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A moving experience on Everest

Sep 02, 2015
Andrew Elliman, Group Sales Director at AGS 360 Relocations, is no stranger to adventure, from climbing in the Himalayas to trekking across Iceland, Andrew has done it all. But in April 2015 while attempting to break a Guinness World Record on Everest, Andrew was to face his greatest challenge, a challenge that almost cost him his life.

Andrew was part of a team of eleven business men led by renowned mountaineer Neil Laughton attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the highest formal dinner party and raise £100,000 for local charity Community Action Nepal (CAN). The black-tie gourmet meal was to take place on a relatively flat part of the mountain known as North Col on 27 April, more than 7,000 metres above sea level. Later four of the team, including Andrew, planned to press on and reach the summit.

After some five years of preparation and with the generous help of sponsors including AGS 360, the team set off for Everest arriving at the northern base camp on the Chinese side of the mountain in late April. Before setting off for North Col the team spent three days at base camp, about 5,500 metres altitude, to begin final preparations for the ascent. It was here that they suffered their first misfortune. Sat Bains, the two Michelin starred celebrity chef who was to cook the meal, began to feel unwell and after being examined by the expedition doctor was diagnosed with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (high altitude sickness) and had to be taken off the mountain. “Sat was bitterly disappointed when he realised he wouldn’t make it to the dinner party,” said Andrew. “We decided to do a mock-up at the base camp for him and take some pictures. As it turned out it was just as well we did.”

Sat was put in a Jeep and taken to the nearest hospital which was in Kathmandu for treatment, while the rest of the team began their trek to North Col. On the second day, the 25 April disaster struck. “I was walking with Jon Maguire our cameraman, just chatting as blokes do when there was an enormous rumbling sound and the mountain began to shudder. I bent down and grabbed the earth, I just didn’t know what to do or what was happening. A moment later rocks began tumbling down all around us and the ice beneath our feet started to break up making a terrifying – CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! as an avalanche of snow and rocks grew ever closer. Then suddenly it stopped. The whole episode had taken only 40 seconds but as we were soon to discover the devastation down below in Kathmandu was catastrophic.”

Four hours later at advanced base camp the awful truth began to emerge. “The head Sherpa Nima came up to me and asked if I’d felt the earthquake, confirming what I suppose I already knew,” said Andrew. “Nima said there were reports that Kathmandu had been destroyed and 3,000 people had been killed.  It was a very bizarre moment.”

Although they were less than eight hours from North Col the team decided the dinner party was now out of the question and the attempt to break the record would have to be abandoned.

“The worst part was seeing the Sherpas going through the agony of not knowing if their families were dead or alive,” said Andrew. “One by one they came into our mess tent to use the satellite phone and although we couldn’t understand what they were saying we could see in their faces and the sadness in their eyes that the news was very bad. Nima tried several times to contact his wife without success but eventually got through. His family were safe but his house had been completely destroyed, Kathmandu had been moved three feet she said.”

The team were desperately worried about their friend Sat Bains who they’d sent to the ‘safety’ of Kathmandu for medical treatment, what had happened to him?

The following morning there was a second powerful tremor and Andrew - remembering his promise to his daughter to turn back if he got to a stage where he felt he couldn’t carry on - decided to call it a day.

Slowly, accompanied by one of the Sherpas, Andrew made it back to base camp and was later joined by the rest of the team. “Hundreds of people were trying to get off the mountain and all the best options had been taken, but eventually we managed to do a deal with a Chinese minibus driver who took us to Lhasa in Tibet. It took two days of solid driving,” said Andrew.

From Lhasa the team took an Air China flight to Chengdu where they boarded British Airways for their trip back to London. “It was good to see the British Airways plane waiting there to take us home,” said Andrew. “When the crew saw our Everest t- shirts they upgraded us to first class and treated us like royalty. It was Champagne all the way and made us feel proud to be British.”

Celebrity chef Sat Bains had in fact beaten them home having taken a flight out of Khatmandu on the day of the earthquake.  He’d already appeared on breakfast TV to tell his remarkable story.

Even though the record attempt failed the team’s goal of raising £100,000 for CAN is still on target. Andrew concluded, “I think the earthquake has focussed people’s minds on Nepal and has stimulated their interest in the region. So far we’ve raised over £50,000 and I’m confident that with people’s goodwill and generosity we’ll reach our target.”

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Photos: Top, left to right: Neil Laughton, Adam Mason, Duncan Law, Adrian Bridge, Andrew Elliman, Deri Llwellyn-Lewis, Sat Bains and Keith McDonald.
Middle, left to right: Nima Sherpa, Deri Llwellyn-Lewis, Adam Mason, Duncan Law, Adam Bridge, Sat Bains, Keith McDonald, Andrew Elliman, Neil Laughton.
Bottom: The Team heading off for ABC.

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