Adventurer and author of The Everest Files trilogy Matt Dickinson is back on Mount Everest for the second consecutive year. In 2016 he joined Jagged Globe on an expedition to Everest's South Col as the team's writer in residence and this year he has returned again with a British military team to film the backdrop to his new play, Everest Calling, which will premier at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August at the same time that Killer Storm – the third and final book in The Everest Files trilogy – is launched at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Here is the first of Matt's blogs ...
THE EVEREST FILES AUTHOR IS BACK ON EVEREST AGAIN THIS YEAR ON A FILMING MISSION. IN THIS SERIES OF BLOGS HE REPORTS BACK FROM THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN ON EARTH!
Let’s start from the beginning. Where is Mount Everest? On my school visits I have sometimes been surprised when pupils have guessed it is in the middle of Europe or even in Scotland! In fact Everest is situated on the southern edge of Asia, just on the border of Nepal and Tibet. The mountain is 8,848 metres high, just a fraction over 29,000 feet.
To get to Everest is a significant journey. You can access it from the northern and southern sides but it takes two or three weeks hard trekking to get to Base Camp. I was lucky enough to reach the summit on a previous expedition, becoming the twenty-seventh British climber to reach the top. My experiences on the mountain have inspired my writing, especially my series The Everest Files.
The map above (courtesy of Alan Arnette) shows the route from Nepal and the four camps on the trail to the summit of Everest. Nowadays up to 500 western clients attempt to summit the mountain each year, most of them assisted by Sherpa helpers who are professional climbers from the local region. To climb Everest costs over $50,000 US dollars (about £40,000) so you need some very deep pockets or a sponsor. My climbs are paid for by articles I write for newspapers and TV companies that I film for.
How long does it take to climb Everest? In total it can take at least eight to ten weeks to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. This is because the air is so thin. On the summit of Everest there is seventy per cent less oxygen in the atmosphere than what we normally breathe. The human body needs to adjust to this. Acclimatisation takes a number of weeks as the blood adapts, getting thicker, so that it can carry oxygen more efficiently. The second reason is the stormy weather, which is always unpredictable, sometimes pinning climbers down in their tents for days or even weeks. Then there is the need to build a series of camps, which also takes a lot of time. Camping equipment is heavy and it requires many tons of gear to keep climbers safe on their way to the top.
Is Everest crowded? Yes! The dream of reaching the top of Everest is one that is shared by people all over the world. Large numbers of trekkers can cause environmental damage and some parts of the Himalaya have problems with deforestation, litter and pollution. Getting to Base Camp is an ambitious trek for anyone but some UK schools take sixth form groups to Nepal to do it! Other students do it as a gap-year trek. Perhaps one day you’ll set out to reach the foot of the highest mountain on Earth! The photo above shows the crowded trails on the way to Base Camp (photo: Matt Dickinson).
What about the dangers? While the trek to Base Camp is comparatively safe, the climb to the summit most definitely is not! For every 100 climbers who have successfully reached the summit, four climbers have lost their lives. That’s a four per cent chance of death. Would you take that risk? The most dangerous places are the icefall, where avalanches are an almost daily event, and the summit day where the oxygen levels get so low that supplementary oxygen bottles must be used to sustain life. The cost of a summit photograph can be very high. The picture to the above shows the Everest ice fall – a deadly avalanche zone (photo: Matt Dickinson).
My expedition for 2017: This year I am back on the Nepali side of Everest for the second year running. This time a British Military Expedition of the Gurkha Regiment is hosting me. The regiment is a part of the British Army that recruits soldiers from Nepal. It has a long and proud history and the soldiers are renowned for their extraordinary courage. My job here is to do some filming for a school play I have written about Everest. The play will be part of the Edinburgh Fringe this summer and the video material I am filming will be shown as the backdrop to the drama.
Matt Dickinson and the 2017 Gurkha Expedition at base camp. Photo: Matt Dickinson