On my way to 7000m with excitement and a lot of nerves
I hope you are all keeping safe and well. I’m writing the first blog of my trip from Heathrow airport. I’m getting ready to board a flight to Russia, before changing planes to Osh, in Kyrgyzstan. After two years of planning and lots of uncertainty, it’s hard to believe I am actually on my way to Peak Lenin.
The last three weeks have been very tough. After being told that the trip could go ahead in a Covid secure manner, and making the decision to go, I was full of excitement but also nerves. I would normally have been planning for several months and whilst I have been training and purchasing kit, I hadn’t allowed myself to really think about the trip as I didn’t want to be disappointed if it didn’t, for the second year, go ahead. I therefore wasn’t at all emotionally ready for it and I hadn’t thought through or planned the logistical aspects. To have only three weeks to really get ready has been a challenge and a whirlwind. And then, two weeks ago, my wonderful husband came down with Covid. He wasn’t seriously ill, thankfully, and only had mild cold symptoms but we both didn’t want me to come down with it as well and so we lived in the same house but very separately for ten days. I’ve done a lot of difficult things to get myself ready for this trip but being in the same house but not seeing or being able to hug my husband has been the hardest thing I have done.
Getting my negative Covid ‘fit to fly’ test result on Monday was the first time that I really allowed myself to believe I would be going. So, here I am. Waiting to meet two of the people I’ll be spending the next few weeks with, waiting to board a plane to a country I have only read about and waiting to live out my dream of climbing to over 7,000m. People have been so supportive over the last few weeks and have asked if I am excited and if I am nervous. Yes, I am very nervous. I have no idea how my body will cope at the sort of altitudes I am heading for. I am worried about the cold (it will get down to minus 30 at and near the summit), I am worried about the loneliness, I am worried about the loads I will be carrying and I am worried about some of the simple things (mainly, the toilet situation!). But, absolutely, I am incredibly excited. I can’t wait to be back in the beautiful mountains, challenging myself physically and emotionally to achieve something that I don’t know is possible for me. After the last 15 months, I feel incredibly privileged to be able to travel and experience new things and to be doing something that I love.
I’m not expecting to be able to be in contact very much over the next few weeks but will keep everyone updated as best I can. I will have access to a satellite phone every so often and so will ring Matt who has kindly agreed to drop you all a note if and when he hears from me. You will all be in my thoughts and many of you have kindly reminded me to take care and come back safely. I will definitely do that. This period has taught me many things but the main one is what matters most to me and that is my family and friends.
Thank you all so much for all of your support, which I have so appreciated. I hope you all know how much you mean to me.
Take care everyone and I’ll look forward to seeing you all soon.
Hello from Osh – getting prepared for the challenge ahead
Hello everyone from Osh, in Kyrgyzstan. It is a small city close to the border with Uzbekistan. It is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan with a population of around 250,000 people and is the oldest city in the country, estimated to be over 3000 years old. It is also very hot!
The journey here was very smooth but felt like a real adventure given that I have hardly left the confines of the M25 for the last six months! Heathrow was much busier than I expected it to be but I easily found the guides that I am travelling with – I just needed to look for the people carrying large rucksacks and wearing ridiculously large mountain boots! Given how hot it was in the UK yesterday, wearing our boots that are made for extremely cold temperatures and are quite cumbersome to walk in, did make us stand out amongst the holiday makers! There are no mountaineering shops here in Osh and so we were advised to wear the boots to travel in just in case the bags got lost.
We flew to Moscow and then onto Osh, arriving here in the early hours of the morning. The Covid restrictions were in force throughout but varied in the different countries. I felt very grateful to be able to show my double vaccination pass which allowed me into Kyrgyzstan with no problems at all.
Today has been a day to prepare for what it is to come. The guides checked all of my kit and I was pleased that the hours I’ve spent during lockdown researching and making purchases were not wasted! My expedition down jacket and trousers may make me look like the ‘Michelin man’ advert but I’m hoping they will keep me warm. I’ve also packed my various bags, ventured out to a local shop for some water and have rested. Tomorrow we head to base camp at 3,700m before an acclimatisation day climbing up a local peak (‘not high’ apparently but, at 4,200m, it will be higher than many mountains in Europe!). We’ll then head up to advanced base camp, which is at 4,500m where we will be based for the next two and a half weeks whilst we do acclimatisation climbs up through various camps before, hopefully, aiming for the summit.
