Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Welcome to the Jungle

So after getting back from trekking in the Khumbu, I spent a few days in Kathmandu catching up with some friends and fellow trail mates I had met along the way. Then it was off to the Chitwan National Park in the south of Nepal and not too far from the Indian border (about 50km away) for some rest and relaxation.

Due to the proximity to the border the local Tharu villages contain a mix of Nepalese hill people and migrant North Indians, so they have different cultures, houses and even languages.

On my first evening in the resort we were treated to a local Tharu stick dance, it's like a form or Nepalese Morris dancing but with bigger sticks, quite entertaining.

The following morning I went for a jungle walk, after a short walk up river I boarded a canoe with my guide and 2 boatmen that double up as body guards! We spotted some crocodiles and a whole menagerie of bird life, then it was time for the walk, but first I was given a "safety" briefing, which went something like:

Welcome to the jungle (in my head the Guns N Roses song started playing) there are some dangerous animals out there, there are a few rules if we encounter some types of animal.

    1. If we come across a rhino and it charges, runaway in a zigzag pattern or climb the nearest tree, rhinos cannot change direction very quickly or climb trees, but they can knock them down!
    2. If we encounter a sloth bear, huddle in a group to make yourself look big, make lots of noise and beat sticks on the ground. Under no circumstance climb a tree as bears are very good at this as well.
    3. If in the unlikely event that we come across a Bengal tiger....... Pray! Do not climb trees, play dead, runaway or fight back. It all depends on the tigers mood and how hungry they are if we live or die.

With that the safety briefing was over, I was handed a stick and off we set into the jungle. Unfortunately, we didn't encounter any of the afore mentioned rhinos, bears or tigers, but I did see monkeys, deer and some fresh tiger tracks, eek! I think the main danger came from the leeches and bugs.

In the afternoon I got to test drive the ultimate off road vehicle.... An elephant. This baby went anywhere, 3m high grass, through dense undergrowth, sticky mud and deep water, it would put any Landrover to shame. Sadly it's top speed is not very high, it has trouble reversing and requires a ton (literally) of fuel everyday, so I'm not sure it would be practical around Bristol, that said you could park it anywhere.

After getting used to the lumbering, rolling gait, it was quite relaxing to just sit back and watch out for wildlife, again I was not lucky to see any of the big animals, after 2 hours the sun was setting so we headed back, what a great end to the day.

The next morning I decided to have another attempt of spotting some rhinos with another elephant ride, again it was an unsuccessful trip, but I just love wandering around the jungle, crashing through the undergrowth on these magnificent, gentle animals.

Note to self: don't play hide and seek with one horned rhinos in the Chitwan NP, they are the masters at hiding, the smaller animals such as deer and mongoose are easy to spot, but the rhinos must have some great hiding places (that they do have 932 sq km to hide in!)

All in all this was a great experience, one that I'll never forget and the elephant riding is a must for anyone coming to Nepal.

 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Gorak Shep to Namche Bazar

So I'm in Namche resting up after an epic couple of weeks trekking in the Everest region. This will be my final update for this part of the trip as I only have one small 6 hour walk back to Lukla to get my flight back to Kathmandu.

22/10/2012 Gorak Shep to Dzongla (via Kala Patthar)

My alarm started to bleep, it's early, very early. 4:15 to be precise, I couldn't ignore it as was the start of a very long day!

Pre breakfast we were to climb Kala Patthar, the "hill" behind Gorak Shep. It only rises 400m above the village, so at sea level this would be nothing. However, I'm starting at 5140m and its cold and dark.

I quickly got dressed and headed out into the blackness at 4:30. There was already a stream of head torches dotted up the hill. The initial bit was a bit steep, but soon the gradient eased out and the going got slightly easier. I guess that I was up around 5300m and could see the silhouette of the summit another 200m above me. By now the sun was coming over the horizon (5:30) and we are able to switch off our head torches but I still concentrated on the 3m in front of me, I'm in my own world of pain. Struggling to breathe and put one foot in front of the other.

The defined trail came to an end and became a jumble of blocks. My fingers and toes were getting cold and a bit numb, I was only 50m from the top, at this point I was literally crawling on my hands and knees to the top, nothing was going to stop me. At 6:00 I was on the summit at 5550m, this is the highest I've ever been on foot!

Around me other peaks tower above me, from where I stand Everest is still over 3km higher. It's taken a mammoth 2.5 hours to get here, I take some photos and then it's time to descend, my index fingers by now have gone totally numb.

Our descent is rapid and as we get lower and the sun gets warmer, I get painful hot aches in my fingers, a good sign as this means they are going to be ok. After 1 hour we are back in the tea house in Gorak Shep, time for some breakfast.

After an hour break we leave Gorak Shep and head back over the moraine we crossed the previous day to Lobuche. Again we make light work of the journey and take 1.5 hours. My original schedule says we will be stopping here for the night. Unfortunately, it is really busy in the Everest region and there are no rooms, we must do a double day and head on to Dzongla. We take a break before continuing.

The path from Lobuche to Dzongla is not hard going as it contours around the hillside. However, I should point out it is very narrow, less thank 50cm in places with big drops to my lefthand side. Soon I see Dzongla in the distance, the good news is that it's at the same height as the path I'm on, the bad news is that there are 2 valleys to descend and reascend before I get there. At 12:30 we reach Dzongla I have been walking 7.5 hours, Epic!

I spend the rest of the day trying to let my body recover, my muscles and joints ache, I just want to go to sleep.

23/10/2012 Dzongla to Thangnak (via Cho La)

If the previous day wasn't big enough, I have to do a similar trek again today.

Another early start up at 6:15 and on the trail by 6:45. It was nice that the sun was already warming up the valley. After a short climb u p from the tea house I was faced with a wide flat valley, at the end of which I could see the days main challenge, the Cho La pass some 500m above me at 5330m. We made good progress until we crossed a small river then it was up, up, up along the old moraine. Finally reaching the head wall of the valley, from here the path became more like a scramble (a mix between walking and easy rock climbing). At the top there is a small glacier that needs to be crossed, not difficult as the ice was firm and crunchy and as long as to stay to the left side well away from the crevasses.

At the end of the glacier we made a short rock climb to the pass and my first view into the next valley. I could see the path winding its way into the distance. We had only taken 2.5 hours to get to this point but there was still quite a bit of work to do.

On leaving the pass I was faced with a very steep downhill section, which was rocky and had loose scree. The map stated that this area was prone to rockfall so we had to move fast. After 50 mins we reached the bottom of the danger area with no issues. From here it should be all plain sailing I thought......Wrong!

Next come some energy zapping boulder hopping. This went on for ages and I jarred my left knee. Eventually, we reached the winding path that I saw from the top of the pass, but due to my knee, which was now ready to explode made it hard going, each step causing more pain, bringing tears to my eyes, I was wishing for the village to appear around every corner.

