Gavin has been climbing mountains and guiding expeditions all of his adult life and is an International Mountain Leader. He is the Director of Adventure Alternative and the Founder of the Moving Mountains Trust. He has set up adventure travel companies and NGOs in Kenya, Tanzania, Nepal and Russia. The companies financially underwrite the different charities, and Gavin uses his expeditions to raise funds for the work of Moving Mountains.
As a climber Gavin is influenced by pioneers such as Reinhold Messner, Doug Scott and Erhard Loretan who brought an alpine style approach to high altitude peaks. “More recently climbers such as Alex Lowe, Conrad Anker and Steve House have inspired me, but the desire to stand on the summit has always been tempered by the importance of having an aesthetic appeal, essentially to do more with less”.
Gavin’s five expeditions to Mount Everest have all been self-organised and guided and have raised in excess of half a million pounds for Moving Mountains, thus enabling him to pursue a passion for climbing mountains and run a charity that runs relevant, long term and sustainable development projects in the Himalayas, the jungles of Sarawak and in East Africa.
“By not actually summiting in those five expeditions, and always getting to within 100 metres or so from the summit, I have created a ten year journey out of Everest which was unforeseen but in hindsight completely understandable. You can’t climb Everest without oxygen or without camps or without Sherpas, as I have done, and expect to summit every time.While Everest might appear to have become a nemesis, in fact it has become a mentor. I have learnt that turning back from the summit, even if it is Everest, is never to be regretted as long as you come home again in one piece. Following sound mountaineering principles is the only thing that matters, since Everest can attract it’s fair share of summit fever which tends to cloud good judgement”.
This year in 2011 Gavin will be climbing for the sixth time on Mt Everest and raising more funds for the continued work of his charity Moving Mountains. He will continue to follow a lifetime of mountaineering intuition and training, and make sure that summiting is obligatory but coming back down again is mandatory.
Gavin Bate – Expedition Leader, UK, lives in Belfast and London.
Dave Hill – Member, Canada. Lives in Sarnia
Michael Hurry – Member, Canada
Pasang Tendi Sherpa – lead Sherpa and Director of Adventure Alternative Nepal. 8 times on Everest, 2 times summit. Comes from Khari Khola in solu Khumbu, married to Sarasoti and two children Jubilee and Elli Dolma.
Lopsang Sherpa – climbing Sherpa, 2 times summit. From Khari Khola, married to Fur Diti with one daughter .
Fur Temba Sherpa – climbing Sherpa, 1 time summit. From Waku village, married to Tashi Sherpa with six children.
Nima Wongdi – Base Camp cook, married with three children, from KK
Mingma Sherpa – Camp Two Cook, married with 4 kids, Takshindu
Nita Lama – Base Camp staff, single, ktm
Sangita Lama – Base Camp staff, single, ktm
It will be important to be competent in the following procedures
- Use of ice axe for self arrest, braking in the event of a slip and as an aid in climbing
- Familiarity with using harness and crampons in a cold and high environment
- Using a ‘cows tail’ with a jumar and safety karabiner on a fixed line
- Moving safely and efficiently on glaciated ground on a rope
- Crossing ladders that span crevasses while wearing crampons
- Climbing on steep ice using front points of crampons and ice axe
- Camping and self-managing at high altitude in a potentially hostile environment
Even though there is a fixed line on the mountain it is important to know that any such system is only as good as the anchors holding it in place. Therefore any self-respecting climber will only use a jumar to assist with climbing, rather than rely on it.
In addition we will also be concentrating on:
- Keeping healthy at altitude for extended periods of time
- Maintaining high levels of hydration, and good sleep for extended periods of time
- Harbouring energy levels over ten weeks to ensure optimal performance
- Making sound judgements based on all the available facts
- Keeping a good level of teamwork and respect amongst the team
- Enjoying ourselves! Because the best mountaineers are the ones having the most fun..(Alex Lowe)
While Everest is described as not a very technical mountain compared to some of the other 8000 metre peaks, it would be wrong to simplify the expedition and describe it as a Long Walk. Climbing Mt Everest is a major test of reserves, a difficult physical and mental exercise which involves a journey into the so-called Death Zone where the extreme altitude has a deleterious effect on the body and the metabolism.
