Progress Report 1 - Kangchenjunga - Spring 2000 Tuesday 11th April

Alan Hinkes reports from Kathmandu just before heading off on the long trek
to Kangchenjunga base camp:

"Monday 3 April was departure date from England. After fine, dry and warm weather in North Yorkshire (I had been hearing skylarks in the fields whilst out training), Monday turned back to winter. The return to bad weather made for an arduous and long drive to London Heathrow.

I was met at the Qatar Airways desk by their European Regional Manager Mr Salehi and by ground crew Lorraine and Wendy, who looked after me before boarding at 21.15 hours for the flight to Doha. I was relieved to settle back in the airline seat, sip a wine and beer and get some Z'eds in - it was the first time I had been able to sit back and relax for several weeks. After a short one hour stop in Doha, it was on to Kathmandu.

The weeks leading up to my departure had been hectic, arranging equipment, sorting and packing. Most of my cargo - my equipment and some food - had been packed up by Britannia Movers International in Hull a few days before and shipped to Heathrow for a Qatar Airways flight to Kathmandu.

Kathmandu is dusty and polluted with traffic fumes. When I arrived I transferred to the same hotel that I had stayed in after climbing Makalu in the spring of 1999. Whilst I had been staying there, the fifth floor and all the landings had been burnt out in a fire. I had risked my life at the height of the fire by dashing back into the smoked filled hotel to rescue my rolls of undeveloped film and video images taken on the summit of Makalu. To me they were irreplaceable. I was horrified at the time of the fire at the lack of fire and safety equipment in the hotel. Now, a year later, although the hotel has been repaired, there are still no fire alarms, sprinklers, fire extinguishers, fire hoses or fire escapes. Who needs life on an 8000er to live dangerously?!

Britannia Movers International did a great job on the airfreight. I cleared it through customs easily and unpacked the boxes to organise it into 30kg loads. I shall need around 40 porters to help me carry my equipment to base camp. There are no roads near to Kangchenjunga and everything will have to be carried. Nepalese regulations specify that a porter's load should be no more than 30kgs in weight, so I had to pack all of my equipment into watertight barrels, each carefully weighed, before my equipment could leave Kathmandu.

My equipment is provided for me by some of the leading companies in the climbing world including outdoor clothing and rucksacs from Berghaus, tents from Terra Nova, my trusty head torch and crampons from Petzl and the latest GPS watch from Casio ProTrek.

I left some equipment in storage here in Kathmandu after my expedition to Makalu last year. My Esse kerosene heater for base camp was still here and has now headed with the rest of my equipment for base camp to warm my mess tent. I certainly don't need a heater here in Kathmandu as it is warm and sunny. As well as providing a heater for base camp, Esse has given me a cap to protect my head from the sun. A cap is not a standard Esse product, but neither is my heater. It was specially made for me by Esse and engraved with my Challenge 8000 logo.

I met up with my base camp crew on Friday. Pemba my cook, who is a Tumang, was with me at Makalu last year. He knows I like egg, chips and spam at base camp, as well as rice, dhal and chapattis. Pemba Gyolzen is his helper and the Sirdar (foreman) is Ang Pasang, a Sherpa who I met in '97.

The crew set off for the road head the next day, a journey which normally takes two and a half days. I shall then fly to a dirt airstrip at Baratnigar to join them for the twelve day trek to base camp. We will probably be walking for around six to eight hours a day, just like fell walking in the Lake District, only higher and more remote.

Unfortunately, there was a bit of a glitch. There is a strike in progress across Nepal and the crew were not able to drive as far as the road head. They made it about half way and are now starting the trek a bit earlier than planned and have begun walking. This has delayed me by a couple of
days. I suppose an option would have been to charter a plane to the airstrip, or a heli, but that was beyond my budget.

During my remaining day in Kathmandu, I hope to enjoy the fine weather and meet old friends like Bikrum, Satish and Naryan - who has been helping me with my laptop which was provided for me by Diagonal. I have been practising with a new video camera, a webcam provided by Sharp, so that I can send moving pictures back via the Internet for my web site.

Yesterday I picked up twelve bottles of The Famous Grouse scotch whiskey which will be useful for thinning the blood at base camp! Only joking - but there are a couple of other expeditions on Kangchenjunga, so if I can give them a gift of some Famous Grouse, it should make me a welcome newcomer when I reach there!

Over the last couple of days I have been giving interviews to various radio stations, TV and newspapers, as well as chatting on a live telephone link from Kathmandu to the Business Club lunch at the New Mill Restaurant in Eversley.

I have picked up a slight head cold, probably from all the dust in Kathmandu, which has given me a sore throat and blocked nose. There is plenty of fresh fruit here and I am taking my Seven Seas vitamins, so I should shake off the cold before I start the trek.

I shall be leaving Kathmandu on Wednesday 12 April, so my next report should be in about two weeks time after I arrive in base camp."