A few days in Chitwan National Park … good bye Nepal

My journey from Bhaktapur was easy. I hired a local driver for the 20min ride to Sauraha for USD12 and picked out the royal park hotel for the coming days. I certainly earned my upgrade in accommodation. I got the room for USD27/night. It was magnificent. Large bathroom, nice large bed and balcony overlooking the green and well nursed gardens of the hotel. Around chitwan, all looked very indian (which indeed is only a stone throw away) and Hindu religion dominates in stark contrast to the Buddhist sherpa settlements in the khumbu valley.

Having a shower (i think i only had a handful proper ones in the 8 weeks i was in nepal now) was great. My selection of change clothing was limited though. While i carried my down jacket – utterly useless – i thankfully also had shorts and sandals. Freedom for my feet that had been trapped in heavy boots for weeks.


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In the hotel i quickly booked up for the elephant safari next morning and jeep safari in the afternoon and headed out. Not far from the hotel on the riverbank is the chitwan bar & restaurant. Its run by a nepali guy for 13y now and his 6 month austrian girlfriend. I met two Catalan girls, who departed for Kathmandu next morning and a guy from seattle. Fun conversations over a beer watching the sunset about each others travel experiences ensued until a monsoon like heavy rain shower forced a relocation. We rescued ourselves temporarily under a small shelter on the beach before heading for dinner. after some sweet nepali wine, more discussions about life itself kept the discussion going. We were joined by kamal who runs Ever Wild Trek & Tours and my jungle walk guide to be. I was home before midnight, still tired and with a 6am breakfast to look forward to.


The elephant safari wasnt far away and outside the official national park. It looked promising initially. Mahood’s (7y trained elephant riders) were waiting for guests and i enjoyed a good coffee while waiting. Then came the shock. Once a three people jndian family and i were sitting on the back of the elephant, the mahood hit the poor animal frequently with an iron stick to make him obey. The elephant even started bleeding. Unacceptable and clearly not a recommended activity. I hear some European operators have already taken this offer off their programs. I salite that decision. Wildlife wise, it was a productive ride. Crocodiles, bambi / deer, two rhino’s, many birds and other elephants (with people riding them).


After 2,5hours i was back at the hotel and caught up with blogging and emails leaving me just enough time for a chicken curry lunch before joining the jeep safari. it was boiling hot as we took little ferry boats to cross the river and hop on the cars. We would see nothing bar jungle forest and a crocodile. Again, not an activity i would recommend. On the other hand, conversations with a danish and a columbian couple reduced my boredom substantially. Towards the end of the journey we all got a good rain shower. Heavens had opened, we had no roof until a cover was handed out. No animals, but some action at least. Besides, it is reasonably enjoyable to drive through the jungle.

Back in sauraha i booked my two day walking & canoe trip with kamal who was already waiting for me looking for business. Some USD200 was the price (so there were extras …). Since we would stay at a local village (madi) near the park, i check out of the hotel early. Then i headed back to the chitwan bar for some local riverfish (technically forbidden to be caught) and a bit of party and chatter with the locals and the austrian girl. Was fun. Not sure what her parents make out of this development … she had come here for few weeks holiday having quit her job to do so. Then her friends travelled home without her. Now she wants to get married to her nepali boy after 6 month or so. Partly visa related (hers has already expired as i write this). Her parents dont like it, but i guess love had its own mind. 

Cruising down the river in not yet too hot morning weather was fun. We had kamal, another guide, the skipper and myself onboard. A bathing rhino and several crocodile spottings were the result. I was slightly disappointed that the trip, which i had booked for 3 hrs, only last a little longer than two hours. It seemed like a two hour trip was just stretched a little longer. Then we started walking and kicked off with another rhino we had seen from the boat when we landed. Some good shots. We continued trough the jungle seeing a lizard, birds, deer … but no bears or tigers.



Just before lunchtime heavens opened again and we got soaking wet. I also slipped off a footbridge and filled my boots with fresh river water. We rescued ourselfes to a nearby army post and had lunch. In the afternoon we took a long and boring road to get to a watch tower to spot tigers. We managed a deer in three hours waiting or more before we aborted and continued on the long road towards a larger street (well, dirt road).



