After a safe arrival at the dramatic, clifftop airport of Lukla, we have spent the last ten days trekking up the beautiful Thame valley.
The Khumbu valley, the Gokyo valley and the Thame valley are the three valleys above the mountain town of Namche Bazzar (the town above Lukla airport). Everest base camp is at the top of the Khumbu valley, but the Khumbu gets very crowded, so we've been acclimatising in the Thame valley, and now in the Gokyo valley, before heading over to the Khumbu in a few days time.
On the way up to Namche I bumped into some old friends from med school and the Xtreme Alps expedition; Ned, Grace and Jildou. It was great to catch up, despite feeling ill with gastroenteritis at the time. Once up in Namche I visited the Xtreme Everest 2 laboratory and caught up with my friends Kay (from CASE) and Tim and Sara (from BMRES). Hopefully I'll see more of the Xtreme Everest team up at base camp. I also bumped into Oli from Xtreme Alps, down in Kathmandu, and Suzi, a friend from the diploma in mountain medicine, above Namche - it's been nice seeing so many familiar faces out here.
From Namche we went to stay with Tashi who we stayed with in 2009. It was nice seeing her again and experiencing her wonderful hospitality for a second time. From there we headed up the Thame valley, which is much quieter than both the Khumbu and Gokyo valleys. It feels much more remote and wild. I would recommend it to anyone coming to this area who wants to avoid the crowds. We had a magical Puja (a ceremony to bless our Everest expedition) above Thame in a remote Bhuddist temple on the hillside.
As well as heading up the valley to an altitude of around 4300m, we've done lots of acclimatisation treks up nearby hills to around 4800 meters.
Today we crossed the Renjo La, 5300m, a high mountain pass to get from the Thame valley into the Gokyo valley. We've just arrived at the stunning lake-side village of Gokyo which is where Ellen and I got engaged back in 2009. It's really special being back.
The weather has been very good so far - blue skies every day, with clouds often forming by the evening. Unfortunately it's started snowing today, so we may have to alter our plans for the next few days - we were supposed to be crossing the Cho La pass over to the Khumbu valley in a couple of days time, but if the snow carries on we'll have to drop down lower and go around.
The team is bonding really well and I'm really pleased to be sharing this experience with such nice people. Tim is the expedition leader - he's climbed the big E twice before (he was only the tenth Brit to summit from both the North and South sides). Tom is from France and is a film maker. He's making a film of our expedition which promises to be a real masterpiece if current footage is anything to go by. Steve is from Australia and seems to be all round adventurer from mountain climbing, to skiing, to fishing. He's certainly a good laugh and very chilled out. Stuart is a very experienced climber from Hong Kong (he also has a place in Scotland so seems to be in the UK a lot) - its great to meet a fellow nutter who's psyched for Scottish winter climbing! Ilina is hoping to be the first woman from Macedonia to summit Everest and its good to have some else on the expedition who's keen for training - yesterday she had me doing pull-ups at 4,300m before breakfast!
So all in all its been a good start to the expedition. We're aiming to get to base camp in about 12 days, and then the fun really begins!