Thursday, November 22, 2007

Back To India

See you later Nepal, I've had a blast. I'll be back soon I think (hope)...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cricket In Kathmandu

As with an Australian summer, Saturday in Kathmandu means a game of cricket in the park. The only difference is that in Kathmandu it means 19 simultaneous games in the park, meaning 19 six-stitchers in various states flying around in all directions. No old tennis balls here.

From the moment I was identified as an Australian I was in. The 16 year old captain of the team picked me from the bunch and ushered me over to mingle with my new high-fiving teammates, then informed me he had brilliantly won the toss of the coin, and sent the opposition into bat on a pitch that offerred plenty of lateral ball movement for the seam bowlers. I was sent to field in the covers, and the match began.
At one end of the field, razor wire protected the nice grass, whilst various forms of motorised transport sped through the ground at varying intervals as a shortcut around the traffic. Throught the Kathamndu pollution haze, the Himalayas provided a very un-cricket backdrop.

After 8 overs I was thrown the ball by my captain, and the crowd hushed as I marked out my runup. My 2 overs yielded 0/18 before I was politely told my services were no longer required. 'I'm a batsman', I assured him.
'Like Ricky Ponting, sir?'
'Yeah, like him.'

We bowled the other side out for 'about that', then it was my moment to shine. I opened the batting and wore the full brunt of a 160cm Nepali speedster who sent my off stump cartwheeling 4 balls into the opening over. My protest at the nature of his suspicious action fell upon deaf ears, and I was left to wait til the 2nd innings. (Of course there was a 2nd innings, none of this 20-20 rubbish, this was a test match!)
In the second innings I got my eye in quickly and paddled around a quick 40-odd, mainly because my pride was destroyed. As far as the Nepali guys were concerned, all Australians were good at cricket, so it was important for both nations that I performed to some level.

Being a sporting tragic I could've stayed here all day, but after 6 hours the match abruptly finished. I think we lost, but as with almost all contests I have seen in Nepal, nobody seemed to care.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Island Peak - 6211 metres above sea level

Stephen Mercer: Mountaineer. I'd like to thank my sponsor, Lolly Burgess, for knitting my scarf and beanie.
'It's not so bad,' says my sherpa, Dawa.
'Do you think I'll make it?' I queried quietly.
'Maybe. I don't know.'
Not exactly a vote of confidence, but we smashed it. It was one the hardest things I've ever done, but the feeling of standing on top of a mountain is pretty special once you actually get some oxygen into your lungs.
We started in our own little Base Camp at around 5000m. I shared a tent with a Birmingham lad named Will, and as a result we became friends very quickly.
We awoke at 2am to find an half an inch of ice lining the inside of our tent and the tops of our sleeping bags. It was -12 degrees inside the tent, which had been assured was 'warm'. Dawa whipped up some Spam noodle soup for breakfast, then we were off. Will pulled out after an hour because he couldn't breath, so it was just Dawa and I creeping past the other groups by headlamp.
As the sun came up we reached the ice-pack, and I had to take off my gloves for 15 minutes to strap on my crampons. From there I lost feeling in my hands for about 90 minutes; my feet were long gone. It was here that I was seriously doubting myself.
We trudged over this marshmallow-land, short roped to each other for about an hour.
'Don't fall in the holes', says Dawa. 'Ok mate,' was all I could muster as I tried to think of something like 'No sh*t sherlock!'
When we reached the first rope line, I had to pummel my hands against each other for 20 minutes to get the feeling back into them so I could operate the rope line.
After the first rope line, (above), we climbed up this ridge (below), which was about a metre wide, 300 metres to the top.
Well, almost to the top. This little pitch was put there just to make sure you really wanted to get to the summit.
And then I was on top, 6211 metres above sea level, minus 16 degrees Celsius, blue sky, no wind. Why would you want to be anywhere else in the world?
....and I looked like this: (cold)
And this: (tired)
And this: (stoked)
What's next?

Mt Everest Base Camp

That's it....

I've never been to the moon, but I imagine it's somewhat like the Mt Everest Base Camp, and the Khumbu Glacier running up to that point.

After reading countless books on the numerous Everest expeditions over the past 90 years, arriving at the site of these triumphs and tragedies gave me an eerie sense of history. Hundreds of people have died here, and when you look at the obstacles going against the climbers you really have to question their sanity. But when a climber is asked why they climb Everest, the stock answer is, 'because it's there'.