After 2.5 hours since leaving the top of the pass we entered Thangnak, it had been another hard day and I had been walking for 5 hours 45 mins with very little rest, food & water (I ran out during the boulder section).

I rested my knee and took some anti-inflammatories, I was totally wasted and its taking my body longer to recover.

24/10/2012 Thangnak to Gokyo

I woke at 6:15 with a hacking cough and sore throat, I had been coming down with something for a few days now, as many Trekkers in the tea houses were also ill. This must be the famous Khumbu cough caused by the cold, dry air.

The journey from Thangnak to Gokyo is relatively short, only 2 hours with minimal climbing. However, we had one major obstacle to deal with the Ngozumba Glacier, which we had to cross.

After an easy 30 min walk along the lateral moraine we dropped steeply onto the glacier itself. You wouldn't believe that you were on ice as it is covered in rubble, sand, big boulders and other debris being transported down the valley. Also I should point out that glaciers are NOT flat!!! We had to negotiate huge hills and valleys as well as make our way around glacial lakes. The ice creaks and every so often rocks fall into the lakes, just to remind you that the river of ice is alive and moving.

At the top of the glacier some 50km away, i can see my final 8000m peak of this trip, Cho Oyu at 8188m. On the for side of the glacier I can see the well defined trail up the steep moraine that leads to Gokyo. After a short climb, we round the hillside and I see the 3rd Gokyo lake, turquoise from all the minerals and on the bank is the small village of Gokyo.

At the opposite end of the lake to Gokyo is the Renjo La pass (5340m) which I will cross in a few days.

We arrive at the tea house at 9:45, but by 10:30 the wind picks up, the temperature plummets and the clouds roll in. Later in the afternoon it begins to snow....

I go to bed early fully dressed as I couldn't get warm, my cold had gotten worse.

25/10/2012 Gokyo (Rest Day)

Had a really poor nights sleep due to my hacking cough and had zero energy, but decided to try and climb Gokyo Ri, only a 500m climb up from the lake to 5360m.

I found the path hard going, my chest was tight and I was coughing constantly. After making it a third of the way up I called it a day and made the tough, but correct decision to descend. I was pushing myself beyond my physical limit and I didn't want to jeopardise the rest of my trek. I was a bit gutted.

It was back down to the tea house to rest up.

26/10/2012 Gokyo to Lungde (via Renjo La)

This was my final "hard" day of the trek as we would be passing over the Renjo La at 5340m, but I wasn't feeling 100%, my cough was making it hard to breathe, but on the other hand my throat wasn't too sore.

We left shortly after breakfast at 7:00 and I let Pasang lead the way. He sets a very slow but steady pace and I'm happy to follow in his footsteps. Initially the path is easy going rising gently above the lake on my left. After about an hour, the fun started as we hit the steep zigzags. Due to my cough I was finding it hard going and I spluttered my way upwards.

At the top of the zigzags the trail levelled out and I thought we had reached the top, how wrong I was.we entered a flat bowl about 1km across, after which the trail climbed steeply to the true summit which I could see about 150m above me, this depressed me a bit and it became a process of putting one foot in front of the other in order to get to the top. After a slow 3.5 hours we made the top, my lungs were sore from all the coughing.

However, I was rewarded by the best views of the Everest range of the whole trip, I snapped away, then it was time to make the long 1000m descent to Lungde.

From the top there are stone steps that drop quickly to the valley floor, then the path is easy all the way down to Lungde. We made a quick 2.5 hour descent.

We arrived at the tea house at 13:00 after a 6 hour walk that included 500m ascent and 1000m descent passing over the Renjo La at 5340m.

This would also be my final (10th) night sleeping above 4000m!

Early to bed as this had been another BIG day.

27/10/2012 Lungde to Namche Bazar

Over breakfast I spoke to Pasang about the possibility of walking all the way to Namche in a single day rather that stopping the night at out scheduled place of Thame. I got his usual answer of "We'll see"

We set out at 7:45 and walked at a steady pace only halted by a frozen river which we had to find a safe place to cross. The path was mostly downhill and easy going, except for the odd landslide!!!

After 2.5 hours we reached Thame. This is the birth place of Tenzing Norgay, the first Sherpa to summit Everest. However, there is nothing to recognise this fact. Only his old house exists. We had a short break at a tea house that was owned by Apa Sherpa. Apa holds the record for climbing Everest the most times (21). The tea house was like a museum to his achievements, Guinness world record certificates, photos, posters, etc adorn the walls, stark contrast to that of Tenzing Norgay.

We had descended 500m and the air was getting warmer which was helping my cough and we were now moving fast. I was still early so we decided to make the last push to Namche, the path was wide, relatively easy and mostly in a downhill direction. We passed through the Sherpa villages of Thamo and then Phurte, the day was getting hot, then we rounded the corner and Namche came into view, this would be "home" for the next couple of days before heading on to Lukla for out flight back to Kathmandu.

I quickly dumped my stuff in my room then headed for my first hot shower since starting the trek some 17 days prior, it was a great feeling.

28 & 29/10/2012 Namche Bazar (Rest Days)

So for the past few days we've been getting up late, eating lots and generally doing nothing, that what I call a rest day. Only one day of trekking to do to get back to Lukla and out flight back to the chaos of Kathmandu.

* I will update this post with some photos when I get back to Kathmandu when I get some faster Internet access. *

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Dingboche to Everest Base Camp

19/10/2012 Dingboche to Thukla

Another short day and awake around 6:45 and on the trail by 8:00 after breakfast. Again we climb the hill behind Dingboche to the stupa which takes 15 mins and cross into the wide valley turning out backs on Ama Dablam, heading deeper into the Khumbu.

From here the the trail is pretty easy going and heads over a relatively flat valley, after 1.5 hours we see Thukla on the other side of the river that flows from the bottom of the Khumbu Glacier.

We drop down to a small metal bridge and cross the river and make the final 5 min walk to Thukla. The whole walk has only taken 1 hour 40 mins. The place only has one tea house/restaurant. We are to stop here tonight rather than heading up higher to Lobuche as it is getting quite busy with other trekking groups going up and down to Everest Base Camp.

The rest of the day is spent resting and talking to other trekkers.

20/10/2012 Thukla to Lobuche

It was hard to get out of bed this morning for 2 reasons:

  1. It was a cold night and my sleeping bag was warm and cosy. The thought of leaving this cocoon was unthinkable.
  2. The other reason was that I had done the sleeping bag zip fully up and cinched all the draw cords tight making it difficult to find my way out. I was trapped!!!

I was finally driven out by the need to go to the loo, it was 5:30.

After breakfast we waited for the sun to creep down the hillside and hit the trail we would be walking on, we left at 7:45. It's nicer to walk in the sun.

The initial part of the trail was all uphill, Pasang said that this section normally takes an hour, so we were both surprised when we reached the top in 35 mins. At the top, there are numerous stone memorials to climbers who have lost their lives pursuing their dreams on Everest and other Himalayan mountains. Quite a humbling place. We take a 15 min rest then continue on the now flat trail to Lobuche. We arrive at 9:20, only 1 hour 35 mins after setting out. This normally takes 2 to 2.5 hours, I must be getting fitter!

