Now then … please please remember that not all Everest trips are equal. We have an expression over here that goes something along the lines of ‘If you are going to compare apples with apples, at least make sure that you start out with apples.’ So, whilst there are some exceedingly expensive trips available, there are also some that are way too cheap. And you have to ask yourself why they are cheap and what you aren’t getting.
For instance, there are deals out there for around US$35,000 to US$38,000 - but what people don’t realise is that this price might not include Climbing Sherpas, oxygen, masks, regulators, food and accommodation on the trek in etc etc. Other aspects where teams cut corners are the Base Camp facilities, provisions on the hill, weather forecasting, a Western leader and the quality of their Climbing Sherpas. How on earth can people spend that amount of money having not researched what they are, and are not getting, and end up paying through the nose for various add ons that potentially increases the final bill by another US$10,000?
The expensive trips may well be recouping some of their overheads that they incur with office staff, glossy brochures, networked computers and company cars. But all this does not count for anything when you are on the hill because the brochure, networked computers, office staff etc are a complete irrelevance. What counts on the hill are the Base Camp facilities and quality of the food, the logistics, the Climbing Sherpas, the weather forecasting, the provision of oxygen and the leadership.
So, firstly, I use one of the best agencies in Kathmandu. They are a VERY good operator and have an extremely proficient team, particularly when it comes to rescue and evacuation. This is something that we always hope we will never have to call upon – a bit like having insurance. But, like insurance, when you do have to call upon it you want to know that you are with one of the best providers.
|Kame (left) is one of the best Sirdars on the hill and Bhim is one of the best Base Camp cooks.|
Similarly I use one of the best Sirdars on Everest. He is very well respected amongst the Climbing Sherpa community, he is held in very high regard amongst Western leaders and his team of Climbing Sherpas are some of the strongest on the mountain. Just because Climbing Sherpas have summited Everest numerous times doesn't necessarily make them good at their job. Yes they may well be immensely strong on the hill but the Climbing Sherpas we use are not only strong but they are also attentive to their job and have a greater understanding about client's expectations.
|Ample oxygen supplies stocked at The South Col|
We are also in the right camp with our supply of oxygen. We don’t just have a limited supply of oxygen and once you have used your quota it's gone - we have an ample supply with enough extra to cater for contingencies. With other teams when it’s gone it’s gone (or you have to buy more) whereas with our team there is a generous allocation to allow for unforeseen eventualities and emergencies. If, say, we got delayed at The South Col because the weather changed then this would not jeopardise our summit attempt. Equally if you were forced back on summit day because of a broken crampon, or helping out some other team, this too would not jeopardise your summit bid. With other teams once you have used your allocation (for whatever reason) then you either have no more gas or you have to spend more money. Again, we hope that there won’t be any emergencies happening … but if there are, then we are with the best.
|Camping on the Kongma La (5,350m) before ascending Pokalde. Excellent preparation|
and acclimatisation for our arrival at Everest Base Camp.
I know that most of the cheaper trips (and indeed some of the really expensive one) don’t include things like meals in Kathmandu, or teahouse accommodation costs when trekking in, or extra snacks and goodies at Base Camp. To that end I am providing you with more for your money. I know that you might think that these don't amount to much in the great scheme of things but there is also my 3 week trekking itinerary to take in to account. This is a great part of the trip that allows for us to have a massive amount of flexibility and incorporate a few high camps before a few days resting at Dingboche (all paid for of course) and then another high camp (which is higher than Base Camp) as well as a 5,800m peak. This means that when we arrived at Base Camp last Spring everyone was fully acclimatised (not a headache in sight), very fit and healthy (we had avoided all the ill trekkers) and everyone was bonded as a group which not only made for a more pleasant experience but also a safer more dynamic team on the hill.
Once we arrived at Everest Base Camp we went in to the Khumbu Icefall for a half day foray on the ropes and ladders. The next time we went through was to sleep at C1 and then go on to C2! This is quite unusual as most teams make about 3 journeys before being ready to sleep at C1 – which meant that we spent less time and energy getting ready for the big event. The next time up high we went straight to C2 and had a few days there, incorporating a visit to C3, and then after a rest at BC (and some high altitude specific medical training and oxygen protocol preparation) we were ready for the summit push.
