Four weeks ago I took a Jeep ride from Kathmandu to Pablo which is a 3 day walk south of the Lukla airport. I have documented the trip as much as possible and at times I have really had to dig deep to get through the days. The result is I feel pretty much ok. I’m now sitting back in Lukla awaiting some of our guys to come in over the next 2 days. It will be nice to see some familiar faces so I can at least say hello before they head off for their own preparation.
In my head things seem pretty straight forward for the next two months but if there is anybody out there who is following this ( I know my dogs are so that’s two at least) then here is a basic breakdown. I see this 3 months of time spent in the Himalayas split into 4 phases.
My own personal training based around my own understanding on how fit I need to be to climb to camp one on the first Everest approach. Meaning, if I can reach there ok then my fitness will slowly continue to improve. My general expedition fitness is usually for Polar work so fat is required – however for this I needed to drop weight and work as high as possible which is around 5550m with out needing a climbing permit. Anyway, this phase is now over and I am pleased with how I feel – my concern was I would do too much and literally Peak to soon – but I still have reserves.
On the 5 April what I am calling the education team are coming out to Lukla. Over 14 days we will trek to Everest Base Camp and back along with kick starting the education programme. I won’t go into details as it will all unfold over the two weeks but you will see all of what we do on Facebook / Instagram and on the Podcasts.
This is the ascent of Everest itself. I will be continuing the education programme and the education team in the UK will be adding to the content as we go along. In 2013 when we attempted Everest we ran a full programme to the summit and it was too much to do so this time I am spreading out the programme itself so I can focus on trying to reach the summit.
This is the most important phase. I or should I say we aim to come home safely. I know my two dogs will be happy about that…woof!
Note: all International Scouts and schools involved with the 8848 Expedition- when I arrive home the education programme doesn’t stop and we have a surprise announcement at the summit of Everest so like me – remain focused.
I put aside 4 weeks to train in the mountains prior to the ascent of Everest for some very simple reasons.
The team I will be working with on Everest are pretty fit guys so I first of all don’t want to let them down and also the work I put into the pre expedition can only benefit my performance later on.
However, heading above 6000 to 8000metres is a different world and you never know how your going to react up there. So like a lot of things I do in life I try and cover as much as possible in the preparation so if things are not quite going to plan then at least I can live with the knowledge that I covered all angles.
Those high altitude moments are still a good 3 to 4 weeks away but it’s been on my mind from the second I signed up. The moment will come quickly too as no matter how hard you think or prepare the clock still ticks!
I’m now back in Namche Bazaar- the tri market village at 3400m. A hub of activity that trekkers / climbers long to to be in after a few weeks in the mountains. Hot showers and good food – in short comfort. Which is ok if your heading home but if your back up on the mountain in a few days and into the cold then for me it feels like I am weakening- stepping out of the zone.
I said the above to somebody today and they said you’ve worked hard, reward yourself and rest your body. Good words – it’s difficult to manage that sometimes when you work alone.
I was going to go the whole hog and get a massage but when I was in my first hot shower for 3 weeks last night I stretch my body and heard my spine “click click click” into place. That saved me a bit of money.
Health wise I feel great – super great. I know I need another 2 weeks of up and down mountains to be completely satisfied and I am also aware that once I start to work with the ascent team my fitness should increase more.
Remain a contender and never a champion is something I stick by as this keeps you hungry and focused. I have so much respect for the team I’ll be climbing with and the company ; Himalayan Ski Trek – complete professional.
So what am I doing now – this moment? Relaxing with a cappuccino listening to elevator music in a cafe over looking the snowy mountains as the sun beats down. In a few short days I will be up and down a few more mountains before meeting the education team who will be out on the 5 April. I’m really looking forward to seeing them which will turn my trip from solo to 8 people – with a fantastic diverse global education program that covers many more aspects than just our ascent – including a Space Program of all things. But more on that later.
Hello to my friends at the Monday Club in Coventry – partially sighted and blind friends from the local community- this blog will be turned into a Podcast for you and for other folk who share the same situation around the country – so you can walk shoulder to shoulder with me to Everest.
Also a big hello to Paul – Lisa Baker and George (FF) – the Drayson Foundation and Jon from the greatest rugby club in the UK along with the team at ELF – you guys put me here. I raise my cup of cappuccino to you all.
