Archive for August, 2011

Packing for a 10 day trek in the Himalayas needs careful planning. Walking boots. First-aid kit. Sunglasses. Water bottle.

…and a rubber duck?

The 'Beyond the Duck 2011' badge

2011 marked the centenary of Girlguiding UK and Brownies all over the country celebrated in lots of exciting ways. As part of the celebrations, many Brownies in Wales undertook the ‘Beyond the Duck’ challenge in which they had to achieve 100 points to gain their badge. Members of the Newport 4th (East) St Teilo’s Brownies adopted three centenary ducks to help them with their challenge and Amber, the yellow duck named by Hannah, was chosen to accompany Richard on his trek in the Himalayas.

Like Richard, Amber had to do lots of training to make sure she was fit enough to endure the 10 day challenge and even ‘ducked in’ to a Welsh Rugby Union training session during the Six Nations Championship where she had her photograph taken with Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny.

To make sure that Amber was properly equipped for the altitude and extreme weather conditions, Brown Owl knitted her a woolly bonnet and a small bag to store her essentials, including her own passport and visa for Nepal. Thankfully, Amber made it through the stringent security checks at Kathmandu airport and although she left the armed security guards looking rather bemused by the whole experience, she didn’t ruffle too many feathers!

The Brownies helped Richard’s fundraising for Dogs for the Disabled by holding a ‘Duck Drive’ a fortnight before the trek. The Brownies and their parents had tremendous fun and raised a total of £90 for the charity – grateful thanks to all who took part and made it such a successful evening.

Amber made lots of new friends on the trek!

Amber was understandably nervous about leaving Newport to fly to Nepal. Although ducks can fly short distances, the 10 hour flight was a whole new experience for her. However, a drink in the airport bar before take-off gave her some confidence and also an opportunity to meet some of the trekkers who would be joining her.

The group of 30 trekkers looked after her throughout the 10 day trek and she became a mascot for the group – Amber appears in almost every single photograph with a smile on her beak! She also attracted attention from the Nepalese children we met in some of the remote villages who had never seen a duck high in the Himalayas before.

Amber explained that the hardest part of the trek was waking early in the morning to climb to the summit of Poon Hill (3,190m). However, the early start and the climb were worth it; Amber was able to watch the sunrise in the eastern sky with the mighty snow-capped peaks changing colour in the distance.

Richard would like to thank Amber for her companionship during the trek and hopes that she will have cherished memories which will last her forever. Thanks also to Brown Owl and the Brownies for allowing Amber to leave her sisters, Maple and Rose, to accompany Richard on his fundraising challenge.

I hope that the Brownies will all eventually receive their ‘Beyond the Duck 2011’ badge… perhaps I will one day have my own badge to attach to my rucksack, next to the Nepalese flag badge, to remind me of such a wonderful trip!

Richard has already asked Amber if she would like to join him when he dresses like a dog to climb Pen-y-Fan to raise more money for Dogs for the Disabled but she has told him that he must be ‘quackers’! Hopefully she will be able to join him for the reunion on September 8th when the ‘trekkers’ will visit the Dogs for the Disabled centre in Banbury.

Richard and Amber arrive safely at Kathmandu Airport

Amber tucking into a hearty breakfast before a hard day of trekking

Richard and Amber on the summit of Poon Hill (3,190m)


Read Full Post »

The trek in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas in April this year was a wonderful achievement for the 30 trekkers who took part; not least for the amount of money we collectively raised for Dogs for the Disabled.

We were joined by Dawa Sherpa, our main guide for the 10 day trek, who spoke about his mountain and trekking experiences over the years. Dawa told us one evening (as I was conquering Everest again) how he had been climbing Everest with a young woman and was within 50m of the summit when he made the decision to abandon the summit attempt; although Dawa was not using oxygen, the woman was getting dangerously close to running out of her own supply. Dawa explained how he could have reached the summit on his own, but instead led the woman back down to safety. It is not surprising, therefore, that the website for his charity, Classrooms in the Clouds, describes him as “an inspirational  man…  He is a humble leader who is dedicated to the safety and well being of everyone around him.”

Welshman, Richard Parks, conquered Everest this year as part of his 737 Challenge

My experience in the Himalayas has certainly fuelled my interest in this great mountain range and, in particular, the greatest mountain of them all: Everest.

Furthermore, a successful challenge by Richard Parks on his 737 Challenge for Marie Curie earlier this year has certainly inspired me to one day attempt Everest Base Camp. Richard, the former Welsh International and Barbarian flanker, was forced to retire from professional rugby due to a career ending shoulder injury in May 2009. After a period of contemplation, he decided that he was going to confront his fears and unanswered questions by creating The 737 Challenge: a gripping 7 month expedition to climb the 7 Summits, which are the highest mountain on each of the world’s continents, and venture the last degree to The South Pole and Geographic North Pole. Richard conquered Everest on 25th May 2011.

