Mt Tagne (6,111)

Tagne 2001


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Dan's Diary

Day 35 - Wednesday 1st August 2001

photo © 2001 dan
Burning rubbish at ABC

My alarm went off. I switched it off and lay there semi-awake, in that sort of daze that you know will take ages to get back to sleep from but in which you would still rather lie there than get up. Jon got up, put on some warm clothes and went outside. I soon followed suit, my watch reading 5:38am. Jon had the stove on and was digging a pit for the rubbish. I went around and collected together all the bags of rubbish and emptied the pockets of my rucksack and waterproof jacket. The rubbish was put in the pit and the spare kerosene poured on top and a match put to it. We sat by the fire eating our muesli and drinking hot milk, warming ourselves against the frosty morning. My feet were cold, as I had left my socks under the flysheet overnight and they had frozen. We took it in turns to prod the fire to keep it alive. The leftover instant mash and foil packaging seemed to hamper the burning of the rubbish. Stale roti didn't burn very well either: they just became baked into a hard rock.

Before we knew it the time was 6:30am. We set about clearing and packing up and quickly as we could. We left the fire to burn while I washed the pans in the river. My hands soon got the hot aches from the ice-cold melt water and I was forced to clench my hands under my armpits as I tried to put up with the pain. Stuffing my down bag into its stuff sack soon warmed my fingers back up again. I packed my rucksack and took a chance by not putting my clothes in polythene bags, so I could fit more things in. It didn't look as though it was going to rain as there was clear blue sky. I just hoped it would stay like that until we reached Base Camp. I continued to pack and tidy up. Jon had almost finished packing so he started to take down the tent. The time had disappeared somewhere and it was 8:30am by the time I had filled my rucksack. Jon picked up the remnants of the semi-burned rubbish and put them into a bag while I covered over the ashes with pebbles.

photo © 2001 dan
Crushing cans at ABC

At 8:45am everything had been cleared up and attached to one of our two rucksacks. We fought to lift and swing our rucksacks onto our backs. My knees wanted to buckle under the weight but I locked them straight while I adjusted the straps. Once the rucksack was sorted, my shoulders seemed to have recovered remarkably well from the previous day's aches, but I knew this would soon change and was eager to get going as fast as we could. We headed off over the stony flood plain. I glanced back once and said goodbye to ABC. Only a red flag down by the river remained as evidence of our presence. I was not going to turn around and go and get it, we had to get as far as we could as quickly as possible before our backs and shoulders packed up under the weight they were carrying. Once through the moraine we joined the worst of the scree slopes and began to cross it for the final time. Jon dropped back, finding it hard going over difficult terrain with his heavy rucksack. I kept moving at my faster pace, stopping occasionally to sit on a large rock to take the weight of my rucksack off my back while Jon caught up. We followed Alan's small cairns across the vast slope of scree. Eventually easier ground could be seen in the near distance encouraging me to keep going. On the firmer, smaller scree we were able to pick up our pace soon reaching dirt and then grassy slopes. Before long we could see the familiar rocks that marked the descent down to the first river. I had traversed across too low and had to climb up the slope in order to rejoin the sheep track down to the river. I huffed and puffed as I made my way slowly uphill, annoyed with myself for getting it wrong. Jon, who had taken the correct higher traverse line caught up with me and we descended down the boulder-strewn slope to the river.

photo © 2001 dan
Crossing the screes towards the streams

The first stream was very low considering that it was 9:45am and was crossed with ease. We clambered over the boulders in the middle of the river confluence before crossing the second stream. Ascending the scree bank on the far side was exhausting work. The rocks were loose and I fumbled around looking for something to hang on to with my hands but there was nothing. The weight of my rucksack was pulling me backwards and I was fighting to get oxygen into my lungs. At the top I slumped, somewhat relieved, onto a rock. I took a few deep breaths and that was it. We were on our way again. We still had one more river to cross, about forty minutes' walk away. We would definitely be outside the 8am-10am crossing window and therefore could not afford to hang around. Mixed undulating ground took us to an easy to walk across grassy slope before the land of scree returned. Large blocks of scree, the size of computers made it easier to walk across than the mug-sized small scree we had crossed earlier. Piles of rubble and fields of dust separated the large scree slopes. After forty-five minutes of trudging through endless amounts of broken rock we came to a grassy slope and a few crags. The shepherds had obviously moved on again as their hut was empty. I had traversed across too low again and had to walk up the valley side to reach the animal tracks down to the river. We dropped down the loose scree and dirt slope sending a cascade of rubble down in front of us. It was 10:35am and I feared that the river would be too high to cross and keep our feet dry but I needn't have worried for the river looked low, and sure enough it was easily crossed. We walked up the other side of the river valley and stopped on a flattish section of the valley side. I couldn't get my rucksack off fast enough. We sat down for a long rest safe in the knowledge that we didn't have any more rivers to cross. I ate a kendal mint cake, a Mars bar, some wine gums and a frusli bar. Not only was the food not needed anymore, it would make our rucksacks lighter so we both tucked in. The sky was still clear and the warm sun shone down upon us. I drank as much water as I could and then removed my gaiters.

