Kate Maxwell - the trekker swapping Shuttleworth for Kashmir

PUBLISHED: 01:01 07 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:00 20 February 2013

Kate ready to backpack

Kate ready to backpack

Kate Maxwell survives a diet of popcorn and soup while trekking in one of the world's most remote regions

Out of the blue, I received a phone call from my former geography teacher at Bury Grammar School for Girls, where three years previously Id been the head girl.

It was an invitation to take an extraordinary trip. The plan was for me to join a five-week expedition to the Indian Himalayas with the British Schools Exploring Society. This was an offer I simply could not refuse.
This remote region is a long way from home and in stark contrast to my early years at Edenfield C.E. Primary School and growing up on a smallholding where I tended to sheep, goats, horses, alpacas, llamas and assorted domestic pets.

But I always had an interest in sport and the outdoors, from playing hockey at school, skiing and in my role as a lance corporal in the local cadet force. Growing up in Shuttleworth, near Ramsbottom, certainly encouraged my love of the outdoors, especially walking, camping and horse riding - a skill that came in very useful while on the expedition.

At the time of the offer, I was also planning my university dissertation on glaciers and I was certain India would be the perfect backdrop to my studies. Sponsorship from friends, family and the Bluespot Knee Clinic in Blackpool enabled me to board the flight.

I was travelling to Ladakh, a remote trans-Himalayan region in Indias northernmost state of Kashmir and Jammu. Ladakh is the highest plateau, with our camp located at 4,500 metres, well above the cloud base. However, the peaks to be climbed were around 6,000m but before we could tackle any mountains we had to acclimatise in the cities of Delhi and Leh.

The three days in Leh were punctuated with multiple kit checks, where some expedition members were forced to cut up their towels to reduce weight. For our five week trip we were each allowed just 18 kilograms including rucksacks, mountaineering equipment and boots. Kit checks were interspersed with briefings and buying last minute supplies of chocolate.

After a long day in a Jeep convoy over the Khardung La, the highest driveable road in the world at 5,600m, the group sat down to our first camp meal. Being presented with popcorn and soup caused alarm and confusion! Little did we know that this starter would become a staple most would come to love throughout the expedition and even indulge in once back home.

This was also the day we were all first acquainted with the dreaded toilet tents reactions varied from naturist enthusiasm to total horror. All of us were aware that we were slowly leaving civilisation as we knew it and the next few days were a blur of trekking, playing cards and getting to grips with life in a shared tent.

On arrival at camp we were each issued with a single toilet roll, which had to last two and a half weeks, and informed of daily routines, housekeeping and diet tips on how to get our 5,000 calories-a-day.

Just days into life at camp we all felt the true wrath of the ferocious Himalayan weather when my fellow former Bury Grammar pupil Lucy Edgingtons tent was lifted and spun 180 degrees by the wind. This was a real reminder and clear indication that our tents must be mini-fortresses, ready to stand in battle against the regular onslaught of wind and rain. It prompted the boys to embrace their primal instincts and collect rocks and boulders to strengthen our little camp.

Life there was isolated with only sherpas and horses to keep us company, but there was never a dull moment with constant mountain practice, science work and trips to advanced base camp at 5,100m.

A two day horse trek and a second ride over the Khardung La ended the trip on a high. But one especially memorable moment was the smell of those who arrived back in Leh after the trek out of camp.

We, the evacuation party, were clean, washed and ready to welcome back the weary travellers. However, the odour of the arrivals quickly extinguished any hopes of hugs and kisses from the cleaner members of the party! It was in fact only after showers and clean clothes that we were all truly reunited.

Leaving the mountains and each other was a bittersweet experience. The conflict of wanting to see loved ones at home and not wanting to leave loved ones on the trip was a hard to bear.

Now home and settled back into normal life, it is clear the experience
has affected my life from a change in confidence and independence, to a strong desire travel to lands near and far.

The print version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Lancashire Life

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