medex

Medex Newsletter, 17

October 2004

So much time has gone by since the last Newsletter that this one has become rather long. It may just be worth summarising it as it may take days to read it in its entirety!

·        ODG – the dinner is fully subscribed but if you do have the time plewse do join us for this weekend. Bar meals will be if available. It is in the English Lake District on: October 16th - 17th 2004

·        Change of expedition dates – Due to a clash between our planned next Nepal trip and the next meeting of the International Society of Mountain Medicine we have decided to postpone our trip by one year to autumn2008.

·        Jim Duff invites members to take part in the Marcharmo project in the Gokyo Valley.

·        Roger McMorrow and Jeremy Windsor are designing novel oxygen systems to be used on the UCL Everest trip

·        Web News – the latest updates on the Medex website – Second hand and loaned gear.

·        News of Births and Weddings

·        Lots or contributions this time from members – Piotr writes about the Ecrins, we have put in a few words about the Orkneys, Don Patterson reflects on retirement as does John Nathan as he walks the world’s footpaths. Henriette tells us how her involvement in Medex has changed her life and Will makes a suggestion about adding a second hand gear sale page to the Medex website – obviously he no longer needs his crampons in Australia

Meetings

Hypoxia - February 2005 to be held in either Lake Louise or Banff, Alberta, Canada.

Mountain Medicine Diploma and Plas y Brenin Courses: The second cadre of diplomats have recently graduated and many have joined the faculty. The next intake is fully subscribed and they begin at Plas y Brenin in November. The medex website is being upgraded to include biographies and photographs of the Faculty.

This summer Jim Milledge became President of the International Society Mountain Medicine and the UK will be hosting the next ISMM conference in the autumn of 2007. Jim hopes to make this a combined meeting with the Wilderness Medicine Society. Everyone should pencil that date in their diary. Jim has had a very busy summer and has also managed to fit in a coronary angioplasty thus returning him to his normal level of fitness!

Medex West Nepal 2007 has moved to 2008!

As a result of the above combined ISMM/Wilderness Medicine meeting we have elected to delay the next Medex Expedition by 1 year to autumn 2008.

Hyssington Summer BBQ

Fifty people turned up during the course of the weekend for our BBQ but unfortunately the weather wasn’t as kind as it has been in previous years. A very chilly evening did not, however, spoil an excellent and sociable weekend,

Old Dungeon Ghyll in the English Lake District October 2004

October 16th - 17th 2004, Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, Lake District Weekend. This is the annual Medex event We normally arrive on the Friday night, spend Saturday on the hill with dinner in the evening.  B&B accommodation can be booked direct with the Hotel (tel: 015394 37272 http://www.odg.co.uk/langdale.html) and camping is available nearby.  If you want to attend the dinner on the Saturday evening this must be booked direct with Medex as places are limited.  A cheque for £28 will secure your place for dinner, made payable to Medex and sent to the Pinfold, Hyssington, Montgomery, Powys (or direct bank transfer into the Medex account:

This is going to be a rather special ODG as it's the TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF OUR ASCENT OF EVEREST (summitted by Charlie Hornsby and Roddy Kirkwood on 11th October 1994!) and we are going to try and get as many people as possible together from the 1994 Expedition. There will be a presentation from a number of the original climbing team with accounts of the ascent and the roller coaster that has become Medex.

Medex Membership

A further gentle reminder to all those who have not yet re-joined Medex. The last subscription period ended on 31st December 2003 and the new subscription period runs for four years and costs just £45. I have included at the end of this newsletter a list of all those who have already signed up and so, if your name is not on the list, your membership has expired. If you do wish to re-join then please drop us a line with a cheque or make a bank transfer into the Medex account:

Dr Jim Duff, founder International Porter Protection Group, has sent in this article on Macharmo

Machermo Porter Shelter & Rescue Post: a great opportunity to work in the Everest National Park

Over recent years the spectacular Gokyo valley has become increasingly popular due to the challenge afforded by crossing the Cho La thus linking Gokyo with the more famous, but congested, Khumbu valley. In response to an increasing number of deaths of porters and trekkers in the Gokyo area, the IPPG (International Porter Protection Group – www.ippg.net) has started running a rescue post at Machermo settlement, in the heart of the valley.

