I’m Michael Jones, I live in Holywell, North Wales. I've now completed the first of three challenges I'm taking on to help raise money for The Glan Clwyd Cancer Centre and Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. Here's an update to let you know what the Everest the hard way trek was like...
The trek certainly lived up to its name. For someone like me who has never climbed anything higher than Snowdon, at 1085mtr, it was a real test of both my mental and physical fitness. Over the 18 trekking days, I hiked for over 95 hours, clocked up some 175km in distance and had a total ascent of more than 10,800mtr.
It all began with a stunning early morning flight through the mountains, landing at Lukla Airport perched 2800mtr up on the side of a mountain. With only a 450mtr runway that has a 12% incline, the world’s most extreme airport really did add some excitement to the first day of the trek. For the first two days, I crisscrossed the Dudh Koshi River on high suspension bridges before climbing up to the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar. Along the way passing many other trekkers and pack animals carrying loads to the many expeditions in the area.
After a day of acclimatisation around Namche Bazaar, I left the main Everest trail and headed to the village of Thame, the birth place of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, and from there I headed further off the beaten track to the small settlement of Arye. After another day of acclimatisation along the way, I was ready to tackle the first of the three high passes, the Renjo Pass at 5340mtr high. I started the climb up the pass at 6am, before the sun had chance to warm up the rock face above the trail. This was to reduce the chance of any rock fall. After 2 hours of climbing, I was glad to finally reach the top of the pass, albeit very out of breath. Upon reaching the top of the pass, I was greeted with just the most magnificent view of Mount Everest in the distance, and the surrounding mountains. This was the point at which I realised the scale of the challenge I had taken on. Mount Everest, although huge, seemed a very long way away and I had to travel beyond it!
Anyway, my next stop was at Gokyo for a night before crossing the first of two glaciers on the trek, the Ngozumba Glacier. This, like the flight into Lukla, turned out to be more frightening and exciting than I expected. Because the glacier is moving, it creates a seismic vibration that in turn creates rock falls along the outer walls, and to get on and off the glacier I had to hike for 10 minutes along the bottom of both outer walls. They didn’t print that in the brochure!
After safely negotiating the glacier, I climbed to my high camp at 5200mtr ready for high pass number two, the Cho La pass at 5420mtr. That night there was just the most amazing thunder, lightning and snowstorm that lasted for about 3 hours. At one point I started to wonder, if the storm lasted all night would I be able to get out of the tent in the morning, and if so, would the pass be safe enough to cross. Luckily the storm died, and the pass was safe enough to attempt.
Again it was early start to avoid and chance of rock fall, but this early start was by far the coldest of all. It was estimated that the temperature was between minus 8 and 12, and trying to get any sort of heat into my hands and feet was almost impossible. I didn’t feel any sunlight on my body until I reached the top of the pass some 2 hours after setting off. The views from the top of the pass were quite spectacular, so I found a spot to sit and take in the views whilst warming up in the sunlight. After about an hour at the top it was off to my campsite for the night situated just below Dzonglha.
After completing two high passes in three days, I was treated to a “luxury lie-in” until 6:45am. Then after a quick breakfast, it was off to the next port of call, Gorak Shep some 4 hours / 10km away. After a light lunch and fixing camp, it was time for another challenge. Climb to the summit of Kala Patar. This little trekking peak doesn’t look like much, but climbing the short distance up to the 5550mtr summit, was truly energy sapping. The only way I can describe it would be you are gasping for breath like a marathon runner whilst only being able to move at a snail’s pace. However the effort to reach the summit is more than worth it. The view of Mount Everest is spectacular from such close range, and the mountain Pumori, directly behind Kala Patar, feels close enough to touch.
I was soon on the Khumbu Glacier, heading towards Everest Base Camp. Because I set off so early the trail was relatively empty, and I only passed a handful of people on the 4km trek. By the time I reached base camp, my knee had either eased off a little or I didn’t notice it as much because of all the activity going on. Base Camp this year was bigger than ever, with over 60 expeditions, all hoping to reach the top of the world. There was a constant stream of helicopters bringing supplies to the camp and also evacuating climbers suffering from acute mountain sickness, back to Kathmandu for treatment.
The following morning it was time to say farewell to Gorak Shep and Mount Everest, as I started my trek back out of the Himalayas. But before I could experience the joys of walking downhill and into warmer, oxygen richer air, there was the small matter of crossing the Khumbu Glacier and then climbing over the last, and toughest of the three high passes. So after breakfast, I set off on the short 6km trail along side and then over the glacier to my next campsite. I was quite relieved to have a short day’s trek, and was glad of the extra time in camp to rest.
By now I was well acclimatised having trekked at altitude for the previous 15 days, but the climb up the Kongma La Pass still needed a huge effort to reach the top. A 2km climb rising 560mtr to reach an altitude of just over 5600mtr. The highest point on the whole trek. It took just under two hours to grind out the climb to the top. The route was very steep and technical near the top, with deep snow hiding crevasses between the rocks that could potentially break your leg and loose rocks that could come crashing down from above at any moment. Needless to say I was overjoyed to finally reach the top of the pass, albeit exhausted and gasping for breath.
The sense of achievement being stood on the top of the final pass was overwhelming, and if I’m being honest, I did have a lump in my throat and had to fight back a few tears. Standing there on the knife-edge ridge that is the summit, I couldn’t help thinking how lucky I was to be able to have such a life changing adventure. I felt so proud that I had also taken the opportunity to use my trek to raise money for two fantastic and deserving charities. The Glan Clwyd Cancer Centre and Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
The trek back to Monjo seemed to be going well and I was making great time until I had a lapse in concentration, and went over on my left ankle. At the time, the trail was very busy with pack animals and trekkers, so I had to walk for another 1 ½ km before I could take off my boot and assess the damage. The pain wasn’t too bad and I thought it was just a bad sprain, so I strapped it up with an ankle support and tied my boot up tight before carrying on to camp some 2km further down the trail. Once at camp, I took the boot and support off, only for my ankle to swell up like a balloon. After soaking it for an hour in freezing cold water, I bandaged it up and prayed I would be able to walk the 10km to Lukla the following morning.
When the morning came, it was obvious that I wouldn’t be able to reach lukla without some kind of assistance. The ankle was just too painful to put any weight on. So after weighing up all my options, I hired a local pony for the day. At the time I was disappointed that my trek would be ending this way, but after completing the journey I realised that actually, it was a pretty unique experience that I will never forget.
The day after arriving home I went to my local hospital to get my ankle looked at, after being pestered by family. After an examination and an x-ray, it turns out that I had been walking for five days with a fractured ankle. I had fractured my Lateral Malleolus bone and now had to have a full cast up to my knee for the next four weeks.
There are pictures of the trek on my website, and if you would like to donate to either of the two charities, all the information you will need is on the “Sponsor Me” page of my website. I would also like to take the opportunity to offer a huge thanks to all the people who have supported me in my quest so far, and to thank each and every person who has sponsored me or donated directly to the charities I am supporting.
Mike's Next Challenge is a Snowdon bike ride on the 7th July 2013