I am incredibly excited to be here but the nerves have well and truly arrived. Talking to the guides about creating platforms in the snow to put up our tents (I’ve never done this before), melting snow to drink (I’ve never done this either) and eating ‘boil in the bag’ food (or this!) has reminded me that this is a proper expedition. I plan to take each day as it comes and try my best.
Two other climbers have arrived from Germany, two are on their way from the capital, Bishkek, and one is on a delayed flight from the UK after his Covid test results didn’t come through in time to join us yesterday. By tomorrow morning, we should all be here. All of the other clients are men but I was delighted that one of the guides is a woman. On these trips, the majority of people are usually men and it is always a treat to find a woman who likes the mountains as much as I do!
Thank you all for your kind messages yesterday, which really helped me. It is always so difficult to leave Matt, my amazing family and wonderful friends to venture somewhere unknown but your love and kindness helped me on my way – thank you so much.
I may not be able to communicate a lot after tomorrow but Matt will be in touch to keep you updated if I can’t do so myself. Take care everyone and see you very soon.
Hello from Peak Lenin base camp – feeling like I’m living in a palace
Hello everyone from Peak Lenin base camp which is at 3,700m. It is stunningly beautiful here – very quiet (we’re the only group here today) and peaceful.
We travelled from Osh in a minivan for five hours – it was an adventure! The first four hours were on main roads but they were far more basic than our roads and so it was very bumpy. The driver liked to go fast, particularly round blind mountain bends! The final hour was on a dirt track and it look us an hour to travel 8 miles! We saw lots of yurts, local farmers on horses and wild animals. About two miles from the base camp, there were lots of little children in a tiny village with a handful of yurts. They loved waving at us and it brought a smile to my face!
We had our first sighting of Peak Lenin on the road and it looked amazing – it is the one in the picture below poking out of the clouds. It looks huge and it is hard not to worry about what lies ahead but I’m taking it a day at a time.
The tents were already put up when we arrived and I have a six person tent to myself so I feel like I’m in a palace! It won’t be this way for long so I’m going to enjoy the two nights we have here. The lovely lady who is the cook had made me a vegetarian meal – I had been warned that this might just be the meat meal with the meat taken out but it tasted great so I’m asking no questions!
This afternoon we went for a ‘short walk to stretch our legs’. This required us walking up 200 vertical metres and I could definitely feel the altitude. Coming down, we went the wrong way and so needed to clamber down a steep hill – it was good to do something testing to start the trip. I felt confident on terrain that I would have been nervous about even a couple of years ago, which was good and reminded me how much we can push ourselves by doing things that scare us.
I know I’ll have tough days ahead but today was stunning. Thank you for your wonderful messages. I feel very close to home even though I’m so remote.
Take care everyone
Squeals, swabs and stunning scenery in Kyrgyzstan
Hello everyone from my second day in Peak Lenin base camp. It has been, as expected, a tougher day today but very rewarding. The tent palace didn’t quite live up to my expectations! It was on a slope which didn’t help my sleeping but I was very warm in my new five season sleeping bag, which was good! I awoke to a stunning sunrise over the enormous peaks surrounding us and felt very blessed to be here.
We set off for our acclimatisation walk today, aiming to reach the snow line on a ridge overlooking the base camp. It was hard going with the altitude but I was coping ok until we got to a scrambling section. For those who have followed my previous trips, you’ll appreciate that I am very nervous of exposure and drops. For most of the walk today, we were walking along a ridge line with 200m drops on either side – not sheer drops but not ones I’d like to tumble down! The scrambling section went ok until we reached a very steep part with loose rocks. I managed to get my first, and I’m sure not my last, bruise (and squeal!) of the trip when a large rock fell onto my shin. I was pleased to make it to the snow line at 4,250m and we spent a blissful hour sitting in the sun looking at the stunning scenery around us.
Whilst we were sitting there – as a group of eight (including our two guides) from the UK, Germany, Romania and Norway – we met people from Nepal, Iceland and Hungary. Our world is a small and beautiful place and I feel so privileged to be here enjoying it.
And then we headed down…..the very steep scree slope we’d come up was quite challenging going down! It was terrain I’d have been terrified on even a couple of years ago so I was pleased to get down. I wasn’t scared but I was slow and the wonderful female guide, Jude, stayed with me giving me encouragement, tips and a helping hand when needed. I was very grateful for this!
It felt like a good day of walking and we all seem to be coping well, which means we head to ABC (advanced base camp) tomorrow where we’ll be based for the rest of the time. The living conditions will start to get tougher but apparently there is Wi-fi there which would be a treat!