Over the past 10 days I have trekked from below 2000m in the lower valleys to my position now of 4380m. I have another3 weeks heading across passes – climbing up to 5300m and covering different terrains from snow to rock to ice.
At the moment I’m on my second rest day which allows my body and mind to acclimatise before a distinct increase in height. This is generally 3,500 / 4,500 and so on in metres. My first rest day was in Namche Bazaar- a busy market town which is a tri junction for locals to come and stock up on their own household goods but it’s also a home from home for trekkers. If I mention burgers – beers – hot showers and music then it might sound a bit of a nightmare if your looking for the peace of the Himalayas but if your out for 3 to 4 weeks it acts as a treat for your own endeavours.
Today’s rest day however is a complete contrast. I am sat out side the only open lodge in the sunshine surrounded by white mountains- ground snow and a real sense of detachment from the human race. There are no other trekkers here so I’ve gotten lucky for this short period of time.
It’s a pleasure to sit in the sunshine with the perfect view and relax. I have tough days ahead of me not only in my training period of preparation but also for the Everest ascent itself – I also have another 2 and a half months in the mountains so when days like today happen you need to embrace it.
My purpose for being out here is of course to try and reach the summit of Everest but we also have over a million students and scouts following the journey- so I want to demonstrate how you prepare physically and mentally for a challenge like this – what is the reason? What are our ethics ?
I keep everything simple on and off expedition to try and make our objectives affective. The students involved are from all over the world – ranging from Kenya to snowy Alaska – from inner City schools and Scout groups to home schooling in remote areas. So our teachings as Explorers need to be honest simple and as mentioned above, affective. Are messages are;
RESPECT yourself – each student is unique and awesome.
RESPECT the environment- look at how your own family – community values the environment. Your actions will have a knock on affect to a wider community.
THINK DIFFERENTLY- be creative in your own goals – walk away from the crowd and find something passionate in life.
HAVE FUN – if not what is the point.
As I sit alone with the sun on my face and the mountains sitting quietly around me I completely understand the journey I have in front of me over the next few months – I’m excited and scared at the same time. When I was a child I escaped my house and at the age of 6 walked alone through fields and woods to the local shop. I bought some sweets and made it home safely – this was my first solo supported expedition. The feelings I had that day as a child of butterflies in my stomach – the feeling of excitement and fear is the same feeling I have now – it’s a feeling of change – the child like instinct of what’s around the next corner.
Over the next 4 days I will reach 5350 m and each step will be a step towards the summit in a few months time.
This Blog is written for any body who finds the time to read it of course but I am also going to read a more descriptive version as a Podcast for the blind societies so they can follow my journey too.
Every journey begins with a single step – along with last minute shopping and a team meal…
Finally I left England on a venture that has taken over 2 years to put together. When I arrived back from the North Geographic Pole in 2016 I had a good outreach of students world wide – it would be a shame to just cut connections with these guys. So a new and bigger project was needed.
Yesterday I counted the amount of organisations and educational areas who are now apart of Expedition 8848 – it’s truly grown since the idea popped into my head.
It’s been 2 years of highs and lows to point that sometimes I questioned whether it’s actually worth it! Why don’t I just climb Everest instead of creating a global education programme! Well I need a reason to climb and 1.6 million students / scouts is not a bad one.
I said goodbye to my dogs which was tough and jumped on a plane which luckily ended up in Kathmandu. The reality kicked in today when I met some of the ascent team and packed my gear.
For the next 4 weeks I am trekking / training with my friend Mauli who I’ve known for 12 years as a guide who works for my trekking company. On the 4 April I meet the education team along with my climbing partner and documentary film maker Tom. This is when the educational programme begins…
For now I am sat outside a cafe in the busy tourist section of Kathmandu watching the speed of life pass in front of me – soon I will be in the cool of the mountains.
At the back of my mind is something that has been there since the seed of the idea was born 2 years ago and will be there through my next 2 months preparation- this is the thought of the final ascent day. All this preparation and hard work to focus on a few hours ascent to the summit – the day when everything comes together.
The following article was posted on the BBC website on the 24 December 2018. It was written by film maker Tom Martienssen who is also my climbing partner on the next Everest expedition.
The reason for forming it as a blog is so the students and teachers who are following the journey of Expedition 8848 can access it around the world.
Image copyright TOM MARTIENSSEN
The centuries-old tradition of husky racing is alive and well in the US state of Alaska. But a changing climate means the competition season for these canine athletes is shrinking, writes Tom Martienssen.
