Millimeters to Mountains: Getting High

Ed Jackson and the Millimeters to Mountains (M2M) gang set off for an epic 18 day summit attempt of the highest trekking peak in Nepal, Mera Peak (6476m), almost two weeks ago now – it’s safe to say they’re getting high!

We’ve been getting regular updates from the team (where they have scrambled to get signal to let us know), so lets take a look at the first 10 days of the expedition, in Ed’s own words…

Day 1: Kathmandu | Thamel and traffic

For us westerners landing in Kathmandu is like arriving on another planet. As soon as you leave the airport you’re hit with a wall of colour, noise and dust. God it’s good to be back.

We were greeted at the airport by our lead guide Bigraj and bussed off to the hotel. Thamel is the climbing district of the city, a bustling maze of mountaineering shops, bars and guest houses; Imagine china town or soho but busier. It’s easy to be deceived by the mayhem; the carnage works like clockwork and nothing highlights this more than the traffic situation.

Right of way is judged by who beeps first, lanes are deemed optional and pedestrians are merely obstacles. Throw in a few motorbikes carrying entire families some roaming animals and you’ve got one hell of an obstacle course. It gives you heart palpitations just watching but everything keeps moving and none of the Nepalis bat an eyelid, probably because they don’t know how to get stressed.

Dodging traffic is definitely now more difficult than it used to be but I’ve found the key over here is confidence, people seem to respect that you just go for it no matter how stupid it might seem. Despite nearly being run over a few times I felt good about the way i was getting around, the rickshaw drivers however didn’t agree.

Every single one drove over, gave me a concerned look and offered me a lift. The boys I was with; namely Rich and Arron, took great pleasure in explaining that I wasn’t just stupid enough to walk down the street but I was actually going to the mountains, to which the response was unanimously confusion. Attitudes towards disability are very different over here.

Nepalis are very matter of fact and if you look like you shouldn’t be walking then you shouldn’t be walking. It’s not derogatory, in fact they are just trying to help but they still cant seem to figure me out. More on this later…

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Day 2: Khatmandu | The Monkey Temple

On Saturday morning a few of us headed up to the Monkey Temple which sits perched above Kathmandu on a hill on the North side of the city. It’s pretty obvious where this Buddhist temple gets its name as soon as you turn up. Arron certainly worked it out quickly as he forgot to get his rabies jabs so he began a two hour effort to doge the monkeys whilst we began to usher them his way.

Giant prayer flags fluttered over head as we climbed the staircase towards the main temple. Wafts of incense were coming from the multiple prayer spots adding to the atmosphere and until I stood in dog poo I was beginning to feel quite spiritual. The view of Kathmandu from the top is stunning and the temple even more so, definitely worth a visit!

Something that shocked the group this morning was the amount of disabled people begging on the street. It’s not something that we’re used to, given the support that disabilities receive from the government in the UK. This is a graphic representation of the problem faced by the disabled community in Nepal and the overwhelming need for our help.

A combination of no government funding, little sympathy due to religion, poverty and very few desk jobs often leaves people with disabilities with no hope. Something we are trying to do our bit towards stopping.

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Day 3: Kathmandu | Meetings and kit

I’m going to introduce you to the group throughout the trip but lets just say its an eclectic mix… just the way we like it. We’ve been together for three days now and despite the diversity things are already tight!

Anyway, that evening we were almost at a full compliment when we met for dinner with just one left to arrive the next day. After a couple of Everest beers watching the rugby (what else would they be called), head guide Bigraj gave us our first rundown of what lay ahead. He opened up with ‘last year I did a 3 day walk with Ed, it was very easy, but this year is a big challenge.’ ‘Very easy’ would not be the words I would use to describe last years trek to Gandruk, in fact ‘very bloody hard’ was my opinion, so to hear Bigraj describe this as a big challenge sent the proverbial shits up me.

However, I kept quiet and smiled whilst he described the temperatures we could expect on the mountain and effectively rubbished most of the kit we already had. Apparently Mera Peak claims more toes and fingers than any other mountain because of the underestimation of the extreme temperatures, so it was time to go shopping and apparently there is only one place to do that in Thamel… Shonas.

Fortunately thanks to Berghaus, all I needed was to hire a -30 sleeping bag and some summit mittens but I swear to god that woman could have sold me the whole shop. I stood there in amazement as she laughed at peoples water bottles asking if they were ‘for the toilet’ and waved away peoples gloves saying ‘do you not like your fingers?’

Shona is a certified force of nature and I’ve never heard equipment knowledge like it, either that or she’s just fleeced the lot of us. We’ll have to wait to see how many fingers we return with.

Either way if anyone wasn’t taking this seriously before, they are now!

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Day 4: Kathmandu | The Spinal Injury Centre

On Sunday morning we were picked up for our visit to the SIRC (Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre) in Kathmandu. This unit is the only functioning specialist rehab hospital in the country and an example of what can be achieved if/when we raise the funds for a replica in Chitwan.

I visited this place for the first time last year and was blown away, but this time I was particularly excited as we have two specialist NHS physios with us. Wyn and Kim are not just any two physios, but people I have been working with since my accident and now good friends. I knew they would be but to say they were impressed by the facility would be an understatement.

