View Full Version : The Node Bulletins

September 19th, 2015, 07:09 PM

Tashkent, 14 June. The planning is over. We have reached our start point and are in passably good heart. As leader of the expedition to climb the Snow King, I, Trevor Node, shall issue brief reports of our progress at weekly intervals. I was first here and during the past week have been joined by the other four members of the party; Amanda Flatpole, Ridley Gannett, Hugh Pugh and Desmond Thoroughbrace.

It all seemed so simple when we conceived it three months ago, over drinks in the London headquarters of the Peripatetics Club. However, I must say that I never expected our undertaking to be frictionless. Indeed, when I proposed conquering the great peak, my initiative was immediately contested by Pugh, who observed that the mountain had already been climbed by nine other groups. I silenced him with the reply that there was more than one way of being first, and that I saw no reason why we should not be the first party to take tenth place in subduing the giant. My logic was endorsed by the others and we soon had a plan on the back of an envelope.

We apportioned responsibilities today. Pugh was the natural choice as pathfinder, since during his university days he made the trip from Putney to Mortlake, accompanied by only eight others. Gannett, an ex-grocer, was an obvious selection for quartermaster. Thoroughbrace, a former woodwork teacher, was always destined to be our technician and transport officer, while Flatpole, a health fanatic and linguist, takes charge of hygiene and communications. I, having no speciality, am to be expedition leader. I think it was unkind of Pugh to remark that this was akin to appointing as cricket captain an all-rounder, equally incompetent at batting, bowling and fielding. Sooner or later, this fellow will be troublesome. We shall set out tomorrow.

- Please scroll down for the second Node Bulletin -

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September 20th, 2015, 06:58 PM

Tashkent, 21 June. Already we have problems. I trust they will not emulate the proverbial sorrows by coming in battalions. That we are still here is attributable to Pugh, whose conduct has confirmed my earlier suspicions. We were about to depart when he discovered that he was out of tobacco. He smokes a particularly noxious brand of black twist, and insisted on flying back to London for a further supply, returning here today, unapologetic about the inconvenience he has caused. Not wishing to sow seeds of dissent so early, I shall take him to task about this in private.

Pugh is not the only awkward one. Flatpole has introduced complications by what she calls ‘sleeping around’. This has nothing to do with morality, but concerns her ability to rest only in an ultra-foetal position, for which purpose she uses a circular sleeping bag. This is annoying, as it occupies an inordinate amount of tent space. I am nerving myself to remonstrate with her, but must be cautious, as she has fists like sledge-hammers and is not averse to using them. Also, she is extremely hirsute, which makes me wonder about our credentials as a mixed-gender party.

We are having difficulty with transport. I said at the outset that for five people and all equipment, we would need something more substantial than a twenty-year-old Volkswagen beetle. However, Thoroughbrace is something of a know-all and he told me to mind my own business. Well, he must now decide how to get a quart into a pint pot. On a happier note, I have not had any trouble with Gannett, who has been a tower of strength, merely by remaining almost silent. I shall reserve judgement on him, as his taciturnity may have arisen from an attack of laryngitis.

God willing, we shall finally depart tomorrow.

- Please scroll down for the third Node Bulletin -

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September 22nd, 2015, 01:01 PM

Kyrgyzstan, 28 June. Having put Tashkent behind us, we have begun the true expedition. Largely at the idiosyncratic insistence of Thoroughbrace, we are to follow a route that makes a clean sweep of the ‘stans’. We have already encountered Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and shall proceed from here to Tajikistan and Afghanistan, then over the Delhi Sang Pass into Pakistan. Bracers, as I have dubbed our transport executive, was petulant when I vetoed his suggestion that we backtrack to Kurdistan and later loop over into Chinese Turkestan. I mollified him by pointing out that both places are not at present countries as such, but regions, the latter partly in countries on our route anyway. A nice diplomatic touch, I thought.

Pugh continues to give cause for concern. Yesterday, he decided to hone his skills when leading us out of the last village we stayed in. This spot had only one street, running east-west. Not wishing to interfere, I allowed Pugh to guide us into the setting Sun for two hours before I remarked that the Pamir Mountains lay in the opposite direction. Retorting that he was merely testing us, Pugh agreed to an about turn. I took issue with him, but he was defended by Flatpole, whose basso profundo grunts reminded me of the call of a wild boar I once heard in the Carpathians.

We shall soon be obliged to abandon our vehicle and proceed on horseback. I shall not be sorry, as Thoroughbrace, initially quite amiable, has become querulous. I told him in London that we would need spare parts, but he appears to have infinite faith in his inventiveness, plus a large supply of yak gut. He is wrong, as we proved today, when we covered eight miles, the last six by pushing our car.

I shall have trouble maintaining the group’s morale, but am not downhearted.