Since writing my previous blog (about the mountain, not the beer) I have discovered lots of fascinating facts and admirable achievements demonstrating Everest’s burgeoning reputation as the place for odd feats.

  • Eccentric Briton, Maurice Wilson, attempted to crash-land his Gipsy Moth plane halfway up the mountain and climb to the summit. Despite his lack of mountaineering or flying experience, he succeeded in flying from Britain to India, but died on his summit attempt. His body was discovered a year later.
  • On 29th May 1953 Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary became the first to summit Everest via the South-East Ridge route.
  • A Chinese team became the first to summit via the North Ridge on 25th May 1960
  • Nawang Gombu Sherpa became the first person to summit Everest twice in 1965.
  • In 1975 Junko Tabei became the first woman to conquer Everest
  • 1978 saw the first ascent without bottled oxygen
  • The first winter ascent was by Polish man  Krzysztof Wielicki in 1980
  • On 20th August  1980 Reinhold Messner (Italy) climbed for three days entirely alone from his base camp at 6500 meters without the use of artificial oxygen
  • In 1990 Andrej & Marija Stremfelj became the first married couple to summit together
  • Peter Hillary became the first son of a summiter in 1990
  • Jean Noel Roche and his son Roche Bertrand aka Zebulon were the first father and son to successfully reach the summit in 1990
  • In 1998 Tom Whittaker from America became the first disabled person to reach the summit of Mount Everest on the 27th May
  • In 1999 Babu becomes the first and only climber to sleep on the Summit. Babu spent over 21 hours on the Summit of Everest.
  • Sir Ranulph Fiennes became the oldest Briton to summit Everest in 1999 at the age of 65
  • In 2000 Davo Karnicar made the first ski descent of the mountain
  • Stefan Gatt became the first to Snowboard from the Summit of Everest in 2001
  • American Erik Weihenmayer becomes the first ever blind person to Summit Everest in 2001
  • Babu Sherpa climbs Everest in 16 hours 56 minutes (I bet he had his Weetabix that morning!)
  • In 2003 Three Brothers Summit Everest on the same day
  • A high-altitude ironing record was set in 2003 when a British pair carried an ironing board to 5,440m to take part in ‘extreme-ironing’
  • The highest game of rugby was played on Everest in 2005 at 5140m.
  • In 2010 American boy Jordan Romero became the youngest person ever to reach the summit of Everest at the age of 13
  • On 25th May 2011 Welshman Richard Parks reached the summit of Everest. Richard made history by becoming the first ever person to stand on the continental summits and all 3 poles in a single calendar year.
If you have any more interesting facts about Everest, please leave your comments below. It is interesting to note that nobody has yet climbed Everest dressed like a dog and nobody has ever taken a rubber duck to the summit – Amber is still training hard and prepared to make the climb sometime soon! If you have enjoyed reading this blog and would like to make a Donation to Dogs for the Disabled, please visit  www.justgiving.com/treknepal2011. And, if you’re still wondering why I took a rubber duck called Amber to the Himalayas, I will reveal all in a later blog!

Read Full Post »

Richard conquers Everest

Everest - the world's highest mountain

At 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) above sea level, Mount Everest is the world’s highest mountain and the crowning glory of the Himalayas.

The British Surveyor General of India, Andrew Waugh, named the mountain in 1865 after his predecessor Colonel Sir George Everest (1790-1866) who was the first westerner to record the location of the mountain. However, its Tibetan name is Chomolungma (‘Mother of the Universe’) and the Nepalese name is Sagarmatha (‘Goddess of the Sky’).

Did you know? Sir George Everest has Welsh connections; he was born in the Manor at Gwernvale at Crickhowell, in Powys, in 1790. 

Former New Zealand beekeeper Sir Edmund Hillary and the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit in 1953. However, the summit may have been conquered 29 years earlier, when George Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared into a cloud close to the summit and were never seen again; Mallory’s frozen body was found in 1999, close to the summit. Did he reach the summit? When asked why he was climbing Mount Everest he replied with the famous line, “Because it’s there.”

The world’s highest peak has attracted many commendable achievements: the first ascent without oxygen (1978), first ascent with an artificial leg (1998), the first ski descent (2000), the first blind ascent (2001), youngest ascent (aged 16) and oldest ascent (aged 78). Click here for more fascinating facts and admirable achievements!

[As far as I am aware, no rubber duck has ever reached the summit, although this would make for an interesting world record attempt for Amber! I don’t think anyone has ever tried climbing Everest dressed like a dog either – perhaps a future challenge for me?!?]

Since 1953 about 2,500 people have ascended to the peak, although the mountain has claimed nearly 200 lives. With its freezing temperatures, high winds, avalanches and ice falls, Everest is a particularly dangerous mountain to climb.

