Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Day -1: It’s Happening

During one of my very many routine and recurrent relationship crises, a very wise young man once took me out for a walk in the rock garden, put his arm around my shoulder, and said, “Let's talk about ‘drama management’.” A totally unrelated concept is: Drama Inflation. This one impacts not my relationships, but my treks. Simply, I can't seem to go any place less dramatic than the last place I trekked/hiked/walked in. So the rugged cliffs of the Cornwall Coast followed the Coast to Coast across England, and the majestic Scottish Highlands followed that, then were in turn trumped by the incomparable Alps. What was left?

Pretty much just the mothertrucking HIMALAYAS. Yeah.

So, after four years of the usual routine of planning, debating, wangling, and negotiating, Mark begged off, Tim dropped out, and Darby convinced me to go anyway – just the two of us. Predictably, we decided to do the Three High Passes of Everest trek – the big one. This three-week epic passes through pretty much all the valleys, high passes, popular trekker’s peaks, and general glories of the Khumbu – the Everest Region of the Nepal Himalaya. We were going to get seriously stuck in.

There commenced quite a lot of climbing 400 flights of stairs at a time with eight sacks of flour on my back (during election season) –

– as well as fundraising, for the Nepal Youth Foundation

– but that was at an end surprisingly quickly, and climbing for real was upon us. It all started today…




As the departure date rapidly approached, it began to feel precisely as if I'd been buying kit my whole life. I started out replacing just a few worn-out items from prior treks; but, in the end, found myself buying new and better versions of virtually everything. Twenty-four hours from departure, I was actually still not done – taking receipt of last-minute Amazon Prime same-day shipments of cold-weather gear. The night before my flight, I ran around doing my headless chicken routine. Here's the staging photo – everything I was taking to Nepal:

You'll note some of the usual stuff, and some new stuff. From top left:

  • Brand new Osprey Talon bag (to replace my slightly smaller, now slightly smelly old Osprey Talon bag) – with blacked-out Union flag patch, that I got specially sewn on!
  • Same damned day bag from Africa, 2002 (go, Eagle Creek)
  • Kilogram of my special custom trail mix, in sealed baggie
  • Intrepid Jungle Explorer hat, also circa 2002
  • Good ole camp cup and knspork (feel naked without those)
  • Thermals are a newcomer
  • Also bought a bunch of new kit, including hardshell jacket, from the amazing folks at Sherpa Adventure Gear (more on them anon)
  • Finally solved the trekking underwear problem years later (you'll be relieved to hear), with the amazing ExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer Brief – so comfortable, breathable, and antimicrobial, I seriously probably could have worn one pair the whole trek; they're so great, actually, I subsequently realised they're not just the best trekking pants, but the best everything pants, and standardised on them for running, other exercise, and the entire rest of my life…

Here's how the old trusty, sturdy A6 notebook opens the adventure:

Alarm at 06.20. Must leave at 08.20. Only thing real about this is that plane is taking off at 11.20. That it's happening.

If you've failed to pick up on this, Heathrow Terminal 5 is one of my favourite places in the world. Just arriving there always makes me happy.

However, I got off to a cracking start at security, when the eagle-eyed scanner operators managed to spot a tiny little 4.7mm armour-piercing round that I'd very, very cleverly managed to leave in my bag from the last time I went shooting with Alex. You try explaining why you want to carry armour-piercing ammo onto a commercial flight. Spent some real quality time with quite a lot of very nice Met SFOs (Specialist Firearms Officers), including two skippers (sergeants). This included a live call to the U.S. DHS, just to make sure the American security services weren't looking for me, as well as me getting cautioned (the UK equivalent of the Miranda warning – first time since training!), and one poor officer having to lay on a CRIS report. Great guys, but of course I ended up racing to my gate…

Super-expensive champers

By the time I got there, the overhead bins were of course full – when your trek starts the day after you land, you can't afford a lost checked bag – but a nice man pointed me toward some empty ones in business class. World Traveller Plus (BA's charming name for premium economy) comes with, it turns out, sparkling wine upon boarding – what I've now come to think of as the world's most expensive glass of champers, since you're basically paying double to sit ten feet ahead of hoi polloi in economy – as well as menus.

