The road less travelled – The End

I’m not sure I’ve been anywhere that¹s as hard on gear, particularly electronic equipment, as Tibet. The combination of strong winds and the dry climate means that everything you own, including your skin, is sandblasted on a daily basis. And then there’s the high altitude. Previous trips had taught me how vulnerable circuitry can be in that environment. An expensive Canon had simply conked out in the middle of the Tibetan plateau a few years back, never to work again. So I knew that everything needed to be protected. The computer was wrapped in several layers, topped off with a garish plastic bag and duct tape to keep it all sealed.

There was another factor that needed taking into account: my own technological incompetence. Sending back reports and photographs via satellite phone for the first time threw me into the deep end of a pool I couldn’t fathom. I knew that many adventurers use PDAs rather computers to communicate with their websites but I wanted to process and edit my photographs so I decided I’d take my computer along.

A photographer I spoke to in Kathmandu as I was travelling home was aghast.

‘You do know that a hard disk won’t normally work above around 4,500m?’ he told me. (That’s why climbers use PDAs. Apparently the iPad is just the job.) I didn’t, and was happily unaware sitting at base camp in Tibet at over 4,800m that my iBook was working heroically. I hooked up my borrowed Iridium phone to my laptop and subscribed to Global Marine Net, which provides communications for sailors in remote places, and less commonly landlubbers like me. Their service and support was excellent. Reception on the plateau was outstanding.

The real difficulty was keeping all this kit functioning and fully charged. Laptops need a hefty solar array to keep chugging along, and we were often on the move, so it made more sense to charge batteries off the cigarette lighter either in our Landcruiser or our little truck with the gear in it. But the first time I plugged my Ring mini inverter into the truck’s socket, smoke started pouring out of it. I yanked it out and cursed my luck, thinking that the game was up. But after opening the thing up with my Swiss Army penknife, the damage seemed superficial and with a few repairs worked fine.

As with the electronic gear, keeping myself sealed from the effects of the dry and dusty wind was a struggle. Rohan’s Windshadow jacket proved an absolute stalwart. I wore it everyday, usually over just a Long Sleeved Henley Plus. Even though Tibet is high, in the strong sunshine it got warm enough, until the sun went down. The Windshadow is incredibly light and verstatile, and one of the most useful garments I’ve used in a long time.

With dust and sand coating us hour by hour, we got pretty filthy. The local Tibetans shroud themselves in wool an older people still wear comfy felt boots. But they do not often wash their clothes, something I was happy to emulate in the wilds but which became a problem as returning home drew near. Rohan’s Travel Jeans were easy to wash, Prem squirting some washing up liquid over them when I asked him for soap.

The Momentum Jacket was another really useful piece, warmer than the Windshadow and so more useful as we gained altitude. I’ve never used Rohan gear before, and I really liked the simplicity and lightness of it, as well as the fact it looks like regular clothing rather than sportswear. The new Rohan Elite jacket will be a classy addition to the range when it comes out, and again, is amazingly light.

All of us suffered with gear in Tibet. Tents in particular took a real hammering and all of us will have to replace tent zips that have clogged up with sand before our next outing. Our bodies too, took a battering. My biggest mistake was not to take top-quality sunglasses and I had the headaches to prove it. Even after a few days back, I’m still reading books at arm’s length. I also rued not packing my Vicks. A dollop of that in boiling water, five minutes under a towel, and dry sinuses are restored. All of which reminds me how feeble I proved compared to the Tibetans, although one older lady was delighted to take my spare sunglasses off me. Her eyes too, had suffered.
Ed Douglas

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