Simon Completes Himalayan Charity Trek


26th October
Flew Buddha Air at 10.30am, shared plane with monk in Ralph Lauren orange/yellow polo shirt.  Landed at Bhadrapur.  Flying at 15,000 ft, we are substantially below the mountain tops and flew past some of the highest mountains on earth – Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Everest -  I saw it – apparently it was very lucky to be that clear, very rare to see Everest on a flight like that.

We fly by some of the coldest places on earth and land in the tropics – 30 degrees celsius plus, palm trees, bananas, jungle, paddy fields.  

After an hour, we started to climb steeply past tea plantations and we felt the temperature dropping fast.

Over the first ridge into a wide deep valley were for the first time some of the tops of the small mountains were lost in the clouds.  Up and down through bamboo forests with wide expansive panoramas and then suddenly a major traffic jam in a small town where traffic couldn’t pass.

We have the No. 1 bus driver in the world - very fast, horn blaring, almost losing the back on the switch back corners.  When we stopped for lunch the front tyres were smoking.

Lunch - basic place, long drop loos, rice, dalbaht, beans, onion, chicken, red spicy sauce cooked over an open fire with fantastic views.  I don’t remember when I have been so excited.

Day 1 - Start of the Trek
We travel four hours in a 50-60 year old Landrover and another vehicle – 19 of us - us 3, 12 supporters and 4 drivers – on tracks that I would have said were too difficult to pass and sometimes they almost were.  The Landrover leaning over steeply, going over rocks, hitting the underside, through the most amazing scenery until the road ran out literally.  

We walked to our campsite at Chirwa – 1,270 metres – less than 10.0% of the altitude that I have to climb but by which time my headache has gone.

We were slowed down by donkeys, heavily laden, who were slow on the up and on the down, taking their steps very carefully.

Day 2 Trek
Quite comfy with three mattresses but a long night.  I eventually decided to write at 5.30am.  Good to be broken into camping in relatively warm weather.  Could be difficult to get used to eating on the floor.  Used the long drop for the first time – not as bad as I thought but you need to put your shoes on.

We pass a lot of donkeys going up and down, taking supplies to the villages for Diwali.  Biree (our guide)  told us we have to be careful passing donkeys – always stand on the inside as two years ago a girl was standing on the outside, got nudged, fell 500 metres to her death.

The walk is fine so far but very rocky – have to concentrate where to put feet, otherwise turn ankles.  Beauty surrounds us, walking in shorts and shirt – on our way up and up and up, the first serious climb – looks tough, very steep.  Unfortunately, I guess it will end up not being that steep compared to what we are heading for.  Beauty all around me.

Saw the mountain Pangpen, 4,100 metres, snow-capped between two dark peaks!  KCJ is over twice as high and we are going 50.0% higher to 6,000 metres.

We had yak for supper and Biree told us tomorrow we climb 800 metres in one go – no stopping for lunch as normal because we are strong.

Day 3 Trek
5.5 hour walk across circa 15 landslips, a very rickety bridge (the proper bridge was broken in a landslide).  I went over on my hands and knees – according to James and Nick who have trekked all over the world – this was some of the most hard core trekking they had ever come across.   The walk was across narrow ledges, over gaps, sheer drops (now understand the donkey story) - if Caroline was worried before, she would be more worried now.  If I had known that this is what I had to expect before I came, I would have been afraid but I’m not, not even nervous, just wary.  It feels very spiritual here.

To get to today’s camp, Amjilosa, we had a 400 metre climb straight up at the end.  If anyone said I had to climb this after a 5 hour walk I would have said “sod off”.  One of the hardest things I have done and it’s only Day 3.  I am told it gets better – I hope so.

Three quarters of the way up, I started to run out of steam and had to sit down, virtually finished.  My water and energy rations gone when all of a sudden a runner from the camp arrived with drinks and biscuits – I welled up, almost cried, the thoughtfulness will remain with me for a very long time.  

To explain the difficultness, up to 400 people a day walk to Everest base station, less than 1,000 a year to KCJ base station and even less where we are going thereafter.  Our leader had only been there four times and the No. 2 guide it was his first time.  The owner of the company hasn’t been here since 2006.  However, I am here and what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger day by day.

It feels like we are on the edge of the world.

