Do you ever get the feeling…?

Do you ever get the feeling that someone is trying to give you a hint?

“There’s been a change to your flights. You are now travelling with Virgin Atlantic as Jet Airways is no longer trading.”

“There’s bee a change to your flights. Please see the amended schedule.”

“There’s been a change to your flights. Please see the amended details.”

“Kashmir is in communication blackout, but it’s okay as Ladakh is still safe.”

Circumstances beyond anyone’s control have created a series of hitches, glitches and uncertainties that have made the run up to my latest trek rather like a stage of the Tour de France over cobbles in the rain and howling wind. Bumpy, uncomfortable and with the distinct possibility of a fall. Merde! When I think back to previous treks, I’m sure the build up wasn’t as challenging. Ok, so there was training on the Brecon Beacons in the winter for my second Everest Base Camp trip, battling gales and storms. I had to postpone Kilimanjaro when I injured my knee and when I resumed training, I got caught in a thunder storm on my last training walk in the mountains. There was last minute stress when I thought I needed a Yellow Fever jab to get into Tanzania. I even contemplated travelling to London to get one, as there weren’t available locally.

But this one! You may have read about the problems in Indian controlled Kashmir recently. Yep, Ladakh is right in the middle of Kashmir. The FCO and the local trek crew both confirm that it’s safe to travel there but there were moments when I was watching the news and thinking ‘really?’  Then, out of the blue, a strike by ground crew at Heathrow this week, with the promise of more to come. The strike was averted but a number of flights were canceled. Then more problems with British Airways IT systems caused delays and cancellations again. Now there are storms predicted for the airport this weekend. And it’s monsoon season in most of India (though not Ladakh, strangely).

And if you’ve been reading my Facebook output you’ll have noticed several posts about luggage weights. You may need a strong coffee and a pen and paper for the next bit and yes, I will be testing you at the end. The journey to the start of the trek involves two flights. An international one and a local flight. Both have weight limits on luggage, as you’d expect. Both are different with the internal flight weight limit being 15kg (8kg less than the international one). On the trek itself, there is a third weight limit for the porter’s load. It’s 3kg less than the internal flight limit. Simple, you say. Pack to the porter weight limit and all will be fine.

Well, yes, it would. But this trek involved a semi-technical climb of Dzo Jongo. For this I need a climbers helmet and harness, ice axe, crampons and crampon compatible boots and a thick down jacket. And my sleeping bag has to be rated to -10c. All of this stuff is heavy and bulky. In fact, all that kits comes to nearly 8kg. But to help a little, the technical kit (but not the jacket and sleeping bag) will be carried separately from the start of the trek, so suddenly I have an extra 4kg to play with.

Packing has been very much a compromise. I have learnt not to skimp on the warm stuff so although I have a lighter insulated jacket, the bigger one is coming with me as summit night will be cold. I wore it on Kilimanjaro and despite also wearing thermals, two fleeces and a windproof jacket, I could feel the cold. It’s surprising how much waterproofs, fleeces, thermal base layers and socks weight. I may not change my socks every day (sorry for handing you that thought) but from previous experience, the really bad smelling won’t start until we return to normal altitude as the bacteria can’t grow in low oxygen environments (I hope, I really hope). As long as I can seal them in bags, I’ll make it home without being accused of attempting biological warfare.

So, after all the planning and weighing and repacking and reweighing, my kitbag should now be around 15kg which means it will sail through the international flight and with fingers crossed that my scales are accurate, pass through the internal flight. But just when you though it was safe to relax, I have to tell you that my kitbag currently weights 21kg!

“Has he gone mad?”

No more than usual. I’m taking a load of donations for a local school that Exodus, the company I’m travelling with, support. They do this at all the destinations they run treks in and I think it’s a fantastic scheme. I have the spare capacity and so I’ve packed pens, pencils, geometry sets, paper, socks, toothpaste and tooth brushes. These will be taken from me at Delhi before the internal flight. I’ve also put more things from my carry on luggage in the kitbag to make boarding and leaving the plane much easier. Once in the hotel, I’ll have to do a lot of repacking to even out the weights (the back pack will be maxed out with camera gear).

Compared to all this, the physical training was simple.

The test: What is the international flight weight limit for my kit bag?

Little things

This is one of those blog entries made up of several observations, none of which deserve an entry to themselves.

I’m sat in my new kitchen waiting for my new cooker to warm up before cooking a pie, which I will have with mash. The oven is electric; the first time I’ve used electric at home although when I stay in holiday cottages the ovens are always powered by the spark. This oven came with an instruction book. Now I’m old fashioned, and content with that. To me an oven is an oven. Video recorders came with instruction books. Cameras come with instruction books. An oven should be intuitive.

This oven has a clock and timer on board. I can use the timer, says the book, to start cooking at a pre-determined time and for a pre-determined period. But for some reason it won’t switch the oven off. IN order to do this, I need to press buttons 2 & 3 simultaneously and then press button 4 or 5 (but not both) to set the time. Or maybe that’s to set the clock? One of the buttons sets the timer in hours and minutes but another function sets it in minutes and seconds. I’ve just spent ages trying to set 25 minutes only for it to stop at 24.59 because it was in hours and minutes.! Read the manual! But at least it has a light to enable me to see my pie as it cooks.

After they’d finished the kitchen (apart from the under cabinet lighting – one can’t operate properly without the under cabinet lighting but I am trying my best), I went shopping for stuff. Many would call this stage of the new kitchen process accessorising. I prefer ‘buying stuff’. In the kitchenware shop, I was looking to see what was available – I have no idea of what accesso… er… stuff I need for a kitchen so I wanted ideas. I came across a kettle. It cost £99! I don’t understand how a kettle can cost £99. In preparation for the disruption of replacing the kitchen, I bought an emergency kettle for £5.99. It boils water, which is all I ask from a kettle. In the shop, I celebrated saving £93.01 by buying a mop. (It cost £6.99).

I gave blood today – my 29th time. If you’ve never done it, do it tomorrow and help save a life. It’s quick and painless and you get a chocolate biscuit at the end. Part of the process includes making sure you don’t dehydrate and that you maintain your fluid level. In the past, this was in the form of advice to drink before and after donating, along with a hot or cold drink immediately after the session. Recently, they have started giving us a pint of water before we donate. Inevitably there is a wait between drink and donation. With my walnut sized bladder, this rapidly creates an overwhelming urge to visit the toilet as rather than replacing lost fluid, the water somehow senses I still have my full volume of blood and makes its way to the nearest exit.

Negotiating the table on which I lie while my lifeblood pumps out of me, the 20 minutes or so of actual donation and the walk to the drink and biscuit table can be awkward when the bladder is protesting. After the sweet relief of a visit to the toilet, it only takes a few minutes for the body to sense it’s a pint of blood down and start complaining but it’s too late as the water is gone. The secret, then, is to drink in moderation over a longer time.

I chuckled at the warning card they gave me to read which stated that I shouldn’t donate if I was planning on working underground or going mountain climbing afterwards. Needless to say, my summit bid for Pen y Fan via the caves of Dan yr Ogof have been postponed.

The nurse that supervised my bloodletting talked about what to have for tea and we agreed that pie and mash would be ideal. Hence I’m sitting waiting for my pie to cook in an oven that requires a degree in food science to operate.