Everest Base Camp and the Olympic Flag

Over the Easter break, Serena Brocklebank (SMM Dame), EJNR and NPTL took eight Etonians to Nepal for a high altitude trek. This was no usual trek however. There were two main objectives to the trek. The first was to deliver a London 2012 Olympic flag to an Everest summit team at base camp having carried it from the Eton rowing lake – one of the Olympic venues. The second was to take a longer, more arduous and more remote route to base camp – Etonians not being content with the ‘normal’ route. Both were a success.

The expedition started with a photo shoot at the rowing lake, followed by another with Mathew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave. The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla was delayed due to bad weather which provided the boys a welcome additional day for shopping and acclimatisation in Kathmandu – and tea with the British Ambassador in his private residence. The weather was mixed on trek and there were some very cold nights, but the steady acclimatisation programme meant that the boys adjusted very well and few showed signs of altitude sickness.

From Lukla, the route went through Namche Bazaar – where a great deal of shopping was done – to Kangjuma at which point the group left the main Everest trail and went up a more remote valley to Dole. Having crossed the Mon La pass (3900m) and camping over 4000m the effects of altitude and the colder nights were beginning to be felt. From Dole, a couple of nights were spent at Machermo where an altitude talk was given by British doctors at a medical outpost and further acclimatisation occurred. The route then passed the holy lakes at Gokyo where a cold and unpleasant night was spent in a yak pen before ascending Gokyo Ri (5360m). This was the highest point of the trip so far and not only provided further acclimatisation, but also stupendous views of Cho Oyo (8210m) and was a notable peak in its own right.

After leaving Gokyo and descending the glacial moraine to Dragnag (4700m), the team prepared itself for the most arduous day of the expedition – the Cho La pass (5420m). This involved a long climb up mixed ground with a few boys struggling with the effects of altitude. A well-earned, if basic, lunch at the pass quickly faded into a distant memory as the scale of the glacial descent became clear. It did not help that it started snowing on arrival at the campsite with some very tired boys! From Dzongla, with stunning views of Ama Dablam and Cholatse, the team rejoined the standard route and walked up the Khumbu glacier to Gorek Shep (5140m) which was the departure point for Everest Base Camp. The night before the departure, it snowed heavily and it was clear that we should wait for the yaks and porters to break the trail before our climactic day. The team plodded on through the snow and spirits were lifted as Everest Base Camp came into view. After some photos with the flag at Base Camp, we were treated to a three course lunch courtesy of Russell Brice – probably the most luxurious operator on the mountain – and handed the flag over to his leading Sherpa. Soon after, we learnt that there was Olympic competition on the mountain as Kenton Cool had a 1924 Olympic Medal which he managed to get to the summit (his 10th!) on 25th May.

Before descending, the team climbed Kala Patar (5500m) and reached the high point of the trip with amazing views of Everest. The long descent back to Lukla was straightforward as the team was ‘mountain fit’ and had the promise of a slap up meal. However, the anticipated three day return to Kathmandhu ended up being deeply frustrating when the team got stuck in Lukla because of flying conditions. A day further on the team was in danger of missing international flights and had already missed a day in Kathmandhu. A helicopter was on standby after frantic calls to the insurance company. As it was, the team escaped on the last flights of the day – which were ‘sporting’!

But the flag’s journey had not ended. At base camp, the conditions were the worst for a number of years. We witnessed a lot of rock fall and saw some full depth powder avalanches. On account of the conditions, Russell Brice took the brave decision to pull his expedition – putting the safety of his team before the disappointment of his paying clients – who were paying about the equivalent of a year and a half’s Eton fees! The flag returned to Kathmandhu for a second time where eventually it was passed over to another expedition leader who took it back to Base Camp. It then went through a variety of hands including Bonita Norris, who recently spoke at Eton about her 2010 Everest summit, and took it to Camp 2 (en route to her successful Lhotse summit). It eventually found its way into the hands of Paul Keleher, a personal trainer from Surrey, who carried the flag to its destination – the summit of Mount Everest.