Day 4 Trek
Our walking is a bit “tortoise and hare” with a bear in the middle – Nick yomping up the front with Biree, James taking it steady in the middle with me slowly taking up the rear with Suman making sure I don’t get lost.  I am slower down the slopes – I don’t want to twist my ankle and slower up because I am a fat shagger!

Arrived at our camp – another beautiful plateau – first time the boys have erected a loo tent.  Meet two Yanks and a Kraut on their way down doing a 120 day trek across the great Himalaysian trail carrying all their own kit.  He carried 23.5 kilos – I am carrying 7 kilos and struggling.

Day 5 Trek
I find I am slightly out of breath just packing my bags and it’s only going to get worse.

I was going to start walking in my fleece (shorts have been packed) but James said to start walking cold.  We start walking apparently 800 metres up but almost immediately down, down, down – a little up – and then down, down, down – across a 200 metre landslip – and then after 3 hours up, up, up.  I got to the stage when I was sweating like a pig, gasping like a goldfish and not thinking I might die, hoping I might – but at the top glad I didn’t.  We reached a plateau, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been - the land that time forgot without the dinosaurs.

Phale – we have arrived for lunch and although I know the hardest climb is still to come, I notice that at 3,000 metres it is harder to walk on the flat but I am elated as my legs feel great.  

This valley looks like Autumn in Scotland on one side and Switzerland on the other as we have reached the underside of the 4,100 peak we have been walking towards which is under half the height of KCJ.

Day 6 Trek
Rest day – woke to thick frost – washing outside in the cold – chilly.  However, it is going to get much colder as we go higher. 

It’s supposed to be our rest day to acclimatise and I thought of my legs but Biree says a quick 500 metres up and down to help acclimatise tomorrow – not looking forward to it but not overly concerned as getting stronger.  Still got a little breathless getting dressed.

Last night I got into my silk liner, my thermal top and posh sleeping bag – felt like I was an Egyptian mummy but warm.  Woke up regularly with dead arms – couldn’t put them out as they froze – apparently, you just keep rolling over and go back to sleep – this is normal.  

We just walked up 500 metres and back, 1500 feet, 4.2 miles – sat at top, 4,000 metres to acclimatise for an hour, straight up and down, so steep that Billy Goat Gruff would have said “sod off” I will stay down and face the trolls.  

Sitting back down at camp and looking at what I have just walked with little effect – I am proud of myself.  If I had known where we were going to go beforehand I would have thought I can’t possibly do that in such a short time, if at all.

Further back down the valley in the bamboo jungle, once the trekkers have left there is a strong population of red pandas that can be seen – shame we couldn’t see them.

Day 7 Trek
We started walking at 7.30am, 4-5 hours to 4,000 metres.  I put on my buff, my beanie, my light gloves as I don’t want that horrible tingly feeling in my hands as they warm up like yesterday.

I am learning slowly how to pack up my tent – I am getting quicker and more organised.  This is going to be very important as we get higher.  Eating breakfast all wrapped up, still cold, can see breath, other two eating porridge, just can’t face it.  

Very cold to start, even with the gloves hands are cold.  We are now on the Great Himalayan Trail (GHT).  

Winter is coming and we still have a way to go.  We cross a number of landslips, very easy to twist your ankle or if you fall to break your wrists.  The tributaries are partly iced and we cross a wobbly bridge made of loose Larch poles.

Left the tea hut and then experienced one of my toughest days ever.  We started climbing through ancient juniper woodland, leaving Larch behind – beautiful.   I kept expecting to see Gandalf – very Lord of the Rings – esque.  

We then arrive at the bottom of this rock formation high – but after yesterday no concerns.  Wrong – legs fine, lungs on fire – slowly, slowly, stop – slowly, slowly, stop – on and on – eventually reaching the top to see the longest landslip yet – a very narrow slippery path, hundreds of metres above the gorge.  A straight slide down to the rocks and into the freezing torrent but as you can guess I made it, although we have to go back this way.

Then down to the river and repeated crossings over narrow, loose, wooden poles again – scary but I keep surprising myself. 

The walk took over 6 hours. Khanpachen is a brilliant place but we lost the sun at 3.15pm and the temperature plummeted and the Yaks came in from all sides – it’s going to be a long, cold night.  