On board, I started re-reading my Himalayan trekking guidebook – literally purchased years ago – and started being re-awakened to the true drama I was in for.

“The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal is a trekker's dream world. The dramatic beauty of its mountains is legendary, its people among the most warm-hearted, gentle and openly friendly that you could possibly wish to meet. From the lush foothills stepped with immaculate terracing, to the stark upper regions of snow, ice and towering walls of rock, a series of unfolding landscapes impress all who wander through. None who are lured along its trails need fear disappointment.”

And I almost started to get excited. (My two traditional onboard-BA Jack-and-Diet-Cokes probably didn't hurt. Only this time I didn't have to wheedle – they just gave me two without me even asking. 8^)

For the first time, it occurs to me that this trip just might not be another one of my problems this year. It may be a part of the solution. It, perhaps, may help me to remember (or, if necessary, figure out), who I am.
Me, whatever that is

I also thought about trying to bring dear Dargbles up to speed on my life – and it's a completely daunting project. I felt as if I've lived a dozen comedies and tragedies in the last nine months alone. But, then, I consider that trying to explain it to her… might just make it make sense to me.

Going hard now with LP Nepali phrasebook, and couple of MP3 Nepali lessons I brought. I genuinely feel naked in a new country without basic phrases. And I JIT-learn like a man about to have his pants pulled down in the centre of Thamel.

Thamel is incidentally, the part of Kathmandu rammed to bursting with trekkers; and trekking shops. I hereby thoughtfully omit my wide variety of scribbled Nepali phrases from the notebook. (Except this one: “Git-ah, Aakash-ji?”. Exactly two people will appreciate that one. It's me asking our bottomlessly wonderful guide, Aakash, what's up. Every morning. Forever. Never got old. For me.)

Currently threading the sky over and between Vienna and Bratislava.

I do love the better-all-the-time in-flight info displays. Perspective about where you are on the globe is a precious thing.

Man next to me appears never to have flown before, and seems to think the airplane cabin is a restaurant. He keeps trying to order steak, and won't be dissuaded, including by me, when I finally get sick of listening to it.

Over the Black Sea, Istanbul off our right wingtip, I decided to start my twice-daily Acetazolamide – it's a drug for AMS (acute mountain sickness), or altitude sickness, but can also be taken prophylactically. It helps your bloodstream clear nitrogen, and aids in quicker acclimatisation to altitude. While I'm doing it, I decide to take some brain drugs. I always forget on treks. Plus I don't need them.

Jack! and schtuff

I also set my watch to local time, once I work out what “Time at destination” looks like in Devangari script. Then I try to nap, through a mini-hangover from the Jack and Diet Cokes, putting on some music to drown out Chatty Cathy nearby. Finally, I rally, and start transcribing a bunch more phrases from the phrase book to the notebook.

The flight passes.




I hit Indira Gandhi International Airport in a total daze, stagger to the transfers area, and find there is no BA guy there. (It's 0130 local.) With no BA guy, I can't get my boarding pass. With no boarding pass, I can't pass this damned point in the airport. Looking at a single option – WAIT – I hit the charging station to zap my phone.

There, I meet my first Nepalese person. He's from a small village 60km from Pangboche, and now works in the government in the Big City of Kathmandu. Nice man. Fading on the conversation, I decide to rack out on the floor for awhile, head on bag. I'm awakened, I have no idea how much later, by the BA guy. I can continue my journey, and go through to int'l departures – where there's a nice, comfy, countoured lounger to rack out on. Just one more hop to KTM.

Lounger Lounger lounging

Tomorrow, Day Zero: “Kathmandu Reconfigures Your Map”

  3PoET     dargbles     trekking  
about
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN, Book Fourteen - Endgame by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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