The bus we stopped took us to the park entrance. The ride was ahort but fun. A bus full with people, decorated in typical style inside with loud Indian/nepali type music playing. From there we crossed the river and followed it to the village madi (30mins walk).


We arrived just before sunset. Nice house with more than 10 rooms and a roof terrace overlooking the river and its surrounding  flatlands. There were a few people speaking english, we had some beer and the local rice wine (roxy) and the guides had some jungly weed to smoke. Good fun and great to get the feet up. Highlight were the freshly made potato fries – absolutely excellent. 


We got up 5.30am to get to the tiger spot early. There we met a french couple that shared our tiger spot already the day before. We would wait six hours during which we saw a rhino & baby crossing the river, a slosh bear running the other direction, a wild boar family and some hunting birds. Just the tiger remained elusive.


We tried at a deserted tourist resort nearby (tiger tops) and saw more rhinos near/in a water hole. No tiger. Still, a stunning place though my guide violated any cient safety rules there is by going there. Rotten staircases and paltforms. I didnt mind. We beiefly returned to the former spot without luck until i called it quits. It was my son’s 7th birthday and i needed network coverage – back to the village for another, bigger night at rewa river view lodge. Great time.


Then it was time to leave. Back to kathmandu, see rory, jon and Tim and have a little party and some souvenir shopping. The last night i spent talking for a long to to Lyn from brisbane. Really good chat of two people that love hiking. The reggae bar for some great live music. Time in nepal for me was up … now i just need to get my luggage checked in (well over my allowance again!)

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You The long way down from Lhotse summit …

We spent about an hour at the top and switched oxygen bottles. I run on 3 liters for good measure. At last the way down should be a lot quicker and 3l get you 5hours plus and safely to camp 2 my sherpa advised. At 8am i was on the descent with Pemba.​​

​We overtook two climbers in the couloir that were probably afraid of ice and rock that our steps kicked lose. My gloves came under real strain from the ropes (i would subsequently give them to Pemba – despite all their holes they are workable). At daytime you get a better view of the couloir and magnificant views of the surroundings. Stunning and enjoyable. Progress was still slow given energy reserves depleted. One always underestimates how much strength it takes to go down steep hills.


Half way through Pemba told me that he had been ordered to go to south col. Presumably to fix the missing oxygen bottles we had encountered when we hit our camp 4 (his english is limited). After two hours we reached the camp, boiled a drink and he left. I had to carry my sleeping bag to camp 3 (not planned) and was by myself (not planned). Not sure what drove this decision to take away required ressources from me to be honest. One of so many issues during this expedition – just this time they impacted my safety directly.


After camp 4 I walked slowly down despite oxygen. After some 3hours i finally got there. On the way i met karl from germany again. He is a friend of scott and does everest unsupported, as he told us over tea and cookies in camp 2 on our failed first summit bid. Then i escaped some injury. While waiting to abseil down, a guy jumped the queue. Initially i was upset. However, when a guy in front of me let an oxygen bottle lose that shot like torpedo into my direction only to be stopped by my waiting feet … i was quite relieved not to be abseiling and get the 3kg bottle into my face. Disaster one averted.

Once at C3, i brewed some much needed water. While pemba is a strong though more junior climber, he doesn’t stop you often enough to replenish energy (too time focussed). I felt it. I got some water and chocolate in and rested on the last bit of oxygen. 

Some time later Pemba was back from south col. probably surprised to still see me at camp. He took the sleeping bag and seeing his heavy, double rucksack load i let him set off to camp 2 – todays final destination. I rested a while longer and continued down without oxygen but with a lighter pack.

What a difference that made. Completely exhausted and without my flow of fresh air. I took ages just to get going. I literally moved meters in minutes (i was still above 7000m). But there was time i thought. 4.30pm it was or so. Then i went down the wrong side of the lhotse face – where people come up. Abseiling difficult yet my only way of making any progress. Tight lines (so you cant put figure of eight in to abseil) in came on top. I spent a long time on each rope section before i mastered it. Chatted with folks coming up and down including the guide of one of the deceased on everest. I even took all my Dex steriod tablets in hope to get an energy boost (they reduce swelling – so no help). Only after sunset in complete darkness i was down the face. It was nice to watch, but it was getting cold and late. I ate snow lacking water. Mainly candies i had left to go on. Now the flatter, but longer section back to camp 2 awaited.