Rest Day
Ha Ha!  -5 degrees centigrade in the tent when I woke up, at least -10-15 degrees outside and we still have got over 1,000 metres higher to go.  It is going to get colder.  Base layer, top, bottoms, socks, gloves, hat, still cold

1.5 hour jaunt up to 4,600 metres, having a picnic, listening to nothing, no wind, no water, enjoying the spectacular views and letting the red blood cells grow.  Tired legs ok but in a perennial state of the lungs finding it difficult on the up but as soon as the occasional flat, heart rate drops quickly.  Saw blue sheep, a very rare Himalayan Edelweiss and a beautiful blue alpine flower that looked like a relative of the crocus.

Not looking forward to another cold night but the yak bells are soothing.

I’m sitting in a hut with holes in it, watching the sun go down, feeling mentally and physically exhausted, could easily sleep but 10 hours 8pm to 6am in the tent is enough.  

Day 9 Trek
Slept well, got up just after 6am rather than 7am on Biree’s advice.  OMG this is tough – up, up, stop for breath, up, up,  stop for breath – legs ok, lungs on fire, it’s hard.  

I didn’t sign up for this – Nick says it is the most dangerous thing he has ever done.  Traversed a two day old landslip with tonnes of scree above waiting to come down, steep up on slippery narrow paths, slippery down, one false step and a slide on to the rocks and the river below.

We arrive for lunch on a wide plateau.  James, a mountain guide, said it was one of the hardest days he has ever had and immediately falls asleep.  We all then doze – I never sleep in the day.  I leave lunch early, I am the slowest but I walk in behind Biree and Nick – James is having a difficult day.   I’ve never known tiredness like it, 6 plus hours walking, 700 metres up, really over a 1,000 metres of climbing.

Day 10 – Rest Day
I have told Biree that I am having a rest day – I will climb 300 metres for acclimatisation and straight back.  My legs need a rest.  

During the night I heard the Yaks all around the tent – such a lovely sound and when I moved in my sleeping bag, ice fell on my face which crystallised inside the tent and when I woke up the water in my bottle was rock solid.  When I took my hand out of my sleeping bag, there was ice all over the inside of the tent.  -5 degrees in the tent / -12-15 degrees outside.  What was worse was that my wet wipes had frozen solid – I’m out of breath just getting dressed. Boy! is it cold, it gets into your bones and when the sun comes up with three layers, it takes a long time to warm up.  

Biree says up is an almost vertical mountain – had to do at least 300 metres up – gosh it was hard.  I got there, James went further, Nick went to the top and disappeared, 5,600 metres – got back to the camp at 10.30pm, feeling tired.  Not even half way and I think I have had enough – it’s relentless.  .

Day 11 Trek
Base camp – Pangpena.  Base camp very remote and very very strong winds.  Had photo taken of KCJ with me in foreground in shorts and Canadian bandana.  

We have walked through to acclimatise for 10.5 days, 93 miles – if you include acclimatisation - but Biree says local people could do the walk in 3 days.

I am absolutely knackered and tomorrow we start the long walk back - supposed to be downhill and it will be more down than up but still a hell of a long way up including a 1300 metre ridge, south of Ghunsa.  Yak and Dalbath in the most ethnic shack with a guy asleep in a pile of blankets in one corner and another guy cooking his meal over a small open fire which did not warm up the shack.  I went to bed cold.

Day 12 Trek
We all had a dreadful night –  The wind howled and the temperature dropped to -20 degrees outside and inside the tent -9 degrees celsius.

Yesterday I developed a cough which has now gone to a cold – hope it doesn’t make me slower because I can’t go any slower but at least it is the start of the downhill and thicker air.  I have a small headache.  

Left Pangpena and walked 3 hours back to Lhonak, a quiet rest of the day but long day tomorrow to Ghunsa, 21 miles and although 1300 metres down, there are still some horrible ups including the dangerous landslip.  

Trek Day 13
Not ideal waking in the night with a cough and cold and ice falling on your face.  A 4 hour walk to Khangpachen, 8.8 miles.  

The first half was great – saw snow leopard poo which was very fresh.  Then we came to the scary landslip which had moved since we walked up.  We could have died 3 times in 45 minutes – first, we had to cross a raging torrent with a new dump of snow going from rock to rock.  When I put my foot on snow – fine – but put my pole in and it disappeared up to the hilt. 

