Paul’s Blog – The Original Everest Marathon (O.E.M.) – Part 1

Well the story has been a long time in coming largely to both Dorina & I taking a long time to settle back into the ‘real’ world but I think we are there now so time to write about our little excursion to Nepal.

It didn’t start well. I am a bad flier & not just because I get thoroughly disgusted at how Airports treat us (their customers) as cattle but mainly because I can’t sleep on a plane no matter what the length of the journeys are. Don’t ask me why I chose a Jeffrey Archer novel to while away two flights totalling 12 hours (I have little form only having read one of his books 30 plus years ago) so it came as some relief when as we circled before the descent into Kathmandu that I turned the last of the 450 pages before it hit me ‘Only Time Will Tell’ was only Book 1 of ‘The Clifton Chronicles’ the bastard Archer would have me reading Book 2 when I get back to the U.K.!! The ‘Angel’ to my left (& later right) had slept or watched films through it all.

Two nights at the Shanker hotel followed during which time the runners had been split into two teams for trekking logistical purposes. This was to have the drawback that we would under ‘get to know’ members of the other team initially but gradually as the trek progressed we naturally sorted this out as differing parts of each team found like minded souls along the trail.

The alarm sounded at 3:30 on 17th November resulting in Dorina & I being first down to the Shankers Foyer, were we really looking forward to the flight to Lukla that much?

Kathmandu airport was it’s normal chaos not helped by us being sat on a bus next to our plane for over an hour due to another plane double parking in front of it, only in Kathmandu……. Plane boarded, things had changed the single boiled sweet from the hostess in 2012 was now a grab as many as you like. Thankfully I grabbed before the turbulence hit & my palms turned sweaty, only one thing to do grab Dorina’s dry palms to re-assure her! We landed to a cheer, quite why when all the pilot was doing was saving his own life first I’ll never quite understand.

Soon we were trekking in our teams, very, very slowly, what have we signed up for. Dorina was wearing new boots & using a walking pole due to having badly twisted her ankle on a night run only a week or so earlier. She was clearly in pain so I introduced her to her first cabled bridge to take her mind to other fears, success, she looked petrified as I thought ‘been there, felt that’ & took a photograph of her wobbly behind.

Lunch at Phakding in the sunny outdoors was served by our team Chef & Sherpa’s, it gave us great views of Kusum Khangkaru (6,370 metres) snow capped summit, this is more like it.

We reached our overnight stop of Toktok after more un-pleasant slowness, are we ‘runners’ or tourists, well both I suppose in truth.

With my vast experience of two treks I had preached tent protocol many times in the lead up to our first Himalayan camp: It’ll get cold as soon as the sun goes down so be prepared, blow up thermorest, lay sleeping bag out, hat ready, gloves ready, headtorch, toilet paper, pee bottle, she-wee (here I improvised due to lack of personal experience)…… We were like a well oiled machine from start to finish over the next two weeks.

It wasn’t an especially cold night (had I over stated things following my -25 C experiences of 2012), Dorina fully clothed & snuggled into my ‘Expedition -40 sleeping bag slept well & didn’t pee to awake to my tender ‘you need to drink more then!’

Today we would trek to Namche Bazaar where we would spend 3 nights acclimatising at 3,440 metres. Our camp site at the top of this Sherpa Tourist centre had glorious views over Namche’s surrounding summits, Nupla, Lho Star & Tangpoche. I rose early on back to back days to take photo’s of the sunrise (an absolute must in my book) including my first sighting of Everest at the view point just 5 minutes above camp. Days were spent on acclimatisation walks to the Sherpa homeland of Khumjung as well as a race recce of the Thamo loop (more hills in that than we first thought). There was also a chance for relaxed coffees, a splendid lunch including my favourite Mo-mo’s & shopping for new gloves for us both & a spare ‘race’ hat for me among other pleasures.

It was time to leave Namche & head for our next camp at Khumjung via the undulating path towards Ama Dablam, Everest et al. It was on the final climb into camp where I began to mingle with the ‘Whippets’ of our other team, namely Tom, Astrid, Ben & Sabrina, they like me were a tad frustrated at the slowness & had begun to split into their separate excursions, I listened & learned from their youthfulness.

Other characters had already come to the fore within our own team & friendships begun, to list specifically is not needed except for two. Firstly our team leader the one & very ‘only’ Wendy Dodds who would be a star throughout the trek. Always upbeat, caring, & funny, we were very lucky to have her throughout. Secondly Pema who’s homeland is in the valleys below Lukla, Dorina & I bonded with Pema from early on, he’d led us alone into Namche, we would spend many respectful footsteps behind his steady lead in the days ahead.

A new day dawned & a steep climb alongside our new friends, the Whippets, led us to the Mong La, Tea was in order as we gazed in wonder at Ama Dablan as ever stealing the show. Then a steep descent to lunch at Phortse Thangma before the afternoon’s climb to Dhole where we would sleep above 4,000 metres for the first time. It was on this climb where I would turn to Dorina & ask ‘do you mind if I put on a spurt’. I was feeling good & wanted to see how the feeling converted into effort, as ever Angel said yes & I went on. Having started behind most of the 50 of us I slowly & steadily passed everyone, I was in a race of only my own making & only awoke from this dream when I reached Astrid out in front & realised I had the water bottle, time to wait for Dorina & do the right thing. Astrid, Tom & Sabrina waited with me & not long after Dorina came into view & joined us. She was also going remarkably well & the runners were beginning to say ‘are you sure you are only going to Marshall, you should….’. Soon we were in Dhole for more tea which by now I was drinking profusely as it is my acclimatisation mantra to drink tea & pee. In the evening Tom would give a presentation about his extreme sports in which he has been a member of a World Championship winning team as I realised that it was not only Sabrina who could be the Whippets star performer.

Next day it was a shorter walk to Machherma where we were to again spend 3 nights to acclimatise at 4,470 metres before descending to lower ground. More tea en-route & on arrival was followed by lunch & a visit to the health post for a very thought provoking & relaxed lecture about Khumbu coughs, illnesses & acclimatisation. In the evening the health posts extremely relaxed Australian Docter, Ed, talked again to a wider audience & drove home the point that ‘absolute’ acclimatisation took 10 weeks but we are all different & should listen & act to how we individually felt. This rubber stamped my views from here-on I would acclimatise the way I wanted, I had experience, knowledge & was going to use them, I had a plan.

So ends part 1 of our Trek to the O.E.M. tomorrow was going to be different.

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