We check in to the tea house and I find an Internet cafe to send birthday greetings to my long suffering and very understanding girlfriend. I cannot call home or send a text as I have no phone signal.

21/10/2012 Lobuche to Gorak Shep (inc Everest Base Camp)

Early start today and we leave Lobuche at 6:45. The trail is initially very easy as the path follows the valley that has been carved out by the Khumbu Glacier. The sun has not yet hit the path, but we can see it in the distance. When we reach the sun it warms my body making it easier to move, I can dispense with my gloves. Also at this point I cross over the 5000m mark, the air is cold, thin and dry. My lungs are screaming out for more oxygen and my thigh muscles are burning, due to the fact I only have 50% of the oxygen than I do at sea level.

One hour and 15 mins into the day the trail changes and the hard work begins with a steep climb up the moraine, the piles of rubble left behind by the glacier. We cross one hill after another which saps my energy quickly. Finally we reach Gorak Shep after 2.5 hours. This will be be only night of the trip that I will be sleeping above 5000m above sea level.

We take a 30 min rest drinking some tea and getting some snacks, we are heading up to Everest Base Camp (EBC). From Gorak Shep we head past a frozen lake then up on to the moraine that flanks the mighty Khumbu Glacier, in the distance I can see some tiny orange tents of the few expeditions that are attempting to climb Everest. The moraine seems to go on forever, undulating and rocky. Eventually the path descends sharply onto the glacier itself, after 20 mins of walking on the glacier we reach some prayer flags that signify the start of Base Camp at 5364m.

I take some photos, eat some snacks and collect some mementoes (rocks). By now the wind is starting to pick up, so after some final glances at the icefall we turn around and head for "home". The return trip to base camp from Gorak Shep has taken 3:45, which is pretty quick. It was such a privilege to be able to visit such a place it's pretty cold and bleak, but all the same it's the bottom of the the top of the world!

For the remainder of the day I rest up and call home to send birthday greetings. Great to hear a voice from home, which makes me a bit homesick.

Tomorrow is a massive day....

 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Namche Bazar to Dingboche

On a rest day in Dingboche, so time for another update.

15/5/2012 Namche Bazar to Deboche

This was a day of 2 halves!

Part 1

We were on the trail just after 7:00 for the short walk up the hill out of Namche to the Everest/Sherpa museum. The museum contain photos and articles of the many Everest expeditions and the walls were plastered with pictures of the many Sherpa summiteers, including one of Kenton Cool, 10 times Everest summiteer.

We left the museum around 7:40 on the relatively easy trail, wide with only a few ups. The path skirted around the hillside until we reached Kyangjuma, where we took a quick stop. From here the path descended down to the river, it was uneven and steep in places which killed my knees as there was no way to get into any rhythm. On reaching the river we crossed a suspension bridge and entered the tiny village of Phunki Tenga, it was 10:30. Too early for lunch, but we stopped for 30 mins for snacks and a rest before the next part of the trek.

Part 2

Leaving Phunki Tenga the path was all uphill, around 600m of climbing to Tengboche. I found the path hard going, steep switchbacks made more difficult by the yak trains carrying large loads. My heart was beating so fast that I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. Nearing the top I spotted the prayer flags and stupa for the monastery. It had taken me 1.5 hours to walk this small section. Most Sherpa take only 40mins to 1 hour.

We were originally meant to stay the night here, but there are only 3 lodges which were all full. Luckily Gelu who was a day ahead of us booked us a room in Deboche, 15 mins further down the trail. We arrived at 12:30 (the walk took 5 hours with a 30 min rest), I had some lunch then went to my room for a like down to rest my weary legs.

As we head higher the air is getting drier and colder. My sleeping bag is doing a great job of keeping me warm at night.

16/10/2012 Deboche to Pangboche

Very short day today, so we got up late and had a leisurely breakfast.

We set off for the 50min walk up to Pangboche, after about 20 mins we crossed the river, where the path climbed into Pangboche, arriving around 9:30. Today was a scheduled rest day, but doing this short walk would reduce the the climb the following day to Dingboche. During the walk Pasang had received some bad news. One of his guiding friends had died in a climbing accident on Pisang Peak the previous day. We walked in silence to allow Pasang to be with his thoughts. I was glad it was a short day.

During the afternoon the wind picked up and blown the clouds in over the valley, obscuring the views of Ama Dablam. This also reduced the temperature significantly time to put on the down jacket for the first time.

In the evening, I sat around the heater in the dining room, which was burning dried yak dung and chatted to Dawa, a teacher at the school in Namche. He was on his way up to the Italian Research Pyramid to do some work.

Early bed, nice to get into my sleeping bag and keep warm.

17/10/2012 Pangboche to Dingboche

The time spent trekking each day is getting quite short each day, mainly to allow me to acclimatise properly and because we have a few days spare due to a change in itinerary. Its nice to take it at a relaxed pace and enjoy the views.

After a late breakfast we head out on the trail from Pangboche (3750m), the path winds its way around the hill above the Imja Khola River, always in an upwards direction, only steepening at Syomore (4010m). For the next 12 days I will be living above 4000m above sea level, which I find quite amazing. I'm not sure what its going to do to my body.

After Syomore, the trail flattens out into a wide valley and we make good progress. The path drops down to the river then we tackle the final uphill of the day to Dingboche which takes around 40 mins. The climb was not as steep as I thought.

Dingboche comes into view and sits in a wide valley, that is over shadowed by Ama Dablam on the right and at the head of the valley I can see the 8000m peaks of Lhotse & Lhotse Shar, as well as the popular trekking peak - Island Peak.

We arrive at 10:30 so another short day only 2.5 hours of trekking. I wandered around the village, but soon the clouds roll in and the temperature drops, so back to the tea house to warm up and some lunch.

In the evening I teach Pasang & Dawa how to play Gin and Brag (card games). After dinner I treat myself to apple pie then it's off to bed.

18/10/2012 Dingboche Rest Day

Late start, up at 7:00 then breakfast. After breakfast we walk with Dawa up the hill behind the village. He is off to Loboche.

This is also a good view point to take photos of the valley and I can add another 8000m peak to my tick list - Makalu. I have now seen 6 of the 8, 8000m peaks in Nepal. I will only see one more Cho Oyu, as Kanchenjunga is too far east in the country. Saying that I have seen Shisapangma which is in Tibet!

The valley is quite barren and dusty, at this altitude there are no trees, only small juniper bushes.

After tomorrow, I have some bigger trekking days as we head over 5000m and up to Everest Base Camp and over the high passes of Cho La to Gokyo. I'm feeling in good shape, acclimatising well and enjoying being in Nepal and the big mountains. I have some amazing memories and lots of photos that don't do the landscape justice, it's just stunning with amazing people.

