Himmelbjerget - Sky Mountain
MOUNTAINEERING IN DENMARK
All sorts of people try to reach the top of the highest mountain in the whole of Denmark. These vary from serious, experienced, well-equipped, professional climbers to ordinary tourists. This latter group are ones most likely to end up relying on the omni-present Danish sherpas to haul them and their equipment up the side of the mountain to the summit.
Working as a Danish sherpa can be a significant source of income for many poor villagers struggling to get by on average wages as low as $26 an hour ! (2006 figures).
Be warned though - Himmelbjerget is not for tourists - It the sort of mountain you should take very seriously - It's a harsh, unfriendly, dangerous environment - So don't simply show up with a smile and a digital camera thinking it will be OK.
Even with the Danish sherpas (and we usually employ three) you still have to be super-fit to get to the top - I run at least 15 miles a day in the weeks leading up to any attempted climb. I need to get myself mentally and physically primed for the supreme challenge.
Me and the other members of my 4-strong Anglo/Irish/Bengali assault team arrive in Denmark at least a week in advance. This allows our lungs to get used to the ultra thin air. We relax in the comparative comfort of Århus, before commencing the arduous journey from there to the remote mountain village of Silkeborg, where we rendezvous with our faithful old Sherpas - Hansen, Jensen and Olsen.
By the way, if you are ever planning to do this climb yourself, it will stand you in good stead to learn a bit of that extraordinary Danish language. Even Danes tell you that your accent would be improved by placing a "varm kartoffel" or hot potato in your mouth.
It is true that some of the more intelligent villagers manage to speak a bit of broken English. But in an dire emergency you must be able to communicate effectively with sherpas, waiters and of course barmen.
Now I am not 100% sure of the exact spellings here but you should at least know these key phrases -
If you fall on the mountain and need to call a sherpa - "Hjælp mig Olsen, hjælp mig !"
In the restaurant - "Tjener - Hvad præcis er "skipperlabskovs med rødbede" og det her "rødgrød med fløde ?"" - (Good luck pronouncing that one, by the way!)
In the bar - "Stik mig en fadøl Klaus, tak !"
and finally if you actually make it to the top of the mountain you will definitely need to ask one of the sherpas - - -
"Sig mig Jensen, hvor meget koster det at sende et brevkort til "Barking Town" i Storbritannien ?"
But I digress ....
A CATALOGUE OF DISASTERS & DISAPPOINTMENTS.
We have made 3 unsuccessful attempts to scale this tough old mountain in as many years. On two previous occasions, bad weather (slight drizzle), forced us to turn back at the eleventh hour.
During our last attempt in 2006, although it was a glorious summer's day, we were once again thwarted when I slipped on a carelessly discarded Snickers wrapper and slightly sprained my ankle. I was almost within sight of the summit too. Shelley and the other two climbers, through a mis-placed sense of loyalty, would not go on without me. Utterly dejected, I hobbled back down to base camp with the help of Hansen, Jensen and lille Olsen.
JUNE 2007 - THIS YEAR'S TEAM
In addition to my constant companion, Shelley, I again had hand-picked 2 other climbers for this year's team.
These were Seamus - a fit-looking young lad whom I got chatting to in a seedy karaoke bar in County Cork and Ali - the Bengali chef from our local Indian take-away, here in "Barking Town". Both are very experienced climbers - Seamus has even made a solo ascent of the Beckton Alps (See Separate Tip).
All 4 of us, particularly Shelley and me, were in peak physical condition - As no doubt you can tell from the main photo.
We had all trained hard for this for months. Everybody fully understood the psychological and physiological problems brought on by extreme cold and altitude and were prepared to deal with them.
Although not quite in the Everest league, Sky Mountain or Himmelbjerget stands a towering 147 meters above sea level. Up there on the lonely summit, the summer temperature rarely creeps above 18 degrees Celsius – This can feel mighty chilly if there's a bit of a breeze blowing. So if you attempt the climb, remember to bring that nice orange jumper your grandmother knitted for you last Xmas. I know it looks awful but let's face it, you are unlikely to meet many people you know on the icy slopes of Sky Mountain !
