Issue #106, 20 March 2020

 

There are certain places that are rarely ever seen; and in those places, you will find a special sort of magic.

Team Shot: (back row) Stu, David (Successful ascents: Everest 8848m (thirteen times), Hidden Peak 8068m, Gasherbrum II 8035m (four times), Broad Peak 8047m & Shishapangma 8012m) & Wynn. (Front row) Neil, Amanda & Al

 

Pakistan, and in particular, the Karakoram (Himalayas) is where I wish to be. It’s a spectacular place, otherworldly and far, far away from all the madness and sadness. Sadly, it’s been far too long since my last visit, but I do plan to spend much of my early retirement amongst her great mountains. At times likes these, we all need a little escape – it lifts your spirits, albeit momentarily.

The draw of the mountains is their simplicity as the stresses and strains of normal life have no place here. You focus purely on living; you struggle for breath and life itself. The freedom and peace that these great mountains offer is certainly irresistible, and I always ache to be amongst them.  Climbing ‘big’ Himalayan mountains is the least blemished mirror available to show me how I am really doing. It's easy to bullshit your way around most difficulties in life, to tell yourself that you're doing fine. But when you're climbing above the clouds, you can't avoid the truth; you know how you felt, and (more importantly) how you performed under pressure. It's where the rubber meets the road in life.

I first visited the Karakoram back in 2005. Eager, super-fit but inexperienced at these altitudes.  The beautiful mountain of Spantik is part of the mountain chain, which forms the boundary between the Hunza and Baltistan in one of the more remote parts. Spantik was first climbed by her enormous and demanding south east ridge (almost 8.9 kilometres) in 1955 by Karl Kramer’s German expedition. My own journey to ascend the same route started on the 30th July…

I had just started my own wine company four weeks prior to my departure, and at the same time I needed to keep myself in top physical condition, which also included a full MOT.  My local nurse Jane was an absolute godsend, apart from the fact that she spent the next six weeks injecting me with every conceivable disease known to man. My dentist also had his fair share of fun. I had the pleasures of enduring a root canal as one of my fillings seemed to be unstable due to an air pocket. Unfortunately, one of the many side effects of altitude is that it tends to play havoc with sensitive teeth and can even dislodge rickety old fillings. Dental treatment high on a mountain would have been both drastic and very traumatic, something which I desperately wanted to avoid from the outset.

Worst of all was saying my goodbyes to the ones I loved. Mountaineering on this scale is terribly selfish and I was conscious that it would be difficult for them, especially as I was unable to contact them until I got back to Islamabad almost two months after my departure.

We had spent two, long and agonising days melting away in the heat of Islamabad. Our internal flight to Skardu had been cancelled on the previous two days due to poor visibility. Usually under these conditions, we would have driven along the KKH (Karakoram Highway) but due to an outbreak of sectarian violence between the Sunni and Shia communities in Pakistan, the UK Foreign Office changed its advice, after a bus had been shot at on the KKH. We were all becoming increasingly nervous, as any more delays would inevitably impart serious consequences on our entire expedition. The frustration was agonising.

The Good Lord had obviously been listening to our prayers, as on the 3rd of August we touched down in Skardu. The one-hour flight was breathtaking as we flew along the edge of the Karakoram mountains. It was our first sighting of snow-capped mountains since our arrival. We could almost touch the truly spectacular Nanga Parbat (meaning naked mountain) as she rose above the clouds at 8,125m-26,658ft.

After a terrible night’s sleep, my mind was full of life with all that was beginning to happen. ‘This is it’ I told myself, ‘from this point upwards my journey truly begins.’ The remote village of Arandu was an 85km jeep drive along the Shigar Valley, and from here, we would hire our porters for the two-day trek into base camp. The journey to the village of Arandu was spectacular, one moment we would catch glimpses of huge peaks rising high above us, their sheer rawness was breath-taking.  We would thenturn another corner, to discover tiny mountain villages scattered along the hillside, rich with lush grass and pencil pines which reminded me so much of Tuscany.

During the next two days, we slowly made our way along the grassy ablation valley, which is on the northern side of the Chogo Lungma Glacier. Our schedule was purposely slow, mainly because our bodies would need to start adapting to the altitude gain. From this point upward, our acclimatisation programme would have to be strictly followed. Acclimatisation is about patience and not thinking about how fast one can ascend the mountain. You must allow your body to adjust to surviving on less oxygen and if you ignore the rules, the effects of altitude sickness will kill very quickly.