If you had told me two years ago when I planned this trip initially that I’d be sitting in a tent at 3,600m in Kyrgyzstan putting a swab into my nostrils and tonsils to check for a disease, I would have thought you were mad. It was a surreal moment today but we’re doing regular Covid tests to ensure we’re all well and won’t infect anyone.
I was reminded of a quote today – ‘If it’s not hard, you’re not dreaming big enough’. It rang true for me today. A hard but rewarding day and I’m smiling a lot!
I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend and enjoying the start of the Olympics! Take care everyone and thank you so much for all of your support, which I so appreciate.
Arriving in Advanced Base Camp via a jeep, my first river crossing and more scree!
Hello everyone from Peak Lenin advanced base camp. It has been a glorious if very tough day here.
But to start, I had an odd experience last night, walking into the mess tent for dinner and finding a tv with the Olympics on! The ingenuity is amazing – there is no light, no toilets but there is a little electricity and so a tv had made it’s way to a yurt at 3,600m!
I slept a little better – it was a slightly warmer night and I woke up feeling well. We set off for Advanced Base Camp (known as ABC), starting our journey in a jeep. As there is an hour walk on the flat, the guides thought we could save some time and what an experience it was! We drove in an ancient jeep along river beds and up and down rutted tracks. I don’t think the car was horizontal for more than 30 seconds in the 15 min ride! At the end, we needed to help push it to get it out of the mud so that it could head back!
We set off on the path and it was tough – relentlessly uphill for the first hour to 4,100m on steep scree slopes (I’m gaining a strong dislike for scree!). The view from the col was amazing though and was more than worth the pain of getting there. We then, oddly, headed down. Again on steep scree and across an incredibly narrow section with falling small stones from above. By now, the group have understood my nervousness and were incredibly helpful in giving me hints and tips to get across. The best being ‘a little slipping is perfectly normal’! It may be normal but I don’t like it! But I got across and could feel my confidence building.
I then had my first ever proper river crossing. The river was very strong and the usual crossing point was not passable so we headed further up the bank before realising nowhere was particularly passable. So, we had to roll up our trousers, take off our shoes and socks and head across. I was thankful that the guide had a pair of crocs which I could use and I got across, with some squeals! The torrent was very fast and my poles got a lot of use. It did mean that my painted toenails (painted purple and pink in the colours of Cancer Research who I’m fundraising for!) did get an airing!
We arrived at ABC after five hours and the location is simply stunning. We’re looking up onto Peak Lenin and it is beautiful, if very steep and high. On my previous treks in Nepal, the guides spoke little English which meant I rarely knew what we were doing or where we were going. This time, we get the route pointed out in great detail, which is fantastic but also daunting. I’m not sure which I prefer!
There is no mobile reception here but a little Wi-fi which may or may not work each day so I’ll try and keep in touch but please don’t worry if I don’t. Thank you all for your wonderful messages – they make my face light up every day.
Our world is a truly beautiful place and I feel so privileged to be here. Thank you for all of your support – I wouldn’t be here without it.
Take care everyone
Leaping into the unknown amongst the 7000m peaks
Hello everyone from ABC of Peak Lenin. It’s been another tough but amazing day here. I slept well – my best night so far, which means I only woke up four times! It is hard to breathe here and so I wake up a bit during the night but I felt refreshed. I was, however, nervous. We had a day ahead which involved a steep walk up a scree slope to a ridge at 4,750m to help us acclimatise.
The walk up was tough – I thought I’d start at the front but our guide had decided to push us today and I couldn’t keep the pace up on the scree so I dropped to the back to be with Jude, our female guide who is being wonderfully helpful and supportive. I made it up and just before the top was some snow, which was magical. The feeling of snow under my feet rather than scree was fantastic! As Jude said ‘you were almost running up that’!
The view from the top was incredible – any view from this area is! We sat in the sun, wrapped up as it was cold and talked about our adventures – marathons came up a lot!
I was worried about the way down but I managed it with only a few squeals and swearing! I was slow but not as slow as yesterday so I am getting better. Tomorrow is an even steeper scree slope but I’ll worry about that tomorrow.
We arrived back at ABC as horses were arriving with our tents and food for the days on the mountain. The horses carry up to 100kg which is incredible. I wouldn’t like to ride one though – I think I’d have more squealing than on the scree! We helped to unload the bags which was good fun.
This afternoon we’re going to practice putting up the tents and melting snow. I’m hoping my ability here will be better than my cooking at home!