At 4500m, Machermo is ideally suited to serve porters and trekkers descending from the upper reaches of the valley (Gokyo-Ri 5483m) and the passes leading into it (Renzo La 5600m and Cho La 5420m). Since the spring season 2003 the post has opened each trekking season, albeit for variable lengths of time due to difficulty staffing the post with volunteer doctors.

While all expenses are paid once in Nepal, the volunteer doctor has to fund their own long haul flight. The rewards are great: an opportunity to live for a couple of months at high altitude in a spectacular setting, getting to know a vibrant Sherpa community and the chance to top out on Gokyo-Ri. The workload is not too onerous, consisting of daily lectures on altitude illness and porter health & safety, plus an open door clinic. Occasionally the doctor has to make a ‘house call’ or arrange a helicopter rescue (mainly for severe altitude illness). Chhewang  Sherpa, a retired headmaster, is employed as assistant/translator and is a great asset in orientating the new doctor at the beginning of the season. Below is a brief outline of cases treated during the first season and you can see the diversity of interesting problems. Mostly they are of a general practice nature, and a mature and resourceful attitude is better than a stack of qualifications!

The post currently runs from a lodge (the food is excellent!) while CAN (Community Action Nepal - www.canepal.org.uk), under the direction of Doug Scott, is building the architect-designed post on land made available by the Sagarmatha National Park. The porter shelter is going up first, as porters are often to be found sleeping in caves which can be very exposed and cold at this altitude. Next will be the treatment room and doctors’ accommodation. When all is ready, the doctor will move in, probably mid 2005. The Machermo Porter Shelter & Rescue Post operates under the watchful eye of the Sherpa Buffer Zone (Kumbila) and a local committee. We are encouraged and supported by the Hillary hospital’s staff. Part of the running cost is recouped by charges for treatment, on trekkers’ insurance. All our statistics are shared with the Nepalese government, and health and safety education of porters is one of our aims.

At present the post is equipped a Portable Altitude Chamber (PAC), oxygen generator, oxygen cylinders, pulse oximeter, stretcher, solar powered batteries, satellite phone and heaps of medication and supplies. All of this has been given, or bought with donations; it costs about £3,000 to run the post for a year (two seasons of a couple of months each).

With perseverance, the facility should become as useful and well known as the famous Himalayan Rescue Association posts (HRA – www.himalayanrescue.com) of Pheriche and Manang. While these facilities are usually run by North American doctors, this is a great opportunity for European and Australian doctors to run the post and carry out high altitude research.

All this takes money and we need about £20,000 to complete the buildings and £3000 p.a. to run the post. It is my hope that Medex members will be attracted to the idea of working/researching at the post, and supporting it financially. Anyone interested in finding out more about this exciting project can email or ring me to discuss this further.

I am away right now (going to Machermo to visit Dr Louise Cook who is running the post this season) but will be back from Nepal on November 1st.

Ph 01229 586225 basecamp.uk@virgin.net

Summary of problems dealt with between March 27th and May 27th of 2003

 

92 patients were treated at the post. Of these 50 were porters, 21 trekkers and 21 either local Sherpas or guides. Conditions treated were mainly AMS, respiratory and gut related with some minor trauma.

The most serious cases were:

·         3 trekkers evacuated by helicopter back to Kathmandu for severe HAPE or HACE.

·         3 porters evacuated to Kunde Hospital – one with pneumonia, one with severe measles and one unconscious with a spinal injury and HACE.

One porter, Lok Bahadar, had to be carried by makeshift stretcher (we now have a real one donated by Skipton CRO!) the 12-hour journey from Machermo to Khunde hospital with a # Cx vertebra and HACE resulting in unconsciousness/quadraplegia. Once stable after a few days Lok was helicoptered to Kathmandu and has made a remarkable recovery (more details on Lok’s rescue on www.ippg.net).

Science

Medex members Roger McMorrow and Jeremy Windsor are working on oxygen circuits for the UCL Xtreme Mt Everest 2007 and Cho Oyu 2005 expeditions. It's hoped that a new "closed" circuit will be running alongside a new nasal cannulae demand system for both expeditions which will be backed up by more conventional "open" circuits. Testing will begin next spring in decompression chambers and cold facilities in the UK before leaving for Cho Oyu in August 2005. If anyone is keen to help test the circuits in the UK or abroad drop us an email, jswindsor@doctors.org.uk 

Weddings

Congratulations to those Medex members that have tied the knot in the last few months. The ones that we know about are:

Roger McMorrow married Sara in Waterford son Saturday 25th September. They are now honeymooning in Nepal. I believe Island Peak is on their agenda.

