Suspended in the Himalayas

Suspension – the act of being suspended.

Suspend – to attach so as to allow free movement.

Literal sense – to cause to hang.

Example –Suspension bridges over the raging glacial rivers in the Himalayas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s well known in my family that I’ve never been terribly good with heights, it’s not so much the heights but the edges, put me near the edge and my knees start to go to jelly.

I’m the one who hid in the back of the campervan years ago as we drove precariously high up in the Swiss Alps and I’m also the one who declined to go up the Leaning Tower when we were in Pisa, so it will probably surprise my family to know what I achieved on my trek in the Himalayas.

As you can imagine, when you’re going up mountains, it’s difficult to avoid edges and ledges and when you have a bridge slung from two of those edges, and it’s the only way to get where you’re going, you don’t have a lot of options. Add in the tendency these bridges have to sway when there is more than one person on them, the lack of concern in these areas for safety issues and the very real possibility of meeting donkeys or yaks half way across and you can imagine my nerves, particularly as we encountered the first one.

After two weeks and a couple of dozen of these bridges I’d like to be able to say that I was almost skipping across them by the end, but no, I just learnt to look straight ahead not down and to keep walking.

Would you feel safe on some of these?

The first bridge we were faced with

The first bridge we were faced with

Hmmm ...

Hmmm …

Does this look safe to you?

Does this look safe to you?

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The Trainings Done!

FlagMountainThe training’s done, if I’m not fit enough now I never will be.

The next hill I climb will be 7,353 kms away in the Himalayan mountain range.

THE. HIMALAYAN. MOUNTAINS!!

When I booked the trip last June it all seemed so far away, it was easy to talk about the preparations I’d need to do, the training, buying the gear and making sure I was organized with injections and paperwork etc. The trek was almost a year away.

Now, the trek is 14 days away. I can’t get any fitter than I am, this is it, if I haven’t done enough training it’s too late to worry about it. I’ve bought all the gear and the incidentals, if I’ve forgotten anything, too bad. What will be, will be.

Now for the next hurdle – packing!

It takes more than one man to climb a mountain.

eric-shipton

Deciding to undertake the 60th anniversary trek to Everest Base Camp in May has opened up a whole new world to me. Not only had I never taken been remotely interested in Nepal in general or Kathmandu in particular before the planning began but I had also didn’t know anything about mountaineering or mountaineers or even the Himalayas. I didn’t even know that Mt Everest has one foot in Nepal and the other in Tibet.

In the last few months though I’ve found myself devouring anything I come across that mentions Kathmandu, Everest, mountains, training, trekking etc and I’ve come across some fascinating stuff, particularly about the pioneers of mountaineering in this region.

Does the name Eric Shipton mean anything to anyone? No? What about Sir Edmund Hillary? Now that’s familiar isn’t it? Even John Hunt is fairly well known as the leader of that 1953 expedition that saw Hillary and Tenzing stand on top of the world.

So who was Eric Shipton and what did he have to do with Everest? Quite a lot actually, as I’ve recently discovered.

The sports houses at Grange Lane Junior School in Scunthorpe, where I attended up to the age of eleven, were named Everest, Sherpa, Tenzing and Shipton, the first three were obvious associations but I had no idea why the fourth would be called Shipton.

So I did as all good writers do – I turned to research. This took me on quite an interesting journey, through newspaper archives, autobiographies and travel memoirs. I did get slightly sidetracked with all of the interesting accounts of the mountaineering in the Nepal region but ultimately I discovered some interesting facts about Eric Shipton.

Shipton was in fact a distinguished British Himalayan mountaineer, heavily involved in many expeditions from the 1930s through to the 1950s. He was the leader of the 1935 expedition that gave nineteen year old Tenzing Norgay his start as an Everest Sherpa and he was the one who made the decision, in 1951, to accept two New Zealand mountaineers onto his team that undertook the reconnaissance expedition to Everest, chalking out the now famous route over the Khumbu Glacier. Edmund Hillary was one of those New Zealanders, the rest, as they say, is history.

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Initially Eric Shipton accepted leadership of the 1953 expedition but was then controversially replaced with John Hunt on the grounds of Hunt’s organisational skills.

Eric Shipton it seems was a popular mountaineer. In his memoir View From the Summit Sir Edmund Hillary maintains his affection for Shipton and voices his belief that they would still have been successful under Shipton’s leadership.

Mountaineering enthusiasts will know of him but unfortunately Eric Shipton’s name did not go down in the annals of history or the continuing public consciousness as did that of Edmund Hillary and the leader of that 1953 expedition, John Hunt.

I think I might be remembering him though as I climb those slopes and get my first view of the Khumbu Glacier and he was also known to have taken photos of what may have been a Yeti footprint, so I’ll be on the lookout, just in case.

