Life. Best Enjoyed Together

22nd Dec 2014

Peak Mountaineering's Autumn has been hectic for me.  Maybe, it sometimes felt, too hectic.  It started with our annual trip to Morocco then led on to a couple of climbing trips in Spain.  With little time in between (which was also filled with several UK courses) I was then enroute to Nepal.  Finally, only 4 days after returning to the UK, I was flying out for a month of trekking in Northern India.  Each trip has been an amazing adventure and I've shared a few of the ups and downs in this post.  Having said that, although I've had a brilliant time with fantastic people, it is really time to be home.  
So I am writing this on my final Ethiad flight from Abu Dhabi which, all being well, will carry me back to the welcoming arms of my loving family by tomorrow morning. Home for Christmas and warm fires, my own bed, food that doesn't have to be curry, the serenity of the Peak District National Park in winter, seeing my breath on early morning walks, trips to see extended family and friends, Christmas trees and full bodied real ale in my local........... 
Love and Loss in the Uttarakhand
After 10 days trekking in India's Uttarakhand mountains we were heading for civilisation.  Our last night was to be spent in the small village of Agora and, by lucky chance, the evening we were there coincided with the wedding of a relative of one of our guides.  He invited us to attend and so, wearing the cleanest clothes we could muster, we climbed through the rambling pathways of the village following the sound of the drum and accordion music.  We soon reached the courtyard where the wedding was taking place and it was everything I imagined an Indian wedding would be.  Vibrant, colourful, noisy and full of both smiling faces and formality.  We were made to feel so welcome and, with the bride and groom looking stunning in their decorative outfits, it felt very special to be part of this big day.
But the area hasn't always been so vibrant in recent years.  In 2012 a flash flood caused by a single cloudburst high in the mountains sent a torrent of water washing through the steep sided valley.  Homes, businesses, crops and many lives were lost.  The village of Agora where we attended the wedding was cut off for several months and it wasn't until a month after the disaster that the government started helicoptering food in.  
Sangam Chatti, which is shown as it is now in the photo, was the end point of our trek and the place where we met the four wheel drive vehicles that would take us out of the mountains.  The village that was once here sits at the junction of the river and when the flood struck the bustling market, shops, homes, restaurants and many villagers were simply washed away.  There is nothing at Sangam Chati now apart from a few temporary stalls and a sense of great sadness.
Costa Blanca Alpine
I love Peak Mountaineering's annual pilgrimage to Spain's white coast.  We stay in the friendly comfort of The Orange House and spoil ourselves with acres of quality limestone to climb on.  We also go Costa Blanca Alpine.  This year we ran 2 trips and for one of them I was joined by Paul and Paul (shown in the photo midway up the Espolon Central).  Three of us with the same name so I had no excuses for mistakes!  
After a couple of days on the local crags at Toix, Echo Valley and Sella the Paul trio were primed for bigger fish.  The Costa landmark is the Puig Campana and it offers 14 pitches of high quality trad hard severe climbing, a decent length walk in and a tricky descent - a brilliant adventure package giving a route akin to an Alpine climb.  It's one of my favourite mountain days anywhere.
After an early start we began climbing at first light and made good progress up the steep and well protected limestone.  After 5 pitches of the direct start the route heads right to a stunning position on the central spur which is then followed for most of the upper part of the climb.  Pitch after quality pitch led us to the summit and we topped out in the early afternoon sun.  I know the descent well and it has its challenges but, as we sat eating Spanish cheese and hunks of bread and enjoying a view of Benidorms crazy skyline, life felt very good.  Later, as we enjoyed a celebratory meal in Finestrat's brilliant Oh La La Restaurant, it felt even better.
Adrian's Bucket List
I never tire of visiting the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.  Sleepy villages, beautiful scenery, friendly locals and great trekking routes always add up to a great adventure.  This year's group were a full value team who made the most of every opportunity and we had lots of laughs along the way.  Our circuit took us around the back of the Toubkal range and we arrived at Base Camp fit and ready for our summit attempt.  
This year the route had snow lying in the basin before the col so, with crampons and ice axes in use for the latter part of the ascent, when we arrived it felt like a very well deserved summit (the photo shows the team aon the summit) .  The panorama from the top is breathtaking and I was especially pleased we had a blue sky day for one of our team. For regular client and friend Adrian this was his second attempt at the peak because strong winds had turned us back from our summit attempt 2 years earlier.  Toubkal was part of his 50th birthday tick list and he found getting to the summit very emotional.  It was a great personal triumph to share.
James and the Giant Peak 
Gokyo Ri is, by Himalayan standards at least,  a minor peak.  That said, it's commanding position at the head of the Gokyo valley means it offers one of the best landscape vistas in the Nepalese Himalaya.  The path up is steep and relentless but, as you turn to survey the views from the summit, it is worth every lung busting step.  The azure waters of the upper Gokyo Lake, giants like Everest, Nuptse and Makalu poking above the thousands of lower peaks, the beautiful early morning light and the pleasures of an adventure shared.  Every time I ascend it I like it more and this year was no exception.  Client James had been strong on the ascent and it was a pleasure to share the summit with him.  He continued to acclimatise well as we made our way via the Cho La Pass, Kala Pattar and ultimately on the final climb up to Island Peak Base Camp.
Island Peak summit day is a satisfying challenge and after successfully reaching the top James descended successfully to Base Camp (The photo shows James on the final few steps to the summit).  We rested there but gradually we couldn't escape the fact that James was finding it hard to breathe and, with some other concerning symptoms, High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema had to be suspected. Like many mountaineers I am programmed to prioritise self evacuation in the mountains but, with Island Peak sitting a considerable distance from help at the head of an isolated valley, neither James nor I were happy to contemplate him walking out.  
We made the tough decision to arrange for helicopter evacuation and, after putting in the satellite phone call, we waited to hear how soon it could be arranged.  The helicopter tried to reach us that afternoon but poor weather further down the valley meant it would only come in the morning.  We settled in to our mess tent to wait for morning with James taking medication and sucking on oxygen while our local team fussed around doing all they could to make him as comfortable as possible.  At first light we waved the copter in and James was enroute to the lower altitude and expert help at Kathmandu's Ciwec Clinic.  I was happy with the tough call we'd made and James was soon up to exploring the sights of Kathmandu city and enjoying more than a couple of Everest beers at the Tom and Jerry bar.
As I jumped on the shuttle at Abu Dhabi Airport my eye was drawn to the hand straps hanging from the bus's ceiling.  I'll let you read the message in the photo at the top for yourselves, but it was a sign for me.  So, If you aren't able to be at home this Christmas I hope you can at least bring a little slice of Christmas to wherever you are.  If you are lucky enough to be with loved ones I really hope you get the chance to make the most of it.  Happy Christmas everyone. 
Posted by Paul