Richard Weller married Julie in Edinburgh on Saturday 3rd October and they are honeymooning in Kenya and Tanzania.

Babies

Congratulations Mike &  Donald  who sent in this: “Still working in Sydney as ED registrar. Back to UK Spring 2005 and hope to catch up at some of the Medex events then. Pleased to announce birth of a wee girl in July. Maya Elizabeth Donald weighing 8lb 2 oz - all well with mum and baby.”

Web News

Second hand gear – We have taken up Will’s suggestion and included on the website a second hand gear page where members can advertise second hand equipment for both purchase and loan. Members seeking equipment can also use this page and we will include a link in future Newsletters. It’s frre of charge to members and so if you want to include an new message then drop me an email and I will post it.

We have also expanded the Diploma section of the web to include photographs.

The New Shimshal is in build and pictures of progress will be displayed on the Shimshal page of the website.

People News

Don Patterson has sent in this: “Summer 2004 -No altitude or speed records broken, but an enjoyable few months. 

There were several thousand other Europeans adorning the bars, boats and beaches when we arrived there. Sharm el Sheik, on the Red Sea, might be thought almost too accessible, but it really is a colourful and wonderfully rich site for scuba enthusiasts. On one dive we enjoyed a short patrol with a shoal of barracuda, and on other occasions we saw turtles as well as the normal residents and busy commuters of the coral reef. Alas, no sharks on this occasion. Having already dived to the famous wreck, SS Thistlegorm, twice, I gave it a miss this time. 

We managed to fit in a fairly painless coach trip into the Sinai Desert to view the formidable sixth century fortress that is St. Catherine’s Monastery. It meant that we were able to check that Moses’ alleged three thousand year old “Burning Bush” (Rubus Sanctus) was still there. It was, and there was a fire extinguisher conveniently close by.  

MEDEX botanists, naturally, will already know all about this, but those of us who can hardly tell an alder from an elder were intrigued to discover a simple explanation for the bush that “burned but was not consumed,” a bush that inspired such awe in Moses. Unlike St. Catherine’s own famous Rubus Sanctus, there is a shrub, Dictamnus albus, also found in Sinai, that produces aromatic oil, the vapour of which spontaneously bursts into flames in the intense heat of the desert, but without damaging the leaves. This was probably the original “Burning Bush.” ‘Moses, I’m really sorry about offering this prosaic explanation. It is really rotten to have a scientific description for something that seemed so mysterious to you all those years ago. 

The ‘Rose-red city, half as old as time,’ is Petra, in Jordan, and only a short flight plus a slightly longer bus journey away from Sharm. Much of Petra is still undiscovered. For those who have not been there, it is a city, uniquely and beautifully carved out of rock, some of it being an almost pink sandstone. The styles of its temples, public buildings and even its burial chambers with their Corinthian columns, clearly owe much to Greek influence. Petra became a major centre and watering-hole for traders, mainly in spices, travelling between Asia and the Mediterranean under the Nabataeans, an Arab tribe whose civilization lasted from roughly 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. ‘The Nabataeans were desert nomads,’ according to Prof. Martha Joukowsky, a leading American archaeologist, ‘who became rich from controlling the trading routes. Suddenly they've got all the money in world to do what they want. And what do they do? They build a city.’

Retirement has now given us the opportunity to do the painting and decorating that our house is screaming out for. Any of this we cleverly avoided by spending a large part of July and August in the Scillies, camping on St. Martins. The Islands are remarkably attractive and secluded. Often there are good south-westerlies to test our Enterprise dinghy and Bic windsurfer, and for a challenge, there are craftily hidden granite rocks at certain tides. But the Scillies are really wonderful for sailing, in fact, some of the best we have experienced anywhere. Our assessment of all this, of course, is totally impartial, and uninfluenced by the fact that we have been to the Islands, now, twenty times in the past quarter of a century.”

Will Sargent, who is now in Australia asks: “I wonder if any thought had been put into having a medex kit pool or even a web notice board for people with kit to sell.” Excellent idea Will let’s do it.