I did not climb Mount Everest…

Everest beer - a fine Nepalese beverage

Everest Premium Lager Beer was introduced in 2003 to commemorate the 50th Golden Jubilee celebration of the historic conquest of Mount Everest by Sir Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa on the 29th May, 1953.

During my trek in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas I enjoyed the odd bottle of Everest whilst relaxing with the Sherpas – refreshing after a long day trekking!

You could say that I conquered Everest… several times!

If you would like to make a donation towards the work of Dogs for the Disabled, please visit www.justgiving.com/treknepal2011. And if anyone knows where I can get hold of a bottle of Everest in Wales, please let me know!

Read Full Post »

The wedding of Vicky and Jim in the Lake District

A wedding three weeks before leaving for Nepal did not interrupt my training schedule for the trek in the Himalayas. My best friend of over 10 years, Victoria Sandalls, married Jim Bridgwater in the beautiful Greystoke Castle on 12th March 2011. The castle, on the north-eastern side of the Lake District National Park, is owned by Neville Howard whose last job was commanding 22 SAS Regiment and who is no doubt, I am sure, familiar with the terrain of the Himalayas!

The following morning I joined the bride’s stepfather on a walk from Buttermere to the summit of Haystacks (597m) leaving the rest of the wedding party to nurse their hangovers!

Haystacks sits at the head of the Buttermere lake. Looking up towards the dark armour of cliffs, the mountain appears to promise nothing special. Nevertheless, Haystacks is one of the most popular of the Lake District fells and a favourite of the late Alfred Wainwright who stated that “for beauty, variety and interesting detail, for sheer fascination and unique individuality, the summit area of Haystacks is supreme. This is in fact the best fell-top of all.”

We parked the car near to the Church and left the village of Buttermere to join the path which runs along the south side of the lake. The path crosses Buttermere Dubs as it flows out of the lake and on to Crummock Water. The term ‘dubs’ is Celtic for dark or black and it appears in the old nursery rhyme ‘Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub’, no doubt referring to the stream’s function as a sheep wash. From the path there was a perfect view of Sourmilk Gill, swollen from the recent rain and snowfall.

The first part of the walk took us through Burtness Wood, a cool conifer plantation, following a fairly level path. This was a perfect start to the walk enabling us to stretch our muscles (thankfully not aching from the dancing the night before) before tackling the ascent to Scarth Gap. After crossing Comb Beck, the path split; Gatesgarth Farm to the left or rising through Scarth Gap to the right towards the summit. The path became a scramble at times but we pushed on to the summit of Haystacks itself. The snow which had gently fallen two days before had disappeared but there was still visible signs of ice on the summit tarns. It was still bitterly cold and we were certainly ready for our flask of tea!

Just below the summit of Haystacks lies the tranquil Innominate Tarn. Wainwright had written All I ask for, at the end, is a last long resting place by the side of Innominate Tarn, on Haystacks….And if you should get a bit of grit in your boot as you are crossing Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with respect. It might be me.” Fulfilling his wishes, Wainwright’s ashes were scattered on the summit of Haystacks next to the tarn and there is a memorial to him in the Church in the little village of Buttermere.

We left the summit and descended via Warnscale to the east, stopping off for some refreshment (canapés from the wedding) on the way down and admiring the numerous waterfalls which cascaded down the gorge which Warnsdale Beck had created. At Gatesgarth Farm we followed the road back to the north side of the lake. The path disappeared into a brief, low and damp tunnel, the only one of its kind in the Lake District. The tunnel was cut by employees of George Benson, a 19th-century Manchester mill owner who then owned the Hassness Estate, so that he could walk around the lake without straying too far from its shore.

Haystacks, despite being three metres off the official target for hills aiming for promotion into the mountain league, was not as easy as I had imagined it to be! Looking back over the calm lake and towards its summit, the gnarly looking set of rocky bastions appeared to dominate. However, it was a great walk incorporating a variety of terrain: lakeside woods, tumbling becks and cascading waterfalls, a steep scramble, tranquil fell top tarns and spectacular views swooping down to Buttermere.

“Haystacks stands unabashed and unashamed in the midst of a circle of much loftier fells, like a shaggy terrier in the company of foxhounds… For a man trying to get a persistent worry out of his mind, the top of Haystacks is a wonderful cure.” (AW)

To celebrate this wonderful walk, we both enjoyed a home made ice-cream from the farm at the end of the walk – highly recommended!

Further Reading:

To find out more about Richard’s trek in the Himalayas, please continue to read this blog over the forthcoming weeks! If you would like to make a donation to the wonderful work of Dogs for the Disabled, please visit www.justgiving.com/treknepal2011


Read Full Post »

“Best wishes to City of Newport Male Choir deputy accompanist Richard Morgan who is scaling new heights by trekking across Nepal to raise funds for Dogs for the Disabled.