In sad news, one of our party has decided to go home tomorrow as he’s missing home too much. So there are now seven of us. The four other clients are all very experienced mountaineers so I’m hoping this will mean I get lots of support and help. I do feel a bit out of my depth but I’m here to experience new things and I’m certainly doing that.
My quote for today is: ‘Leap and the net will appear’. I don’t plan any actually leaping (!) but I do feel that I am leaping into the unknown.
Thank you so much for all of your support. I can’t tell you how much it means to me and the difference it makes when it is tough.
Take care everyone
Climbing and sleeping higher than Mont Blanc, and then skiing on scree to get back down!
Hello everyone from Jukina Peak, which is just over 5,100m and is our first experience of camping on the snow. We’re doing this to help us acclimatise and to get used to the way of living at the higher camps on the mountain.
It was a hard start to the day as the man who was heading home left this morning and it was sad to see him go. It also raised lots of questions in my mind of whether I was doing the right thing in being so far away from my husband, family and friends to simply pursue something I love. Was I being selfish? I know everyone is very supportive but I shed a few tears this morning.
The start of our walk this morning followed the same path as yesterday and I could feel myself getting stronger and more confident, despite carrying a much heavier load. We stopped for our first break and looked upwards. The route up to Jukina Peak was seriously steep and on scree! I was daunted but put myself at the back and plodded away at my own pace. I was advised to walk on the gravel at the sides of the tiny track which helped. The track itself is only a foot wide with scary drops which I tried not to look at! I fell over once and needed some advice on the rockier ground which I can now cope with in the UK but at over 5,000m and with sheer drops, I was a little hesitant! But I made it! I felt elated to have got to the summit and got stuck into the tent making, melting of snow and getting organised. I’m sharing a tent here with Jude, the female guide, and whilst it means a lack of privacy, I’m enjoying the company.
Life on the mountain is very simple – eat (or really, fuel, as the food isn’t, obviously, great!) and allow our bodies to recover for the next stage. It was cold on the summit and I was pleased for my extra thick down jacket. For dinner, we melted snow and had freeze dried packets of food. I had chosen vegetarian shepherds pie and custard with apple. The vegetarian shepherds pie actually tasted ok, although it was a soup rather than a pie but I couldn’t finish it all (and it was only 600 calories) and I couldn’t face the pudding. My appetite tends to go at these type of altitudes and so I try and have as much as possible to get some fuel in but it is a battle.
The sunset was simply stunning. The Wi-fi here won’t let me attach photos to my blogs so I’ll share some when I get back. It was however cold! And so we headed to bed at 7pm! I wore all of my clothes (apart from my down jacket) in my down sleeping bag and felt warm, which was great. It wasn’t easy to sleep but I managed some, in between some odd dreams of the way down!
We got up at 6am and got ready, packed the tents and stoves up and left our beautiful home for the night.
So, the way down was an adventure! I learnt to ski on scree – it was terrain far steeper than any black run I’ve done (I appreciate I tend to avoid black runs due to my fears of exposure but others said the same!). I felt so delighted to get down with only a few falls, bruises and squeals! I walked into the camp feeling delighted, to promptly fall over on the simplest slope I’d tackled all day!
We now have a rest day for the remainder of today and tomorrow to allow our bodies to recover, before we head up to camp 2 on Peak Lenin itself at 5,400m, then to camp 3 at 6,100m before heading back down for a further couple of rest days before our summit attempt. It’s feeling very real now but I’m proud of what I’ve managed so far and excited about the next few days.
I am missing everyone hugely – it’s so hard not to be in contact very much and to not be able to share small things, laugh together, get a hug when I need one and support you all when you need things. Thank you all so much for your messages and support – they are making such a difference to me.
Take care everyone
Recovering and contemplating what lies ahead
Hello everyone from a rest day at Peak Lenin ABC. It has been a recovery day or so before we head up for our first rotation on the mountain. This is the first time I’ve ever done a rotation on the mountain but essentially we head up the mountain to different camps and get used to the terrain and way of living before our summit attempt.
So, tomorrow we have breakfast at 3am before setting off at 4am. The climb to camp 2 (the next camp up as ABC is essentially camp 1) takes about 8 hours but the end of it requires us to walk through what is known as the ‘frying pan’ because it is a basin within which the sun beats off of the snow. It can get up to 40 degrees and given that we’ll be wearing mountain clothes and carrying heavy back packs, we want to avoid being there in the late afternoon when it is as it’s hottest. We spend two nights at camp 2 (5,400m) and then one night at camp 3 (6,100m) before heading down to the luxury (relatively speaking!) of ABC for some more recovery.
