I've been asked a few times about why certain photos are in the videos and uploads I have made or the slide shows that I give. So I thought I'd put pen to paper and explain why certain images from Everest 2011 mean so much to me.
|Setting camp in a snow storm|
The photo above is a classic example of one that could do with a justification. We'd been trekking in The Khumbu for around 2 weeks by now as part of my 3 week trekking itinerary. My thinking here is that there seems to be little point, if any, in trekking to Everest Base Camp in a mere 8 or 9 days to then sit around with a headache for 5 or 6 days. Our aim was to trek in, taking our time and crossing 3 passes which got progressively higher and to take in the ascent of Pokalde, a peak at around 19,000ft. That meant that we arrived at EBC having already slept higher and that when it came to our first rotation on the hill we were able to go straight through The Khumbu Icefall to Camp 1 and sleep there - thereby cutting down the number of journeys through the icefall.
Whilst trekking not only was the aim to take time acclimatising but also for the team to get to know each other, to stay healthy by avoiding the pestilent hoards, to get accustomed to the fact that we were in for an 8 or 9 week period of being away and do some last minute sessions to discuss tactics for the expedition including the likes of radio procedures / oxygen protocols / HACE & HAPE / avoidance of frostbite etc etc.
I'd already been careful to cherry pick people who I thought had the right amount of experience, the right approach to expeditioning, be able to get the time off work, have the drive and ambition tempered with due caution and respect for the environment as well as having the right demeanour. All these characteristics together are really important - there's little point being driven if it isn't with due regard for the ever changing conditions. It's all very well being experienced but if you aren't going to get along with people then it's going to be hard work for everyone. If you can get the time off work but haven't got the ability to remain focused on the job at hand then, gradually, you will lose impetus.
And given that the job at hand was attempting Everest then remaining focused, being driven, respecting and adapting to the ever changing conditions, getting along with the rest of the team etc etc all count for quite a bit.
I've seen people in other groups who don't converse in the mess tent! I've seen people from other teams eyeing each other up wondering if the other person is going to compromise their summit bid. I've seen people on other expeditions alter their ascent profile and push ahead (or drop behind) just to avoid being with another member of the group whom they don't trust or don't get along with. It gets to be dog eat dog and completely undermines not only the enjoyment but also the safety of the entire group.
I obviously can't force people to like each other - but you can usually get a good idea about how the group are going to interact and, generally, people opting for an expedition with the right credentials and mountaineering cv have probably got something about them.
So ... back to my trusty team. We were 2 weeks in to the trip and were trekking from Dingboche to Dingogma before making our way to the Kongma La and our ascent of Pokalde. It started snowing and, whilst this could have been an issue with, say, a group of trekkers, or with a group of clients from a different expedition, it certainly wasn't the case with my lot. It was like water (or snow) off a duck's back.
Generally with, say, a trekking group, the clients would arrive at the next camp in varying states and all pile in to the mess tent. The cook crew would typically be busy getting a brew on and preparing the evening meal and the rest of the staff would busy themselves getting the camp ready. I and some of the Sherpas would typically be making sure that the porters were ok and we'd be helping get the tents up.
Not so my trusty group of potential Everest summiteers. Without my asking they naturally took it upon themselves to start looking out for the porters and lending gloves where necessary. Then once they arrived at camp the clients sent the porters and Sherpas in to the kitchen tent and started putting tents up. Basically they had all diagnosed that there were things that needed to be done and that they were better clothed and equipped to be stood around in the snow erecting tents.
This for me was a pivotal moment where my aim of getting the team bonding was being well and truly achieved. This then later led on to the group helping each other and going the extra mile on the mountain.
What often happens with other groups is that on arriving at, say, Camp 1 a client will sort their own gear out and then have a doze - to then be woken by the their tent partner arriving and trying to get in to the tent and sort their gear out. And then at some stage they may consider getting the stove on. This creates a certain amount of upheaval for both parties and is in no way an efficient approach to managing time. Or when one person has, say, a headache and is feeling a bit off then the other person is not likely to stay up for 45 minutes making a brew for them because the other person had done nothing a few days before.
With my lot we had none of that. The first person just took it upon themselves to sort out their own and their tent partners gear having already got the stove going. To that end there was then less upheaval when the second person arrived and, importantly, they had a brew already on the go and were maintaining their hydration. This then meant that the other person was probably going to be willing to get the cooker on in the morning for breakfast. Not that anyone started counting or keeping a tally ... because that would be utterly divisive.
So there you have it - why this photo means so much to me and the message it portrays.
If you want to find out more about my Everest expeditions then click away.