Can you spot us in the glacial field?

After days of trekking, we left the ablation valley behind us and headed out on to the ice of the Chogo Lungma Glacier. Our surroundings would not have been out of place in a book of mythical fairy tales. The glacier stretched as far as the eye could see, the hot morning sun bounding off the ice in wonderful hues of blues and greens and snow-capped mountains soared upwards on all sides. If you can, imagine yourself as an ant, standing in the centre circle of an empty Cardiff Millennium Stadium. This would give the sense of the enormity of exactly the sights we were fortunate enough to witness and experience. We were standing in the largest natural amphitheatre on this planet. It was a beautiful warm morning as we weaved our way over the maze of crevasses. In parts, you could see far into the depths but never right to the bottom – I couldn’t help but wonder where you would end up if you fell. I giggled to myself as I pictured myself dropping out the bottom of the earth.

More days passed and I was feeling a little tired from the effects of the altitude gain. When we finally arrived at base camp (4,300m 14,114ft), I had a throbbing headache and felt terrible. I drank as much as possible to help my headache and then collapsed for forty winks. When I woke, I felt much better but suffered from a serious bout of lethargy, another effect of altitude. Unfortunately, our team got the raw deal when it came to the position of our base camp. Our mountain was also playing host to a French and German team who had wisely chosen the only two available positions that lay vertically above us on the only grassy section of the mountain. Nevertheless, this was home and we all had to get used to the bareness of the rocky glacier.

Our first day at base camp was an official rest day. I was determined to spend the day forcing as much food and liquid down my throat as humanly possible. I was fully aware that success on the mountain is not only down to one’s physical ability. The statistical chances of a successful summit are severely slashed if you have not kept yourself well hydrated. Yet another effect of altitude is a suppressed appetite. As much as you cannot face eating you must force it down, those extra calories will be greatly needed higher up on the mountain.   I joined the rest of the team at 8.00am for breakfast and did not leave the mess tent until3.00pm that afternoon. Food at base camp was excellent and varied, apart from bloody chapati. Delicious initially, but after being served chapati for breakfast, lunch and dinner, day in and day out, the sight of them alone became unbearable. I retired to my tent for a little nap before organising all my climbing equipment and clothing for tomorrow’s first departure up to camp one.

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give."

Kahlil Gibran

Lebanese Poet and Novelist

We awoke early for the climb up to camp one, (5,250m 17,232ft). Early starts would become the norm, but leaving the warmth of my down sleeping bag was always a struggle which never got easier. The aim for the day was twofold. We would be climbing over 3,000 vertical feet up to camp one. Even though this is a significant altitude gain in one push, we would benefit from the acclimatisation. We would climb high and descend immediately back to base camp where we would sleep in the richer, more oxygenated air. It is how you climb a high mountain and the body seems to adapt to this process much quicker. Our second aim was to leave clothing and equipment at camp one, which would only be used higher on the mountain. We spent the previous day measuring our harness lengths, adjusting slings and attaching karabiners to our ascender devices, which would be used on the fixed ropes that lay between camp two and three. All of these were crammed into my rucksack, along with my high-altitude boots, crampons, ice axe, one thermal fleece and several pairs of gloves.

We set off up the steep, scree slope at a steady pace. I panted a little due to the thinner air, but was feeling good. My body took a little time to find its own rhythm but soon settled down to pace (not too dissimilar to that of a ninety-year old on crutches).We soon had a clear view of the German and French campsite. I must confess I was rather envious of their position. They had wonderful views across the entire glacier, and I was surprised to see the area rich with wild mountain flowers. They also did not have to endure the awful scree slope which on every descent became even more dangerous. It was a wonderful feeling being free on the mountain. I was climbing with Wynn (an experienced mountaineer), but we moved in silence lost in our own little worlds.

Within five minutes of arriving, we started the descent back to base camp, which was a tough ask. Unfortunately on the descent, my tent partner Benedict, fell onto some snowy slab rock twisting his ankle in the fall. We all descended back to base camp to raise the alarm and to organise a casevac. As I approached, I noticed Wynn running over to me, very concerned. He explained that something had fallen from the ridge that lay directly above us. He said it resembled somebody falling and pointed to some blue fabric, wedged in amongst the rocks. It was a tense time back at Base Camp until we discovered the unidentifiable object as a thermarest and rucksack, which came from one of the French climbers.

