Monday, June 18, 2007

Richard Backwell, MBE

Anyone who has met Richard will testify that you won't meet a nicer guy. It seems that the Queen thinks so to - he has been awarded an MBE in her birthday honours (June 2007).
The award is for achievement or service in and to the community that is outstanding in its field; or very local 'hands-on' service which stands out as an example to others. In both cases awards illuminate areas of dedicated service which merit recognition.
Richard's work and commitment with the Greenhill centre and on his expeditions to Nepal, show that he does make an outstanding contribution and well-deserves this honour. Congratulations from everyone at the DES !!!!!!!!!!!

Here is an extract from his latest expedition to Nepal...
A Day to remember - East Lobuche peak 6119 metres

Two O’clock at High camp and right on time our soup arrives. Tim, Helen and myself have spent a reasonably comfortable night squashed together in a two-man tent. The three big guys have the luxury of the larger tent. At 3 am we begin the slow plod up the mountain and I am amazed at the ease with which the guides find the way by torchlight. The snow level is down to about 5,400 feet, but the going is easy and we have little difficulty negotiating a small rock scramble where a rope has been left for our protection.
At four thirty light appears and with crampons fitted we find ourselves crossing a snow ridge with a steep drop on one side. ‘How about roping it?’ is Helen’s sensible suggestion. Though not particularly scary, there are one or two in the group who have never applied an ice axe arrest in earnest.
Dhana and Lapka, our two climbing guides have gone up ahead to set up the fixed ropes and on reaching them I am struck by their similarity to my Mum’s 1950’s washing line. The problem is that this kind of rope kinks badly, so going first you have the problem of straightening the rope as well as moving up your prussic. In addition, the steep ice is brittle, resulting in many a slip so having reached the top of the two hundred foot rope,
Des suggests that Tim takes over the lead.
Our pace quickens slightly but there is one awkward move left on to the summit ridge. Dan kindly offers me a hand up. Two years ago I would have refused. Now at sixty-eight I willingly accept.
The final ridge looks easy but of course it is not and it takes a long time ascending the final fifty metres to the summit. The time is 10.30 am so the ascent has taken seven and a half hours . The views are fantastic. Ama Dablam, Pumori, Lhotse and of course Everest surround us and the ten minutes of relaxation at the top are moments to be treasured. The descent of the fixed
ropes is not much easier than the ascent and all of us slither and slide as exhaustion takes over. At the end of the fixed ropes, Des leads the way down, but the going through soft snow is difficult and Des falls over on numerous occasions.
At 3.30 pm, we reach High camp where a bowl of soup awaits us, the first food we have tasted in thirteen hours. By 4.30 pm, we have struck camp and have split into two groups. Bimal the two climbing guides and one porterare making their way down the Everest Trail with all the climbing hardware, while the rest of us who will later cross the Cho La Pass, are left in
the capable hands of Santa, Bimal’s deputy, to take us to the lodge at Dzongla.
The estimated time to Dzongla is three hours and normally Santa
would be moving off at a slow steady space. Not this time. Santa, who had stayed at High camp during our ascent, not only sets off at a quicker pace but seems reluctant for us to stop for a breather. The reason soon becomes evident. The mist has closed in; it is snowing and Santa is clearly uncertain of finding his way to Dzongla and wants to cover as much ground as possible before dark. At 6.30 pm and as darkness descends we find ourselves down by a river. Santa asks us to stay where we are while he searches downstream for a bridge. Helen, Tim and I meanwhile have looked at a map and feel that the bridge must be upstream, while Steve, our ex-Marine Officer survival expert is already talking with some relish of spending the night in a roofless, flea-ridden yak shelter.
At the same time, I am desperately worried about our two porters who left High camp at different times. Manech and Budhy come from Ghala, a village close to Bimal’s and neither of them have been in the Everest area before. Manech fortunately appears at the same time as Santa and having made a fruitless journey downstream, the two of them set off to try and find the bridge upriver. Twenty minutes later we see their torches on the other side and feel confident that the end is in sight. However, after ten minutes they reappear and Santa is
distraught. Unable to find the bridge, they waded across the river and now have freezing cold feet. I feel desperately sorry for Santa. This lovely man, who has looked after me on so many trips. Getting lost with his clients is to him a big disgrace and he is thoroughly dejected. But what a great group I am with. No one gets upset, everyone rallies round. Spare socks are found and Santa is assured that we will all pull through together.
At this moment there is a whistle and the flash of a torch above and we are relieved to hear Budhy’s voice. In spite of the snow he is sure he is on the track leading upstream to Dzongla and shouts to us to join him. Once on the track, it is Santa’s chance to regain face.
Leaving us with Manech, he sets off along the track and soon we see lights on the far river bank. Our confidence rises. Half an hour later two torch lights bobble along the track and an exhausted Santa and Budhy arrive with biscuits and hot black coffee-pure nectar! We make our way along in the dark appreciating how difficult it must be to find the way in such circumstances.
The lights of the Lodge appear and although the proprietor is happy to cook us a meal, all we can face is our third bowl of soup for the day. With no bedrooms available, we happily pile into a dormitory shared with the porters of another expedition.
10 pm we have been on the go for nineteen hours. I fall asleep dreaming of five star yak sheds.
Richard Backwell