Shipton's Yeti footprint, with an iceaxe showing the scale

Shipton’s Yeti footprint, with an iceaxe showing the scale

Don’t forget that you can encourage me in my efforts (to reach Base Camp that is, not to find a Yeti) by donating to the Because I’m a Girl Campaign. All you need to do is go to the Donate page at the top there and follow the prompts – easy really and you’ll be helping a really worthwhile cause.

When is a boot not just a boot?

When it’s a trekking boot of course.

I never actually realised how many shops there are selling trekking/outdoor gear. Never having needed the services of this type of shop before, I had never really taken a great deal of notice. I knew of a couple in the suburbs but was unprepared for the choice of outlets, let alone the choice in gear, when I actually went to buy something.

A couple of serious trekking outlets had been recommended when I booked the trek through World Expeditions and I thought them the best place to start. On the one stretch of Hay St though I found, not only those two, but a further two. Add these to the ones I had ventured into in my local suburb in the last couple of weeks and you could say I was rather overwhelmed.

Not for long though. It soon became crystal clear that just as there is a great array of gear available there is also a huge difference in the service available at these outlets.

The staff at Paddy Pallin, the first place I went into, was by far the most knowledgeable, the most helpful and the most professional. As for the others, well, even once the staff had stopped chatting amongst themselves and noticed I was there, they really didn’t seem terribly forthcoming with help or advice.

Anyway, this is what I bought – from Paddy Pallin!

Aren’t they lovely? My first pair of trekking boots, in fact my first bit of trekking gear, and they are the Scarpa Kailish GTX, impressive or what? These boots and I are going to become very close over the next few months.

But here are 10 things I learnt about buying trekking boots:

  1. One trekking boot is not just like the next.
  2. You need to be able to fit trekking socks in them (and these are a whole different story in themselves).
  3. The type of trek you’re going on and the altitude, matter.
  4. Width matters just as much as length – really, it does. In a women’s boot if the length is right but they are too tight, try a men’s in the same size.
  5. They have a ramp in the shop so you can try the boots going uphill and downhill – who would have thought it?
  6. Trekking boots shouldn’t bend.
  7. Your heel shouldn’t move up and down – self explanatory really, you don’t want blisters.
  8. There are so many ways to lace a boot – and each way makes it feel differently.
  9. A Gore-Tex lining is good (see, I’m even getting the terminology now).
  10. And one last thing – my boots have a wedge in the heel for stability!

So now my boots and I intend to begin the journey, think we might take our first tentative steps together next weekend. Wish us luck.

Abandoning my comfort zone!

Have you ever had one of those ‘wow’ moments? You know the ones, where you suddenly go ‘yes! This is me, this is what I should be doing.’ Not the run of the mill ‘this would be a good idea’ type moment or even the ‘this would be a great idea’ type moment, but the ‘wow, I have to do this’ type moment, even if it means stepping way outside your comfort zone. I’ve experienced it once before, in my 40th year, when I read an article in the newspaper that started me studying again and set me on the road (a long road I must admit), to getting my PhD. Well, it happened again a couple of weeks ago and consequently my travel plans have taken an interesting twist.

Now, any of you that have been around my blog for a few months will know that I have been deliberating for some time on my next destination. There have been a few options but I really haven’t been able to settle on anything, which is unusual for me, I generally get by planning my next holiday. Obviously there was a reason which, as I say, has just become abundantly clear.

I was browsing the internet one evening, as you do, when I came upon the website for World Expeditions. Delving a little further this is what I found:

Everest 60th

Anniversary Trek

A classic short trek combining Sherpa culture with views of

Everest and a special black tie dinner to celebrate the 60th

Anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest

So, guess who’s going trekking in the Himalayas next May? Now, I need to put this in perspective and explain why it jumped out at me. Well, 1953 was rather an eventful year, it saw not only the ascent of this great mountain in May but also the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II a few days later in early June and, most importantly to complete the hat trick, I was born in the July. So it was a triple whammy and I can’t think of a better way to prove to myself in my 60th year, that I can step outside my comfort zone, push my boundaries and step lightly in at least some of Hillary’s footsteps.

Now, I don’t intend to be silly about this, I know my limitations, but I have almost a year and a lot can be achieved in a year when you set your mind to it. I’ve chosen the easiest of five treks that will meet up in the grounds of the Thyangboche Monastery, nearly 4000 m above sea level, on 29th May 2013 for a special celebratory evening within sight of Everest.

This is something that I have never even thought about doing before, I have a long ‘to do’ list as far as travel destinations are concerned and this has never been on it, let alone anywhere near the top. Paris (again), Italy (again), New Zealand, even Turkey and Machu Pichu, they’re all there, but Nepal? The Himalayas?

But hey, I’ve booked, the deposit’s paid, the training has begun.

Stay with me, it could get interesting.