Friday, May 12, 2006

The view from lower down

So after days of being sworn to secrecy, we can finally reveal that our summit push is on! Russell has been playing a bit of a cat and mouse game – his usual tactic is to wait both for the weather to come good, and to hold back to let other expeditions summit first and get off the mountain – with somewhere in the region of 300 climbers, the choke points can get pretty congested.

This year, tho, he spotted an early weather window, and his sherpas worked their nuts off to get the high camps stocked with oxygen etc and to fix ropes all the way to the summit (they reached there on 30th April, which Russ thinks is a record – and for good measure fixed another 100 meters down the south side, so anyone coming up there will get a surprise).

A lot of the other expeditions have been hampered by delays in getting climbers and kit in through Kathmandu during the Nepalese strikes at the start of the season.

Meanwhile we’re on tenterhooks down at Base Camp. We have a battery of monitors that should bring us live pictures from the summit ridge, shot on tiny cameras mounted on the sherpas helmets and beamed down by microwave link. We’ve tested the system both in the UK and in Chamonix, but when push comes to shove we’ll only know whether the system is working when we power it up on summit day. The whole thing is designed to cope with the expected low temps – so when the sherpa pushes the ‘on’ button, it first of all switches on a heat pad to thaw the system out, then 20 minutes later it powers up the camera. Neat, eh??

For everyone on both summit days it will be an early start and long hours – the climbers will leave camp 4 at about midnight, so from then on we’ll be listening to the radio chat, and waiting for the sun to come up, at which point we’ll be able to see our pictures. We’ll then be watching on three different monitors until the climbers have summited and returned to their chosen camp for the night. Then we’ll do it all again next day. On each day, we’ll also have a high altitude cameraman climbing with the climbers, and a high altitude director at camp 4, plus a camera and sound team at camp one, where Russell manages the whole climb from, and a further two cameras at ABC to catch the climbers returning – successful or otherwise!!

With most of the other expeditions looking at this same weather window, it could be an early end to the season – from my point of view, having spent nearly 6 weeks here last year as well, it can’t come soon enough!!

We’ve been glued to the radio this morning – our lead team spent last night at camp 3, and should have been heading up to camp 4 and their final overnight before the summit – but there have been unexpectedly high winds, so the attempt is being put back by a day, which brings the possibility of more expeditions coming up behind them. Due to weather and altitude, the only way they can communicate between the tents at camp 3 is by radio, even tho they’re only a few feet apart.

So our overnight vigils have been put back by a day, which means more movies – each night after supper we bung the fire on in our studio hut and put on a dvd – as the evening goes on, all the base camp sherpas sneak in through the door to watch as well. They can’t understand a word, but they must think we’re a pretty odd bunch! Three nights ago we were watching Capote, which ends in an execution. Two nights ago we were watching the Man Who Wasn’t there, which ends in an execution, and last night it was the Constant Gardener, which ends … well, almost! Sadly no one thought to bring any comedies!!

Meanwhile the weather is getting better and better (at least down at base camp) – with the direct sunlight, and a slightly chilly breeze, it’s a bit like a July day at Westward Ho! Water no longer freezes in the bottle overnight, the snow that fell a few weeks back has all gone, and even revealed a few patches of grass – the hope of an early summit is getting everyone thinking of home. Lacchu – the base camp manager – has been down ordering up enough yaks to bring all the climbers kit down from abc – hopefully as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

Having done it last year, I can already start to picture the drive out – following the Rongbuk river down past the monastery to the bottom of the valley, then over a huge watershed to the fairly unappealing town of Tingri (truckstop on the Friendship highway, lots of questionable dogs!!), then on to the high plateau and the last of the big passes – prayerflags and prayer wheels, huge vista of the mountains – followed by the huge drop to the border at Xangmu, through fertile valleys and huge gorges. At Xangmu we have to take everything across the border bridge by hand, then load up into new busses for the boneshaking drive back to Kathmandu – when Lisa, our production manager, did the same drive about a month ago rioting was in full swing at most towns along the way, and the Brits who are camped alongside us had to take shelter on the way in as a gun battle of sorts took place outside.

Now Nepal is quiet again, so the trip should be uneventful. The Hotel Tibet seems a very appealing prospect!!

That’s about it for now – have to go and top up my tan!!


Blogger Dave said...

I think Si Wagen has some 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' DVDs squirreled away somewhere if you're after comedy!

5:57 pm  

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