Mt Rainier

My climbing adventures have been sadly limited these days; living between a Caribbean island for university and Dubai to see my family isn’t totally conducive to mountaineering, plus my dad’s knee operations have kept him from serious climbing these last couple of years and so big expeditions have been off the cards. (On that note, him and I actually managed to go bouldering today – so that’s a huge step towards being back on the mountains for him!). However, I did manage to get back on the snow and ice earlier these summer holidays on the popular Mt Rainier – it was completely awesome. As climbing always is.

This one was quite different for me, because it was the first “big” (it’s 4,395m) mountain that I’ve ever climbed unguided. The team we pulled together was brilliant – there was a friend from our Everest summit team in 2012 who I was ecstatic to be climbing with again, two friends that I’d met in Grenada and a friend of a friend from Canada who loved the mountains as much as I do. Everyone was pretty strong, and we had a fair amount of experience between us. With that and the fact that it was to be a new personal altitude record for two of the team members plus one person’s first ever mountain meant that the whole trip was able to be a lot of fun.

We took 3 days to summit: The first day we had driven down to the park in the morning to get our permits and so didn’t get going until afternoon. It was a long slog up to Camp Muir with very heavy bags, and a lot of the snow was punchy – not much fun with the extra weight, but the trail was well traveled and being in the mountains again made up for the discomfort. Everyone made it up to the camp before it was too dark, and the views as the sun set were spectacular. This first day in particular really reminded me of Mt Elbrus in Russia – it had the same wide, pretty consistent snow slope the whole way up. We set up camp and began melting snow for water, but it was much colder than I was expecting and having been at sea level the entire year I was feeling the altitude, so we all disappeared into our tents relatively quickly.

The next day we spent brushing up on essential skills for the summit push. We climbed up just above the camp to practice, or in some cases learn, how to ice axe arrest and perform crevasse rescue. We also decided on the rope team order and practiced roping up and moving a little just to get in the swing of things before the following day, this was really good to have done as some members of the team had never moved on a rope before and we’d obviously never worked as a rope team together before either. All in all it was a really productive rest day and I think we all felt much safer having gone through the skills. We’d decided to stay based at Camp Muir instead of moving up to the higher camp before summit day, mostly because the higher camp was actually full, and it turned out to be, at least for us, a much better game plan. The other camp was only 2 hours at most above Camp Muir, and having to dismantle camp, take heavy packs further up the mountain and then set up camp again the day after the big move up to Camp Muir would probably have been detrimental to us, and a rest day with skills was much more rewarding. We also all felt (as far as I’m aware anyway) as if that extra couple of hours really didn’t make much of a difference to our summit day performance.

So, we get to summit day. This was a horrible 1am start, but it was good weather, although quite windy, and we moved fairly quickly with everyone coping fine on the rope. I led our ascent, which felt pretty damn cool to be honest. We hit a bad queue up the side of the mountain about half way through the ascent, but the slow pace was probably a blessing in disguise for the team, especially because the cold was a lot more bearable at this time in the morning and we were in no danger of running out of time for the descent. On another side note, the alpine glow before sunrise and then the actual sunrise in the mountains is something that I can never quite get used to: It’s absolutely breathtaking.

We all made it to the summit successfully, crossing some pretty big crevasses en route. It was also quite an experience to walk straight across the middle of a crater to get to there. It felt great to be on the top with friends, especially with people who had never had this type of summit before and to be able to share their excitement, and to have got there by ourselves. The descent was uneventful; we took it steady, rushed through patches that were prone to rockfall, and made it back down to camp safely. We had an unfortunate event where one person’s crampon broke, but that was coped with fine.

The descent from Camp Muir back down was relatively unpleasant, as the sun was baking hot and we punched deep through the snow with every step, but being able to sit down and slide a fair amount was brilliant fun and made it far more enjoyable.

All in all, a completely successful climb! I have no idea when I’ll next be able to get back into the mountains, but I’ll certainly post in here when I do, and hopefully by that time I’ll have news or plans of a next big expedition. For now, I’m sticking at sea level and am starting training to swim the English Channel next summer with a very good friend of mine – exciting stuff.

