'For Adventures of a lifetime'

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The Day Winter Ended Before It Even Started

Attending the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI) AGM has become somewhat of a regular thing for me.  This year’s at Glenmore Lodge was fantastic, with great workshops and guest speakers and perfectly timed.  I had my Mountaineering Instructor Certificate (MIC) assessment planned for mid February (2017) but felt I needed a couple of workshops to help fine tune my skills.  Following a fantastic day with Bill Strachan the day before doing ‘stance management’ I was really pleased that I was going to be out with him again for a MIC ‘shakedown’ on the Sunday.  Along with myself were Ali, David and Bryan.

The day started normal enough with no hint as to how it was going to end! Walking in to the Northern Corries, a popular spot for many winter climbers, it was evident that the heavy snows that had fallen the previous two days were now melting at a rapid pace and turning the paths into ‘slushpuppy’ tracks.  The five of us persevered into Coire an t’Sneachda getting wetter and wetter, not really sure if it was from the outside in or the inside out due to the ‘warm’ temperatures and sweating.  For those who have not experienced these types of days in the mountains you can get colder more easily than when the temperatures are well below freezing but with no wind. Following a bit of this and a bit of that relating to the MIC scheme and a few pearls of wisdom from Bill, we had all had enough and we were all reaching for our extra jackets to try and fend off the onset of hypothermia.

Climbing the day before during the Stance Management Workshop

Walking out, we wasted no time getting to a spot to put away a few things such as harness and helmet we were still wearing.  Packing my rucksack the boys headed off and I told them I was going to have a pee and would catch them up.  By the time I’d finished the boys were about 200m in front of me so I put a bit of a ‘jog’ on to make up the distance and try and catch them.  I remember being only about 50m away when suddenly my left leg slipped on a slushy part of the path and I was aware that I was going down.  However, as my body went forward with the momentum my right foot caught on a rock and I felt it turn under.  This was one of those situations which had happened numerous times before during my career as a Mountaineering Instructor, but immediately I knew this one was different.  Normally I would have reacted fast enough to un-tuck my foot from under me, as had happened before, but the slush on the path, my speed and my body weight meant that this didn’t happen.  My foot turned back on itself and I came crashing down on it until I found myself sat on it facing a rather strange direction.  The pain, although severe was strange, more akin to a severe ‘Chinese burn’ than anything more severe. Instinctively, I managed to right myself and found myself sitting straight legged looking at the lads walking away from me, they hadn’t seen me fall. As my right foot flopped over to the side I thought that’s broken but having never broken any bone in my body in my longish career outdoors I had nothing to compare it to.   I shouted to the guys but to my dismay no one heard me, so I shouted louder until Ali turned around and saw me sitting there.  As I waited for the guys to come back to me I knew I had hurt myself badly and immediately I knew my winter and my MIC was over for this year. What I didn’t know was that this was just the start of some very strange events that would unfold as the evening went on.

 If you are ever going to hurt yourself in the hills/mountains make sure you are surrounded by appropriately experienced people.  The four mountaineering instructors with me on this day came with a small truck full of experience between them.  I was impressed how each of them appeared to know their role and what needed to be done immediately.  The outdoor industry generally has a very good safety record so the boys would not have had that much practice of real situations, although emergency procedures do form part of all the qualifications we undertake. With Bill, my new hero by the way, at the helm I felt in very safe hands.  His sense of humour is questionable though.
A decision was made that a stretcher was going to be sent up from Glenmore Lodge but that realistically it was going to be nearly an hour before it would reach me.  I wanted to keep warm and I suppose I was a little in denial about how serious I had hurt myself, so started to hobble and hop my way down to meet the stretcher coming the other way.  Two of the guys were always at my side taking my weight (sorry about that guys but very much appreciated!), and also me using a ski pole.  Together we managed around 350m before the stretcher arrived with my other new hero John Armstrong (his sense of humour is also questionable!), Rob and Alex.  People have asked if I was in a lot of pain during the whole of the descent and I can honestly say I was definitely uncomfortable but I was never in so much pain that I had to stop.  It was actually four hours later I took my first paracetamol and more because I thought I should rather than needing it.  I would like to formally thank all those above for being so professional and dedicated to getting me off the hill quickly and easily….could not have thought of a better rescue team.