Next, we had the vertical climb on scree – the boys had gone ahead, Biree helping me – coming down were some Sherpas and one slipped and nearly fell all the way down to the river.  I didn’t fancy it but had no choice.  Got through and then Biree shouted above and an enormous boulder was in the air heading our way and missed me by about 15 feet – James and Nick by less.  If it had hit one of us, we would have died.  

After that a big weary set in – I suppose near death experiences may sap one’s strength.

Second half uneventful, through the beautiful Lord of the Rings forest, dropped 1300 metres but a lot of ups and very tricky terrain.  Arrived at Ghunsa as it was getting dark – absolutely knackered.

Trek 14 – Rest Day
A real rest day!  Washing body, clothes, only second shower since we started trekking, most people who have done what we have done are now finished and walk the easier bits (there are no easier bits).

Got up at 5.30am, frost on the ground, felt really warm as compared to what we had experienced so put my shorts on.  We have an amazing team – Suman has just given me Zandu balm to rub on my chest for hacking cough and another has brought me hot water, lemon tea and honey.  Meanwhile, the owner of the camp has shown great interest in the snow leopard poo and wants to see photographs and so he is lighting the fire in the hut.  Enjoying scenery and doing nothing.  

Trek Day 15
Biree is worried about my cough/health – he said that if I hadn’t already been to base camp, he would not let me climb the pass.  I say I will be fine – apparently, we are all going to walk together – that’s going to be slow.  Nick and Biree refuse to let me climb the pass without going to the Doctor.  The Doctor took my blood pressure 160/90 – said it was too high –  so we are now going to re-trace our steps rather than throwing in the extra loop but we will have two extra days somewhere depending on whether we can change our flights to Kathmandu.

We are now going down today.  The internal flights have already been changed so we will have more time in other places in Nepal.  

We walk down and I stop regularly to take in the wondrous beauty and all the plants, many of which have been inhabiting our gardens for many years. I can’t believe we walked up this, just under two weeks ago.  It’s so much warmer now – off will come the thermals and back on shorts and trekking shirt.  

We stop for lunch just past the river with the deep hum of the water torrenting down the gorge – our cook and his team feed 15 of us in the middle of nowhere.  Most if not all of the Sherpas and guides are related, the youngest being 19.  They are always so happy and positive, chatting, laughing, playing games (Ludo, Snakes and Ladders).  They are one of the poorest nations on earth.  In Ghunsa, some of the walls stated that 68% of population in the area live below the international poverty line but they are still one of the happiest nations on earth.  How fantastic is that – I am trying to learn from them. 

We walk almost all down for 4 hours back to Gyable, 2,730 metres.  I think this is the first walk that I have really enjoyed.  Strong legs, reasonable lungs and plenty of time to stop and enjoy the beauty - the clean air, smell of pine, sound of water and the light. 

Trek Day 16
I am going to say it again – having left Gyable, we walked down an almost vertical water flow for an hour.  We climbed that?  A more technical walk than yesterday and although my cough and cold are still with me but waning, I am feeling much stronger.

After lunch, we had another two hour walk which I was going to say went without incident.  We had a monumental climb and rather than hoping that I was dead as I felt two weeks ago, as we went round another almost vertical climb, I just smiled, because I can just now do this.

We walk alongside precipitous drops so concentration is very important but as we turned a corner and I saw our edge of the world campsite, Amjilosa, in the distance, 

We have now dropped another 400 metres, walked 7.5 miles.  

Trek Day 17
Woke up to find a large flock of sheep being milked.  Again, we walked down and down in landslip country.  As James says “one earth tremor and we are history”.  Considering my training for the trip was cutting my drinking down to 5 days a week, I am amazed at what I climbed up at the beginning.  I realise I have a temperature – odd, I thought I was getting better.  My breathing is worse – luckily it is mostly downhill.  No point in saying anything, they will only worry.

We then arrived at “scary” bridge which wasn’t as scary as going up.  After 5 hours we arrived at Sekathum and after two litres of water I was still drained and bought myself a coke.  The price had dropped from 350 Rupees in Ghunsa to 180 Rupees due to the shorter height to get it there.

Trek Day 18
Last night – absolutely knackered.  Went to bed to the sound of the River Torrent which in the tent sounded like a strong wind.  