- Please scroll down for the fourth Node Bulletin -

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September 23rd, 2015, 07:04 PM

Tajikistan, 5 July. Flatpole disappoints me. Yesterday, we abandoned our expedition vehicle, the tyres having been stolen during the night. It seems that they are much prized by the locals as camp-fire seats. Thoroughbrace tried to keep us going on wheel rims – an excruciating experience. This misfortune led to our first need for Flatpole’s linguistic talents, into which I should have inquired more fully at the outset. She has revealed that her claimed command of French and German runs to ‘bonjour’ and ‘guten Tag’ respectively. If that is her idea of mastery, I shudder to think what her alleged smattering of a number of oriental languages might amount to.

The woman is habitually bellicose and did our cause no good today when, during an interview with prospective porters, she felled one poor chap who commented, I thought rightly, on the excessive length of her beard. Pugh waded into the ensuing fray and I was hard-pressed to restore goodwill. My own party is difficult enough without the burden of fractious natives. Thank God for Ridley Gannett, who remains strong and silent, especially the latter, as his throat problem persists.

Our group seems to be splintering. Flatpole and Pugh spend much time together and have little to do with the rest of us. Last night they disappeared, taking Flatpole’s curious sleeping bag and not rejoining us until dawn. Pugh has developed a marked stoop and I wonder how much longer he will be equal to his duties. Our hardships are exacerbated by the loss of our vehicle; an event that caused animosity between Flatpole and Thoroughbrace. She insisted that we had no further need of a technician, his riposte concerning her interlocutory skills being unrepeatable.

My leadership qualities are being tested, but I remain quietly confident.

- Please scroll down for the fifth Node Bulletin -

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September 25th, 2015, 01:11 PM

Afghanistan, 12 July. I am beset by woes. Marcus Aurelius said that nothing befalls a man except what is in his nature to endure. I think he spoke too soon. There is now constant petty squabbling within the group. Even Gannett, so long a pillar of fortitude, has become vociferous, having recovered from his attack of laryngitis. He has revealed that we shall soon run out of food, a setback for which he blames Pugh. He is trying to pass the buck, but does have a point.

Shortly after I wrote my last bulletin, our pathfinder guided us to a mountain which he insisted was called Pik Oberpamir. I realised that we had reached the Pamirs, but could not see how the ‘Ober’ came in. Pugh was surely confused. By the way, his stoop is now very pronounced. Whether he is bowed with care or exhausted by his nocturnal activities in Flatpole’s company, I do not know. He laid out a course which we followed on decamping in the early morning of 9th July. After three days of hard slog, during which we had the Sun at angles I found puzzling – I had expected it to be mainly to our right, whereas we soon found it on the left – we came upon an empty corned beef tin. Recognising it, I instituted an investigation, learning that Pugh had led us on an oval route around the mountain and back to our starting point. This elliptical tour has indeed exacerbated our grocery problem.

There is some positive news. We are at last within sight of the lofty pass that will take us into Pakistan. Also, Flatpole has for once shown her worth. Our porters became recalcitrant and when verbal communication proved ineffective, our linguist employed physical methods for the second time within a week or so. The result was four-nil to her, all the porters suffering minor injuries, the outcome marred only by one of them sustaining a broken arm, which reduces his value to us. Still, they are now docile. Good work, Amanda.

I have many fears, but am keeping them to myself, as a leader should.

- Please scroll down for the sixth Node Bulletin -

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September 26th, 2015, 08:09 PM

Terra incognita, 19 July. With apologies to Captain Scott, this is a terrible place. I am not clear as to whether we have left Afghanistan or not, but feel sure that we are on the harshest – and perhaps highest – pass in the world. I take this opportunity to write, since there may be no other. As if the terrain were not enough, the internecine wrangling continues. Thoroughbrace says that he is inappropriately labelled as Transport Officer, claiming that Flatpole has usurped most of his duties.

Ridley Gannett, trying desperately to eke out our rations, today fried up a revolting concoction of unidentifiable ingredients over a fire of dried animal droppings. I do not wish to seem ungrateful, but think he would have been better advised to reverse the functions of food and dung. Perhaps the rarefied atmosphere is making me a little churlish. Should we manage to descend the eastern side of this ghastly col, I shall adopt a more forthright attitude to the matter of our daily bread.

Flatpole and Pugh continue to spend most of their time away from the rest of us. When they returned to camp this morning, our trailblazer was a sorry sight. Insofar as one can inspect his visage – difficult because of his ever more remarkable shape – he seems to have large bags under his eyes. If his bodily change continues, we might soon be able to form him into a hoop, which we could bowl away, thus eliminating some of our worries. Possibly it is a further influence of oxygen deficiency that causes me to fantasise in this manner. As Pugh weakens, so Flatpole strengthens. She now looks quite radiant. It is as though she is gaining the vigour that Pugh is losing. Today she trimmed her beard and, apart from a heavy stubble growth, looks quite feminine.

Despite our miseries, I feel that if we survive tonight, things might improve.