Note: Sorry for the lack of pictures, but they take too long to upload on the slow and expensive internet connection. I will try and add some when I'm back in KTM.

 

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Kathmandu to Namche Bazar

So I've been in the Khumbu region for a few days now and have Internet access, so I thought I'd post an update.

12/10/2012 KTM to Lukla

The plan was to get the 9:20 flight from Kathmandu to Lukla and then walk to Phakding. Unfortunately, when I looked out of my hotel window it was cloudy so I was expecting some delays.

On arrival at the domestic terminal, I entered the chaos, there were fellow trekkers and locals sitting around on the floor amongst sacks of rice, garlic and onions, it was obvious that not many flights had made it out.

Pasang and I loitered around the check in desk waiting for our time to check in. When the desk opened all mayhem broke out. There was no queuing system, instead everyone thrust their booking forms in the faces of the staff. By this time the flights were already running 1.5 hours behind schedule.

We finally got checked in at 11:00 and my rucksack was whisked off, then cleared security into departures. My flight was now due out at 12:00 so only 2.5 hours late.

Midday came and went and we were told 13:00 then 14:00, eventually at 16:00 we were on the bus to the plane. We boarded the tiny twin otter and I had the seat immediately behind the co-pilot. I stuffed some cotton wool into my ears to dull the noise of the engines.

We still had to wait for permission to take off and at 16:30 we were on our way and the little plane roared down the runway and then we were airborne. Due to the weather I braced myself for a bumpy journey, but the pilot steered us skilfully around the clouds and I sat back and enjoyed the view. After about 35 mins we started to descend and after a sharp left turn, I could see the miniature runway of Lukla. The ground was approaching fast, then all of a sudden we we down on the ground. It was one of the smoothest flights and landings I've experienced after all the horror stories I have heard.

We later found out that this was the last flight of the day, we collected my rucksack which I hadn't seen all day then off to find a guest house as it was too late to start trekking as it would be getting dark soon.

The day was full of waiting around and no trekking, but on the positive side I was in the Khumbu and not in KTM.

13/10/2012 Lukla to Namche Bazar

I was woken at 6:30 by the hum of airplanes landing and taking off from the airport, so went downstairs to have breakfast and then were we're on the trail at 7:30.

The path was easy going mainly downhill and surprisingly quiet, I was expecting loads of trekkers. After 1 hour 40 minutes we walked through Phakding, Pasang was amazed as this normally takes 3 hours, we were not going fast but at a steady pace. We had a quick tea break then we crossed the Dudh Khosi River and started the steady climb up to Monjo. Arriving at 11:00.

We decided to have lunch for an hour. This was meant to be our nights stop, but Pasang thought we could make Namche Bazar in 2-3 hours. We went for it!

We entered the Sagarmatha National Park and followed the river , crossing it a few times until we reached the confluence of 2 rivers where we crossed a really high suspension bridge. From here the trail steepened significantly and I was down to a snails pace. After a gruelling 2.5 hours of uphill we entered Namche. I saw a familiar face, it was Gelu from my Annapurna trek who had come to meet us and walk us to the lodge. We arrived at 14:30, so I had been on the go for 7 hours including a 1 hour rest stop. Not bad going considering most trekking itineraries take 2 days to get this far! I think I'm turning part Sherpa. To be honest I was knackered and wanted to go to sleep.

The nights are getting chilly at this altitude (3440m) and I glad of my sleeping bag.

14/10/2012 Namche Bazar (Rest Day)

Even though its a rest day, I was up at 6:30. We were going for a short walk after breakfast up to the Everest View Hotel, some 400m above Namche. The path was steep going at first, until we reached the tiny airstrip at Syangboche (smaller than Lukla if that's possible).

Everest, Lhotse & Lhotse Shar

As we rounded the corner I was greeted with the most spectacular clear views of Everest, Lhotse, Lhotse Shar, Ama Dablam & Nuptse.

We went to the hotel for a pot of tea and to take some photos, then made our way to the villages of Khumjung and Khunde, this is where there is a small hospital that Sir Edmund Hillary helped establish.

It was lunch time and a walcome rest stop, then it was back down to Namche via some evil steps, my knees were shot, and we had been walking for 3.5 hours, some rest day eh!

Ama Dablam
 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Between Treks

I thought I'd write a quick update on what I've been up to between my two treks.

6/10/2012 Pokhara to Kathmandu

First off I travelled back from Pokhara on the tourist bus this took 8 dusty hours on quite a bumpy road. This was probably the most dangerous part of this trek. The main difference between a tourist bus and a local bus is that everyone gets an allocated seat and the bus goes a little bit slower, unlike a local bus where there are 3 times more people than seats and drive at breakneck speeds, overtaking on blind corners! The flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu takes 35 minutes.....why didn't I do that?

Kathmandu is heaving as its now the main trekking season, I haven't missed the traffic, pollution and street hustlers. Can't wait to get back out on the trails.

7/10/2012 Kathmandu & Chores

Once back in KTM, I set about getting some laundry done ready for the next trek. I sent larger items to the hotel laundry and I cleaned some of the smaller ones myself in the bath, judging by the colour of the water they really needed a clean. My bathroom looked like a Chinese laundry.

Following this it was my turn to get clean and tidy again. Had a great hot shower, I must have drained the hotel of hot water, then it was onto the big one - a shave.

This was a mammoth task in itself after not shaving for 17 days, it took over an hour and 3 razor blades, but it was worth the effort to feel really clean again. Maybe after the next trek I'll find a barbers to do the job.

8/10/2012 Patan Sightseeing

Mahabouddha Temple

The following day it was off to Patan around 5km south of central Kathmandu. This is one of the 3 medieval cities in the valley. We (me and my guide) walked around the Royal palace, now a museum containing some of the finest carvings, sculptors & statues of various Hindu and Buddhist gods and their various forms (I think this will be my specialist subject in the next pub quiz). From here it was around more spectacular temples, I went to the Buddhist Golden Temple and the Mahabouddha Temple, which is also known as the Temple of a Thousand Buddhas. Patan's streets are lined with many workshops making and selling high quality brass sculptors of Buddha, bells and Hindu deities. After 3.5 hours wandering around, it was back to the hotel for a relax and some food.

9/10/2012 Bhaktapur & Nagarkot

Guardians

A late start, to miss the most of the traffic. We head out of the city for a night, stopping at the hilltop village of Nagarkot, some 32km east of Kathmandu and at an elevation of 2175m. On the way we would visit the third and best preserved of the medieval cities in the Kathmandu valley of Bhaktapur. It is also the largest with 3 main squares. Like Patan and Kathmandu Durbar Squares there are some impressive Hindu temples, including the 5 tiered Nyatapola temple, the tallest in Nepal. The stairway up to the temple is lined with various guardians, at the bottom there are 2 wrestlers (Jayamel & Phattu), then elephants, next ram horned griffons and finally the 2 goddesses of Baghini & Singhini. The guardians at each level are supposed to be 10 times stronger than the level below.

