which turned out to be one of the best anecdotes of the Expedition – if you haven’t heard it ask Ronnie (unfortunately it’s too libellous to put in print). Swanlind (who for a time acted as our PR company) came along and made a promotional video and we had a good deal of television and press coverage.
We had initially conceived the idea of running a medical course as a way of increasing our prestige but it seems that once again we had underestimated the market. All of the courses at Plas y Brenin were hugely successful in terms of content, enjoyment, prestige and profit. The first one was in April 1993.
By the time of our meeting in the Lake District in July ’93 the team spirit had really begun to work. Groups were emerging and people within the Support Group were beginning to plan and organise their own meetings. The Oldham Mountain Rescue Team proposed a team building weekend at Saddleworth which they organised and was a superb success.
In the autumn of ’93 we made our flight reservations which represented another quantum leap in commitment but I was getting hassled by our Nepalese agent to hand over vast sums of money which we didn’t have.
In November ’93 Ang Tshiring Sherpa made the trip from Nepal to mid Wales to seek our business. We took a huge gamble and ditched our existing agent in favour of Thamserku and I believe this was the single most crucial decision of the Expedition. With the savings that we made by using Thamserku we were able to finance the Expedition without the need for a corporate sponsor. Thamserku, I consider, provided us with an exemplary service. Inevitably we had some difficulties and frustrations with the agent but they did cope admirably with the enormously complicated logistics of our Expedition.
By now the Team was meeting at monthly intervals and each meeting would typically be attended by 30 or 40 people some of them travelling from as far afield as Devon and Aberdeen. A winter skills training weekend, once again at Aonach Mor, was very successful and people who joined the Support Group as “trekkers only” began to aspire to the 6,000m summits of Himalayan Peaks. I am delighted to say that many ex hill-walkers now have a Himalayan tick to their names largely due to the success of this weekend on a wind swept Ben.
In March we took our training overseas for the first time and a small group had a go at ski touring in the Alps. This trip cost almost as much as climbing Everest!
The crux came in May 1994. The Expedition’s cash flow was largely dependent on the Support Group following through and paying up on time. With increasingly urgent demands for huge sums money from the Nepalese Government and already committed to spending large amounts of other people’s money, I confess that I felt more than a little pressurised. Fortunately virtually all of the Support Group paid up within a month of being asked, and we had a further surge of recruits after a Plas y Brenin Course in April. In June we even received our first corporate sponsorship – a cheque for £8,000 from the Royal Scottish Assurance.
By June I was becoming increasingly confident and even beginning to relax. This was helped by the rise in the value of the pound against the dollar. When I left for Pakistan in July I knew, for the first time, that we had enough money in the bank to cover most of our costs. It was, however, vital to maintain a tight control on spending as our budget was only designed to break even and any unanticipated expenses could have caused us a lot of problems. During the period from incorporation to February 1995 we turned over £294,395.36.
Highs and Lows from 1990-1994
From the day of our first open meeting in March 1992 the Expedition acquired an unstoppable momentum and although many hurdles were placed in our way we never really doubted that the Expedition would take place.
By far the greatest problem to confront us was cash and the rapidly escalating costs. Between 1992 and 1994 the Royalty alone rose from £2,400 to a staggering £53,000. In addition our Support Group budget was first calculated when £1 was worth US$ 1.87. When we bought our dollars in July ’94 £1 was worth just US$ 1.5 and we had to buy 200,000 of them!
We were also unfortunate in the timing of our Expedition fund-raising. The 3 year campaign coincided with one of the deepest recessions ever and companies had little cash to spare for public relations projects.
The quest for cash took us down some unlikely avenues. In the early days we were persuaded that gloss and films were the answer and we were actively courted by PR companies. It soon turned out, however that their naiveté was at least as great as ours and we gained little tangible advantage. Right up until the last minute various broadcasters and film producers were vacillating but in the end we had to rely on my trusty video!
The meagre amount of corporate backing we did receive (5% of turnover) came almost exclusively from the personal contacts of members and the huge quantity of trawling mail-shots that we sent out were, in retrospect, a complete waste of time.
In March ’93 we all got very excited when we made a presentation to the board of a major pharmaceutical company which was received with great enthusiasm. For a while it seemed that our financial worries were over and the Expedition would be completely underwritten. Alas it was not to be. Ironically the Everest 40th anniversary publicity dealt us a cruel blow. Suddenly the press was full of stories of refuse on Everest and bodies on the South Col and our backers pulled out overnight.
The Expedition was fortunate in attracting the support of several distinguished figures as well as our patrons. All who went to the Lloyd’s climb will have fond memories of the late John Smith who took time out of his busy schedule to browse our research displays. Similarly Brian Blessed’s lecture at Aonach Mor in February ’92 proved to be more than memorable!
We did achieve a reasonable media profile and the attention seeking escapades that we organised proved to be most enjoyable. Few people, after all, get the chance to swing from scaffolding in front of a swarm of cameras on the roof of London.
Pre Expedition Planning, Organisation, Training and Data Collection.
We spent a great deal of time over the 2 years before departure building the Expedition into a cohesive team. At the same time we were keen to cultivate a media profile compatible with a serious research expedition in order to ease our fund raising problems. The events that we organised during the lead in period were therefore designed to achieve both goals.
Managing the Team
The thought of taking a 75 strong Expedition of mixed experience and ability to the high Himalayas is a daunting one. Coupled with that we wanted to conduct a complicated research programme on as many members as possible and, of course, climb Everest. The massive logistical problems threatened to limit the size and scope of the Expedition and these problems exercised our minds quite considerably about 18 months before our departure.
Fortunately we hit upon a very simple solution that worked very well. One year before our departure we divided the entire Expedition into groups and encouraged each group to meet and ‘bond’ before the Expedition as much as possible. By this stage in the Expedition the team had been meeting fairly regularly for about a year and some grouping was already beginning to take place, so it was a relatively easy task to form the groups provided that there was scope for individuals to move to another group if they preferred. In the end there was hardly any movement between groups during the 1 year lead in.
Having formed the groups we then decided on separate departure dates so as to minimise the pressure on the environment and on the hard pressed Research Team at Base Camp. We were keen to avoid individuals within groups being labelled as leader as this would carry with it unfair responsibilities and even possible litigation. Instead we asked for volunteer spokespersons to act as the key contact person and to co-ordinate pre-expedition planning and meets. In addition we appointed one medical spokesperson to liaise with the Research Team and to be responsible for the day to day data collection. There were so many doctors around there was no need to name a group doctor.
On the whole the above structure worked well. There was a great deal of variation between the degree of ‘bonding’ before the trip and most of the groups remained intact and functioned well in the field. Some of the less experienced group organised pre expedition instruction weekends in the UK.
The logistical key to the whole Expedition was to make each group as autonomous as possible and to encourage them to plan their own routes and take their own mountaineering decisions. This meant that each group would be totally self contained with its own Sherpa crew and free to roam the Khumbu as it wished. We did ask each group to present itself at Base Camp on arrival and before departure from the Khumbu but imposed no other restraints. This independence within the Expedition framework made, I believe, all the difference between ours and a commercial trek. Members could plan their own objectives, train for a year to achieve them and carry responsibility for their own decisions. The absence of a guide, I am sure, heightened people’s sense of satisfaction when they did achieve their goals – and most of them did.
As far as I am aware there were very few problems within groups related to decision making and everyone acted responsibly in assessing the conditions and their own abilities. This is reflected by the fact that there were no accidents. Groups seemed to be well satisfied with their sherpa crews and the quality of cuisine.
Medical Research Logistics
In addition to the projects administered from Base Camp we planned to collect a wealth of background data twice a day from Kathmandu onwards. This data collection was the responsibility of the medical spokesperson and, in most cases, this was performed meticulously. It is interesting that one of the non medics turned out to be the most assiduous data collector and medical spokesperson. Each individual was issued with a personal waterproof medical data book and the information on this was regularly transferred onto hand held computers. This data was eventually transferred to PC for processing. The palm held computers made by Psion proved to be very versatile and reliable..
One of the greatest problems confronting the Research Team was to ‘process’ groups quickly and efficiently as they arrived at Base Camp without confounding other projects. Some projects took a lot longer than others, some involved the administration of oxygen and some projects were dependent on having subjects not exposed to oxygen. Before leaving the UK each member of the Expedition attended one of two data collecting weekends which proved a useful dress rehearsal in the relative comfort of laboratories in London and Stirling. Obviously these weekends provided vital pre-acclimatisation data.
Inevitably groups were subjected to delays at Base Camp whilst they queued to be poked and prodded but there were few complaints and the Research Team collected a great deal of data.
- To make a safe and successful ascent of Everest and some of its neighbours.
- To raise the profile of altitude related illness.
- To make mountains safer for all by researching the mechanisms of altitude related illness.
- To seek, by research, sustainable ways of using remote and fragile mountain environments.
- To liaise with and involve local agencies in all environmental projects.
- To make the first female ascent of Everest without supplementary oxygen and make the first British ascent of Lhotse. .
- To collect medical data from the summit of Everest..
- To minimise environmental impact by using imported fuels and new technologies to dispose of waste
- To publicise and promote the work of the United Mission to Nepal (Nepal’s largest development organisation).
- To promote informed discussion of the environmental issues associated with trekking and mountaineering in the Himalayas and to facilitate the exchange of scientific data.
Dr Charlie Hornsby and Dr Roddy Kirkwood became the 21st and 22nd Britons to reach the summit of Everest (8,848m) on October 11th 1994. They were accompanied by Sherpas Dorje and Dawa Temba. During the season there were 3 other Expeditions attempting to climb from the South (Nepal) and 7 from the North (Tibet). Due to premature arrival of the Jet Stream winds only 2 Expeditions were successful. In the whole season only 2 western mountaineers (Roddy and Charlie), 1 Japanese (Muneo Nukita) and 5 Nepalese Sherpas succeeded. All ascents were made using supplementary oxygen.
All fifteen of our medical research projects were successfully completed. In all 100,000 points of data were collected over the 3 month period from all 75 members of the Expedition. Much of the data is unique and, when processed, should yield valuable information. Scores of academic publications are anticipated in due course.
Some data was even collected from just 200 metres below the summit (8,600m).
Expedition members Chris Comerie, Mark Bryan and Paul Cleary reached the summit of the neighbouring peak Pumori (7,140m).
Alison Hargreaves reached around 8,400m without supplementary oxygen before being forced to turn back due to high winds and the risk of cold injury.
Members of the Expedition reached the summit of Island Peak (6,189m) and there were many ascents of Lobuje East (6,119m), Parchamo (6,273m) and Pokalde (5,806m). Only 2 out of 75 members failed to reach Base Camp (5,340m) which is an unusually low attrition rate.
Our environmental team conducted a microbiological survey of water quality in the Khumbu valley. They demonstrated a safe and efficient method for the disposal of human waste at altitude which involved freeze drying followed by incineration. All of the Expedition’s waste was dealt with in this manner. They also documented some of the environmental problems in Kathmandu and lectured to the Royal Nepalese Institute of Science and Technology on aspects of waste disposal. The Expedition abided by the environmental code of conduct laid down by the UIAA and received a full rebate on its rubbish bond. Only 8 members of our Expedition were allowed to climb into the Western Cwm. Overcrowding was not a problem as only 21 climbers were attempting the mountain from the South side this season. Base Camp was found to be free from rubbish on our arrival and we left it in the same condition.
The Expedition has been extremely successful in its educational role. Four residential altitude medicine courses have already taken place and another is planned for late 1995. These have been attended by some 300 doctors and 250 laymen. One member of the Expedition is currently preparing a book aimed at GP’s covering all aspects of high altitude medicine. Many articles have also been published in the medical press. As already mentioned we anticipate producing scores of academic publications in 1995.
The Expedition formed a promotional partnership with the United Mission to Nepal. The publicity surrounding the Expedition has been used by one of UMN’s funding organisations to highlight some of the problems afflicting Nepal. This will form part of an ongoing fund-raising campaign. The Expedition has received significant T.V. and press coverage over the last 2 years.
During the 3,000 man days the Expedition was in the field there was inevitably some illness. Some of this was serious but there were no accidents and all members returned safely and unscathed.
Research Leader: Dr David Collier MBBS PhD, Research Advisor: Dr James Milledge MD FRCP
Members of the Medical Research team include: Dr Peter Barry DCH MRCPI, Dr Rachel Pollard FFARCS, Dr Andrew Pollard BSc MRCP, Dr Scott Frazer FFRACS and Dr Nick Mason FFRACS, Mr Peter Pollard MSc, Miss Isla Martin, Dr Martin Rosenberg PhD, Dr. Catherine Collier BSc MB BS, Miss Diana Depla FCOpth, Prof. G. Arden FRCS, Dr Frederick Fitzke PhD, Mrs Angela Fry RGN, Miss Karol Howard RGN RCM, Dr Gerald Dubowitz MB BS, Dr Simon Travis MRCP, Dr John Nathan MB BS, Dr David Webb MD FRCP MFPM, Dr Chris Wolff MD MRCP, Dr Annabel Nickol BSc MBBS, Dr David Band PhD, Dr O’Callahan MB ChB, Dr Datta MB BS, Dr Mike Mullen, Doncaster Royal Infirmary.
Medical Institutions involved with BMEME;
St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, Department of Clinical Pharmacology. St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, Department of Cardiology. Kings College Hospital, Department of Physiology. St. Thomas’ Hospital, Department of Medicine. Queen Mary and Westfield College London, Department of Physiology. Charing Cross and Westminster Medical College, Department of Medicine. Moorfield’s Eye Hospital, London. The Institute of Opthalmology, London. Veterans Administration, Seattle, University of Washington, Department of Respiratory Medicine. Institute of Medical Research, Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow. Stirling Royal Infirmary, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Department of Medicine. Edinburgh University, Medical Research Council Unit. John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, Department of Medicine. Glasgow Western Royal Infirmary, Department of Respiratory Medicine. Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, Department of Anaesthetics
Members of the Expedition who travelled to Nepal include: – A team of seven climbers who attempted the ascent of Mount Everest. Five environmental researchers who undertook projects to reduce the environmental and health impacts of high altitude trekking, looking specifically at methods of dealing with human excrement and the appropriate treatment of solid waste. Twelve medical researchers who undertook fifteen projects into subjects as diverse as the control of breathing during acclimatisation, balance and orientation, carbohydrate absorption and the role of endothelin in high altitude pulmonary oedema. Fifty members of the support group who climbed 6,000m peaks in the Everest region. They acted as subjects in the research projects, and also collected basic physiological data during the expedition.
Expedition members were allotted to one of a number of trekking groups, designed to travel independently in the Everest region. Each group flew out from Kathmandu to Luklha (2,800m), and then trekked to base camp (5,300m) over a two week period or so. The groups were staggered so as to minimise their environmental impact and so as not to overwhelm the researchers waiting for them at base camp.
There were fifteen main medical research projects undertaken at base camp. Each trekking group had a three day period (or thereabouts) at Base Camp to get all their research done before they moved off and the next group arrived. As can be imagined, it was sometimes difficult to get all the research finished in the allotted time.
Apart from two groups, expedition members were meant to visit base camp on two occasions, once within the first two weeks of their journey, before they had acclimatised, and once ten days or more later, after acclimatisation. For two groups, the second visit was not compatible with their climbing itineraries.
Conditions on the mountain: The first wave of expedition members travelled to Nepal at the end of July, 1994. The monsoon is normally followed by a short period of relative calm, with low winds and clear skies, before the jet stream settles on the mountains and winter sets in. Unfortunately this year there was no such period, and high winds, estimated at up to one hundred and twenty miles an hour, swept the mountain almost constantly.
Despite this, members of the expedition were successful in their aims. The Everest climbers all reached over eight thousand meters, with two successfully reaching the summit at 8,848 meters, two of only three Western climbers to reach the peak this season. The last of our climbers only turned back when high winds blew away his tent and equipment from the South Col.
Three members of the Expedition climbed Pumori, an exacting mountain of over seven thousand meters on the Tibetan border. Others climbed Pokalde, Imja Tse, Parchamo and Lobuje mountains, all six thousand plus metre peaks.
One of our climbers suffered an acute stroke, losing the power in one side of his body, and a member of another team lost the vision in one eye within a few hundred meters of the summit. Both were accompanied down to our base camp to be examined, and thankfully both have completely recovered.
The Research Environment: The original plan was to site Base Camp at Gorak Shep and use the traditional site as an advance Base Camp. Although this would have provided a much more comfortable environment in which to conduct the research it would have made the climbing logistics vastly more difficult.
Base Camp was therefore sited at 5,330 metres on the rock covered glacier at the foot of the Khumbu Icefall. Being the first expedition to arrive we sited it as near to the foot of the Icefall as possible which is the prime location. This, however, proved to be a mixed blessing.
Many of the Research team spent seven weeks at Base Camp which, in itself, is a substantial feat of endurance. The altitude, cold, relatively poor food and discomfort of camping on a creaking rock-covered glacier add up to create a harsh environment in which to perform research. I have listed below some of the other factors that made data collection difficult at Base Camp.
The first problem to afflict the Research Team was the absence of a suitable tent. Thamserku Trekking (our agent) had agreed to supply a second large Ferrino mess tent but unfortunately this never materialised. Instead we had to make do with a variety of flimsy, single skin nylon ridge tents which sadly were not weather proof. Excavating adequate flat sites for these tents proved a strenuous and exhausting task. During the last weeks of the monsoon there were frequent snowfalls and occasional rain showers and the tents had to be reinforced with hired plastic sheets. During this period the typical weather pattern was a bright, sunny morning with clouds and precipitation arriving by mid day . Typically the afternoons were cool and were followed by a clear, cold night. As the Expedition progressed the afternoons became less cloudy with less precipitation.
Diurnal temperature variations (-18 to +25 degrees C) meant that use of some of the equipment could only be used once the temperature had stabilised thus limiting the length of the working day. Despite taking 2 new top of the range 8 horse power generators with us we had difficulty in maintaining a reliable power supply. Much time was used in maintaining the generators. Furthermore research time was also restricted to some extent due to electronic interference with the radio schedules. More careful selection of a radio frequency would have avoided this problem.
Some equipment did not survive the rigours of the approach march. Portable computers fared worse two of which suffered screen failure and one hard drive failure. Some work was delayed by the late arrival of equipment due to freighting and customs delays followed by shortages of yaks.
The most devastating single event to afflict the Research Team happened in the middle of the night. A large serac broke off from high on the Lo La (the 6,000 metre Col above Base Camp). The falling serac triggered an avalanche which pushed before it a blast of wind. Although the avalanche itself did not reach Base Camp the wind blast did. Such winds can be over 100 miles per hour and in our case the blast was channelled several hundred metres horizontally before striking Base Camp. The blast ripped selectively through the camp taking out 3 of the research tents but leaving many of the other tents untouched. The McInnes Box tent weighing 78 kg was ripped up, blown clean over another tent and travelled about 40 metres before colliding with the Mess tent. Ironically this same tent had survived an avalanche at Camp 2 twenty years earlier on Bonington’s South West Face Expedition. Fortunately nobody was hurt but the research tent and their contents were severely damaged. In the middle of the night the Base Camp residents worked frantically to retrieve scattered gear and rebuild the shelters. Despite the devastation much of the damaged equipment was repaired and, with some improvisation, none of the projects were compromised.
Many of the Support Group subjects arriving at Base Camp were inevitably suffering from acute mountain sickness and their fortitude in the face of a battery of intensive medical testing meant that little data was lost due to illness. However, the difficulty of crossing the glacier from Gorak Shep and the cul de sac position meant that some data was lost. Understandably those groups on a tight schedule were unable to make the return trip for the second data collection session at Base Camp. Despite these many difficulties and the shoe-string budget that they had to operate within the Research team collected nearly all the data they had set out to collect. This is a tribute to their dedication, improvisation and stoicism.
Everest Climbing Report
Team members: Simon Currin (Leader), Andrew Pollard (Deputy Leader), John Sanders, Charlie Hornsby (summiteer), Roddy Kirkwood (summiteer), Ronnie Robb, Angus Andrew and Alison Hargreaves ( Alison was officially on a separate expedition -the Ferrino Everest Lady Alone- but was very closely attached to the B.M.E.M.E. and was part financed by the Expedition and is therefore included).
Liaison Officer: Mr Gongal, Ministry of Tourism, H.M.G.Nepal.
High Altitude Sherpas were: Kilu Temba (Sirdar), Dorje (summiteer x 5), Dawa Temba (summiteer), Tensing, Kami Rita and Finjo. All except Kilu Temba had summited Everest on previous occasions.
The post monsoon season of 1994 was a little unusual in that the monsoon persisted until September 23rd (officially) and the Jet stream winds commenced on October the first. It was the strong , cold winds that thwarted most of the other teams on the mountain.
We commenced work in the Icefall on September 1st as stipulated by the terms of our permit. The monsoon snow meant that the Icefall was in relatively benign condition and we made rapid progress to Camp 1 and required relatively few ladders in the process. As the season progressed fresh crevasses opened up and seracs collapsed obliterating our route. By the end of the Expedition many sections of the Icefall route were completely unrecognisable and we had deployed all 61 of the ladders hired from Asian Trekking – the ladders were retrieved by the Icefall Sherpas after the Expedition and were kept in Gorak Shep for the next season.
