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Thread: It's a Small World

  1. #1
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    Default It's a Small World

    Have you ever met someone you know in a really out of the way place? Perhaps whilst out trekking or half way up a mountain?

    I heard a story the other day, about a driver who got caught speeding for only the second time in his life. The first time in the UK, the second in New Zealand after emigrating there. Doesn't sound very remarkable until you hear he was caught by the very same police officer both times, who had, since issuing the first ticket in England, emigrated to New Zealand himself. http://www.policeprofessional.com/news.aspx?id=11665

    It reminded me of a story of mine.

    In 2004 I went on a trip to climb Ama Dablam. I didn't summit but I'll leave that story until another day. We were a disparate group: one Yank, an Aussie, a Kiwi, myself and an English emigre called Nick, now living in New Zealand.

    Nick's a pretty hard guy, originally from Manchester, with a long list of tough climbs and extreme cave dives. He has cojones the size of basket balls and regaled us with tales of diving unexplored, underwater cave systems, armed with explosives to remove blockages (and I suppose to create room for his cojones too).

    Over the Cho La
    --Over the Cho La heading for Dingboche--

    Anyway, a pretty brutal trek ensued, 25kgs on our backs with stages like Gokyo to Dingboche in one day via the Cho La, next day to Island Peak BC and to the summit and back down to Dingboche the next. Man, it was hard work. Those long stages weren't my idea and they were no fun.

    Over the next few weeks we made our attempt on Ama Dablam.

    Nick was beginning to suffer at this point, he was complaining of cold legs that had no feeling in them. But being the hard nut that he is, he carried on regardless.

    We went up to Camp 1 just below the start of the ridge and Nick looked in agony. He ploughed on but had to stop often and didn't look at all well.


    --Nearly at Camp 1, Nick suffering on a rock--

    When we reached our camp Nick collapsed and we put him to bed in his tent. He wasn't displaying AMS symptoms but nonetheless he looked grim.

    The next day he was in no fit state to continue the climb so he went down, disappointed that his attempt was over, but he wished us luck and we carried on upwards.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Escher

  2. #2
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    Default Re: It's a Small World

    The next few days we went up and down carrying from camp 1 to 2 before preparing for summit day.

    Brewing up at Camp 2
    [Brewing up at Camp 2]

    This mountain was way above my capabilities and my resolve crumbled after a few days so I headed down myself to base camp to drink tea with Nick. He seemed okay but was still complaining of numb legs.

    A day later the rest of the team came down after an unsuccessful summit attempt just as the weather crapped out. We were out of time and so it was time to head downhill.

    We packed up our gear and headed for Pangboche, disappointed but relieved but within an hour Nick had collapsed again and was in absolute agony.

    Going down from Ama Dablam BC
    [Heading down towards Pangboche, before Nick's collapse]

    We phoned our agent in Kathmandu on the satphone and asked for Nick to be evacuated. We reached a tea house in Pangboche and waited, desperately hoping that Nick would be okay.

    Only an hour later the sound of chopper blades filled the valley and all the local children ran to the landing spot. The white Squirrel helicopter landed in the field, sending dust high into the air, and through the cloud walked Ringi our man from Kathmandu.

    He told us that when they had set off from Kathmandu the cloud was low so they headed south to the Terai to pick up the river that would lead to the Dudh Kosi and into Solu-Khumbu. Once higher up they landed in Tengboche, jumped out and asked if we were there, he had misheard Pangboche as Tengboche during the phone call.

    It was incredible that it took only an hour from the time the call was made to finding us here and it was with much relief that we saw Nick fly off to get some medical treatment. Soon after it was very quiet again, the dust settled and we had 2 hours to get to Namche before dark. We were pretty tired and somehow had forgotten what we still had ahead of us as we each fantasised about being back in Kathmandu ourselves, supping a cold beer. Instead we still had the hump back to Lukla in front of us.

    Ringi later told us that they reached Lukla a few minutes later to refuel with only a couple of minutes of fuel left!

    Once we made it back to Kathmandu, we tracked Nick down to a hospital in Patan. He apparently was a medical marvel and had a new type of 'living' gangrene in his knees (whatever that means), it was new to medical science. He had a regular procession of students coming to review his case but it was still not clear if he was going to have to have both of his legs amputated. It seemed that he had suffered deep vein thrombosis in both knees, from his flight from NZ to Nepal. He had been suffering with this throughout the whole trek and only complained when it was really bad. Just underlined what a tough bugger he is! He further underlined that by never complaining whilst in the hospital, instead using his time to chat up the nurses.

    We were all having to leave Nepal soon and all we could do was leave him there, in hospital, with wishes of luck and an unknown prognosis, all crossing our fingers that he would be okay.

    I'll admit, though, it didn't look good.

