15 October – The Ascent
Having spent the previous day marvelling at the spectacular scenes of Lake Imja and practising my dexterity with a figure of eight so that I wouldn’t be left on the summit the following day, I have a restless night in my tent, eagerly anticipating the off at 2am.
As the hour approaches, the whole team packs themselves into the dining tent for a final briefing, and my excitement is inflated to almost as much as all the clothing that I’m wearing. After getting an outline of the day and what we can expect, it’s time for the off, but not before another nervous trip across the rocks to the fearsome toilet hut, an intrepid adventure in itself; made even more perilous on this occasion when I realise that I’ve left my torch behind. Not wanting to take an extra trip back to the camp, I prop the door open with my gloves to get the light from the moon.
With the moon and a few head torches now lighting our way, we snake our way back and forth up a steep, narrow trail, avoiding the loose shale on either side. In the distance, a soft glow from snow on what looks like an impossible mountain face, reflects the challenge ahead and I wonder how we will find our way over to the summit hidden behind. My attention changes though when one of our party wanders off the path and finds himself stranded. Stabilising himself on a bolder but unable to get back to the path, I reach out and grab his arm, pulling him back over to us and we continue up.
Still shrouded in darkness, a towering rock face that couldn’t be seen before slowly comes into view. Fortunately, a narrow gap quickly presents itself and we make our way to the other side, where a distant twinkling of lights from another team ahead, shows us how far we still have to go to the glacier.
When dawn breaks, the outline of the surrounding mountains is lit up by a red sky, but with any shepherd far in the valleys below, I hope it’s not a sign of bad weather ahead. At the same time, we skirt around a large bolder to reveal a narrow snow covered ledge flanked by precipices on either side. The ledge quickly leads out to a steep, snowy incline up to the glacier, so marks the point where we need to breakout our climbing harnesses, ice axes and crampons. Admiring the view down into the valley below, this is undoubtedly the most exhilarating place I have ever had to change my shoes.
Climbing at high altitude with the sun now fully out without a cloud in the sky, I quickly discover that despite metres of ice below my feet you quickly get very hot. Seeing me stop and take off my pack, our local guide calls down from above to ask if I’m ok, but I’m fine and after stripping right back to a base layer we’re on our way again.
Now roped together, we make our way up the glacier and behind the false peak that I had seen earlier from below, giving us our first view of the summit at the top of a huge wall of ice on the other side of the glacier. Taking a break, it’s clear that the journey and altitude is taking its toll on two of the team. But it’s not too long before we persuade them to their feet and we get going again, walking up between two gnarled crevasses and then taking a run up to jump to the other side.
Now all that stood between me and my violin was a great wall of ice. Eager to get going, I clipped myself on and headed on up, eventually rolling over onto the knife-edge ridge at the top sometime later. Struggling with the lack of oxygen, I made my way up the long ridge, now only managing a few steps at a time all the way to the tiny area at the summit, where in the early afternoon, among the snow covered peaks and turquoise lakes of the Himalayas and with the violin still intact, I held what was to be the highest concert in the world.
Now I just had to get back down again.Back