I always find walking on to a spinal ward difficult emotionally. Seeing parents caring for their children and offering up empty smiles is hard to swallow. I understand the patients pain but I don’t think I will ever understand that of a mother or father, wife or husband. These injuries don’t just happen to you but every one that cares for you, and often their wounds are even deeper. When I spoke to the patients however the levels of positivity were amazing.

They sat there and told me how lucky they felt and all they wanted to do when they left was to help others like them. I turned to my mate Rich and said ‘I told you, I wasn’t just making all that up,’ to which he gave me the usual role of the eyes.

It’s a beautiful thing to see the effect this place is having and testament the unbelievable job they are doing instilling hope. Because after all hope is all you need.

Tomorrow we leave the mountains with a new dose of inspiration.

If you would like to donate or have any ideas of how you could help please see visit here.

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Day 5 | Lukla – Paya | 2660m

Lukla airport has one of the most famous runways in the world and mostly because its hanging off the edge of a mountain. Our plane to the gateway of the Everest region (and often voted the most dangerous airport in the world) was cancelled yesterday, and although everyone was keen to get into the mountains I think a few sighs of relief were heard. Instead we flew this morning at sunrise and wow what an experience. As our plane rose out of the valley the golden peaks of the Himalayas came into view. Huge mountains spread away into the clear horizon with only one lonely cloud hovering over a particularly prominent peak, Everest.

After a safe landing we stepped out into the cool mountain air and headed for breakfast. The surrounding mountains make for an impressive backdrop to the multicoloured bustling streets of Lukla. Trekkers, Climbers and Sherpas either go about their business picking up supplies before heading North or celebrating their return to civilization before heading home. After a hearty breakfast we watched our Sherpas go on ahead and began our first days walking.

After six hours of tough trails I’m now sat here in our first stop Paya, watching the sunset shattered but content. Most of the route was a staircase so to say it was a shock to the system would be an understatement but every time you lift your head the rewards are more than worth it. I’m still receiving the standard bemused looks and when Bigraj tells anyone that we’re heading for Mera Peak – he’s either met with a laugh or confusion, but I love that.

The challenge ahead is clearer now than ever. Time for dinner.

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Day 6 | Nepali Flat – Paya – Panggom | 2894

Wake up, step outside, take a big deep breath of cool mountain air, there’s no better way to start the morning. Actually you can add a masala tea and chapati egg sandwich with chilli sauce to that list. The food has been great so far and thankfully abundant because it wasn’t there’s a good chance some of us might actually disappear given the amount of calories we’re burning each day.

The tree line in the Himalayas doesn’t end until 4000m and today’s trek took us straight into the jungle. It was a nice easy start as we weaved our way between the giant rhododendron trees and across a few mountain streams, but inevitably it wasn’t long until we veered off the main path and headed straight up the side of the mountain, or hill, depends who you’re asking. Nepalis don’t consider anything under 6000m a mountain and that’s not the only thing they view differently to us…Bigraj described the route today as ‘little bit up, little bit down, mostly flat.’ People who have been to the Himalayas will understand the concept of ‘Nepali flat’, let me tell you; it’s never bloody flat.

After about an hour climbing the same stone staircase I turned to Bigraj and asked if we were lost because this definitely wasn’t on the daily itinerary. He just laughed at me and said ‘little bit up,’ cheers mate.

Staircases are my nemesis because of the muscles that are most effected from the injury are the anti-gravity ones. Hills and slopes I can cope with functionally but stairs; it’s not pretty and ends up just being a test of how far down the well I can take myself. We spent the day traversing around the edge of the ‘bloody massive hill’, yoyo-ing into valleys before climbing back up to the next ridge.

It was tough going but fortunately as well as the incredible scenery we had our ‘donkey of the day’ – Wyn, to keep us entertained, well the looks he was getting anyway. I wont disclose what he won his ears for, but I will say he’s fully embraced the role and until someone else makes an ass of them-self, they’re his to keep.

After 7 hours on the trails we arrived at the village of Panggom. At 2894m we’re actually only a couple of hundred metres higher (Nepali flat), but we definitely feel more remote. Apparently the views from this village are incredible but we arrived in the mist so I’m looking forward to waking up and taking that first breath tomorrow.

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Day 7 | Monasteries, Monkeys and Mera Peak

Panggom – Ramailo Dada | 3276m

If I’m honest I’m not finding this at all easy; the distances, the terrain, the lack of sleep are testing me in more ways than I’m probably letting on but seeing Mera today was the boost i needed. The fire within is burning strong and I cant tell you how much inspiration I’m drawing from this amazing group that already feel like family.

P.s. The WiFi is only strong enough to send home text and a couple of pictures so please excuse me for not replying to all the messages of support.

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Day 8 | Life on the edge

Ramailo Dada – Chatrakola 3713

Asc – 2043m
Des – 1734m
10.15 km – 8hr 53m

Finally a good nights sleep meant that stepping outside this morning and being met with an orange glow over the mountains filled me with energy…I was going to need it. We’re not on the traditional trail to Mera Peak. Planning the expedition I was keen that we went off the beaten track and had time to immerse ourselves with the locals.