Ttfn!

Matterhorn Photos

^ The Matterhorn from the lift. Courtesy of Seth Hobby, Northern Alpine Guides (recommended by the way, if anyone’s interested in climbing in Norway/the Alps/Ama Dablam).

^ Seth and I standing on the summit.

^ Approximately the last quarter, I think, before the snow starts. It’s steep!

^ The ridge you come up.

^ The summit ridge. Stunning views, wonderful weather and a very narrow ridge! We were standing on the Swiss summit – there’s the Italian summit just across the ridge in the opposite direction. A wonderful way to celebrate Swiss National Day.

Topping Out On The Weissmeis

I know that before I said we were going to try the Weisshorn instead of the Eiger because of the weather, but it turns out I got the name slightly wrong. Instead we (Seth, Dylan and myself) heading up to the Weissmeis hut the night before last, to make our way to the Weissmeis ridge the next morning. Morning came and found us leaving at just after 4am on up a snowy ascent for a couple of hours, and climbing up onto a very picturesque, long ridge. At this point Seth and Dylan were worrying over the warm weather and the lack of stars that we could see, and so we, along with all of the other teams also attempting the ridge that morning, settled down in a relatively comfortable patch of ridge to wait for the sky to lighten sufficiently to make a decision on the weather, and to check the forecasts again.

As we watched the sky turn pink over in Italy we could see black cloud fronts in two different directions, and the forecasts had switched predictions of thunderstorms from afternoon to morning. Although from what we could see it didn’t as yet look decisively bad, the ridge route is one where if you start it, you’re committed to finishing it to be able to get back down… The decision made, all of us except one couple turned back down the mountain to contemplate our next move for the day.

We reached the hut an hour later, at 7am, and had a quick discussion over what to do next. The weather was being vague and it was hard to say what the day was going to turn out like, and so we wanted a route where we could turn back quickly and easily if it did take a turn for the worse. We decided to get started up the normal glacier route up the Weissmeis, and to try and move pretty quickly and basically just see what happened. So, starting out over two hours later than the other teams that were trying this route, we started off. Seth and Dylan had said that it should take 4 or 5 hours climbing to get to the top, and that we’d set a turning back time for 1:15 that afternoon, just to make sure we didn’t miss the last chairlift back down into the valley. We were at the summit in 2 hours and 10 minutes. We’d cruised up passed many of the other teams, and topped out at the same time as the couple that had pressed on with the ridge route – they were locals and had completed it incredibly quickly.

We were back down at the hut an hour later. It was great to have summited another 4000m peak whilst we were in the Alps, and although it was a real shame having to give up on the ridge bid we all knew it was the right decision. The weather swung between looking ominous and looking lovely and eventually ended up being good for the day, but definitely better safe than sorry and when we made the decision it was just too difficult to predict.

I ended up thoroughly enjoying the day, and we had a farewell late lunch down in the village of Saas Grund with my dad after the climb. I’ll definitely miss Seth and Dylan, but hopefully will climb with them again someday. Potentially ice climbing in Norway (hopefully!) with Seth, as he has his own guide company over there – Northern Alpine Guides – and maybe Ama Dablam sometime too. We’ll see what happens with my dad’s knee, and where life takes us, but this whole holiday has reminded me just how much I love climbing and I can’t wait for the next adventure.

Ttfn, thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of summer!

Summiting the Matterhorn

I’m pleased to report that I managed to summit the Matterhorn yesterday! Unfortunately that is singular, as my dad was forced to turn back about a quarter of the way up because of his knee – definitely the right decision as he doesn’t think he’d have been physically able to get down if he went any higher. I suppose that’s what you get trying to climb so soon after such a big operation. C’est la vie. The mountain will still be here in the years to come. He’s a little flat about it, but knows that it was the right choice, and this was always on the cards, at least he managed to get in some good climbing beforehand.

