Sunday, April 17, 2005

I didn’t get shot or fall off anything - oh hang on I did…!

Mother’s prime concerns about my trek in the Himalaya were that I’d either be inadvertently shot by Maoist rebels or I would fall off some high thing; it is her job to worry, after all! While we didn’t meet any Maoist troubles whatsoever, I did manage to fall off the front door step of a lodge in Pheriche (2 days from Gorak Shep – our highest sleep point) and severely twist my ankle… The next morning it had swollen to the size of an orange and I could barely walk on it. I had the physiotherapist look at it and (there happened to be one on the trip with us – thanks aemar!) strap it up for me and took a diclofenac, both of which helped enormously. Nothing broken and the ligaments in tact, I was able to continue with the trek, though whether this was a blessing or not I have still not decided.

The trek was incredibly hard work. Particularly the day climbing up to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital, with 700m ascent over about half a kilometer; and the 600m climb up to Tyenboche (very famous – possibly highest – monastery in the world) with nasty effects of altitude (see below) wasn’t much fun either. Also, the 8 hour round trip to Everest Base Camp (5364m), from Gorak Shep (5140m), was horrible – and on getting there we were mostly too tired and ill to bother photographing the disappointing pile of rubble and tents! Gavin randomly met Appa Sherpa as we were doing a side walk on a rest day in Namche, who agreed to share camps at base camp; Appa Sherpa is currently the living record holder for the most summits of Everest and is very famous in Nepal! Whilst at Base camp, we helped Gavin make his tent platform (clearing rubble and ice to form a flatish space with a small wall around it) – or should I say: those of us who weren’t feeling like crap did!

Unfortunately, we all came down with something after our base camp day (combination of sun, exertion and some weird shit we were given to eat when we got there – sampa (a cake made from millet and rancid yak milk (looked rather like chocolate cake or fudge so we all took huge bites!) and chang (an alcoholic beverage again made from millet, and simply left to ferment – or go off to you and me! – in a big barrel). It is rude to refuse, so none of us did, and all but 2 of us became ill. One of our party (Matt – an engineer from Devizes) was vomiting every 20m on the way back. Great! It doesn’t say any of this in the guidebooks!

Another trip from Gorak Shep was our attempt on Kala Pattar – a 5545m peak with beautiful, close-up panoramic views of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and the rest. Unfortunately, we attempted this the day after Everest base camp, when many of the group had been up all night vomiting (and worse) every half hour. Of the 14 or so who reached Gorak Shep (I didn’t mention yet that 2 people turned back after Lobuche, 4920m, did I?!), only 9 felt well enough to attempt Kala Pattar, and Matt and I had to stop about halfway up due to illness and exhaustion (and, in my case, a brief but alarming incident of haematemesis!) – we reached approximately 5300m, took our photos, collapsed for 20 minutes and then got the hell out of there! The 7 others summitted, and have the photos to prove it.

We all headed down that afternoon, our destination Dingboche (just over a head from Pheriche (4150m) – about an 8 mile trek (which at altitude and having not eaten for 3 days feels like 30m), those of us who had been on Kala Pattar were particularly knackered.

The group then split in 2 – the four of us not going on to do a trekking peak called Island Peak (Imja Tse), 6139m (not sure why it is called a trekking peak – it is a pretty serious endeavor, permanently covered in snow and requiring ropes and harnesses, etc), and Richard (Vet, 55) whose Bronchitis had got to such a state that he felt unable to continue; and the 9 or so gap-year students, including the physio (not a gap-year student). (we were all really impressed with Richard – despite coughing up all manner of shit overnight, and clearly operating on a significantly reduced lung volume, he stayed with the group all the way up. He was great company too, and didn’t mind losing at ShitHead!)

The trek back down to Lukla (2950m ish) was done in two further days, about 12 miles each. These were long and arduous, despite being mostly downhill, especially considering we were all nursing diarrhoea and vomiting, and unable to eat. Needless to say, we all lost quite a bit of weight. In fact, we are thinking of writing it up and selling it to OK or HELLO as the Khumbu Diet!

All in all an interesting experience, some amazing views, great company, good exercise and an experience of the effects of altitude. I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I did enjoy myself. I would be hesitant, though, to recommend it to others with no experience of altitude about 4000m, and anyone but the extremely fit!

Sorry this has been a bit of a rant, and not really a step-by-step account, but I didn’t write a diary while out there and now all I can remember is the rant!

More maybe later…

Nx – sore and tired!


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