Monday, 23 July 2007

Haggard, Staggered and Shaggered

Once upon a time, five glamorous women ambitiously set off from base camp on their final adventure to the summit. Camps 1, 2, and 3 were reached successfully in beautiful weather. At camp 3, 6800m, the weather turned and wind howled as we boiled water through the night. Getting enough water was crucial as many other climbers couldn't continue due to dehydration. At 3am we started piling on the layers and interestingly the main concern wasn't 'Does my bum, look big in these down trousers?'. It's hard to describe how horrific it is getting out of the tent into the teeth of a freezing gale with the lack of oxygen and accumulated exhaustion. On departure at 5.30am no part of our skin was visible. Excruciatingly slowly we made our way towards the summit. Ten hours into the slow, snow, slog we reached what we thought was the summit, then we discovered it wasn't. The true summit was 150m higher and two hours away. Our time window had expired. At 7400m the Lipstick Blondes took to their skis and boards delighted with the amazing achievement of all of us getting so far. To celebrate, Carole got her crochet out. We are fairly sure this an extreme crochet record.

Above 7000m people's lips tend to make a bid for freedom, except Squash's, she insisted on taking her beauty products to camp 3. Perhaps Carole wishes she had too given her impressive combination of sunburn and frostbite which has resulted in most of her face falling off. Five not so glamourous women returned to base camp haggard, staggered and shaggered.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Mountain Reflections

After the turmoil of Friday we skied down from Camp 2 in perfect conditions. 2 days rest at base camp before our final summit bid have made philosophers of us all - why is Squash in a bikini while Carole and Ali have down jackets on? Why do so few of the climbers want kids? Why are people surprised that we are eating so much Chinese food? What, exactly, draws us here? Carole says she thinks her home life is so comfortable, she likens the mountain to swimming in the cold sea. Squash loves the challenge of seeing what her body can do, and making mischief with her new best friend. Ali loves the beauty and mountain life. Suzy enjoys spending time with some of her favourite people doing the sport she loves, free of the distractions of the West. This mountain is elemental and raw. Our expedition so far has brought life into sharper focus.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Friendly John

We left base camp on Thursday with heavy hearts. We were leaving behind a fellow Brit who had been ill for several days with what we thought was an altitude related illness.
We left him with a get well note and Carole had crocheted a hat for his 2 year old daughter as he was due to leave by donkey the next day. We had become close to Friendly John since meeting him at the airport because of his enthusiasm and vitality.
On Friday morning we received the appalling news by radio that Friendly John had died during the night. 3 climbers had attempted to revive him for 2 hours with CPR without success. He was 39.
Mustagata is a remote, uncommercial mountain. Unlike its famous neighbours, like Everest, there are no medical facilities or helicopter evacuations.
After a long discussion we decided to continue with the climb to Camp 2 but our thoughts never strayed far from Friendly John's wife and young family.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Extreme Crochet

High mountains are not just about climbing. A lot of time is spent acclimatising by resting in camp. This can involve anything from sunbathing, bat and ball,sheltering in tents from unpredictable weather, absurd conversations and high altitude crochet! Carole has now made 15 hats and 12 pairs of booties and is working on a full body suit! Its not all fun and games though. 2 of the team, Kath and Carole, have been a bit poorly so this has enabled the rest of us to take advantage of even more base camp frivolity. Tomorrow the 3 day slog towards Camp 3 begins. Our fear is that when we get back on our skis and boards that the perfect powder may have turned to ice. Nice!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Powder and Tears - Day 10

The reality of high altitude camping hit with our first night at Camp 1.
It took 6 hours to boil enough drinking water from the snow. At altitude we mostly drink and wee 5 litres a day. We gasped when one of the women revealed and demonstrated a special tool for weeing standing up! Our amusement, however, was short lived. 3 hours into the water boiling marathon a storm, blowing snow inside the tent, provoked tears or misery. But every blizzard has its benefits. After an uncomfortable night our spirits were lifted by clear skies and powder snow. 3 hours of skinning ( skiing up hill) rewarded us with an incredible descent. Pure pleasure.
This is why we are here!!!!

Monday, 9 July 2007

Not Tonight, I've got a Headache

Today was the day we got high. Our first assent to Camp 1 left us with varying degrees of sore altitude heads. We were euphoric to all reach 5300m, the first big test of the expedition.
Our efforts were rewarded when we were presented with tiny bunches of flowers, hand picked by another climber.
On our return to base camp our freshly washed knickers were fluttering on the tent guy ropes. It transpires that Carole and Ali also only have 5 pairs each!
Tomorrow we hope to finally get our skiis on!

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Dawn at Base Camp

It is not everyday that you get so many "humps" at base camp. The camel train arrived laden down with our skiis and snow boards. We trekked to base camp crossing glacial moraine. Not all of us managed to avoid falling into the raging torrent of glacial melt water. Little did they realise that they were taking advantage of the last sight of running water for 2 weeks. It wasn't the only reality check. We slept (not!) through a huge thunderstorm and awoke to find base camp covered in a blanket of snow. Luckily later in the day the sun came out and so did Suzy's mini skirt! Tomorrow the real hard work begins with a 900m climb to Camp 1.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Bikinis at 3635 metres

Today was a day of contrast. Squash has 28 pairs of pants whilst Suzy has only 5! Amongst our fellow climbers our new best friend Alison has been within 200 metres of the Everest summit
We left the bustling city of Kashgar for the isolated yurts of Lake Karakol which will be our acclimatization camp with their new 21st Century solar panels.
Incredibly excited by our first glimpse of Mount Mustagata. It looks like its going to be great to ski and board down. The day culminated in us swimming in Lake Karakol under the mountain's shadow. However, erupting from the glacier water and staggering beauty of the surroundings we were informed that our dip had cost us $30 each!

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

The Adventure Begins!

After a rather epic 3 day journey to China... involving lost luggage, missed connections and split group... we are excited to finally all be arrived in Kashgar (still minus Ali's skis... but hey, at least we've made it!).

Today we're off to the first acclimitisation camp at Karakol Lakes at 3,800m, about 3 hours drive from Kashgar. We'll spend 2 nights here and do some easy walking in the area to start the slow process of adapting our bodies to the altitude.

Thanks to everybody back home for their support and encouragement before we set off.

The adventure's begun!

Friday, 29 June 2007

Eve of Departure

Bags finally packed and I am only 16kg over my flight weight limit. Juliet, my four year old daughter, stamped on my little toe whilst wearing my ski boots as we were packing. After a minor panic I realised it wasn't broken but just bruised. So I will still be off tomorrow on the adventure of a lifetime.