Ali (left) and Dave (right) Supporting me on my 350m hobble/hop (Photo Bill Strachan)
The guys doing a great job with the fancy 'in-line wheel stretcher' (photo John Armstrong)

Me putting on a brave face for John (photo John Armstrong
Me finally in the mini bus on the way down to Glenmore Lodge (Photo Bill Strachan)

Arriving back at the Lodge my mind was buzzing with all the decisions I had to make and how I was going to achieve them;  X-rays, transport, home, MIC, Mentoring…  Fortunately, Peter Stollery, who lives close to me in Teesside (Darlington) and had attended the AGM at the weekend also, helped make some of the decisions a lot easier.  Pete volunteered to drive my van back down the road but having left his at Penrith we would have to drive there. So all I had to do was make arrangements to have my wife and son meet us at Penrith and all would be well.  This seemed my best option as I would be van bound at Glenmore Lodge if I stayed.  I thanked everyone I could who had helped, had a bandage (equine wrap) applied to my leg (great job Will Kilner thanks), collected various bits of kit which were located in various places around the Lodge, loaded the van and set off on the 5 hour journey to Penrith. The time was 17:00 hours!

The drive down the road went without incident, albeit a miserable evening with dark skies, fog and water on the road.  Pete was feeling tired due to an over indulgence the night before (usual AMI AGM behaviour apparently) but was doing a great job with the driving.  On the way Pete made a suggestion that, to save me extending my journey and him having to drive from Penrith back to Darlington (about 1 hour journey) would it be possible that my wife drives his van back from Penrith and he would take me directly to Accident and Emergency in Teesside?  The only thing was that my wife would have to collect his spare key for his van from his girlfriend in Darlington.  This was not much out of the way for my wife as it was on the way to Penrith anyways.  Arrangements were made and all seemed fine.  We stopped at a well known fast food restaurant in Berwick where, I took my first pain killers of the day, and continued down the A1 towards home.  The time was 20:30 hours.
Suddenly and completely out of the blue the van started to make a strange noise, Pete and me looked at each other ‘what the f**# is that’ we said almost in unison. Pete pulled over at the nearby lay by/parking area and got out and looked around the van.   ‘It’s a blow out’ Pete said! The near side rear tyre was completely flat and needed changing, so Pete set about releasing the spare wheel.  This proved more awkward than anticipated, me hobbling around on one foot not really being able to offer any physical help and now in a little bit of pain.  The spare wheel carrier was being awkward and Pete tried various methods to release it.  Finally, the carrier released, unfortunately, Pete had left his finger underneath it….with a silent scream and the look on his face I could tell it must have hurt.  We found out later after a visit to A & E himself, that the finger wasn’t broken but had to be drilled through the nail bed to release the pressure underneath (yuk!!!).   Although the spare wheel was released it was stuck under the van and Pete needed to put the jack in place to raise the van up so we (me) could pull it out.  Finally with the spare wheel out, the flat tyre off we (Pete) tried to line up the bolt stud holes, unfortunately, as Pete adjusted the new wheel the van moved and slipped off its jack.  Disaster you might think, as the van fell towards me and Pete…No miracle!!!  The spare wheel lodged itself under the wheel arch and stopped the van hitting the slippery tarmac we were parked on.  Quickly Pete replaced the jack and raised the van…Forgetting about my foot we both struggled to get the wheel in place before Pete eventually lined up the holes and screwed in the bolts/studs…Phew! The time was 22:00 hours.