People will always romanticise the peak, even anthropomorphise it and draw all sorts of analogies to the experience of climbing it, but the reality is that Everest is a huge mountain with considerable objective dangers, especially in the Icefall. It has severe weather systems, not least with the jet stream that streams over the summit, and there is the difficulty of getting assistance in the event of an accident. Trying to help another person near the summit of Everest where self-preservation is a priority and simple movements are rendered clumsy and unfocussed, is an extremely difficult prospect. Sharing an oxygen mask with another person means going without oxygen yourself, and manhandling an inert person is beyond the ability of most human beings at over 8000 metres.
The skill may not be in overcoming a specific crux point, but in maintaining a constant level of care and attention over many weeks when the daily diurnal temperature range can be 50 degrees and simply living at high altitude has a cumulatively negative effect on physical strength, will power, mental acuity and positive attitude. Add into the mix the emotional impact of being away from home for ten weeks, the uncertainty and fear of going above eight thousand metres, and the pressure that climbing the highest mountain in the world tends to generate, and it is easy to see what skills are needed to get through an expedition to Mount Everest.
These may be described as soft skills, but the additional factor of luck adds an element to the experience. Climbing through the Icefall requires care crossing ladders and surmounting seracs, but the reality is that the whole crumbling edifice could collapse at any time (and frequently does) which leaves you in no doubt as to the role of luck on an expedition like this.
Therefore it would be unwise to take any one aspect of an expedition to Mount Everest and attempt to define the whole. Increased numbers on Everest won’t make it any lower, fixed lines are only a part of safety, technology and mobile phones won’t dilute the sense of challenge, and the most skilled climber can easily be foiled by a relatively minor mistake like dropping a glove.
For me, it’s about being realistic, Everest is just another mountain where you follow good mountaineering procedures and bring all your skills to bear, but it is also like no other mountain because the summit is a piece of real estate five miles high in the sky that isn’t easy to reach.
Depart Kathmandu - 30 March
Arrive Base Camp ~ 9 April
Carries to Camps ~ 14 April – 20 May
Summit period ~ 21 – 28 May
Back in Kathmandu ~ 5 June
We will follow a tried and tested plan of mountain logistics:
Trek in 11 days. Followed by daily exercise (up to Kala Patthar for example). Several day visits to Camp 1 through the Icefall, with the Sherpas helping to set up Camp 2. Estimate 7 days doing this. An overnight at Camp 1, followed by a visit to Camp 2. This is followed by a visit all the way to Camp 2 from Base Camp and an overnight. Repeat. Estimate 8 days doing this.
Climb Island Peak. This is a 5 day round trip and is an excellent acclimatisation peak to climb. Visit Camp 2 for an overnight and then a day visit to Camp 3. By this time the Sherpas will be starting to put gear into Camp 4 at the south col. This very much depends on how confident and capable we feel. Estimate 8 days. Do this twice. Another rest, during which we can go down to one of the lower villages. 4 days. By now the Sherpas will have put in Camp 4. Summit cycle with plenty of time for waiting for weather. Rest after summit. Allow 10 days. Trek out in 5 days.
Summit window on Everest is statistically always around the May 14th – May 30th time, with every year offering different weather patterns for either an early or late summit. Essentially everyone must wait for the high pressure over the Bay of Bengal to sweep over the Himalayas and push the jet stream winds upwards. Other factors which determine the summit window are whether the fixed lines are in above Camp 4.
Lukla – start point of trek - 2860 metres
Base Camp - 5300 metres
Camp 1 – top of the Khumbu Icefall - 5900 metres
Camp 2 – Western Cwm - 6400 metres
Camp 3 – Lhotse Face - 7500 metres
Camp 4 – South Col - 8000 metres
Summit - 8848 metres
Tents (18 North Face VE25s in total)
- 2 at south col
- 3 at camp 3
- 4 at camp 2
- 2 at camp 1
- 6 at BC (1 spare)
- 15 at south col (4 litre bottles)
- 6 at camp 3
My favourite piece of kit is: My old Grivel axe which has been with me on every mountain for the past fifteen years. It’s an extension of my arm when I’m holding it and I’m quite superstitious about having it with me.
