EVEREST BASE CAMP MANAGEMENT AND RATIONS
By Heavy Whalley, MBE. BEM.
Base Camp Manager.RAF EVEREST NORTH RIDGE EXPEDITION 2001
I have been very lucky in my Service career to serve with the Mountain Rescue Service for over 30 years. After many years of expeditions all over the world, I was extremely happy to become one of the members of this expedition; my job was the Base camp manager. This involved ensuring all food and equipment was in the correct place at the right time, in addition the day to day running of the Base Camp and admin support. The expedition was formed purely from the Mountain Rescue service and 12 team members, plus myself, were the team.
Everest has been climbed by the UK Services on two occasions up to 2001, both by Special Forces. A joint Service team had failed twice on the West Ridge. These were massive undertakings and the elite of the services was chosen. RAF Mountain Rescue is a small body of 120 personnel in total. The fact that the Royal Airforce Mountain Rescue Service can, and has, produced the calibre of person to undertake and successfully complete this great challenge is a tremendous testament to the skill and professionalism to the Service. Furthermore, personnel in the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service are all volunteers, and the majority undertakes this work in addition to their regular duties.
This was a mammoth under taking for such a small team and took over two years to organise. The expedition was held in Nepal in Annuppurna Region and Tibet in extremely remote locations. The Expedition comprised of thirteen members, six Sherpas and three kitchen staff who were to be fed on a 3-week trek to acclimatise in Nepal, and then 2 – 3 months on the main expedition in Tibet. Food is so important and regular intake of fluids are of vital importance on an expedition, as every day above 5000 metres the body is deteriorating; we would spend over 2 months at this height. At altitude, appetite is lost and it is difficult to eat especially the basic rice and local food, which becomes so bland and team members fight to regain their strength and weight. As a professional Caterer it was my task to procure the food for the expedition and ensure it was interesting palatable. I had done this before but never to a scale as this even in previous trips to the Himalayas the trips were a lot smaller.This was a huge undertaking and consisted of the usual compo rations, CILOR Cash in Lieu of Rations and various sponsors ‘gifted rations’that I had worked hard to get. We planned to supplement the basic rations supplied by the Trekking Company, the usual rice and dhal, with additional rations from CILOR and sponsorship. Both our sponsors and the Defence Catering Group provided magnificent support and advice.A huge benefit being a Caterer?
The rationing was in three phases: Phase 1: Procurement
This started over one year ahead of the expedition and involved over 150 letters to various food companies, which proved invaluable. I had made many contacts over the years and had some great contacts. We also visited Defence Catering Group at Bath who gave additional advice. This was well worth the long journey and excellent contacts were made, and outstanding professional help was given. The rations were sorted nearly six months prior to the trip, involving many days splitting the rations into waterproof plastic barrels. This would have been impossible at base camp with the problems of altitude and weather. In the end, we had sixty barrels of foodstuffs plus composite rations for the military. Everything was listed and split to ensure we did not lose anything vital during the expedition. This enterprise was completed using a laptop, and a hard copy of everything was kept in my Base camp Book. Total weight of rations from UK was 1800 kg. Transporting of the rations to Kathmandu where it was held in bond by customs, and as the Foot and Mouth had broken out as we left, we had a difficult time getting the rations and equipment out of bond. As the majority of our equipment was going into Tibet via China, this again proved an interesting logistical nightmare. Add to this 9 months before I was in the Falklands for 4 months and had to organise much from there by email in it early days. Interesting times. I asked those who were going for ideas and mostly it was left to me!
Phase 2: The Trek – We had to go as lightweight as possible and unsupported due to transport costs and lack of Porters in the Annapurna region. During this phase we used ten days composite rations and the rest CILOR, using basic Trekking Lodges whenever possible.
For the ten days on the hill composite rations, both “boil in the bag” and patrol Rations were used. These were excellent for the task. This also gave us a chance to fine-tune the rationing before we moved to Everest BC in Tibet. We had a fun and came back fitter and with no bugs!