Poor visibility and frequent avalanches in the Western Cwm delayed our progress and we used much of this time to stock Camp 1. The conditions in mid September meant that we lost several crucial days before we could establish Camp 2 and thus we became established there a little later than we had hoped for. A large avalanche on the Lhotse Face engulfed Ronnie Robb and Henry Todd (International Lhotse Team) but fortunately they were relatively unscathed.
Statistically ascents take place from September 26th onwards and we had originally planned to be in position on the South Col for a summit bid during the last week of September. Indeed, had we been a few days ahead we would have encountered far less severe conditions as the last 5 days of September were both clear and calm. By the time we had stocked Camp 4 our first possible date for a summit bid was October 3rd and we made our plans for that date. Unfortunately this summit bid had to be further delayed due to Ronnie’s illness (cerebral oedema). As it turned out October 3rd would have been an impossible summit day due to extreme winds. On this day the International Lhotse Team got into severe trouble 150 metres below the summit of Lhotse.
Camp 4 was occupied shortly afterwards but a serious summit bid was precluded due to the weather and shortages of food and fuel. Some members remained at Camp 4 attempting to sit out the storm whilst others descended to bide their time. The weather moderated slightly on the 9th ,10th and 11th of October giving the only window of opportunity. Andrew Pollard made his solo bid on the 9th turning around at 8,600m metres due to difficult snow conditions and a shortage of oxygen. The Japanese team made their ascent on the 10th and Charlie Hornsby and Roddy Kirkwood went on the 11th.. Alison, Angus and the French Team were poised to go on the 12th but by now the winds were back to full force and only Alison ventured above Camp 4. Angus remained at Camp 4 for a few more days but the winds never moderated.
Our Sherpas refused to assist in the clearance of the mountain and so much of this work was done by the Icefall Sherpas, the French Sherpas and the 2 remaining ones loyal to us. Base Camp was dismantled on 15th and the climbing and research teams flew from Syanboche on the 17th and 18th.
It is difficult to know how we would improve on our tactics in the future. We pushed towards Camp 2 with reasonable haste but the delay in our arrival made the summit bid all the more difficult. If we had been in a position to climb from the South Col during September then I am sure at least another 3 members would have reached the summit. Poor Sherpa leadership and relations certainly contributed to this delay and it is possible that with a better Sirdar, a more willing team and perhaps another couple of High Altitude porters we would have been in position a few crucial days earlier. We tried to be reasonably meticulous in packaging loads but in retrospect we should have sent all loads above Base Camp in pre-packed, locked containers as this would have avoided the problems of pilfering (particularly of food) and “down-sizing” by Sherpas. We left much of the day to day management of loads and record keeping up to our Sirdar who clearly was not up to the job but this was a difficult management problem. Our own lack of experience of recruiting and managing high altitude Sherpas undoubtedly compounded our problems and future teams would be well advised to research the backgrounds of their key personnel fully seeking, where possible, personal recommendations.
Having made these observations the French and Japanese teams progressed at the same rate on the mountain as us despite their lavish Sherpa : Climber ratios and their apparently excellent teamwork. Our Sherpas did more than their share of the route making whilst the other teams stocked their camps. Of all the climbing teams on Everest ours was undoubtedly the strongest and this must be partially due to the fact that our team did much of their own load carrying whilst the others relied exclusively on their Sherpas.
Pumori Climbing Report:
I have not received a report from the Pumori team but have written down what I know of their ascent. I apologise in advance if the details are sketchy or inaccurate.
Team members: Chris Comerie (Leader and summiteer), Edi Albert, Paul Cleary (summiteer), Ian Newberry, Mark Bryan (summiteer)
The Pumori team were delayed for 5 days in Kathmandu due to poor flying weather. Once on the trek their luck fared little better when half of the team fell ill with a severe flu like illness. The fit half pressed on in order to avoid contracting the same illness and began establishing Base Camp and preparing the route to Camp 1. Despite these early misfortunes they made rapid progress.
Although the route is technically demanding they were accompanied by a dog (“Shep” as in Gorak”) as far as Camp 1. On its arrival there it completely flaked out and the team’s logistical problems were compounded by the need for dog food at Camp 1. The dog’s condition at Camp 1 gave cause for concern and Mark Bryan (a veterinarian) contemplated the prospect of euthanasia but fortunately it rallied and was later carried down in a rucksack. The team shared the route fixing with other teams on the Mountain and survived, unscathed, frequent avalanches on the face.
They placed a snow hole on the ridge and Mark Bryan and Paul Cleary went first to the summit. Edi Albert and Chris Comerie moved up to make their bid the next day but Edi became ill in the night and probably suffered some degree of cerebral oedema. Edi descended and Chris went alone to the summit in excellent conditions.
Despite early illness and delays they climbed a difficult and dangerous route quickly and efficiently without mishap.
Support Group Climbing Reports
Support Group Leader: Stuart McNeil. There were 68 members of the Support Group and 8 members of the Everest climbing team. The activities of the Support Group were too diverse to summarise in a single report so I have listed the ascents made and leave it to the accounts in the “Personal Observations” section to give a fuller account of what went on.
Thirty five members of the Support Group arrived in Kathmandu on September 5th where they were unfortunately delayed for 5 days due to bad weather. The remainder arrived on September 19th. The earlier Table shows how their activities were kept separate in time and place in order to minimise over-crowding and consequent environmental impact. The Support Groups consisted of a broad cross section of experience, abilities and ambitions. Despite this there were no serious compatibility problems, no mishaps and a substantial number of ascents were made.
For descriptions of member’s experiences click below
Accounts of the exploits of individual members of British Mount Everest Medical Expedition 1994
I have asked all members of the Expedition to write on any aspect of the trip however controversial. These are the contributions that I have received.
Impressions of Everest
by John Sanders
Daylight slits like a razor across Base Camp but I can’t rouse from my bag before the sun’s warmth and Diana’s smiling aqua Koflachs and the tea she brings come. A rest day otherwise by now we would have skated across frosted boulders under a star filled sky cut from the gowns of Vegas show girls into the Icefall maze too beautiful and too uphill to be scary. Drifting in and out of fantasy passes the time on the carry and in the tent. Staring at her picture I write to my girlfriend thousands of miles away and dreaming of a friendly and familiar body wish the photograph would turn to smoke so I could inhale her.
For days foodless and wind sheared we sit on the south Col. Familiarity has stripped the Sherpas of their gilded reputation. Not cheerful carefree nobles; they are people too. Are they card playing jokers always with a gap-tooth smile or are they petty, angry and jealous? Appearances change quickly and reliability is important in the mountains. A battle rages between what we want and what we see putting tension in the fabric of the group. We have all read of and want to believe in selfless, hardworking mountain companions, but see whores who do only their job quickly and that without love or completeness.
Summits bestow their favours with tears, jewelled tears that flow so fast they need two hands to catch: Andy’s South East Ridge tears for his baby Jamie; Roddy and Charlie’s tears of ecstasy and relief, two Sisyphes freed and triumphant; Ronnie’s stroke crippled, lop- sided face in laboured sobs of fear and loss. Rich emotions and mortar between friends that we would not trade. We sacrifice so much for the pain, to satisfy our sweet tooth and feel the shared joy of travel in the mountains. Chasing a shadowy love we exorcise our desire and chase the point. How do we know when to love and when to quit?
Foodless on the South Col and taking an incomplete gear inventory in Kathmandu we think polluting thoughts and find it is our companions and the mountains that are really important. Idolising the mountains, we think it is the summit we want and do not realise it is some ethereal combination of snow on rock, laughter with friends, shared moods and dreams that we crave. The deception is part of it too. Satisfied, for now, we go home no one having made the only possible wrong decision – the one that leaves an empty seat on the plane. Filled with stories we return to our other loves, but when we can say “I was scared” but can no longer retrieve the feeling of fear we will return.
John Sanders is a paediatric anaesthetist
When did it Start? BMEME 1990 – 1994
by John Nathan
We came, we saw, some conquered. I read that people go to the Himalayas to be gobsmacked. I was totally gobsmacked for weeks, but for me the Expedition started long before the autumn of 1994.
It started in January 1993 when I rang Simon and was accepted as a member. From that moment onwards my life changed completely. Suddenly I was rushing 250 miles to North Wales for a weekend medical course, where I was rubbing shoulders with mountaineers of world renown. This was, as the Americans say, ‘sumthin else’. I was discussing research projects, seeing pictures of the Vallot Hut (ONLY ?! 4,000 metres), having lectures on frostbite, oo-er!
My colleagues tolerantly allowed me to change my duty weekends, and I soon found myself driving 500 miles to Scotland for the weekend (in the rain). I well remember climbing Ben Nevis by the tourist track, and feeling quite pleased with myself that in snowy, foggy conditions my companions and I reached the top by 1 p.m., the pre-arranged meeting time. We opened the McInnes biscuit tin that sits on the top of the mountain, only to see Charlie, Simon and Stuart who had climbed the vertical side quicker than we had walked up the easy side.
I remember wondering what on earth I was doing at Pen y Pass at 5 am one August morning (in the rain) and mist, with 3 others to try to climb all the Welsh 3,000 ‘ers, and I also remember the fear of seeing the arrete of Crib Goch in the half light of dawn, all wet and slippery. I cannot describe the joy of seeing Tony with a cup of tea at his van after we had climbed the first 3.
I remember driving northwards again to Oldham in October (in the rain), and arriving exhausted at 10.30 p.m. after trying to follow the Oldham team’s map which was perfect except that half the roads were missing from it! However, they got together with the famous Herbie and made that another magical weekend. (You remember the Oldham team in Nepal; they were the ones who were usually seen running when some of us found difficulty walking). There was another weekend in Derbyshire in January, when we found ourselves in a farmyard with cowshit just a fraction deeper than the top of our boots. In February I drove to Fort William again (in the rain). Conditions there, as it turned out, were colder than the Himalayas, and I well remember Ronnie insisting on putting up his broken tent in a gale underneath the Snowgoose Restaurant, 10 feet from a warm indoor shelter.
In April, a group of us went ski touring in the Jungfrau region. I remember well toiling up the Jungfrau Glacier in the heat one day, then the very next day struggling to find an Alpine Hut in a snowstorm.
Then in June we were all together in a mountain hut in North Wales (in the rain), and I was wondering whether George’s little dog would water the end of a sleeping bag during the night. I have heard exactly who snores and who farts all night, and I am sure that I don’t do either!
I am sure that there will be amazing stories about the Khumbu, but for me the period beforehand took me into places I have never been before in our own country. This, as well as the Himalayas, (not in the rain), will live with me for ever.
PS Does the sun shine in North Wales and Scotland?
John Nathan is a General Practitioner in Surrey.
by Christine Smith
The group sat waiting in the small darkened room. The yaks were late – were they lost or just overdue? With no tents there was nothing to do but sit patiently. Eyes shifted tiredly around the room. This house was different to the others we had seen, an old Sherpa house with the cattle shed below. There was little light filtering in, the walls were blackened by years of smoke. Ornate copper pots lined the shelf opposite and the family altar stood proudly at the far end. Our rucksacks leaned against the central pillar, below the soot marks counting the passing years. Sherpa voices drifted from the yak byre below and nearby the kitchen. We decided to try the Kukhri rum. We sat quietly thinking about the past weeks and the Parchamo climb to come.
A voice broke the silence, something prompted Martin to think of the time and the radio schedule at 6 p.m.. No one was particularly interested – we’d been out of contact for several days now- still it was worth a try. Looks of surprise ensued when seconds later the radio burst into life, Base Camp was calling other stations. We tried to reply, but to no avail. We listened with growing interest as the clear tone of Simon’s voice urged teams to respond. Something in his speech expressed a sense of urgency – did he have something important to say? He had no way of knowing we were listening. We were powerless. We could only will him to continue transmissions.
Everyone was more alert now and hoping for any news – it had been strange without communications for so long. To everyone’s relief Simon’s slightly agitated voice finally declared that he would transmit a blind message. Then as everyone leaned forward expectantly, the radio fell silent. Faces around the room showed the same thoughts; had there been an accident, was it bad news or was it summit success? The tension began to rise as voices quietly began to ponder.
The radio broke through the chatter and again everyone leaned towards it in anticipation. The Sherpas began to gather in the doorway, sensing the occasion. “Base Camp will be transmitting blind to all stations in the Khumbu”. The message was repeated. The suspense grew and then the adrenaline really began to surge. Silence fell again. The room was filled with loud chattering this time as everyone willed Simon to make the announcement.
The next few minutes seemed an age. We were powerless to do anything but wait. Then the news came. Short but loud and clear. “Two members of the team have reached the summit of Mount Everest”. Loud cheers broke the tension. The tranquillity of the Khumbu was momentarily shattered. They’d done it! Who’d done it? The cheers and excited chattering rose and fell as everyone applauded the success and simultaneously craved more information. It was another day before that came (and even then it was by a process of elimination!).
The Expedition could go home proud in the knowledge that its highest goal had been reached. Only now did we realise how much we had all wanted this success. As the excitement turned again to calm and the adrenaline levels subsided, the team celebrated in the style they knew best. A toast to the Expedition, its leader and to the mystery climbers. The lodge was soon out of rum! New thoughts began to dawn. Now we had to succeed on Parchamo!
Christine Smith is a school teacher near Manchester and was the Spokesperson for Group 1.
By Ian Baxter
Group 4 included Stuart McNeil, Neil Crossling and me (Ian Baxter). I have noticed a tendency in the past to confuse Neil and Ian but Stuart is harder to explain. In any case we were for ever calling each other by the wrong name and I was probably the worst offender. Various solutions were mooted including writing names across the respective foreheads in indelible ink but they were never acted upon.. One morning I found myself walking behind Stuart and must have addressed him as Neil on a dozen occasions in as many minutes. Quite reasonably he remonstrated with me in the course of a good natured rollicking. Three and a half seconds later HE called ME Neil!
Ian Baxter is a policeman in Aberdeen
by Charlie Hornsby
Back again, home sweet home. The two Wild Country tents had not been blown away after all, perhaps more battered, a few tears, but still there. Oxygen bottles haphazardly scattered by the wind about this inhospitable, sastrugied wasteland, clattering together in a noisy rhythm. A cold and eternal wind whipped across the South Col. Drunk from hypoxia, exhausted and tired, I stood to take in the atmosphere of this amazing place. Wonderment and respect for the landscape but once more despair as our hopes and dreams blew off towards Tibet.
Several hundred metres behind me, Rod and Alison appeared on the horizon rounding the wind-slabbed convexity of the Geneva Spur; like me moving slowly but methodically towards the Col. Long shadows now. An even longer summit plume trailed to the North East, and to the west the sky-scape an explosion of soft colour heralding the day’s end and a cold night ahead.
The three of us quite comfortably squeezed into one tent, big Dorje and wee Dawa into the other, communication between the two tents impossible despite their proximity. The time was set – rendezvous outside at mid night. Long night hours lay ahead, we settled down with numbed acceptance.
Peering out through the doorway I traced the line of the “Voi Normale” across the deeply reddening South face, the snow plumes beautifully illuminated by the last of the light. Two slowly moving figures caught my eye approaching through the veils of spin-drift; a wave and soon an oxygen masked face before us – Nukita – summit boy! Wide grins, warm congratulations and handshakes; tales of adventure. I wondered how he must feel now?
The three of us alone again, huddled into double dacron bags for warmth, actually quite comfortable until we moved; then melting hoarfrost would run in rivulet’s down the tent fabric to dampen us further. Alison’s tower stove swayed awkwardly on its suspension but its soft purr efficiently provided a steady supply of warm drinks. I was surprised to feel pangs of hunger. The intensity of the wind and the rattle of the tent gradually increased, along with my anxiety and tension. Not so much a fear but rather a feeling of hopelessness with our situation, wondering whether chances were ebbing away. But up here emotions were strangely blunted. I struggled to rationalise in the oxygen depleted atmosphere.
Midnight crept slowly by and Rod, geared up, chanced a look outside into the funnelling void of wind and spin-drift. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad when we were up and out of here? He disappeared into the night to consult the two sherpas. Minutes later back with a committing expression – Dorje and Dawa were ready and inpatient to leave, dollar signs alight in their eyes. Cynical perhaps, these “barrow boys” of the Khumbu.
Struggling with crampons and rucksack. The claustrophobia constraint of an oxygen mask; should I take my ski poles? I sensed the impatience of the others and yet I did not feel prepared, even after so much waiting. Then we were away into the darkness, me racing against my breath to catch up – no rhythm, feeling tired and strangely removed.
The incline of the slope increased quickly, sastrugi ridges tripping me and clumsy boots breaking through the islands of crust – this was exhausting although I was acutely aware of our limited oxygen supply and loath to crank up the flow. One litre per minute, struggling on into the night.
We gained ground, slowly, but definitely higher; joy to be out of that blasted wind. Able to think again, warm and more comfortable. The snow surface improved, now supporting our weight, neve like as we weaved upward via ramps and narrow couloirs. I was enjoying the movement. Ahead the twin head torch beams of Dorje and Dawa could be picked out intermittently. So this was Everest.
I am not quite sure when I first became aware of the dull glow in the eastern sky. Subtly, I began to pick out the rock features around me, the bulk of Lhotse behind, Makalu, and over there , that must be Kanchenjunga, a distant silhouette. The slope ahead widened out into a broad couloir and we cramponed steadily up its icy steepness.
Heavy breathing, slow rhythmic steps, many rests, but the crest of the South East Ridge was now close above us. Dorje and Dawa catching the first rays of the new day as they rested in the dawn stillness. Back to plod mode, not allowing my mind to travel too far, concentrating only on this moment, and then the next…..
The ridge at last and time to rest a while as the soft morning glow highlighted this beautiful ocean of mountains. The westward peaks of Cho Oyo and Pumori, Nuptse and Lhotse with its distinctive summit couloir and to the north the soft pastels of the high Tibetan Plateau. Below us, the Kanchung glacier a sea of contrasting shades and textures. We sat silently in awe, glad to be free of the uncomfortable masks for a while.
The South East Ridge curving up gracefully toward the South Summit, gentle at first, then finally rearing up in climax – quite steep and rocky. We changed cylinders, stashing another in readiness for descent. Moving quite easily now in the warmth of the sun.
The angle steepened, not very steep but sufficiently so to climb with great care. The snow surface changed, now quite soft and un-consolidated overlying loose, shaley rock, the bedding plane of which slanted awkwardly downwards. We moved to the very crest of the ridge, heading for the extra security of the rock there, in places adorned by straggled and frayed rope dubiously anchored and treated with extreme caution. Absorbing climbing as the Kanchung Face unfolded below our feet, eight thousand feet to its base.
Before us lay the South Summit. the wind had picked up and, worryingly, rather “funky” looking clouds had gathered above the summit ridge -“hog’s backs”. Snapped out of our time warp thoughts, Rod and I were apprehensive, success appeared almost tangible although I sensed a creeping anxiety that our great prize would be snatched from our grasp. Spurred on, we moved purposefully towards the waiting calls of the sherpas on the South Summit, only some 50 metres further. Several of Nukita’s discarded oxygen cylinders marked the way.
Rounding the icy crest, suddenly a familiar picture in the frame before us, not déjà vu I told myself rationally. The scene that I had studied so many times in so many photographs in so many books – the summit ridge itself. Just as I had expected it to appear, the narrow arrete studded with Nukita’s pigeon hole steps leading to the foot of the short, rocky Hillary Step. To my left, the steep South Summit gully – I felt instant respect for those men of 1975.
Reunited with Dorje and Dawa, we took shelter below a short steep wall just below the South Summit. The wind was tearing across the arrete ahead, obviously very strong as an almost horizontal plume of snow and cloud streaked off into Tibet. The prospect of the exposed ridge before us appeared suddenly daunting – apprehension drifted over me. I looked to Dawa, he was scared too, but was already dragging a 6 mm rope from his sack; I did the same.
Although communication was difficult, we signalled to one another. I tied on and, with the crudest of belays, scuttled off on all fours along the knife edge ridge, wind blasting me from the side. A tangle in the rope – perching precariously “a cheval” across the arrete, I fumbled with a surprising lack of dexterity with this “bird’s nest”. Of all places for this to happen! I gave up and cut the rope, rejoining the ends with a simple granny knot. The rope came taught but already Dawa was following behind using the rope as a hand-rail. He soon passed by, on to tackle the alarmingly unstable looking final ridge with gung-ho gusto. No disasters – Dawa was there and quickly secured his rope to an old rope to an old line dangling from this famous rocky step. Together we cramponed up with remarkable ease; although steep, the snow was firm and a narrow gully twisted through this final obstacle leading the way to the easy slopes beyond. We had turned the last key to success. The four of us moved on upwards.
“Just a walk now” I told myself although I could clearly see giant cornices overhanging the Kanchung face to the right. Was this really it? Were we really going to climb the Big One? I looked back to Rod and raised a clenched mitt with an overwhelming feeling of joyful emotion. I stooped, gasping and breathless over my ice axe and my eyes filled with tears. Far away faces I knew and loved.
Moving along the top of the world together Rod and I, Dorje and Dawa, an experience I had never allowed myself to imagine before. Perhaps a safeguard mechanism against the trauma of failure? Now my mind was free at last and the summit only a few feet away. I felt a deep feeling of relief, contentment and emotion, we had made it.
Standing on the top of the world, summited, ticked, bagged. How lucky I was to feel so alive and to feel the strength of the bond between us? I thought of the others at Base Camp, of Simon and of Ronnie now back home; it had been an incredible trip and we had succeeded.
