Drowning at 14,000ft above sea level

By | April 24, 2010

We left Pangbouche(12,890ft) for a day of steady climbs. The groups morale was good, everyone is in good spirits and we’ve had no illnesses.

By the time we reached Shomare(13,350ft) we have been staring at Mt Everest(29,028ft), Lhotse(27,890ft), and Peak38 (24,900ft) for half an hour. It looks close enough I can almost touch it. The jet stream peels a cloud of moisture off of Everest like steam from a locomotive, we can see it in great detail. As we walk for the next 3 hours, the view barely changes. We are walking past Ama Dablam(22,401ft), now looking at a different side of it than we have seen before. Our group stops multiple times for pictures with some of the best backdrops the Himalayas have to offer. Snow topped peaks as high as, and higher then, the clouds themselves.

We arrive in Pheriche(14,070ft) on schedule, but out of breath. The air is thin here. The group is starting to fatigue from the smallest of chores. Walking upstairs feels like you’ve run a 100yard sprint, even walking down the hall is something will avoid if possible.

We are now above the tree line. There is very little vegitation, very few flowers, and besides birds there are no wild animals. There are no trees to cut down for fuel, no camp fires here.

Heat is provided by the burning of Yak dung. As unpleasent as that sounds, it smells even worse. The lack of electrical, construction, gas, and ventillation code is a constant conversation within our group. Our food is provided by kerosene burners, the kitchen is a small room in the back with no electrical fan and a window smaller then most of us have in our water closet. Slippers, sweatshirts, jackets, and tooques are the norm before, during, and after dinner.

As I watch the % of battery remaining on my iPhone dwindle I think of everything I take for granted at home. Leaving lights on when they are not needed, charging all of my electrical devices (there are plenty of them) any time I wish, cooking with a stove, oven, or microwave. Notice how everytime you turn the tap on the left clockwise it magically pumps out an endless supply of hot water? Not here. Fill the pot with water around 3degrees, if not colder. Fire up the kerosene burner (kerosene is a liquid fuel which has been carried up to this town by either by Yak, or porter and is not in constant supply) and bring the water to a boil. Keep it boiling for 2minutes to kill all the germs, as the water was essentially pulled from a creek or river. Poor the boiling water into a 8L thermos and keep it warm until you need to heat more. Repeat the process.

The upstairs of our lodge is filled with smoke when I retire to bed. Hmmm. Open a window and let the -0degree wind whistle through the lodge, or deal with it. We open the front door and a few windows to air it out. Feels like I’m outside, thank god for a -15 sleeping bag. Head lamp on I read a few chapter of ‘Into Thin Air’, how fitting to read a book of a disaster on Everest when I am on my way there, and passed the turning point at that.

I’m gasping for air. Feels like I’m drowning, yet there is no water in sight. I try calm myself, I take deep breathes, in through the mouth out through the nose. This is going to be a long night.

I look around the room, it’s 9×9, 2 windows and 2 beds. The walls are paper thin. I’m having a conversation with the trek leader in the next room, normal voices, right through the wall.

I finally get to sleep. The place is pitch black. No clock, no nightlight, no nothing. I wake up in a panic. Once again gasping for air. I’m sweating and freezing at the same time. ‘you’re not suffocating, you’re at altitude’ I try to tell myself in a calming internal voice. It’s a good 5 minutes before I get back to sleep, and only another hour or two before it happens again.

It will not get easier. For the next 3 days I will be at a higher elevation than this one. And just think, I’m paying for this!

Today is day 7 of our trek and as the category of these articles says, this is the trip of a life time. I will never forget the experiences I’ve already had, and coach tells me the best is yet to come.

Day 8, we leave for Gorak Shep(16,961ft) at 6am. We will pass through Dughla(15,090ft), and probably stop for tea at Lobouche(16,207ft). We will climb nearly 3000 verticle feet in a few hours. God I hope this Diamox works.

We should arrive in Gorak Shep around noon or shortly after. How the weather is behaving will dictate our plans for the afternoon. If it is clear, we will head up to Kala Patthar(18,192ft). The view of Everest in the afternoon is spectacular, another trekker has told us. If it’s not crystal clear, we will head to Everest Base Camp(17,400ft). If we are unable to get to Kala Patthar on the afternoon of Day 8, those of us with the strength to do so will attempt on the morning of Day 9 before heading back to lower elevations.