Sunday, 8 February 2009

Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.
Leon J. Suenes

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Following in the footsteps of Hillary

It is hard to find the words to even begin describing the last 3 days. I had no idea that I would experience such an adventure on this trip, or even ever do such a thing in my life time...

I have a feeling that this is only the beginning, and I am already planning my next mountain trip post Base Camp.

I set off on Thursday morning to begin the first day of our ascent towards The Ball Pass Crossing.

An 8 hour hike led us steeply upwards as we passed milky grey glaciated lakes, winding our way up through the deep valley dominated by views of the majestic Mount Cook, which Hillary first climbed in 1948. He then went on to be the first man to summit Mount Everest in 1953-what better a way to continue my training for The Everest Test, than to follow in the footsteps of this legend in his own country?

It was my first experience of carrying a proper pack for any length of time (not quite the same as the luxurious Kilimanjaro trek when our packs were carried for us) and a valuable training exercise for the 18 days of it which lies ahead in April. We carried multiple layers of clothing, food, walking boots, crampons, ice axes, helmets, walking poles, at least 3 litres of water each, and most importantly the joint of beef for dinner- it was a very hot climb as we continued up the valley, the steepness of our ascent now obscuring the view of the face of Mt Cook.

We continued into the afternoon towards our goal for the end of our first day and our refuge for that night- The Caroline Hut; the base for the ball pass crossing which sits along side the notoriously dangerous Caroline Face of Mt Cook at 1800m.

As the hut came into view as a dot on the horizon, I was spoiled with one of the most incredible views I have ever seen. The icy facade of the Mt Cook Caroline face towered above us, menacingly vast yet graceful and jaw droppingly stunning- casting us into shadow and making us realise the power and magnitude of the nature around us.

We were now close enough to hear the thundering roar of the snow avalanches as they threw tons of ice and snow down the mountain face, a real spectacle and one which we were lucky enough to see repeatedly throughout the evening from out vantage point in the Caroline Hut.

Reaching the hut gave us a real sense of achievement- it sits perched at 1800m and is the closest refuge to the Ball Pass Ridge, 2121m, which we would be attempting the following day, weather conditions permitting. The hut was bathed in sunlight as we reached it and looked forward to a well earned cup of tea - a simple yet cosy log cabin with 12 bunks and a 'kitchen'. It was certainly the best view from any kitchen window I have seen and I have already logged my request to become 'hut chef' next year for a few weeks. I treated myself to a bowl of fresh and freezing mountain water for my 'shower', washing away the grit and grime from our 8 hour hike. I perched myself on the edge of the hut balcony, to one side staring down to the valley through which we had walked far below, a grey and moon like landscape of massive ice bergs, hundreds of feet high, floating in terminal moraine lakes a kilometre accross and hanging glaciers joining the valley floor. To the other - the dazzling pristine face of Mt Cook which was bathed in a soft golden glow as the sun softened and prepared to sink below the level of the mountains surrounding us.

After a hearty supper we were all treated to an evening of spectacular natural entertainment - we sat together wrapped up in our sleeping bags with whisky and tea, watching the sunset change the incredible surrounding landscape from a pale golden haze to a smokey purple light, the peaks of Mt Cook and neighbouring Mt Tasman illuminated by the last of the suns rays as the rest of the valley was cast into shadow.

The thundering noise of the avalanches continued sporadically as we sat trying to quickly spot where they were happening on the mountain face ahead of us, it provided a dramatic soundtrack to the slowly emerging stars in the deep blue canopy of the clear sky above.

Despite being toasty warm, full of whisky and the mountain air, and exhausted from the days adventure, sleep was far away as I lay wide awake - overwhelmed by the days adventure and excited about what lay ahead. At 2am I decided to creep outside to see the star show, it was deafeningly still and I could see the silhouette of Mt Cook ahead lit by a flood of stunning stars above. The milky way was directly above the hut, and the dark purple of the sky was scattered with more brilliant stars than I have ever seen - the southern sky is certainly a treat worth waiting for. The snap of cold which woke me up even more was well worth braving, and I returned to bed in greater awe and even more alert than ever.