Tomorrow involves the steepest part of the climb where there’ll be fixed ropes to guide us. We therefore had some training on that today. I’ve done this before in the beautiful Scottish mountains but not at this altitude and not carrying a heavy load. I had hoped to get to Scotland for some more practice but with the restrictions haven’t been able to do so and so I welcomed the practice today. My ‘mountain knot practicing’ that I took up as a lockdown hobby has been helpful as, for the only time this trip, I knew something that the experienced mountaineers didn’t (only because in the rest of Europe they use a different knot than the UK) but it made me (and all of us) smile!
Some of you have asked about the camp. There are actually about four separate camps in the same area and we have a small one closest to Peak Lenin. I have a four person tent to myself. The food that they cook in such a tiny kitchen at 4,500m is incredible. The camp managers, two friendly Kyrgyzstan women, don’t speak much English and I speak no Kyrgyz but I’m known as the ‘woman without meat’! I feel very looked after.
Yesterday I cleaned, or attempted to clean, some clothes in a bucket of water and they rushed to help me, clearly realising that this wasn’t my forte! They even provided soap powder!
I’m excited about the next few days but very nervous too. It will be very cold, it will be very hard at altitude, the terrain will be steeper than anything I’ve done before and I’ll be carrying a heavy load. I know I’ve done as much training as I’ve been able to do through lockdown and with a busy and wonderful life. So I’m taking each task as it comes and giving it my all. I hope that my body and mind hold up for the next few days to allow me the chance to attempt the summit.
Thank you all for your continued support and love. I can only get Wi-fi for an hour a day (bought from a Kyrgyzstan man in a tent in the camp above – it is a slightly strange set up!) but I love receiving messages and it makes me feel surrounded by support even though I’m so far away.
I hope you’re all well. Take care everyone
Steep slopes, crevasses and a ladder to reach camp 2!
Hello everyone from Peak Lenin camp 2. It’s fair to say it was the hardest day I’ve ever had in the mountains to reach here and I’m elated to have done so.
Last night was a heavy snow storm and so we weren’t sure that we would be able to come here today but at 2am, we decided we would do so but would leave slightly later to let the snow die down. So at 5am, we set off. It was dark, cold and daunting to cross a glacier at that time and I had a lot of mental doubts about what I was doing.
The sun came up at about 6am as we hit the ‘steep bit’. Well, the steep bit lasted for seven hours until we arrived at camp 2! It was relentlessly uphill – there was only one very short section that was flat. From below, it looked like a very long steep section and then a flat section so when our guide asked us if we wanted to stop for a break near to where I thought it would flatten out, I suggested we waited until we reached ‘the top’. His questioning look told me that ‘the top’ was the camp and so I needed to change my mental approach to the day!
The steep section was very steep. I had to cross several crevasses, some of which were, in my mind, too large for my legs to reach from one side to the other and so the guide would hold the rope tight and someone behind me would be ready to push if needed! I managed them all but it took a lot of energy. We then reached the ladder. I hadn’t been told about any ladders but there was a small (five rung, I counted!) ladder across a very deep crevasse. It was balanced on each side but without anything actually holding it down. I had never seen one before or had ever wanted to but I didn’t have a choice so I asked what the technique was and went for it. I felt a huge sense of achievement in not falling in!
It is hard to explain how hard it is to breath here (at 5,400m) but simply putting a rucksack on is very hard work and you need to stop and rest. My rucksack today was the heaviest it’s been – close to 20kg which I’ve been practising with at home but it’s very different when it’s so hard to breathe. I coped ok but I was very very glad to take it off at the camp!
So, a tough but rewarding day, achieving things I never would have dreamt of. Tonight we recover in our tents on camp food (!) and tomorrow we do a further acclimatisation walk upwards from here. I’m utterly exhausted but feeling happy.
‘When something looks too hard, look again, always look again’
Thank you for all of your support, it means the world to me and I miss not being able to contact you all for a few days. Take care
More steepness, snow storms and emotions
Hello everyone from Peak Lenin camp 2 after an acclimatisation day here. It is fair to say I’m exhausted!
Last night a foot of snow fell and there were strong winds and so it was slightly scary being in the tent but I managed some sleep. I forced myself to eat dinner and breakfast, which was good, but even so the calories are far less than I would eat at home and the exertion far greater!