Not broken but drilled and drained (photo Pete Stollery)

I jumped in the passenger seat and turned on the ignition while Pete cleaned his hands.  The van made a strange scream and whirring noise which eventually settled.  Pete jumped back into the drivers seat and for the second time that evening we said in unison “What the F**# was that?” Pete pulled out from the lay by and almost immediately we both noticed the lights on the van dash… Pete then said “Cliff I have no power steering!”.  What the hell was going on this evening was beyond both Pete and myself…It kind of reminded me of the film Final Destination, where those who had cheated death were chased until the inevitable happened…DEATH!  Pete pulled over again and said he just wanted to check he could actually steer…It was his call, if he could drive without the power steering I was happy for him to continue.  We continued down the A1 and took the slip road for the A19 and the Tyne Tunnel…wishing this night would end (not in a Final Destination way though!).  During this drive we received a call from my wife who said they had located Petes van in Penrith but could we confirm the make/model and registration number as they were having difficulty getting the key to work…  After a few expletives from Pete he realised that his girlfriend (soon to be wife) had given my wife the wrong spare key.  Lynne my wife and Aaron my Son were now stuck in Penrith.  Pete made the ‘calm’ phone call to his fiancée and explained the situation and that she would have to take the actual key over to Penrith to meet Lynne and Aaron.  What made this worse is Lynne had told us how bad the weather was going over the Pennines and that fog was getting thicker.  I felt I needed to talk to Pete’s Fiancée and tell her not to rush and to take care, all the while thinking about Final Destination!  All seemed well for Pete and myself now until just beyond Sunderland when in the middle of the dual carriage way with the rain coming down, all electrics to the van ceased to work.  We couldn’t even drop the windows to see out.  Somehow Pete managed to drive off the A19 and into a pub car park and safety.  Surely this was the end of the ‘events’? 

We waited only around half an hour for the AA man and his van to arrive (impressive), perhaps things were looking up! Only to have the barmaid from the pub meet him on the way to check my van out, “Will you guys be long?  It’s just I need to lock the gate of the car park” said the barmaid. No way!  Hahahaha we were almost hysterical by this point….Pete tried to reason with her, but to no avail.  He is obviously not experienced with females from Sunderland! The lads pushed the van out of the car park and onto the road while I steered and broke with my wrong foot (for the brake).  “Nothing I can do mate it’s the alternator belt and you’re going to need to be transported” Said the AA man.  He made arrangements for another transport company to come and pick us up.  The time was now 12:40 hours.

Following the detour to Hartlepool, where my preferred garage repair is located, we were dropped at my house in Billingham by the nice transport guy.  Pete quickly jumped in his van which Lynne had brought to our house and set off home.  I jumped into my wife’s car, not even a cup of tea was offered, and driven to Accident and Emergency at Stockton.  The time was now 2:30/3:00 hours.
We were seen quite quickly only to find out that the waiting time to see the doctor was three and half hours, however, there was an alternative to go to the One Life Walk in Centre in Hartlepool where I could be seen immediately for x-ray and analysis.  There was no option but to drive to the Centre, yes you guessed it, past my van that we had left outside of the Garage over an hour earlier.  The senior nurse arranged for an immediate x-ray as promised and which confirmed my fears that my leg was broken.  I had done quite a good job on it and had actually broken my tibia and fibula near the ankle area.  By this time the swelling had become worse but the bandage applied at Glenmore Lodge by Will had done a great job (invest in some equine wraps people).  They put me in a temporary cast and made an appointment for the following day to see the specialist/consultant.  We eventually settled into bed for 05:30 hours!

Fibula fractures

Tibia Fracture

Following the removal of my initial cast

All there is to say is a massive thanks to all those people involved and who had put themselves out for me during the day.  It’s amazing and humbling the support that I got and has continued through social media since.  Thank You for that! 

All the best to everyone attempting to complete their MIC this ‘winter’!

AMI  💗

The foreseeable future! 

Monday, 25 July 2016

24 hours in Phnom Penh…Revealing its true identity

Tonight I have a little sour taste in my mouth after experiencing a few surprising things about a city I thought I was falling in love with.  It all started when I decided to take a walk along the popular riverside tourist spot of Sisowath Quay, better know at the riverside walk.

