Himalayan Venture 18
Posted on October 17th 2018
I spent the last three and a half weeks on the greatest adventure of my life: the RAF100 principal expedition to the Nepalese Himalayas. The expedition consisted of 5 teams: four trekking and one alpine, uniting all parts of the RAF family including Cadets, UAS, Regulars and Reservists with over 80 people involved.
As part of Trekking Team 4 we hit our pinnacle crossing, the Teshi Lapsa pass at approximately 5755m (18880ft), after a two week build up; but our journey began over eight months before in the snow capped Cairngorms covering the Joint Services Winter Mountain Foundation syllabus. Though not my first exposure to winter mountaineering, it taught me valuable lessons from ice axe arrests to the construction of snow shelters.
As well as traveling the world, we traveled the length and breadth of the UK spending time picking up quality mountain days on our Summer Mountain Foundation in Snowdonia; team bonding in the Peak District; learning and developing skills for Emergancy situations such as helicopter extractions and remote first aid at RAFC Cranwell and finally the expedition launch event at the Ministry of Defence Main building in London. All experiences people are rare to come by.
Nepal was just finishing with the monsoon season by the time we arrived so the first week or so was spent rapidly switching between sunny mornings and torrential rain with unplanned gorge walking through forests going up the mountainside. The initial week was also spent in leech country with the parasites hanging off every shrub on and immediately next to the path, threatening to steal precious red blood cells needed for higher altitude. Our second week rapidly progressed into scenery that the typical UK mountaineer may be familiar with (except above 3000m) with amazing views of the inside of clouds, interrupted by blue sky's and 6000m peaks to remind you, acting alongside the thin air, that you weren't lost in a constant climb in the Lake District.
The altitude affected each of us in different ways with varying degrees of headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping, but for most of us it had been a new experience, but not necessarily a pleasant one. I was hugely fortunate not to feel the effects of it significantly with the occasional headache lower down, but the majority of the group ended up taking diamox higher up (drug to help acclimatisation to altitude). The day we departed for Teshi Lapsa Pass was an early rise with a 0230 wake up to get over the glacial moraine whilst the rocks were still frozen together. Walking at night at that altitude was an eerie experience with the only noise being the crunch of feet on the snow dusted rocks. We reached the top of the pass at around 0730.
It quickly ran true for us that the addictive part of mountaineering comes from the pinnacle and the descent, gruelling though it was. The adrenaline rush on top was incomparable to anything any of the first time high altitude mountaineers had experienced and we forgot about the shortness of breath and headaches that had plagued us not long before. As for the descent it initially began on glacial moraine with plenty of rope work involved to add the occasional bit of excitement: abseiling, to the seemingly endless undulating trudging.
Since breaking out of the maraine the adrenaline and energy shot through the roof and I have memories of the other three cadets and I running down the mountain trying to keep up with the porters in our B3 solid sole mountaineering boots, in retrospect an act of insanity. As the altitude reduced, so did the perception of the distance of the days. A 20km day was no longer a big deal in the slightest, and their understanding of people had increased. Three weeks together either brings a team close together or pushes them apart. In the case of the air cadet team, and indeed the whole of team 4, we had become a tight knit group who had developed a strong bond with each other.