We rose at 4,45am to have breakfast and leave at 6am as the sun was rising and throwing a brilliant tangerine glow onto the peaks of the mountains above - a great start to the day and again a spectacle which left us all staring in bewilderment at our surroundings.

We climbed high above the hut, equipped with helmets in case of rock fall, and steeply up towards The Ball Pass ridge. As we moved from rocky scree slopes to the awesome 50 m thick glacier and neared the ridge, we donned the crampons and ice axes to prepare for the climb ahead. A breathtakingly steep hike to the top of the ridge with the brilliant clear blue sky and blinding white snow made the surrounding views magical, the hard work of the climb was hardly noticable as we stared around us in wonder. As we pushed ourselves in a last effort up and over the lip of the Ball Pass, we had managed the crossing and were treated to the most awesome view below us - The Tasman and Hooker valleys stretching out ahead, marking the path for our long and steep descent.

Now came the tricky part- the descent of the ridge - and the scene of a tragic accident a few years ago when a highly experienced guide (from the company which I was climbing with) fell to her death along with the 2 clients she was guiding. Knowing that really focussed the attention as we followed our guide Andrews' steps exactely and didnt look down too much to the icy slopes reaching far below.

As we descended slowly and made it to a safe rocky scree slope, we were all overwhelmed by what we had done. We still had 8 hours of downward treking ahead of us as we picked our way carefully through "The Gut" a treacherous deep and narrow valley which slices through the rock of the sorrounding peaks and leads to the Hooker Valley and lake below. I didnt want the day to end and found it hard concentrating on my feet and where to place them with such mind blowing scenery surrounding me. It was only 11am and already we were looking back up to the ridge high above us with Mt Cook still visibile. Each of us had achieved something incredible, I had an overwhelming sense of achievment as I stared around me in utter wonder, and already felt as though I had been in a dream for the last 24 hours.
Completing the Ball Pass Crossing has been the most wonderful experience I have ever had the luck of being able to take part in and I still find it hard to express the feelings that I experienced in the short space of time.

I leave tonight for my last adventure in NZ (for this trip anyway) as I start The French Ridge Hut walk tomorrow morning on my own - a personal challenge in itself to achieve something solo. Although it is by no means a massive or dangerous undertaking, it will be an 10 hour hike through the valley below Mount Aspiring, climbing up to 2000 ft to reach the French Ridge where I will spend the night in another mountain hut, before the descent the following morning.

I am told the views are spectacular and the location of the hut very special, and another night in a mountain hut watching the sun rise and sun set is reward enough for me.

Next post coming soon...

Monday, 19 January 2009

Running around the world

When I completed the London marathon in April last year and decided to temporarily hang up my marathon shoes, I had no idea that I was soon to have another equally strong incentive to keep fit. When I got my place to take part in The Everest Test expedition in May last year, it was clear that the running would continue, I was glad for the focus and reason to keep me training.

When I completed the Kenya half marathon in 2005, it was a surreal and memorable experience to be running along side elephant, zebra, white rhinos and giraffes, and I thought that it was unlikely I would see other such scenery when running... thanks to being part of the Everest expedition however and it providing that incentive to keep fit, my trainers have recently taken me to some incredible places and have enabled me to maintain my fitness amongst some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen.

After leaving London in the summer and returning to my cooking, the mountains of Switzerland were the first breathtaking location for my training, then to the sweltering hills of Portugal and running in 35 degrees... good training for what was to come during my two months in Australia.
A month of cooking in Scotland in September provided a welcome rest from the heat of the previous month abroad, and really highlighted what a beautiful country we live in - endless miles of running in blissful solitude around pristine and crystal clear lochs with the Scotish highlands reaching down to the waters edge, with eagles circling above in cloudless blue skies. Some long and memorable runs took me from the riverside lodges where I was cooking in Inverness, to the shores of Loch Ness, and I spent hours training on the West coast near the Isle of Skye, as well as the beautiful and remote estate where the Monarch of the Glen was filmed further south.

October brought with it a change from my running shoes, as Paola and I braved the blisters of our hiking boots and made it to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania after a week of treking, honestly the most incredible experience of my life so far.

