Sunday, March 17, 2013

Guest Blogger Phil Drowley

Dear Readers, 
My next guest Blogger is Phil Drowley, with whom I climbed Vinson Massif in Antarctica. By that time Phil had already taken two runs at Everest, summiting on the second try. I asked him to share his thoughts on the trek into Everest Base Camp, the days that follow and any coaching he might offer me. I asked Phil to be my Coach for Everest many months ago when I decided to take the climb on. He is a Constable on the Isle of Mann, a world-class climber, and a good friend. 

Your question takes me back to a place that I don't often frequent; the trek in.
It is interesting for me to compare my two trips.
In 2006 all I did was waste my energy worrying, would I make the summit, what was climbing in the ice fall like, would I be able to deal with the cold, what kit to wear tomorrow, how's my stomach, how's my head, how's my feet, how many people have died, and on and on.

I sincerely don't think this will happen to you, a man who observes life and lives the moment, me; I found I was racing into the future, in the end when that future arrived, because I had not concentrated on the here and now, I was not ready.

If I had ensured I had not got sick, ensured I was physically at my peak when I needed to be then I would have made it.

2008 was so much better, I was relaxed, though I have to say it was a relaxed that comes from the experience of knowing what each day brought. Because I was relaxed I did not use up nervous energy, I was able to take in the journey the sights, sounds, smells, the stuff you so well illustrate in your blogs, which is why I reiterate you won't have a problem. Take each day as it comes, look after each thing as it occurs, for example if you have a blister, chill, take time out, take your boot off, let your feet breath, apply a plaster, then start again, don't wreck your feet so that you can't hardly walk, clearly this will play with your mind and before you know it you will be having negative thoughts about the whole thing and nothing will be going right.

Whilst the blister is just an example, I met people on summit day with black ears because they couldn't be bothered sorting out their hood in the wind. Some effects of not living in the here and now will be with people for life, blisters come and go.

I truly believe this "relaxed as you can be" attitude got me to the top. It also stopped me questioning decisions taken by our leaders, where some others on the team had stand up rows.

Time spent in my tent, tidying my kit, was me time, time to reflect on how things were going and rationalizing things. I think I checked each day how fit I was feeling, what needs did my body have, more food, more water, more rest, I did what I wanted to do, not necessarily what the group was doing. For example, a hike to kalapatar to take photos of Everest, I wanted to rest so didn't go, it didn't mean I was not a team player, far from it, I enjoyed looking at all the photos on their return, but I knew what was right for me that day was to rest so that I was in the best place to take on the next day.

I may be rambling now.

I am typing this as I sit with Lorraine by the side of a pool in Dubai. My first time, my 'look I can be normal' holiday...........then carstenz this November.

You also ask about the ice fall.

Nothing can really prepare you. God it's cold first thing in the morning setting out and if you rush you never seem to catch your breath and settle into your breathing. Trying to keep up with the man in front. It's difficult the first few times, because you can't necessarily keep to what I say above; go at your pace, do what is right for you. Most teams like yours, I suspect, will put a time limit on reaching certain points which means you feel a little a pressure and can't chill out. That said I wonder now looking back was it the usual, are my crampons on ok, am I holding my ice axe right, am I about to trip over the rope, have I got a headache, I can't do this, bloody hell it's cold, this fella in front is going too fast. Should have gone with another company etc etc etc
Negative thoughts were never far away for me those first few times.........but you know what, what an amazing place, what a spectacle, what an achievement, what photo opportunities, what danger! 
Ladder crossing I don't believe you will ever quite get used to!
In a lot of ways it is the best bit of the climb.
First few times you wonder if you will make the top of it, eventually it is just part of that days trip, with a lunch stop at the top.
Sometimes your comical observations will come to the fore. I mean where else can you be following a rope and then find it disappears under a pile of ice and snow, where the path was now resembles a jumble of giant ice blocks which you have to clamber over to try and find the rope again. Or where you come to a ladder and it has fallen off the edge that it used to sit on and is hanging in the air just attached to the guide ropes, but like lemmings, if one person gets over it we all follow. You will be able to capture the irony and humour in all the situations.
Obviously the reality is it is dangerous, I have a picture of a block of ice the height of a tower block which in 2006 collapsed and not only could you no longer follow the rope as it fell onto the 'path' but also it fell onto four Sherpas whose bodies I believe have still not been recovered.
When we were there a poster hopefully asked climbers to look out for a climber put there by a family who had lost there loved one a few years earlier, hoping they would get there loved one back. There was a tin of meat found from a Swiss expedition in the sixties which washed out of the bottom of the ice fall where the water flows.
It is an amazing experience; you will enjoy the ride.

Love your blogs mate, I wish I had captured what I had seen and done so well, but I can recall and recapture my moments and thoughts through you as you write so well. I look forward to doing the same after your Everest experience.

All for now mate.

Keep training.