Our member Rick Allen has had an accident.  He as caught in an avalanche while climbing up to the Col Des Ecandies on day three of the Haute Route.  He was in a party of three one of whom was a doctor.  Fortunately three Chamonix Guides and an additional 2 doctors were quickly on the scene and facilitated his rescue.  This happened on 19th of April and he was taken by helicopter to Sion Hospital.  He has spent two weeks in Sion and has now been transferred to Aberdeen Foresterhill Hospital ward 46 to continue recovery.

Henriette Van Ruiten has contribute this:  “I have some good news as well, I have passed my medical finals with honours. I am very happy with this. As you know I have always wanted to become a doctor but this wasn't possible in Holland (because of bad luck with the lottery system). A lot of Medex people have encouraged me to apply in England and helped me to get a place at Liverpool Medical School. This was a great opportunity for me and I would like to thank all the Medex people for helping me achieve becoming a doctor. I will start working as a junior doctor in august 2005 in Lancaster and I am really looking forward to this!

Furthermore the book Andy and I are writing will be published in oct/nov and

that is very exciting!

At the moment I am doing a GP placement in Ambleside, so I am perfectly positioned for a lot of mountain biking and hill walking. I am also trying to be involved in the mountain rescue in Ambleside and hope to go out on a few rescues with them.”

John Nathan has sent in this     “This is my news for 2004. I have been walking four times this year, 100 miles of the Dorset Coast path in April, and Gyndwrs Way, 140 miles  in mid-Wales in May (and it was dry). In June, with a group of three friends, we did a week's walking on the GR (Grand Randonee) 20 in Corsica. This is a long distance walking path which runs from the North-West to South-East of the island. We did not know, but soon found out, that it is the toughest of all GRs, and there are about 100 of these walking paths all over France. In Corsica it is very hot in the afternoon, and the path is very rough and stony. The 'path' is in fact rock scrambling for part of almost every day. Day 4 is the most interesting, including the 'Cirque de Solitude', a large cleft at the head of a tiny steep valley, where you climb 2-300 metres down one side, then up the other, like a via ferrata. The huts are rather few, so you meet the same people at the end of  each day. Some people camp and take their own food, but we ate at the refuges. Corsica is a very dramatic island.

    In July I have been in the Alps for tree weeks, completing the 'Grand Traverse', which I could not complete in 2002 because of bad weather. The Grand Traverse is a walk from Geneva to Nice along the Alps, along the GR5. We started near St Maurice, and walked 20 daysof21, having one day off in Briancon. The dramatic nature of the scenery would be hard to overstate; initially we walked through the Vanoise National Park, at whose edges abutski runs from resorts like Val D'Isere and Courchevel. As you gradually walk south the mountains get slightly lower, from 4000 metres to 3500 metres, but the cols are the same height. We walked over 14 cols of 2500 metres +, and another 4 over 2000 metres. The last 2500 metres colis only a few days walk from Nice. As practice for a Himalayan trek, you could not better this. I would recommend it to anyone. But it does need experience, and preparation, and a very light rucksack.”

 

Piotr Szawarski has sent in this article:

 

Ecrins Doodle

 

The Team

When I was asked by the Ecrins committee to lead the expedition into the region I was deeply conscious of the likely problems bestowed upon me. To climb at West Way climbing wall secured on a top rope is one thing, to climb in the Ecrins is, as Twatter once said, quite another. I hesitated and handed over the preparations to other team members knowing that they are perfectly capable of looking after themselves. I would like at the onset to record my deep appreciation of the quality of the team members appointed by the Ecrins committee to undertake this hazardous and full of perils expedition. If I had to go and climb North Face of the Eiger (as suggested at one point during this expedition) I would choose the same personnel knowing that their ability to deal with adversity is unmatched. Our success in this venture was due to two things: magnificent teamwork and a well-serviced pub in the nearest outpost of civilization. 

Composition of the team was determined at random, but taking into consideration variety of qualities that made individual members valuable as mountaineers and companions. The team members were as follows:

Paul Richards – Doctor and health-and-safety expert to the expedition. Excellent on rock. Has been higher than most. Barely returned from Vietnam.

Nick Leevers – Diplomat and linguist. In charge of communications. Chosen especially for his social tact and good fellowship. Is usually high. Just back from Kent.

Susan Hinsley – Route finder and Negotiator. Had been in places that no one has dared to go. Joined at the last moment. Excellent on just about anything… Recently returned from penal colony in Namibia.

Denise Prior – In charge of RGS. Well known for her prodigious feats of endurance on many climbing routes and chosen as our strong woman. Had been high. Interrupted climbing in London to join us.

