28 Oct 2003, Kew, London
I am a very lucky girl! Or is someone looking after me? Or am I making my own luck? Whatever it is, I make sure I count my blessings, never taking them for granted, and the good fortune and happiness seem to keep on rolling whenever I do something connected with my mission.
There are so many good things, great and small, happening around my book Three Peaks in Peru, surely it's just a matter of time before I get the book deal...
'Great book proposal, shame about the photo,' said my friend Philomena. She works in marketing, and had been reviewing the document I'd prepared to go to prospective literary agents and publishers. 'They'll love the sales pitch, but you need to get a more glam photo done.'
I looked at the picture - a snap taken in Kew Gardens by my ex-ish husband, of me looking happy but rather windswept (see top left of your screen). It had been fine as an outdoorsy image for our archaeological expedition's website, but maybe an author should look a bit better groomed.
But good, professional photos don't come cheap. And I didn't even have enough money to get a decent haircut for the photo, let alone fork out for the photo shoot itself.
Shortly after that I was walking along Oxford St, pondering this, when a young guy asked me if I wanted a free haircut. Normally I'd have ignored such an offer, as it usually entails a long list of conditions and hidden costs, but on this occasion I paused to find out more. It turned out he was a trainee, and simply wanted a model to practice on.
We went to a smart salon around the corner, and while I was being coiffed, I noticed there was another business in the same building that did makeovers and photo shoots. My hairdresser introduced me to the people at New ID. The receptionist there was an unpublished poet, who could relate to my plight as a struggling artist, and got very excited about my project. They offered me a generous deal on a photo session.
I went back there a couple of days later, and they transformed me - hairdo, makeup and nails. I still looked like me, only better, glossier, definitely more authorial. I was introduced to my photographer, Chris Craske, who has photographed Bob Marley, among others, and by pure coincidence (if I believed in such a thing) used to go to the same school as me in Cambridge.
I'm normally very uncomfortable and very unphotogenic in front of the camera, but Chris worked wonders. And they said the camera never lies.
The people at New ID did a great job to turn such unpromising raw material into a glamourpuss for an afternoon. Just wish I'd had somewhere smart to go that evening - I think my new look was rather wasted on the punters in the Coach & Horses...
This is one of the resulting shots. It's going to appear on my calendar and website. And hopefully, one day, the book cover!
14 Oct 2003, Kew, London
The more observant among you may have noticed that I'm writing this under my maiden name of Roz Savage, rather than my married name of Allibone. This is in no way a reflection of any change in my personal circumstances. I took a straw poll as to which would be a better name for a travel writer, and the unanimous verdict was in favour of Savage - easier to spell, pronounce, and hopefully remember.
Somebody did point out that Roz Savage sounds like a woman who wants to be able to do more press-ups, but those of you who know what a gym junkie I am will also know that I am indeed that woman! Sad to say...
I had to make a decision on this, because I now have my first speaking engagement in the diary. One of the sponsors of our Inca ruins expedition, Travel Screening Services, have invited me to give a presentation about my travels. TSS specialise in health screens for professionals before foreign business trips, so they'll be inviting various movers and shakers in the travel world - hopefully my big chance to meet some newspaper travel editors. (www.travelscreening.co.uk).
My other big news is that the manuscript of my book is currently with Stephen Fry, via Nick Green of the Bear Rescue project that Stephen figureheads (www.bear-rescue.tv). The hope is that IF he likes it enough he'll give it his endorsement. I guess, if he doesn't like it, it's back to the drawing board, or should that be the keyboard...
I'm sure I don't need to say how helpful, and exciting, his endorsement would be, especially given his current high profile with the release of Bright Young Things, his directorial debut. I went to see it last week, just in case I ever get to meet the man himself, and thoroughly enjoyed it. What, me? Sucking up to him? I would never do a thing like that! I genuinely liked the movie - go see it for yourself!
03 Sep 2003, Kew, London
(Above: it had to be done! Machu Picchu and me.)
When you last left me, I was hanging on my axes and the points of my crampons on a sheer wall of ice. I've been inundated with requests for the next instalment of the story, so....
