About 2 years ago, we got an 'invite' to join a trip to Nepal to climb Baden Powell Scout Peak in the Ganesh Himal (Langtang) region. I was assured it would be a 'strenuous hike' and not at all technical... Hmm.
I was excited but terribly nervous at the same time and spent a lot of time in denial that it was even happening.
My life became immensely busy before the trip and I just ran out of time for training as I needed to pack and sort out things like the Club AGM. We managed one or two trips to the bouldering wall at Middlesborough, but not enough.
It was however, time to drop the dog at my father-in-law's at catch our plane from Manchester Airport. We were on a huge Airbus A380, never been on such a big, luxurious plane, and that was in 'cattle class'. The trip was uneventful and fairly boring (which is never a bad thing when at 30,000ft!) we flew via Dubai and Delhi. Each time we changed planes, they got smaller and more dicey. When we landed at Kathmandu airport, we hit the ground so hard part of the ceiling fell down...
It was hot. It took a good 45 mins to get through the confusion that is immigration and found our baggage already on the floor next to the single carousel... As we left the building, we spotted a little Nepalese guy in a blue shirt holding the Venture Medical sign we were looking for. This turned out to be Prakash, our rep for the trip. It was a bit weird trusting our luggage to guys we'd never met and getting into a car in a foreign country with strange men...
Prakash took us to our hotel, where we were met by guards on the front gates. Again, our bags were entrusted to strangers. The hotel was rather nice, an oasis of calm in the middle of the madness that is Kathmandu.
We relaxed for the afternoon and met the rest of the team that evening for a meal in town.
The next day we met our mountain guides, Ambrit and Kishan who checked our gear, all good to go! We headed into town for a couple of bits we hadn't got, like rope and an extra sleeping mat. The afternoon was ours and we had a beer in a bar in Thamel.
The next day, the adventure began nice and early with our porters loading our stuff on the roof of the bus... It was a long hot drive, it took a couple of hours just to get out of the city!! We stopped for lunch at Jimbu it was so hot it was unreal, I almost burnt my arm on the metal railings. Back on the bus. About 10 hours later, just as it was getting dark, we reached Syabru Bessi and our accommodation for the night. We were already at a reasonable altitude and I felt dizzy as hell, although in hindsight, I think it was a borderline hypo from lack of food. I was surprised to find we had our own rooms, which were en-suite. There was a lizard in ours...
Up and on early the next morning for the first day of actual trekking. It was hot, again.
We trekked for about 8 hours in total, stopping for lunch at the Bamboo. We climbed the height of Ben Nevis that first day! The sweat was running off the brim of my hat, we all drank loads. We followed the Langtang River through forest, almost jungle, on good paths. Some of the climbs were steep and often we returned to river level. At last, around the corner through the vegetation we caught our first glimpse of the Lama Hotel our destination for the night, I was very excited to climb up the stone steps as the place looked exactly like it does on the internet, a collection of hostels and tea-houses lining the path above the river. We stayed in one of the first ones we came to. Again, we had our own room, the shower and toilet was across the yard this time though!
On the road again, more hot, uphill hiking. We gradually left the forest and the chirruping of bush crickets behind. Another 8 hours on the trail took us to Langtang village. We crossed the vast landslip that in 2015 wiped out the village and surrounding area. It was a little spooky crossing it, as it was clearly still very unstable. We wondered how many bodies were still underneath, unaccounted for.
The mist closed in a little as we reached the (new) village. We had time to have a wander round the village, there was lots of building going on, new tea houses going up. I was offered some drugs by a little wizened old man!! Our tea house was small but cosy and we enjoyed pasta for tea and a comfy bed. Inside toilets here, but I don't think there was a shower?
Eggs for breakfast, the hens looked healthy and the eggs were good!
Todays trek was shorter and much less strenuous, after an initial stiff climb out of the village. The environment was more like prairie now and we could see into the high mountains beyond, including our objective, Baden Powell Scout Peak.
We reached the final village, Kyanjin Gompa after just 4 hours so we had time for a nice hot shower and a walk around. The village was relatively large, again with lots of new buildings going up. The altitude now was considerable, about 3800m, and was having an effect.
The next day, we set off before dawn to tackle Kyanjin Ri at 4400m. It was relentless uphill for a couple of hours, we got to the summit without mishap and celebrated with coffee and snack bars! My OH was struggling, the other chap B wasn't much better. Me and the other two girls G and R were busy planning how to turn the walk into a ridge route! Turns out, that's what we were doing... The guys faces were a picture. Thankfully, it wasn't too much descent and ascent to the next summit point. Soon, we were on the path heading steeply downhill back to the village. To say it was frosty when we'd set out, we were now in just our T-shirts! The path was made of a silky fine dust, rich in mica and I fell over several times!!
We were back in time for lunch, egg and chips. Yum. We had the afternoon to ourselves to assist with acclimatisation. It was tough though and I said to my OH it would be a miracle if either of us made it to the top of the main mountain...
Another fairly early start for the push to high camp, it was very slow, my OH was really struggling and needed to rest every few minutes. The guides were very good and we took it slow. It took 9 hours to get there, but another 1000m climbed. The porters came down to meet us part way with hot mango tea to boost our spirits. Crossing the ridge into High Camp was like walking into paradise, we were exhausted. Asinja the chef had a 3 course dinner waiting for us, but nobody had any appetite. We spent the night in bright yellow expedition tents.