As for me, well, I now hurt all over. The day really is one long scramble. Going up went pretty well, Seth and I got up in 5 hours – not breaking any speed records, but not appalling (especially with my current fitness levels…) and I managed all the rock climbing bits and pieces with no problems at all, feeling strong etc. But coming down. Oh dear. Well, that part took 7 hours. I guess it was mostly down to my lack of confidence in down climbing. I would be careful normally doing that stuff, but when it’s so absurdly steep and exposed I was actually quite nervous a lot and according to Seth ended up almost freezing up every now and then and then carrying on very slowly. Not maybe helped by the fact that these are new boots and the bond of trust is still being formed… We also got lost a couple of times on the way down. It was Seth’s first time guiding the mountain and route finding was really, really difficult.

We had beautiful weather for the day, really sunny and hot with clear blue skies. Downside being that by the end of our gruelling descent Seth and I were incredibly dehydrated and just wanted to get in out of the incessant heat. Upside, however, being that from the summit we had the most stunning views and were up there for most of the time in just a t-shirt.

Climbing Alpine style is so different from anything else we’ve ever done. The biggest difference that sticks out to me is the pace. Everyone goes so quickly, the whole climb is in such a rush. It’s kind of strange, to me anyway. But I guess it makes sense if you have to catch the last chairlift back down into the village at the end of the day.

On another note, it was Swiss national day yesterday, and we got to see a stunning fireworks display over the village last night, and the hut we were staying in had two huge bonfires going. All really nice, although I have to say that my top priorities were mostly focused on getting off my feet and getting to bed. And drinking water.

We’re now one valley over ready to move into position to try and climb the Weisshorn tomorrow. I sincerely hope my body feels less sore by then. My knees are just two big bruises and I’ve lost all sensation in one of my big toes. Hm. Oh well. I hope it all works out anyway. I’ll keep you updated.

I don’t have any photos of the actual climb with me as the camera was with my dad, but I’ll be getting some off Seth soon. So for now, this is just a photo of the Matterhorn. It is just as steep as it looks.

Ttfn.

Amazing Ridge Climb

Yesterday ended up being completely rained off – the whole upper mountains were closed and we spent the day in the village, visiting the Matterhorn museum, drinking coffee and walking on some pretty paths up the sides of the valley. Consequence being that the Eiger is now officially off.

With the weather being what it was, the Matterhorn was covered in snow and made impossible to climb for a couple of days, so we’ve pushed our attempt on it back to tomorrow and the day after. Tomorrow we’re heading up to the Hornli Hut, and the following day, starting at 4am, we’ll be off on our summit bid.

With not moving up to the hut today, we spent the day on the ridge that was meant to be the climb on the second day of this trip. It was amazing. The route is called the Brighthorn traverse, and took us up a beautiful snowy plain up to a knife edge ridge with three rocky steps in it. It was probably the most technical mixed climbing we’ve ever done, and was incredibly exposed. Again, this had many elements of very real rock climbing, but in boots and crampons, and with the sides of the mountain absolutely falling away on each side of you. Such, such fun.

The scenery was stunning and for the most part the weather was perfect. Blue skies and very little wind along the ridge (thankfully), although at the beginning of the day we were buffeted quite a lot with hail stones and snow picked up by the wind.

With the change of plans, after the Matterhorn we’re planning on trying to climb another classic peak around here called the Weisshorn. So we’ll see what happens with that in due course. Today was tiring, with going up to over 4,000m, catching the sun a little, and the physical challenges of the climb. I didn’t get rid of the slight altitude headache I got until dinner this evening, but hopefully the acclimatization process will pay off for tomorrow and the day after.

Ttfn!

Change of Plans

Being in the mountains, you always have to relinquish some control. All over world, whichever mountains you’re in, you have to realise that you’re not the boss; the mountain and the weather take those positions. The Matterhorn and the Eiger are notorious for their non-complient-with-carefully-made-plans weather patterns, and so just one day into our trip and plans have already changed.