Six weeks later I sit at a desk on another dreary November afternoon, tied to a bleep in a dull hospital. Alone again now, I remember the moments that I can never forget and wonder what this life’s all about?
Charlie Hornsby is GP in Elgin.
GORAK SHEP TO BASE CAMP
by George Wormald
It was rather as travelling to a friend’s party on a Friday night before a Bank Holiday – we knew it would be a pain but it had to be done. The journey was tedious, tiring and frustrating – how could it take so long? The route was stop start with queues forming on the steep slopes, and changes in direction where the way had to be changed. Occasionally there was the detritus of previous travellers rising to the surface. We had anticipated it to be a two hour journey but it was only after four hours that we came within sight of our destination. Everyone was thoroughly hot, exhausted and fed up.
The final straw was the last stage where we were crawling in first gear along a narrow switchback – so close and yet so far away from our destination that tantalisingly came into view every now and again. It was nearly dusk when we arrived, surprised at the number of people at the party and the noise coming from the green building. We were late arrivals, what would we find, who would be there so hesitatingly we entered……………..
What a welcome from mine hosts Pete, Dave, Cathy and company. Stories were recounted of the trek, what was happening on the Hill, the who, what, when and why. It was just like gate crashing because our tightly knit group was now thrust into the hustle and bustle of a new world.
It was more like being in the racing pits at Silverstone. People coming and going, progress of the elite to follow, scanning the skyline through the binoculars, and reports of close shaves with the unthinkable. The adrenaline would flow when the radio crackled to life. News from the climbers on the Hill bringing us up to date with what was happening beyond the Icefall – so close yet so far away.
New people to meet – what was their name, what experiments were they doing, which expedition did they belong to? – then there were changed routines and new pecking orders, even new jokes to replace our tired and much overused ones of the trek in. However after a while it felt like home and a realisation that we had achieved one of the major goals of our expedition.
George Wormald is a business manager at Axis.
Adventure of a lifetime
by Victoria Weller
Culture shock! Adjustment! We had left the relatively familiar confines of the airport and were transported into another world, no longer seen through the lens of a TV camera, but through the open windows of a taxi hurtling through the dusty uneven streets, lined with a multitude of shops glimpsed beneath corrugated iron roofs.
Images flashed past of old men outside the dukas drinking sweet milk tea; of washing lines slung between buildings; of small boys animatedly trying to sell fruit; all amid the perpetual sounding of car horns and the clattering of rickshaws and the three wheeled tuk-tuks.
The plan was to go to Kathmandu, take a bus to the end of the road, and then trek for about two weeks to the Everest base Camp. After a few hectic days in the capital the first ten days of the trek were fantastic. On a typical day we would wake early and set off at around 7 am and walk until lunch, taken at a tea house at about midday.
They say that the first few days trekking exhausts everyone to begin with: I would certainly vouch for the truth of the guide-book description of our walk as, “very strenuous”. Having managed to get places on the tourist bus, that is to say one where there is only one person per seat, we began the nine hour ride to Jiri.
I noted with interest that there was a button on the dash-board to indicate the brake failure. This would light up periodically as if to remind us that it still had a useful function. Eventually, after many rehearsals, the bus broke down for the last time at dusk, 13 km from our destination and we had to go on by foot. The sky grew darker and darker and as my friend and I were walking slowly with our heavy packs we became separated from our fellow passengers.
Unexpectedly we were beckoned to the side of the road by a Nepalese peasant family. A little anxiously I descended the rough path to their house where they invited us to spend the night. This generosity was one of many such displays of warmth and kindness we were shown throughout the trek.
That night we sat on the mud floor, around the fire in their kitchen, and joined them in a meal of boiled potatoes with salt and chilli and rice. It is surprising how quickly one learns a language when one is hungry. The following day we walked on to Jiri where we hired a porter and guide for our trek to Everest.
After so much bad publicity last year, I expected the trail to be littered with pink loo paper and other western debris. Admittedly I went before the tourist season was underway, but I was struck by the fact that the countryside was so clean. Kathmandu is a different kettle of fish. It is a sprawling city, full of great poverty, and the entire waste from the capital seems to be deposited in the river. Conversely, on the trek only an occasional loo in a lodge emptied into the river. The others were holes in the ground, which may not have been altogether pleasing, but at least they were environmentally sound. It was difficult to balance the facts that, as a tourist, one is contributing to a weak economy but at the same time encouraging the Nepalese to exploit their landscape. Not surprisingly they have a great desire to build tea houses of timber, which are frequently in groups, to benefit directly from each annual influx of visitors. However, it was reassuring to see that thousands of seedlings were being prepared for planting in the Sagarmartha National Park.
Despite the scars left by the axes of the ambitious, much forest remains and still covers a landscape which is beautiful and breathtaking in its variety. From lush, verdant hillsides filled with fascinating flowers and strange sounds one moved into a different world at higher altitude. The scenery became rocky, harsh and silent, with sparse vegetation. The weather was clear and cool with blue skies and brilliant stars by night.
After 15 days walking , at the highest point of the trek, lies a hill of 5,500 metres, called Kala Pattar. From there it is a spectacular and rewarding view. One looks down onto clear, reflected blue lakes on one side, rocky moraine on another, and then, towering majestically above, there are the magnificent, awe-inspiring, snowy peaks of several of the highest mountains in the world – one of which is Everest.
My admiration for those who attempt to climb the great mountain, with or without oxygen, has increased 10 fold. As we came down from Kala Pattar there is 50% less oxygen than at sea level, we remembered and understood another trekker who was inspired there to compose songs about what he had seen.
In the final four hours of our journey to Base Camp, at 5,300 metres, the change in landscape was dramatic and utterly removed from anything I had ever imagined. We slowly crossed the glacier before us, which was made up of acres and acres of huge boulders and scree on an icy bed.
There were vast seracs created by the glacial flow beneath forcing up ice mountains, and many of the boulders were perched high on great, frozen wedges. The path was barely discernible, marked by an occasional cairn or pile of yak dung, and along it we picked our way to the welcome lying beyond desolation.
The British Expedition’s Base Camp was immaculate. Contrary to what has been reported in the world’s press there were none of the piles of used oxygen cylinders, frozen bodies and waste described in the tabloids. Impressive arrangements had been made for the disposal of all human and material detritus, as one would expect from a well organised and serious research expedition.
The work that was being carried out for many weeks was thorough, detailed and well controlled. I was glad to be used as a guinea-pig for some scientific research during my visit. Amongst other projects the Expedition expects to produce much positive information on the effects of altitude on the body, which cannot be ascertained by air travel by plane or balloon for example. A valuable contribution to our knowledge of mountain sickness will certainly be one of many results that emerges.
To go to Nepal is an eye-opening experience for a molly-coddled westerner. We are aware of third world poverty from the media. To see the reality and reflect on one’s own good fortune is quite another thing. To wonder what can or should be done in the world is something else still.
Now, when I consider Nepal, my mind will flick through a book of images it retains. Among the selection will be not only those of poverty, but also of the scenery, the welcoming faces of the Nepalese people, the gurgling laughter of a baby I met, and all the other sounds and smells of a beautiful and fascinating country.
Victoria Weller is taking a year off between ‘A’ levels and university. She trekked independently from Jiri and joined the Expedition at Base Camp.
Swimming at 17,000 feet
By Ken Stewart
At Gorak Shep (alias Lake Camp) I jokingly suggested a swim in the lake to Sherpa Santash. He took me seriously so I had to go in. So then had he. The water was cold but not as freezing as anticipated. The rapid breathing was hard to control; but this soon settled and then the dip was “almost” enjoyable. It didn’t last long though. We swam about 25 yards and then out we came, cleaner than before, and really chuffed with ourselves. We had to repeat the dip every time we passed Gorak Shep so had 3 more!
Ken Stewart, when he’s not off his trolley, is a gynaecologist in Stirling.
Everest – Next Time?
By Andrew Pollard
When I woke up again, if I had ever been asleep, it was getting light. The tent was still ravaged by the wind and the demented flapping of the fabric was unchanged, its continuing presence almost reassuring. The inner tent was coated in frost which was sprinkled onto me whenever I moved or the thundering wind shook the tent. My down suit was damp with condensation and my socks wet and cold. This was the fourth day at Camp IV on the South Col at 8000m without food and since yesterday I was alone.
For those four days the Col had been shrouded in cloud and the icy wind blew snow around with the intent of burying all of our equipment, which it did. The others had left to try their chances on a later day and the Sherpas had deserted me. It was desperately cold. I was using oxygen continuously now to suppress the lethargy, cold and physical debility, which was so overwhelming. During several finger-numbing forays through the tent door, it was becoming increasingly difficult to find full oxygen cylinders buried in the snow outside and I knew it was time to go down. Condensation pooled in my oxygen mask and trickled down my chin, my throat ached from coughing. Time passed easily though, I don’t remember much detail of my mental musings, the lack of oxygen slowed thought and melting snow for drinking-water took all day.
But something was different this morning. I got to my knees and unzipped the tent a fraction in what seemed like a frenzy of breathless activity. A shower of fine snow blew in my face and I shivered. But it was glorious. The sky was blue and cloudless for the first time and the South Summit of Everest was visible and crowned golden with the early sun. The wind was still roaring out there but less snow streamed across the Col and the slopes in front of me up to the South East Ridge seemed calm. It was 9th October 1994.
After 2 squares of chocolate and a sip of almost frozen Isostar, I set off towards Everest. I don’t remember why, or what I had intended, but I had three 3 Litre oxygen cylinders in my rucksack and a litre of fluid. The oxygen was set at 2 litres per minute. I decided I wanted to have a closer look at Everest and take some photos. But I didn’t know where to go. I could see the South Summit and South East Ridge but there were too many possible approaches up the slopes to the ridge. I never imagined I would be alone here. I was scared.
The snow was horrible. Most of the slope up to the ridge was wind-slab – a thick hard crust resting on unconsolidated snow. Each step was treacherous. I either fell through the crust and stumbled or slid on the slab. A few small avalanches set off from my feet and I wished I had a longer axe. There had been no wind since I left the South Col and I was warm as long as I was moving. I felt good. Icicles hung from my chin and my toes were numb.
Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was being choked. I gasped and gasped. It slowly dawned on me that my oxygen cylinder must be empty. It was steep here and I couldn’t safely take off my rucksack and get out a new one. I struggled on with pain in my chest, pain from sucking at the thin air. After an age I reached some rocks where I could rest before fumbling with the regulator and a new cylinder and begin gulping in life.
Sooner than I thought, I was just below the Ridge and pressed on straight up. Ten metres further and the snow became more unconsolidated. Like climbing on polystyrene beads. No upward progress. I turned the oxygen up to 3 litres per minute. I felt very insecure and traversed for half an hour plunging my axe deep into the snow with every side step until, eventually, I found good purchase and I stood on the South East Ridge of Everest.
The snow on the Ridge was the same. In places it narrowed and my slipping and stumbling threatened to hurl me down into Tibet or back to the South Col. Soon enough, though, the angle eased and I sat down on a flat section below the last slope up to the South Summit. I was at 8600m.
It is a remarkable place. I looked across to the summit of Lhotse, over Nuptse to the Mountains of Nepal and North and East into the brown plateau of Tibet. Below I could see the tents on the South Col. Red dots in the snow. I took off my oxygen mask and realised I was very alone. To my astonishment, I heard John talking on the radio from Base Camp. The friendly sound was deeply comforting and a wave of emotion swept over. I longed to speak to him and I talked frantically into the handset but he could not hear me and I felt rejected. It was about 11.00 am
I was within an hour of the South Summit of Everest and looking up I could almost touch it. I felt physically strong but the snow conditions were still unpleasant and dangerous and I was concerned about the descent. I was on my own, high on Everest with so much to lose. I began to sob. Not outwardly. There was no one to see anyway. Suddenly, it all began to seem so intensely pitifully pointless. I began to think of my son. Jamie was five and a half months old when I left and I cried at the loss of three months of his life. I missed Rachel desperately and wondered how I ever came to be sitting on this crazy frozen perch looking down on the world. So I got up, turned my back on Everest and went home.
It’ll be Christmas Eve tomorrow. Jamie is quiet again now, tummy full of milk. Lying in his cot warm and snuggled under cosy blankets, his breathing is peaceful and content, hair ruffled and long eyelashes locked in sleep. Outside it’s -6oC and there is ice on the window pane and a thick frost on the ground in the blackest night. Rachel is asleep too, deep in the duvet. It’s 5.30 am and it’s cold, but this is where I want to be tonight, with my wife and my boy.
Andrew Pollard is a research fellow in paediatric infectious diseases.
Clerical and Medical
By John Currin
With three days to go and the house strewn with blue plastic barrels and various piles of gear, the phone calls from newspapers, radio and TV suddenly came thick and fast. Feeling a little intimidated by the proposed TV coverage in my local gym whose infrequent use I now regretted I sought some support from my closest fellow expeditioner Chris Comerie. Having lifted some very light weights for the cameras I returned from the changing room just in time to hear the last part of Chris’ interview. After some questions relating to climbing objectives and preparation the interviewer said “Tell me Chris why should a climbing expedition want to take a clergyman along?” I think Chris and I had met just once before at the Lloyd’s event and this question was clearly one he had not anticipated. Searching for an answer while making some very diplomatic comments he finally said, “Well he’ll come in very useful if someone gets killed.”
We began the trek to Base Camp at Lukla in conditions of low cloud and drizzle. The weather remained more or less the same over the next four days, by which time we had taken a rest day in Namche and pressed on to Tengboche. The following morning I remember waking to bright sunshine, the sound of excited voices and tent zips being hurriedly opened. Suddenly after spending the last few days trekking in typical and all too familiar Lakeland conditions, that day we were presented with a full and glorious panorama of towering crystal white peaks, soaring into cloudless blue skies. In the warmth of the morning sun I shared the conviction of the Psalmist who said “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies the work of his hands.” During the previous days of cloud and rain I had heard no one complain. In fact I think all of us were relieved to be free from the confines of Kathmandu,. As I gazed around and at last saw, what I had long anticipated, the clarity of the light, the tranquillity of the morning and the majesty of the peaks far exceeded my expectations. For a while that morning we were all awed and subdued.
I am more than grateful that there was no need to officiate in the way Chris had mentioned. Although a little disappointed and frustrated that due to ill health my own mountaineering objectives were not realised but the trekking was unforgettable and enhanced by warm companionship and strong team spirit. I know the experience the summit team had with the high altitude Sherpas was to say the least mixed, but the Sherpas who accompanied Group One and also Nima with whom I left Jill and the children were excellent. I found them to be organised, reliable, industrious, trustworthy and uncomplaining. Their kindness and hospitality has left as profound an influence on me as did the impact of being amidst the worlds highest mountains.
John Currin is a Curate at Eastwood Church
Our rest day!
By Denzil Broadhurst
The calm, measured tones of David Collier, the research co-ordinator, came over the radio from Everest Base camp. “Ronnie’s had a stroke at camp 1 and we may need you to help”
OK, so we were members of a rescue team, but we hadn’t really expected to be needed. Simon had asked us some time ago if we would act as a rescue team whilst we were with the expedition. Of course we laughingly agreed, knowing that we were only going to be in base camp for the two brief periods whilst tests were being done, the rest of the time we would be trekking, or climbing elsewhere, so the chances of us being in the right place at the right time seemed somewhat remote.
We’d been up to Base Camp for our first 5 days of medical tests to give some pre-acclimatisation readings, and then trekked down to attempt Lobuje East, eventually being defeated by thigh deep sugar snow at about 5700 metres. The prospect of the route ahead being a few hours of dangerous navigation through some desperate looking seracs and snow bridges hadn’t been very encouraging anyway.
We’d then moved on to Dingboche to start the trek up to Island Peak, and the plans for the day were a gentle stroll up to Chukhung. We’d originally planned to have a rest day, but with the time lost in Kathmandu just a couple of hours walk would have to count as a rest.
So there we were, two days trekking distance from Everest Base Camp, on standby for an incident.
“We’re trying to get a helicopter into Base Camp, but if that fails we’ll need him taking to Pheriche” “We’ll know in a couple of hours if it’s available”
Ah well, at least it was sunny and we could have a kip while we waited, and I guess the views were better than we normally get around the Peak District. The Nuptse-Lhotse ridge and our target of Island Peak ahead of us up the valley, Ama Dablam to the South and Tawoche to the West.
Ronnie was being walked down the icefall with the help of the climbers from all the different expeditions in the area, and a group of Sherpas had set off up the icefall with the stretcher. They had him on oxygen and slowly brought him down to Base Camp.
“No luck with the helicopter, so once the doctors have finished with him we’ll get him started on the descent” “If you can come up to meet him and take him the rest of the way to Pheriche”
If we were going to get a helicopter into Pheriche it made sense to also evacuate George Smith as well. George, 72, had made the trip up to Base Camp OK, but his health had deteriorated during his stay there. Eventually he’d started the descent, but at the speed he was capable of it would take a few days to Pheriche.
We eventually decided to make a move. Ronnie had still not left Base Camp, but we could get Mick over to Pheriche to borrow a stretcher for George, and start moving it up the hill to Lobuje, about 3 hours walk away. Mick and Martin went up to deliver the stretcher to the waiting Sherpas, and then continued on to meet Ronnie near Gorak Shep, while the rest of us followed on behind to assist the Sherpas on their descent with George.
The acclimatisation of the last 10 days had worked wonders. With that and the switch from our normal 25 pound sacs to just a spare jacket and head torch meant the journey which had taken a full day the first time was now over in less than 2 hours. The Sherpas had started the descent, but the stretcher was a standard folding hospital stretcher, with a man on each corner it was far too wide for most of the narrow paths. A set of rucksack shoulder straps and one of the Sherpas head straps sufficed to fasten George on with reasonable safety, then the Sherpas lifted the stretcher on to their shoulders and they were off.
We were off as well, jogging alongside at an astonishing speed trying to assist with balance on the steep slopes and loose scree. The carry continued at the same speed, no matter how steep or rough the path became, with a regular rotation of manpower on the stretcher between the Sherpas and ourselves. Not a carry method I would recommend for the UK, but in the circumstances amazingly effective.
Darkness began to fall as we reached the half way point of Tuglha after about an hour, but a round of lemon tea soon refreshed us for the next hour down to the tea house in Pheriche.
Ronnie was well on the way down by now, although he was still about 2 hours behind us. “We’ll come up and meet you on the final valley section – give us a call on the radio” “I will if I can keep up, the doctor is already about 10 minutes behind his patient!” Ronnie was obviously feeling much better, and no doubt the oxygen was helping as well.
We sat in the tea house waiting for the call, devouring some much needed food when Lhakpah, our Sirdar, came in with a kettle of chang – “You want to try?”. We’d been warned not try the local fermented rice brew until we were on our way home, but we deserved a drink, and we had told Lhakpah that the drinks for the Sherpas were on us. It certainly helped to numb the sore shoulders.
Some while later, when we received the call from the group with Ronnie, we weaved our way up the valley to be met by him smiling and cracking jokes while the rest of his party struggled to keep up. We were all ushered back into the main room of the tea lodge, disturbing some of the Sherpas who had already bedded down for the night, for some more food and chang until we all crashed out for the night in the dormitory. We had been carrying our normal day gear so it didn’t matter that our tents, porters, kitchen, yaks and climbing gear were half way to Island Peak.
The weather was bright and sunny the next day so by mid morning we heard the distant noise of a helicopter reverberating up the valley and the two patients and doctor were on their way down to Kathmandu.
Mission completed, OMRT chalks up another incident!
Perhaps the team member who had produced the joke T shirt before we left – “OMRT on tour” with a list of our 1994 team trips to Scotland, Northern Ireland, Lundy and the Himalayas knew more than he was saying!
So much for our easy day, and we’d lost more time from our schedule. As long as we kept the radio turned off for the next few days we should be OK.
P.S. Ronnie seemed fully recovered by the time he left Kathmandu, and when we met up with George in the Garden Hotel 3 weeks later he was back to full strength.
Denzil Broadhurst is an electronics design engineer
The Researcher’s Perspective
by David Collier
Conceived four years ago by a group of ex-Barts Alpine Club doctors the BMEME started as a small group of doctors who wanted to climb Everest. With the passage of time it grew into a highly complex Expedition. The unilateral increase in fee charged by the Nepali Government (to $10,000 US) for each climber to attempt the climb, made it necessary to broaden the membership of the expedition. For those of us interested in the research opportunities of hypoxia (low oxygen) this was to alter the entire project.
In addition to the seven climbers and twelve researchers there were a further 60 members recruited to the team. “Support team” members joined us for all of the pre-expedition weekends and mountain medicine teaching courses (half of them doctors). They paid the expedition a sum similar to the cost of a similar high altitude “trekking” holiday. In return they were members of a prestigious expedition, and volunteered for the medical research projects. It was the success of this symbiotic relationship between researchers, climbers and support members which made the most difference.
Before we left for Nepal, publicity efforts to help us included the climbing team scaling the atrium window of the Lloyds building; Labour leader John Smith came and saw displays of our research projects; we made a half -page cover picture in the Independent and the Times. This was only one week before John Smith died in our own hospital (where I was a Cardiology SHO at the time). We felt the loss of this sincere and forthright man who had tried to help us very keenly. A man of substance and conviction rather than the charisma and gloss we so often see from people in political life.
