In 2001 I was lucky to be part of an Everest Expedition from Tibet. It was made up of purely RAF Mountain Rescue Troops and the Team Doctor. It was a great expedition in all aspects with Dan Carrol and Rusty Bale getting to the summit by the North ridge. We had a great team of 6 Sherpas many had summited before but were happy setting up the camps and were there if needed.
Once Dan and Rusty summited the others were well set to have their attempts. Sadly one of the troops got sick at the top camp and in typical Mountain Rescue fashion all helped ensure he got down he did it on his own steam . At the North Col the doctor gave him some fluids and he walked down to Base Camp. So it ended well in the end but knocked out the plans of the others as the weather changed. I was the Base camp Manager ( general dogsbody) but had a busy time.
Winter was on its way and after a huge storm and a few Rescues involving our and other Sherpas all the expeditions left. That left us as the only expedition on the mountain. Three troops wanted another summit attempt and moved up the deserted mountain to the top camp above 8000 metres. I was at ABC ( Advanced Base Camp) at over 6400 )21000 ft)! metres with the Sherpas packing our kit. As the three were on the mountain another huge storm came in, we had poor communications and all the rest of our expedition were at Base camp 24 odd Kilometres away and 4000 feet below us. It was just me and the Sherpas. The others at Base camp were supposed to help me clear ABC but due to the heavy snow and all were all exhausted from their summit attempts they did not make it . In the end I would be on it own till we cleared the camp.
It was a worrying time I have never felt so alone but Mingma our Sirdar was all set to go up with his boys and help if needed when the weather broke. The ropes up to the North Col were in a poor state and the ascent is very dangerous after heavy snow. That afternoon Jim came down from the top camp saying he had managed to clear the ropes which were buried under lots of snow. Ted and the Doc were staying another night and would try for the summit. Jim was so tired and said conditions were not great. He was very exhausted and though strong as an ox the journey had taken its toll.
I will be honest despite 5 Himalayan trips I was extremely worried. There was little I could do I prayed that night that Ted and the Doc would be okay. I had spent many years looking after at the troops now I could do nothing but hope they would be okay! Mingma was superb he was a great pal as well there was no else to chat to but him and the Sherpas they were superb.
Next day the weather was still poor but we saw two tiny figures descend from the North Col. It could only be Ted and the Doc. We went up to the end of the ropes and they were so pleased to see us. Not as much as I was it ended up a me in tears. They stayed the night and the boys left for Base Camp a long way when tired. It was great to see them leave all three okay.
The great thing about climbing on Everest from Tibet is that Yaks can get to ABC but the weather had delayed them. We had two days to wait most of the gear was packed and sorted. I wander out to the where Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker had their camp before they went missing on Everest. I knew Pete well he was a top guy as I had met him on the hills often. It’s a lonely, wild place to be. On 17 May 1982 Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker were last seen on Mount Everest attempting to traverse The Pinnacles on the unclimbed North East Ridge at around 8250 metres. Their deaths marked the end of their contribution to a remarkable era in British mountaineering.
Mingma asked if he could clear the top camps as the weather had improved. After all their efforts I said okay and they brought so much gear, tents and Oxygen which they could recycle and sell in Katmandu. I decided to go up to the North Col at just over 7000 metres, the ropes were poor and broken in places. I was alone in this historical place it was higher than I had been but was going well.
On the North Col I met the Sherpas and Mingma he was not happy that I was there. I said I would help drag kit down to ABC. He laughed and we carried huge loads down with Mingma saying “Mr Heavy take it easy how will I explain if you fall to Mr Ted and Dan”
I got down safely Mingma went back up and they brought down loads of gear left after the storm left hurriedly by most expeditions. We had a great night with a few drams at 6000 metres. Next day we cleared the mess left by other expeditions at ABC most had left in a hurry in heavy snow. It was thawing now and the rubbish was there to see. We collected over 50 bags of rubbish for the Yaks to take out. The Yaks had arrived now and we’re ready to go tomorrow.
I packed my tent and left early and Mingma and the Sherpas came down a few hours behind me. The weather was wild it was a long way down in poor weather. I was on my own as the storms came and went. I got my last views of Everest it was bitter cold and in the weather easy to lose the track. Yet what a feeling being alone in such a place. It took ages to get down and seemed to go on and on.
As I arrived at Base camp once full of people and tents there was only our few tents and the Shed left. I arrived to tea and the troops in the Shed. Later the Sherpas arrived with the Yaks just before darkness. It was a night of celebration then dismantle the Shed and tents and leave this wonderful place .
How lucky was I to get such a trip and as the one of the few unguided trip on the mountain I saw the worse and best of this great mountain. I got to explore the base of the North Face and West Ridge on my own. Later on the Pinnacles where Pete Boardman and Joe Tasker went missing. I met some of the worlds great mountaineers Americans, Russian, French and others. We helped with Rescues and saw some cowboy operators on the mountain.
We all came back safe and well and even better all stayed friends. The Sherpas were magnificent they were outstanding and the best of the boys. They even offered me a cut of the money they got for the equipment they recovered from the mountain which of course I refused. What more can I say.
Looking back it was a great trip with the best companions ever. My part was nothing but with the trust we had with our Sherpas was outstanding. Sadly we lost Ted a few years ago he was the driving force of our trip. He went back and summited Everest and Nuptse. Ted later Designed a new oxygen mask for high altitude mountaineering and sadly fell on his local peak in Italy.
So that’s my wee trip to Tibet a once in a lifetime experience. Nothing compared with others on the mountain but a highlight to me of a great period in my life. It also showed how dangerous those big peaks can be and how many die chasing a dream? There is much more on our trip in my blogs but this is a wee part of the last few days on the “Big Hill“.
Thanks to all Ted ((RIP) Dan, Rusty, Pete, Nick, Ned, Willie, the Doc Brian, Jim L, Jim Groak, Kenny and our Sherpas.