From here we drove the remaining 16km up the twisty mountain road up to Nagarkot, this took an hour! The hotel I stopped in had bedrooms that all had views of the Himalaya. Unfortunately, it was cloudy when I arrived so there were no views for sunset, it started to rain so there was still hope for clear sky's in the morning for sunrise. That said its was great to be out of the city for a night and Nagarkot is a great place to relax.

10/10/2012 Nagarkot to Chengu Narayan Temple

So not having seen the sunset over the Langtang Himal, I set my alarm for 5:30 to see if the sky's would be clear. I peered out of the window and I was rewarded with sensational views. I quickly washed and dressed and made my way to be best viewing spot and snapped away at the mountains and sunrise. It was worth the early wake up call.

Chengu Narayan

After a light breakfast, we set out on a 13km hike to the Chengu Narayan Temple, a UNESCO world heritage site. The walking was easy and mostly downhill on well marked trails. We made our way through some tiny villages to reach Tharkot. From here it was a short 20 minute uphill walk to join the ridge. In the distance I could see the temple perched high on the hillside. In the background, Kathmandu sprawled into the distance.

The temple itself is in the pagoda style, dedicated to Vishnu and contains some fine carvings from the 4th to 9th centuries. After this visit it was back to the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu, to get things ready from my next trek and to do some shopping for presents.

11/10/2012 Kathmandu

The Garden of Dreams

Totally chilled day, nothing to do, so went to the Garden of Dreams just on the edge of Thamel. This is a lovely garden to spend a couple of hours away from the crowded, noisy streets to read, listen to my iPod and generally get away from it all.

As well as all the sightseeing, I've done quite a bit of eating since getting back from the Annapurna Circuit as I need the energy for my next trek in the Khumbu. Well that's my excuse anyway and I'm sticking to it!!!

If the weather is good, tomorrow I should fly into Lukla, reportedly the worlds most dangerous airport. A friend of mine said that Lukla stood for LUcKy LAnding (thanks Tim!) I'm not worried though, but I will let you know how I get on.

I'm hoping Internet access is a bit better in the Khumbu than on the Annapurna Circuit so I can keep you all updated on my progress.

Miss you all and I'll see you soon

Sonny

 

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Annapurna Circuit - Quick Update

Just a quick update to say that I have completed the Annapurna Circuit all 280km of it. In 15 days on the trail, I have crossed the Thorung La Pass at 5416m and in the final 2 days of the trek I climbed 1600 vertical metres one day, then descended 1800m then next along with 3280 stone steps my knees were shot and I'm a bit tired.

Having said that the trek goes through the most amazing landscape and met some lovely locals. Ive had my dinner in their kitchens, along the way I got to see 3 of the worlds highest peaks over 8000m, and countless other high mountains some of which have never been climbed or named. I would recommend the Annapurna Circuit to anyone who is into multi-day hikes. But be warned it is demanding!

I'm now back in Kathmandu after an 8 hour bumpy and dusty bus journey. Time to rest up for a few days before I'm off to the Khumbu (Everest) region for 22 days of trekking.

I'll write a full trip report when I have time, but here are some photos.

Sonny

Manaslu

 

Paddy Fields
 

Typical Nepali Kitchen
 

 

Suspension Bridge
 

 

 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Kathmandu Sightseeing (Day 3)

Wow what a day, we headed south out of Kathmandu for about 25km into the hills that surround the valley. Outside the city the country is really beautiful, lush green paddy fields, dense forest, with tiny villages just about clinging to the hillside and most of all fresh air.

Before the sacrifice! I have the after picture as well

The first place we visited was Dakshinkali. Here we found a small temple down a gorge that sits on the confluence of two sacred streams. This temple is dedicated to Kali the bloodthirsty incarnation of Shiva's consort Parvati. As it was a Tuesday there was quite a lot of blood letting going on, I saw 2 kids (little goats not children) being slaughtered. Chandika said that sometimes buffalo are sacrificed at this temple. The temple was a favourite of the Nepal Royal Family, until they were all massacred in 2001!

TIP #3 Make sure you hire a guide and driver/taxi and get out of the city as there is so much so see. I learnt so much more from the guide than from the Lonely Planet book!

TIP #4 As you can tell I've visited loads of temples, etc. Ensure that you wear shoes that can be easily taken off and put back on again. My walking boots are a bit of a pain for this. Should have brought my sandles.

Pharping

From here we headed back towards Kathmandu and stopped of at a place called Pharping (I though the name was quite funny and had a giggle to myself). This place is home to quite a few Buddhist monasteries. One of the chörten contained 16 of the biggest prayer wheels I have seen to date. They must have been 2m tall and quite heavy to spin. We wandered our way uphill to the monasteries for a look around. I managed to pick up a couple of bundles of prayer flags for some friends.

I should also mention that it was the first day of Teej, the woman's festival. The roads were teaming with Hindu women wear red saris. As part of the festival they fast for 24 hours, sing, dance and worship at the temples and shrines dedicated to Shiva. It was quite fun to watch as everyone was enjoying themselves.

We were on the homeward stretch, but first one final stop at the Newari town of Kirtipur. This is another old town with winding streets that has a Hindu temple at its heart, which sits high on a hill overlooking Kathmandu.

It's been a busy few days, seeing quite a few sights in and around Kathmandu. I'm having a day off in order to shake my cold and stock up on snacks, then it's off trekking for 17 days. I'm not sure what the Internet availability is like, so I'll update when I can.

Sonny

 

 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Kathmandu Sightseeing (Day 2)

Another day of sightseeing, there's so much to see and take in here.

I awoke to heavy rain, totally different compared to the first day which was 24 degC, humid & sticky with some cloud. Well you can't have everything, but that wasn't going to dampen my spirits.

First off we headed to Swayambhunath, it is also known as the "Monkey Temple" as it is home to a couple hundred cheeky, rhesus macaques. This is one of the MUST see sights in Kathmandu. It's a Buddhist stupa perched high on a hill to the west of the city. The approach to the temple is up a flight of 356 steps (one for everyday of the year), some people make the trip everyday. Even though the weather wasn't great it was still possible to make out how vast and densely populated the city is.

At the top is a magnificent stupa similar to the Boudhanath stupa I saw on the first day, but not as big. However, it seemed more impressive because of its location.

Again there are prayer wheels, prayer flags and statues denoting the 5 elements (earth, air, water, fire & ether/space). However, this stupa had monkeys crawling over it and around it. I wasn't expecting to be so close to the cheeky blighters.

This is a fascinating place and one which I hope to return to when I'm back from the treks.

Just down the hill from the Monkey Temple we made a brief visited the Buddha Park, this is relatively new addition and is not frequented by tourists much it contains 3 enormous gold statues.

