The final few weeks prior to departure are always crammed with lots of e mails from clients my who are themselves trying to organise their lives in preparation for their departure. Then there's shopping for supplies, packing, sending freight, updating the agent in Kathmandu for them to make the permit application, updating my Sirdar with our requirements for Base Camp and logistics on the hill as well as taking bookings for the next Ama Dablam expedition, packing my stuff ready for my departure and making sure that the Bed and Breakfast is going to run smoothly in my absence.
And of course there is the all important issue of spending time with my family. I used to be 'away' for about a fortnight before I actually went away. But thankfully now that I am pretty well versed in the whole pre expedition build up I am able to be here right until the last minute which I think the children appreciate (probably more than they realise).
Despite losing our illustrious B&B housekeeper of 3 years we have managed to find a replacement who is rising to the challenge. So 'tarra' to Suzanna and 'Olá' to Juan. Juan will be taking the helm full time 7 days a week for the whole of April and May (and then staying with us until at least September) and is obviously going to do a great job ... but there is so much to hand over that it would be easy to overwhelm him with the task at hand. Yes there are breakfasts to cook, guests to meet and greet and rooms to clean but there are also all the other sundry naunces that he needs to be well versed in. Where to go for supplies, how to update availability, what information is required to take a booking, how much deposit is required to confirm a booking, where the receipts go, where are the spare lightbulbs, the stop cock, the electrics box and the fire alarm panel? When does the laundry go out, where do we keep the cleaning supplies and the spare top ups for the tea trays? Who do we order from when we are running low on x, y and z? Where do we keep the spare rolls for the pdq machine, what is our cancellation policy and what's the WiFi password? Etc etc etc.
It's only when you're handing over the reins that you start to realise just how many different facets there are to running your own small business. It's all very well telling Juan that he can ask my wife - but she is going to be up to her eyeballs with work, getting the children to and from school, answering e mails on my behalf, keeping the family entertained at the weekends and coping with the usual mundanity of shopping for food, making sure the car has an MOT etc etc.
But despite all that, I can thankfully depart next Thursday knowing that the B&B is in very good hands.
I'll be arriving in Kathmandu a few days ahead of my group and a hectic few days always ensues where I have to go to The Ministry of Tourism, meet the agent, meet my Sirdar, go shopping for our Base Camp goodies, stock up the extensive first aid kit, split the gear down in to what is going straight to Base Camp and what will be accompanying us for the trek in etc etc. Then once we are all convened in Kathmandu we fly to Lukla and start trekking.
I use the trek in as an opportunity to train and mentor my clients so that we arrive at Everest Base Camp fit, acclimatised and switched on. Unlike most teams who sprint in to Base Camp in 8 or 9 days (and then wonder how they will climb THAT when they feel like THIS down here at Base Camp) we will be spending 3 weeks trekking in which gives my group a chance to unwind, clear their last minute in tray and start to comprehend the enormity of what lies ahead. We get off the beaten track, visit some amazing people and cross some high passes which means that we get to Everest Base Camp in really good order. We can then go from fun trekking mode to fun, but serious, expedition mode and start the rotations lower on the hill (up to around 7,100m).
The sessions I cover whilst we are trekking in range from avoiding frostbite and hypothermia to oxygen protocols and high altitude medical issues. We discuss the importance of concurrent activity and go through safe travel techniques. We will also cover issues such as avoiding other climbers who look like they are a liability to themselves (and therefore everyone around them), and the benefit of working as a team rather than a bunch of individuals.
I also discuss the rather sobering topic of death on the hill. Not so much death within our group, but the fact that other people from other teams may pass away during the expedition period for a whole variety of reasons - some of which, tragically, are avoidable. There are obviously objective hazards, such as a lump of ice or a rock bopping someone on the head, but there are the other aspects that people don't fully comprehend. I have written elsewhere about the fact that some teams don't provide a full range of inclusions or that there is small print that means that sometimes clients who thought they were getting a fully inclusive experience suddenly find themselves at The South Col without a Climbing Sherpa and not enough oxygen. These are the unfortunate people who may succumb to extreme hypoxia or be completely overwhelmed by exhaustion.
Whilst we do discuss these issues there can't be any hard and fast rules about dealing with ill, dying or dead climbers because there are too many factors and different scenarios to comprehend. Obviously the primary concern has got to be the safety of my group and after that we then have to start deciding whether our efforts will endanger or jeopardise ourselves, whether there is help on the way, who the person is with and what is being done about their situation etc etc? Do we start injecting people with dexamethasone if that will then deplete our supply and jeopardise our health and well being? It is obviously an unsavoury subject but I firmly believe that it makes us mentally stronger and certainly safer if the people in my team realise just how vulnerable we all are up there. To that end my team are less likely to lie to me about how they are feeling during the trip (and therefore hide or mask symptoms I could otherwise be dealing with) and certainly less inclined to suffer from summit fever. Just because someone doesn't feel great one day doesn't mean that the expedition is over for that individual - but if they don't tell me how they are feeling then what may well be a benign condition (that I can help them with) could otherwise deteriorate in to a life threatening situation.
A bit like all the information I am handing over to Juan in the B&B there are many, many aspects of ultra high altitude that need to be imparted to the group so that they can safely attempt to negotiate this HUGE mountain.
There are undoubtedly many self imposed pressures that my group will be feeling - especially in this day and age of social networking when everyone knows about each others intentions. Then there will be the unnecessary distractions that they will have ranging from a flat battery meaning that their camera isn't working one day to not being able to get 3g working on their phone the next. Does it really matter? Well, yes, it does, but let's not let it be a distraction.
So whilst all their distractions are valid to them at that time they will need to sift out what is, and what isn't, important and deal with it appropriately.
Basically they will need to learn not to sweat about the small stuff.
And on the note of cameras ... I have been loaned a Canon 5d mkIII and a Sony a7R along with tripod, various attachments for making panoramic photos, solar charging, a range of batteries and cables and LOADS of memory . Thomas from http://www.mountainpanoramas.com/ came across at the weekend and gave me a tutorial about what is required, how to use the equipment and common pitfalls (like not removing the lens cap!). We had a practice yesterday and he has stitched the result together and, all told, I'm fairly happy with what has been my first effort (click for a higher resolution image).
Whilst you are at it why not have a look here for the names of the peaks
I'm also delighted to have a prototype Rab down suit, a whole range of goodies from http://mountainfuel.co.uk/ and to have received word from Lakeland that they will be donating £10 per bag of garbage that we bring down off Everest (up to a maximum of £250) which will then be donated to a family that I sponsor in The Khumbu region.
Apart from that there's plenty to do between now and our summit attempt and I hope to be able to keep you posted along the way.