Week 8: Dhaulagiri Expedition

The Dhaulagiri Expedition was created and led by Surgeon Commander Adrian Mellor from the Defence Medical Group. The aim was to research how we can better prepare our military personnel for deployment to high altitude environments. 150 personnel from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force participated, split into 10 teams. Some of these ascended to high altitudes, whereas our team remained at a lower altitude. Prior to leaving the UK we were required to carry out apnoea training to help our bodies adapt to high altitude and other research, which was conducted at Leeds Becket University. In Nepal we visited three base camps at different altitudes along the Dhaulagiri Circuit, where blood tests and physiological parameters such as oxygen saturations, spleen size and blood pressure were recorded. It was hypothesised that the apnoea training would aid personnel in adapting to altitude and this research will reveal how the body copes. This will ultimately aid Defence, as we may be able to assist Service personnel to adapt to altitude before they deploy on operations or training in mountainous areas.

29 Apr 16 Beni to Barbang (3 hour bus ride and 3 hour trek)

Today was the first day of our trek – we were all full of excitement and nerves! Everyone slept well and had a hearty breakfast. After a bone rattling 3 hour ride we met our team of Sherpas and commenced our trek. From this point everything exceeded our expectations. The Sherpas were very hospitable, catered to our every need and carried extremely heavy packs that left all of our group in awe. The views were spectacular as well. After following a meandering river for 3 hours we arrived at our first camp where we were very well catered for. We were even treated to an evening dance from locals, which was a lot of fun! After some evening banter, the team decided we should select a Nepalese word to represent each day. Today’s word is ‘Mitho’ which means delicious.

30 Apr 16 Barbhang-Camp 2 (6 hour trek)

This was our first full trekking day, the weather was superb! We trekked through the valley on narrow paths and the scenery did not disappoint. A number of our junior members were eager to do some navigation and map reading along the way. Spirits were high despite a few toileting mishaps and upset stomachs after lunch! Terrain was undulating and once we arrived everyone had a much needed cooling off in the river. Again the team had an early night after sharing jokes over our evening meal. Today’s word is ‘Ramru’ which is apt for the scenery.

1 May 16 Camp 2- Burgha (5 hour trek with 500 metre ascent)

We all woke bright and early with the team all fit and well. After last evening’s brief we expected to be trekking for 3.5 hours with familiar terrain. Suffice it to say the journey turned into a 5 hour journey with a 500 metre ascent which proved to be tough in the heat. Even more so for the porters, however, no heads dropped! After being fed very well the last few days the team were pleased to burn off the calories and relished the challenge. Plus, the views kept getting better and better, and we were kindly provided bottles of pop by locals along the way. On arrival to Bager camp, the porters and our team played cricket, thanks to Lieutenant Crooks who had bought a cricket bat in Kathmandu. Giving that we kept moving onwards and upwards…today’s word is ‘Jahu Jahu’ which means ‘go go’!

2 May 16 Burgha-Doban (900 metre Ascent)Team 2

This morning we were woken by a persistent cockerel who continued cock-a-doodling through breakfast! The landscape began to change and we set off alongside the valley into a forested area. Humidity was high and there was a lot of steep terrain that the team tackled. Once again, our motivation was not dampened, with Lt Colonel Attwood and Major Johnson concocting medical scenarios for our team to solve and other members assigning call names to their buddies! Lt Robbie ‘Black Custard’ Crooks at one point proclaimed that joining the Reserves was ‘the best thing he had ever done’, which we all agreed with! On the way we encountered fellow expedition members from team 6 who sadly had to turn back due to acute mountain sickness. Fortunately after descending both trekkers returned to full health. Today’s word was ‘Dandibad’ which means thank you.

3 May 16 Doban-Sallaghari (Altitude-3120 metres)

Today’s trek brought a significant change in scenery, altitude and temperature. We progressed from a hot and humid environment into a much cooler one. Sergeant Major Fisher educated our juniors about military skills along the way to pass the time! At lunch our wise and helpful Chief, Sirdar Sonam, advised that we should make hasty progress as the weather was becoming more unpredictable with the higher altitude. The afternoon brought thunder and thankfully only a light sprinkle of rain. After reaching camp, down jackets were deployed and river bathing was no longer an option! Despite this we were greeted by amazing views as we caught our first glimpse of snowy mountain peaks which made everyone very excited.

Team 14 May 16 Sallaghari-Italian Basecamp (3,600m)

Today was a big milestone for the team as we were trekking to our first basecamp! Our Chief, Sirdar Sonam, emphasised that because we were entering high altitudes we would keep to a slow steady walk in order to let our bodies acclimatise. More and more snowy peaks emerged into the foreground as we moved towards the first basecamp. So far so good: aside from headaches and some mild light headedness the team has been coping well! After celebrating and meeting the research team, everyone began sorting out their field administration. The weather turned cold and wet so the team relaxed over the afternoon with hot brews. We also fitted in a game of rounders which proved tough at high altitude. Communications to Dhaulagiri Basecamp were made and an acclimatisation walk has been planned for tomorrow.