Phase 3: Everest Expedition to Tibet
This was from 8 April – 9 June and was supported by Asian Trekking who provided a Catering Staff of two cooks and one cook boy. Our equipment and rations arrived from Kathmandu overland and we had no problems, everything arrived safely, thanks to the efforts of our trekking agency. They also supplied very basic local food, heavily supplemented by our rations, for the complete expedition up to Advance Base Camp at 6400m. I had already been in Kathmandu for a week sorting out gear and we had huge trust in our Sirdar Mingma and with that bond of mutual trust it all went easily. From Base Camp, 80 yaks carried the food and equipment up to ABC. This is a great help as the distance from BC to ABC is over 24 kilometres, and over 1500 metres of ascent over extremely rough ground. My task was to ensure all rations and equipment reached the relevant camp and were in a good state when they arrived. An Intermediate camp at 5800m was set up and this was stocked with compo rations on a self-help basis. Above this, I catered for all members including Sherpas. From the next camp, The North Col at 7000m, we used composite rations, which were modified and lightened to ensure that we had enough drinks and food to survive. Above this, rations were sorted to each summit attempt personal preferences, this was ideal and meant weight, which was crucial from this camp onwards, was kept to a minimum.
This was on a ‘help yourself’ basis and the selection was excellent thanks to all our sponsors. Also supplied were nuts, fruitcake and various sweets and snacks. All team members carried their own and no chocolate was left in hill rations. Once again, at BC chocolate and sweets were available at all times. Drinks were varied from herbal teas, coffee, hot chocolate, horlicks, soups, oxos, etc.
A complete list of rations is available on request but in all the quantity and quality was first class. The usual likes and dislikes were:
Likes – Elma’s Fruit Cake, fruit teas, tinned fish, particularly mackerel and salmon, tinned haggis, soup powder UK, powder for cold drinks, all types of tinned meat. Oatcakes, cheese tubes, biscuits and assorted noodles.
Dislikes -Bread would not rise at altitude. Dried Mixed fruit was not popular. We tried to make an oven and a microwave oven arrived at Base not much use.
Wish We Had – Gravy powder, sausages tinned, tinned pies, baked beans, smoked cheese, additional tinned mackerel and kippers. Sweets, jelly babies, wine gums, Ovaltine, Horlicks, tinned milk, cream and crisps.
Sherpas wonderful people
They were very happy with the same rations as us and limited their time camping high, preferring to get down to ABC if possible. We gave them individual supplies of chocolate, sweets which they really appreciated. They lived on the usual rice, dhal, dried yak meat and noodles. The finest people in the world and without there help, we would not have achieved our summit.
Top Tips -In Tibet it is possible, if the Trekking Agency is on the ball, to get some fresh rations. Most companies will be into the Tibet BC fairly regularly and it is possible to get some fresh fruit and vegetables with these visits. This is very important and vital to the team’s diet and moral. Do as much as you can in UK as the altitude and heat at the beginning of a trip are not the place to organise your rations or equipment. We were the best-rationed expedition and this without doubt assisted to the success. It was sad to see how many struggled with food and I helped a few expeditions out with basics!
The expedition was a resounding success. On 22 May 2001, Chief Technician Dan Carrol and Cpl Rusty Bale became the first RAF servicemen to summit on Everest. Their success goes beyond the conditions they endured, and prevailed over life threatening situations where others have died. Mount Everest is an outstanding challenge that only the fittest and most determined succeeds. Other team members could have summitted but due to illness high on the mountain, team members helped one of our sick members down. We were the last people on the mountain and I was the last one down from ABC, working with the sherpas and tidying up the wonderful place. It was a humbling experience as I made my way down alone in poor weather back to safety of our Base Camp, many thoughts passed through my head but the beauty and memories of this mountain will live with me forever.
Most importantly we have defied the terrible statistics of Everest to return home fit, healthy and more importantly still friends.
“We did not conquer Everest, it has merely tolerated us”