Most useful piece of clothing at high altitude – TNF salopettes and Mountain Equipment powerstretch suit, goggles with space lens and Millet One Sport boots.
Power supply BC
- Petrol Generator - 110V AC, 600 Watt
- AC PSU - 100V input, 12V/20 amp
- Dry cell battery - 12V/20 amp
Power supply C2
- Solar panel - 12V/50Watt
- Dry cell battery - 12V/20 amp
- Solar gorilla - 20V
- Powergorilla - 5 - 24V
Communications / GPS
- Explorer 110 BGAN satellite terminal (voice and data)
- Iridium mobile satellite phone (voice)
- 2 x VHF FM transceivers with antennae (BC & C2)
- 6 x VHF radio handsets (1 per team member)
- Spot tracker unit
- Mobile phone
- IBM solid state laptop
- Eee pc solid state laptop
- Contact software for up-to-date tracking
This year Rotary International celebrates its 100th anniversary and Gavin will be attempting to take the Rotary Flag to the top of Everest. Since the District Governor of Rotary District 1160 (Ireland) is Wes Armstrong from Coleraine, and Gavin has long links with the town, he has been made an honorary member of the town club (in esteemed company with the likes of Jimmy Nesbitt the actor).
Rotary in Ireland will be supporting Moving Mountains in the coming year, and hopefully Rotarians will take up the offer to do their own challenge. Gavin was presented with the summit flag on 15th March at a luncheon. “I am very proud to represent Rotary International and take the flag with me to Everest, it’s going to add a special element to the climb and my thanks to the Coleraine Club for their enthusiasm”. www.rotary.ie
Gavin Bate: I have made five expeditions to Everest, each one very different in style and approach. All the expeditions have been organised personally by me and funded by myself.
2000: South East Ridge, Nepal Five members and five Sherpas, using four camps and supplementary bottled oxygen. Reached 8750m, turned back at the South Summit due to a cough.
2002: North East Ridge, Tibet Two members and no Sherpas, using three camps and no supplementary oxygen. Reached 8600m with my friend Will Canning when he dislocated his kneecap. Extremely difficult three day descent assisting Will down the mountain and carrying all the gear, without food or sleep or water.
2005: South East Ridge, Nepal One Sherpa (Nima Sherpa), using only one camp at 6400m and no supplementary oxygen, with a fast alpine-style summit bid in 32 hours. Reached 8750m, turned back at the South Summit due to queuing at the Hillary Step.
2007: North East Ridge/South East Ridge Traverse, Tibet & Nepal One Sherpa (Pasang Tendi), using no camps and no supplementary oxygen, with a fast non-stop ascent up the North side and down the South side. Acclimatised first by climbing Cho Oyu. Reached 8600m (Second Step) in 19 hours and suffered pulmonary oedema and subsequent hypothermia. Assisted by Pasang Tendi in a difficult descent back to Base Camp.
2009: South East Ridge, Nepal Three members and four Sherpas, using four camps and supplementary oxygen. This was a standard climb on the normal route. Reached 8600m, turned back due to a frozen oxygen mask which was causing hypoxia.
The most liberating experience I ever had, and the most enjoyable time on Everest for me, was the solo climb in 2005 when I had only one tent on the mountain and did all my own carries. My Sherpa provided support but I was keen for the climb to be as aesthetically ‘clean’ as possible – no oxygen, just one tent and a challenge to summit alpine-style from the lower point of Camp 2; what a shame there was a queue at the summit! But I was the only person without oxygen that day and I knew that I would get too cold waiting for two hours and my body probably couldn’t manage it, so I did the right thing and came down.
Carrying Will off the North side in 2002 was the most memorable and dramatic experience I’ve ever had on Everest, it was so difficult I still find it hard to put into words. Will was unable to stand without heavy support but we made it down through sheer bloody-mindedness and teamwork. I’ve no idea why I felt it necessary to carry all the gear down as well; I had two bags of over 30 kgs hanging off my harness with Will resting on my back. When we eventually got to Advanced BC we both had emotional breakdowns, but it was still a race to get him to Kathmandu because he was coughing up bits of lung and his knee was the size of a melon. I often wonder how we got down from virtually the summit of Everest with such an injury.