The separate support groups took part in our pre-expedition research weekends in London (Barts) and Stirling. The next time we all met up was at base camp, 5300m (18000 ft) on the Kumbu glacier. Groups of 8-12 members were tested on arrival at base camp and then on their return after attempts (usually successful) on mountains such as Island Peak, Pokalde or Lobuje East. Base Camp was established in September by the climbing and research groups. It was the focus of activity and linked the climbing team on the mountain with the research, and all the support groups as they came and went.
The research group included contributors from 13 UK universities including London (Barts, QMW, Kings, St Thomas’, Charing Cross, Westminster, Oxford, Leicester, The Institute of Ophthalmology, Moorfields Eye Hospital, Birmingham, Edinburgh Glasgow and Northwick Park. We were unable to obtain umbrella funding for all the projects and only raised one £13,000 grant from the British Heart Foundation for a project on heart rate variability during hypoxia. Despite this we were able to complete almost everything we set out to achieve, largely due to the loan of equipment from all over Britain, mostly from the manufacturers themselves. Work included studies on the eye led by Diana Depla FCOpth (a project on visual field changes and hypoxia may shed light on the cause of chronic simple glaucoma). Balance and hearing work from Martin Rosenburg at Queen Mary and Westfield College addressed a theory about hair cell function and low oxygen exposure. Peter Barry from Leicester carried out the first cough challenge studies at altitude as well as recording nocturnal cough to confirm the impression that cough really does increase as you go higher. Out study on pulmonary oedema and endothelin-1 concentrations has just been beaten by a paper out last week in ‘Circulation’ from a European group. Gerald Dubovitz from Oxford performed studies on intestinal absorption and on the effect of sleeping tablets at altitude. The effect of benzodiazepine sleeping tablets appears to be dependent on how well acclimatised you are.
My own work, with collaborators from Kings College, Charing Cross and Westminster and St. Thomas’, was to investigate peripheral chemoreceptor responses to carbon dioxide during acclimatisation. We have been able to show for the first time that fast CO2 responses improve with acclimatisation to altitude. This work was made more difficult by BOC, who supplied eight incorrect gas cylinders! Normally this would have been annoying, but this order arrived during a snowstorm at base camp – four cylinders to a yak and half of it was wrong. You can’t just fax or ‘phone your problem. At 18,000 feet \par you are stuck! The other major problem with our research was an avalanche. Just three days after we had equipped our three main research tents (each the size of a small living room) and our experimental work was underway, a large slab avalanche from the west ridge of Everest at around 8,000 metres brought down a huge volume of snow and wind blast. Researchers during World War II looked into using powders and other materials to increase the destructive force of blast from bombs, by increasing the mass of the moving air, in our case the spindrift from the avalanche increased the effect of the blast. Our research tents were all flattened, one 90lb tent, a McInnes box that was thrown over 40 feet through the air, over a climber and his tent, smashed our main VHF radio mast (2 inch tubing) and landed just in front of our mess tent.\par \par We were glad to be alive, but spent much of the night rescuing precious and sensitive equipment from the snow before rebuilding the camp the next day.
Although the conditions for climbing at extreme altitude were poor due to excessive wind from the jetstream, which arrived early, two of our doctor-climbers were able to reach the summit using oxygen. Dr. Charles Hornsby and Dr. Roddie Kirkwood are both Scots, although Roddie chooses to live (and climb) in New Zealand.
Alison Hargreaves, the best British woman climber (she climbed all the major Alpine North faces in 1993 direct) was a semi-detached member of the team. She was climbing as solo as possible and carried her own equipment. More than this, she wanted to be the first woman to reach the summit without using supplementary oxygen. Although Alison spent four nights at the South Col and seemed surprisingly well there without oxygen, her summit bid was foiled by severe winds and the sensations of impending frostbite.
Others were not so lucky. I treated one Scots climber who got to within 100 metres of being the first Briton to climb the second highest mountain, Lhotse. His frostbite of the toes, however, was nothing to the severe hand and foot injuries received by a sherpa working for a Nepali speed-climber. He had slept with wet gloves at nearly 8,000m and subsequently lost most of his fingers in Kathmandu.
One of our older support team members had to be stretchered in and out of base camp over the Khumbu glacier. Fortunately one of our support groups was dominated by most f the Oldham Mountain Rescue Team. A climber had a transient ischaemic attack at Camp 1 and had to be evacuated down the icefall and out to Pheriche where he left by helicopter. Thankfully he recovered fully.
What are the lasting memories? Sunrise over Everest, researching from 10 until 6 each day, the relief of seeing climbers return intact.
The expedition was successful beyond my hopes, and the unique structure worked well – the vast variety of members all had something to contribute, from a silicon chip designer for GEC Plessey, and oil refinery manager, a hatful of GPs, gynaecologists, anaesthetists, pharmacists and paediatricians.
The Ascent of Island Peak – 20,305 feet
by Mark Howarth
One of our ambitions in Group 5 was to climb Island Peak. The last time I had wielded an ice-axe it had a wooden handle, which dates me a bit and I had never worn crampons outside a climbing shop. Everest Base Camp was a good place for my first lesson on ice climbing. Jim kindly told me I was doing everything wrong. Now if anyone asks if I have done much on snow and ice, I casually mention that I have climbed the Khumbu Icefall … well, it’s partly true.
A few days later we were at Island Peak Base Camp. This must rank as one of the worlds most desolate spots. The next morning we walked up the mountain in search or a bivvi site and wrestled with the decision – to climb or not to climb. We found an ideal spot after about an hour and a half – a ledge of flat ground among the rocks. The immortal words of Bill O’Connor echoed in our ears – “… one of the great joys of Himalayan mountaineering is the high altitude bivouac”. Well, we would see about that. Back down for lunch and more uncertainty over who wanted to go. Jeremy, George, Geraldine, Dawa and myself were committed from the start and in the end only the five of us went.
We got a good send off from our friends that afternoon as we prepared to go to our bedroom on the mountain while they waited below. We felt like real mountaineers now. Then Chandra, our cook handed out four plastic bags containing our packed suppers. Suddenly it was as if we were children out on a school trip. Perhaps that’s what mountaineers are.
Retracing our steps with enthusiasm, we were soon back at the bivvi site. In the fast fading light we laid out mats and climbed into our sleeping bags. A tiny crescent moon set soon after the sun. Soon there was a hard frost. We had planned to leave at three in the morning and Dawa arrived to wake us soon after two (he preferred the comfort of his own tent at base camp). I was glad he had brought some water as mine had frozen overnight. Too cold to think, we packed our rucksacks, put on boots and head torches and started stumbling uphill. Plastic boots proved cumbersome but not as bad as I had feared. Walking up steep rock and scree in the dark was very tiring. Knowing that I only had one spare battery, I carried on using the first for far too long and soon my head torch was providing only a feeble glow. Several times I decided I had had enough, and was only put off turning back by the greater difficulty of going down in the dark. I would wait till first light. But just as the sky began to lighten, we reached the glacier and without saying a word we all put on crampons and harnesses and roped together. There was no turning back now.
There is a magic about walking on the snow. We were now on the high Himalaya, not among them. Soon it was broad daylight and there was a clear deep blue sky. The agony and the breathlessness were not gone but were mixed with exhilaration as we traversed the glacier with increasing confidence. On the steepest section Dawa went ahead and put in a fixed rope which we climbed up. Then, roped together, we walked along the summit ridge – all of two feet broad, with a dizzy drop on either side. A short, if painful final climb took us to the top. I would have yelled with joy if my lungs had let me.
Time for photos, hugs all round and a swig from the hip flask. This was well earned ecstasy. As we moved around on the summit we never thought to unclip from the rope. By the time we made off we were tied in a long knot like a cat’s cradle and had to clamber over and under each other to get free. I can’t imagine what Dawa thought of us. But I do know that I wouldn’t have been there without him.
We had to be off the snow before it got too soft so we soon headed back down the ridge, abseiled down the rope into the cwm where we stopped for a short rest and some food. There were better opportunities to admire the amazing scenery on the more relaxed descent. Then on down and down and down. I think I have never been so tired as when I arrived back at base camp. Aware that Ann was videoing me as I approached camp I tried to put some spring in my step but failed miserably.
Mark Howarth is a General Practitioner in West Sussex.
Parchamo and group 1
by Denzil Broadhurst
“What do you mean, Parchamo isn’t on our list of peaks?” There we were on the way to Kathmandu airport, hoping to fly out to Lukla, and Rai had just informed us that Parchamo wasn’t included in our climbing permits. We’d done our group planning back in May at a weekend in Saddleworth, and the final crowning moment of our expedition was going to be the ascent of Parchamo. We were stunned!
As soon as we got to the airport we pinned down Rai and Sonam, one of the Thamserku directors, and over a Fanta, Chris and I discussed the situation with them. After going round the houses a few times without success, and with them claiming that Simon had agreed to no ascents of Parchamo, a sudden light seemed to come in Rai’s eyes when he realised that we were not intending to descend via the Rolwaling valley. The whole problem had been a misunderstanding, and Rai’s attitude changed completely. There wasn’t much time to sort the permits, he didn’t know if the expedition would cover the costs, and wasn’t sure of what the costs were going to be, but he was prepared to try and sort it out.
We didn’t fly that day anyway, so a meeting took place later that afternoon at Thamserku, with Chris and Pete Smith negotiating the deal. Finally, success, they would sort the permits and make sure they met up with us while we were trekking, and if the original agreement with Thamserku didn’t cover the cost of the permit our group would split the costs between us.
Our problem now was that we were losing time in the flight to Lukla, and our schedule was aggressive. We made various fall-back plans, including missing Pokalde and Gokyo if necessary, but Parchamo was right at the end and plenty could happen before that.
Almost 5 weeks later, having assisted in the evacuation of Ronnie and George, and cutting our second visit to Base Camp to the minimum, our final version of the schedule was unrolling. We’d sprinted from Island Peak to Base Camp and back to Namche, the yaks and climbing gear having been left in Dingboche for most of the time since they couldn’t cover the distances fast enough. Only Mick, Martin and Jamie had attempted the slag heap of Pokalde, and we had missed out the trip to Gokyo completely.
We headed up the valley towards Thame, racing past a number of yaks. How things had changed from the start of the expedition when the sound of yaks behind you was a warning to move out the way, and a good excuse for a brief rest.
We were sitting in a small tea house in Thame and wondering if we could top out on Parchamo at the same time as the Everest team reached their summit, when we heard over the radio that 2 of them were already there. Great news! Now we had to succeed as well.
Jamie spent most of the night throwing up and the Sirdar’s father was also ill, so we left them at the camp site in Thame and headed up the valley. We had a good chat with one of the monks in the monastery, he originally came from the village, but had spent some time in the USA. We heard from Jamie that the monk came down later to see if he or Kami needed anything.
Lunch at Tengbo, once we had found where the Sherpas were waiting for us, then less than an hour to our base camp. The following day was the climb up the Taschi Lapcha to the bivvi site, but before we left, our yak driver who had been a monk, offered to do a Puja for us. It was one of their holy days, and they put up the prayer flags across the nearby crag and set up the altar. The smoke drifted across us as we sat and took part in the food and drink offerings.
The ascent to the pass was one of the hardest days we had done. A few hours working our way up the steep moraine with large areas still very loose and indistinct. We assumed there must have been a significant rockfall in the last year or so. The glacier crossing was similarly difficult going and also often unmarked. We watched a German party descending from the pass, with their porters struggling on the ice and snow in their tennis shoes.
The final climb was a scree slope, which felt as long as the Great Stone Shoot in the Cuillin, only now we were nearly at 18,000 feet and I was carrying a sac weighing almost 50 pounds. Mick, Stu and Martin were already in their bivvi below an overhang and Andy joined them, but Chris and I looked at the recent scars on the rocks all around and opted for a spot in the snow out of range of any likely rock fall.
The Sirdar of one of the groups camped nearby asked where our Guide was. “What, no Guide!” Then where were our Sherpas, porters, our tents? “None!”, “You British…..HARD!”
Stu’s old knee injury was troubling him after the hard going, so he snuggled up in his bivvi bag as the rest of us left around 3.30. Mick stormed the hill with Martin pulling out all the stops and staying with him, while Chris, Andy and I made our more sedate way up. The whole route was a steep angled snow slope which we climbed alpine style. Sure enough, by the time we were about half way up Mick and Martin came storming back down. Martin had kept up, but without the energy to bother putting a new film in his camera he had taken no photos.
The weather had been threatening all morning with dark clouds at about 24,000 ft and the occasional strong gust pinning us to the spot as we were peppered by the spindrift. The Sherpa guide with a group of Venezuelans reckoned there would be snow by lunchtime.
10.00 am and we were stood on the top, or rather within a few 10’s of metres since the final section of the ridge was a series of dramatic crevasses. For the first time I had needed to wear my duvet jacket all morning, and my compact camera had to be kept tucked inside to stop it freezing. Both Andy’s and Chris’s cameras packed up on the summit but my trusty old OM1 carried on regardless.
An hour was spent with photos and radio calls to base camp and to Gerald and Nick on the top of Lobuje East, with a celebratory bar of chocolate, then a descent in just 1 hour to the bivvi site. We packed up the gear then began the long descent to the base camp for 4.30 p.m.. It had been a long hard day, but one of the best.
Overnight the wind picked up, blowing down the mess tent, and threatening the rest of the tents. We woke up to an al fresco breakfast in the snow. Perhaps the Puja had helped keep the bad weather away for those vital 24 hours, there was no way we would have been climbing today. Time to go home, we were due to be in Lukla the following day, but it had certainly been the climax of a great trip.
Only 23 kilograms!
by Denzil Broadhurst
So we were going to have to manage with 23 kg in the hold baggage and the hand baggage limit of 5 kg. We might end up wearing a lot for the flight out!
I’d cleared a space in the loft and all the gear was strewn across the floor with most of it sorted into piles: must have, probably need, might need, and luxuries. Before I’d got all the gear together I’d done a quick weighing and it was already over 30 kg. The luxuries pile seemed to be growing.
I guess the weight limit wasn’t too bad for those who were only trekking, but we were planning on doing some of the peaks. Crampons, ice axes, helmet, rope and harness, a selection of normal climbing gear such as crabs and slings. What about the other climbing hardware? Chris and I had planned to take a set of chocks between us for belays, but we knew that they probably wouldn’t be used. Chris would take a selection of smaller ones on wires, and I would take some larger hexes. A pair of jumars and a tuber went on the pile.
The plastic boots went in, and the lightweight fabric boots should be fine for all the trekking. A pair of sandals? They’ll make a pleasant change in the evening. Trainers for the journey out – no, the boots would be okay.
Clothes? 3 pairs of underpants, it’s only 7 weeks! 1 T shirt to travel in and 1 long sleeved shirt if I need to keep the sun off, I was planning to buy another T shirt in Kathmandu anyway. 2 pairs of thick socks and 2 pairs of thin ones would have to do. One pair of Troll trousers, a pair of shorts for hot days plus the tracksuit bottoms for climbing.
Thermal gear? Just how cold was it going to be? A couple of thermal vests plus a pair of long johns went into the pile. 2 pairs of gloves, a fleece balaclava and a skiing fleece headband went in as well. It’s too easy to lose a pair of gloves and they could be crucial while climbing.
A huge pile of Buffalo gear! I was relying on it, and since they recommend not wearing anything underneath that saves some clothes. Would my 3/4 season sleeping bag be enough? I’d bought a good lightweight sleeping bag to go inside it for the really cold nights but it was over 1 kg.
The Goretex had to go in. Jacket, overtrousers and mitts made sure I had a full waterproof shell. Most wet conditions in the UK are dealt with by the Buffalo gear, but the Goretex is always there in the sack.
What about the camera. A second hand short zoom for the OM1 rather than a selection of lenses. It’s incredibly rugged and doesn’t rely on a battery. I’ll put in the little weatherproof compact as well, far easier while climbing.
Everything in the barrel. No! It won’t all fit, and it’s already up to 28 kg. Put the light, bulky stuff in the rucksack and take it separately. It’s all in but it’s getting close to 40 kg.
Time to get brutal! Cut the extra climbing hardware to only 1 jumar and ditch all the hexes (it turned out Chris had dumped her chocks, so the set between us turned out to be none). Out with the thermal long-johns, and that nice new sleeping bag. I can always sleep in the track suit bottoms. Put the films in re-sealable plastic bags rather than their plastic canisters. Every little helps!
The procedure goes round and round, throwing a little bit extra out each time. Finally, 23 kg between the barrel and rucksack. 5 kg in the hand baggage, but I’m going to be wearing the plastic boots, two jackets and my pockets are going to be full of crabs! The luxuries are down to a handful of chewy bars, but I don’t eat much chocolate anyway. If the airline doesn’t actually weigh the hand baggage I can swap to my lightweight boots and empty my pockets, or swap after they have weighed it. Success!
Sunday morning at Heathrow. No, PIA aren’t worried about the weight. Everything is just going in one large stack of barrels. Quick, get the plastic boots and crabs in the barrel and I’m down to one light carry-on bag.
All that fuss, but at least it forced everyone into thinking seriously about what they really needed.
Conclusions: On the coldest nights I slept in my Buffalo shirt and socks along with the track suit bottoms and was never cold. As far as the climbing gear went, I used a sling for a belay a couple of times and abseiled off Island Peak with the tuber, but couldn’t have used the chocks, nor did I need the one Jumar which I took. I’m still glad I took it though. I didn’t use the Goretex gear, and the only time I was glad of the Duvet jacket was on Parchamo.
My spare gloves, mitts and glacier glasses weren’t needed since I didn’t wreck or lose any. There was enough opportunity for washing so that the 3 pairs of underpants were plenty and I came back with an unused pair of socks. I didn’t need the long sleeved shirt – but only because I’d bought one in Kathmandu. It wasn’t as cold as I expected so I didn’t use one of the thermal vests either. The Buffalo shirt served very well as usual, needing nothing more most days.
Next time I’ll go really lightweight – I’ll get rid of that spare thermal vest!
By Christine Smith
Being given the opportunity to travel in another country is always special. In this instance, the peace, tranquillity, simplicity of life in rural Nepal and the dramatic, constantly changing scenery makes the experience more memorable. I have recorded simply some of the most vivid memories (the good, the bad, and the silly!) that I will always cherish and have strangely changed my life.
Flying through holes in towering, white, monsoon clouds in search of the airstrip at Lukla. Rain, mud, swirling clouds and a Sherpa village perched high on the hillside above the Dudh Kosi. Watching in wonder the faded old prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Seeing bright, newly decorated mani stones untouched for decades, their inscription worn with age. Seeing rivers frozen in the cold of the early morning, reflecting the rising sun. Standing in the courtyard of the Thame Monastery, watching the ‘Angels Wings’ forming and reforming in the a perfect blue sky. Walking between the crevasses on Island Peak, fascinated by icicles, the towering faces showing the lines of winters gone by, the wind patterns and the sheer beauty of the mountains covered in glistening white snow. The sudden realisation that I had just climbed the path from Dugla without stopping for breath – and that I had even held a conversation whilst walking! Walking through the Icefall, stunned by the patterns made by the snow, ice and sunlight. The awe and the feeling that one day I should go higher to see if the ice becomes even more spectacular. The descent between the ice towers and the colours of the setting sun. The huge glacier which so gradually crept into view on the ascent of Parchamo. The yearning for daylight to arrive and reveal the mountains from a new stance high on a climb. The aching head, nausea and unsteadiness crossing the glacier for the first time. Base Camp felt so horribly far away. The friendly reception we received which was so hard to repay. The International sing song at Base Camp. The Sherpas’ song which we came to hear regularly on the trail. The night time grunting of the yaks in Pheriche. Their attempts at destroying the toilet tent having literally jumped the wall. Watching in amazement as the stretcher we came to assist sped past at an alarming rate. Catching it was difficult, carrying it almost impossible and getting to the tea house in Dugla in front of it to order tea turned into my first ever fell race!
The sound of the monk’s horns announcing the break of dawn in Namche Bazaar. The sight of Kami (nicknamed chang), weaving his way across the high path to Dingboche. Lhapka’s son clutching what must have been his first ever bottle of Fanta. So precious was it that it was several hours before he could be coaxed into drinking its contents. Shaking a thick layer of hoar frost off my bivvi bag at 2 am before kitting up for a climb. Trying to decide where to drop my trousers before attempting to use the Base Camp loo – balanced on the platform or scrambling up with them around my ankle?! The smell of yak cheese. The Goraks flying off with my packed lunch still in its carrier bag. Peeling skin off a sunburnt nose. Seeing my tanned face for the first time back at the Garden Hotel. The horrible realisation of what the Khumbu must be like in the height of the trekking season; as we descended to Namche we passed a continual stream of people coming the other way, For that reason only I was glad to be leaving the Khumbu. The strange feeling on the flight back to Kathmandu when I found I was looking at a road and that it had a car on it. I’d not missed them at all. The radio message sent blind on 11th October announcing that two climbers had reached the summit of Everest. We were sat in a very dark, old house in Thame. “Niner November One Sierra Charlie” and “Portishead UK”! Our first clear sky. We woke early in Thangboche and were greeted with the magnificent sight of blue skies and a dramatic amphitheatre of snow white mountains. Our horizons had just lifted 10,000 feet. Riding the bike at Base Camp, just waiting for the infamous dose of CO2. The ramshackle old houses, giving an inkling of how things used to be. The rising and falling of young and old voices chanting their prayers in the Thame Monastery. The sound reached you long before you arrived and seemed to draw you closer. The Icicles permanently suspended beneath the bridge at Chukhung, The smoke rising from the alter, past the brightly coloured prayer flags and into a deep blue sky at Parchamo Base camp. We were given our very own Puja ceremony before the climb. The happy, smiling faces of the Sherpa people. Their willingness to share their homes and to help you. Their simple life style and their deep seated Bhuddist faith. The crowds and the noise were quite shattering when we walked into Lukla on our return. Turning the prayer wheels, feeling a sense of passing time and the hands of people who had turned them before you. The friendships built with other team members. Many you hardly knew, yet a meeting on the trail was like that of old friends. The darkened rooms of the Sherpa houses, the smoky atmosphere, the thick coating of soot on the walls and the tiny windows letting in only narrow beams of light. The sight of Sherpa families working together to harvest potato crops, sweetcorn and wheat. The crops drying in the sun. Winnowing the chaff from the grain in the wind. Seeing everything done by hand. The long discussion with Jim on why women climb mountains and why most women don’t. I climb not because of the competition or the challenge. I climb because of the deep fascination for snow, ice and mountains. The tremendous feeling of exhilaration I get is driven by the natural beauty of the mountains.