It goes without saying that the more you travel the more you gain in confidence; dealing with people, overcoming language barriers, being streetwise and avoiding the ‘danger’ areas…especially in large cities. So as I strolled along in the early part of the evening, enjoying (now that I’m use to it) the heat and late sunshine, absorbing the colours, the sights and the smells of this beautiful part of the city I found myself thinking about travelling companions who, let me say, are not the most trusting souls in the world when it comes to city people or natives of the city to be more precise.  As I watched the people sitting in family groups eating, chatting and having fun together, children playing and even a few serious games of kick volleyball going on I thought to myself, are my travelling friends missing out on potential experiences, sharing the ‘real’ adventure of travel?  All felt good, all felt calm; I even had a family sit next to me as I watched the amazing skills of the kick volleyball players who are able to back kick the ball above the net and their heads!  The family (locals) engaged with me as their baby sat next to me and reached to play with the bracelets on my wrist and then looking at me in amazement at what I believe was the colour of my skin…Laughs and giggles ensued and finally as they were leaving asked if I minded having a photo taken with their son.  They left happy and I left thinking how nice they all were and how they had given me a ‘travelling experience’ without even realising it.  Something my cynical friends may miss out on.

I continued my journey along to my intended destination, the night markets, which I had already been to the previous week but felt a little bit of retail therapy was needed…this being the perfect spot as most things are cheap, especially if you haggle, as everything has a deal.  Before reaching the markets I was approached by a well dressed gentleman (smart shirt, trousers, shoes, clean shaven) who spoke in very good English.  “Can I just ask where you got your shoes?” he said.  Now immediately I should have questioned his intentions as I was wearing my three year old Croc flip flops.  “Are they comfortable to walk in? He said with real interest in them.  I told him how I had actually bought them from the Central Market in this city three years earlier and yes they were very comfortable.  Having the earlier experience with the family had given me a false sense of security as I happily chatted with this well spoken Asian gentleman, who I now think was Pilipino. We even sat down and chatted about English football and Sunderland AFC’s new manager signing.  He then mentioned his sister who was actually awaiting a visa to go and work as a nurse/carer with old people, ironically in the North East of England (where I’m from).  The conversation flitted from one thing to another until his phone rang…I did think his telephone conversation a little strange but threw any negative thoughts out of my mind.  We started chatting again and then he asked would I be willing to chat to his sister before her departure to England and let her know the state of play in England regarding the local area and immigration etc.  I of course being ‘the confident traveller’ graciously accepted his offer, thinking all the while how enriched my life will be.  I suggested meeting at my hotel for a coffee but he says “its Asian tradition to invite the person to their house for food”.  I was once invited for tea by an ex Buddha teacher in India and the memories of that day stay strong in my ‘travel experiences’…why would this experience be any different? He then suggested meeting at the new mal in town as that was easier for him.  We parted company shaking hands, agreeing a time and with a genuine smile on our faces…

Walking around the night markets little niggling doubts entered my mind and dissipated quickly…the confident traveller in me, like a druggy, wanting his fix of ‘travelling experiences’. The walk home back to the hotel allowed a little more contemplation time and I kept thinking I don’t want my doubting travelling companions niggling lack of trust in people generally to effect the outcome of my earlier rendezvous…Did I tell the guy too much? Yes! Did I give him answers that he didn’t ask for? Yes! Would he really pick me out from a crowd and ask about a pair of three year old flip flops? No! I know it is easy to reflect on it now and see how unbelievably naive I was…The whole thing looks to have been a scam…Fortunately this tale has a happy ending as nothing happened as a little bit of research revealed a far too similar scenario for some other travellers.  (See this article and read the comments below it: )  I didn’t meet the guy!

Today, I got my sensible head on again and thought right I’ll go to Central Markets (more retail therapy) pick up a few bargains and then possibly get a haircut too.  Arriving at a good time 0900 hours, I started my exploration around the tightly interwoven stalls, selling everything from scarves to statues, earphones to nail polishing…After the hundredth “Can I help you sir?” “Would you like to buy something sir? “ I was done and needed a coffee…”Tuk Tuk Sir?” was shouted by every male as I left…hassle hassle hassle! Arrrrrrggggggh! Just leave me alone!   I just needed to be left to myself so I could absorb…it wasn’t going to happen.  Eventually I made it to the freedom of the chaotic roads and almost stumbled on a hairdressers almost immediately…$4 for a cut….Bargain I thought and sat in the chair in a little oasis of freedom but still enjoying the hustle and bustle around me and watched with intrigue a man have his ears cleaned, the girl doing the cleaning looking proud when she brought out some waxy objects from the depths of his cochlear.   While in the middle of my haircut I was asked if, ok it was indicated that, I needed my fingernails done…I thought why not…the lady then wanted to do my toenails…in for a penny I thought… The total for the lot including the haircut  (a good job too) came to $8.  Only then did I realise something else was being offered…which apparently was upstairs…and with a choice of suitable assistants from young to old.  I was caught off guard but declined respectfully and made my way back onto the busy streets.  I was desperate for a coffee and stopped around the corner at a roadside coffee shop…within seconds a woman approached making light conversation, my ‘Traveller senses’ now alive, I  realised immediately this was hooker corner…I looked around the coffee bar and five smiling faces glared back at me.  I made short work of the coffee and high-tailed it out of there and back to the freedom of my hotel. 