Having experienced carrying somebody off the top without oxygen, it was my turn in 2007 when a rather bold attempt to traverse the whole mountain without any camps or oxygen was scuppered by a very sudden oedema at the Second Step, almost the same place as we reached in 2002! It was an enormous effort to descend because the liquid in my lungs was asphyxiating me and I subsequently got hypothermia. I am forever indebted to Pasang Tendi for giving me oxygen when it happened (that was his job on the trip, my own insurance policy!) and punching my legs and arms to get blood flow going and forcing me to move down. I’m also indebted to Russell Brice and his medical team for tending to me when I eventually got back down.
Imagine how annoyed I was when the oxygen mask I was wearing in 2009 froze up on me in very low temperatures, it seemed a cruel turn of fate after such a successful trip with my two clients. Once again Pasang was with me and we worked to try and clear the blockage but by then hypoxia had already set in and I knew it was best to turn around.
I’m happy that in all my adventures on Everest I have always made it to the summit day, always made it to a very high point. This tells me that at least my approach and logistical decisions are correct and that I have the strength and metabolic ability to cope at 8000m+ without bottled oxygen. It just so happens that every time there has been an unforeseen event at the 11th hour, call it what you will, but maintaining the correct perspective and knowing when to turn around is a much more important reflection of good climbing than putting yourself and others into danger.
Some people say Everest must be my nemesis – so close to the summit so many times! But I disagree. I want to summit, but not by compromising good mountaineering principles. I have been trained very well and received invaluable teaching from the likes of Steve Pinfield. In hindsight Everest has been a mentor to me; I’ve learnt a lot up there and five trips has enabled me to raise a lot for my charity. And let’s not forget that climbing is fun, and the best mountaineers are the ones having the most fun.
Since winning the Award for Best Personal Contribution to Responsible Tourism in 2009 Gavin has been actively involved in many organisations such as Tourism Concern (Ethical Tour Operators Group), Expedition Providers Association and the Sustainable Council at the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AiTO). He has also helped to set up Fair Trade Volunteering and represented World Responsible Tourism Day, both through the company and by speaking at number of events such as the World Travel Market at the Excel in London.
This year, to promote the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism, Gavin is taking the WRTD flag to the summit of Everest. “I believe that a high profile opportunity like this can be useful to promote just what a difference a travel business can make to the environment and local communities which can benefit from proper tourism”.
See Gavin on page three of Spotlight magazine: http://www.wtmwrtd.com/files/spotlight_2010.pdf
The majority of people climbing Mount Everest pay a company to make it possible, but Gavin has always organised and led his own expeditions, and his company Adventure Alternative is one of the regulars at base camp. In many ways the organisation of a trip like Everest is such an amount of work and stress that actually getting to the mountain to climb it comes as a relief!
Gavin has set up a number of companies in the main countries where Adventure Alternative operates, and therefore Adventure Alternative Nepal is in charge of the handling of this year’s trip to Everest. Director and head Sherpa Pasang Tendi has been working with Gavin for the past 6 months to prepare every bit of kit and paperwork. Over a ton of gear was sent up to the mountains back in December and Pasang has been busy organising the staff, the dried food, all the tents and cooking equipment, and of course the permits. Meanwhile Gavin has been organising all the radio communications, satellite units, website information and correspondence with the two members Dave and Michael. He has also arranged the oxygen, regulators and masks.
“No stone is left unturned; the expedition cannot afford to have a single mistake made in the planning. We’re living up at base camp for eight weeks and we have to be completely self-sufficient; obviously we can get fresh food supplies in, but in terms of technology and climbing equipment we need to be absolutely ready for the entire ten weeks”.
AA is now a leading adventure travel tour operator in the UK, running safaris, treks, expeditions, gap years and specialist trips to all parts of the world. With offices in Northern Ireland, Tanzania, Kenya, Nepal, Russia and now Borneo, operations are managed by a total permanent staff of twenty seven around the world. “From a small start my company has maintained strict principles of sound business management with a strong sustainable foundation, “says Gavin, “. I’m very proud of my staff and what we have created in AA”.
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