November brought about another continent for me to explore, and I have spent the past two months running around Australia. Firstly along the miles of white sand from Fremantle to Nedlands in Perth, then I journeyed south to the winelands region of the Margaret River WA, where I was graced by some more wildlife to rival the experience of Kenya. Leaving at 6am to beat the heat of the 35 degree days, my efforts were rewarded as I spotted Kangaroos grazing in the early morning dusk.

My travels then took me to Sydney, where I have been running along the northern beaches of Manly and Narrabean, with painful hill training thrown in as well- unavoidable due to the location of the freinds house where I was staying! Christmas Day began with a very hot run and swim on Palm Beach, certainly a memorable first period of festive celebrations away from the UK, and very different to the usual grey and frosty start of English Christmases!

Our 3 day walking trip to the Blue Mountains between Christmas and New Year continued the stamina testing as we took off around the rolling mountains of the incredible local scenery - the walking also helping with the fitness as we climbed over 1000 ft amongst the blue/green haze of the eucalyptus trees. Here I saw some of the most breathtaking scenery I have ever seen. We descended almost vertical rocky steps to the floor of the thick rain forrest below, the noise of birds and ciccadas almost deafening. The dense bright green canopy of the ferns and vegetation above was pierced by streams of dusty golden sunlight filtering through the leaves, the sound of rushing water close by from huge waterfalls emerging from high in the rocky canopy, tumbling over the rocks and throwing a spray of rainbow droplets above us.

Then it was to Tasmania where Hobart provided a great vista for sea side jogging, taking in the views of Mount Wellington which towers over the city (I was certainly NOT going to run up that), and the Sydney to Hobart racing yachts moored peacefully in the harbour.

New Zealand is now providing a host of training activities, firstly running the beaches and hills of tropical Waiheke Island (40 mins off Auckland) to run off one too many glasses of delicious red wine from the local wineries.

Last Friday provided the opportunity for some altitude training (very helpful justification for the expense) as I launched myself out of a plane at 15000 feet above Lake Taupo, 'all in the name of Everest training' I told myself! The skydive has been added to my list of 'most incredible life experiences', as I hurtled towards the ground at 170mph in a cold and clear blue sky- the lake, snow capped mountains and what felt like the whole of New Zealand stretched out before me.. it was quite literally breathtaking.
It really hit home (again) just what The Everest Test is hoping to achieve when I realised, as I sat perched on the edge of the plane ready to jump, that we still werent as high as the 175000 ft of base camp!

It was back to the hiking on Saturday, and another experience to add to the afore mentioned 'incredible list' as I set off with some friends to walk the Tongariro Crossing, circumnavigating Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings) and Mt Tongariro. Reputedly the best NZ one day walk, the 8 hour Tongariro Alpine Crossing traversed spectacular volcanic geography, from active craters and steaming vents to beautiful bright turquoise and malachite lakes set against a backdrop of black and red lava of the surrounding scenery. Like the Blue Moutains walk in Australia, this was an utterly breathtaking experience and again, some of the most awesome scenery I have ever been lucky enough to see.

I am now in the South Island, and with only 10 days left of this trip before I return to the UK, I was keen to continue with some more outdoor pursuits to satisfy my love of the great outdoors - I thought it was about time for some more mountains after Kilimanjaro and to prepare me for April. I leave on Thursday for a 3 day trek in the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, which offers New Zealand's most spectacular alpine scenery with all but one of its 29 peaks over 3000m. Mt Cook, the highest mountain of Australasia and one of the 'seven summits', will dominate the skyline as I trek The Ball Pass route. It is a challenging 3 day alpine crossing of the Mount Cook Range from the Tasman to the Hooker Valley. The hiking route follows the Ball Ridge, opposite the Caroline Face of Mount Cook, and overlooks the Tasman Glacier. Looking at the photos on the website I hope that I am in for an awesome 3 days which I hope will be another to add to the incredible list.. treking with ice axes and crampons will certainly be a novel experience for me!