Initially i walked slowly (extremely slowly). That was until my dry cough got so bad that i thought i cracked a rib (only pulled muscle as it turned out). I couldn’t carry my bag anymore and wondered if it was time to ask for help. My team i couldn’t, as clients didnt get radio’s on summit day different to prio trip chat (well, most of them don’t work anyway) and my sherpa support wasn’t there.

I decided to drag on. Thirsty. At some point around 8pm a member of our camp2 kitchen came to help. We were still slow, but with him carrying my rucksack we moved faster. I went straight to bed when we got to camp at 9.30pm. It took me 5 hours from camp 3 down (sherpa take 3h up!). My life was probably not very much at risk (given some other climbers around even after dark), but something in the setup went wrong big time. My guide, as i discovered later, didnt even know about this situation. He was busy chatting to the press about the hillary step that appearantly is gone.

Next day Pemba took my bag and we made in 4 hours or so through the icefall to base camp. The icefall was in a horrible state and melting/collapsing across the board. Extremely unsafe. We pulled at least three anchors. Many more were out already. Some ice screws we fixed again. One large section on which i was about to walk (30m away) collapsed. Good i walked slow! 

Base camp was deserted (the other three clients now on their everest summit push). Tim still busy chatting to global media about the hillary step. I contemplated a chopper to get me out quick (shared about usd900), but ended up hiking down. It took me two days with some stops and a little getting lost near phakding and two hours in the morning the day after. Speed no longer my forte. I did bump into reinhold messner just before namche (and his film crew for a movie on ama danlam). Quite fitting since lhotse was the last pf his 14-set of 8,000ers (probably my last too). Once in lukla, I got lucky and caught a 12pm flight to kathmandu and on to bhaktapur. 

Medical damage assessment: the main issue was my chest problems, but more humid air would fix that quickly. Fingers and toes were still there, just the two big toes a little bit numb (faded within days). So overall, not much to report. Thankfully.


Idea was to head to chitwan national park for safari and more humid air to cure my chest infection. Local temperature +40 degrees – a 80 degree delta to the summit of lhote. But at least there was life! I couldn’t do more tea houses and hiking for now. I needed a holiday ;o)

Lhotse summit success: Climbing up (includes 3D video of ascent)

This is gonna be the first part of my summit blog. The way up, the success and the glorious bit. The way down, which is the more important for any mountain, follows in part two. Stay tuned. Check the video at the end!

First up, a few words of thanks. To the  that helped my prepare (Di, Tim, Paul, Rachel, Shane, the team at Barry’s and the altitude center/physio in London), my extended family, friends (Cedric, Chanel in particular) and the mum of my son who took good care of him for so many weeks. I also want to thank my sponsors (Alister & the Blackrock crew, Andreas & the autonomous team, Yash & KBW to name but a few) who have helped to raise some GBP8,000 so far for disabled Nepali kids & diabetes research. Much appreciated!

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/rocketontour-lhotse

The entire summit bid came together all of a sudden. We were still at Namche Bazar for 6 days and had already checked into the Hotel for another night as choppers weren’t flying due to misty weather. Then they were and we enjoyed some crazy & beautiful cruising through the Khumbu valley. Within an hour we were having tea at base camp.

Scot left and we discussed options / weather window with Tim. He suggested to wait for a longer window opening on the 26th and to avoid the huge crowds summit bound for the 21/22 May. Winds were still uncertain. However, while we were away two climbers that had just summited Makalu had joined our team. They were going for Lhotse that night. It didn’t take me long to decide that I would too. Pack your bags rocket, bed at 8pm and then I set off with my summit sherpa Pemba at 2am. Tim stayed at base camp. Radio’s (which had caused us much headache so far) would be my only contact to my guide. They would prove mainly useless again.