We spent the remainder of the day reflecting upon the highs, lows, and our own vulnerabilities. Tragically, Benedict’s summit attempt was over. Several members of the French team who assisted in strapping his ankle were doctors. They thought his injury was perhaps tendon damage. However, we later found out after Benedict arrived at the hospital in Islamabad that it was in fact two fractures. As a selfish benefit, he left an expensive fleece behind and I had the tent to myself!

I awoke at 6.30am after a wonderful night’s sleep. I felt strong and as if yesterday never happened. We spent much of the day resting and preparing ourselves for an early departure back up to camp one. This time, to increase acclimatisation we would spend two nights’ at camp one and then climb up to camp two (5670m 18,610ft).  Here we would spend one full night before descending all the way back to base camp. As a precaution, I started a course of Diamox just in case I suffered from AMS (acute mountain sickness effectively caused by rapid exposure to low amounts of oxygen at high elevation).

Unfortunately, in the evening we received more bad news. Rod, who had flown over from Australia to join the team, had taken the tough decision to pull out of the expedition. He had been suffering from a chest infection for four days and unfortunately, the antibiotics were not helping at these altitudes. Rod was a quiet member of the team but would be missed all the same. He left with Benedict and was never heard from again…

2.30am came all too early for me. We wanted to leave base camp by 4.00am in the hope to miss the heat from the mid-morning sun. I knew the Diamox was working, as one of the side effects was tingling extremities! It was as though my blood had drainedfrom my hands and sherbet had been injected into my veins instead. I was amazed to find out that we were moving much quicker than we had on our first ascent up to camp one. It was a demanding climb, but we reached our camp a full thirty minutes quicker than before. I still felt strong and was pleased I had plenty left in the tank. Our tents were precariously pitched on the edge of the ridge, which looks across the Chogo Lungma Glacier. It was truly spectacular - neither words or a photograph can quite do it justice.

I sat outside my tent in the warmth of the morning sun melting snow for my first brew. I felt happy and at peace with myself. The world here smells clean and clear, the sky a wonderful deep blue, fading at the edges into a darker shade. One of the joys I had been looking forward to was the simplicity of the mountain, the stresses and strains of normal life have no place here. Time here was to prove precious for me and I wanted to savour every moment.

That afternoon we spent the time in our individual tents trying to escape the ferocious heat. The sun burns stronger here due to the higher altitude. Fewer particles to diffuse the rays make the burning effect very severe, particularly if you do not protect yourself. I had been previously careless and could not be bothered to apply enough sun protection to my hands and face. I already looked like a panda bear as I had a perfect imprint of my glacier glasses. The rest of my face was a mixture of sunburn and grime, which had built up over the past week.

By the time I had emerged that morning, after the most wonderful night’s sleep, I discovered the wind was blowing hard and snow falling at the same rate. The time was spent in happy abandon, melting snow for my many cups of tea. I lay curled inside my down sleeping bag whiling the hours away, listening to music and reading. I was really enjoying this place now. I felt safe in the seclusion of my tent and my body was coping with the altitude, which made me brim with confidence.

We learned later that afternoon that the French team had all but finished their attempt to reach the summit. As it stood, no team had successfully summited this year.  Many of the other high peaks in the Karakoram had proven too difficult and dangerous due to too much deep and unstable snow. The only remaining teams were the Germans who were currently positioned at camp two and our own British team who would be carrying the baton on the final leg of 2005. The wind blew gently across our camp that night. I lay there listening to its rhythm, until sleep eventually came over me.

We lined up outside – the cold bit into your bones but the masses of stars were a welcome distraction. You could feel the tension and excitement as we clipped on to our respective ropes. Wynn was leading our team followed by Rich, myself and Alistair, who was the anchor-man. We set off in silence with the only sound coming from our crampons as they bit into the crisp snow. The route soon became more testing, particularly for Wynn. He was number one on the rope and had the task of breaking trail through knee-deep snow. I love nothing more than breaking trail in the Scottish mountains or throughout the Alps, but I have to confess that I did not envy Wynn in the slightest. We arrived at the German team’s camp who were slowly making their way up to camp three. It was before 10am, but the sun was ferocious. I could feel the sun literally burning through my base layer and the back of my hands were bubbling with small blisters. There was no escaping its ferocity and to make matters worse I had already run out of water.