Our aim today was to climb up to 5,700m along the route that we’ll take tomorrow to camp 3. It was even steeper than yesterday! Our guide led the way but I put myself behind him but went at my pace! The very steep sections were essentially snow steps but, as the vast majority of people here are men, with generally longer legs, it makes each step really hard work for those of us with shorter legs. I took to cutting my own mid way steps into the snow but this is also very hard work.
Eventually we reached the ‘plateau’. As I told the guide, I don’t believe it would meet the dictionary definition! Whilst it was less steep, it was not at all flat but I managed to get more of a rhythm on this section. We reached 5,778m after 3 hours, higher than Mount Elbrus, the highest point in Europe, and stayed there for 30 mins to help us acclimatise. The route to camp 3 was clearly visible and looks horrific! Our guide described it as a ‘pig’! It will be a further 2 and a half hours up very steep slopes with no plateau in sight! We’ll also be carrying a much heavier pack. I hope my body will hold out.
The route down today was, as usual for me, very tough too. I wasn’t scared, which is a great improvement but I fell on my bottom at least 10 times trying to navigate the steep slopes. I was also exhausted which didn’t help but I made it!
The weather here is a strange mix of very cold overnight and sweltering in the day. It is a good job I don’t have a mirror as I dread to see the state of my face and hair!
The rest of today will be resting, rehydrating and refuelling. And then taking on tomorrow.
Despite the hard work, I am loving the experience. My emotions are a rollercoaster and I have moments of doubt, fear, joy and exhaustion.
I hope to be able to ring my husband tomorrow – even the sat phone doesn’t work at camp 2! – and I’m really looking forward to hearing news from home, I hope you are all well and taking care.
Overcoming fears and emotions to reach camp 3
Hello everyone from Peak Lenin camp 3 at 6,128m. If I thought yesterday and the day before were tough, today beat them hands down!
I started the day tired from the previous two days and I struggled to eat breakfast. The second day of freeze dried porridge wasn’t overly appealing!
I tried to minimise the weight I was carrying by leaving some things at camp 2 and we set off for the day.
We knew the route as we’d walked half of it yesterday so we agreed that we’d all walk at our own pace. Stu, our main guide, led the way and the four experienced mountaineers followed him at a pace I could only dream of! I plodded along myself and Jude, our second guide, was behind. She had been suffering from a very bad altitude cough and so was much slower than usual.
I was feeling ok along the first half of the route which we’d walked yesterday and was enjoying going at my own pace. We then reached the even steep(er!) section! It is hard to describe how hard it is to breathe here but on the steepest bits, I could walk about five paces before needing to stop. If I managed ten paces, I felt pleased! The route itself was challenging – very steep, at points a tiny (half a foot) ‘path’ cutting across a very steep slope and relentless. There were points were the sun went in, the snow started and I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me. I was very proud of myself for not allowing myself to worry or get scared and just put one foot in front of the other.
I have never been so pleased to see someone as when Stu walked down to check I was ok. I was about 20 mins from the camp at that point and he kindly guided me in.
I am elated to have made it and in such conditions but the summit is another vertical 1km away which seems a very long way. I’ll take it each day at a time. I hope to be able to reach the summit and make everyone proud.
I am now resting in my tent, trying to eat and drink. I’m thinking of everyone and your kind support and well wishes. I hope you are all well. Take care
Being reminded that life is more precious than anything
Hello everyone from Peak Lenin Advanced Base Camp. I wrote and sent my last blog before the events below happened (as I was out of communication and it only actually sent when I reached Wi-fi) and I needed a day or so to reflect upon the events before writing about them. I’ve also considered whether it’s appropriate to write about them but I said I would share my experience with you all. I hope you don’t mind me doing so. It’s fair to say the last two days have been the toughest I’ve ever experienced in the mountains and not because of exposure, terrain or the cold.
Having successfully made it camp 3, I was elated but exhausted. I heard via our radios (which we use in the camps as it is too cold to get outside of the tents) that Jude, who was suffering from a mountain cough and walking much slower than usual, was at 5,940m (with close to 200m vertical ascent to go, which was incredibly steep) and so has decided to head back to camp 2. The weather was clear below and she kept in radio contact.
We set off in the morning, with the intention of going through camp 2 and then onto ABC. It was incredibly cold and I struggled to get my crampons on but once I got going, I was pleased with how my confidence on the steep slopes was improving. I only had a few falls and was learning not to worry about slipping. I reached camp 2 elated, to be told that Jude wasn’t there.
