Onwards and Upwards

Since I wrote about the plans for my next adventure, a lot has happened. Most of it high up on the hills around my home, or on the mountains for North Wales, as you’d expect perhaps. But some of it has happened behind the scenes at base camp, also known as my house.

Some of the major happenings have been to do with getting to India in the first place, always key to a trek like this. I was due to fly on Jet Airways, as I have done with my adventures in Nepal. But earlier this year the trekking company changed flights, risking my bus plans as we migrated to Virgin. Now I know why, as recently Jet Airways has ceased to trade. The next hurdle was the Indian Visa. Unlike Nepal, it has to be obtained in advance so I headed off for the website and began.

If you’ve ever taken part in a pub quiz, you know that sometimes they can go on a bit. Just when you thought it was time to hand your answers in, round 17 comes along and it’s about countries of the world. It was a very similar feeling and although none of the questions were hard (spoiler alert – I passed), there were a lot of them. And round 17 was, indeed, about countries of the world that I had visited. I had to list everywhere I had been in the last 10 years. And I was surprised to find when I compiled the list that I’d been to a lot of places, even after I’d discounted England and Scotland as separate countries. I just hoped that none of them would preclude my entry into India.

I always try and book travel to and from the airport in advance to take advantage of cheaper fares, but I have to balance this with the likelihood of last minute changes. Fortunately, the change in airlines came just before I booked the coach tickets. Not only were the flight times altered, but the departure and arrival terminals changed too. Alas, cheap fares were now out of the question as I had to buy two separate tickets top accommodate the different start and finish points. At least my hotel room remained the same. I always stay overnight on returning to the UK as it saves having to deal with delayed flights and missed connections. And in my experience, the last thing I want to after spending 12hrs plus travelling is to battle my way with a heavy kit bag and back pack to a distant bus stop in the inevitable cold and rain of a British summer.

And while all of this paperwork and administration is going on (I left work to get away from that kind of thing), I still had to bring my fitness levels up to a high standard. So the last thing I would want to get would be, say, shingles.

I got shingles. By the time I realised there was something amiss and went to the doctor, it was too late to take any medication (which, apparently is pretty horrendous and not very effective) and so I had to let it take it’s course. Which wasn’t pleasant (although I think I may have had a mild form) and kept me off the hills and away from the exercise bike during some reasonably nice weather. But at the beginning of April, I was starting to feel ‘normal’ again and the hills started in earnest.

I wanted to test my level of fitness to see what I needed to work on and so a trip to Snowdonia was called for. My plan was to climb Snowdon via the Llanberis path – a long but steady route – carrying a backpack weighing a little more than it would on the trek itself. I’d decided 7kg would be the pack weight on average so I loaded up with about 8kg (a little more to start with in the form of water) and managed the route in about 4.5 hours – an hour quicker than I’ve done before. But the measure of fitness isn’t just speed – it’s recovery time and so the following day I chose a harder route up to Glyder Fach via Capel Curig. It promised to be challenging underfoot, with steep climbs but with long sections of more enjoyable high level walking. Despite the steep bits (which were really steep), boggy marsh and my heavy backpack, I made it to the top of Glyder Fach (which translates rather disappointingly as ‘small pile of rocks’) still able to breathe and move. More importantly, I had done two major peaks in two consecutive days and I felt my fitness was pretty good.

As a further test, on my way home the next day I climbed Crimpiau, a hill at the end of the Ogwen Valley with stunning views back to Tryfan and the Glyders. Although it was half the height of the mountains I’d been on, it was still a good test of fitness and I felt energised and ready for the long journey home.

Back at base camp, I decided to have another go at packing. One of the problems with trekking in general is the varying luggage weight limits and the inevitable bulk and mass of technical kit. My flight weight limit is 22kg plus 7kg hand luggage. My internal flight weight limit is 15kg plus 7kg but the weight limit for porters is 12kg. My first test pack of the kitbag was 18kg. Even allowing for leaving some travelling clothes at the hotel, I’d probably be 2kg over the internal flight limit and a full 5kg over the porter limit.

The main weight came from four essential items – the sleeping bag (rated to a necessary -23C), ice axe, crampons and harness. Nothing to save there, so I set about paring back the base layers, socks and toiletries to a minimum. By the time I’d finished, I was down to 15kg but I couldn’t see where I was going to gain the extra 3kg for the trek itself. I re-read the luggage guidance and there was a paragraph I’d missed before. It said that the technical kit for climbing Dzo Jongo would be carried directly to base camp while we trekked a longer route to acclimatise. I re-packed, leaving out the offending items and suddenly the bag was only 11kg. Relief all round.

More training awaits and I expect I’ll be out on the Brecon Beacons quite a lot over the next few months.

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Packing it in

A day off. And after a stroll into Swansea this morning, and a load of housework this afternoon, I decided that I should have a preliminary trial pack of my kit bag for Kilimanjaro. Although the trek is shorter than Everest Base Camp, some of the stuff I’m taking is bulkier. It’s colder on the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro and after the trek leader laughed at my sleeping bag at Lobuche (5100m), I thought I ought to get a warmer one. Warmer = bigger. I’ve also decided to take my duvet jacket for the same reason and I’ve been told to take an inflatable sleeping mat as the ground can be cold and uneven. As I figured out early on, to inflate it, I won’t have enough breath at high altitude, so there’s also a foot pump in there.

With everything laid out on the floor, I was wondering where to start. Last time, I started off with everything and ended up removing loads of things until I had only what I really needed. That’s the benefit of practice packs. By the third time I’ve done this, I may even get down to one of everything. But today, that wasn’t to be.

My carry on bag will take some of the bulk – after running out of clean clothes in Kathmandu, there’s be a change in there, along with my camera and various other essentials. If my main luggage is lost, I should be able to make a valiant attempt on the mountain with a couple of hired items and a lot of smelly clothes. Hmm!

Bit by bit, things went in the kit bag. Small stuff first, packing out the sides. Then the bigger bits and finally the sleeping bag. And then the fun began, because the kit bag wouldn’t close. And I’d already left out a load of things. Some repositioning of fleeces and adjusting of socks ensued to no avail. The sleeping bag was so big, even squeezed into its stuff sac, that the zips just wouldn’t meet.

It’s all very well squeezing and squashing it all in today, but I have to think about doing that each morning in a tent, tired, cold and eager to set off. So out came some more bits, in went the sleeping bag again, and then more shifting and squeezing. As I type, it’s closed and it’s not bursting at the seams. ¬†One good thing is that the weight is just about 13kg – under the 15kg limit for the porters. And it will be lighter still on the trek, as I’ll be carrying around 5kg of stuff on my back.

I might have another go at packing tonight.

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