7 summits by Microlight

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(UTC + 5:45)

News release: 23 May, Hollywood






Just before I went to bed last night it cleared briefly and I noticed a load of torch lights on the the other side of the strip. Went over to investigate, a group of Sherpas have set up their camp consisting of two or three tents with a big tarpaulin strung between them on a nice flat bit of ground - which just happens to be right in the middle of our repaired bit of runway! Of course if it had happened to be nice weather early today then they would present a bit of a problem but they seemed to be perfectly happy to move if we needed to use the strip early. We didn't. Pea soup and rain first thing this morning, cold and very damp.

I got chatting a bit more to some of the 35mm film people who arrived here yesterday afternoon. Seems they are a bunch of climbers, film technicians and several vacant looking pretty girls. At least one person had a patch on his fleece saying the '2004 Working Title Everest Expedition', apparently they were there not to make a film per-se but to collect a bunch of 'real' images of Everest for a feature film about the 1996 storm. I noticed one of their bags had a label saying something really corny like 'Extreme Storm' on it - the title perhaps?

Their team contains two people who were there in '96, David Braishier, definitely the heroic type of American (who seems to know it) and the Austrian Robert Schauer. Both I think were involved with the now famous IMAX film made that year (if you can find an IMAX cinema).

What happened in 1996 on Everest has of course become the stuff of legend, and indeed some controversy as it highlighted the extreme risks to clients of the relatively new phenonemon of commercial Everest Expeditions. A huge storm overtook the montain and a lot of people died, including some well known figures in the climbing world. There were also some extraordinary survival stories, that of Beck Whethers is probably the most famous. Subsequently more books were written about events of that year on Everest than are normally published in 10 years or more.

This is big money stuff (someone said backed by Universal Studios). They had a lot of film equipment up there and when we complained about having been here in poor weather for a week or two, one fellow said to me "you should try 50 days at base camp!" Anyway, he explained their objective; it is unreasonable to expect any big name Hollywood stars to actually climb Everest, so they have been up there getting the 'real' footage - and they did actually summit - and later they will go somewhere more comfortable like the Alps or New Zealand with the actors to complete the film.

I had heard about something like this a few months ago. My friend Matt Dickinson (whose plastic boots I am wearing for high altitude flights) and who was also filming that fateful year, and sumitted, and wrote a book; 'Death Zone', about it, mentioned to me a few months ago that there may be an opportunity to earn a bit of cash by doing some 35mm aerial stuff, but nothing more came of it. I was told yesterday that they didn't actually need any aerial stuff which may explain why, but given the weather we've had I wouldn't have been able to do much anyway....

As it became light it became abundantly clear that the tarpaulin between the tents on our strip was not some sort of rudimentary shelter for porters but was actually covering literally tons of the film people's kit. Quite how it got there without us noticing I am not quite sure. Yes, there was a fog so we couldn't see the other side of the strip from our camp, but it must have been fifty or more Yak loads so it's arrival wouldn't have been exactly discreet, and it wasn't some sort of side effect of the beer we bought yesterday, Barty and I only had one each last night. Lucky there was fog this morning then, as we wouldn't have been able to take off with that mountain of stuff in the way.

The Helicopter had a couple of tries getting in but we just heard it in the murk. I was fairly convinced they would be here for another day but eventually at about 9.30 there was a bit of a clear spell and not one but two helicopters arrived within a few minutes of each other. The remains of the Greek party from yesterday plus some very nice Canadians who had also summitted got into the first one, and most of the film people's kit was stuffed into the second until it was completely full, and off they went to Kathmandu. Of course the second one hasn't been here since we have and if it wasn't enough that all the film kit was on our strip, their helicopter managed to taxi all over our repairs making some nice new ruts and it's load of plywood and corrugated iron was dumped on our bit of strip too. The only saving grace is that it has been so wet lately it didn't blow all our repairs away completely. Fairly typically the film people who mattered didn't seem to appreciate the problem they had made for us - too much up their own bottoms to care about anyone else as usual.