An Auditory Trek to Everest Base Camp
by Angela Fry
Transported into a part of the world where the internal combustion engine is yet to encroach, I encountered new sounds and a new sense of silence. Many times on the trail I regretted not having a tape recorder. On my return however, my first investment was a tape of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A, a piece of music with the power to instantly transport me back to the Himalayas. The second movement was found at the end of the Directional Hearing Test and was one of the first tests I did on reaching Base Camp. It has become extra-ordinarily evocative.
At Lukla, my abiding memory is of water. The sound of raindrops dripping from the eaves of the lodges we passed and the heavy patter on our umbrellas, accompanied by the roar from the swollen torrents and enormous waterfalls. At Namche Bazaar, the largest town in the region, there was no sound from any ghetto-blaster or traffic, just the whistling and singing of the local people as they went about their work, and the occasional drone from a passing helicopter. At night we were kept awake by a most peculiar noise coming from the Bhuddist Gompa on the other side of the town. The monks were blowing conch horns which made a sound like a didgeridoo, accompanied by the crashing of cymbals and bells. Similar sounds were heard at Thangboche. Higher up, people noise got less, apart from the regular bulletins on the portable radios relaying news from Base Camp.
At Gorak Shep a new sound entered my perception when I heard the first of several avalanches, a terrific roll of thunder which seemed to go on for ages. An even more eerie sound occurred at Everest Base Camp. During the night, as the glacier moved, one heard loud cracks around the tents, followed by the continuous roll of small rocks and boulders. Standing outside the tent, while the rest of the camp slept, gazing into the starry night and the amphitheatre of surrounding snowy peaks, one was aware of a deep, lonely and powerful silence, interrupted by the occasional large snow avalanche rumbling in the night. Man seemed very insignificant in the vastness of that empty space.
Angela Fry is an ophthalmic nurse in South Wales.
Scotland for Ever
by Ian Baxter
John Nathan and I, both of group 4, gradually found ourselves involved in a good natured Scotland/England ‘war’, he being a chap from the home counties and myself hailing from North East Scotland. Late one night at the Garden Hotel I stuck a notice on the outside of his room door which read ‘Scotland for Ever’. The next morning I found that it had been transferred to my room door and now read, ‘Scotland For Ever Second, score England 1 Scotland 0’.
The Expedition Philosopher’s point of view
by Martin Thomas
The defeasibility of the classical epistemological approach to the understanding of Himalayan Expeditions, particularly those of a medical nature, is that an unavoidable dualism is imposed upon it separating the experience from those that experienced it. Therefore I would like to suggest that we attempt to understand the expedition, without falling into the trap of epiphenomonalism, from a phenomenological point of view.
Therefore I would like to state the irrefutable fact that the expedition never happened and that there are no such mountains known as the Himalaya. Our delusions stem fundamentally from deterministic depersonalization of our collective selves due to being, or knowing on a personal basis, members of that insane institution known as ‘The Medical Profession’.
Martin Thomas is a final year philosophy student.
A Personal Account
by Tony Davies
How did it start? When did it start? Perhaps for me, it started in 1949 when, at the age of 15, as a reading assignment, we were given Sir Frances Younghusband’s book “The Epic of Mount Everest”. It caught my imagination and I started borrowing books with mountain themes. Even at that age I was fascinated by the medical aspects of life at high altitudes, and the problems arising from them..
At the Pen y Gwryd hotel in North Wales I saw the old photographs on the walls of moustachioed men with nailed boots, festooned with ropes (hemp), and this brought home to me the fact that some kind of mountaineering was possible in Britain. Soon after this I was camping on the Isle of Arran and with a friend walked up the tourist route to the summit of Goat Fell – my first mountain!
In 1992 I called in on a friend whose son had heard of an expedition planning to climb Everest and, at the same time, carry out research into high altitude medicine. That was the start of my involvement with the BMEME. The organisation of medical supplies according to a list drawn up by the Expedition Medical Officers was about to become my “baby”. Steve gave me his son’s number, he gave me Andy Pollard’s and Andy gave me Simon’s so that I could address myself to the fountainhead, and fill in an application form.
Two years later, having recovered from a bout of diarrhoea in Kathmandu, I joined Annabel Nickol, Peter Pollard, Isla Martin and Chris Wolff to begin our trek to Base Camp. Chris and I were both over 50 and relatively unfit and it was obvious that were not going to be able to keep up with the other 3 in their twenties so we ambled off at our own pace stopping in Tea shops for the duration of any rain shower.
That first afternoon we walked about 5 km to a hamlet call Chumlo where we spent a very pleasant evening with Sonam Temba (a veteran of Bonington’s 1975 expedition). It was our first experience of Sherpa hospitality which was to be repeated many times before we came home. I woke during the night to see brilliant moonlight shining through a crack in the door frame and went outside to see Kusum Kunguru bathed in light almost as bright a day, while the valley remained in darkness. Unforgettable.
After a leisurely ascent past Namche, Thangboche and Pheriche I arrived at Lobuje. That night, while struggling into my sleeping bag I experienced a pounding heart beat and great difficulty breathing while lying down. I propped myself up in the corner and eventually things settled down but I realised that I had reached my limit. Next morning I told the group what had happened and that I had decided to go down to lower pastures and higher pressures. Everybody agreed that this was the wisest course of action and Annabel kindly escorted me back to Dugla by which time I was feeling OK
While it was a disappointment never to actually see Mount Everest, it was a very worthwhile experience to visit the Himalayas and satisfy a fifty year ambition to see them for myself at first hand. I am most grateful to the Expedition for providing the framework and the motivation to make the trip. I could have gone on a commercial trek but I don’t think that I would have derived as much satisfaction as I did from being associated with the British Mount Everest Medical Expedition. The fact that Charlie and Roddy got to the top and that the research team produced so much data made the Expedition a success of which I was proud to have taken some minor part.
Tony Davies is a retired community pharmacist.
by Simon Currin
Loving and loathing. Our climbing sherpas were easily capable of evoking both emotions simultaneously.
Our expedition, like all others venturing through the Icefall, would have foundered within site of Base Camp without them. Their strength made the efforts of some of the world’s finest mountaineers seem feeble. Benoit Chamou, Loretan and Jean Troillet, each of them seeking their final few ticks of the fourteen eight thousanders, never came close to the feats of Finjo, Dawa and big Dorje – between them nine times to the summit of Everest. Their faces bore wide grins as they tiptoed over snow bridges and darted under seracs. Daily they risked their lives for the Expedition, casually ignoring the fixed ropes as they laboured with their loads over treacherous ground.
Remembered images of sherpas that will not fade and will, no doubt, outlive bitter memories. Chang and chanting as offerings to a God of good fortune; grins and giggles; giant strides on steep, soft snow; edging sideways through an icy corridor loaded with ladders clanging on the walls; Dorje dodging avalanches as he broke the trail into the Western Cwm. Images or illusions.?
The support groups loved their sherpas. Smiling, singing and always willing. Always striving to please with bed tea, birthday cakes, laughter and jokes.
Why then the loathing? Above Base Camp their darker nature emerged. Their grins would occasionally give way to sulks as petty disputes arose. Infighting, strikes and mutinies within their team. We looked to our sirdar to manage his team but he was already discredited by his own incompetence and dishonesty. A power vacuum filled by shouting and bickering.
Long, circular negotiations in draughty tents. Broken English and childish reasoning, the arguments went on and on. The Sirdar now out of control and ignored by his team. Money, loyalty and testimonials were feeble defences against their weapons of theft and strike. We were innocents on Everest contending with a team of sherpas that had been there so many times that they knew every trick of the trade and they used those tricks ruthlessly.
We tried hard, from the start, to avoid exploiting them and to treat them as equals. I am afraid that that tactic was part of our undoing. Whilst other teams acclimatised without loads we struggled in the thin air. The Sherpas saw this as a weakness and exploited it. We were forced to carry more and more to maintain momentum whilst the porters looked for rest days.
We owe our success to our Sherpas and yet so many times they tried to sabotage our efforts. Food that walked or never was, deceits, disappearances and finally desertion. Careless caching on the South Col meant that food and fuel were blown and blasted into Tibet and led to nights in overcrowded tents without calories or water. The saga goes on: Andy abandoned and forced to risk a solo ascent; Dawa and Finjo too drunk to climb; tents vandalised and wholesale plundering.
The eruption occurred in the last days. We had known for sometime that our sirdar had embezzled hundreds of dollars. Keen to preserve what little goodwill that was left we did not confront him but the deception was common knowledge amongst the porters. Oiled by liquor in the small hours, a dispute arose over how the booty should be split. Broken teeth and broken bones shattered the last illusion.
Were we unlucky or just incompetent in our dealings with our high altitude porters? It seems not. Tales of dishonesty and desertion abound. Corrupted by greed and, by Nepalese standards, astronomical salaries these climbing elite have grown complacent and callous. No longer the noble mountain folk that we long to believe in.
Simon Currin is a GP in Montgomery, mid Wales.
by Andrew Fairbairn
John Nathan and I went off on an elephant safari into the Chitwan National Park to see some wildlife.
So there we were sitting high up on an elephant at six in the morning confronted by 2 bad tempered looking Asian rhinos. As I was changing my camera lens to get a better picture, I thought, “better not drop one of these here or I’ll never get it back, too high to climb back up if I jump down to get it, and besides these animals will make short work of me”.
Just then, a chap sitting at the front of the elephant exclaimed “Oh **** I’ve dropped my camera case”. The elephant driver lightly tapped the elephant on the head with a stick, whereupon the elephant picked up the case with his trunk and returned it to the owner…
“300,000 People a year climb Everest!” (Daily Express 1993)
by Simon Currin
If the tabloid press is to be believed climbing Everest these days is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the top. Astonishing statistics are casually thrown into articles assuring readers that hundreds of thousands of climbers reach the summit every year and leave behind mountains of trash.
Four months ago I was struggling in the thin air high on Everest. The extreme effort of every step made my lungs heave and the cold, dry air triggered bouts of uncontrollable coughing. Every few minutes a blast of wind would stream down the steep west face of Lhotse bringing with it showers of stinging spindrift. The cold was intense and all the time I could hear the roaring wind on the summit itself. The rocky summit pyramid was bathed in the evening sunlight and a broad plume of cloud stretched away into Tibet signalling the premature arrival of the winter jet stream winds. Below me the Upper Khumbu glacier curled down the Western Cwm before cascading through the Icefall to Base Camp some five miles away. No trash, no crowds and definitely not a Sunday afternoon stroll. I will never believe a tabloid journalist again!
by Andrew Fairbairn
The suspension bridge leading over the river into Phakding was as bouncy as a trampoline, missing a few planks here and there, and handrails at knee height.
Lhakpa our Sherpa, pitched the tent in the grounds of a Tea Lodge, and we turned in for the night, leaving our blue barrels full of equipment out of sight under the fly sheet at the entrance. During the night we were awakened by a dog barking, and John (Nathan) eventually poked his head out to investigate. I came wide awake with a sharp nudge in the ribs. “Andy!!!, our barrels have gone”, exclaimed John. John put his head torch on and sprinted off over the infamous bridge in hot pursuit of the would be barrel thieves. Meanwhile I hammered on the door of the lodge with clenched fists making sure that everyone was awakened. “What’s the matter”, muttered Lhakpa, rubbing his eyes? “Our barrels have been stolen” , I replied. “No”, said Lhakpa starting to look amused, “I moved them into the lodge to keep them safe!”. “Well you’d better go after John then”, I replied. So Lhakpa went off after John, whose progress could now be traced by a point of light disappearing along the opposite bank of the river.
Andrew Fairbairn is a computer engineer in Scotland.
“A Day In The Life Of…..”
by Ronnie Robb
The following is a direct extraction from my diary which details my closing days with the Expedition. Nothing has been edited out. It’s a particular point in time of my life which, for better or for worse, I will never forget. I am aware that it contains personal views which might normally have been held private but I make no apologies for this because I believe it makes for a good story and may well reflect the views of many at the time.
Now that I have been back a few months, I find it interesting to note that there is only one slide out of hundreds that I have made the effort to enlarge, make into a print and frame. It’s a group photo and it features the climbing team on our jaunt up the Thame Valley from Namche Bazaar. It’s sunny, we’re all smiling and clearly enjoying each others company in a relaxed atmosphere.
The reason why I think it’s so special is because I believe the photo could just as easily have been taken on the walk out, such was the feeling of companionship that I felt we all had. The point is, we have all remained friends despite all of our individual traumas and there can’t have been many expeditions of this size and complexity where this has been the outcome.
I’m extremely proud to have helped organise and take part in the Expedition but the sum of the parts is greater than the whole and we could not have achieved what we did without the help of everyone else’s contribution, no matter how small.
The way I like to look at it is, that “I did not reach the summit of Everest, but we did!”
Here’s the story of my epic day…………
Thursday 29th September 1994
The day dawned dark and cold. All of us gathered in the mess tent in nervous anticipation of the summit push over the next 3 days. Except Angus! He incurred the wrath of Andy because he couldn’t be bothered to get out of his pit and we don’t have enough radios to allow him to go through the Icefall on his own.
So, four of us set off up the Icefall, me at the back, in silence with a sore head in the cold. The ice was good and the crampons bit well. I got to “the dam” in record time and kept a steady rhythm going all the way to Camp 1. I amazed myself by not losing ground between myself and Roddy/Charlie/John.
Whilst John was packing loads, my headache got worse and my cough had deteriorated to retching. I was aware that none of this was good but it wasn’t unusual in this cold, dry climate and at this altitude. In the short walk from Camp 1a to Camp 1b I started to become aware of a “drag” feeling in my mouth and when I caught up with Roddy and Charlie packing the oxygen cylinders it was all I could do but to watch them.
Roddy left, then I plucked up the courage to ask Charlie if “my speech was slurred”. The shock hit me immediately. I had heard myself mumble incoherently. Charlie looked horrified and asked me to repeat it. I knew before I opened my mouth that I couldn’t say it properly. I tried, but the words just dribbled out.
He called for Roddy to come back. He then examined me for other defects and discovered that I had little sensation in my left arm, no power, tingling in my left hand, a speech impediment, a sore head (left side) and a paralysis of the left side of my face, basically I was f……!!
Frantic confirmation with Roddy, John and Andy at Camp 1a. Meanwhile I was left to console the realisation that I was not at all well. I was dreadfully scared despite Charlie’s reassurances.
I kept thinking of what Jeanette would do with a retarded physical wreck, who would explain it to her, and how would I get a wheelchair through the door of my office without banging my knuckles on the sides? I was in inconsolable tears when John administered the oxygen mask to my face. His arms around me and both he and Angus in tears with me. For their part they wished to see me down safely. The process of getting down and getting better was explained but it didn’t sink in. Dexamethasone was taken along with a litre of fluid, forced down and the oxygen flow was cranked up.
I was led (without my rucksack now) to the abseil ropes, ladders and tricky descents of the Icefall guided by the four of them. My glasses continued to be misted up with my breath from the oxygen mask and tears. I blabbed the whole way down. Three years work blown with three days to go. Delaying the summit push by becoming ill, endangering the others by forcing them through the Icefall one more time and disappointing everyone that cares for me. My descent was a truly lonely one. It was my birthday in 2 days and this was not how I had hoped to celebrate it.
Half way down, the French team, the Icefall doctors, Kilu and the Italians had all come out to help. I couldn’t believe that all these stars of the mountaineering world had come to assist me.
By now, 2 hours after, I could make myself understood by talking and my walk was stronger. I marched into Base Camp followed by the Portuguese TV cameraman and an entourage of doctors. All the symptoms and signs, including retinal haemorrhages, were there of a “Transient Ischaemic Attack”. I had recovered because the correct drugs and procedures had been administered quickly but the likelihood of a recurrence was high and the conclusion was helicopter evacuation at a much lower altitude than Base Camp.
This was promptly arranged for me the following morning from Pheriche. My tent was cleared, barrels and rucksacks packed, oxygen bottles assembled, doctors to accompany me and reporting stations established. The Expedition was being ended for me, its conclusion was being dictated and there was nothing I could do. By now I felt normal but no amount of pleading to at least stay at Pheriche would persuade David or Andy.
The parting was extremely emotional. I blabbed my way behind the oxygen mask hugging and kissing everyone. The most emotional parting was with those who will likely reach the summit without me, my climbing team mates. I had got very close to John, Alison and Charlie and it was all I could do to tear myself away from them and Base Camp and saunter down the glacier away from Everest for good.
Colin Clark came with me and Howard had heard on the radio waves of my plight and was on his way back to meet us. We were accompanied by Annabel and Gerald and a rucksack full of drugs and oxygen bottles.
It was a long march over difficult terrain but I was feeling strong, still on oxygen, no rucksack and I marched on ahead of everyone. I couldn’t talk much or favour their company anyway. I was in a state of emotional turmoil. We stopped briefly at Lobuje meeting up with one of the groups and then on to Pheriche where the guys from Group 1 (Oldham Mountain Rescue) had come up the hill to meet us. More tears and consolation as I became overwhelmed at how much people cared about me and what I felt. I arrived at Pheriche at 10.00 p.m. and I was last to bed.
Ronnie Robb is a Personnel Manager working for Shell Exploration and has made a complete recovery from this episode of high altitude cerebral oedema (H.A.C.E.).
Expedition Medical Officers: Dr’s Gerald Dubowitz and Nick Mason. Although Nick and Gerald were the official doctors there were 40 others on the Expedition and most encountered some medical problems. During his long stay at Base Camp David Collier dealt with many of the problems occurring during the absence of the Medical Officers. (report by S.C.)
Inevitably with 40 doctors, 1 midwife, 3 nurses and 2 vets amongst our members we were asked to provide medical advice and treatments for most of the other expeditions as well as trekkers and local inhabitants. Indeed we were able to offer internal referrals to specialists on the Expedition and one of our vets was even asked to perform a hysterectomy on a dog in Namche! The busiest of our specialists seemed to be the ophthalmologists who dealt with a range of different problems.
Health problems amongst our Expedition Members:
Peptic Ulcer: One member of the climbing team suffered bouts of acute epigastric pain at base camp which was presumed to be due to peptic ulceration. The pain resolved with a course of omeprazole. The same member also developed a dental abscess which resolved after dental extraction, antibiotics and descent to Namche Bazaar.
Cerebral Oedema: Another member of the climbing team developed an intense headache during his ascent through the icefall. At this stage of the Expedition he was extremely fit and well acclimatised having been at altitudes between 5,330m and 6,800m for over five weeks. Despite the headache he made excellent progress through the middle sections of the Icefall and only started to slow down as he neared camp 1a. At this point he noticed some weakness in his arm and began moving a lot slower. The short climb between 1a and 1b took four or five times longer than usual. On arrival at 1b he was dysphasic and had developed a facial palsy. An immediate decision to descend and seek helicopter assistance was made and he was treated with dexamethasone and oxygen (4 litres per minute). Descent through the difficult upper Icefall proved problematic in view of the large crevasses and ladders that formed the route. A rescue team comprised of some of Europe’s strongest climbers (Benoit Chamou, Loretan and Troillet) was dispatched from Base Camp to assist in the descent but by the time they rendezvoused with the descending casualty his symptoms had largely resolved and he made good progress unassisted through the lower Icefall. At Base Camp he was found to have marked retinal haemorrhages and a haemoglobin of 18g. He was able to descend unassisted (on oxygen) but was accompanied later the same day to Pheriche where he was evacuated by helicopter. On arrival in Kathmandu he was completely asymptomatic and flew home a week later. In London he was examined by Dr Charles Clarke who made a diagnosis of acute cerebral oedema.
Cough, gastro-enteritis and coryzal symptoms: These were almost universally experienced throughout the Expedition in the first few weeks after arrival. Most of those who spent significant time in Kathmandu developed symptoms there.
Gastro-enteritis: One member developed particularly severe purulent diarrhoea in Kathmandu that did not resolve with either ciprofloxacin or metronidazole. He later required intravenous fluids. Although his symptoms improved they never fully resolved and some weeks later this member returned home to the UK. No pathogens were isolated on his return to the UK. Symptoms of giardia occurred frequently amongst the Expedition members and were successfully treated with either metronidazole or tinidazole.
The productive cough that many acquired in Kathmandu frequently improved with antibiotics unlike the non productive cough that occurred in those venturing above Base Camp. An anecdotal trial of becotide in the management of altitude related cough was abandoned due to lack of scientific method!