A cold snap whips between the trees, making the most of a clear patch of ice.
It was a lake in summer, now it’s a smooth sheet of white.
The sled whispers through the snow, broken only by the panting of eight dogs working in harmony, pulling Paige Drobny on her custom-build race-sled, built by her husband and fellow racer, Cody Strathe.
This is Alaska, not far from the city of Fairbanks. Dog sled racing is huge here – the local breakfast diner features a life-size model of a racer and the bars are adorned with men and women snow-beaten and sleep-deprived, surrounded by their loyal huskies.
Anywhere outside the US and it would be considered a national sport. And in some ways, Alaska does feel like its own nation, mysterious and remote. Only a little more than one person per square mile on average, according to the US Census.
Cody and Paige are well into their training for the season’s biggest races. The Iditarod and Yukon Quest are 1,000 miles (1,600km) each and famed for their difficulty.
It’s no mean feat for humans, but these dogs are quite special.
“They are like the athletes, they’re the Super bowl or World Cup athletes of the dog sled world and we run them because that’s what they love to do.”
During a full day the dogs are burning up to 10,000 calories.
To keep them in top form they’re treated like high-performing sportsmen. A high-protein, high-fat diet coupled with daily massages and physiotherapy routines preserves their health. And the love from their owners and companions keeps them motivated.
But in recent years it’s been difficult here. The smooth, deep snow required to run the dogs at full strength is late to arrive.
John Gaedeke has lived in Alaska his entire life and runs high-end holidays in the mountains to the North of the state. Mountain sports, dog sledding and running snow-mobiles are par for the course, but he’s seen big changes in recent years.
“Safe winter travel occurs later each year, in some communities rivers may never freeze,” he says.
“Our trails across frozen tundra are developing sink holes as the ice lenses below the tussocks melt and deform. The shorter winters mean hotter, longer summers with more wildfire danger, which only makes the problem worse.”
For Cody and Paige this boils down to one thing – rougher trails, later training schedules and less time for the sport they love.
Beating through the trails, John at the reins of our battle-weary snow-mobile we’re reminded again and again of the increasing difficulty a lack of snow causes in this part of the world. A beeping from the control panel alerts us to a lack of snow beneath the tracks, overheating the engine and all but thwarting our attempts to catch up with the dog teams.
Headlights illuminate a string of dogs in front of Cody’s truck. The jutting frozen branches pierce the side of the trail.
The frozen tundra is an inhospitable place at the best of times but tonight it’s akin to a Stephen King book cover.
“Currently we have some snow but it’s not enough snow to run a big team safely,” says Cody.
“We have to have enough snow to cover all the bumps that throw the sled around and we don’t want a dog to step in a hole and cause a shoulder injury or something.” Without sufficient snow to run a full dog team safely, they attach the dogs to the front of the truck, using the vehicle’s brakes to keep them under control.
But this new configuration makes Cody feel distant from the huskies he adores.
“They still love it, they get to run outside and smell the smells but it’s not as interactive for the musher [driver], when you’ve got a windshield between you.
“It’s more like running dogs on a treadmill, so it’s a great training tool but not the kind of thing you want to do every day”.
They feed off the energy of the musher, normally clinging on to the back of the sledge. The pitch of Paige’s voice helps keep the dogs excited but Cody has to raise his two octaves to encourage them up to race speed.
Cody leans out the window into the darkness to shout commands, Ha for left, Ji for right. This has become the only way to train the dogs at the strength they require for the races.
Fourteen sled-dogs is the minimum to be competitive. Cody tells us they’ve even taught the dogs to stay to the right of the track to prevent incidents with oncoming traffic.
Squid Acres Kennel, named after Paige’s PHD thesis on squid, is at the top of its game Paige and Cody started it because of a love of dogs, but they quickly fell into competition and now often finish within the top few teams. It’s a tradition dating back hundreds of years. A reliable form of travel, now becoming more difficult.
Many people move to Alaska to escape the modern, busy world. But now it seems the world they escaped is changing centuries-old traditions – far away from the big cities.
The relationship between man and dog predates our rising temperatures.
And the thought of losing the frozen tundra that fostered that special bond is as terrifying as the looming, vast forests Cody trains in.