5 May 16 (Italian Basecamp rest day)

Well, today was a washout… not that this stopped us in any way! On the morning we did an acclimatisation walk near camp up to 4000 me
tres which was enjoyed by all. We got brief views of the stunning landscape on the way down and all the team coped well, no signs of mountain sickness so far. This helped ease our nerves and increase our confidence in tackling the challenges ahead. The rain continued all through the day with snow showers intermittently but the team still managed to get all of the medical research done;although many of our spleens had shrunk with the cold! Still, as usual, we were amazed at the porters who were walking around in flip flops and shorts. That night we prepared for our trek to Japanese basecamp tomorrow. Today’s word is “pani paro” which means rain…

6 May 16 Italian Basecamp to Japanese Basecamp

The team were up bright and early as it was Corporal Smith’s birthday! After some celebrations and farewells we set off for our next camp. The weather was great and we passed through a very scenic valley en-route, with our helmets donned. The trek took much longer than expected and the weather began to turn much colder as we ascended alongside a glacier. After asking our Chief Sonam if we were there yet, several hills later we reached camp, much to the team’s relief! Overall the team were feeling well, with only a few headaches. After food the team went to their tents when we heard a thunderous rumbling…when we all got outside we could see across the valley there was a big avalanche! Although it was fascinating to watch, it was also a reminder about the dangers of trekking in in this environment. Today’s word is “janma din”, meaning “happy birthday”

7 May 16 Japanese Basecamp- Dhaulagiri Basecamp.

The weather this morning was superb! Most of the team were trekking in t shirts or thin tops. Morale was high and we all exchanged stories about the avalanches we heard overnight. At one point at 01.30 the porters had cleared our tents of snow and Lt Colonel Attwood and Corporal Smith thought it was an avalanche! They adopted brace positions and started shouting out to the team, which made us all laugh. We took a slow steady pace to the next camp, the weather once again got colder and some of the team had headaches. Still, on arrival we were amazed at how big Dhaulagiri Basecamp was, it was like a small town! It was nice to speak to other trekkers and meet the high altitude team. We all had another early night after using wifi! Today’s word is “swagatam” which means “you’re welcome”.

8 May 16-Rest day

We woke up to fantastic weather the sun was beaming but it was very chilly. This morning we conducted important medical research before departing for an acclimatisation walk. On the walk many of us were caught out by the sun despite multiple applications of factor 50 and were subsequently burnt. Lessons were learnt for tomorrow’s trek! Many photos were taken, as Dhaulagiri and its glaciers were looming spectacularly over camp. The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up on sleep. Weather was definitely a deciding factor for the trek to Hidden Valley, with Surgeon Commander Mellor reporting that it had been unpredictable lately. We opted to trek out tomorrow if weather allowed, but for now it was a waiting game! Today’s word is “didi”, an affectionate term used by the Sherpas which means “sister”.

9 May 16- Dhaulagiri Basecamp- Hidden Valley

The team had a very early start and thankfully the weather was perfect. We trekked up towards French Pass over the next few hours, the highest point in our expedition. Once the team hit 5000 metres, trekking became difficult as our breathlessness increased and altitude sickness began two strike some of the team members. Still, we rallied together and pushed over the French Pass successfully which we were elated about. After hitting 5378 metres, the highest point of the trek, everyone was relieved! From then we had a nice decent into the Hidden Valley Basecamp, arriving just before the snow blizzard hit. We greeted familiar faces from the research team before conducting more medical research. We have decided to not have a rest day here in the hope that this weather window remains good. The team can sense the end is near…the lack of showers is beginning to become evident! “Chisho” is today’s word, as it was freezing!

10 May 16 Hidden Valley-Yak Kharka

Another bright and early start for the team. Some last minute research was conducted before we departed. Some members were feeling the effects of altitude but it was nothing our team couldn’t handle. We received news that Team 10 had to turn back and so we made a hasty start so that we could avoid the incoming weather system. The first 4 hours went very well, the team were in high spirits and we made good progress. However, by the afternoon we were hit by a snow blizzard which created white-out conditions. This was difficult for the porters, we don’t know how they managed! After being pounded by the wind and snow, we made a hasty retreat down the mountain to camp, thankfully everyone arrived safe and well. We decided that today’s word was “cheers”, which is also Nepalese!

11 May 16- Yak Kharka-Civilisation!

Everyone was offered a lie in the night before but we got up early in the end! We were all excited at the prospect of showering, having a toilet and sleeping in a proper bed. After an alfresco breakfast we sped off down the hill. The temperature increased rapidly and we were soon in t shirts and shorts, something that had been a distant memory! We finally completed our trek as a team; it was a great moment for everyone. When we arrived at our hotel we had our first beer in 14 days and a shower which was amazing. We ventured out to a local town nearby and the excitement still hadn’t ended for us. An overturned truck blocked the road and we all scampered out of our bus to turn it back over. We spent the rest of the evening celebrating with the Sherpas and relaxing. Today’s word is something invented by 201 Field Hospital, which is “blip blap”, our word for foreign currency!

12 May 16 Marpha to Pokhara

From here our R&R begins and we said a sad goodbye to all of our porters. We have some great memories and couldn’t thank them enough for all of their efforts. We all packed into jeeps where our bones were rattled for the next 6 hours to Beni and then even more when we got onto the bus to Pokhara. Suffice it to say after 12 hours we were all weary and desperate to stretch our legs!

Our adventure has come to an end and we intend to spend a few days relaxing before our flight home. It has been a fantastic experience, many thanks to Surgeon Commander Adrian Mellor for making this possible. On behalf of the team many thanks also to Lieutenant Colonel Attwood and the senior officers who organised this at 201 (Northern) Field Hospital. Here’s to more adventures in the future!

Team 3

Blog created by the team from 201 (Northern) Field Hospital, based out of Newcastle Upon Tyne. The unit comprises: Medical and Surgical Doctors at all levels, RN (Adult) in all specialities, Radiographers, Operating Department Practitioners (ODP), Biomedical Scientists (BMS), Physiotherapists, Paramedics, Pharmacists, Pharmacy Technicians, Health Care Assistants (HCA), Dentists, Dental Support Specialist, Medical Nursing and Allied Health Professional Students (AHP), Chefs, Drivers and Clerical Staff (HR).