We were hoping to get some ridge work at altitude done today, but the whole upper sections of the mountains were closed due to high winds, and so instead we went on a really exciting gully climb for the late morning/early afternoon. Down here in the valley it was still nice and warm, and we were climbing (using the term very loosely) in a really beautiful gully with the glacier water from the Matterhorn rushing down the middle of it. It was one of those climbs where there were sections where you were constantly repeating “Oh my God, oh my God” to yourself because you couldn’t quite believe what you were doing. For example, climbing along the side of the sheer walls of the gully, quite high up, with a fast river below you, standing on single metal nails drilled into the rock face and with nothing else beneath your feet. It was exhilarating and wonderful fun. It also included rope swings over the river, and some abseiling and such like. Basically, just a fun day. Nothing particularly challenging or hard work, just fun.

Because of the change in plans and the weather predictions, we’ve pushed our Matterhorn attempt back by one day, and are going to try and get up to the ridge that was meant to be today, tomorrow. Although that could be unlikely looking at the weather forecast for the morning… Hopefully all will work out, and we do have a weather day built into the holiday for exactly this reason.

I’m really enjoying climbing in the Alps in general – it makes a huge difference coming back at the end of the day to a nice village, a hotel room, hot shower and internet access! Could definitely get used to this.

Ttfn.

Back In The Mountains

After an admittedly long hiatus, my dad and I are back in the mountains doing what we love. I’ve decided to write a blog again, and I hope maybe someone might be interested, but if not – it’s been a great way for me to record our trips and memories for the future. And has been a really good basis for parts of the book I am in fact in the process of writing! It might be a long time coming, but I will finish it. Someday. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

It’s been over a year since our last climb and to say much has changed in the meantime would be an understatement. For my dad, this climb comes after his supposed “resignation” from mountaineering and after an impressive double operation on his knee and leg to fix up his many knee injuries – an operation that he’s still in the process of recovering from. For myself, this comes after the completion of my first year of university and after recovering from PTSD following our last epic adventure. Our Everest expedition opened our eyes to the harsh realities of mountaineering and the ruthless twisting of the media, but how much the entire experience affects you is something that only time brings out; every part of your life is touched in some way, and, as a young adult, my character has been moulded over the Seven Summits in a way very different to how it could otherwise have turned out. The sense of accomplishment is a long time coming, and the immediate response, at least for myself, was to dive straight into dedicating my time to helping others – because reality shock is a huge drive to try and work to righten wrongs in the world. However, over time, you begin to realise the wider affects of the climbs, achievements and circumstances, and to feel the urge to get back into the mountains.

Digression over, now onto the present. At this moment in time, we’re in the picturesque village of Zermatt, Switzerland, in a beautiful, lush valley overlooked by the Matterhorn. We’re on a 9 day long climbing trip in the Swiss Alps and are aiming for both the Matterhorn and the Eiger, plus a couple of day trips from this valley. So, today we spent the day climbing a small peak (well, kind of peak, more of a very big rock) called the Reiffelhorn. It was stunning. And so much fun.

It was basically a day of refreshing our technical skills and getting used to the feel of these boots, and we spent most of it rock climbing. And by that I mean properly rock climbing near vertical rock faces, in solid Alpine boots. Interesting to say the least, but brilliant too. It was the most perfect day, we had clear blue skies, near 30C temperatures, the most stunning backdrop and a challenging, exciting climb. And I’m pleased to say that my dad’s knee help up fine too. I didn’t even get sunburnt. Definite success.

We’re not in a team or with a group this time, but are with two guides called Seth and Dillan, who, so far at least, seem awesome and evidently pretty good at what they do. That’s pretty much it for now, but really looking forward to some brilliant looking ridge work up high tomorrow. Ttfn.

The Lost Blog from After Summitting!

This was the one that we thought didn't work that I recorded just after our summit bid, sitting in a tent with Chris and Rob. We just found it, unpublished, sitting in Hipcast. So, enjoy.