photo © 2001 dan
Jon and the porter cross the gullys

By 11:15am we were sufficiently recovered to continue. We struggled to put our rucksacks on before heading off over the grassy-boulder strewn slope. After ten minutes my rucksack was already beginning to dig in. I still had a slight twinge in the ball of my foot from the previous day but thankfully it was nothing like as painful. We continued across and onto the screes. I saw a man half running and half walking up the slope. At first I thought it was a shepherd, but he had no animals with him and then he started coming towards us over the small undulations. I guessed it was one of our group coming to help us out. True enough ten minutes later after ascending and descending the undulations on the valley side we met our porter.

We said hello and he said "Have you a bag I can carry?" in his poor English. The only thing we had was the dry bag so Jon got it out and filled it with the tent, the rope and the bag of rubbish. It had no handle so I offered him some rope to tie it to his back but he refused and slung it over his shoulder. I gave him a walking stick and which he accepted and we walked along the narrow tracks. There were three such tracks all side by side and less than two metres apart on the hill slope. If everyone had kept to the same path it would have been like walking on a closed motorway but instead each path led to the deterioration of the one below. By looking at the fresh animal poo on the track, the shepherds must have retreated back down the valley with their sheep and goats. I tried to keep up with the porter who was in front but I soon realised I was no match for him as he skipped over the perilous slopes.

By the time we'd reached the second shepherds shelter the porter was already climbing out the far side of the gully. We continued down, and up, down and up and down as we descended into and climbed out of the gullies. The animals had obliterated the steps we had cut into the slope and so the steep, narrow exposed sections made us slow down a bit. In the bottom of the second gully, the horses belonging to the shepherds could be seen far below on the opposite side of the river.

photo © 2001 dan
Our last view of the valley head

We paused in the bottom of the third gully for the killer and final ascent. Despite a ten minute rest I was still tired having only climbed half way out. Step by step I edged closer, breathing heavily. My walking pole got in my way during the short scramble over a rocky step. I tried to stand up and balance at the top of the step. I teetered this way and that until eventually I made it and was able to walk on out along the crumbling slope. After regaining my breath I ascended the steep dusty slope with patchy grass hummocks on it. It was hard work and I took lots of short stops. The cairn had fallen over but the pile of rocks still marked the route.

We traversed along the valley side towards the upper staircase. Just before we reached it Jon needed a toilet stop and I was grateful of the rest. We continued on across the upper staircase and descended the screes on the far side, down to Upstairs. We had a brief rest in the warm midday sun. Everything had been removed from the shepherds' shelter. I put back the rocks that we had removed from the walls to hold the tarpaulin down.

We set out on the final leg of our journey at 1:40pm. I was eager to get it over and done with, and finally to be able to lay my big rucksack down knowing I wouldn't have to carry it again. After traversing the rocky ledges under the cliffs I stopped to get out a red flag. I attached it to the end of my Leki pole so those in Base Camp would be able to see us coming. Seeing Base Camp in the distance renewed my energy, and I ran to catch Jon up. We walked the last few paces together into Base Camp.

photo © 2001 dan
A little "garden" built by our staff

Narinder, Sonam, and a rep from Zingaro Travels were all there to shake our hands. We told them how we had got on and then went to the mess tent, where Alan, Steve and Andy had just finished eating lunch. We caught up on each other's news while munching the crispy flying saucers and chilli bean mush that sonnam brought us. I was more thirsty than hungry as the hot sun had taken its toll on me during the morning. Alan's face had formed scabs but he still refused to go out while the sun was out. Andy had only returned to Base Camp the previous day as the shepherd hadn't turned up, so he had had to load-ferry the equipment back to Base Camp. Steve and Alan had done little but rest since they came down. The end of the expedition had come none too soon for Steve, who by now had read all of the books in our little library from cover to cover.

After lunch I wrapped sharp objects in gaffer tape and packed the kit bags. I took some time out to scrub the cooking pans in the river until they glistened in the falling sun. Fried battered bits and ketchup arrived at 4pm and we dug in as though we hadn't been fed for a week. Then with no time to rest I finished packing the kit bags while those who had already had several days rest, rested.

I drank my soup quickly at 6pm before unpacking my large rucksack. I sorted all my clothes and equipment out before starting to repack my things ready for the trek out of Base Camp in the morning. I had virtually finished by 7pm, but I ended up throwing the last few things under the flysheet of my tent as it was tea time and would soon be dark. Rice, chicken-bone curry (a bit harsh but you get the idea) and roasted vegetables were awaiting me. Red jelly followed for pudding and then a lovely cup of tea. Afterwards I caught up with some of my diary writing while the others left for their sleeping bags one by one. By 9pm I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. I returned to my tent and slept.

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© Copyright Steve Jolly 2001.