As the day drew to a close I found myself at the local park, a great place just to people watch and let time go by. Located just at the bottom of the road from my hotel,  group dancers were doing their thing, lads were playing football and children were running around having fun. No hassle from anyone, not even from the street vendors selling amazing little hot snacks and every style imaginable of drink.  Phnom Penh was back and my love affair was starting all over again…

Monday, 18 July 2016

Final Blog from the RBAI Expedition to South East Asia

...A reflective look back on the expedition by Ed.....Also know as Cliff.

I have just returned into Phnom Penh city and my hotel for the night after leaving the Boys and the two staff at the international airport.  They were safely escorted through the check in and to the gates and I have just heard they are safely at Bangkok airport awaiting their 13 hour flight back to the UK.

Today's plans were a little thwarted to say the least...The plan was to go and visit the Royal Palace, which is located near to where we were staying.  However, none of us had guessed that there were actually only a couple of times in the day when entrance is allowed...Never the less we made the most of the time by wandering through the now almost familiar streets of the city.  Our journey took us through dirty streets filled with the smells the boys had become use to, some nice and some just down right rank, eventually making our way to the Independence Monument and surrounding park area. The heat while walking was unbearable today with everyone's tee-shirt  wringing wet with moisture, seemingly flowing freely from our bodies...the boys were even having a bet as to who was the sweatiest....Boys will be boys!

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and packing ready for the chaotic journey up to the airport.

Throughout this trip the boys have tried to engage where they could, the highlight for me being the day we laid the concrete at the project...I often say its not the common or most popular events which you although Halong Bay, Sappa trekking, Luang Prabang, Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh were all fantastic, they are very touristy and because of that some of the 'experience' is lost.  The boys will get home and remember, funny things from the trip such as Karl waving four fingers at the immigration officer...they will also remember one member of the group handing over $50 which we never thought we'd see again....These are the experiences that will stay with them for life...these are the things which they will hopefully learn from.  I have used a few of my 'philosophy's of life' along the way and I hope the boys remember that when faced with worry, unknown outcomes, fear and the likes that  'Tomorrow will always comes'.

Parents Please Note:

Flight Leaves London Heathrow at 11.15 and arrives at George Best City Airport at 12.45 (19th July) ...Please make sure you are there to meet your son...they would not be best pleased if you are late...Also I think they mentioned they would all like a rice dish of some sort for their welcome meal home...Or maybe even noodles ...  Your journey home may take you past one or two well known fast food outlets...

They have all been a pleasure to work with and you should all be proud of their achievements...This is Ed. (Cliff) saying Aw koon!

Over and Out!

The Great Depression - Emotionally Challenged

After an all you can eat buffet breakfast, the group and I believed that we had been well prepared for what Aaron and Jack Ross had planned for the day ahead. However, we were grossly unprepared for the horrors of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.  The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center was a chilling echo of Nazi death camps, we witnessed the brutality that the Cambodian people had to endure for the four years of hell that was Cambodia from 1975-1979.

While the visit to S21 showed us more of Pot’s ‘‘agrarian utopia’’, the Security Prison also gave us example of extreme heroism and resilience in defiance of the totalitarian communist state, such as the Aussie Kerry Hamill and Brit John Dewhirst who convinced the Khmer Rouge that Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried chicken was their CIA commanding officer. This experience seeing firsthand the reality of Cambodia’s history is one I’m sure not the group or I will ever forget. (*Ed.  Difficult day for the boys…some of the photos show what they witnessed but goes nowhere near how they felt…IMHO an essential experience for a visit to PP Cambodia…Some may disagree!)

