04:30 comes round all too soon and we start to get ourselves together. Obviously things don't go as planned - there is no hot water for a shower and then the electricity in the hotel fails which makes finalising packing and getting our bags downstairs rather tricky!
Still we are all assembled for 5am but unsurprisingly there is no sign of the bus. This trundles in after about 15 mins and after packing and some other faffing we finally head off at 05:30. We get to watch another 'excellent' movie, Ghost Rider, and sleep a little until the road becomes too poor for either but get to the final town before the border at about 10am. Unfortunately it turns out that the border has a big backlog at the moment and so we need to wait there until our fixer and his man on the other side can get them ready for us. This doesn't happen speedily and it soon becomes apparent that we aren't likely to be going anywhere today so get some lunch and then some rooms to rest in.
Later we are told that we aren't moving today and so settle in for the rest of the day. I am feeling pretty ropey still - the twisty, bumpy road seems to have reignited my stomach problems and spend the rest of the day in bed. We are probably leaving tomorrow at 10am so the morning should not be rushed either.
After a tricky night we are assembled at about 08:30 to head to the border. Our escort seems pretty efficient and the border itself is pretty quiet so we get through fairly easily and quickly - although it can't be said to live up to its name; the Friendship Bridge.
Once through we are reunited with our main bags and all the rest of the group gear which is being loaded onto a lorry (photo). We head into the small border town, Zangmu, on the Tibetan side for some tea and an early lunch whilst various bits of paperwork are completed. The infrastructure is so much more advanced than on the Nepalese side - amazing what difference there can be by being born on one side of a valley than the other!
After a rather good lunch (Chinese food!) we set off for a place called Naylam where we will probably stay for the night, buy final things for camp (pillow, local SIM card etc). Then off to Tingri to buy fresh food before the final run in to BC.
Getting a Sim proves a real challenge as the options are rather strange for foreigners and the chap in the China Mobile shop speaks no English. I really have no idea quite what I have got when I leave the shop - nor more worryingly how long it lasts for; expiry seems to be a real but unclear issue! Later on it turns out that he has given me an incorrect SIM card for my iPhone. Luckily the shop is still open so I go to exchange it but apparently it was my fault and I have to use my last remaining yuan to buy a new one.
Today we are driving across the Tibetan plateau to Tingri which is the turn off for Everest - as established by the Mallory (and others) expeditions of the early 1920s. Tingri was described as 'a place of unimaginable filth, with people wile in their habits. They are indescribably dirty and beyond words ignorant and superstitions'. It will be interesting to see if it has changed!
First up is a bit more shopping in a remarkably chilly Nylam - in the early morning it is pretty much only us and some animals on the street - before we set off for Tingri.
As we drive across Tibet, we are struck by the comparison to Nepal. Nepal is a terribly poor country with most people living in very poor and unhealthy conditions. It seems that earlier in this century, according to the early Everest literature, Tibet was even worse. In much the same way as the famous 'What have the Romans ever done for us sketch', the investment of Chinese money into the infrastructure is impressive. We see remains of old yak dung buildings and, down the road, new brick ones with concrete roads, heating, electricity and even solar powered lighting! The Chinese, in a few decades, have done far more for the average Tibetan than the old religious orders did for them in centuries. Our logistics in Tibet are being organised by the Chinese / Tibetan Mountaineering Associations (CTMA) so we don't have the normal access to a local guide to discuss such things with and most Tibetans speak no English which is a shame as we can't get an idea of a possibly alternative view of Chinese rule here.
One of the world famous bike rides is Lhasa to Kathmandu - a hugely long and rocky road at significant altitude and dealing with the fierce plateau winds. Unfortunately, the Chinese have now tarmacked the whole route which, whilst great for everyone who needs to drive it and the people who live there, somewhat lessens the appeal of such a notoriously tough ride.
After a while, we get to the high pass that marks the edge of the Himalayas and from which the road leads down into the Tibetan plateau. As everywhere in this part of the world it is covered with prayer flags and there are a few cows and a mangy dog hanging about. It is incredibly windy up here so we don't stop for long but there is an excellent view from here as well.