“Richard has raised all the money for his journey on his own and was helped on his way with a surprise donation from the members of the choir.

“Not even the rarefied atmosphere of the Himalayas will stop Richard singing or encouraging his companions.

“Choir chairman Colin Shurmer has also given him strict instructions to bring back a yeti to help boost the bass section. No doubt if he is successful the yeti would soon be whipped into shape by musical director Frank Jones and singing solo in no time.”

(Taken from the South Wales Argus, January 2011)

The Himalayan mountain range, the highest range on earth, is often referred to as ‘the roof of the world’ – and hidden away in its ‘attic’ in a remote and forbidding environment lives a mysterious creature called the yeti. Over the years there have been apparent sightings of this creature and its footprints have been discovered in the frozen landscape; according to Sherpas, Nepalis and Tibetans the supernatural enigma is a large, hairy ape-like creature standing well over two metres tall and is an elusive creature.

In 1832 Brian Hodgson, an English civil servant and naturalist working in Nepal, reported a tall creature, covered in hair, which seemed to flee in fear.

In 1899 Lieutenant Colonel Laurence Austine Waddell described a large, ape-like creature which left tracks in the snow.

In 1925 a Greek photographer and member of the Royal Geographical Society, N. A. Tombazi, observed a creature moving in the lower slopes about 200 – 300 yards away. “Unquestionably, the figure in outline was exactly like a human being, walking upright and stopping occasionally to pull at some dwarf rhododendron bushes. It showed up dark against the snow, and as far as I could make out, wore no clothes.” About two hours later, Tombazi and his companions descended the mountain and saw the creature’s prints, described as “similar in shape to those of a man, but only six to seven inches long by four inches wide… The prints were undoubtedly those of a biped.”

The frequency of reports increased during the twentieth century as Westerners began making attempts to summit some of the highest mountains in the world; Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay, the first two individuals known to have reached the summit of Everest, reported seeing large footprints.

The mythological creature has certainly attracted a lot of interest and during the twentieth century the yeti became a cultural icon, appearing in movies, literature, music and video games!

Sadly, I did not find a yeti on my trek in the Himalayas… this time!

Read Full Post »

Dressed like a dog

At the end of last year I agreed to climb Pen-y-Fan (886m) dressed like a dog if I raised £1,000 for Dogs for the Disabled within a month. Despite receiving a number of donations from friends and family, including a £94 donation from the drivers at Dragon Taxis, Newport, I didn’t reach my target.

I have, however, still got the dog costume (well, a Scooby-Doo costume to be precise) and am prepared to dress like a dog and fulfil this pledge. I am therefore encouraging people to make a small donation, using the link above, and to leave a message of support! Photographs of me dressed like a dog on the summit will hopefully be posted on this blog in the future.

Who knows, I might even persuade Amber, the duck, to accompany me!

South Wales Argus 30th November 2010

Read Full Post »

Attempting a 10 day trek in the Himalayas deserves a lot of training! Forget gyms. Forget morning runs. Living on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park means that I have a wonderful training ground on my doorstep – and all free!

I spent a lot of time in the 12 months before the trek walking in the Brecon Beacons, especially climbing Pen-y-Fan. At 886m Pen-y-Fan is the highest mountain in Great Britain south of the Snowdonia mountain range – a mere hill compared to the giant mountains of the Himalayan range!

Working in the Tithe Barn, Abergavenny, during the day and having so many other commitments during the weekends made it difficult to climb during daylight hours; most of many training was done in the early evening. Pen-y-Fan can become quite crowded, especially on the rare sunny days in Wales, so it was great to be able to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the summit on my own as the sun set in the distance… with only the odd sheep to share my sandwiches with!

Just below the summit of Corn Du

In early January 2009 I climbed the summit of Pen-y-Fan in the snow – a real challenge and great training for the Himalayas! It was strange to see so many skiers climbing to the top and skiing back down. It was even stranger to see two faces peering up and me when I looked over the sheer edge of the mountain – two men attempting to scale the vertical face with ice picks!

The summit was bitterly cold and visibility was poor, although the sun did break through during the descent. The compacted snow was difficult to walk on with normal walking boots, but made easier with the addition of crampons!

It is common when walking through the streets of Brecon to encounter neatly dressed, often in a smart grey suit, well turned out and invariably polite members of the Ghurka regiment from Nepal. A Company of the Ghurka Rifles has been stationed in Brecon since 1973 and are renowned for their loyalty and bravery as soldiers in the British Army. If the mountains of the Brecon Beacons are suitable for their training, they were certainly suitable for mine!

If I raise sufficient money in the next few months, I have pledged to climb Pen-y-Fan dressed like a dog! Please click on the link above to make a donation and leave your comments!

Before anyone asks, Amber the duck did not join me for the training – she must have been ‘quackers’!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »