Day 11. Wow. Talk about sore and tired. We trekked for 11 hours yesterday, in some of the most gruling conditions.
I write this blog not to scare and not to worry people, but more to raise awareness of the risks of high altitude trekking.
On Day 10 when we returned to Periche, everything was going well for the entire group, except one. Our fellow trekker was weak, couldn’t eat, and was in a considerable amount of discomfort.
Coach White has a device which measures both our pulse, and the oxygen saturation of our bolood. Our sick partner had an extremely low O2 Sat. Coach put him on oxygen at a 1 liter flow for the night while he slept. Sometime during the night the bottle ran dry and the symptoms of AMS (acute mountain sickness) started to appear. By morning he was pale, frail, and looked sick. We needed to get him out of the mountains and to a lower altitude, in a hurry.
Another of our trekking partners had fallen victim to minor AMS symptoms and had to descend back down the hill after we first reached Loboche.
I choose not to blog about that at the time because the last thing I wanted was his family and friends to find out through the Internet, before he has contacted them. All parties suffering any illness will remain anonymous as I do not feel it is appropriate to spread that information over the Internet.
Our first I’ll trekker was orignally taken from Loboche to Periche. He then descended further to Pangboche and started feeling mildly better. Days later, he was still not in 100% shape.
The morning of Day 11, Coach had to make a very difficult decision. To call for an evacuation helicopter at Periche, or to have our most recently ill partner struggle down the mountains to Pangboche to find out if we also needed to evacuate the first trekker to suffer the effects of altitude sickness.
The hike from Periche to Pangboche was scary. AMS makes you think, act, and talk like you’re in another world, for lack of a better term, like you’re drunk.
Walking, drunk, down a path 3 feet wide with a 300ft drop on one side may not bother the person doing it too much because of his condition, but it sure scared the shit out of me. I followed him so closely that if he were to stumble in any direction, I would be able to catch him. The 2 hour walk took more like 3-4 hours.
We arrive in Pangboche to find that both trekkers needed to be evacuated. The call was made, 1hour we’re told. Go outside to the heli pad in 50minutes were the instructions. (the heli pad is a patch of grass about 15yards squares with an H made of rocks in the middle). Not what you would expect in North America, but we’re not in NA now, are we?
We’re outside 15minutes before the expected arrival. It takes the helicopter 2 and a half hours to get there, instead of the original 1 which we were told. Weather, and fueling were the cause of delays. Flying a helicopter at high altitude is no easy task. The thin atmosphere effects the lift and stability of the high powered, jet fueled machine. This is Nepal, not North America. If it wasn’t for the connections Coach had, it might have taken a full day, or more, for the helicopter to have arrived and the condition of our I’ll partners may have deteriorated even further.
Finally we can hear it. It’s like a real life episode of Mash. The sick trekker who I had followed in the morning calls me over to thank me for being there for him in case anything had happened. We joked a bit, I said ‘think of it this way, you got a trek to Everest, and helicopter ride… That’s a 2 for 1’. He laughed, but barely. Not from a lack of humour, but for a lack of energy.
The heli does a loop, it has to land going into the wind. My camera was on video and I have the entire thing on tape, it was pretty cool. He touches down, opens the door, and motions to start loading. The bags are brought over, passengers loaded, the heli lifts off again. Touchdown was a little less than 3 minutes.
As the heli lifts off, he struggles with the lift and trim. Within a minute the heli is sitting properly, perfectly hovering about 10feet above the ground. As quickly as it arrives, it was gone. Within an hour it would be touching down in Kathmandu.
Coach is relieved beyond expression. The only thing he can say, or do, is give me a high-five. A huge weight has been lifted off his mind, as well as everyone else.
Never a dull day in the Kumbu.