...I thought long and hard about it, and decided you'll have to wait until the book comes out!
I'm now back home, and have just finished the first draft of my book - transcribing my story from my handwritten journals onto the computer, all 133,000 words of it. Even if I do say so myself, Peru has given me some pretty amazing raw material. I couldn't have come up with a better plot if I'd tried. We have funny stories, tragedy, drama, all building to a climax on Alpamayo, complete with German baddies...
So I have the raw material, now all I need is 3 re-drafts, and a book deal!
Still, all this desk work is giving my ankle a chance to recover. I had it x-rayed, as my GP thought there might be a flake fracture. Fortunately not, but all the same, climbing a couple of mountains on a swollen ankle may not have been the best thing for it. But I found a wonderful Peruvian painkiller, allegedly a cocaine derivative, called Tramal. No pain, and it makes you feel absolutely marvellous! Wish I'd brought more supplies back now, but an arrest for drug-smuggling may not have been the best finale to my trip.
I will keep you posted on the progress of the book. And in the meantime, if anybody knows of a literary agent or publisher, please let me know!
08 Aug 2003, Huaraz
(Above: view of Alpamayo from the Col Camp)
It was love at first sight.
As soon as I saw the photograph in the expedition agency in Huaraz, I knew I wanted to climb Alpamayo, allegedly the most beautiful mountain on earth. But the path of true love rarely runs smooth.
I started a training programme to get fit for the climb. Day 1, I fell off a rock while bouldering, resulting in numerous cuts and bruises and a badly twisted ankle. I spent most of the following week with a bag of ice on my foot, sitting around in coffee shops. My strength:weight ratio shifted... in the wrong direction.
At last my ankle was strong enough for me to do a 3-day climbing course. I returned from the mountains to find that my friend Sebastian, an experienced climber who had promised to take me up Alpamayo, had died on that very same mountain, when an ice cornice collapsed and swept down the main ascent route, killing 8 people. It was a very low time, the only time when I considered packing it all in and coming home early.
But Sebastian had been so determined to see me climb Alpamayo, I decided to press on, although my feelings about the mountain were now much more complex. The first flush of romance was definitely over.
I climbed Pisco, a 5750m snowpeak, to acclimatise and practice my ice-climbing skills. The 3-day expedition left me totally exhausted, and aggravated an old knee injury. But after the first celebratory pisco sour, my spirits started to recover. After two pisco sours, my passion for Alpamayo was rekindled. By the end of the evening, I was burning up the dancefloor in Tambo, and the attempt on Alpamayo was a certainty.
I had one rest day, to recover from my Pisco-induced fatigue and my pisco-sour-induced hangover, and then set out with a guide, climbing partner, two porters and a muleteer, to try and climb Alpamayo.
For 3 days, we trekked up the Santa Cruz valley and across the moraine to the base of the glacier. On Day 4, we reached our high camp on the col, and I had my first glimpse of the southwest face, the classic postcard view and our intended route.
My first thoughts on seeing it are not publishable, but more or less amounted to 'Gosh, what a jolly steep mountain. What on earth have I let myself in for?'
Above the bergschrund, the horizontal crevasse that zigzags across the width of the mountain, the icy peak ascends at a gradient of 50-70 degrees. Imagine a clock face, and draw a line from the centre through the '1'. If you're a mountaineer, that may look like chickenfeed. But I was terrified.
Shortly after midnight on summit day, we strapped on our crampons, hoisted our backpacks, armed ourselves with ice axes, and set off into the freezing night, our headtorches lighting our way across the glacier. By dawn we had crossed an ice bridge over the bergschrund, and had climbed the cliff above.
I hung on my ice axes and dug in the front spikes of my crampons, not quite trusting the rope to hold me if I should slip. Shivering with cold, I looked up at the task ahead. A steep ascent of about 250 metres loomed up above us, the snow scoured away by the previous week's avalanche to leave a sheer wall of ice. I resolved to keep looking up. Looking down was just too scary. Onwards and upwards.
If you want to find out what happened next, you'll have to wait for my book to come out. Or, if there's enough demand, I might think about posting the story on this page. You can e-mail via the 'Send email' link top right to let me know what you think!