Sitting at breakfast at just over 2,000 metres, I am still slightly out of breath.  I am still definitely not right – very frustrating and I have lost my voice.  Probably the most beautiful walk so far – jungle, bananas, veg patches, cardamom, paddy fields, and very warm and I kept up all the way.  I wonder how strong I would have been if I was 100% fit.  It’s amazing that we only walked this path just under three weeks ago and I have no recollection of it.  We only walked for 4 hours – we should have walked for more.  Moving fast – 9.3 miles.  The next two days will be new walking.

Trek Day 19
Woke up early – feeling better than I have for days.  Got up and found out I am out of breath even though we are only at 1,270 metres, walking down to 930 metres.  I thought this would be an easy walk – a lot of it some steeping climbs, landslips and water crossings but in the last two days we have reached an area where a lot of Nepalese live in individual units, small settlements and then we arrive at Shirwa, a large village with lots of local shops where we stop for tea.  

We are nearly at the end – Nick has been amazing, yomping up and down mountains, using no sticks, seemingly without effort although he had altitude sickness in the early days by over doing it.

James – slow and steady – but with a lot more under his belt if needed.  After 5 hours walking we arrived at Mitlung. We have walked through a number of climatic zones from sub-tropical to high Himalayan desert above the tree line, cardamom forest, bamboo forest, Larch woods, ancient juniper forests, alpine meadows. 

The team cooked a very special meal – chicken and thin chips (soup and prawn crackers/popcorn) as a first course, then a cake, 

Trek Day 20
This is the last walk and we have a 770 metre, 3 hour climb, probably our most direct but luckily starting from a low altitude.  We are being woken up at 5.30am to miss the heat of the day.  

We arrive at Taplejung in under 3 hours, a serious result and I actually felt stronger as I walked 6.7 miles up.  Taplejung is a large, vibrant town, 1700 metres, this is where the road system starts.  We have walked for 20 days away from any roads, 170.2 miles.  

Day 23
We had a 4-5 hour Jeep ride, stopped at Poekapa for lunch and then Llam for the evening.  We thought we were staying in a swanky colonial tea plantation but oh no!  The new Pokhrali Hotel -  Small dirty and undecorated room, a bed like a floor board, no hot water and very noisy being outside a bus depot. 

Day 24
A day looking around the city and shopping.  Nick just about bought some gold jewellery when he realised he was spending $5,000 not $500 so he managed to cancel it.  We had lunch in a local Tandoori restaurant, only $8 for three meals, really tasty but very basic.  Yum!

Getting a taxi back to our hotel took forever.  I have never seen traffic like it even in India – took over 1.5 hours but still only cost $5. 

The interesting thing is the difference in the Nepali people.  The guys who live in the mountains are small, wiry and dirty and in the town they are bigger, a lot of fatties particularly the women but much better dressed.

I would like to thank all those who supported Greenfingers and encourage those who didn’t to do so.  It is a very worthwhile charity. I apologise about the fact that I was going to walk for 23 days but the Doctor refused to allow me to go back up to 4,700 metres.   I also apologise for not reaching 6,000 metres but I thought base camp was at that level.  I got to circa 5,400/5,500 metres and that was good enough for me.  

However, I walked for 20 days, 170 miles on some of the most difficult and dangerous tracks there are. I camped for 19 nights, the longest I have ever camped before was 2 nights and I didn’t like those.  4 nights there was frost on the ground, 3 nights it was minus 4 to minus 5 degrees in the tent and one night -9 degrees Celsius with ice falling on my head every time I turned over.  -20 degrees Celsius outside.

I used the long drop for 19 days, I was only able to shower twice in three weeks and wore many of the same clothes for days on end.  I started the trek weighing 15 stone 3-4lbs and ended it weighing 13 stone 11 lbs.

Didn’t drink any alcohol for over 3 weeks, I walked from 930 metres to 5,500 metres but in fact did at least three times that over the ups and downs and had a large number of possible death experiences and one near death experience.


What do I think?

I love Nepal – it’s a beautiful country and lovely people.  There is probably nowhere else in the world (except South America) where one could be so remote and where the people are caring for you rather than trying to kill you.  
My only plea to the locals/Sherpas – please pick up your litter.

The experience was amazing.  If I actually knew before I went how really difficult and dangerous it was going to be I probably wouldn’t have gone.

Was it worth it? Yes

Did it push me?  Unbelievably

Have I benefited?  Without question.

Would I do it again?  Probably not.