RAMSBOTTOM adventurer and self-confessed “accidental mountaineer” Melanie Southworth, aged 46, faces her toughest challenge next month when she is scheduled to begin an assault on Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. She has already conquered the fourth highest mountain, the 27,939ft Lhotse in the Himalayas, and is currently in preparation before she attempts to scale Everest. Here, Melanie sets the scene ahead of May’s massive undertaking
I AM back in Nepal with my biggest challenge to-date — to climb and summit Mount Everest’s 29,0029ft.
People in the industry here refer to it as being ‘the Big Hill’. What can I say? All I know is that it’s a far cry from Ramsbottom where I was born and, as my sister-in-law Sue so rightly pointed out, “Holcombe Hill is a ‘big hill’, Melanie. I think Everest is a bit more of a challenge than that. The only way you’re getting me to 29,000ft is on a jumbo jet!”
I arrived in the Himalayan mountains on anything but a jumbo jet. In fact, it was a tiny, 19-seater, “short-take-off-and-landing” aeroplane.
The nail-biting 45-minute flight is regularly described as “landing at the most dangerous airport in the world” because of its short precipitous runway and the inability for planes to turn should there be a problem.
After such an “exhilarating” start to my expedition, strapping on my backpack and hitting the trail helped to steady the nerves and strengthen my resolve for what lies ahead.
It will take a slow and steady four weeks to acclimatise before heading to Everest Base Camp 17,598ft, which allows the body invaluable time to adjust to the diminishing levels of oxygen in the atmosphere.
Why is this necessary? Well, at Everest base camp there is only 50 per cent of the levels of oxygen that you find at sea level. Put simply, if you were to land there without acclimatising, you would die.
To adapt sufficiently, I shall be crossing three 17,400ft mountain passes and climbing three 17,400ft “hills” before reaching Island Peak Base Camp at 16,666ft.
Like a growing number of Everest summiters, I have decided to acclimatise on the neighbouring mountain of Island Peak’s 20,305ft rather than risk the teetering seracs and bottomless crevasses of the notorious Khumbu Icefall — arguably one of the most dangerous parts of climbing Mount Everest.
I have climbed Island Peak twice before — once in October 2012 and yet again last spring before my successful climb on Lhotse.
Regardless of this, I shall have my wits about me. Each year the mountain shifts and changes, with new crevasses opening up and its lower flanks morphing into terrain that is almost unrecognisable from the year before.
Island Peak has an infamous headwall of steep ice leading up to the summit that demands the ultimate respect.
But in this unforgiving mountainous environment, I have some peace of mind — the expedition company who will be facilitating my climb on Everest, Seven Summits Treks, are not only record-breaking brothers who were born and raised within the shadow of the sacred Himalayas themselves, but Messrs Mingma, Dawa and Tashi Sherpa happen to be three of the most accomplished high-altitude mountaineers in the world.
I shall also be climbing with “My Rock on the Rock”, Karma Sherpa, with whom I previously scaled Lhotse. He is only 28 years old and of gentle disposition, yet his indomitable spirit will make this his seventh summit on Everest.
I have to admit I’m already hankering for a chip butty from Khan’s at the top of Bridge Street in Rammy, but life and time are short and, therefore, need to cherished.
Which brings to mind a famous quote by William Blake that I love: “Great things are done when (wo)men and mountains meet; this is not done by jostling in the street.”
n Readers will be able to monitor Melanie’s progress through regular bulletins in the Bury Times.