The hike up from base camp through the icefall and to camp 2 took me 9 hours. A personal best though still the slowest of the remaining team members. We skipped the typical rest day to position ourselves for a 21 May summit. Tough. The climb up to camp 3 was cruel. We started 5am and it took me 7hours. Sherpa’s cover the distance in just 3hrs. I had never been above 6,650m and C3 was located just under 7,100m. No oxygen for climbing just yet.

The first part of the route takes you through camp 2 (our camp was at the very beginning) and to the end of the Western Cwm. Then comes the steep Lhotse face. Jumaring up was exhausting to say the least. Once the sun is out, you get roasted from top and bottom as the heat reflects from the ice. I literally crawled the last meters into the tent under the burning sun in my down suit where I rested & slept on oxygen. What a help that is! We brewed up drinks, had soups and chilli con carne and rested. We would need it.

The next day proved easier than expected. While we headed to camp 4 at 7,800m the oxygen improved my movement markedly. It was busy with all the Everest guys headed for south col. We parted ways towards the end of a traverse like section called the Geneva spur. Camp 4 on Lhoste had only a few tents bunched together on the steep face. Ropes everywhere to secure movements. Going to the toilet became a real hazard! thanks god I had my pie bottle ;o). We ate, but not too much. Pemba took on most of the cooking and brewing. I rested on O’s.

Then it was decision time. The original plan was to head up 1am if the winds stayed low. Then another sherpa suggested 11am already. Pemba wanted to go. I wanted to get a check with base camp for an actual weather update. Communication was horrendous. We somehow got the message that 4am was fine too and winds would gradually ease over the day, but somehow I felt pretty alone out there. So we observed the actual weather and did go for the 1am slot.

Conditions were really good. Starry night over Everest and lhotse. We were on our summit bid. That one takes you more or less straight up the hill. After two hours we reached the final couloir. A valley between lose rocks on each side. Very dangerous if any climber above kicks lose rocks. But the snow covered a lot of the ground and made it safer. Behind us we could see a chain of headlights marching up Everest. Fascinating. We passed a struggling group of two climbers and caught up with a pair that left hours before us. I was initially on 2 liter oxygen per minute, then 2,5 and near the summit on 3l. One bottle got me all the way up.

On our way up, we passed a dead body and had to step over another one right at the very top. When I saw that dead face staring at me, I almost fell off the hill. Reminds you how dangerous that is. As a sidenote, 4 climbers died on Everest that night.

Finally at the top at 7am. Stunning views from the tiny summit ridge with the deadly Lhotse south face on the other side. I had achieved what only about 600 other climbers had done. No 13 German on the hill and the first ascent of a climber from the Free State of Saxony. Happy. Happy. Exhausted. We took our summit pics and headed down after less than an hour. The hard bit lied still ahead, but I leave that for the next post.

I decided to dedicate this summit success to my grandpa Manfred and my late grandma and Rita. You are great! Love you both. And of course, my son Alex.

Here the full ascent video with 3D animation using data from my Suunto watch. Enjoy!

 

Six days in Namche … and still stuck!

We spent six days back down at the valley of Namche Bazaar (3,400m or c3km below base camp) – the largest village in the Khumbu and an important trading centre after we had decided against going back up for the small summit window our guide had suggested. So far we are still waiting for the chopper to get us back to b/c. Fog in the valley and at Lukla keeps us grounded for now. Fingers crossed.

Namche is not cheap and in fact is considered the most expensive village in Nepal (2-3x prices of Kathmandu). We enjoyed oxygen rich air, the food (mainly at Sherpa Barista coffee & Nirvana), beers & pool at the world’s highest Irish pub (some good dancing of Jon & Audrey from Canada) and a 24/7 opened place called Cafe Danphe. Fun times and a welcome change from by now boring base camp life. Other options are limited. I got a hair cut and my first ever beard trim, visited the sherpa museum and the (unimpressing) monastery. 



Much of our time we spent discussing our decision to pass on the small summit window and trying to source info on weather and the next possible window being essentially cut off from the usual expedition newsflow and with essentially no contact to base camp.

Its fair to say that we were all gutted. After HIMEX rope fixing efforts spectacularly imploded, The Ghurkas, I believe Madisson and also our team stepped up. Our concern was that this overstretches our teams ressources and that rope fixing and guide summits had now taking priority over client summits. I guess there remains a lot to discuss, but memories of our time here weren’t helped to say the least. 