For more information see

Photos of all of the above will soon be added to facebook, but in the meantime it is thanks to The Everest Test for providing such an incentive to keep fit and thus enabling me to have seen so much of the world recently. I look forward to returning to the UK next weekend and resuming with my morning running around the hedgerows of Hampshire and the riverbanks of London- a rather tame option in comparison to some of the above, but a lovely one anyway.

It is amazing where we can go and what we can see of this world with just our feet...

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The tortoise and the hare

Paola and I returned from the most incredible trip to Tanzania on Sunday - I am pleased to say we made the summit of Kilimanjaro at 7am last Saturday 1st November. It was the most memorable moment of my 26 years so far, and was an unforgettable experience - the views from the 'roof of Africa' were breathtakingly beautiful, and I can only begin to imagine what they will be like in the Himalayas next year on our trek to Everest base camp.

The weeks trek flew past and I think we were both surprised at how much we enjoyed it, I think we had both secretly been expecting to be dreading emerging from our tent each morning knowing what was ahead of us! Our guides were amazing and extremely knowledgeable and the two if us were looked after by our very own team of 17 people for the week, we were desperate to get going each morning knowing that more stunning scenery would be waiting, and each day took us closer to the summit attempt which we were both hugely excited about.

Despite some smug glances over the first 3 days from other trekkers on the same route, all appearing amused at how slow we were walking, we were continually assured by Joseph and Godwin, our guides, of the tale of the tortoise and the hare, and that taking it reeeeeeally slowly would get us to the top. Sure enough, and to the annoyance of a particular group of Swiss who we kept passing over the week, we were indeed the first to the summit on the day - many of them didn't make it and had to turn back due to altitude sickness. Paola and I were both incredibly lucky - less than 5% of people who attempt the Kilimanjaro climb manage to make it to the summit with NO effects of the altitude, we were both in that small proportion of lucky climbers, and were incredibly grateful when we saw the effects that this has on others. Apart from some minor and quickly disappearing headaches and a few re-occurring nose bleeds, which both still clearly demonstrate the effects of altitude on the body, we managed to get through the week pain free. We passed many people on the summit day who just fell short of the final summit - due to overpowering headaches, continuous vomiting, and feeling so weak that they literally were unable to continue to put one foot in front of the other. Many people had begun to spot the signs of altitude early into their trip, but had carried on regardless, ignoring symptoms and hoping that they would go away as they continued walking. It was those who sadly did not make the top, and hearing all of these stories on the decent really made the seriousness of altitude hit home.
It was purely chance and luck that the two of us had been so fortunate, and of course due to the excellent advice of our guides.

Kilimanjaro is a beautiful mountain, and if I had the chance I would turn around and fly back out tomorrow to do the week again.
Our first two days were spent walking through lush and verdant rainforest, we were lucky enough to see some rarely spotted Colabus monkeys and some stunning birds on these days. Gradually as we got higher, the surroundings changed dramatically and any sign of life and vegetation disappeared - the volcanic and baron environment of the mountain began to show itself and instead of camping below the canopy of green ferns and indigenous trees, we instead perched on rocky patches of ground where the wind whistled! The lacking vegetation and exposed locations had their advantages however - each morning we woke to cloudless clear skies, and after day three awoke to views perched from above the cloud line- quite simply indescribable.

Friday brought with it the 'final push' - we had a half day walking so that we were well rested, and went to bed for a few hours after lunch to get some sleep. We then awoke at 4 to get our kit ready and prepared, and after more food at 6 went to bed again to try and sleep before the mid night departure. The stars were like nothing I had seen before - the most amazing display I had previously experienced was in the middle of the desert in Morocco, but this was on a different scale (and the ONLY benefit of having to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the loo: leaving the tent in -10 degrees with howling winds was not always tempting!).

We left at 12.08am with our two guides, and 3 of the porters who we had got to know over the week who were keen to come with us. As we walked into the night the only gage of direction and steepness of the path was the tiny line of white lights from the head torches ahead of us, it was a concentrated and intense atmosphere as we trekked on rare moments of silence. The hours surprisingly flew by, helped enormously by the fact that our merry band of men sang almost non stop for the entire summit climb!
At 6am we reached Stella Point as the sun was rising over Africa - a huge boost to morale as energy levels were fading fast and we had no idea how long we had been trekking for, another clever technique adopted by the guides. It was the most impressive sunrise I had ever experienced- the blanket of clouds beneath us turned from a pale gold through to an intense pink and orange as the sun appeared and rose above them - we then knew that nothing was going to stop us from making the Uhuru peak. Another hours walk, due to both the incredibly slow pace and rapidly depleting energy levels, but a very exciting last effort.