Another acclimatisation day. Before the trip, I'd wondered what on earth I was going to do at High Camp all day, now I was here, sitting in a heap seemed like hard work! My OH had been slurring his speech then later in the morning was sick. We had to face reality that he had mountain sickness and was going to have to go back to the village. I managed to hold it together and not cry, felt a bit wobbly though. He disappeared off with two of the porters and we had lunch.
After lunch, we went for a walk and practiced using the abseil devices and jumars etc. It was a welcome distraction. Dhal Bhat and cake for supper, before a very early night. I was surprisingly comfortable in my now huge tent, but I had three sleeping mats now. I could hear avalanches rumbling down across the valley. I got a message on the satellite com to say HQ hadn't heard from OH yet... Panic. After a few stressful messages backwards and forwards, it turns out he had arrived safely a couple of hours earlier, the message had just been delayed. I settled down to sleep at last.
We were up at about 1am, forced down some porridge and set off by 2. It took a long time to reach the snow line, the climb up the snout of the glacier and rocks was hard and scary. I was crapping myself from the start and the sounds of the glacier popping under our feet didn't help. B had also pulled out at breakfast, he'd twisted his knee so now it was just the two guides, Prakash, me and the two girls G and R. G has previous climbing experience, R was a novice like me. The guides looked after me as I quaked in fear on the ice. The sun was coming up when we reached the snow line and the first of the fixed ropes. The physical effort of climbing up the fixed ropes using the jumars took my mind off being scared and I was making good progress until I got stuck in a snow hole! The quality of the snow was awful and as we went over a convex portion of the snow it all just disappeared out from under me until I was stuck on my crampon tips in fluff. Kishan came back and with a lot of hauling from him and flailing from me, I got out of the hole and we powered up the rest of the slope. We roped together to cross a crevasse field, that wasn't too bad, until I got stuck in another bloody hole would you believe?! Got out of that one with G's help. Next was a fixed rope up to a snow bridge over a crevasse, I think I crossed the ridged bit on my hands and knees, I feared it was a cornice (I was later proved correct). Another steep climb, another fixed rope and suddenly we were on the summit!! 5860m high in the Himalayas. It was approx 11:40am we'd been on the go for 9 hours. And I was still shitting myself! The summit ridge was so steep and narrow we clipped onto a safety line just to take photo's. We were the first UK team to summit Baden Powell Peak and the first females EVER to summit this mountain*.
Now, once we'd taken the required summit photos, we turned around to begin the long abseil down. Oh, my poor calves were in bits from my earlier snow hole episodes. The abseiling wasn't quite as bad as I'd feared. To start with, looking down triggered my fear of heights, but in time I could manage it without my head spinning! Which was a good thing as we had to go around obstacles rather than just zip down in a straight line. About 3pm we stopped for food. First time we'd eaten since breakfast. The abseiling continued until we reached the rocks we'd climbed up earlier that day. Now though, the heat of the sun had destabilised the glacier so we had to descent the snow face instead. My legs would no longer hold me up and after about 10 falls, I slid the rest of the way on my bottom. Crampons went back on and we scittered across the rotten ice on top of the glacier and I was relieved to see Kishan setting up a belay anchor point. R went first as she was slowest, I went next leaving the more experienced R to descend by headtorch. I needed mine before I reached the bottom. Not technical, huh? It took ages to cross the boulder field at the bottom of the glacier back to camp, we were guided in by a couple of young porters. We collapsed into the mess tent to find B and Asinja had made us chips for dinner!! 17 hours. I was exhausted. It had been the scariest, hardest day of my life. I had been scared I wouldn't manage it without my OH but the guides looked after me well.
I slept well that night, but refused to get up in the middle of the night for a wee, partly as it was about -10 out there but mostly because I knew my legs wouldn't work to cross the rocks to the toilet tent...
We got our appetites back that day, breakfast was scoffed with glee! We packed up our stuff, the porters broke camp and we began the long descent back to Kyanjin Gompa. We took it steady, my legs were not happy, my calves were so sore. Actually hungry, I wondered when lunch would be, but we kept going through the scrub, then the forest and down onto the river meadow where we found Asinja and the porters waiting for us with plates full of pasta, cheese, spam, toast, veggies and tea!! We all had seconds. It still seemed to take a long time to cross the meadow but at last we were back at the village and found my OH waiting for us. He had been looked after by the Chairman of the village and was looking and feeling much better. It hasn't really sunk in what we had achieved.
The next day was OH's birthday! So we had cake for breakfast! Asinja had somehow baked and decorated a cake for the occasion and we all shared it. We set off on wobbly legs and hiked all the way back to the Lama Hotel, missing out Langtang village, although we did stop there for a cuppa.
We all had pizza for tea and shared a bottle of beer to help celebrate OH's birthday.
Final day of the trek, didn't seem as hot now but I think we'd just acclimatised to it. We had lunch overlooking the Langtang River at the Landslip tea house, Tibetan bread. We saw Syabru Bessi a long time before we reached it's dusty streets!! We had more beers that night and enjoyed a long hot shower at our guest house before sharing dhal bhat with the guides and porters.
We spent the next day doing the return trip to Kathmandu on the bus. When we were met in town by our English leaders (who never made it on the the trek...) it finally hit us and I think we got a little emotional. The next day, we got a guided tour of The Monkey Temple, Patan and got to meet the Kumari and we received a blessing from her! It was sad to be leaving the next day, didn't want the trip to end.
Nepal has left a mark on my soul, I feel different since I came back and I wouldn't hesitate to go again.
* The mountain was originally called Urkema Peak but was re-named as part of the celebrations for 100 years of Scouting. No females have climbed Urkema or Baden Powell Peak until us. Nice one.