The route that we are taking is certainly ‘off the beaten track’ and for the last three days we haven’t seen any other trekkers or climbers as we wind our way up this relatively untrodden valley. It has been serene to say the least. The only caveat is that the trail we are on is literally clinging to the edge of the mountains, traversing upwards through the forests.

It’s beautiful but it’s seriously tough going with some sections only wide enough for one foot at a time. The roots and rocks are a constant hazard and combine them with often sheer drops either side of the path means that concentration levels have to remain high. Combine the physical challenge with intense focus over long periods and the result is me sat here wanting to curl up into a ball and hibernate.

Today ended up being 9 hours of these brutal trails and with nearly 4000m of elevation change it has to be the toughest day Iv’e ever had in the mountains. My instability means that I’m often slipping and tripping but given the added risk here we have decided to take preventative action and attach a rope to my bag for the steeper descents.

Big Aaron has taken the reins in the hope that if I do decide to disappear off a cliff he will be strong and heavy enough to anchor down. It has actually come in handy a couple of times already so is proving functional, but more than that it makes for quite comical viewing.

I have managed to obtain the donkey ears for the day, so Arron is effectively riding me around the mountain. Why do I have the ears? Ripping my jacket celebrating my first successful use of the long drop…valid.

It was dark by the time we arrived in camp and everyone was ready to pass out, but we had Hannah’s 30th birthday to celebrate first. After dinner Bigraj surprised her with a home made Sherpa cake. I’m not sure she’ll forget this birthday in a hurry.

If I’m honest, I’m a bit worried how my body is going to be tomorrow morning after that…only time will tell.

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Day 9 | It’s not a beach holiday

Chatrakola – Kote Mera Peak 3500m

I’m not going to lie, I was worried after yesterday if I could keep this up. Physically I felt right at my limit yesterday and although I know that I wont give up, the question is whether my body will first.

This morning I woke up and despite it taking me a few minutes to be able to stand up out of bed and get moving, my body is actually feeling ok which is a relief.

Today, we rejoined the main trail and set off up river to our next stop. After three hours we reached the village of Kote, where an afternoon of much needed recuperation and washing commenced. We are all operating off 15kilos worth of kit, which believe me over 18 days really isn’t very much. I have extra foot splints, strapping tape and medical equipment with me which makes little room for luxuries.

Kit has to be recycled but up to this point we have had no means of drying anything given the cool damp atmosphere and being on the move all day. Today though, the sun is out as is the washing trough and soap. Some have chosen to pay 300 rupees (£2) to have a warm bucket of water to poor over their head, others have reverted to the trustee baby wipes. Either way we’re all smelling funky, and you know what, no one cares, as long as we’re warm and dry then we’re good.

We now enter a few days of gradual ascent leading above the tree line and 4000m which means the temperature will drop significantly. Just to give you an idea of how cold it already is; last night I slept inside my sleeping bag with a down jacket on and could see my breath. In 4 days we will be attempting sleep in a tent 2000m higher than this.

We passed a couple of English guys on the trail today who were returning from Mera and they said it was cold. When we asked how cold one of them just turned to us and said ‘f*cking cold’. Fair enough, it’s not a beach holiday.

P.s. Quite happy to brave the cold with night skies like this.

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DAY 10 | Getting high

Kote -Thangnak 4300m

We had three casualties last night. Something dodgy had been ingested that had caused full evacuations, not something you want when the only toilet is a hole in the floor. Fortunately this morning the effected had made a decent recovery, although I’m not sure the same could be said for the long drop.

It took a while to get moving after breakfast, but once we did it wasn’t long before we had entered what felt like a completely different world. We had left the trees behind and were following a cascading glacial river upstream towards the looming snowy peaks that seemed to have snuck up closer overnight. The scale of the mountains over here has to be seen to be believed and now we were walking right amongst them. The path was wider and apart from a few boulders much easier going than the forest trails. It may have been easier underfoot but we were starting to reach heights where you could feel the thinner air. Soon we had ascended past the 4000m mark, reaching new heights for most of the team including myself.

Everyone is now anxious about any symptoms of altitude sickness starting. It doesn’t matter how fit you are and it’s not selective. If it’s not treated with respect it can have serious health implications – even death – but we have planned the trip to give everyone the best possible chance to acclimatize, by spending more time at the higher altitudes. It’s hard to ignore but it’s not worth thinking about as it’s out of our hands.

If I’m honest I really struggled with the first four days, even to the point, where I couldn’t see how I could keep that sort of exertion up for another two weeks. I finished today though with a completely different outlook – I felt great moving along the new terrain and the altitude hasn’t seemed to have an effect yet.

From my perspective, I can only use the rest of the group as a barometer and I’m no longer flagging at the back. Don’t get me wrong I’m not going to be racing anyone to the top but I’m feeling strong, motivated and full of hope. Good day.

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Ed and the team are day’s away from the summit of Mera Peak and we’re backing them all the way.

As we hear from the guys, we’ll let you all know. Come on team, you can reach that illusive 21,000ft mountain top!



Writer and expert