I won’t speculate on what happened, as it would only be speculation and not the right thing to do. We stayed at camp 2 that day as we searched for any sign of her. There was very little I could do as I was exhausted and would only hold back our guide and the other guides in the search. The same was true for all but one of our party and it showed just how exposed you are in these remote terrains. I did what I could – I boiled hot water to keep everyone warm, I checked in on all of our team and guide to see how everyone was and I prayed for the best.
I sat in the tent that evening that we had shared with a whole host of emotions going through my head. I know that people sadly lose their lives in the mountains – it can be a dangerous activity. But for it to be someone who I’d started to get to know, who was part of our group and had been so kind to me I found incredibly difficult. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone as there is no reception on either normal or most satellite phones in camp 2 and I had told Matt that I’d call that day as I’d expected to be back in ABC. I was worried that he’d be worried too. One of our team had a satellite phone that worked and he very kindly allowed me to use it to send a message to say I was fine. Our world is full of kind and generous people.
After two days of searching, with more guides and drones, she is still missing. Searches will continue for the next day or so by the local experts and there is little, if anything, that we can do. We are therefore heading home. It wouldn’t be right for us to continue – the mountains are always there and sometimes you need to immerse yourself in their beauty but then turn away. Life is far more important.
We are staying at ABC today to rest and will then start the journey to base camp and then to Osh, Moscow and home. The way down so far has been emotional but full of adventure (including more ladders, a tent broken by a snow storm and building friendships) and I’ll write about that tomorrow.
Part of me doing this expedition was to fundraise for an important cause and to inspire others to follow their dreams. I hope I haven’t let anyone down by not summiting and, if I have, my apologies.
Following your dreams is something very special and you learn a huge amount by doing so. I know I have and I’ll share this with you all soon but I need more time to reflect.
I’ll try and enjoy my last couple of days in this beautiful part of the world and I’ll be back in the mountains soon as I love being here. But, for now, I will follow my other dream, and the most important one, which is being with my truly amazing husband, my special family and friends and my wonderfully supportive colleagues. I’ll see you all very soon.
Take care everyone – life is too precious not to.
Travelling towards home surrounded by support and care (and some ladders and snowstorms!)
Hello everyone from ABC of Peak Lenin. We’ve spent the last two days starting the long road home. I have tried to enjoy the immense beauty of the mountains and I feel incredibly privileged to be here.
I have often spoken of how the support of my amazing family, friends and colleagues helps me up the mountains. Over the last two days, that wonderful support has helped keep me strong and to get down the mountain safely. I have been overwhelmed by the kind, thoughtful and caring messages I have received – thank you all so much. I may be thousands of miles away and several miles into the sky, but I have felt wrapped in care and love.
Two days ago, we woke in camp 2 and I, along with everyone, was exhausted – physically and emotionally. We’d spent a day longer than planned above 5,400m and had little food for that extra day. We’d shared what we had but it wasn’t enough. We don’t tend to take extra because every bit of additional weight slows us further and makes the tough climbing even tougher. Thankfully, the wonderful camp managers at ABC sent us up some food with the guides who were coming up to continue the search for Jude. It was such a thoughtful gesture.
As there was nothing else we could be doing at camp 2 in the search, we left this to the experts and set off to head down to ABC and, due to the steepness, had to be roped up. As we now only had one guide, we were all roped together and I was at the back with Stu, our guide. The fast and experienced mountaineers at the front kindly went slowly for me but even so I needed to ask them to slow further on the very steep bits. I made it down the first section which I was pleased about as my emotions were all over the place.
We then hit the crevasse section. The very steep section required me to go backwards, using my ice axe and crampons to move down the snow and ice. I’ve done this twice before but never at this altitude or when I was so tired. Once my brain had clicked into gear about how I needed to tackle it, I came down safely and actually enjoyed that section.
I had, however, been dreading the ladder! On the way down it seemed to have grown! It was now six rungs long and I couldn’t reach my poles across to the other side so needed to get my crampons on the first rung with nothing to support me. This, you can imagine, generated some squealing and swearing. I got across safely but, in my excitement, got my crampons caught on the final rung and managed to bring the whole ladder across to my side of the crevasse, with the guide still on the other! I was mortified and worried but he found it very amusing! We put it back in place (by simply lying it in the snow…!) and he safely came across.
The rest of the way down was uneventful but we were all exhausted by the time we were back at ABC. A few days earlier, we had watched people coming down from camp 2 and commented on how slowly there were walking and how awful they looked. That was now us! I was once again glad I didn’t have a mirror with me!