'Bottom of the Top of The World!' (that's not Everest behind me, it's the teasingly named, 'Lo La').
You can't actually see Everest from the Base Camp, but the path is staring you in the face; the Khumbu Icefall. This 200 metre deep frozen river crawls down the hill at around a metre and a half per day, and the constant crackling of that movement shakes the entire camp.

There was one expedition from Thailand making an attempt at the summit when I arrived, to celebrate the King's 80th birthday. They didn't make it, but they didn't seem bothered really. They did check my vital signs, and my resting pulse rate was 103 bpm, with an oxygen stauration level of 72%. Not so good at sea level, but at 5500m, apparently that wasn't too bad.

Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park, Nepal

Home of the big mountains. Some of them you can get half way up with a ladder though....
The trek started with a death-defying 30 minute flight from Kathmandu to the hillside village of Lukla. The runway here is a 400 metre slither of asphalt angled at around 20 degrees, with a 700 metre vertical drop at one end. The scenery on the flight was quite extraordinary, however just as the mountains' calming influence was taking hold, a steep dive down to the runway had us all clutching something tight. From cruising altitude to alighting the aircraft took around 2 and a half minutes.
But it was straight back onto the trails, yaks and all...
The exciting part of this trip was doing it by myself, ie no guides or porters. It's not particulaly hard to follow the trail up the valley, or find somewhere to sleep for the night, but it did give me plenty of 'Stephen time' to re-align my chakras and get back to nature.
Half way up to Everest I spent the night at Tengboche (3867m), home to an active monastery. Among a handful of other uncultured swine, I was privileged to witness a daily prayer and devotion ceremony by the monks which lasted around 3 hours. The only interruption was from a gaggle of Japanese flash-photographers who thought they were at the zoo.

After 7 days of walking I reached Gorak Shep, a collection of 4 lodges at 5100m. Thankfully the dreaded altitude sickenesses avoided me, however many were not so lucky. The drone of helicoptors filled the valley every 2 hours or so, making the area feel like a MASH camp as stretchers scurried back and forth.

Kallar Pattar is a 5700m hill which provides the closest views of Mt Everest. I took a risk against the trend of the majority of the other trekkers, and the hovering weather, and hiked up for sunset. I scored.
From Gorak Shep, I then made my way up to Everest Base Camp, across to Island Peak, then back down to my buddies who were waiting for me in Lukla.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy MO-vember

To all the gentlemen taking part in the coming month's facial hair festivities, I wish you the best of luck. I've got a bit of a head start on the 'ol soup strainer. Hopefully it'll keep me warm up the mountain.

Off Again - Mt Everest and Island Peak

This one should be fun...

Tomorrow I fly from Kathmandu into Lukla, onto a paddock, I mean runway inclined at 18 degrees, which should make for an interesting start. From there Ill make my way up through the villages to The Mt Everest base camp, sitting at 5400m. Hopefully the weather will be clear and I'll be able to stand at the bottom of the Top of the World with a decent view of the surroundings.
From there, (hopefully fully acclimatised), I'll stroll back down the hill to Dingboche and hook a left to Chhukung, where I get to strap on the big boots, sharpen up the crampons and ice axes, and practise my knot tying in preparation for Imje Tse, better known as Island Peak. The name Island Peak was given as the mountain sits as a land mass surrounded by glaciers from larger surrounding mountains, including Lhotse and Nuptse.
We will have one practice run up to the top of Chhukung Peak, which is around 5700m, before moving through a couple of camps to the base of Island Peak. Then a 3am start will have us trenching through the dark to hopefully reach the summit (that sound so cool) by around 9 or 10am. 6166 metres above sea level should give us a clear view of Pumori, Ama Damblam, Nuptse, Lhotse, and maybe Everest. The photo below is the final 100 mtres on the South Ridge.

This will be my first taste of proper climbing, and though I've been assured it's 'an easy one' by my sherpa, (a real sherpa!) I'll still be taking my time. Harnesses, ropes, carabinas, sharp things on my hands and feet, pitching tents in the snow, teas brewing on a propane stove, endless amounts of Gore-Tex, -20 degrees on a clear night: should be fun?
I'll be back in kathmandu between the 18-22 of November, depending on the weather. Again, wish me luck!