Sarah Wray – Scientist to the expedition. Superb on rock. Expected to go high. Recalled from Lake District.

Piotr Szawarski – Leader and photographer to the expedition. Calm and resourceful. Has been high enough. Lately back from Naples, Italy.

The Plan.

After three hectic weeks of preparation we failed to meet in London. Nick being in charge of communications did excellent job in between ranting sessions, negotiations with relevant embassies and making necessary transport arrangements, in keeping us up to date and aware of the plan as it was evolving. Sarah gathered necessary information and gave us a cloudy and murky picture of dangers laying ahead. Ecrins we found out, were in France: a land of wild beauty and plentiful wine. Nick being our linguist noted that a language barrier may prove more difficult to surmount than chosen routes. He admitted that French was not his best language. Paul, who was not at his best following period of Essex Lassitude and numerous personal problems, said that Nam-speak usually solves language problems. Feeling rather charitable he promised to reduce the size of his wash-bag thus removing the necessity of hiring the porters. To transport tents and climbing equipment, food, radio, scientific and photographic gear, gas stove, barbecue and Susan’s supply of knickers it was decided that two vehicles would be required. At this point only one was secured and I stepped in at Nick’s request and organised another. We congratulated ourselves on our masterly attention to detail. Sarah has forgotten to outline the scientific programme of investigations into relationship between quality of local wine and ability to survive in difficult terrain but reminded us about it shortly following our arrival at destination. Susan told us about France, the country through which we must travel to reach our destination. The natives she said were only occasionally sexy, but the adventurous wilderness we were hoping to explore could potentially attract all sorts hence her supply of defensive knickers. Paul told us about problems of maintaining fitness and hygiene essential to our success and advised us to insure ourselves not against failure but against death for one would mean another. I was overjoyed to see that project that I have so thoughtfully delegated to others was taking on such a splendid shape and reminded myself of the words of great Twatter: in an expedition of this kind the needs of an individual must be subordinated to the common cause. At this point communications suffered breakdown as I was stranded without email in Pizzaland in the shadow of Vesuvius, but I knew that when I meet the team we’ll be ready.

To Alefroide

I was met at the airport at St’Etiene, a well chosen destination for our flight into France, as it necessitated a long journey to Ecrins. This we hoped would allow acclimatization and ensure team bonding.  I was gratified to see that from the start the esprit de corps (to use this French expression), which is so important on expeditions such as ours, was uniting our part into closely-knit community. The importance of team spirit cannot be overestimated. As Twatter once said: when you are swinging helplessly at the end of a rope it is important to know that on the other end you have a friend, and a friend ready to say “go on!” We collected our two excellent vehicles and divided our party into two groups that I have referred to as Alpha and Bravo Companies. Belonging to Alpha company I may give the account of our journey to Alefroide, a place, which was the road head and a site of our base camp for the exploratory forays into the mountains. Bravo company went on ahead breaking the path. Nick communicated their position at regular intervals. I was assured that having path finding skills of Susan they will not loose the way. I was right and very reassured when they appeared behind us, having on their way undertaken exploration of local the countryside. I told them they made it just in time for a meal during which we told them of our exploratory foray. Paul having shaken off some of his Essex lassitude sighted a lake of the port quarter and altering the course slightly he delivered me and Sarah to the shores of most splendid water reservoir. Sarah proceeded to remove her clothes and test quality of the local water. Paul agreed that due prevailing atmospheric conditions (it was hot, damn hot) it was medically important to cool off and followed Sarah. Having been advised by medical officer on the importance of cooling off and hearing ecstatic noises from Sarah, who was amazed with results of her research I have followed into water without hesitation. After all I knew I can trust my companions in their judgement of the situation. The water was lovely and having sufficiently cooled (Paul administered also oral ice cream) we returned to the destined path and were found at the right time by the Bravo company. The village in which we ate evening meal that day and topped up our supplies was beautiful and we felt sorry leaving it, but one has to remember that we aimed to scale the bastions of French rock in Ecrins and duty called. We were on our way again.  The dusk fell quickly. The road clung to the valley edge with an abyss opening beneath. Sarah handled our car with scientific precision and we arrived at our destination shortly after Bravo company, which guided by Susan who with grim determination to find a suitable camp kept them moving swiftly. The time in the car I had spent dozing and pondering a very vital matter of the grouping of the assault parties. This I had to give much thought to. Our attack on French rock was to be made by units of two members, who would climb together on one rope, though not necessarily occupy one tent. The way our team glued together made my decision easy. Nick and Denise, the strongest of our party should climb together as they were likely to demolish any route they picked. Their kit was impeccable and they knew each other well. Paul and Susan were different and similar at the same time. Both have been to the furthest corners of the earth and seemed to trust each other. I felt they would make an excellent team. That left me and Sarah, which is not surprising to the initiated, as we have climbed together many a time, and were comfortable with each other like a seasoned climber with his shoes. We arrived in the middle of the night and camped on the rocky foreign unwelcoming French soil. Unperturbed by the adversities so far encountered I slept well expecting great things from our team.

