Medex Newsletter

March 2003

It’s just a brief newsletter this time around as we are just a tad busy with the preparations for our Spring Expedition.

In two weeks time 57 of us will be gathering in Kathmandu for the start of a 6 week trip to the remote upper Hongu Valley. In addition to the usual plethora of research we will be attempting 2 peaks both around 6,400 metres. Most of the Expedition will be attempting Mera which should afford excellent views of Kusum Kunguru, the Khumbu, Chamlang and Makalu. Twelve of us will also be trying Ombugaichen which, although the same height, is much harder. Jim Milledge made the first ascent of Ombugaichen during the 1960/61 Silver Hut Expedition and called it Puma Dablam at that time. It lies on the east ridge of Ama Dablam and we will be climbing it via the ridge from the Mingbo La. Since Jim’s ascent it has been out of bounds but permission has recently been relaxed. We only know of one other ascent and, it seems, the route has changed substantially over the last 40 years. Instead of it being a predominantly snow and ice route we are expecting much more loose rock and a grade of difficulty approximately equivalent to alpine Difficile.

Jim, of course, 40 years on will be heading up the research at base camp and John, his son, will be joining us on the summit attempt.

The quality of the research to be undertaken is better than ever and so too is the level of preparation. The data collection weekends went with near clockwork precision showing that we have learned many lessons since our first trip in 1994. George Wormald and Jim Duffy too have greatly eased the pain of freighting by giving clear advice on packing, record keeping and deadlines. George toured much of the UK (and Belgium) collecting barrels of research gear and delivering it to Heathrow for air freight. Fifty four barrels were freighted to Kathmandu 10 days ago and only the hazardous cargo remains.

The medics too have been hard at work obtaining pharmaceuticals, packing and logging it and delivering it to George in time for the freight deadlines. Many supplies were donated but the rest was purchased and all will be donated to Nepalese medical institutions. Particular thanks are due to Paul Richards and Fionn Bellis.

The following website contains some excellent pictures of the Upper Hongu.

Politics: With so much time, expertise and energy put into this expedition it would have been a tragedy if it had fallen at the last hurdle due to a deteriorating Nepalese political situation. At a time when world politics and security have seldom been gloomier I am delighted to report that things appear to be looking up in Nepal. After a bout of assassinations earlier this year a ceasefire was agreed between Maoists and Government. My sources indicate too that Maoist activity in the area we plan to visit has also declined substantially. Below is the current advice from the British Foreign Office website.
“As a prelude to beginning peace talks the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) agreed on Thursday, 30 January a ceasefire, to take immediate effect. This is an important and positive step, taken by both sides in an endeavour to produce a negotiated peace settlement following seven years of armed conflict that has riven Nepal. As a confidence building measure the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) have cancelled the nationwide "bandh" shutdown, which had been scheduled for 13 and 14 February. These are early days, but indications are that the ceasefire is holding. If you are planning to visit Nepal in the coming months you are strongly advised to keep a close watch on our travel advice. Additional local information can be found at the British Embassy, Kathmandu website:

If trekking you must therefore be aware that if you encounter problems of ill health or have a serious accident it may be difficult to obtain a rapid helicopter evacuation. You are advised to remain on established routes, in groups (never trek alone or become separated from larger groups) and with reputable trekking agencies. Prior to the cease-fire, there had been several incidents, including on a number of trekking routes including the Annapurna circuit, where Maoists had demanded money and/or equipment to allow passage. However, we are not aware of any new incidents since the beginning of 2003.

An unofficial curfew remains in force in Kathmandu, including Thamel. Bars and restaurants tend to close well before midnight. We urge you to heed requests by the authorities and promptly vacate bars and restaurants when requested. Night time curfews continue to be declared in a number of towns and districts at short notice and night time travel should be avoided. Army and Police checkpoints are frequently encountered, including in the capital, resulting in extended journey times.”

Important Contact details:
GPO Box:-13321,5206.Pakanajol,Thamel,Kathmandu,NEPAL

Trekking Agent :Tenji Sherpa, Sherpa Brothers Treks & Expeditions P. Ltd, GPO box- 4742 Kathmandu, NEPAL
Tel: - + 977-1- 430416 / 425598
Fax: - + 977-1- 428743

Text messages can be sent to the expedition via the website using the iridium phone number: ++881631410984 though no text messages can be sent from from the expedition.

Those that have signed up to the newsgroup, will receive regular email updates.

In addition Jane Morris has volunteered to be a telephone contact point in the UK for anyone that may have any queries. Her contact details are: Dr Jane Morris, 7 Canonbury, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY3 7AH Tel/Fax: 01743 232406.

The Environment: This Expedition is operating under the strictest environmental codes and Chris Smith’s excellent booklet is being circulated with this mailing to Expedition Members. The code is also published on our Newsgroup.

Mountain Medicine Diploma: As well as all the feverish expedition activity the Diploma has also taken a huge leap forward. David Hillebrandt, despite a catastrophic computer meltdown, has nurtured a lengthy email debate and organised the first practical training course. This took place in Scotland in early February and much innovation has grown out of it despite the predictably inclement weather. The diploma is on course to have both university and UIAA accreditation. This “pilot” course has been undertaken by a, now well established, faculty. Those that are interested in joining the first intake should contact Peter Barry

Sad News: In amongst all the excitement of the above events I have to report some sad news. Sue Lothian, Medex member and long time partner of George Wormald, sadly died in early January after a year long illness. After Sue’s operation in early 2002 she enjoyed a remission through the summer when she joined with Medex members in Hyssington and Barcelona. She was also fit enough to travel with George to the Harz Mountains in Germany where she took some wonderful photographs. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, she relapsed and sadly passed away in the New Year. Sue, with George, had been very involved in the early research that went into this expedition and was responsible for much of the information about the Hongu that appears on our website. She had originally intended to come with us this spring but, as her health declined, had to withdraw. George, despite his loss, has continued his work on the Expedition’s logistics and is flying out, with his daughter, to Kathmandu next week to oversee the freight handling in Nepal.

Forthcoming dates
July 12th – 13th, Hyssington BBQ
Once again we are inviting everyone to our annual Mid Wales BBQ and we hope to make this the main post expedition meet with slide shows, reunions and plenty of food and drink. All are welcome not just expedition members. Though camping is free we do, on this occasion, hope to be able to raise some money for the restoration of Hyssington Church so please bring your wallets!

October 4th - 5th 2003, 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) 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.

Plas y Brenin 2003. Mountain and High Altitude Medicine and Physiology course 21-23rd November 2003. This course is once again organised by Peter Barry and has now become a highly popular and successful event. This course will also form part of the academic component of the Diploma Course.

That’s all for now but, no doubt, the next Newsletter will be a bumper edition recounting the events of M03. Please make every effort to join us in Hyssington in July and see for yourself what went on.

Simon and Sally