Our planned camp was still a few hours climb up a very steep looking section of the mountain. To help Wynn, we changed the position of the rope personnel slightly. The pace was sensible, but it was well past 10am and we were all suffering from the heat, Wynn particularly. Being clipped on to a rope provides confidence and of course, safety when manoeuvring on dangerous ground, but it certainly has its drawbacks. As the front men clear a steep section, their pace naturally quickens. Unfortunately, this means that the last man on the rope gets dragged up the steeper sections. Not fun in an exhaustive state. We eventually arrived at a snow plateau destined to be our camp two, which was approximately 18,600 ft above sea level. The team reluctantly set to the task of flattening out a large enough area to take the base of our enormous eight-man tent. It was soon apparent that we had chosen a position where a small crevasse was also situated. As soon as we filled one hole in, you stepped into the line of the crevasse and created another.  Team two arrived two hours later and everybody huddled in an exhaustive heap into the tent. Hot brews flowed all day and early into the evening in the hope that we could help rehydrate our bodies after the hard climb.

After a bad night’s sleep, 3.30am came around all too quickly. The plan was to leave by 5.30am at the latest and descend all the way back to base camp. I set off to the most spectacular sunrise, we could even see the peak of K2 far into the distance. The sun was up and out in its full glory and I was surprised how hot it was already. We briefly stopped to take some fluids on board and to shed several layers of clothing before we set off, next stop being camp one.

We kept to a hard, relentless pace and clocked exactly two hours for the entire descent from camp two to one (a day to climb up!). Wynn and Alistair left for base camp almost immediately, I presume to miss the mid-morning heat. I made a brew and sat in comfortable silence as I waited for team two to arrive. I had made a conscious decision not to descend back to base camp with the rest of the team and had kept this to myself. I truly believed that if I had any chance of summiting, I needed to listen to what my body was telling me. I was also fully aware that the rule of Himalayan mountaineering is to descend all the way back to base camp and prepare for the main summit push. The air is thicker and more oxygenated which aids your recovery quicker. You can also eat and drink as much as you like at base camp, which is something you cannot do whilst living on the mountain.

We were all on strict rations, containing a maximum of two thousand calories per day, which is not sufficient to maintain your energy levels. Mountaineering is an extreme form of existence and your body can easily consume between 5000 - 6000 calories in one day of climbing. If you are unable to give your body the calories, which it needs to perform and survive under such severe conditions, then it simply looks elsewhere for food. If you are carrying little body fat (as I was then) your muscle tissue is next on the menu. It is fascinating but rather unnerving that your own body literally starts to consume itself. It’s almost an act of defiance, if you won’t feed me then I will eat myself type of attitude.  Considering all the facts, my drive for the summit was so strong and I knew if I descended to base camp I would pick up another stomach bug, which was a perpetual problem for me. The risk was too great, and I loved being on the mountain, so the decision was made.

Descending camp 3

Considering the inherent risks of being on the mountain on your own, I would have respected our leader’s decision if he said no. Gratefully, he understood my reasoning and gave me the thumbs up. He presented me with a handset, which would be my only form of communication with the rest of the team during the next four to five days. We set strict times for when we must switch on our handsets, the times were 8.00am - 12.00 noon with the last call of the day at 6.00pm. At all other times, the handsets were switched off to save the life of the batteries. I was genuinely sad to see the team disappear into the distance. Even though we had only been together for a month, our bond was strong. At one time, every one of us had struggled, and in those times somebody was there to help and give support when it was most needed. Of course, we had our own itineraries, ambitions, but I am still convinced to this day that none of us would have achieved what we did without the support of the rest of the team. We were strong and united but more importantly we genuinely cared for each other.

The days passed surprisingly quickly. Early on, I decided to set myself a strict routine of personal admin in the hope to maintain firstly, a good level of morale, but more importantly to keep myself well hydrated and fed with sufficient calories to see me through the next few weeks. The mornings were predominately spent melting pot after pot of snow. I tried to produce two litres of water for my bottles, which would see me through the afternoon and early evening, and then I would set to the task of producing another two litres for the copious cups of tea, which would be enjoyed in the morning sun whilst reading my book or listening to music.