The Rock

The following morning, following ablutions we moved the camp to a more strategic location. Fortified with late lunch, taking our time to mentally prepare for any effort in this dangerous terrain we were ready for a reconnaissance. We have a found a path and travelled across river, fields of green, dense forests navigating carefully. The rock face we found, for our experienced party proved to be a piece of cake and a lovely warm up. But as Twatter would say, one should never underestimate the hostile nature of mountainous environment. From behind the ridge, over the glacier thick clouds bore upon us with the fierceness of an invading army. Armed with thunder and lightening they besieged us at the foot of the face. We decided to retreat, but the hail and rain of apocalyptic proportions caught us in the dense undergrowth of the forest. Being a fit party we made nothing of this fickle and tedious weather anomaly and without hesitation in good order we removed ourselves to a local establishment in which fortifying drinks were available. We proceeded to secure the necessary in spite of a language barrier. After a while language barriers were irrelevant and everyone was happy. Team bonding continued in the earnest, as did drinking. I must here confess my debt to Sarah who surely using a scientific method of sorts calculated that given relatively rarefied atmosphere at the altitude of the base camp the rate of enzymatic breakdown of alcohol in my body following exercise during the day was out of proportion to my intake and saved me from being unable to perform in my role as a leader by sacrificing herself and drinking the necessary proportion of my drink. It was a noble and generous action and I knew that any of my team would gladly do the same. And maybe did, but I do not remember. Denise proceeded to outline her plans for a holiday on the North Face of the Eiger and Nick showed of his linguistic ability in imparting his knowledge of slurrrrspeak, dialect common in many parts of England. Paul, ensured correct dosing of the local wine and Susan negotiated with the waiter. In all we were happy or perhaps even beyond happy and into bliss. Experience was sublime. Here some of the records of the expeditions blur, but I know perfectly well that we made it back to base camp without suffering major casualties.

The Base Camp

The next morning I rose late feeling for some reason quite below par. The dawn brought rain and sense of dampness that according to Nick was felt even within the trousers. The terrible mountain lassitude descended upon our party confining some to the tents. I had little difficulty in persuading Paul in handing over the medical duties to me and ministering to those overcome with nausea and headache so characteristic of mountain sickness. I am sure if not for his splendid work the day before in dosing the wine we would have been in much worse a shape. I must say here that Nick showed true spirit of an explorer when he decided to take his inflatable mattress and go rafting. He was also very thorough in performing equipment check knowing that mountains such as ones we were surrounded by are full of dangers for the unprepared.  We had breakfast consisting of tea, bread and fried eggs to settle down our stomachs. I noted that Paul was not in a mood for climbing that day. I found him in his sleeping bag. He was grateful of me coming round but not unselfish, saying that he would not dream of depriving the rest of the party of my company. I told him I would not hear of such sacrifice and seeing that he is quite low I thought I’ll ask him about home. I did know that he was besieged by problems in the recent months, but the story I was to hear made me feel sorry for poor old chap. After striving for many years to become the best family doctor in the country he was ready for success when a patient of his, lady of many charms, but suffering from horror and malevolence due to reading too many newspapers decided to marry him.  His married life has been a long martyrdom. His wife he said was a fiend in human shape. A gracious lady to the outside world, she was a devil to him. The things she did were too horrible to mention. If not for their only child, a boy whom Paul loved dearly the world would be the most miserable place to be in. Valiant he braved the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune staying sane and tender towards his friends and family. He pursued his passions for medicine, war and kit-kats. Earlier this year he felt his climbing career nearly shattered as while defending a lady in distress, or maybe fighting off Charlie (he couldn’t quite remember) he suffered a broken hand. There on things went from bad to worse. I commiserated  with him and told him that I have suffered in life but not nearly as badly as he has. He said “yea, you haven’t been there man!” and I nodded my head sagely. I told him that he should rest today and we’ll do the climbing. He told me afterwards he was quite satisfied with this conversation and sharing his grief with me. I told him it was my duty as a leader to be supportive of the expedition members. I have found out later that Paul was not the only one who required a touch of tender love and care and other members of the expedition expertly dealt with burden of feelings carried within our team. I was once again most grateful to be a member of such a fine party as ours and felt reassured that we shall succeed in our undertaking.  To continue our advance I have decided with Sarah to brave a particularly hard route, which was aptly named as babushka in stilettos, before retreating from the mountain having been chased away by torrential rain. Back at the base camp Susan felt much better after Sarah worked out that she was suffering from bin-bag allergy and banned her from using any. Filled with new strength Susan began careful negotiations with a blond leader of a Flemish Expedition who set up a camp next to ours. Nick having nearly lost his sleeping bag to the raging river upon which the camp was sited, was now contemplating culinary aspects of the expedition and chatting to Sarah on life in general. Denise having recovered somewhat from the mountain lassitude returned to contemplating North Face of the Eiger and for some reason started talking about sleeping in suitcases. I made a mental note of this, judging it a symptom of rarefied atmosphere and hoping to discuss it later with Paul, when his mountain lassitude improved.