Cardiovascular problems: One of the more senior members of the Expedition made a rapid ascent to Gorak Shep but required assistance with the last few miles of his ascent to Base Camp. During his stay at Base Camp he developed significant fluid retention and shortness of breath on minimal exertion. He was treated with frusemide and was assisted (by stretcher) in his descent to Pheriche (2 days) and was evacuated by helicopter to Kathmandu where he was successfully treated with diuretics and made a full recovery.
Health problems amongst members of other Expeditions:
None of the other Expeditions had medical cover and our Base Camp was frequently visited by other teams seeking medical advice. David Collier (as a Base Camp permanent resident) had a relatively demanding case load providing care to other Expeditions. Frostbite: We looked after several case of frostbite. The most severe was sustained by one of the Speed Climber’s sherpas at Camp 3. Both hands and feet were involved. We understand that many of his fingers were later amputated. There were other incidents of cold injury (minor) amongst the sherpa staff of other teams.
Ken Stewart sent in this case report:
Alex McNab of Aberdeen (International Lhotse Expedition) suffered severe frostbite and impaired vision 150 metres (approx. 8,350 metres) from the summit in very high winds. On examination he had a foveal retinal haemorrhage and a central scotoma, the skin of his toes was peeling and necrotic. The loose skin was debrided at Base Camp under sterile conditions by Ken, Annabel Nickol and Karol Howard. Augmentin was used prophylactically. Alex was flown out the next morning by a big Russian helicopter – the third ever rescue from Base Camp by helicopter. The first 2 were earlier in the year by the same helicopter. Hitherto smaller helicopters have been unable to get up because of the altitude and thin air. At the “helipad” a large rock sheltered us from a barrage of small pebbles!
An Israeli trekker dislocated his shoulder climbing on some rocks at Gorak Shep. He was a large, muscular man in a great deal of pain and there was a lot of muscular spasm. We were faced with the prospect of having no X ray facilities to exclude a possible fracture and no general anaesthetic. Intra venous morphine would have been dodgy due to the risk of central respiratory depression and consequent hypoxia at 5,100 metres. In the end we treated him with repeated doses of i.m. morphine every 10 minutes (by anaesthetist Saye Khoo). We achieved adequate control with 20 mg after 45 minutes. Tried all 3 of the usual methods of reduction: hanging arm; boot in the axilla and traction; pulling on the elbow, external rotation, internal rotation and adduction. The last one worked with a wonderful clunk and suddenly all was well. Subsequent news from Israel is that he has had no further problems.
Ken Stewart is a gynaecologist
Health problems amongst local inhabitants. (not employed trekking crew)
The Expedition’s policy was to avoid providing temporary medical care and encourage locals to seek help from the permanent medical services that exist in the Khumbu. Despite this our help was sought and we were involved in several incidents. One member performed a urinary catheterisation to relieve distress in a terminally ill elderly resident at Namche. Another attempted to give assistance to a young woman at Lukla with advanced septicaemia of unknown origin. Unfortunately no drugs were available and the woman died within hours.
Pharmaceutical supplies and procurement
Retired pharmacist, Tony Davies did an excellent job of obtaining pharmaceuticals. We took with us 6 barrel loads of pharmaceuticals and that which was not used was donated to local hospitals in Khunde and Kathmandu.
The bulk of the medication was kept at Base Camp in locked barrels. Each member of the Expedition was issued with a miniature medical kit. Each group medical representative should also have received a more comprehensive kit but some of these went astray at Namche Bazaar. Each member of the climbing team carried with them at all times their own supply of dexamethasone, acetazolamide and nifedipine when above Base Camp. Each Camp on Everest itself should have contained a reasonably comprehensive medical kit but in practice most of these kits were kept at Camp 2. The only omission in the high altitude kits were simple cough remedies (codeine linctus and inhalations). There were also shortages of throat lozenges.
The most frequently used preparations were: metronidazole and tinidazole (giardial symptoms); ciprofloxacin (enteritis); various rehydration sachets; simple analgesics; amoxycillin and augmentin (respiratory infections and prophylaxis in frostbite); temazepam (insomnia). Dexamethasone, Antacids, omeprazole and diuretics were also occasionally used (see above).
Tony Davies (pharmacist) has sent in the following report: I went to my first meeting in the Lakes in 1992 and got to know for the first time various core groups about whom the Expedition would revolve. Andy, Ronnie, Angus, Charlie and Simon of the main ascent group. David and Jim and others in the research group. Chris, Mick and Andy of the Oldham Mountain Rescue Team.
Over the next 2 years we had a succession of meets at various mountain venues from Capel Curig to Grindlewald during which Expedition business and policies were decided, and friendships established in the pubs and on the hills. I nurtured my ‘baby’ and did my job as Expedition Pharmacist by organising supplies of the pharmaceutical and surgical requirements from lists thrashed out at various meetings.
Most of the manufacturers approached were co-operative and generous, and eventually the goods started to appear for unpacking, checking-off and repackaging according to where it was likely to be needed. This was a fascinating exercise, as I had to prepare packs for the various trekking groups, and packs for individual members to treat themselves, in order to reduce pressure on the group packs. All this of course was additional to providing for the wants of a small clinic at Base Camp. All was then packed into plastic barrels for ease of transport and proof against water and pilferage
I had assumed that trekking groups would pick up their kits at BC but this meant that they would be without supplies for the 10 day approach. Gerald and Nick left the kits in Kathmandu to be picked up by arriving groups but I was unaware of this and sent them on to BC to catch up the advance group once I had recovered. They were then sent back to Namche for collection but unfortunately some went astray en route.
Eventually the fateful day arrived, and members of the advance group assembled at Heathrow for the flight to Kathmandu, where we arrived on Monday 1st August. Unfortunately, during the first few days, in spite of taking what I thought were all the normal precautions, I was reduced to almost total inactivity by a gut infection which restricted me to my hotel room for almost a whole week. Other members of the advance team went ahead with their own jobs and had to take over the work that I should have been doing on the medical supplies. My ‘baby’ had to find a new foster parents: Gerald Dubowitz and Nick Mason. This resulted in misunderstandings, and some of the packs not being in the locations which Gerald and Nick had planned, nor being as well equipped as I had anticipated.
I had planned to provide kits for each of 5 trekking groups but a last minute recruitment campaign confounded this by adding a sixth group. This created some shortages. Another problem arose from my community pharmacist’s lack of awareness, that an intravenous fluid needs its own plumbing kit to get from container to vein. Fortunately Gerald was able to conjure up a few giving sets at the last minute.
I made up 80 individual kits for the members. I understand that a few members did not receive a kit, and to them I must apologise. The kits should have been there for them at some stage but somehow never made it. For all these sins and errors of commission and omission: Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa.
Tony Davies is a retired community pharmacist.
Despite Tony’s contrite report he did an amazing job very conscientiously and no significant shortages were encountered that I am aware of.
List of Suppliers of Pharmaceuticals etc.
- Allen & Hanburys Ltd. A.P.S. / Berk
- Bayer PLC Pharmaceuticals Crookes Healthcare Ltd.
- Geigy Pharmaceuticals Glaxo Laboratories Ltd.
- Hoechst UK Ltd. Janssen Pharmaceuticals Ltd.
- Leo Laboratories Ltd. J. Pickles & Sons
- Park Davis & Co. Ltd. Reckitt & Colman Products
- Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Roche Products Ltd. Roussel Laboratories Ltd.
- Searle Pharmaceuticals Seton Healthcare Group PLC
- Smith & Nephew PLC SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals
- Thornton & Ross Limited The Wellcome Foundation Ltd.
To the Above Companies we owe a debt of gratitude for their generous support in supplying the Expedition with a wide range of products free of charge. We would also like to thank S.H. Containers Ltd. Brighouse, West Yorks. (tel. 01484 714473) who supplied (at cost) plastic barrels into which everyone packed their luggage and equipment. They were totally weather proof, almost indestructible and the 60 litre size was the ideal unit for porters and yaks alike. They were much sought after by the Sherpa staff who recognised their qualities and put them to good use as domestic food and water containers after the Expedition.
Communications officer: Andrew Taylor. Radios supplied by Yaesu, Japan. (Report by S.C.)
Radios: The superbly reliable and powerful radios supplied by Yaesu of Japan were a key feature in the success of the Expedition. It was possible to communicate with the handsets between Base Camp and Namche Bazaar which meant that a large percentage of the Expedition was in daily contact with Base Camp. This was a remarkable achievement considering the topography and the line of sight limitations of VHF. In all we had 10 VHF handsets and 2 Base sets as well as 2 Short Wave sets. The handsets were extremely well specified and combined a 5 watt output with an extremely lightweight and compact design. The Radios were of inestimable logistical value. They were heavily used and were most effective during some of the various rescues that took place.
Very High Frequency (VHF): We chose to use 144 MHz and paid a licence fee of $60 for each handset and $165 for each Base set. We also paid $165 for each of 3 short wave frequencies. We operated a twice daily radio schedule at 9 am and 6 p.m.. There was a considerable amount of traffic throughout the day and occasionally the airways became congested. Congestion was exacerbated by the very lengthy communications by Sherpas. The French team also used our radio permit and shared the same frequency.
The choice of frequency, although ours, was rather unfortunate as it co-incided with the interference frequencies of many of the research computers and chart recorders. We attempted to minimise this by earthing and construction of Faraday Boxes but not with much success. This was an unforeseen and very unfortunate choice of frequency and caused substantial difficulty to the Research Team whose activities were curtailed around the time of the radio schedules and at crisis times. This was, at least partially, overcome by illegally using 146 MHz. Use of 146 was also limited as it interfered with the Italian’s communications.
Communications were very difficult between Camp 2 and Camp 4 due to the extremely high winds which seemed to attenuate the signal. This was in spite of the fact that it is virtually line of sight. Communication between Base Camp and Camp 4 was rarely possible. The same difficulty was encountered by other teams using other systems. The Japanese team used telescopic aerial extensions on the mountain which certainly improved the performance of their Yaesu radios. Unfortunately even these caused communication difficulties when the aerial extension was blown off on the summit. Our radio failed between the South Summit and the main Summit after the battery fell off (not an uncommon problem). Whilst the battery was being replaced one of the terminals broke off (presumably related to the cold).
Camp 2 proved to be an excellent communication centre and tuning into Radio Khumbu was a good way to while away the days. It was frequently possible to relay messages from the Chukhung valley to Base Camp which seems an extraordinary achievement for VHF. One memorable 3 way simultaneous conversation took place between Base Camp and members on the summits of Parchamo and Lobuje East.
Batteries inevitably caused some problems. The small 4.5 volt Nicad’s did not work at all in the cold. The 6 volt Nicad’s worked well as long as they were kept inside clothes (actually next to the skin rather than just inside a wind proof) but porter difficulties made the recharging of these at Base Camp somewhat erratic. In the end we relied largely on AA (Duracell’s) which were slightly lighter than the Nicad’s and worked well. One small criticism of the handsets was that the low battery warning indicator seemed to be unreliable. One set of 4 batteries lasted for about 20 hours of continuous monitoring with about 30 minutes of broadcasting on high power (5 watts). Electricity was available for recharging at Lukla, Namche, Thangboche, Pheriche (12 volt only) and the Lobuje Research Pyramid. We, of course, had mains electricity at Base Camp.
In retrospect the ideal power source for the radios above Base Camp would have been AA Lithium batteries – available in the USA.
One of the Base VHF sets (50 watts) was left at the Panorama Lodge in Namche Bazaar to communicate with incoming members but the dubious power supply at Namche and the difficult topography meant that it was rarely effective.
Short Wave (High Frequency): We opted to pay the Royalty on 3 frequencies ($495) to communicate with Portishead in England but in practice used all 12 available frequencies as these frequencies are not monitored in Nepal. Due to an administration error our spare SW set was sent to Base Camp rather than being left at the Ministry of Tourism as required by the law. This caused considerable distress for Gongal- our Liaison Officer.
We elected not to use a frequency to communicate with Kathmandu as we had no representative in Kathmandu to monitor it. In the event we made heavy use of the Japanese HF link to their trekking agent in Kathmandu who relayed messages direct to Thamserku. This link was a very valuable way of communicating press releases at the end of the Expedition and we were able to speak directly to members that had returned to Kathmandu. Ronnie Robb was, on one occasion, patched through onto VHF and thence direct from Kathmandu to Camp 2.
Radio Distribution: Both SW sets were kept at Base Camp. One 50 watt VHF set was kept at Base Camp and the other in Namche. Despite having the luxury of having 10 handsets they were still in short supply. They were extremely popular due to their range and reliability and were therefore spread thinly throughout the 75 members. On average 2 were used by the Everest climbing team, 1 by the Everest Sirdar, 2 by the Pumori team, one by Alison (due to the danger of her endeavour), and the remainder were spread throughout the other teams.
Satellite: We enjoyed an element of co-operation with the Italian Research Expedition based at the Lobuje Pyramid but this fell short of the co-operation that we had been led to expect. We were, however, able to access their INMARSAT transceiver direct from Base Camp via our VHF system. This was used on several occasions but was prohibitively expensive ($13/minute + $20 connection fee). We did make some use of the satellite fax facilities at the Pyramid. The Telecom Managers Association (TMA) gave a grant to assist with communication between Base Camp and the Church Missionary Society in London.
Base Camp Manager: Peter Smith. (report by S.C.)
Freight and transport from Kathmandu to Base Camp: Peter Smith, our Base Camp Manager, performed a brilliant task in the UK during the weeks leading up to our departure. All of the equipment was collected in London and Peter delivered it to the Airline freight terminal at Heathrow. Pakistan International Airlines were kind enough to give us a specially discounted freight rate of just over £1/kg. Unfortunately we were unable to freight all of our equipment in one go and this was to cause us significant problems once in Nepal. In total we freighted 1,000 kg of equipment in 3 separate shipments. Wherever possible equipment was packed in lockable, waterproof, plastic chemical barrels. Most of these were 60 litres in size and provide the most manageable porter or yak loads. Each barrel contained, as near as possible, 30 kg. Tony Davies was tireless in his efforts in obtaining these barrels at minimal cost (£4) and distributing them to members throughout the UK. These barrels proved to be extremely popular amongst the Sherpa staff and were worth over $20.
We were most grateful to Pakistan International Airlines who allowed us to take an extra 800 kg as accompanied luggage in early August. In this way we managed to avoid the hassle and expense of importing extremely precious scientific and mountaineering equipment through Nepalese Customs. This luggage allowance saved us many thousands of dollars in import duty. Gas cylinders and Coleman fuel were freighted by special air freight from Manchester at a cost of about £10/kg.
Thamserku negotiated customs efficiently on our behalf and when we left Kathmandu on 13/8/94 we were accompanied by 70% of our research equipment and all of our climbing equipment. The remainder of the Research Equipment was forwarded to Base Camp by Thamserku. All personnel were flown together with equipment by helicopter to Lukla (2,900 metres). From there it was carried by yak or porter. The porters carried the more difficult oversized loads. The yaks carried 2 x 30 kg loads. The heaviest loads were the generators which when boxed weighed 75 kg and each of these were carried by a single porter.
Above Lukla we had considerable difficulty in obtaining sufficient yaks as they were deployed on the land during the monsoon. This delayed arrival of much of our equipment at Base Camp and David Collier had to return to Namche Bazaar to oversee the despatch of equipment. We had 100 items of equipment (50 loads) and lost one item en route to Base Camp. Unfortunately one of these barrels contained personal climbing equipment which was difficult to replace. Transport of equipment from Kathmandu to Base Camp cost around Rs 75 (£1) / kg.
Icefall: Equipment for fixing the Icefall was hired by Thamserku from Asian Trekking. The 61 ladders are kept from season to season at Gorak Shep and are the responsibility of the ‘Icefall Doctors’ who are employees of Asian Trekking. This equipment was removed after the Expedition for use next season.
Tents: The tents at Base Camp provided for the Research Team by Thamserku proved to be inadequate but despite this the Team coped admirably. We used the venerable McInnes Box tent as a research tent and it is extraordinary that this most durable of tents was the only one to be blown away by the freak avalanche at Base Camp. We can only assume that the winds generated by the avalanche in the middle of the night were very localised as it tossed this 78 kg tent 25 metres down the glacier leap-frogging another tent on the way.
Electricity: The 2 Haverhill generators powered by petrol 8 HP engines were our only source of electricity at Base Camp and their reliability was less than we had hoped for. One had been incorrectly assembled and had to be completely dismantled and the coils re-magnetised. The other never ran smoothly and was relatively inefficient. Neither would function at 5,300 metres with their air filters in place and so were run for the duration of the Expedition with no filters. They consumed around 350 litres of petrol between them. 240 volt electricity was essential for most of the research and communication equipment. It would have been a great advantage to have had a 12 volt lead acid battery to power lights and radio base sets in the evenings instead of having to run the generator.
Climbing Logistics: The ascent of Everest via the South Col is a difficult logistical exercise but there is no shortage of previous experience to draw on. We are most grateful to Steve Bell and Rob Hall in this respect. Both have organised successful commercial expeditions to Everest (Rob has summited 4 times) and gave their advice freely. We also had a very experienced team of 6 high altitude sherpas which helped the logistical problems (but created other problems.
The first barrier is the Icefall which has to be bridged using a combination of ladders and fixed rope. This work was performed by the Icefall Sherpas who were supported by our own Sherpas. Camp 1 was established at the lip of the Western Cwm but was seldom occupied. Most of the equipment was ferried to Camp 1 during a period of bad weather during which it was impossible to push the route out to Camp 2.
Once Camp 2 was occupied both Sherpas and Members moved up to Camp 2 and began carrying loads between Camps 1 and 2. Once at Camp 2 each Expedition team provided 2 Sherpas to form a strong 6 man team to fix rope on the Lhotse Face and force the route up to the South Col. Whilst this was happening members of the climbing team and the rest of the sherpas were deployed ferrying loads between Camps 1 and 2.
Camp 3 was placed at 7,000 metres below a serac on the Lhotse Face and was never occupied. Camp 4 was placed at the South Col (7,940 metres). Two carries were made by Sherpas to the South Col placing all food, tents, stoves and oxygen there prior to a summit bid. Alas the food was left in bin liners rather than the kit bags that we had provided and had been entirely blown away by the time of the first summit bid.
Eight x 2 litre cylinders of oxygen were left at Camp 3 to be collected by members and used during their ascent to the South Col if required.
Difficulties with Sherpas meant that the supply line between Base Camp and Camp 2 often broke down causing food shortages. This was exacerbated by the fact that our Sirdar had misappropriated the money for Camp 2 food and the Sherpas pilfered what edible food we had brought from the UK. Fortunately we were able to recruit help from the Icefall Sherpas who made several carries to Camp 2 during quiet days on the glacier!
Good radio communication between Camp 2( occupied for 3 weeks by up to 14 people) proved an immense logistical asset.
Often Sherpas would carry a double load for a double bonus. It was not unusual for loads to be considerably less and for the Sherpas to re-pack them at Camp 1 on route to Camp 2. This caused considerable difficulties. We also relied on our Sirdar to keep account of the work done by each sherpa which proved a costly mistake as the worksheets were, I suspect, grossly inflated. The Climbing members carried a great deal more than is usual on modern Expeditions between Base Camp and Camp 2.
Clearance of the Mountain: Relations between the Sherpas and the Expedition broke down following a fight between our Sirdar and one of the High Altitude Porters. The argument was over the money that had gone missing for the purchase of Camp 2 food. All but 2 of our Sherpas refused to go back onto the mountain to retrieve equipment and oxygen cylinders (vital for our $2,000 rubbish bond). In the end we sacked all but 2 however this had little effect as they remained at Base Camp to take part in the pilfering during the striking of the Camp.
Two of our remaining loyal sherpas retrieved the tents and equipment from Camp 2 and we recruited help from the French team of Sherpas to retrieve spent cylinders from the South Col.
Equipment was carried out from Base Camp by 80 yaks and flown from Syanboche (3,500 metres) to Kathmandu by helicopter. PIA granted us a free extra 1,000 kg accompanied luggage allowance and 200 kg of empty oxygen and carbon dioxide cylinders were freighted back to the UK by Thamserku (cost $5/kg). The oxygen cylinders have to be exported in order to obtain the refund of the rubbish bond.
I have listed below all the teams in the Western Cwm. We understand that a further 10 (or so) teams were operating from Tibet but we never had any contact with these.
Everest – French commercial Expedition (9 members): Bernard Muller (Leader), Lawrence de la Ferriere (Deputy Leader), Michael Paklaglou French), Alain Hubert (Belgian), Michael (Belgian), Tierry (French), Pedro (Portuguese), Philip (French). Contact address: Stages Expeditions, Chamonix. The French team were an interesting mixture of teachers, disco owners and polar explorers. Michael’s lycra clothes and the other Michael’s guitar were both very entertaining. Along with Pedro came a TV crew (Oralio and Philip) who were trying to film the first Portuguese ascent. Lawrence brought a ‘Sigma’ photographer on assignment from ‘Hello’ to photograph her ascent. We enjoyed excellent relations with the French team and enjoyed their company.