We then headed out of Kathmandu to a old Newari village 10km south of the city called Bungamati, so I could see what real Nepali life is like. This village is set amongst paddy fields, again it seems that not many western people come here as I was constantly stared at as if I was an alien (no funny comments from anyone!). Chandika said that only 5 or 6 western groups visit this village each year.

For the first time since arriving in Nepal the roads were quiet, no car horns, or heavy pollution. This was great and nice to be out of the city for a while.

The people here don't have very much and seem quite poor, compared to the inhabitants of Kathmandu (and they are poor compared to western standards), they make a living by making and selling intricate wood carvings.

The village itself has a main square, in which has a temple dedicated to "Rato Machhendranath", the god of rain and he was out in full force. Off the main square is a warren of small "roads" lined with houses, the ground floors of which contain the wood carving workshops.

Leaving Bungamati, we wandered our way downhill to the next village of Khokana, we stopped at a tiny restaurant, if you can call it that, to shelter from the rain for a while and for some hot, sweet, milky tea to warm us up. I was lucky to meet some local ladies who were interested in me (where I was from, how long was I in Nepal, etc). It was great to have this insight into real Nepali life outside of Kathmandu and feel quite privileged to have gone there and met some Newari people. They don't have much, but they all had smiles on their faces, despite the pouring rain.

It was back off to the city, to dry off and freshen up, then into Thamel to grab some supplies from my treks, then for some dinner.

I found myself in the Rum Doodle bar, named after the spoof mountaineering book by W.E. Bowman about the worlds tallest mountain the 40000 and a half foot, Mt Rum Doodle! (worth a read if you ever go on a mountaineering expedition, it's quite entertaining).

The walls are plastered in yeti footprints which people have signed, drawn pictures or written stories on.

I had steak and chips, but I'm not sure it was from a cow as these are sacred animals, I suspect this was yak, still it tasted nice, washed down with an Everest beer.

As you can tell from my last 2 posts, Kathmandu has many religions and temples that go with that. I have found my shrine here in Thamel. Anyone who has been walking or climbing with me knows I mainly/only wear Mountain Hardwear gear so I had to pay homage to the shining Mecca :-)

 

 

 

 

 

That's all for now, another couple of days in KTM them I'm off into the wild.

Sonny

Ps I seem to come down with a bit of a cold, probably down to the rain, which I hope will clear up before I start trekking, other than that all is well.

 

 

Kathmandu Sightseeing (Day 1)

I've been in Kathmandu for a few days now and I'm settling in. I have mastered crossing the insanely busy roads, dodging the traffic from all angles and gotten quite good at brushing off the street pedlars, trying to sell me anything and everything. On top of that I've been all over the city sightseeing. I thought I'd let you know what I've seen so far.

A couple of days ago I met my man on the ground, Yadu, he's a super nice guy who will help me out with anything. He has arranged for a town guide (Chandika) and a driver to take me around the sights.

The first day of sightseeing Chandika & I headed out to Boudhanath Stupa. This is a massive Buddhist monument on the east of the city which stands 60m tall, festooned with prayer flags hanging from it, with 100's of prayer wheels around its base. Chandika explained the significance of all the various parts of the stupa whist walked (clockwise) around the base of stupa, spinning a few wheels now and again. I'm not a religious guy but you can't help spinning the wheels.

The stupa is surrounded by many shops and workshops, mainly producing and selling thangkas, a traditional Tibetan Buddhist painting, we went to one of the schools to see how they were created and found out that the students/artists have to follow many rules to create these detailed works of art.

After we finished at the stupa and whilst we were over that side of the city we went to Pashupatinath. This is Nepal's and probably the world most important Hindu temple, sitting on the banks of the sacred Bagmati river. Only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple itself, but there were plenty of things to see around the temple.

Along the river outside the temple are cremation ghats or plinths. There were a few cremations taking place which was quite a humbling experience, and not one I'll forget in a long time. From the river we climbed up the hill so we could get a better view of the temple, hear we found a collection of "Shiva" shrines, some of which were inhabited by Yogi's or wise men (not the bear!) with painted faces and long beards. After wondering around the temple for a couple of hours, we headed off to Kathmandu Durbar Square, but first something to eat.

In a rooftop restaurant over looking the square I plumped for some momo's, traditional Nepali vegetable stuffed dumplings with a spicy sauce, an excellent way to introduce myself to Nepalese cuisine.

Durbar Square itself has a collection of temples of varying shapes and sizes, there is one called Kastamandap, which is where Kathmandu gets its name from. This is quite a large wooden temple and legend has it that it was created from I'm a single tree, it must have been a very big tree! We spent a couple of hours looking at the temples, my guide was very knowledgable. By now it was nearing the end of the day, but there was one last place to visit in the square Kumari Bahal. This was my chance to see the "Kumari" a real life living deity or goddess. This was an 8 year old girl who had been selected to be the embodiment of the goddess who is specially selected based on 32 strict physical requirements (hair & eye colour, etc), she has been the goddess for 4 years. Unfortunately, it is not possible to take photos as the goddess appears in a window.

It was back to the hotel for a recharge, before heading out in search of some food.

As you can see I've been getting about a bit and I've a few more days before I head out to the mountains. I'll keep you updated.

Sonny

 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Namaste from Nepal

I've finally arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, home to about 1 million people and me. Unfortunately it's raining as its the end of the monsoon season, but that's not going to stop me enjoying myself.

My journey here was pretty uneventful, trains were on time, flights were smooth, I even managed to grab a couple of hours sleep. I cleared customs and immigration in minutes, with no hassle, as I already gotten my visa from the Embassy of Nepal in London.

TIP #1: Arrange your visa before you leave the UK, it saves quite a bit of hassle and time on arrival.

Next I was off to baggage reclaim. I had heard stories that this could be like a rugby scrum, but none of this was true for me. I duly waited at the carousel allocated to my flight, unfortunately my bag didn't arrive, along with most of the bags from my flight.... It turned out that the Nepalese baggage handlers were being super efficient and decided to use 2 carousels to speed the process up! My bag was on the other belt, typical.

Bags now in hand I headed outside the airport. On leaving the airport you are greeted to a barrage of taxi drivers and people holding up name boards all shouting and wanting your business, its quite an impact on your senses. I quickly found my transfer and I was on my way to my hotel. Yadu had arranged for me to stop at the luxurious 5* Yak & Yeti Hotel, this is a grand building in the heart of the city with some lovely gardens.

After freshening up, calling home and unpacking, I decided to brave it and venture into town to exchange some currency and have something to eat. It was still pouring down with rain and by this time (7pm) it was dark, very dark. This is mainly due to the fact that there are no street lights in Kathmandu and at times there are power cuts (load shedding) plunging everything into complete darkness. I have already experienced a few of these, which didn't last too long.

For food, I chose to go for a safe option and went to "Fire & Ice" a well known pizzeria in Thamel. I had a rough idea where I was going, but soon realised that to get to the restaurant, I had to cross two of the busiest roads in the city, in the dark and pouring rain. The roads were clogged with all types of vehicles belching out exhaust fumes and constantly beeping their horns, mopeds being the main source of danger. I also learnt quickly that no one stops at pedestrian crossings....very different to the UK.

