Ex HIMALAYAN VENTURE 18 (HV18) is the principal expedition of the RAF100 campaign and shaping up to be the largest RAF mountaineering expedition ever launched! The application process opened in 2016 with 250+ initial applicants. There was no requirement for previous experience – anyone from absolute novice to experienced mountaineer was invited to apply. Since then, applicants have undergone summer and winter training in Wales, the Lake District and the Scottish Cairngorms. 80 personnel, including GLRFCA Head of Engagement Niall Ahern, were selected and on 30 August 2018 travelled to the Rolwaling and Khumbu regions of the Nepalese Himalayan range to begin a 3 week expedition in one of the most beautiful yet challenging environments in the world.
Emily Brittain, a 5th year medical student at Imperial College London with a Royal Airforce Cadetship, is part of a team of 12 University Air Squadron Cadets who are particpating in this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Over the past 3 weeks, Emily has blogged about her experience. Now back in the UK, she has submitted her last entry which you can read below. Congratulations to Emily and the entire Ex HIMALAYAN VENTURE 18 team for their amazing achievement!!
I love dogs, chocolate and tennis, and in my spare time I can usually be found either in the kitchen cooking or at the bottom of the ocean! I am a passionate scuba diver, qualifying as a PADI Divemaster in Komodo, Indonesia in 2015…but now I am challenging myself to leap right out of my comfort zone and climb in the opposite direction to the top of the world instead - the Himalayas!
I applied to be part of Himalayan Venture 18 through my University Air Squadron - it sounded like a fantastic opportunity, which provided a unique challenge to experience trekking in one of the most remote environments on the planet as part of a dedicated team.
I have a passion for exercise medicine, particularly how the human body copes with extreme environments and I can't wait to get involved in the medical research into altitude sickness being done on this expedition. I hope this adventure during the RAF's centenary will inspire others to get involved in STEM, through our continued community involvement and also raise awareness of the UAS and opportunities for adventure training in the RAF.
I am definitely feeling the nerves and excitement already for what I think will be some of the toughest yet most rewarding weeks for my team and I - as long as my parents and sister are waiting for me at Heathrow with Welshcakes on the return home, I think I'll survive!
From the 12th to the 14th September, I felt like our team was in limbo, waiting for our time to come to take on the now infamous Tesi Lapcha Pass. The time we spent trekking during the day was a few hours at most, where we generally leap-frogged our campsite to gain higher altitude in order to maximise acclimatisation, have a mars bar at the top and then come back down to base for lunch.
Our afternoons were spent reading, writing our diaries, playing Monopoly, Deal or napping in our tents (where I was usually found!) followed by our usual carb-filled dinner and hot drinks.
The environment had shifted away from the lush humid forests we had been in before, and now barren landscapes of moraine and scree slopes were in the shadow of snowy peaks. The atmosphere first thing in the morning was dramatic with great clouds of mist creeping up the valley, and at night we could have been in a National Geographic magazine with our tiny lit tets beneath the great expanse of the milky way.
After much logistical organisation between teams and advice from the sherpas on how to tackle the extreme conditions of the pass, our plan had been decided: early morning on the 15th, we would take on the Tesi! We woke up at 2.45am to have a quick bowl of steaming porridge and set-off by 3.30am with our head torches into the darkness. Our plan was to reach the top of the pass as soon as we could after sun-rise in order to minimise our exposure to rock-fall, which would start to happen when the ice began melting. What followed was about 4 hours of tackling a challenging rocky slope, followed by a scree slope which was on top of the glacier. When the sun rose it gave us some of the best and most unique views of the expedition, it's what makes mountaineering worth it! Half way up the glacier, there was a sound that sounded like a gunshot, everyone froze in their tracks... everyone except the porters who reassured us it was only the sound of the glacier moving! Hmmm, reassuring?! When we reached the top of the scree, there was only 200m altitude left to gain, but the most dangerous part had begun as we were getting close to the areas of rockfall. With our helmets on we traversed around and up the side of the rock with confidence ropes in place to help us. This was one of the most physically challenging things I have had to do, while gasping for breath due to the lack of oxygen, the porters were shouting at us to keep going in order to get to safety. It was stressful to say the least but we all managed to do it! The last 100m or so we walked up in the first snow of the expedition and reached our highest point, 5,755m with huge smiles on our faces and amazing views - absolutely epic!
However, it was what followed that was definitely the most mentally challenging, as the worst part was not over yet...just 48 hours of moraine to go, where we had to abseil down portions and every step had potential to break your ankle - the lake we could see in the distance just wasn't getting bigger! This part of the expedition truly demonstrated the importance of positive thinking and team work, and highlighted our team's incredible ability to just keep plodding. On our last day, when the moraine had finally subsided, we were back in greenery again and our team's morale magically lifted as our world gained colour and we lost altitude.
When we arrived back to Kathmandu after a mad 13 hour bus journey on the pot-holed roads again, a hot shower and proper bed were absolute bliss. These 3 weeks with the RAF and in the Himalayas have been insane, with incredible ups and downs, but I could not have asked for a better team to have done it with. I have learnt so much about mountaineering, the human body and myself, it was an experience like no other, which I have my University Air Squadron to thank for! Keep your eyes out for the results from our beetroot at altitude research study, and our social media pages as the photographs from the trip keep rolling in! I will never take loos with seats for granted again! ...now for some fish &chips...