    Once I was home I tried to email Nick several times but never got a reply. I always wondered what had happened after we left and whether he was okay.

    To be continued...
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Escher

  3. #3
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    Default Re: It's a Small World

    Can't wait for next (3rd) installment of this tale -- it's a cliffhanger!

  4. #4
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    Default Re: It's a Small World

    Yes that was a great read and photos, hurry up with the next bit, did Nick survive?

  5. #5
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    Default Part 2

    So after a trip to Chitwan, an illegal night time safari, a big cat encounter and 24 hours of the squits, it was back home to reality and the world of work. Despite trying several times to contact Nick, I never heard from him again. What had happened to him was always at the back of my mind.

    A year later, after spending a lot of that time trying to convince some friends to come on a trip to Nepal, we decided instead to go to Peru: to Huaraz in the Cordillera Blanca, a mountaineering mecca in the Andes.

    Dawn in Huaraz
    --Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca--

    As soon as we arrived, my climbing partner Duncan, got a touch of the Peru flu and we waited in town to recover whilst the other two headed into the mountains to try and climb something.

    Mountaineering can be a risky activity and when out of contact with someone you care about who is off climbing, you can't help but worry that they are okay. It is at times like this where the lack of our modern communcation perks are missed. John and Tim had headed off into a valley they none of us had been to before and we were following on behind. Were we likely to find them? And if we couldn't what would we do then? IS it easy to find someone in a huge and deserted glacial valley surrounded by towering peaks? We were about to find out.

    A couple of days later we took a taxi to the roadhead and a lodge called the Way Inn owned by an English couple. After a night of travellers tales and cheap plonk, we shouldered our very large packs and began the back breaking slog into the valley.

    This time we had rope, snow stakes, ice screws, food, camping gear etc as well as all the usual stuff. And our packs were very, very heavy and each step, even on the flat, made us a few mm's shorter. There aren't any fun bits when carrying that much stuff, no opportunities to enjoy the view, just unrelenting, grunting hard work.

    On the way to Llaca with Huaraz far below
    --On the way to Llaca with Huaraz far below--

    As we skirted the contours we turned right into a gorge which was the beginning of the route into the Llaca valley. On our right was a sport climbing area, we thought we might find them there but there was no sign. We hadn't organised a place or a time to meet, we were just hoping we would. This meant that upon every step and around every corner we might suddenly chance upon them. This was wearing enough on the nerves on its own.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Escher

  6. #6
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    Default Re: It's a Small World

    After a full day slog we reached a steepening, where the path meandered up amongst the rocks and just at the start of it we discovered our shared base camp tent, the guys had been here and left it for us and obviously moved on. Grateful to finally stop we brewed up and ate and went into a half sleep, with the nagging thought, of where the hell we were going to find them, keeping a deep sleep at bay.

    _MG_4086
    --Just out from the first camp--

    Next morning over breakfast we decided to pare down our gear to only what we needed for a couple of nights at the next stop. We packed one pack and split it between the two of us. Duncan was still weak from the food poisoning, so full packs taken in would have rendered him unable to climb. Halving our gear at least gave us a fighting chance.

    Leaving the tent as we found it, in case Tim and John came down before us, we headed off uphill.

    Soon after, the trail, if you could call it that, headed up a blank piece of rock, perhaps 30 metres high up to a shelf that looked to be the start of the corrie that the mountains surrounded. To our right was Ranrapalca with mighty glaciers tumbling down its flanks. So our only way in was to start climbing.

    _MG_4114
    --Duncan in front of Ranrapalca's glacier

    Two Spanish speaking climbers wearing plastic boots stood on the middle shelf of this cliff we needed to ascend. They looked stuck and were shouting to us in Spanish, obviously looking for help. Unfortunately we couldn't understand them at all and nor could they understand us. This was a problem. Although I think I could order a beer, a pizza or a taxi with my limited Spanish, climbing instructions are a whole other thing. I tried to explain in single-syllable English and hand gestures that I would climb the rock and throw a rope down to them but they just did not understand, no matter how hard or how long we tried.

    I put my rock shoes on, tied into the rope and headed upwards. I soon discovered that the blank granite was covered in a thin layer of dust. As I got ten metres up, smearing up the holdless slab I became unstuck and started to slide back down again. It wasn't particularly steep, so I turned around to face outwards and slide down on my bum. Duncan's face was a picture as he now expected me to take a proper whipper and face plant on the ledge he was standing on. Fortunately I knew that despite the dust, there was still enough purchase for me to slide down safely. Duncan was only aware of this when I finally got to him. The relief on his face was palpable. A fall onto your belayer with no protection in is not a good thing to do and the incident where I fell climbing and landed on him, breaking my fall, a few months earlier in the Lake District was obviously fresh in his mind. That was a really close call and I was inches away from being badly injured, but fortunately we were both okay.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Escher