Lunch never changed except for the dressing, which came with the packet of tuna. I became rather partial to the fragrant and refreshing coriander and lemon dressing. I thought it worked rather well with my packet of McVitie’s cheese biscuits! I becameobsessed with the calorie content of everything I was eating. Breakfast was always two cereal bars containing no more than 400 calories between them. The tuna for lunch was 172 calories accompanied by a mini pepperoni containing less than 100 and my bag of cheese biscuits containing less than 200. Nevertheless, lunch to me was always enjoyable.  Particularly if I could eat it outside in the sun on my little deckchair which I made using a few rocks and my Thermarest.

I also started to address the issue of personal hygiene. Due to the immense strain which you put your body under whilst climbing, you simply do not care, nor have the energy to address the issue of cleaning yourself. The first day, I stood completely naked in the snow and gave myself an extremely brisk and refreshing body wash using the snow. The snow was still compact with a thin icy layer on the top. The sensation and effects were not too dissimilar to that of a full body scrub using some expensive sea minerals, although much colder. I also had a small packet of highly fragrant wet wipes, which Alistair kindly gave me. These proved a Godsend as you could really clean all your nooks and crannies and actually feel half-human afterwards. I bravely attempted this once with the snow but the severe cold and abrasive nature of the icy particles on my delicate areas nearly caused a touch of frost nip.

By 15th August, I had just finished my final radio call of the day with Base Camp. David, our expedition leader received a weather update from the UK, which confirmed that the weather would be changing tonight, and for the worse. I was woken at 1.30am to an almighty storm blowing the hell out of my tent. I sat up and could literally feel the sides of my tent curling around my body. My body weight was the only thing keeping the tent from blowing away. My tent was precariously perched on the edge of the ridge, which dropped thousands of feet vertically down to the glacier floor. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to be blown off the mountain and if this was not going to happen to me, then I would have to prepare myself for an emergency exit.

I quickly gathered my most valuable mountaineering equipment and hurriedly packed them into my rucksack. I also dressed myself, which included putting on my high-altitude boots and sat by the tent opening waiting to scramble out if the conditions worsened. My mind was busy, racing through various scenarios ‘what if this happened or that happened.’ I felt so vulnerable. I kept thinking of the tragic events, that took place on the very same mountain a few years ago. David was leading another team when they were caught in a hellish storm. They wisely retreated to safety and advised two Asian climbers to do the same.Unfortunately, the Asian climbers made the wrong choice and sat the storm out. Sadly, one of the climbers died, possibly from Hypothermia or AMS. He was carried off the mountain a few days later. 8.00am could not come round quick enough for me. I was longing to have some form of contact even though it was on a handset and they were 3,000ft below me.

Days passed as did the high winds, but the heavy snowfall continued. I woke early in the morning to prepare a tiny welcoming gift for the team who would be making their way up to join me today for the main summit push. I had opened all their tents up in the hope to get some cool air – A little refresh from the unpleasant aromas. I also gathered several pots of snow for each tent, which would enable them to get a brew on as soon as they arrived. It doesn’t sound much but sometimes the effort of collecting snow is too much to cope with once you arrive after a long and hard climb. I am sure they appreciated the gesture regardless of how small it was.

The team arrived sporadically throughout the morning. Alistair was first to join me, and we sat in the morning sun and chatted about the past week. I am sure he will forgive me for saying it but considering his age, he is an exceptional athlete and certainly the fittest member of the team. Al and I went on to spend much time together both in the Himalaya and on the Scottish West Coast.

It was 4.45am and everyone clipped on to their respective ropes. I felt strong and confident and I was excited. After carrying equipment up to camps one and two and spending the past week at camp two on my own, I felt acclimatized and ready for the summit push. David led our roped team and we set off dead on 5.00am to a beautiful but bitingly cold morning. We arrived at camp two drained from the altitude and heat and spent the entire day cocooned in our eight-man tent.

Throughout the night, the tent was battered by heavy winds and snow. We all awoke at the designated time as today we were pushing on and up to camp three.  David confirmed that we would not be leaving until the storm had cleared. Unfortunately, this did not happen and consequently our entire summit push could have already been over. The Karakoram had seen much snow this year making high altitude mountaineering both dangerous and difficult. The entire French team got no higher than camp three mainly due to deep snow and only two of the German team members made it to the summit, but warned us that the conditions were difficult. We all knew that any more snowfall meant we would not even make it to camp three.