East Wall Conquered

At last all were considered acclimatized, with the exception of Sarah who developed altitude cough. We sent off the following message by a runner (with a post card) “Moving off the conquer the North Wall, the tremendous precipice which rears some 500 feet behind the trees near the camp…” We had already reconnoitred the lower slopes of the wall and two schools of thought have arisen concerning the best ways of tackling it. Denise our strong woman favoured a tricky, unprotected climb crowned with an overhang, the rest of us was keen on something exposed but less demanding. Due to prevailing atmospheric conditions, namely fog and rain, we elected to pursue an alternative option: Route 6J.  When we later described this to our many climbing friends at the greatest of expedition meets, in Hyssington, we saw their eyes filled with disbelief and awe at achieving this tremendous feat of partnership and facing up to the weather and difficult terrain. I will never forget when Jim, hardiest of mountain rescue chaps, sobbed with laughter of relief at the happy ending of this particularly tricky adventure.  It all started with Susan negotiating food in the name of Famille Susane at our usual bar. Then a message was radioed to us. It was Susan buzzing with excitement. We were going on 6J. It was all happening. This was alarming news. I immediately reassured Nick it will be all right and he will enjoy it. I nearly asked Paul to offer him some medicine to calm poor fellows nerves, as he really didn’t expect it to happen with such suddenness. But Nick is made of hard stuff and soon he was ready for anything.  We soon were off! I hope I can endure such an experience many more times in my life. Every minute was an hour, every hour (and we had only one) an eternity. I was seized with a sense of utter bliss. We, who had set off so confidently, who worked so hard and come so far, we who were our country’ best and whole world’s hope we have succeeded in placing all six of us in most pleasurable jacuzzi in the area! Hence 6J – six in a jacuzzi. Jets of water ballooned bikinis and tickled our nether parts. Susan’s fungus was shared in good spirit and bottles of water were emptied. We felt on top of the world. The afternoon brought change in weather and having swung my compass I have established that North Face was in Fact East face. Having left the wonders of the 6J route we moved of at a brisk pace towards the climb. Denise set about demolishing the hardest of the routes. The wall was proving tougher to me than I have anticipated. I had to drastically revise my plan mid climb. More-over Paul ensuring my safety would occasionally tug the rope letting me know he’s got me. That was a great comfort to me, but on the other hand I couldn’t get my thoughts together. I had to remind my self of the words of great Twatter: To climb in West Way is one thing, to climb in the Ecrins quite another. Having calmed myself sufficiently I struggled on to the top.