After a few more hours we get to the notorious Tingri to find that it has been cleaned up a lot. It is pretty much a one street concrete town with shops, hotels and restaurants. When the strong sun isn't shining, it is pretty chilly and whilst the cows are the same, the mongrels here have a pretty bad reputation for aggressiveness to we need to wear our boots and or carry a walking pole as protection - there are too many stories of climbs being aborted for bites and rabies to take a risk here! There are a huge range of vehicles from very basic tractors, lorries heading out to Nepal and pretty swanky Land Cruisers for the Western and Chinese tourists.
We go for a walk to a lookout point giving us a good view of the valley and mountains including Choy Oyu and our first views of Everest. Then we head off at about half ten having sent the truck (with all the equipment) ahead.
We come across the truck after a few hours having suffered something catastrophic - we can't work out what this is, but it is clear that the truck can't continue. The team seem rather blasé about this which is pretty frustrating as we keep losing days but then they realise that they have not told us that a replacement truck is on its way and lo and behold one arrives after about 10 mins much to our great surprise - the advantage of using the Chinese Tibetan Mountaineering Association!
We then set about transferring all the gear from one truck to the other - which is quite a bit smaller. This turns out to be a great mix of Western planning and organisation (plus a bit of brawn) with the locals getting stuck in and bodging anything that didn't really work.
The local villagers appear to enjoy watching us work and take great interest in my bare legs - for some reason this develops into throwing stones at them when I am concentrating on something else and then dissolving into fits of giggles when I turn to glare at them.
As we head up the Rongbuk valley, we come to the famous Rongbuk monastery from where we get our first close view of Everest itself.
and after that on to BC where we start setting up camp - or at least as much as we can before night drew in.
Setting up camp is not all plain sailing as the zips to my vestibule are broken and pretty much all of the tents are missing guy ropes and so we had to use all our spares - we just have to hope that we have no problems higher up the mountain; not exactly the way to start such an expedition!!
Then a few more camp chores, supper and bed. The pillow and extra blanket I bought make an excellent extra addition to my tent and keep me pretty warm despite the temperature in the tent falling to about -10c!
We get up with the sun and after breakfast continue to organise the camp - checking through what was freighted out here and getting the various electronics and comms systems set up - or at least trying to! There seems to be problems with most things we look at and don't get much finalised today.
Because we were unable to even attempt the summit of Naya Kanga, we are quite a bit behind in our acclimatising schedule. We go for an excellent hike up a frozen river which is great for getting our technical footwork going as well. The afternoon is more organising, planning and also a comms discussion.
Today is another rest day (quite a few of these now) and whilst there are plenty of spare days in the schedule these are more for weather than for acclimatising below 5,500!
Anyhow, this provides more time for organising - today it is the gas and oxygen bottles. Although I am going for an oxygen less summit, I am still having some stashed on the mountain as a backup.
The weather improves today with clear skies and little wind giving us out first good views of Everest but the wind picks up over the afternoon leading to another chilly night.
The afternoon and evening take on a very sombre tone as news starts to come through of the disaster on the South Side and what is proving to be the worst day in history on Everest! Quite a few of us know people who are probably involved - in the chaos of such events it takes a long time for facts to emerge but we do manage to get messages back home to reassure friends and family that we are safe and not caught up in the tragedy – not many people realise the implications in this of being on the North rather than South side.
Accounts and photos of completing the Explorers Grand Slam - 2 Poles and 7 Summits. By Sebastian Merriman. Aconcagua, Ama Dablam, Carstenz Pyramid, Denali, McKinley, Elbrus, Everest, Kosciusko, Kilimanjaro, North Pole, Arctic, South Pole, Antarctic, Antarctica, Vinson, vertigo, climbing, mountaineering, skiing to the pole, skiing to the poles, seb2poles7summits, seb27, Seb Merriman, seb2poles, mountains, poles