I eventually arrived at the restaurant, soaked though, still in 1 piece and ready for some food and drink.

TIP #2: During monsoon season, take an umbrella out with you! These can be picked up quite cheaply.

I had a great pizza and my first "Everest" beer, then back to the hotel for an early night, as jet lag was catching up with me and I was meeting Yadu at 9:30 in the morning, to finalise some logistics, then off for a day of sightseeing.

It's been a interesting first experience of Kathmandu and Nepal, everyone seems really friendly. I cannot wait to see more.

Sonny

PS I was writing this at 4am, bloody jet lag.

 

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Adventure Begins

Just a quick update to say goodbye for now and I'll be back in November.

At the end of this week I'm finally heading off on my Nepal trip, it's been a long time in the planning, but now I'm off for a couple of months trekking in the Himalaya. My plans are in place and I have Yadu of Yala Adventures to thank for helping me create a great itinerary.

On one hand, I'm a little apprehensive/nervous as this is the biggest trip I've been on and the longest time I've spent away from my very understanding girlfriend since we met. However, at the same time I'm really excited about what the next few months have in store for me. I cannot wait to immerse myself in Nepali life.

My bags are packed to the brim with everything I think I'll need for the next couple of months. I hope I've not forgotten anything as there is no more room in my bags! I've had my hair cut short, checked in for my flight and I've triple* checked that I have my passport.

This week will be a bit hectic, getting the last few things sorted, catching up with friends and saying goodbye to family, but I'm hoping to make some new friends on my travels.

See you all in a few months, for a catch up. You can keep updated with my travels at www.sonnybennett.com. Though Facebook at www.facebook.com/sonnylbennett or on twitter @sonnylbennett. I'll try to update regularly and where Internet access is available.

See you all soon.

Sonny

* I may have checked it more than 3 times... I'm a bit paranoid about forgetting/losing my passport :-)

 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Tour du Mont Blanc

 

I have just recently completed the Tour Du Mont Blanc, a multi-day trek around Western Europe's highest mountain.

It was a 170km, 10 day trek with over 12000m of ascent and descent. To put this into perspective this is the equivalent of climbing Everest, one and a half times!!!

The trek was demanding, but we were rewarded with amazing scenery and experiences.

Have a read of my trip report => here

 

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Manic May (Part 2)

As promised in my last post, here is the rest of what happened in May.

Snowdonia Climbing/Scrambling

This year I decided that I wanted to get back climbing outdoors again, there's nothing like getting out on rock, rather than pulling on plastic in a climbing wall, also the skills would be useful for future climbing trips to the Alps. I felt that my outdoor climbing skills were a bit rusty and could do with a bit of a refresher.

After a bit of research on the internet, I decided that I would go to Snowdonia (Llanberis), as this area could offer me many different styles of climbing on different rock, from big hills days, scrambling and multi-pitch rock climbing. I found a local company "The Rock Climbing Company" which offered everything I wanted, so I hired a guide for a bit of one to one instruction/guiding.

My guide for the 3 days was Sam Leary, she was a great teacher, very patient and encouraging.

Day 1

At the start of the first day, Sam and I discussed what I wanted to achieve during the next few days. Unusually for Snowdonia, the weather forecast for the week was stunning, hot and DRY!!! This meant that we could go and do virtually anything we wanted.

We opted to go to the Ogwen Valley/Cwm Idwal and do some classic easy climbing on the Idwal Slabs, it was a chance for Sam to see how I climbed and assess what skills I already had and what needed improving. After a short walk in we put on harnesses, rock shoes and roped up.

Entering the Nameless Cwm

As most of the other easy routes in the slabs were already taken we were left with the route called "Faith" a classic 130m, 5 pitch climb, beginners climb. This all went well, Sam led the pitches and I followed. I got to practice constructing belays and placing climbing protection.

At the top of the climb we replaced our climbing shoes with ridged soled walking boots and we continued by scrambling up even higher to the top of the ominously named "Suicide Wall". From here we climbed into the "Nameless Cwm", where the next objective came into view, the "Cneifion Arête".

The Arête itself, looks like a ship's prow sticking out of the mountain and is a classic Grade 3 scramble/moderate rock climb that extends for 130m to the top of Y Gribin. The first couple of pitches were the main crux of the climb, but in big boots you loose all sensitivity, after a bit of thrutching & grunting I made it passed the initial obstacles onto easier ground. Nearing the top of the climb the drop to the right is huge, this has always been something that's frightened me, but this time I surprised myself as I seemed to handle this OK. We made it to the top, the sun was still shining, and we were above the clouds in the valley. We headed down to the valley, by this time I was getting tired, it had been a long first day. I went back to my B&B for a well earned rest and an early night.

Day 2

As the first day was quite a long one, I decided that I wanted a shorter day, so we decided to go rock climbing, to get some more practice on placing gear and building belays. We originally decided to go to the Llanberis Pass (one of the climbing Meccas in the UK). However, on arrival, the walls all looked a bit daunting and steep for me, Sam sensed this, so we drove the Molewyns, near Blaenau Ffestiniog. From the car park we walked the short distance up to the crag (Clogwyn yr Oen), a much friendlier venue to practice climbing skills. We had the whole place to ourselves, the sun was already beating down and the rock was warm to the touch. Nice!

We climbed a 4 pitch route called "Slick". The rock was super grippy and the climbing was not that difficult, apart from the third pitch which seemed like a blank, featureless slab. This required me to trust my feet on tiny pockets in the rock as there were very few hand holds.

Again it was good to practice all the skills in a different environment and with Sam's expert instruction I picked up loads of tips to make things easier in future.

In the afternoon we climbed up another route, by this time it was getting really hot, which was making me tired. We took this opportunity to practice another skill. Abseiling. This is something I'm not overly confident with, I find it quite unnatural and it scares the life out of me! We rigged an abseil and with some gentle coaxing I made it to the ground, in one piece.

We returned to Llanberis for a well deserved ice cream from Georgio's and to discuss what additional bits of equipment I needed for climbing. We also planned our final day.

Day 3

The final day, we had originally decided to do a classic rock climb (Grooved Arête) high on the East Face of Tryfan. However, after a bit of a slog up Tryfan, I was feeling a bit ropey (no pun intended). I put this down to slight dehydration and tiredness from the previous two days adventures. I'm pretty honest with myself and know when to "throw in the towel", also I thought it would be best to let Sam know sooner rather than later as this could have led to bigger issues higher up on the climb.

We descended and readjusted our plans and went to do some easy climbing on Tryfan Bach. There were many routes to choose from all of an easy grade. Near the top Sam asked if I wanted to lead the final pitch, which I accepted. We then practiced some alpine climbing skills, such as taking in coils of rope, moving together and body belaying, all very useful for the Alps.