What's happening of course is that we are now in the middle of a flood of expeditions returning from Everest Base Camp with Yak loads of kit. I am told there were only supposed to be 11 expeditions there, at least that's the maximum number of permits which are issued each climbing season, but I have heard that there were upwards of 20 there this season and that 'some teams were sharing permits'. In any case not much of a load can be flown out of Base Camp, but Yaks can't descend below here so the best option is to transport stuff down by Yak and fly out of here with a decent load rather than transfer everything to hundreds of porters and go further on down to Lukla.

This afternoon more kit from yet another expedition started arriving on herds of Yaks - and being piled on our bit of strip, but we are wise to this now and before too much had arrived we asked them to move a bit off to the side which they did. We have also cleared away all the plywood and corrugated iron (it was supposed to be going to Tengboche further up the valley but it was fogged in, so I suppose will take some days to go) and fixed the new ruts. The new helicopter crew (also Russians) now understand what we are up to so hopefully they will keep off our 5 metres in future, the strip is very wide and they have 35 or 40 metres to play with and if they complain it is a bit rough in places they only have themselves to blame as they caused it; they could repair it.

So apart from the remains of the film kit our strip is now clear and usable again. The fog and rain is back now so it won't be going anywhere today but it's not so much stuff and I am sure if it is flyable tomorrow morning they should be able to move it out of our way quite quickly.

The weather is not looking too good for tomorrow anyway, but there is a glimmer of hope for Monday or Tuesday. After that I think we will almost certainly be pulling out ourselves - the monsoon is nearly here.

The highlight of the day? Sydney Spider had a short ride on a Yak. Yaks have an air of cantankerous but infinite patience, and would appear to quite like to just stand around and chew the cud. To get them to move along at a slow walk they need constant cajoling, Yakmen do this by whistling or throwing stones at them, or threatening to throw stones at them. One rather undesirable feature of this sudden influx of Yaks is the appearance of quite a lot of small stones on our previously clean airstrip, I have to carefully clear them off every morning. Despite their apparent docility Yaks are prone to suddenly charging off in unexpected directions, usually in the interests of food, but also if their load is disturbed or unbalanced. Today I saw one thundering across the airstrip at suprising speed persued by its Yakman and trailing some climber's bag which had become half detached as it was being unloaded. Eventually everything came to a halt but if there was anything fragile in the bag it won't be any more.

Sydney rode an unladen Yak and he seemed to quite like the experience, nothing like as hazardous as his encounter with the Eagle, and the Yak behaved itself though its Yakman was a bit bemused by the whole experience.

Our satellite comms were wotking again this morning so I managed to get yesterday's despatch off. As Intelsat is managed in France we thought it highly likely nothing would be fixed until monday. It isn't working again this afternoon, so I suppose this despatch from rainy, foggy Syangboche will be a day late too.

ICARO 2000 Hang Gliding World Champion
The FIAT group
ALPHA emergency parachute
THE NORTH FACE clothing for extreme conditions
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
PEGASUS AVIATION manufacturers of fine microlight Aircraft
MAINAIR SPORTS  manufacturers of fine microlight Aircraft
Lyndhurst Touchdown Services.  Supplier of fuel system components to the expedition.
O-ZEE flight suits.  Suppliers of Bar-mitts to the expedition.
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
BAILEY AVIATION manufacturers of Paramotors and automotive sport acessories
AdventureWeather.com providing Meteorological information to the expedition
Mainair Sports; UK dealer for Warp Drive Propellors
PARAMINA; Suppliers of Oxygen equipment to the expedition
Neltec flexible heaters
Industrial Pressure Testing Ltd; Suppliers of Oxygen cylinders to the expedition.
FLYCOM Intercom and Radio equipment
Gerbings heated clothing
Quatar airways
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24 May 2004
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