It was 3.45am and we had the green light for the ascent up to camp three (20,515ft). I reached the bottom of the fixed ropes at 5.00am and clipped my jumar on to the rope and readied myself for the ascent. I knew I had to stretch myself further as the climb up to camp three was going to be super-hard.  For the next ten hours, I slowly made my way up the 60 degree face. I would slide my jumar along the rope hoping the teeth would grip the rope sufficiently so I could pull myself up. At first, I set myself a routine of resting after every ten steps. My jumar is attached to my harness by way of a sling. After every ten steps, I would let go of the jumar and lean back allowing my harness to take the full strain of my body weight. You had to trust all these simple mechanisms – you had little choice.

After six long hours, I was still painfully making my way up the face of the mountain. I have never experienced such a battle in my entire life. I had completely run out of water and my throat and lungs were burning under the severe strain. I resorted toeating snow, just to get some form of moisture into my mouth. My body had all but given up and it was screaming at me to stop. There was nothing romantic about climbing high up on a mountain, it just bloody hurt, and I felt like I was being tortured.

Ten hours later I finally reached the end of the fixed ropes and unclipped my safety line and jumar and walked into camp three. We all suffered in our own ways and fought our own battles, but we had to dig even deeper as we were to leave for the summit in less than twelve hours. My tent partner Rich was fantastic, he got the brew underway and took control of the food. I was suffering from what I thought was severe dehydration resulting in little energy to help with the tent chores.

As the evening progressed, I became increasingly concerned about my own physical state. My whole body felt drained; my urine was a dark brown and each time I moved, I felt like I was going to vomit. To make matters worse, the thoughts and emotions of perhaps not being able to get out of my sleeping bag for my summit attempt was overwhelming.  That night I lay awake with worry, more than anything else. I had spent the past eight months training for this and could not cope with the thought that perhaps it was not going to be my turn. Rich lay beside me sleeping, his body recharging for the big push. I was happy for him in one respect but equally jealous, as I was unable to sleep myself. Everything seemed to be working against me and I did not know why.

"God seems to have left the receiver off the hook, and time is running out."

Arthur Koestler 1905 – 1983

I heard shuffling from the other tents and realised that it was time to start preparing for our summit attempt. I had spent much of the night praying to God asking for a little more strength, just enough to get to the summit and back safely. It’s difficult to explain but when you are suffering from any illness such as dehydration or sickness, the effects of being at high altitude only exacerbate them. Sometimes you simply do not have the energy to help yourself.

Most of us had previously decided not to wear our down jackets for summit day. Instead, we would wear several layers of fleece and a Gore-Tex outer shell or similar. The effort to get dressed was tremendous. Even putting my thick socks on was a Herculean effort and finally under the exertion and strain of the past 24 hours I went outside and vomited. This was a tragic signal, as I knew whatever fluids I had, were all lost. It was bitterly cold outside, about minus 30 degrees, but I was wet with sweat and could quite easily have laid on the snow, closed my eyes and drifted off.

I was called over and clipped on to team one’s rope. I was standing, shivering uncontrollably but still convinced that once I got going, I would be fine.  David had estimated the ascent to the summit and back to camp three would take approximately twelve to eighteen hours. Call it denial or even stupidity; I was going for the summit regardless.

We left under beams of light formed by head torches and set to a steady pace. I was becoming increasingly concerned that I was suffering from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). It is debilitating and the higher you climb the more severe the consequences become. It can quickly turn into either a pulmonary or a cerebral oedema, with dire consequences.

It is difficult to be accurate with my descriptions from here, as by this time I was climbing in a blur. My head was pounding, as I have never experienced before. Every step I made required increasing amounts of effort and I wanted to vomit every time I moved. It got to the point where I started to lose control of my co-ordination and I felt like I was literally falling into the darkness. Inevitably, I missed the summit by a matter of a few hours, but it was a physical impossibility. Some of the team summitted but I was shocked at how Rich and Wynn both looked when they returned. Rich to this day is still frustrated that he has little memory of standing on the summit. Their eyes seemed distant, almost empty. They had obviously pushed themselves so hard to reach the top.

"Try not to become a man of success.
Rather become a man of value."