Everest – Japanese (2 members): Mr Muneo Nukita (summiteer), Mr Mirahara and Ms Tajika (Base Camp Manager). Contact address: Muneo Nukita, 47 17 618 Nakajuku, Itabashi-Ku, Tokyo, Japan phone/fax 081 3 3963 7600 The Japanese Team gave us a great deal of support. We had unlimited access to their High Frequency link to Kathmandu, they provided us with food at the South Col when ours had blown away and even gave us their spare oxygen. Above all they were delightful company and always most hospitable. Their Expedition was successful although Mr Mirahara failed to summit. He lost the vision in one eye at the South Summit but this thankfully returned on descent. Nukita reached the summit for the second time.
Everest – Indonesian Expedition, 2 members. Attained Camp 3 before retreating. Their expedition was celebrating the Indonesian year of the woman.
Everest – Nepalese speed climber Pasang Kagee attempted to climb Everest alone and without supplementary oxygen in 17 hours from Base Camp. Early in the Expedition one of his supporting Sherpas suffered severely frosbitten hands and feet at Camp 3 and was evacuated. His first attempt was abandoned at Camp 2 due to very high winds and his second attempt ended at the South Col. He left Base Camp at 4 p.m. on 10th of October and planned to summit with Roddy and Charlie the next morning but arrived at the South Col (9 hours after leaving Base Camp) only to find that his Sherpa had left his down clothing at Camp 3. He abandoned the Expedition at this point.
Lhotse -Italian French CNR South Col Survival Expedition: Augustina (Leader), Benoit Chamou (Climbing Leader). Benoit and 2 Italians summited on October 11th. Their research programme involved placing 2 people on the South Col (without supplementary oxygen) for 10 days and monitoring their responses. This project had lavish TV and government backing but unfortunately they never reached the South Col but they did manage to do some of their work in the Western Cwm at Camp 2.
Lhotse – International Lhotse Expedition: Henry Todd (Leader), Aleck, Tim, Richard (summiteer), Reuticer. Richard (Polish) summited October 11th. Alec was evacuated by helicopter after suffering frostbite at 8,400m. Contact address: Henry Todd, Himalayan Guides, Edinburgh. Henry shared the same avalanche as Ronnie Robb.
Lhotse – Swiss Lhotse: Jean Troillet (summiteer), Rudi Hoffenberger and Loreten (summit). Reached the summit on October 3rd but abandoned their traverse to the un-climbed middle peak of Lhotse due to high winds and cornices.
Education: Past, present and future
Course Organiser: Dr Andrew Pollard (report by A.J.P.)
Returning over the Mera La in 1991, after the successful 1st British ascent of Chamlang, David Collier and I (Andrew Pollard) came across a man in his early 20’s who was dying from High Altitude Cerebral Oedema. He was with a trekking group from mainland Europe and was accompanied by a trek doctor. The doctor told me he did not know what was wrong with the sick man. He had been at 5200m in a coma for 4 days and despite our efforts he died the next morning. I was quite shocked to see this young fit man die, not least because the trek doctor, the sherpas and the Chamonix guide who accompanied the group had made no effort to descend with him. Descent might have been life-saving, but they failed to recognise the nature of his illness and thought it best to wait for a helicopter. This experience led to a series of articles in the medical press to raise awareness of altitude-related illness and the correct management.
In the meantime, Everest planning was in its early stages and, with 20,000 British trekkers and climbers visiting Nepal each year, I felt there was a great need to increase awareness of altitude illness amongst the British GP’s who had responsibility for these ‘patients’ and the ‘patients’ themselves. The British Mount Everest Medical Expedition (BMEME) provided the vehicle for this as a charity run with the remit of education and research. With the title ‘Mountain and High Altitude Medicine’, courses were run for 300 doctors in April 1993 and April 1994 covering altitude medicine and physiology and emergencies in the mountains. The courses for the general public, organised in conjunction with Charles Clarke’s UIAA Mountain Medicine Data Centre, in December 1993, entitled The Medical Problems of Mountains, Trekking and High Altitude, were attended by over 150 people.
The educational saga linked with BMEME is not over. Numerous papers, posters and publications are expected to appear internationally from the research team in the next year(s). A handbook for GP’s is in the early stages of preparation as a joint effort between David Murdoch, a past Kunde Doctor from New Zealand, and myself. Finally, a further ‘Mountain and High Altitude Medicine’, will be run for up to 150 doctors in December 1995 to include presentations of the research performed on BMEME. And, if the interest out there remains, maybe more courses in ’96, ’97……2000.
Other Educational activities
The Expedition’s main educational objective was to encourage a greater awareness of altitude related illness. In addition to this some experts within the Expedition used the opportunity to pass on some of their knowledge to their counterparts in Nepal. Colin Clarke lectured to the Royal Nepalese Institute of Science and Technology on the management of clinical waste, Steve Archibald lectured on aspects of environmental health and Ken Stewart lectured to doctors and midwives on the use of the Partogram.
Ken Stewart is a senior consultant obstetrician, has sent in the following report:
The Partogram is a graphic display which enables the events of labour to be seen at a glance. On it are guide lines to the management of abnormal labour. The use of the Partogram greatly improves the standard of management of labour. In an effort to reduce maternal mortality world-wide, it is the aim of the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) to introduce the partogram to Third World Countries. I (K.S.) was involved with the partogram when it was first set up and used in Zimbabwe and, then with the WHO, I made 2 lecture tours to Thailand and Indonesia in ’92 and ’93 to introduce it there. As the Partogram was not used in Nepal I was asked to talk about in Kathmandu. On my last 2 days before leaving Nepal I had a really enjoyable time. speaking to the Doctors and midwives all of whom were very interested, keen , hardworking and cheerful. I have since heard that the Partogram is now in use in Kathmandu and has spread to other parts of Nepal.
United Mission to Nepal and Church Missionary Society
UMN liaison: Rev John Currin.
Introduction by John Currin – To my knowledge there has never before been an association between a Christian development agency and a mountaineering expedition. As the United Mission to Nepal (UMN) is largely engaged in primary medical health care and with the unambiguous medical emphasis of the expedition this afforded some common ground. As someone who understood a little about both of the parties involved in the partnership, I acted as the expeditions liaison with the UMN. That this unusual partnership developed to the considerable assistance of both parties was due largely to the Church Missionary Society (CMS is one of the UK constituents of UMN) and in particular to the work of Russell Price and Martin Thomas. Through highly imaginative and well organised events CMS in conjunction with the expedition raised public awareness and financial support to the mutual benefit of all concerned.
Report received from Church Missionary Society (CMS)
by Russell Price, Parish Programmes Officer, CMS, Partnership House, Waterloo Road, London SE1 8UU tel. 071 928 8681
“He would have died if we had not brought him here. His diarrhoea would not stop,” claimed Dambur Banadur. Dambur, father of nine year old Shanta, had struggled for a day through the valleys and over the rugged hill tracks with his son in a ‘Doko’ (bamboo basket) strapped to his back. He brought him to Okhaldhunga Hospital, located among the remote valleys of Eastern Nepal. Shanta had become dehydrated. Following treatment, he made a full recovery at the small hospital run by the United Mission to Nepal (UMN).
The United Mission to Nepal has 40 years’ experience of working alongside the people of Nepal, developing the latter’s skills and serving the nation in the areas of agricultural and community development as well as making an enormous contribution in the field of health care. One of UMN’s major British partners is the Church Missionary Society (CMS), which shares in UMN’s medical work. CMS welcomed the decision of the British Mount Everest Medical Expedition 1994 (BMEME) to promote the UMN’s work, recognising the UMN to be the appropriate channel through which to pass on to the Nepali people the benefits that the expedition was to win for them. CMS became the Expedition’s point of contact with the UMN.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the UMN and to promote the Expedition, CMS approached Lloyd’s of London to ask it to allow Expedition members to climb and abseil the 130 foot atrium window. The event passed off successfully, members of the Expedition abseiling and climbing on the Lloyd’s building with its dramatic architecture. This coup marked the start of a mutually beneficial relationship between CMS and the BMEME.
Peter Middleton, the chief executive of Lloyd’s, hosted the event, at which the late John Smith MP, an active mountaineer, wished the Expedition well. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, then CMS general Secretary, and the Ambassador of the Royal kingdom of Nepal attended and endorsed the initiative. The media, including The Independent, The Times of London and regional TV news, seized the event extensively and illustrated it with excellent photographs.
CMS developed its relationship with the BMEME further as the Society promoted the Expedition’s unique dual contribution to the world of mountaineering and high altitude medicine. CMS told the story of the Expedition to study groups in 200 English Parishes and in a further 200 Church of England junior schools.
CMS introduced the Expedition to the Telecommunications Managers Association (TMA), at first with the view to TMA providing funds and technical advice to enable data collected high up in the Himalayas to be processed in teaching hospitals in the UK. The short lead-time subsequently closed off this option but funds and technical advice did enable valuable voice contact to be made and maintained between the Expedition in Nepal and CMS in London.
The Society congratulates the Expedition on realising its objectives and succeeding in conducting the largest medical research project ever undertaken on Everest. CMS hopes to strengthen its links with the Expedition by continuing to provide support through the UMN in ways which may contribute to bringing lasting benefits to the peoples of Nepal.
Russell Price, Parish Programmes Office, CMS February 1995.
A prerequisite for obtaining financial support is to achieve a media profile. Although we had limited success in obtaining funds by this method our publicity was of inestimable assistance in recruiting our Support Group and it also led to many unexpected spin-offs. Media recognition certainly also played a role in our team building. Our media flirtations proved to be most enjoyable and valuable in many ways.
Our early dilemma was that we were seeking corporate sponsorship but were keen to avoid the sensationalism, and gimmickry that the media and some sponsors demand. We were anxious that the quality of our research and good environmental credentials should be our main attractions and we were not prepared to compromise this. Undoubtedly this was the correct decision.
The media’s tendency to sensationalise and report only bad news did indirectly effect our Expedition. In March ’93 we were severely damaged by the ill-informed and irresponsible reporting (surrounding Everest’s 40th anniversary) that addressed the ‘rubbish problem’ on Everest. We took a decision to counter this and use it to our advantage by promoting our own environmental credentials. This worked fairly well in the quality press but the tabloids picked up on the wholly inaccurate ‘super-loo’ story. Interestingly the ‘super-loo’ story was fabricated by a toilet manufacturer and distributed through the press networks without our knowledge or permission.
These experiences led us to be very cautious in our dealings with the media and the tabloids were not invited to attend events such as the Lloyd’s Tower Climb. The coverage that we achieved at Lloyd’s was both very broad and entirely favourable.
Russell Price of the Church Missionary Society did a good job, on behalf of the UMN, in building our profile and, unlike others, made no attempt at sensationalism. He was also very sensitive the unease of our patrons with respect to our relationship with any religious organisation.
Once in Nepal CMS distributed our press releases and organised TV coverage. They were particularly keen on promoting a profile amongst children and our appearance on Blue Peter was one of their triumphs.
The United Mission to Nepal and the Church Missionary Society were both keen to use the Expedition as a tool to raise their own profile. The UMN is the largest external development agency in Nepal and employs some 2000 Nepalese. It operates within Nepal within strictly defined guidelines which forbid any form of proselytising. CMS is one of UMN’s funding organisations. The Expedition was the cornerstone to a parish based fund raising campaign and therefore broad publicity was important.
Filming and photography:
In 1992 a TV production company proposed filming the Expedition and selling it on in various forms to documentary makers, news programmes and medical cable networks. At the same time researchers from the BBC Natural History Unit proposed a documentary looking at the science of acclimatisation. The budgets for both projects were astronomical and both were abandoned.
Phil Coates, an independent film producer, compiled a ‘Treatment’ entitled ‘Rare Air’ which was to be a documentary looking specifically at the effect of altitude and hypoxia on the airways. Unfortunately he was unable to find a sympathetic commissioning editor.
In the weeks before departure we were contacted by BBC Horizon who wanted to make a low budget documentary looking at extremes of survival. This was to be filmed by the members themselves on BBC Hi 8 video equipment. Their timescale for filming the data collecting weekend in London was hopelessly short and they too were unable to secure a commissioning editor.
The filming that we ended up with
BBC Open University did film some of our projects in the UK and made a film for their physiology module.
Swanlind, Grampian TV and BBC Scotland filmed our mock base camp at Aonach Mor in 1993
BBC London South East filmed the ascent of the Lloyd’s Building
Filming in Nepal was performed entirely with 2 Panasonic NSV 85 palmcorders. These provided High band video on the miniature SVHS C format. They were powered by rechargeable NiCad batteries recharged at Base Camp. An 8 hour battery belt was used in the Western Cwm and produced more than adequate power at very low temperatures. The cameras weighed just 0.8 kg and their light weight and compact size meant that they could be used relatively high on the mountain. Video filming took place to Camp 3 (7,100 metres). Some footage was lost at Camp 3 presumably due to condensation. Strong winds and porter difficulties made filming above this impossible.
Editing was performed by the Expedition’s members on an High band SVHS Panasonic editing suite. The SVHS master was commercially copied on to VHS and distributed to members and those interested.
A wide variety of cameras and film were used. Fujichrome Sensia and Ektachrome Elite were the most popular slide films. Most of the Everest climbing team carried both SLR’s and compacts. The lithium powered cameras performed reliably and on the summit day most of the photographs were taken on compacts as it was possible to keep these warm within an internal pocket. One of the SLR’s failed to work on the summit day. Most of the SLR’s were equipped with 28-80 mm zoom lenses.
In order to enhance this Expedition Report we organised a competition with a cash prize of £50 for the best photograph. This was judged by an independent professional photographer.
April 1990 :The idea occurred somewhere between Lukla and Jiri after a trip to Island Peak and Lobuje.
November 1990 : Getting permission. We applied to various trekking companies for assistance in getting permission and eventually managed to secure the South Col Route for 1994.
March 1991: Making a commitment. The first commitment was to stump up the required £2,400 Royalty.
August 1991: Looking for sponsors. First crude attempts at seeking a commercial backer. Needless to say this was fruitless.
December 1991: First crisis meeting in Stirling- Royalty rises to $10,000 decide to recruit support group and begin to develop the Medical Research. All team members reaffirm their commitment to the trip.
January 1992: Advertise in “High”, “Climbing” and “Climber and Rambler”. Articles also appear in “Doctor”.
March 1992: First open meeting in Langdale attended by 30 prospective Support Group members.
July 1992: Royalty rises to US$10,000 per climber. At this stage we had 11 climbers!
September 1992: Form charitable company and write a formal contract with members of the Support Group. Start taking deposits. Open meeting in Hyssington attended by Thamserku Trekking representative. PR company becomes involved.
November 1992: Planning meeting at Kenilworth.
February 1993: Media launch at Aonach Mor Ski field. Excellent local TV coverage, national press coverage and guest speaker has temper tantrum during evening lecture. Promotional video made.
April 1993: First 2 day course for doctors on altitude related illness. Extremely popular and profitable. 150 doctors attend.
July 1993: Meeting in the Lake District. Many new members now joined.
October 1993: First team building meet at Oldham attended by over 30 members and extremely successful. Bonding begins.
December 1993: Mountain medicine course for non medics: 250 attend.
February 1994: Winter skills and team building at Aonach Mor. 40 people attend and most camp out on the mountain in gale force winds.
March 1994: Promotional event organised by UMN/CMS at Lloyd’s of London with research displays and ascent of the Atrium on the roof. Excellent press and TV coverage. CMS begin their ‘Climb with Charlie Hornsby’ appeal.
April 1994: Training in glacier travel during ski touring trip to the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland.
May – July 1994: Further team building weekends in Glencoe and Snowdonia.
August 1st 1994: Climbing and research teams arrive in Kathmandu.
August 13th 1994: First party fly to Lukla.
August 27th 1994: Establish Base Camp.
September 1st 1994: permission to start climbing begins. First forays into the icefall.
September 5th 1994: Route to Camp 1 established. First wave of Support Group arrive Kathmandu.
September 17th 1994: Camp 2 established (delay due to poor visibility in the Western Cwm, snowfall and avalanche danger during middle of September).
September 19th Second wave of Support Group arrive Kathmandu.
September 23rd: Camp 3 established.
September 29th: Camp 4 established.
October 1st: First summit attempt abandoned when one member of the climbing team suffered a stroke and had to be evacuated to Kathmandu.
October 3rd: Swiss climbers summit on Lhotse but do not attempt their planned traverse due to strong winds. Scottish member of International Lhotse team suffers frostbite and exhaustion 150 metres from the summit of Lhotse and is brought back down. Alec is Helicopter evacuated from Base Camp the next day.
October 4th: Rest day. High winds.
October 5th: Rest day. High winds.
October 6th: Andrew Pollard, John Sanders, Charlie Hornsby, Angus Andrew and Alison Hargreaves together with Sherpas: Kilu Temba, Dorje, Dawa Temba and Finjo move up to the South Col. All food has been blown away and most stoves refuse to work. Tents overcrowded as only 2 hyperspaces have been pitched due to high winds. Japanese team also occupy Camp 4.
October 7th: Roddy, Charlie and Alison descend from Camp 4 to Camp 2. Food, oxygen shortages and stove malfunctions together with ferocious winds make the S. Col virtually uninhabitable.
October 8th: John and Angus descend. John goes straight to Base Camp. Strong winds persist. Japanese team give food to Andrew. Sherpas retreat.
October 9th: Andrew Pollard makes solo summit attempt (leaving late) after being abandoned by sherpas. Attempt abandoned at 8,600m due to shortage of oxygen and anxieties about snow conditions. Andrew descends to Camp 2. Camp 4 tents beginning to disintegrate.
October 10th: Charlie, Roddy and Alison move up to South Col to make their summit bid. Muneo Nukita and Mirahara make their summit attempt. Mirahara retreats from the South Summit after going blind in one eye. Nukita continues along corniced ridge in violent winds to reach the summit at 1 p.m..
October 11th: Charlie Hornsby, Roddy Kirkwood, Dorje Sherpa and Dawa Temba Sherpa reach the summit of Everest in strong winds at 11.30 am. Spend the night at the South Col. Angus returns to South Col having obtained more oxygen from the Japanese. Sherpas refuse to accompany him. French team move up to C4 for their summit bid.
October 12th: Alison makes solo bid for summit without supplementary oxygen but forced to retreat due to frost nip at around 8,300m. Winds persist. French abandon their Expedition. Angus remains on South Col.
October 13th: Angus alone on South Col awaiting good weather. Radio no longer working.
October 14th: Angus forced to abandon South Col when his tent finally disintegrates at 3 am.
October 15th: Strike Base Camp.
October 17th: Fly from Syanboche to Kathmandu.
October 27th: Depart Kathmandu.
Firstly to Dr Jim Milledge from Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, one of the national and internationally recognised authorities on the medicine and physiology of high altitude, who acted as adviser to the research team from planning to analysis of data. Without his help much of this work would not have been possible.
Hannah Sutter (solicitor) who worked hard to establish the framework within which the Expedition operated and has now provided several years worth of invaluable advice and assistance.
Mr Peter Smith, our basecamp manager, provided excellent and faithful support and logistical backup at all stages of the expedition.
To all the members of BMEME for their enthusiasm and commitment to our work, even when the environment or their own interests made participation difficult.
Grants from: Dr Scholl Foundation, British Heart Foundation, Foundation for Arts and Sports, Mount Everest Foundation, Scottish Mountaineering Trust,
Gifts and sponsorship (cash donated either directly to the Expedition or to individual members): George Smith, Ian Baxter, Rev George Tolley, Margaret Waterton, Olive Cooksey, Esplanade Surgery (Oban), Fiona Thexton, Chuck Evans, Andrew Knight, Elsie Perry, Jim Thornton, Freda Webster, Hon Jean Mussell, Prof. Dubowitz, Ruth Collier, D. Thomas, Barclay Trust, Ali Diba, K. Tattersall, Rachel Pollard, Julian Tout, Steven Hinsley, Mr & Mrs J.L. Hunt, Mrs Sally Stewart, Margaret Depla, Sally Newberry, Dr S. Gilchrist, Mr A. W. Bryan, Dr F.T. Crossling, David Alderson, Noel Howard, Peter Tattersall, B.D.N. Bicknell, David Nickol MBE, Prudence Broadhurst, Stephen Jarvis, B.M. Albert, Joyce Wormald, J.P. Lane, Carla Hornsby, I.S. Frazer, Sheila Ward, Mrs Barry, Rev. J. Harrison, Mrs M. Leatt, Glan Hafren NHS Trust, Hyssington Village Institute, Van Omeron Oil Terminals, Jean Hunt, V. A. Leeming, Richard Morgan &Co Ltd, Albert Fry, Alison Davies, Sheila Ward, Sarah Neild, Pirelli Tyres, EISAI Europe Ltd Mrs Carole King, Langley County Primary School, Yorkshire Bank, A & J Fabrications, Mr Pilkington, J.R. Decor, City Papers, Jini Leerose, Medlock Building Company Ltd. Diocese of Southwell, Royal Scottish Assurance, Elastoplast, Compaq Computers (Donation), Clydesdale Bank (Donation), Telecom Managers Association (to pay for communications with UK media), Perpetual Unit Trust Management Ltd. (financial support in return for slides of Ama Dablam), Ciba Corning (for presentation of arterial blood gas results), Alcon Laboratories Ltd. Dolland & Aitchison, Glan Hafren NHS Trust, Gwent County Council, Ophthalmic Unit Staff, St Woolos Hospital Newport Gwent, Rayner intra-ocular Lenses Ltd. South West Nurses Society (c/o V. Travers).