When we arrived back at the hotel around 15:00 many of us were shattered after a long day that had challenged us both mentally and physically, so we migrated to the pool to relax. Unfortunately there was a group of girls in there so we all had sit quietly in the opposite corner, until they left when Mr McMillan entered the ring. We emptied around half the pool with our antics and enjoyed the rest and relaxation. After a chat on how we as a group have grown in the last 3 weeks we pumped out 44 press ups with ease except cliff (who I think was starting to struggle in is old age).  (Ed. He’s not wrong!!!)

As this is our last night in Cambodia we congregated for dinner as a group and had a generous budget of $10 per person. A trip round the night market and being chased and beaten up by the little street children finished us off and we all went to have a well deserved sleep, barring me who stayed up to 1am to write this blog. (Ed. Dedication!) We all can’t wait to get home and see you all again. See you soon...

p.s. mum plz get some hay for the rabbit, I need to change him when I get back

p.p.s Robbie says to his family he hopes you remembered to re-cork his clarinet, bring money for a McDonalds on the way home and that he loves and misses you all and can’t wait to get back. Also did Megan get selected?! See you soon

Ethan Cheuk

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Magnificent Angkor Wat

The sun rising like a beacon behind the soaring towers of Angkor Wat is not a sight to be missed. So it was not ideal that Mark and I overslept by more than half an hour this morning. From bed to tuk-tuk in less than three minutes, we were under way and racing the sunrise to one of the most breathtaking places on earth. An hour later, sitting on the steps of a minor temple at 5:30 am and battling exhaustion, we eventually caught sight of the sun behind the main Angkor Wat complex and all thoughts of breakfast were momentarily forgotten. The theme of our trip has undoubtedly been spectacular sights, from the dramatic views of the Sapa valley to the towering rock formations at Halong Bay, and none have been more magical than those we saw today. After spending an hour exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat, we moved on to Angkor Thom. Here, enormous stone faces frown down on the visitors below, the impressive detail and huge scale of the ancient carvings making this temple a favourite among the group. After Bailey and Ethan escaped from some over-friendly monkeys, we visited a third and final temple. Known as the Temple of Trees, this was my personal favourite, and it was easy to see why it had been used in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film series. Ancient trees burst through the ruined stone structure, making this place seem almost untouched and giving it a more mystical air than any of the other temples.

 While everyone enjoyed our exploration of the ancient ruins, by the end we were certainly hot, tired, and looking forward to a dip in the rooftop pool back at our hotel. Looking back on the experience, the one thing that saddens me is the commercialisation of such a beautiful historical site. The floods of tourists, many more concerned with taking selfies than experiencing the thrill of the temples for themselves, the endless trinkets and cans of coca cola, all seem to do the ruins an injustice. Nevertheless, when finding an empty corridor, crumbling with age and ordained with magnificent carvings, or standing alone at the top of the Bakan Inner Temple with the jungle stretching out before me, there were moments when the magic of the place really hit me. I know that everyone else had similar experiences, and I know that we all left with a full understanding of why Angkor Wat is known as one of the great wonders of the world.

 Later that evening in the pool, we met another Outlook Expeditions group from a girls’ school in Bromley, London. Needless to say, Robbie was in his element, pulling out killer conversation starters from nowhere and generally being on form with the flirty banter. This was to be expected from the seasoned ladykiller (Ed. While others just preened themselves J) . More surprising was the expertise of none other than Brian Glover, who insisted we refer to him as Brian Lover after his exploits in the pool. It was a nice way to finish our time in Siem Reap; believe me, the calibre of conversation can only hold up for so long among 16 teenage boys, and the reality check of maintaining a civilised and polite conversation was much needed.

 The atmosphere is strange as we near the end of our trip, with everyone looking forward to getting home but at the same time knowing that we will miss Southeast Asia greatly. For now, we’re looking forward to the four-star hotel in which we’ll be seeing out the last days of our trip.