The Return

A rather uncommon French monsoon season has eventually driven us away and so we travelled back to St Etienne on the way devouring pancakes and admiring towns we passed through provided we could see them through the curtains of rain. Since we had no porters and no need to hunt warples we spent last night drinking wine by the candle-light and admiring the stars. Next morning we made an early start. Nick spent the night destroying Susan’s cup with attempt at artwork using molten candle wax. Denise kindly stayed up to help him. Paul felt high after an encounter with the locals from which he proudly returned with half a bottle of quality wine (don’t ask). We flew that morning with Ryanair and after a couple of hours we stood at Gatwick La facing each other for the last time. The wilderness of mountains around us echoed gently in our minds. Before us was the dark gorge of everyday life.  The icy precipices, hard crags and wild peaks remain to be climbed. On the whole our expedition was a resounding success.  We came, we drunk, we enjoyed each others company and came back alive and with a story to tell.

Orkney 2004 by Simon and Sally

The flysheet stopped flapping wildly after a 10 day concerted Orcadian blow. We hauled ourselves out of the tent and slipped the kayak through the kelp fronds and into the strongly ebbing tide. Within moments we were hurtling past a dried out seal colony which quickly became seized by panic at the sight of an unaccustomed 6 am visitor. As we glided past the water around us boiled as 30 seals lunged for the safety of their element.

Out to see we could see the standing waves across the horizon where the tide was meeting the left over swells of the North Atlantic. We paddled hard to stem the current and glide in to the slack water close to the shore of Graemsy Island. At one point, mid channel, our GPS gave us a speed over the ground of 14.6 km/hour which is certainly our speed record and gives a vivid indication of the strength of Orkney’s tides. 

The plan was to use the ebb to catapult us out along the wildly exposed northern shore of Hoy and then paddle south past the legendary Old Man of Hoy to haul out at Rackwick bay which is the only feasible landing place on that whole coast. Between Graemsy and Rackwick we would be totally committed as this shore has the highest perpendicular cliffs in the UK. Arising from the crashing Atlantic swell they form a sheer sandstone wall some 1000 feet high. They are so high that today their lofty tops were swathed in cloud. Broken only by occasional geos, caves and stacks this fantastically impressive north coast of Hoy hosts an abundance of wildlife. Every nook and cranny teamed with birdlife with copious guano streaking the castle walls. A wonderful place to be but not a good place to beach a small kayak. Once we left Graemsy we would be committed.

We inched our way along the kelp strewn shore of Graemsy staying well clear of the racing tide and giving time for the ebb to weaken. Our timing had been perfect and suddenly, almost as if someone had thrown a switch, the standing waves collapsed into the glassy rolling swells and peace descended. Here was our opportunity. With the water now slack we had to paddle hard to cross Burra Sound and get well out to the west of Hoy Sound before the flood built up and pushed us back. Squadrons of cormorant and shag went past on there way to gorge themselves on the huge shoals of sand eels that abound in these waters.

Once clear of the Sound the tidal streams become weak and we were able to relax as we paddled along the coast marvelling at the sandstone ramparts above us. The Atlantic swells were crashing into the foot of the cliffs but just a few yards off shore all was calm and peaceful. An occasional puffin bobbed by as we raced for the cliffs of North Hoy and the Skuas eyed them up as a future feast.

After a few miles the coastline bent around to the south west and there, in the distance, we caught our first glimpse of the Old Man of Hoy. We had meant to climb it but Chris had been unable to join us and the weather had been too dire to contemplate dangling from sodden sandstone lashed by freezing northerlies. Instead we paddled to its foot to pay homage and, luckily, we were able to creep in behind a reef and find enough shelter to land. Remote, precariously poised and strewn with nesting birds the Old Man would, indeed, be a fine expedition.

By now the pin prick sized spectators were gathering on the cliff tops as we scrambled back down to our kayak and nosed back out around the reef. We were joined by a creel boat that was fishing for lobster in these wonderfully wild and clear northern waters. He chugged north as we paddled south past a cave infiltrated headland that marked the northern boundary of Rackwick Bay.

We had been anxious all the way about the landing. We knew that most of the boulder strewn beach was would be very unwelcoming to our kayak if the surf was high. If we couldn’t land the only other alternative would be to paddle like fury to catch the tide at the southern tip of the island and enter the infamous Pentland Firth. Fortunately, as we had predicted the northern part of the bay was relatively protected from the surf and within a few minutes we were dismantling our extraordinary kayak ready to take it back by taxi and ferry.

It had been a wonderful kayak adventure and a glorious climax to the 2 weeks we had spent in Orkney. We had dived the famous German wrecks in Scapa Flow, walked the cliff tops and, finally, achieved our goal of kayaking to the old Man of Hoy.