Approval from: British Mountaineering Council (no grant), Mount Everest Foundation
Sponsorship in kind: Because of our parlous financial state, little of this would have been possible without the support of many British and overseas manufacturers and suppliers. Their extensive loans of equipment were not helpful, they were essential. We would particularly like to thank-Pakistan International Airways (free extra luggage allowance), Koflach and Glacier Imports (expedition boots), Yaesu Ham Radios, Snowsled (clothes and stretcher), Bolle (sunglasses), Swanlind (promotional video), Church Missionary Society (Press Relations), Lloyd’s of London (loan of building!), Scholl Pharmaceutical (sun-block), Himalayan Kingdoms (advice and assistance), Sprayway Limited (jackets), Nevis Ranges Torlundy (Assistance with Public Relations), Add Lib PR, Bradford Cover and Tent Company Ltd. Bradford, West Yorks., Shell U.K. Exploration and Production, Aberdeen (production of brochure), CITP and Sally Nathan, Bruce Herrod Photography (photograph), Paragon Pictures, Centre Parcs (holiday raffle prize), Tomatin Whisky, Murrayfield Whisky, Rowenta, Kall Kwik Printing (some stationary), Robson, McLean Solicitors, Edinburgh. A.C. Lossor & Sons (Surgical) Ltd. ( sphygmomanometers), Siemens Medical Engineering (pulse oxymeters), Lederle (Diamox), Henkel Cosmetics (toothpaste for group 5), Axis Resources Limited (clothing), Kanco (humidifying masks), Clement Clarke International (peak flow meter mouth pieces), Bio Systems International (Kidderminster), Alexander Partnership Chartered Accountant (Tenby), Bounty Services, Brain Industries Ltd (Kilgetty), Glaxo, Allergan Humphrey Ltd. Carleton Optical Equipment Ltd Dolland and Aitchison Group (Keeler Ltd.), Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth (Ophthalmic Unit), Smith & Nephew Medical Ltd. Spectrum Mentor Ltd. Accuson (Cossor sphygmomanometers) Airmed (Wright peak flow meters) Amplivox Limited (Audiometer) Astro-Med UK (Dash IV chart recorder) Ciba-Corning UK (blood gas analyser) Datex (carbon dioxide analyser) Digital PLC (desktop PC’s) Digitimer Limited (Digistore data aquisition system) Cambridge Electronic Design (CED 1401 data aquisition system) 3M PLC (red dot electrodes) Duracell UK (dry cells) Harmonic Drive UK (motor controls) Micro Medical Limited (microspirometers) Minolta (sleep study pulse oximeters) Nellcor UK (pulse oximeters) Olivetti computers (portable PC’s) Psion Computers PLC (series 3A for day-to-day data collection) RAM computers (portable PC); Chris Pelling, Queen Mary & Westfield College Dr Atholl Johnson, St Bartholomew’s Hospital; Prof. P. Ceretelli of the EVK2CNR project (Assistance with communications), YHA Adventure Shops Ltd. Dept of Cardiology, Doncaster Royal Infirmary (loan of ECG trackers)
Discounted equipment: Mountain Equipment, Asolo, Wild Country Tents (now known as Terra Nova Tent and Clothing),
Oxygen: We purchased our oxygen, masks and regulators through Himalayan Kingdoms in the UK who arranged for it to be delivered direct to Kathmandu. Unfortunately on arrival we discovered that 13 of our cylinders were empty and 5 of the 11 regulators had broken “O” rings making them useless. Spare “O” rings were not available in Kathmandu and we experienced considerable anxiety in the days before our planned departure. We managed to exchange some of our empty cylinders with a batch delivered to Aeroflot. Replacement oxygen and regulators were eventually delivered to Base Camp after protracted negotiations between Peter Smith and Himalayan Kingdoms and these negotiations have yet to be satisfactorily concluded. The oxygen also caused difficulty with customs as the supplier had used our order to import a much larger quantity than we had ordered. This caused significant embarrassment as our agents documentation (supplied by us) did not match the airway bill and we are still owed the excess customs duty that we were forced to pay. We are still (March ’95) in dispute with Himalayan Kingdoms who are attempting to make us responsible for the loss of the excess delivery that was piggy backed onto our order.
In retrospect we would have saved several thousand dollars and would have had a more reliable service if we had bought directly from Thamserku. This was one of the most costly mistakes of the Expedition.
We used both 2 and 3 litre cylinders (the latter weighed 3 kg) charged to around 210 bar at room temperature. The cylinder pressure dropped to nearer 150 bar in the cold experienced at the South Col. Oxygen was delivered at a flow rate varying between 0.5 and 4 litres per minute to a mask fitted with a reservoir. A simple rubber leaf valve in the mask allowed air to be mixed with oxygen on inspiration.
The main problem encountered were with the “O” rings which were made from a very brittle plastic. The sets were not supplied with instructions and it rapidly became apparent that it was essential to have the flow rate turned to the maximum 4 litres before screwing the regulator on or off a full cylinder. Failure to do this resulted in rapid disintegration of the “o” ring and loss of oxygen. Despite considerable experience amongst the team of dealing with compressed gases this problem had not before been encountered and the failure to provide an instruction manual was a serious (and costly) oversight.
The only other significant problem was that the flow rate seemed to be very unreliable. Gas was consumed at a very variable rate and the lack of calibration meant that it was very difficult to predict the length of time a cylinder would last.
Planned Usage: We planned for members to have the option of using oxygen if necessary above Camp 3 and to provide sufficient to sleep on in Camp 4 and to climb with at a rate of 3 litres / minute. We therefore planned for each member to have access to 3 x 3 litre cylinders at Camp 4 and 1 x 2 litre cylinder at Camp 3. The Camp 3 cylinder was to be collected en route to the South Col and used as required. The remainder of this cylinder would be used to sleep on at a rate of 0.5 litres per minute. Sherpas would carry the spare 3 litre cylinders on the summit day. The 3 x 3 litre cylinders were planned for the Sherpas above Camp 4. We anticipated using 1 x 2 litres for research and 1 x 2 litres for medical gas.
We therefore planned on using:
(3 x 3 litre x 7 climbers) + (3 x 3 litre x 4 Sherpas) = 33 x 3 litre bottles
(1 x 2 litre x medical) + (1 x 2 litre x research) + (1 x 2 litre x 7 climbers) + (5 x 2 litre reserve) = 14 x 2 litre bottles
11 masks and regulators were used on the mountain and 1 kept at Base Camp for medical and research use.
Actual usage: Several cylinders were used in the medical evacuation of one of the members following a cerebro vascular accident. A flow rate of 4 litres / minute was used down to an altitude of 4,300m. A further cylinder was used in the treatment at 6,400m of a frost-bitten sherpa of another team. Several cylinders were used in two of the research projects at Base Camp.
Some of the climbing team used little or no oxygen between Camp 3 and 4 whilst others climbed on relatively high flow rates. During the first bid high winds were encountered at the South Col and two thirds of our available remaining oxygen were consumed at rest by both members and sherpas during their extended stay. During this stay it was noted that the length of time a cylinder lasted seemed to be very unpredictable. During the second summit bid Roddy, Charlie and the Sherpas had access to 3 x 3 litres each and this proved to be sufficient although their last night at Camp 4 was spent without supplementary oxygen. More Oxygen was obtained from the Japanese team to facilitate a further summit bid by Angus but this was eventually abandoned at Camp 4.
We consumed rather more gas than we had planned and were glad to be able to use 5 cylinders of the 13 x 3 litre cylinder reserve that Peter Smith had brought to Base Camp.
After sacking our sherpa staff we were fortunate in being able to use the French Sherpa team to recover most of our empty cylinders from the South Col. These were freighted back to Kathmandu and thence back to the UK where we will attempt to recycle them. All of the regulators and masks were salvaged.
Tents: We purchased 7 discounted high altitude tents (Wild Country Mountain Hyperspaces) for use above Base Camp and members of the climbing team provided their own tents to be used at Camp 1 and Camp 2. We had originally planned to use the veteran McInnes Box tent as a mess tent at Camp 2 and to provide Sherpa sleeping accommodation but its 78 kg weight and our limited Sherpa support made this not feasible. We therefore used some of our assault tents at Camp 2 to provide Sherpa accommodation.
We were extremely pleased with the tents on the Expedition. The 4 man (Wild Country Terra Nova) provided comfortable sleeping space for 3 and proved very popular in the bitterly cold evenings when it was frequently occupied by all 8 members of the climbing team. It also provided very useful equipment space in the porches.
One of the Hyperspaces became the victim of some Sherpa tent art and now sport large primitive illustrations of Everest on the inner.
The Hyperspace used at camp 3 became engulfed by snow and was substantially damaged when it was dug out at the end of the Expedition. Interestingly one of the poles snapped as the tent was being erected presumably due to the cold.
The 2 Hyperspace tents at the South Col were erected in very strong winds and with minimal up wind protection. They were anchored with dead men. During the first night each tent was occupied by 4 people but after that by 3 or less. They survived 8 days on the South Col in atrocious winds and provided very good shelter. The only real criticism was that the zips on the fly-sheet tended to undo spontaneously as a result of the buffeting from the wind. When this happened spindrift would enter the porch and, sometimes, the inner. Inevitably large amounts of frozen condensation formed in the inner tent and, together with the ingress of spindrift, this caused the sleeping bags to become quite damp.
The South Col proved to be the ultimate test to destruction. At 3 am, after 8 days of relentless battering by the jet stream, the fly-sheet of the last remaining hyperspace disintegrated and the tent was abandoned.
Deployment of tents
Initially 1 2 man Vango ridge tent. This was used only as a temporary equipment store and was later moved to Camp 2.
A Wild Country Quasar was the only tent left permanently at Camp 1.
A Salewa Mountain Tent was also used at Camp 1 but was damaged by heavy snowfall early in the Expedition and was removed.
1 x Nepalese made ridged mess tent – light to transport but very precarious in the wind.
1 x Wild Country Terra Nova – occupied by 3 people.
3 x Hyperspace- each occupied by 2 people.
1 x North Face 3 man dome tent without porch- occupied by 2 people.
1 x 2 man Vango Ridge tent – occupied by 1 person.
1 x Ferrino dome tent – occupied by 1 person.
1x Wild Country Mountain Hyperspace – never occupied
2 x Wild Country Mountain Hyperspace – each occupied by up to 4 people. Survived 8 days.
1 x Ferrino domed assault tent used without fly-sheet – occupied by up to 2 people.
Stoves and fuel: We took a wide variety of stoves and fuels as we had heard conflicting reports about the reliability of stoves at great altitudes.
1. MSR multi-fuel stove powered by Coleman white spirit imported at great cost from the UK. We took 22 litres and the price per litre once freighted and imported turned out to be about £13 per litre. The MSR’s were used very successfully at Camp 1 and Camp 2. We did not attempt to use them above Camp 2.
2. Kerosene and locally acquired stove. About 40 litres of kerosene were consumed by this stove at Camp 2 at very little cost. No problems were encountered at this altitude.
3. MSR gas burner (x1) fuelled by Epigas (propane / butane mix). This was the most powerful and reliable stove at C4.
4. Epigas Alpine Stove powered by Epigas (propane butane mix). These did not perform well at the South Col. These worked only if the cylinders were pre-warmed.
5. Epigas lightweight burner modified with copper tubing based heat exchanger with foam insulated cylinder. This performed reasonably well at Camp 4.
6. Marco Tower stove powered by Camping Gaz (Bluet – butane). This was modified with a few extra ventilation holes, a copper heat exchanger and a foam insulated cylinder. This performed reasonably well.
7. Camping Gaz Bluet Butane burners with foam insulation and copper heat exchangers.
8. 2 x Epigas Lanterns were most useful at Camp 2.
Stove failures were a major problem at the South Col and caused a great deal of discomfort and dehydration. Kerosene alone would have been an adequate fuel at Camp 2. The MSR epigas burner and 60 x 250g cylinders of Epigas (Propane / butane mix) would have been the best option or, failing that modified Marco Stoves and Camping Gaz.
Insulation and clothing: Above Base Camp each member of the Everest Climbing team had 2 sleeping bags. Members spent most time at Camp 2 and everyone had a top of the range sleeping bag there. At the South Col we opted to use cheap and disposable dacron bags to combat the condensation problem and to avoid the necessity for members to carry their own bags from Camp 2 to Camp 4.
The extra wide Gortex Everest bags made to special order by Peter Hutchinson of Mountain Equipment and supplied at a discount price were excellent. They proved warm and comfortable throughout our 20 day stay at Camp 2 and, when it really got cold, easily accommodated a down suit inside.
The bottom of the range dacron bags were bought in Kathmandu. We had them sewn together in Namche to make them into doubles to facilitate the “sharing of body heat”. Obviously they provided little insulation but when used in conjunction with a down suit they were adequate. They were largely immune to the condensation and now reside somewhere in Tibet (with or without the tent they were in). The consensus was that the dacron bags were very successful.
All of the Everest Climbing team were equipped with one or 2 piece down suits. Most were made to measure by Mountain Equipment and most were Goretex covered. They performed flawlessly and nobody suffered any significant cold injury despite some very severe conditions. The Goretex cover was a great advantage at Camp 4.
Boots: The Everest Climbing Team were generously supplied with free Koflach Arctis Extreme boots with alveolite inners. Unfortunately three pairs were lost when a barrel was stolen during the approach march to Base Camp so some of the team used their own boots (all Asolo). All boots were ordered between 1 and 2 sizes larger than the normal shoe size. Lack of availability and late supply made accurate sizing very difficult.
Above Camp 2 boots were worn in conjunction with Neoprene (mainly Forty below, USA) over-boots. Several people encountered difficulty with their crampons whilst using over-boots. Most members opted to use either a vapour barrier sock or a neoprene sock in conjunction with a thin inner (wicking) sock and a thicker (insulating) sock. This combination was comfortable and reasonably effective. Two members of the Climbing Team suffered frost nip but none frost bite which is a testament to the quality of the equipment.
Cold feet are inevitable on high mountains and use of supplementary oxygen certainly prevents a great deal of frostbite. Some members did use exothermic foot-warmers and one of the other teams even had electrically heated insoles but I am not sure how they performed.
There was some adverse criticism of the boots. The eyelet’s on the standard inner boot of the Koflach frequently separated from the inner due to poor stitching but this was not a problem on the velcroed alveolites.
Shell clothing: I was fortunate to have been given some Ventile clothing by a company called Snowsled. This is a highly breathable cotton that is sufficiently densely woven to be both breathable and waterproof. I used the climbing smock a great deal during the approach trek where it proved adequate protection against the monsoon although the single layer construction is not waterproof. It was very comfortable and versatile in the humid conditions. I wore my ventile smock to just below Camp 3 (6,900m) where I had to abandon it as it was insufficiently roomy to accommodate down clothing underneath. Had it have been large enough I am sure it would have been an excellent breathable windproof for use higher on the mountain. The smock’s kangaroo pocket was ideal for accommodating radios, snacks and suntan cream and the integral hood made it into a very versatile garment.
The double layer jacket is a very smart coat but was sadly too heavy to be used high on the mountain and too warm to be used below Base Camp. Curiously I find the jacket a most useful work coat.
Food procurement; Ronnie Robb. Advisor Dr Christine Fenn (Nutritionist)
For a variety of reasons (already mentioned) much of the £1,000 worth of western goodies did not arrive at Camp 2. Food at Base Camp lacked variety and could easily have been improved by taking along some western snacks. Fortunately the Japanese came to the rescue as they had brought with them their own food and chef. I will not forget the delight of visiting the Japanese Base Camp and sitting down to a multi-course Japanese banquet one Sunday afternoon. Our Expedition budget did not, however, stretch to such luxuries and we did receive very good value for money from Thamserku. Reports from the Support Group regarding the quality and quantity of their food are mixed. Inevitably variety was restricted but it is relatively easy to pick up tinned delicacies from the lodges below Base Camp or dine in these lodges at very little cost.
Ronnie Robb has sent in the following account of the High Altitude food:
The work associated with the planning and logistics of the Expedition food is very complex, time consuming and should only be tackled by those who are thick skinned! Churchill’s “pleasing all the people” speech springs to mind and the organiser should consider it a measure of success, if the Expedition members are still talking to him/her at the end of the trip.
The primary aim of the BMEME diet was that it should consist of a variety of foods which should be tempting and palatable. It may seem surprising but providing the correct balance of nutrients and calories was my second (but closely following the first) aim. The theory behind this was that if no-one eats the food it’s of no use.
The food supply for the climbing team was planned in 2 parts, low-altitude provision and high altitude provision. The low altitude diet related to the walk-in period to Base Camp and was provided by tea houses and paid for by the trekking Agent. On the whole this was good but standards varied considerably with memorable low points being at Phakding and Gorak Shep but compensated for with highs at Namche and Thengboche. It consisted mainly of soups, vegetable stews, breads and fried breads.
The high altitude rations were determined by issuing a dietary questionnaire to all the climbing team members asking them for their likes and dislikes, allergies, preferences and favourites. From this a calculation of quantities was made based on 7 climbers above Base Camp for a total of 35 days each.
The rations at advanced camps consisted largely of pre-packed foods which we were able to purchase at cost price from the suppliers. This was to be supplemented by locally purchased carbohydrates e.g.. rice, lentils, pastas, pulses, flour, sugar and salt.
A complete list of all the foodstuffs provided and the quantities is included in this report. It all fitted into 8 x 60 litre plastic barrels and was shipped direct to Kathmandu. The total budget for all the high altitude rations purchased in the UK was £1,000. Due to time constraints we did not write to individual companies for donations and few companies gave any free food or drink Our thanks go to the following who did:
- Get up and Go – Breakfast compliment
- Tomatin distillery
- The Bennachie Whisky Company
Upon arrival at Base Camp the High Altitude rations were split into individual packages, placed in plastic bags and carried up to the 4 camps. most foodstuffs were in powdered form although there was a variety of “luxury” items which were in tins e.g.. fruit and meat. Most food loads weighed an average of 12 – 15 kg. Some food was packed as emergency supplies with the view of leaving them unopened at Camps 1 and 3.
With all the planning and the best will in the world it is impossible to plan for the unpredictable and this expedition had its fair share of unforeseen.
Unfortunately the Expedition suffered from unreliable Sherpas, some with “sticky fingers”, a crooked Sirdar, bad weather and a temperamental stove/gas system at Camp 4.
Food packages left at Camp 4 were dumped and in the ferocious winds that prevailed they just blew away. We had a complete barrel with nothing but confectionery and this proved to be popular with the Sherpas to the point where most of its contents just “ghosted away”. The luxury items were indeed popular and in most cases they proved to be the highlight of the day following load carries to and from Camp 2.
The final straw and potentially dangerous was the lack of carbohydrates to supplement the dehydrated meals above Base Camp. We had given money to our Sirdar to cover the costs of the supply of rice, lentils, potatoes, etc. but precious little of this ever turned up, certainly not enough to cover the needs of 7 climbers and 6 Sherpas. The money vanished ($600) and what we did about this is another story.
The final conclusion is that there was not enough food, without the carbohydrate supplements and the “missing” goodies. It is therefore difficult to assess whether or not the objectives were ever met. Even the biggest fan of curries, chillies and spicy meals soon gets fed up with the same each day and the alternative vegetable stroganoff was positively disgusting.
Never mind, the whisky more than made up for it!
Was it all worth it?
“It was the experience of a lifetime, and I will remember it for my whole lifetime.” John Nathan
“I can only speak for myself, but it was the experience of a lifetime and at the grand old age of ** I achieved at least, if not more than, I had ever hoped for. This time last year the most I had ever done was walk the dog! She’s very fit though! I even climbed Pokalde, but not Island Peak. Group 5 was a magic group. We had lots of fun, fond memories and great friendships. Long may they last.” Ann Morgan
” Acclimatisation has been much harder at home. I’ve never liked the rat race, Nepal has shown me all the reasons why. I will never forget the tranquillity and sheer beauty of the Khumbu. The opportunities and experiences gained on the Expedition will be impossible to repeat. Was it worth it? Yes! Worth it for more reasons than I could ever have dreamed of before going.” Christine Smith
“What an excellent trip! From the perspective of the non-climbers/researchers I thought it all went very smoothly. Flights were on time, weather was perfect, accommodation in Kathmandu was good, Thamserku provided a far better service than I expected (and I have done a lot of trekking in Nepal…), our sirdar and his staff were superb. The research was certainly an added interest and I look forward to reading the results. The reflected glory of being part of a successful Everest climbing party feels good too! ” Mark Howarth
“Base Camp is a powerful and strangely beautiful place which holds the most memories for me.” Martin Thomas
“Bloody brilliant – when’s the next trip?” David Newman
“For me, apart from the wonderful scenery of the Himalayas and the excitement of having taken part in a major expedition, the highlights were the news of the Expedition’s successes in reaching the summit. getting all our data and the amazing sense of rapport and dedication that was expressed throughout the Expedition membership. I am very proud to have been part of that.” Angela Fry
“There were so many aspects to the expedition that it has left a permanent scar that will only be healed by doing something similar again – I can’t wait!” George Wormald
“A total education!” Colin Clark
“My Brother, Nima and I” by Jill Currin. A children’s book based on the diaries of Joe and Dan Currin. The book documents the trek from Lukla to Kala Pattar.
“Headache in the Himalayas” by John Nathan. Based on the diary of John Nathan and his trek to Base Camp and ascent of Pokalde
“Everest: The Video” a video diary if the Expedition from Winter 1993 to October 1994 by Simon Currin.
“Everest” video by Ann Morgan follows the progress of Group 4 & 5 around the Khumbu