One other thing I’d mention is the level of support that we provide.
|The view from C3 - our Climbing Sherpas will come and collect|
you and take you to The South Col the next day.
We have excellent logistics on the mountain and there is a lot of help from the Climbing Sherpas. Because of the extra altitude involved on Everest I adopt a slightly different approach than when on Ama Dablam and have a lot more assistance from the Sherpas – this makes a big difference not only because of the extreme altitude but also because of the longevity of the trip. For instance we get sleeping bags carried to C1 when we go and camp there and then they are also carried for us to C2 when we move base to 6,400m. We then leave the bags at C2 when we drop down to BC, as we don't anticipate using C1 again the next time. Having said that, if people get to C1 the second time on the way to C2 and decide that they need to stay there again we'd then get sleeping bags sent back down from C2. On the summit phase, bags are carried when we go and sleep at C3 and the Climbing Sherpas then drop back down to C2 for the night. The next morning they then reappear to carry bags on up to The South Col. On top of that suits and boots are also carried directly to C2.
So as you can see you are 'merely' concerned with being self sufficient on a daily basis (layers of clothing, suncream, hydration, gloves, glasses, camera etc) rather than overdoing it physically and jeopardising yourself for the main event. But don't read this and feel that it detracts from the experience and effort required. Everest is a tremendous challenge and it would be totally false economy for people to feel that they should be paying less and carrying more - all that happens for most people is that it severely reduces their chances of success and dramatically increases their chance of becoming a liability to themselves and everyone around them. And therefore a liability to the rest of the team and perhaps jeopardise the summit bid for their fellow team members. Then there are the Climbing Sherpas to consider - they are the guys who will get involved in mounting any kind of rescue bid and we owe it to them, and their families, to go to the mountain with a responsible and pragmatic approach.
|Summit day - above The Balcony.|
On top of all this I provide a truly 1:1 experience. There are some teams who quote 1:1 - and whilst that means that they have a Climbing Sherpa for every member ... it doesn't necessarily mean that they are together on the mountain just that they are on the hill in different locations!
|It's a BIG hill - so make sure you and your Climbing Sherpa|
are in the same place at the same time for summit day.
With our team you have a Climbing Sherpa assisting to get to C3. You then have a Sherpa with you up to The South Col (we may have set off ahead of them but they'll soon catch up!). But on summit day your Climbing Sherpa is then glued to your side. He carries your spare oxygen and stays with you throughout the night and the day and constantly monitors your flow rate, your O2 reserves, your pace, the time and will keep reminding you to eat and drink. On top of that we also have spare oxygen on summit day as well as a spare mask and regulator. Your Climbing Sherpa will then stay with you all the way back down to The South Col and on down to C2 (if you stay at the South Col so will he). After a night at C2 your Climbing Sherpa will also stay with you back to Base Camp and only then will he be relieved of his guiding duties.
I believe that this is what 1:1 should mean.
In addition to this we all have radios to maintain contact on a daily basis, which allows for a great degree of flexibility as well as extra safety, and we all carry high altitude medical kits (and not only that you and the rest of the team will know what's in there, what it's for and how to use it) as well as having a great understanding about AMS, HACE, HAPE, frostbite, hypothermia, oxygen protocols etc. By the time I've finished with you all you'll be with a very, very well trained team!
|Safety in numbers. Not only one of the only teams to carry individual high altitude 1st aid kits on the hill ... |
but also one of the only teams who knew what was in the kit, what it was for and how to use it.
One final thing to remember is that with some trips you don’t get a Western leader or even a point of focus. I truly believe that the Climbing Sherpas are awesome … but without direction and focus things can be overlooked or go slightly awry. Without a central focus the logistics can start to fall apart ever so slightly – and this can become a huge, HUGE problem higher on the hill when contingencies are not accounted for and suddenly there is no safety net. On the north side in 2005 a guy on a cheap trip arrived at his team’s top camp to find that there was no stove, no gas, no pans and no food. He came over and asked for all of this from us and if we hadn’t been there I don’t know what would have happened. He also didn’t have a lighter and even asked us for extra oxygen. Clearly not only had he not thought it through himself but his team (11 people from all sorts of different countries but without a leader) had also not thought about anything other than themselves as individuals.