Climbing high mountains in the Himalaya involves so much more than I ever imagined. The first question people asked me when I arrived home was; ‘did you summit?’ as if that was the most important thing. They were not interested in the rest of the climb; the torture and discomfort of reaching camp three, the frightening experience of coming close to being blown off the mountain whilst I was there at 17,000ft in camp one, all on my own. In some respects, I understand why they asked the question, as I went to the Karakoram with the summit firmly fixed in my mind. I myself did not appreciate the battle it would take to get even close to it. It was the hardest test that I had experienced, but I truly believe I came back a better person...

At the time, Wynn’s words were lost on me. He told me not to beat myself up so much for not reaching the summit. He went on to explain that all mountaineers have a toolbox and when they are in trouble, they can pull out the tool, which will hopefully keep them alive and safe. My toolbox was empty when I attempted my first Himalayan climb however, it was a magical lesson to learn. I spent much of the following years immersed in climbing – often spending 6-8 months away, with work taking a firm backseat. I have gone on to climb many ‘big’ mountains with my box becoming a little heavier with experience. My experiences in the Himalayas are now just distant memories, which I am sure, will fade over time but I am convinced they will never leave me. They’re a particularly special place to revisit in times as we now face…

 
 

Our final foray for Deep Woods, Hentley Farm & Hughes & Hughes / Mewstone

We are sole UK importers for much of our Aussie portfolio except for Deep Woods and Hentley Farm. Importer benefits range from better pricing which we can pass onto our customers, direct communication, favourable allocations and control over where the wine is sold. Where we do not import ourselves, these important influences are out of our hands, and we are at the mercy of the importer who and in the case of the aforementioned, is not the most straight forward to work with. Also, our allocation of the Deep Woods ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay has dropped dramatically – The reason being abundantly clear and not to our liking. It’s an entirely different situation with the Tassie producer Hughes & Hughes / Mewstone – We act as their UK importer however, communication and order fulfilment has not been the best from the outset. We hold no hard feelings, but business is business, and it’s time to call it a day and close our order books on these three producers.

 
View our delisted wines
 

 

Deep Woods Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Royal Sydney Wine Show 2019 Gold Medal & 1 Trophy
• Best Cabernet Sauvignon

 

97 Points - James Halliday "Sourced entirely from the original estate vines planted in '87, matured for 18 months in new and used French oak. A wine of immediate power, coupled with the balance to guide it through the decades ahead. The flavours are grounded on blackcurrant and bay leaf, the tannins ripe."

Was £48.55 per bottle

NOW £43.50 per bottle


 
 

There are some good Rosé wines on the market and then there is Deep Woods Rosé, which is consistently Australia’s finest. The 2017 vintage (for rosé) was undoubtedly the best in Deep Woods Estate’s history. Both wines are blended with varying percentages of Tempranillo and Shiraz with a small proportion of Grenache to produce two wines of great character, delicacy and complexity...

The 2017 Estate Rosé is offered exclusively by
The Vinorium and is not available outside of Australia.

 

Deep Woods Estate Rosé 2017

Margaret River Wine Show 2017 Gold Medal

 

95 Points - James Halliday "The pale but bright hue opens the door for this blend of shiraz and tempranillo, chiefly tank-fermented, a small portion fermented in barrel. Its fragrant bouquet is attractive enough, but doesn't quite prepare you for the intensity and drive that spears through to the finish and aftertaste. Wild strawberry and hints of forest make this a very special rose."

Was £21.95 per bottle
NOW £16.95 per bottle

 

 
 

I am genuinely sad to see them go however, it’s been a calamity from the outset (sorry to brothers Matthew and Jonathan Hughes). Great wines, perfectly priced but the lack of order fulfilment and poor communication makes our decision inevitable I'm afraid. Despite poor admin their wines are produced with a focus on the winemaking, working in small batches allowing Jonny to pay attention to the details to create something more unique. This meticulous approach has resulted in exceptional quality wines, a result that has been recognised recently when they were awarded the title of James Halliday’s Best New Winery of 2019. Two points to note; the ’18 Barrel and Skins Sauvignon Blanc is outstanding and reminds me of Cloudy Bay of old (with more texture). Finally, you must give their Mewstone wines a try – a tiny production and allocations almost pointless!