- Please scroll down for the seventh Node Bulletin -

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September 29th, 2015, 04:29 PM

Kashmir, 26 July. My political knowledge is scanty, but I understand that we are now in the last of the ‘stans’, as I believe this area is under Pakistani administration. We emerged from our ordeal on the high pass minus our porters, who refused to go on. Now we are burdened with much equipment. However, Flatpole has been an example to the rest of us by carrying a hundredweight load on our twice-daily four-hour marches, without batting an eyelid.

Thoroughbrace amazed us today with his first show of initiative for some time. He disappeared for eight hours, returning with a vast chunk of meat which he claimed to have hacked from a tusked creature he found entombed in a glacier to the north of us. I believe we may be pioneers of a kind by having probably tasted mastodon flesh. It was quite good and a welcome change from Gannett’s usual efforts, which normally plumb progressively greater depths. Yesterday, when he left us briefly during preparation of the evening meal, I enlivened the repast by tearing up the cardboard cartons in which our spices had been packed, and adding them to the pot. Nobody commented.

Pugh’s pathfinding becomes increasingly esoteric. He now reckons that we must proceed down this valley then – I quote him: “Bear right across the top end of Mount Rakaposhi, go downwards over the flat bit and we shall find our goal just this side of K2.” I am no geographer, but I had expected more technical jargon from Pugh, who has not once mentioned map references during our trek. I was obliged to correct him again this morning, when he marched us due west, over an apparently limitless expanse of scree. I suspect his heart is not really in this expedition, as he has repeatedly tried to head us back towards London. I am considering relieving him of his duties.

Though I try to keep up morale, the bickering is incessant. It is lonely at the top.

- Please scroll down for the eighth Node Bulletin -

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October 1st, 2015, 04:37 PM

Gilgit, 2 August. Wonder of wonders, we are approaching the Snow King. Miraculously, this is thanks to Pugh, though I believe more by accident than design. He insisted that we ignore a clear path with a sign bearing the legend ‘This way to K2’, leading us instead across hostile terrain for two days. I was about to tax him with this when we met some Japanese tourists. They assured us that we were on the right track. One of them took a fancy to Flatpole, who responded by throwing him off the edge of a precipice, with the hackneyed observation that there was a nip in the air. I shudder to think what might happen should we meet a Chinese party. If she were to find an admirer in its ranks, she would probably give him a thrashing, then make some fatuous remark about a chink in his armour.

As we must soon tackle serious mountaineering, I today arranged a practice session, involving the ascent and descent of a sheer rock face. After a good start, the exercise turned into a total farce when Gannett and Thoroughbrace, who are similar in size, tried out their abseiling techniques. They used a crude pulley of their own design and somehow got their ropes fastened together, winding up with one man rising while the other was falling, then vice versa, like a pair of opposed yoyos.

Finally, Gannett seized a large loose rock at the end of an upward trip. Thus weighted, he outscaled Thoroughbrace, so came down with a crash. This left his partner stuck at the top and creating a great fuss, while our quartermaster refused to relinquish his rock, for fear of soaring as abruptly as he had dropped. At length, by inducing Gannett to accept a smaller stone, I got the two into equilibrium near a ledge halfway up the face, from where we recovered them by rope ladder. Perhaps it would have been better to leave them dangling. Command is a trying role.

- Please scroll down for the final Node Bulletin -

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October 3rd, 2015, 07:09 PM

The Snow King, 9 August. It is all over, our expedition in ruins. We reached here to find the place a tourist resort, thronged by numerous parties. Admission for would-be summiteers is by turnstile only. Ahead of us was a group of Bolivian monks, intent on making the ascent clad in their habits. My companions were bitter, arguing that such frivolity would shame our more traditional approach. After much vituperation, our campaign disintegrated, leaving it to me to record the last throes.

Though no gossip columnist, I must report that Flatpole and Pugh are to wed. They left us two days ago, Pugh saying that he had long wished to grow coconuts, and that he and his betrothed were to proceed two thousand miles due north to realise his dream. I pointed out that this would place them in Siberia, not an area known for tropical produce. Pugh thanked me, but said that this was a mere technicality.

Gannett resigned yesterday, irate over complaints about his cooking. The last straw was his preparation of an ibex which Flatpole had throttled. Our quartermaster neglected to skin the creature before boiling a chunk of it. The result was disgusting. Gannett flounced off, festooned with clattering kitchenware. Unfortunately, his burden made a din which started an avalanche that buried him. I fear we shall not see him again.

Thoroughbrace then proposed a vote of no confidence in the leadership. Naturally, I abstained, so the motion was carried by the vote of my only remaining companion. He left, using the last of his money to buy a camel. I did not like the look of the beast. My fears were confirmed when it promptly collapsed, pitching my erstwhile comrade into a mile-deep abyss, from which he will surely not emerge.

I shall return home to plan an attack on the Dogtooth Peak in the Andes.

- The End -

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