To the Summit of Everest and Back Again

Massive apologies for the lack of communication since before our summit attempt: I actually sent an audio blog the day we got back down but have just found out that it never went through! I am healthy and happy and already safely back down at Base Camp with the rest of the team. Our summit attempt was, how to put it, different, shall we say. Kami, my dad’s summit Sherpa, has now summitted Everest 18 times and said that it was the worst weather he’s ever been up in and that he didn’t think we were going to get up. My summit Sherpa, Mingma, who’s been up 15 times agreed, and Lakpa, who’s now been up 16 times has got frost nip/wind burn on his face for the first time ever. All in all, the weather was awful. Our forecasts turned out to be wrong, and instead of the winds dying down at 9pm they appeared to keep up or even get worse. That being said, 5 out of 7 of our team of clients made the summit, and all of us are down safely with all of our fingers and toes, albeit looking as if we’ve been through the wars with the majority of the team getting wind burn, sun burn or frost nip on their faces. It’s all superficial and will heal up soon, but for the mean time most of us look a mess! I’ve included a photo of us down at Base Camp before we showered for your amusement.

We were very strong as a team and that was a massive factor in us being able to make it on the 20th as we could summit and get back down relatively quickly – leaving at 9pm, summiting at 6:10am and getting back to the South Col at just past 10am. We were the only team to make it that day from the South Side, and over took quite a few other teams that started out from Base Camp and later turned back. Some of the things that we saw both on our way up and down have been horrific and I know will haunt a lot of us for life. I ended up crying on my way up and as the night dragged on your imagination really does take hold with all the shadows and rocks. Because of the weather the sun didn’t even start to make itself known until we were at the summit ridge, and with the biting wind and snow being blown around our whole jackets froze, we couldn’t get into our water bottles because the lids were frozen on, we couldn’t get into pockets because zips were frozen, eyelashes, eyebrows and hats had icicles on, and our oxygen mask valves kept freezing up. Because of the wind Chris actually had his corneas freeze at the balcony and therefore went temporarily blind and, obviously, had to turn back immediately and made his way down the whole triangular face without being able to see. Luckily his eyesight is completely back to normal and he’s doing well.

Jim also had to turn around because of a frostbite scare with his fingers just before ascending the Hillary Step (which I’ve included a photo of). He was so close, but returning with all your digits is far more important and so he turned around only 300 vertical feet (I think) from the summit, but fortunately his fingers are all intact and healthy. Laurence’s fingers have faired incredibly well after his frostbite earlier on the trip and have only improved with time.

Our Lhotse attempt was called off due to weather forecasts for the following night and because the top isn’t actually fixed yet. Seeing as the last 200m is a technical ice climb without any fixed ropes AAI wouldn’t guide us on it, and I don’t have technical ice tools with me anyway. Ben Jones successfully summitted it though, and fixed the majority of the route with one other person, but didn’t have enough rope to finish it. He said it was terrifying with the amount of rock fall and was actually hit in the knee with one falling rock. Fortunately that too is much better now. Our guide Eric was solely a Lhotse guide, not Everest, so whilst he didn’t summit with us he actually went up to the summit of Lhotse yesterday during the day to avoid the bad weather and, as a very good technical climber, did the last section with ice tools and no fixed line. He’s half way down the Ice Fall now and should be joining us shortly for a celebration tonight.

We descended down to Camp Two the day after we summitted (having slept amazingly well on oxygen) – it felt pretty easy because we stayed on oxygen the whole way down, but with all the downhill my feet and knees felt battered. It was such an amazing change there – having felt out of breath and fairly rotten while staying there before, this time it felt like luxury and the air felt thick! Having descended the Ice Fall today in record time, about 3 and a half hours, Base Camp feels like a five star resort. Well, almost. We’ve even got to the stage where we consider the toilets here civilized. We’re celebrating our safe return, successful summits, and personal achievements tonight, and my dad and myself unbelievably expect to be home tomorrow. Because of my dad’s injured knees and time restrictions we’re hoping to catch a helicopter to Kathmandu in the morning, and to fly back to Dubai in the evening. It’s going to be such a shock to the system.

Other things to mention include my dad and myself now completing the Seven Summits, which we’re both very proud of and I believe I now hold the British record as the youngest female to summit Everest. We also thought of my Grandad on the summit and I even found myself saying a prayer, which I never usually do.

One last thing: I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who’s supported us through this, and to our brilliant team who really bonded well and looked out for each other, and maybe most importantly to our guides and Sherpas, who we couldn’t have done it without and whose strength pulled us through it all.

Audio Blog