First summits: Both our guides and two sherpa’s made the top of Everest early the 16th. Steve sumitted Lhotse. 

Waiting for the chopper: Today we were heading back to b/c with a chopper to get into position for our own summit push – hopefully sometime around the 23-25th May. Time is running out with summits historically happening between 17-23rd May. Maybe we have to hike back up …

Climbing back down …

First up, thanks for all the generous donations since my last post especially from AH. It is really appreciated!

We finally departed for our first summit bid on 8th May early doors (3am). I left with Steve (also Lhotse bound and a machine on the hill). The everest bound guys had already left on the 6th. Our plan was to hike up to camp 2, rest 1 day, then progressively move up the hill to summit on the 11th morning. It was meant to be the early, early window. The team to fix ropes was on the hill and meant to get the job done between 6-8 may. So far the theory …

The climb up to camp 2 was the usual. Decent 5hours through the icefall and a very slow and cruel walk through the western cwm of 6hours. It remains my weak spot. But then there is always the rest day at camp 2 to recover. The mood was good. Other teams including the team in charge of fixing ropes to the summit (himex led by kiwi climbing legend russel brice and star climber kenton cool and david tate) were positioned at camp 3 ready to move to the south col and to the top. We listened to their radio chat and all looked set – we are going up.

Now to practice: The everest guys left 5.20am for camp 3 as planned. We were to follow a day after. By the time steve and I had our breakfast, the bad news broke that ropes in fact hadn’t been fixed. The official version was new snow (waist deep at the balcony on the way to everest summit) and resuming winds that caused unworkable conditions for the fixing team (risk of frostbite etc). However, there was an incident earlier that i think certainly played a part. A sherpa on lhotse apparently slipped on his way down though got saved by the anchors in place (some say he got injured, others not). Sherpa work on the hill stopped for two days. Probably as much responsible for the failure to get the job done. We heard stories of kenton cool and his (rich) private client offering a years salary to the fixing sherpa’s to make things happen. They didn’t. With all major teams on the hill leaving and conditions challenging, we also headed down. Bad luck.


Jon and I didn’t wait long and left for Panboche right after lunch. Idea was to get to Namche the day after. Blake, rory and scott were to follow by chopper the day after. 

We only made it to loboche after a tiring day and stayed there. We had a little pubcrawl on the way enjoying a cold beer in gorak shep and had a fun evening in ‘above the cloud’ lodge where we met two US trekkers and played monopoly deal before retiring to the room. I had downloaded a few movies. Jon introduced me to a skateboarder cult movie (lords of dogtown) and o shoed him Leon (he loved it).


Next day started very late. We had a long way ahead of us if we wanted to get to namche (some 20km). Before we left, we quickly dropped a message to the team asking for the status. The last thing we wanted was a ‘please come back to base camp’ type message while just descending the khumbu valley. 

Right after loboche we passed by the graveyard of himalayan climbers, most famously scott fischer who tragigally died in the 1996 events alongside rob hall and many clients. Readers of ‘into thin air’ (jon krakauer) and ‘the climb’ (anatoly bukreev) will be aware of the story as the everest drama.


We got to panboche via dughla (quick pitstop) and pheriche (same) by 1.30pm. By then, we had confirmation that blake, rory and scott had already made it to namche (having coffee at the everest bakery). All looked clear … 
The hike down was beautiful. Increasingly better air, bushes and trees, nicer villages (rather than saisonal outposts further up), rivers and gorges and sunny weather. Super enjoyable and one of the best days yet. No itinerary, just time by ourselves. 


At panboche bakery we waited out a bit of rain while enjoying a large piece of chocolate cake with a khumbu kölsch. Trekkers lunch!


From there the path takes you to tengboche monastery. However, there was potentially news that might require a quicker than planned return to base camp. What a mess! In order to assess/decide we had to make it to namche tonight. We got there by 7.30pm after a much enjoyably walk into sunset. 

Rory grabbed us as we walked past the sherpa barista restaurant/coffee shop. Discussions in full swing. In the end we decided to stay at Namche to rest for a few days back in civilisation, but that will be anothers days story.