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
After a week's acclimatisation, the four of us took the special train which slowly powers its way from Århus all the way up to the small Danish village of Silkeborg - I am not too sure how many feet above sea level it is but I know it's VERY high !
We met the Danish sherpas at the station and the entire 7 strong team, with all its equipment, trekked slowly over to the harbour.
Like so many intrepid explorers before us, we had bribed a very unwilling boat owner to risk life and limb and take us on that long, dangerous journey through the treacherous, icy cold lakes into the foothills of the great mountain. Here, nervous and exhausted, we waited while the Danish sherpas set up camp for the night.
THE BIG DAY ARRIVES
The next day, our crack 3 man and one woman team (plus of course Hansen, Jensen and lille Olsen) rose shortly after dawn. Glancing at my watch, I saw that it was around 9.30am. It was a clear June morning with not a cloud in the sky. All around base camp, there was a confident air of expectation. We had all been here before but this time we were sure we would finally make it all the way to the top. Each of us, even the sherpas, had psychologically prepared ourselves for the final push towards the summit. Jensen switched on a portable radio and we heard the sound of the rock band "Europe", singing "The Final Countdown" - It was an omen !
We breakfasted on some cold, leftover Chicken Madras, popadoms and onion barjiis from our last proper meal at the Bombay Palace in Århus. Ali had thoughtfully asked the waiter for a doggy bag but we had not had a chance to eat it until now.
It was about 10.15am as the 3 sherpas packed away the last of our three Arctic storm-tents. The time had come for Shelley and me to wave our goodbyes. While the weather held, the plan was for us to forge ahead as fast as possible. Seamus and Ali would follow on behind with Hansen, Jensen and Olsen. The Danish sherpas of course would be carrying all the heavy equipment, such as Shelley's handbag and the big tripod I got in Walmart for my digital camera.
We knew that there was a small wooden bench at a height of about 120 meters. Here we would all reconvine for lunch and rest up for a while. If no injuries or accidents had occurred and if the weather allowed, it would be from here that Shelley and I would make the final assault on the summit.
This year though we also had a plan B - After the disappointment of 2006, we had all agreed that if for some reason Shelley and I were unable to continue, then Seamus and Ali would replace us. They would then have the honour of planting the 3 national flags at the top. This really had to be a team effort !
After the first half of the climb, fortunately Shelley and I were both ok. This is more than could be said for Ali and Seamus. Both of them went down with stomach cramps and bouts of severe flatulence, after eating too many spicy onion barjiis.
This, combined with mind-numbing altitude sickess, meant that neither of them got higher than 120 metres. It was such a disappointment for them but there was nothing we could do. To save weight and to avoid accusations of "cheating", we had decided that oxygen was not going to be used on this climb.
This year though, as team leader, I had allowed us one major concession. I decided that we should bring a mobile phone. After very careful consideration, I told Shelley that she could take hers - This was mainly because she gets 200 free texts a month on her pay-as-you-go tarriff. The other compelling reason was that her best mate Sharon was a huge Big Brother fan. Hence she could text us with all the latest news and gossip.
Had I realised that the trip was going to clash with BB7 before booking our flight with RyanAir, I would have changed the date - You have to get your priorities right, don't you !
The main reason for the phone was that, no matter how fit you are, the key reason to success in scaling towering peaks like these is 80% psychological. When times are tough, having someone you can speak to on the other end of the telephone can overturn those invisible obstacles.
SUCCESS AT LAST
About midday, roughly an hour after leaving the the rest of the team in the comparative safety of the little bench, Shelley and I finally stumbled, coughed and clawed our way to the summit. The Gods of the mountains had smiled on us that day.
Elated and still a little light-headed from lack of oxygen, we finally managed to plant our 3 national flags on the top of Denmark's highest peak ! - I almost wept with joy !
As you can see from our photos, the view from the top is magnificent. It was well worth the 4 years time, expense and training it had taken for us to get here !