31 May 12. The team passed a chilly first night under canvas, with early-morning temperature inside the tents clocked at -5C, water bottles frozen and batteries sluggish from the cold. Shaking off the realisation that things would only get cooler over the next 2000m of ascent, we managed to muster sufficient enthusiasm to shuffle up the 50m climb to breakfast whilst wrapped in down and the combination of ridiculous headwear that has come to characterise the trip so far. Our token RAF Sqn Ldr took things a stage further by donning a skin-tight one-piece suit, to universal acclamation, and indeed no small admiration from the girls.
Despite the prospect of a leisurely breakfast with the sun coming up, the demands of clinical research (and Surg Cdr ‘Dad’ Mellor) were calling and we were soon engaged in the familiar circus of venepuncture, echocardiography and praying to the gods of bioimpedence for reliable data. At this height, several pieces of equipment were starting to struggle, although the constant supply of hot drinks helped the research team maintain a sense of humour, and after several hours of hard work the research was done for the day.
Following avocado sandwiches in the sun and a quick siesta (this is emphatically not a holiday, as we’re reminded on an hourly basis), most of the team explored the surrounding ridge line, climbing up easy scree-covered slopes to 4800m in an area that has seen very few foreigners before. Standing in 20C heat at the height of Mont Blanc only served to reiterate how much bigger these mountains are than anything in Europe, although even here modern life intruded and fleeting mobile phone reception was obtained by some (not by me, although fortunately I can use the blog to say hello to my wife, who is hopefully an avid follower of our adventures!) Good views up to Chachacomani also allowed some route planning for the coming big ascent, with fantastic views towards the glacier and the summit ridge at 6040m. The highlight of the day was undoubtedly a 300m scree-run, returning back to the tents in 15 mins in a dusty and exhilarating descent, which fortunately resulted in no broken ankles!
Tomorrow sees us moving camp to 4800m and just below the Chachacomani glacier. Per ardua ad astra.