We went to bed early, exhausted, and I was woken when it was still dark by the camp manager speaking loudly and hitting my tent with a shovel! In my sleepiness, I realised it must be snowing and she was kindly removing the snow from my tent. It wasn’t until the sun came up that I awoke to see that the roof of my tent was now only a foot above my head due to the weight of snow! Over two feet of snow had fallen overnight and I had to crawl out of the tent through a foot hole in the opening! Everyone helped me to try and fix the tent but it had actually broken under the snow and so I had to move tents for our final night here.
The rest of the day was uneventful. We rested and chatted. People opened up about how they were feeling and, despite our different nationalities, backgrounds and ages, our emotions were very similar – immense sadness, shock and a feeling of helplessness. Talking helped us and it was a lesson that, despite all of the usual things that might be perceived to divide us, our human emotions are very much the same.
In the lovely messages I received from you all, a number of you, knowing my love of quotes, included some quotes which helped me.
‘The summit is what drives us but the climb itself is what matters’
‘No matter what trials and challenges we face, sometimes just enjoying being is a blessing’
In the last two days, I’ve tried to enjoy being here – it is hard not to enjoy the immense beauty of these mountains – and to continue to follow my dreams and challenge myself. My emotions are high and it will take time and reflection to process everything that has happened. I know, however, that I am incredibly blessed to simply be here, enjoying the climb.
Take care everyone and thank you
Signing off from Peak Lenin with sadness but passion burning even brighter
Hello everyone from Osh. I made it off the mountain safely, including navigating the scree and the river crossing. My confidence and skills have grown hugely over this trip and I enjoyed the route out to base camp.
We were in for one last adventure though as the old (I dread to think how old) jeep arrived to drive us the last couple of miles to base camp. You may recall me talking about this experience on the way out. This time, after about ten minutes, there was an almighty crack and the jeep stopped. It turned out a break disc had come off (it was lying a metre away from the jeep!) and so the driver got a pot of wire from under his seat, lay under the jeep for about 15 mins and then told us all was ‘good’ and we carried on our way! The ingenuity and skills of the people here who live in such basic conditions, by western standards, is inspiring.
It was sad to leave ABC, which has been our home for ten days. The camp managers, who used to call me ‘woman without meat’ now call me ‘Sarah’ despite knowing very limited English. They’ve looked after me, and everyone, so well.
It was also very sad to leave ABC as a smaller group. It really brings home what has happened. I shed more than a few tears on the way to Osh.
We’ve made the most of the time here in Osh, sightseeing. There is a world heritage site here and it was lovely, although we were all slightly amazed that so many of the local people, who are incredibly friendly, wanted their photos taken with us! Tourists are clearly still a novelty here.
So, my PCR test came back negative (the results were handed out by an old man sitting at an entrance to the laboratory in a bus stop!), my flights have been changed and I should be home tomorrow. I really can’t wait to see everyone.
The last 18 months, and what has happened on this trip, have reinforced in my mind that life is so very precious but also far too short. I really believe that we need to live our lives to the fullest and follow our dreams. We all have dreams, and they are equally important and valid. We should follow them with passion, commitment and enjoyment. We should also surround ourselves with people who help us follow our dreams and who support, care for and love us.
I know that my husband and my family would probably much prefer for me to be safely at home than climbing mountains. I know that I must drive my friends mad or bored at times with my latest adventure plans. I also know that me being away for an extended period and out of communication can put pressure on my colleagues. And yet, you all help me to follow my dreams, you all support me and care for me. I feel incredibly blessed – thank you all so very much.
I headed for Kyrgyzstan with a dream of looking out on our beautiful world from 7,100m. I haven’t achieved that but I’m proud of what I have achieved. I’ve learnt new skills and built my confidence. I’ve learnt that I am capable of much more than I ever thought possible. I’m delighted and incredibly grateful to have raised over £7,000 for Cancer Research – thank you so much to everyone who has donated.
But I’ve also experienced something that I would never have wanted to experience.
I know that this has been a life changing trip for me. I know that my passion for following my dreams – those of mountain and running adventures, those of looking after my very special husband, family and friends as much as I can and those of making a difference to my wonderful colleagues in a career I love – burns ever brighter. I also know that I haven’t yet processed the sadness of what has happened here and will need time to do so.
And so to end, follow your dreams, tell the people you care about just how much they mean to you and live the life that you were meant to. And please know that I’m here to support each and every one of you in any way I can.
Thank you everyone so much and take care