Paola and I reached Uhuru at 7am, and were blown away by the panoramic views surrounding us. On one side of the peak lies a strangely lunar landscape which seems to belong in a scifi film, grey dust and craters- the colours of which enhanced by the vivid azul skies and gleaming white snow.
On the other we looked across to a huge glacier, sitting above the clouds which formed a blanket beneath us, and the snowy rock faces disappearing into the distance below us.

The immense feeling of satisfaction is not one which I will forget in a hurry and reaching the summit was certainly the proudest moment of my 26 years so far.
Paola and I did not stop laughing all week and had an unforgettable trip despite the fact that it was just two of us and our group of cheery guides and porters.
If Kili is anything to go by, then I can only imagine the fun and unforgettable experiences which we will all share together on our 18 day trip next April... bring on Base Camp.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Training gets serious- Kilimanjaro attempt

It is all steam ahead for our preparations for Kilimanjaro, Paola and I leave for Tanzania tomorrow evening, beginning our climb on Monday morning.
Rather than organising the usual pub sessions and demanding money from friends in support, we hoped to plan another challenge in itself to demonstrate our dedication to The Everest Test 2009, and at the same time further our fitness training, in the hope that it might encourage donations.

We leave on 25 October 2008, waving goodbye to hot showers, duvets and our daily Starbucks, instead donning walking boots, sub zero temperature thermals, and braving the outdoor long drop loos, as we attempt to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Kilimanjaro rises 19,340 feet above sea level, is the highest free standing mountain in the world, and the tallest on the continent of Africa. Due to the mountain being situated in Africa, it is often thought that the climate is hot and dry, the structure however supports 5 major eco zones- rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert and glacier. Temperatures will range from 35 degrees during the day, to -20 degrees at night.... meaning that much planning is necessary to ensure the right equipment is taken with us.
15,000 people attempt to climb this mountain every year, but less than 60% summit the peak, often due to being ill-prepared and attempting the summit too quickly due to a lack of understanding of the altitude, and its often leathal effects on the human body. At this altitude the body absorbs only 66% of the amount of oxygen it does at sea level - consequently the resting heart beat is at least 30% faster, hard work to say the least. That said, altitude sickness claims its victims at random, and fitness does not determine your ability to avoid it. There is no cure for altitude sickness other than rapid decent, we very much hope that we will reach the top, but have to be careful to remember that the effects of the condition can be extremely dangerous, and also fatal.

The preparation for this trip has at least got me ahead of the game with all of the plans for The Everest Test, and I have been shopping for merino wool thermals, walking trousers, waterproof/windproof trousers, socks, walking boots, fleeces, decent sunglasses, water bottles, hats, gloves- the list goes on!
Excitement is now setting in as I start to pack, and have finally finished all of my tasks to make sure we are ready - jabs, malaria tablets, acquiring Diamox (a drug which helps the body to deal with altitude), Tanzanian visas and endless others. I very much hope that my next blog post will be a summary of our successful summit attempt, with photos to follow...

Saturday, 4 October 2008

'Unless you do something beyond which you have already mastered, you will never grow'.
Chinese proverb

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Relevant quotes:

I am new to the blogging scene, so for want of something with which to begin my posts, will start with some of my favourite quotes, and ones which I have been noting down whilst reading various motivational/adventure/travel books (namely Bear Grylls' 'Facing Up' and 'Facing The Frozen Ocean' amongst others)....
I will add to these quotes regularly, they are each relevant to The Everest Test itself, or to the team involved:

‘Great things happen when men and mountains meet’.
Blake, 18th Century

'All men dream, but not equally- those that dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act upon their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible’.
T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

'There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve- the fear of failing'.
The Alchemist

'Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises'.
Demosthenes, Athenian Statesman