In the afternoon we moved to a different crag just outside Llanberis called Lion Rock. This is a area that is used by climbing groups, schools, Scouts, etc to practice climbing and abseiling. The main reason for going here was not for the climbing (as it was quite easy) but to practice rigging abseils and top ropes. Sam had asked me to use all my skills to build anchors and rig the top ropes or abseil ropes, all with minimal input from her.

Abseiling with Snowdon in the background

The proof of the pudding is in the eating they say and with that I was climbing and abseiling off my own anchors, I was slightly worried at first, but as I'm writing this blog all went well and the anchors stayed put!

After these 3 intensive days I feel that I'm more confident and now have the skills to go and climb outdoors. Thanks to Sam Leary (my guide/instructor) and The Rock Climbing Company. I would recommend these guys to anyone who wanted to learn to climb, move from indoor to outdoors climbing or like me brush up on some skills and gain a bit of confidence.

I rewarded myself that night with a big juicy steak and a pint or two at my B&B.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Manic May (Part 1)

Sorry for the lack of blogs lately, but I've been a bit busy getting outside and hill fit for my trips. I'll give you a whistle stop run down of whats been going on.

After what can be described as an abysmal April weather wise, which confined me mainly to the gym, I'm playing catchup with the outdoors training. Having said that, I did manage one quick trip to Snowdonia with my Tour du Mont Blanc walking companion (Phil).

Snowdonia Weekend

We had some great plans but we were forced to change them as we were faced with four seasons in one day. The day started well in the sun, but then slowly deteriorated with rain, wind, hail and even snow! We made good use of the adverse weather conditions to test our gear, layering systems and figure out what worked for us. I found out that my softshell trousers and jacket needed a reproof, so not all bad.

So into May, and the weather improved so more opportunities to get out and about.

Two Bridges Walk

I've always wanted to walk between the 2 Severn Bridges, we set off from the "lovely" Severn Beach for a gentle 8 mile walk from the new Severn crossing to the old bridge and back. I think the strangest part of the walk was stopping off at the motorway services for a cup of tea, you get some funny looks turning up with walking boots and a rucksack.

Birthday Weekend in the Brecon Beacons

At the start of the month I reached the ripe old age of 40, I celebrated by hiring all the rooms in The Griffin, Felin Fach near Brecon. I invited my family and some of my closest friends, to share my birthday celebrations, lots of good food and drink. I also got in quite a good walk in over Pen y Fan and Cribin from the steeper north side, the weather was perfect, we made it back to the pub in time for cake and prosecco.

Three days of Climbing

I never intended to climb and boulder 3 times in one week, but it happened.

  • Tuesday - I normally go to the Bristol Climbing Wall with my regular climbing partner and climb for around 2.5 hours, I decided to push my grade. I returned home with arms like jelly, but satisfied with my efforts.
  • Wednesday - I met up with my friend Sally (she's training to be an outdoors instructor) as the weather was good we decided to do some easy climbing in the Avon Gorge, we had a great time getting out "touching" rock. If that wasn't enough we then decided to go to The Climbing Academy (TCA) and use up our remaining energy bouldering.
  • Thursday - I met up with an old work colleague and went for another 2.5 hour bouldering session at TCA, I managed to tick off a few more routes on the circuit I'm working on. I feel that I'm making some progress (albeit slow)

50km Cycle Ride

Following my week of climbing, my girlfriends brother and his family came to visit us for the weekend. They have a 7 year old boy (James) who always amazes me with his endless amount of energy. When we met up for my birthday he said he wanted to ride at least 30 miles to beat his previous personal best.

We decided that we would cycle to Bath from Bristol and back along the old railway path, not a hilly ride, but a nice safe, off road route suitable for a 7 year old, which would be just over 30 miles (50km) and fulfil James' criteria.

We set off, again the weather was on our side we rolled into Bath an hour and 30 mins later. We had a rest, some snacks and a drink and cycled back, stopping at a pub on the way back for lunch. Fuelled up we completed the final leg of our ride. So proud of James.

So that rounds up May so far, training is going well and there's more to come. This week I'm off to Snowdonia for 3 days of climbing and scrambling instruction, then I have a 40km hike in South Gloucestershire with "Mont Blanc Phil" and another old work colleague. I'll update you all when I'm back.

How did I ever have time to work?

Sonny

 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

No Job, No Job Title

I've been asked a few times in the last week what my occupation is. Since finishing work on VR, I'm finding it a bit difficult to answer this question. Technically, I don't class myself as unemployed and won't be signing on. So what am I?

So far a few suggestions have been:
  • International Man of leisure or iMol for short (thanks to my girlfriend for that one)
  • Wannabe adventurer
  • Daytime TV watcher
  • Part time fitness enthusiast (gym goer!!!)
  • Professional sofa surfer
  • Retired (this was a slip of the tongue by me & didn't go down too well with the girlfriend oops!)
So why am I asking?
When I've been asked what I do for a living, I've replied with I don't work and I'm having the rest of the year off, this has led to some strange reactions. It's made me realise that job titles or occupations are commonly used to define how others initially perceive you. It seems strange that we are defined by a simple job title and that people judge you for what you are, not who you are.

If I had won the lottery or inherited a wad of cash from a long lost relative and did not have to work, would this be the same situation?

Students can say they are having a gap year and the older generation can say they are retired, but what can a middle aged man who's just taking a career break say?

Answers on a postcard...

Sonny

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Goodbye Rat Race (well for now)

So today was my last day at work for 2012!

Let me explain why. The company I worked for wanted to “downsize” and save some money in these economically challenging times. To entice employees to leave they offered voluntary redundancy (VR) with an enhanced package. This was too good an opportunity to pass on.

I applied for VR. They accepted it.

So after 8 years and 6 days with the company, we’ve parted ways. It’s also the first time since leaving university that I’ve not been in full time employment. I’m not sad about leaving the job or company, but I do have a tinge of sadness knowing that I’ll no longer be part of the office banter. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in a great team, with some talented people and made some good friends over the years, many of them I intend to stay in touch with.

As for having the rest of the year off, I thought it might be difficult to find a permanent job that would allow me to take 4 months out to go on my trips, so I’m treating the rest of 2012 as an extended sabbatical.

What next for me in 2012?

Well, I’m intending to put my time to good use. I’ll use it to prepare for the trips, get fitter, go hill walking, cycle, hone my photography skills, learn a language, improve at climbing, catch up with friends & family and have a thoroughly relaxing time. With all of this, I’m not sure how I ever had time for work!

So it’s goodbye to the rat race (well for now). I can honestly say that I won’t miss the 9 to 5, filling in timesheets, team meetings or performance reviews, but I’ll be back in 2013, refreshed and raring to go.

Exciting times ahead!

Sonny

PS If anyone has any free time and wants to meet up for a walk, climb, have a chat or beer then let me know, I’m sure I can find an opening in my diary :-)