Tom and I started the educational segment of the documentary a couple of months ago in the heat of Africa. We then headed to a school in New Jersey, USA and a then a special school in my home town of Coventry in the UK. This was the final piece where we would observe the culture and daily lives of students in Fairbanks, Alaska. At just under 200 miles south of the the arctic circle it’s a very cold and very snowy place, what I LOVE! But first a slight detour to another passion of mine – dogs.
My first experience of Alaska was 10 years ago when I met with two great mushers, Cody Strathe and his wife Paige. I was filming for a schools program I had created to inspire students in the UK to highlight the amazing relationship between musher and dogs. Alaska was new to me then and my only objective was the dogs. When I saw the area where they lived; the culture around dog mushing and how close the dogs and mushers were, the short films came together naturally. I left for home knowing there was a bigger story to tell.
Squid Acres Kennel is around 40 minutes outside of Fairbanks. A wooded forest area in the wilds where Cody, Paige and their 55 dogs call home. This secluded area has nothing but a couple of wooden lodges which, I was amazed to discover, were hand built by both Cody and Paige. When times were tough and their skills were lacking they turned to Google for construction advice. Literally building their home from the ground upwards – a life changing experience. The wooden building constructed above the the dogs kennel area serves as a home and the other is a workshop, both made from trees in their local area. Cody builds custom dogsleds for other mushers through his company, DogPaddle Designs, he also builds custom handcrafted paddles and wooden boats. Cody’s creative side was born after his father bought him an electric hand jigsaw for cutting wood and designing – he was 6 years old.
Over the years Cody and Paige have broken trails through the woods and into the open areas around them, over frozen lakes and around mountains to run their dogs. The dogs are taken out on sledge runs every single day where they run from 5-8 hours or more… At first this practice of running them for so long struck me as a little strange and perhaps harmful to the dogs, but it quickly became apparent this was not the case – actually, quite the opposite! I saw for myself how much the dogs love the freedom of running! In fact, if the dogs are given a couple of days rest they are literally jumping up and down to get back out. Running is clearly in their nature and what they hunger for.
Cody and Paige know their dogs very, very well – all their individual, quirky characters and also their nature, strengths, intelligence, personality traits and temperance. This deep knowledge and understanding allows them to work out the position of each dog in the team so the pack performs to it’s optimum and natural strength in a race. Picking a team for 1000 mile races like The Yukon Quest or the Iditarod is like selecting a premiership football team. Positioning the dogs in the correct running order is important but the relationship of the pack leader to the musher is vital. Pack leaders are highly skilled and intelligent dogs. Some say the bond between a musher and their lead dog is almost telepathic.
I must mention one last thing before I end this instalment. I went into Squid Acres Kennel knowing how much these dogs are loved. However, there has been some negative press in dog racing over the years that I feel I must address.
The press are prone to picking up a success story and finding a negative angle – even with Everest. This can be a good thing, of course, as controversy leads to investigation. Every angle should be covered to allow for adjustment of actions and justice. The heart of the story is this; the bond between a musher and their dogs is incredible. Dogs are not fooled, even a subtle change in demeanour can be picked up by these highly intelligent, socially aware animals. If there were any impropriety that connection would be lost before crossing any start line.
These dogs are simply adored by their owners and running is something they crave. The only way they can be kept happy is by running them out in natures wilds. No walk in the park or jog on the beach would be enough. Dogs aim to please their owners and these dogs do that by pulling sledges with their musher while in their natural canine pecking order – with the leader at the front. Cody and Paige have given up everything to build a life based around dogs. They have designed their perfect life away from Fairbanks, a major city (although quiet) away from urban society. They swapped that for a bucolic relationship with the environment. They are able to sustain their alternative lifestyle through complete immersion – something I envied.
Their way of life only reinforces my belief that, while we live in cities and feel like we’re the ones affected by climate change it’s easy to assume it’s out of our control or being handled elsewhere? No. Places like this should be seen and visited to understand how people are truly connected to their environments. There was meant to be deep snow while we were filming but there was hardly any. Vehicles were often used to run the dogs instead. The snow is disappearing. The seasons are getting shorter and that affects everything from crops, wildlife, landscapes and the people who make their lives here – even to the way the land is shaped through seasonal changes. It’s these people who rely on and work with nature who understand best how important seasons and migrations are. These environmental issues are affecting communities everyday and impacting the way they live in these wonderful, natural places. Alaska is a pure way of life and it was beautiful to experience it with Cody and Paige… and 55 dogs!
All picture credits to Tom Martienssen – more information here