Mewstone Pinot Noir 2018

96 Points - James Halliday "Estate-grown, wild-fermented with 30% whole bunches, matured in used French oak. Excellent colour, hue and clarity. High class canopy management and clear vision about style, hence vinification, has resulted in the full canvas of red and black cherry, fruits, spice and a perfectly judged winemaker thumbprint."

Was £39.95 per bottle
NOW £37.25 per bottle

 

 
 
 
 
 

Mewstone 'Hughes & Hughes'
Sauvignon Blanc Barrel & Skins 2018

Fruit from a single vineyard in the Coal River Valley, 60% barrel fermented after a 4 hour skin soak, 40% skin fermented for two weeks and pressed to oak, all natural yeast, partial malolactic ferment while maturing on lees. Bottled unfined and unfiltered

Was £22.95 per bottle
NOW £19.95 per bottle

 
 

Mewstone Hughes & Hughes
Pinot Noir 15% Whole Bunch 2018

95 Points - Campbell Mattinson "Squeaky clean yet laden with character. Stalk, spice, nut and leaf matter notes steer a savoury course but the core of cherry-berry flavour is bright, juicy and ripe. The fundamentals are covered, the flair is then applied. Dry, herb-flecked tannin tethers the finish to the future."

Was £26.95 per bottle
NOW £23.95 per bottle

 
 
 
 

Mewstone Hughes & Hughes Riesling 2018

95 Points - Campbell Mattinson "From the Derwent and Coal River Valleys. It's both intense and textural with effortless acidity and gorgeous length. Orange oil, lemon, fennel and honeysuckle flavours put on an exotic show. It will of course age but there's significant pleasure to be had right now."

Was £19.95 per bottle
NOW £18.25 per bottle

 
 
 
 

Barossa Valley

 
 

Hentley Farm The Creation Shiraz 2015

96 Points - James Halliday "Made in the same way as Clos Otto other than 9 days on skins and maturation in American oak (50% new). The American oak is much more assertive than French, its signal soaring on the first whiff, likewise the first sip. It works well here, tipping its hat to Grange, the flavours coating every corner of the mouth, yet doesn't overstay its welcome. And it pays no attention whatsoever to its alcohol."

94 Points - Joe Czerwinski (RobertParker.com) "Hentley Farm's The Creation is meant to vary from year to year. The 2015 The Creation Shiraz comes from a neighboring block and was aged in 50% new American oak (but I challenge you experts to pick it out as American in a blind tasting). It is less intense than the 2014, which is all press wine, but it's more elegant, with cherry-vanilla flavors dressed up and made savory by hints of peppery spice. Full-bodied and supple, it's approachable now but should drink well for more than a decade."

Was £115.95 per bottle
NOW £100.50 per bottle

 
 

Hentley Farm H Block Shiraz Cabernet 2015

97 Points - James Halliday "A 67/33% blend, fermented separately, 9 days on skins, matured for 22 months in French oak (50% new), blended after 6 months in oak. As expected, a very complex wine, the complexity primarily coming from the duel between blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, oak a second for both parties. So yes, oak is obvious, yet integrated, and impossible to dislike. The tannins are impeccable in usual Hentley Farm style, and when you wrap it all up, it's irresistible."

Was £115.95 per bottle
NOW £100.50 per bottle

 
 

 
 

 

Looking for more?

 

Please get in touch if you wish to receive more tailored recommendations and we will happily assist. Please email Magda or call us on 01622 859161.

Will Coronavirus
affect my delivery?

Our preferred UK delivery partner, DHL (UK Mail) have put into place procedures that allow our customers to receive parcels safely, without any need for contact. DHL have stated that their new service ’Accepted at Delivery Point’ is now available. They add “Our driver will knock the door and step away to a safe distance.  If a consumer does not wish to sign, the driver will ask for their name and take a photo of the premises.”  There are already options on our Vinorium site at checkout to note a ‘leave safe’ delivery instruction, we encourage all of you to use this option where possible.

To answer ‘can the virus be transmitted through parcels?’ WHO, Robert Koch Institute has done this succinctly; “There is currently no evidence that an infection with any type of Coronavirus is possible through contact with objects or packages, including those arriving from areas where cases have been reported.”  

Deliveries outside of the UK

Previously, we updated you on European deliveries (via Parcelforce).  This list is currently growing by the day. We therefore recommend you check your country delivery service update here https://www.parcelforce.com/service-updates.  Of course, please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions about delivery to your country with Parcelforce.