  7. #7
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    Default Re: It's a Small World

    This time I tried again, trying to jam my toes and fingers into a corner crack, I got higher this time, placed a cam in the crack before reaching the Spanish climber on the ledge. Closer up communication wasn't any better so I shrugged and climbed to the top. For some inexplicable reason the Spaniard removed the cam I had placed as I climbed upwards. Just above me were two bolts and I hurriedly clipped them. The cam was my only piece of protection before the bolts and had I fallen it would have been two broken legs or death. Why on earth he had taken it out when I was not safe I had no idea? It was very odd. I didn't shout at him about it as we could not communicate so I belayed Duncan up and left them to it. They could abseil back down if they couldn't go up and without being able to communicate we could n'tget them to climb safely. And after removing my only bit of protection I felt they were a total liability. If you can't look after yourself then go down. If you can't climb the rock which is actually just a bit of the path in then should be going any further? We didn't see them again so I expect they did go down.

    _MG_4087
    --Ranrapalca--

    Once at the top the huge circular glacial valley was presented to us in all its glory. A massive bowl, peppered with bus sized boulders, ice and snow, with a 270 degree panorama of jagged peaks. Really quite spectacular. There seemed to be nothing here except savage geology and certainly no tents or other people. Where were Tim and John?

    As always in the mountains. Although you feel you can reach out and touch all that you can see, there may be many hours of toil between you and your destination. So we slogged on through the bowl to try and get beneath Valluraju, the mountain they were going to try and climb.

    With every giant boulder we passed, I thought that perhaps they were camped behind it. But each time I was disappointed. I was beginning to become worried now as to their whereabouts. Tired, aching, hungry, breathless from the altitude and always wondering where they were, all took their toll. I wanted to press the off switch, find them, eat and drink and settle down for a long sleep.

    A steep slope was ahead of us and we settled into the plod-plod of altitude, counting each step. As I neared the top I glanced to my right. A figure walked from behind a boulder and filled a pan full of snow.

    "Tim!" I breathlessly shouted.

    How relieved was I?! At last we'd found them and knew they were safe. Reinvigorated I headed across to them, scrambing across boulders and fording frozen streams. I turned the corner around the boulder that I'd seen him appear from behind and walked into camp.

    And then my jaw hit the floor!

    "What the hell are you doing here?" I squeaked in an unmanly high-pitched voice.

    Picture the scene. A massive glacial bowl, surrounded by high peaks, empty of everything and everyone save boulders, snow and ice and this single camp. The sound of silence only occasionally broken by the distant crack of ice or a slump of snow. A wilder place you would by hard pressed to find. Nature's savage beauty unleashed, impressive and humbling in equal measure but even this didn't prepare me for what else was here.

    He looked as shocked as me. I was so shocked that I couldn't even remember his name, but lo and behold sat right in front of me, enjoying a brew along with John and Tim - was Nick!

    Looking across Llaca moraine camp to Ranrapalca (6162m)
    --Nick's tent in Quebrada Llaca--

    "How the hell are you?" I enquired. "I emailed you several times since leaving Nepal and have never stopped thinking what had happened to you, you obviously didn't have a double amputation then!"

    So it transpired that he had spent several weeks in hospital in Nepal before being medi-vacced to New Zeland for more. The thromboses had eventually disipated and now he was fine. The spectre of a possible double amputation had hung over him all that time - no more climbing, no more caving, no more adventure. But here he was in Peru doing what he loves the most. His only concern now was a higher risk of frostbite. This was their last night in the mountains and tomorrow they were heading down and out to go home. We were just starting ours. Of all the places in the world did I ever expect to find him sat down with my mates enjoying a brew? Proper weird! I spent the whole evening shaking my head mumbling to myself "I can't believe it!"

    Duncan still wasn't strong enough to climb so the next day we headed down in one group. The exercise and acclimatisation were all useful and it set us up well for another day.

    I walked down with Nick and caught up with everything that had happened in the past year. Back at home I was being put under pressure to move three hundred miles for work and I couldn't make up my mind about it. Nick told me that I should do it, and when home I did. It was the best thing I ever did.

    I emailed again when I got home to thank him for his advice. Again I didn't get a reply, I guess he is just one of those people who doesn't. I didn't mind, I was just happy to know he was well and perhaps I'll meet him again one day in some remote valley somewhere.

    So, do you have any tales of unexpected chance encounters in out of the way places?
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Escher

  8. #8

    Default Re: It's a Small World

    Wonderful story Escher.. thanks very much. I really enjoyed it!

  9. #9
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    Default Re: It's a Small World

    Yes, this IS a story! Very nice Escher!

  10. #10
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    Default Re: It's a Small World

    Great tale Escher, and brilliant photos to accompany it.
    Relieved to hear that Nick recovered to climb, and have other adventures again.

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