Everest, A Story of Woe | Climbing within the Himalayas, Nepal (Half 2)
By Louise Coghill
Most mountaineers consider ‘how’ you got to the summit, more important than actually getting there. Or so Jon Krakaur told me in his Everest disaster book ‘Into Thin Air’.
The key is to hike the mountain in a new way, whether it’s faster, more difficult or without oxygen. You have to always be pushing yourself and going beyond your peers.
In Nepal, everyone you meet is heading up that mountain, you meet people who have made it to the summit more than once. I was only climbing to base camp and reaching 5600m. I had to do something to make it more interesting.
Hiking with a chest infection seemed like the only logical option.
The Ordeal of Everest with a chest infection.
A tale of woe by Louise M. Coghill.
I hadn’t slept properly in days. The heat and noise of Kathmandu had kept me wide awake. The nerves and excitement of solo trekking pumped me with energy when I should have been resting (something my immune system will soon come to regret). That and the fact my bed was a favourite of the hostel cat Winnie who enjoyed jumping on my pillow and giving me a fright.
I boarded the flight to Lukla. (2800m high) The beginning of my adventure. A tiny plane, in true Nepali style, with random boxes cluttering the first few seats and the aisle. Cotton wool was handed out to protect our ears from the engines.
Away I went, flying next to the snowy peaks which I was about see up close, appreciating how epic this mountain range is.
I’m a photographer, which makes hiking in Nepal wonderful, but also weighs me down with gear. I have my camera, 2 lenses and a tripod. An extra few kilograms to lug up the mountain. A feat made slightly more difficult by the fact I’m only 5ft tall. Though what I lack in height, I make up for in leg strength.
I began the walk fresh-faced. Excited. Confident.
When you’re hiking alone your brain goes internal. You discover a lot about yourself. So far I’ve discovered I’m a cheapskate. 3 people asked me about the large gaping hole in the right leg of my pants, worrying i’d fallen and hurt myself on the trek.
They all laughed when I tell them I fell off my bike over a year ago.
“Why not just buy new pants?”
It’s sacrifices like this, I make so I can afford to even come to Nepal.
After 6 hours of solo trekking I made it to Jorsalle. The first of the tiny mountainous villages I’d call my home for the night. My shoulders revel. It’s amazing how quickly you forget the pain of hiking. As soon as the pack is off, the shoes are lying by my side and my feet are soothed by the freezing cold glacial river, the pain of the last 6 hours is a fading memory.
I lay back on a warm rock in the sun listening to the water rush past. I don’t close my eyes because i’m so tired, I’ll probably fall asleep and I’m lying in a glacial flood risk area.
I’m amazed at the capacity of life and how much we can fit into it if we try. Hiking alone through the Himalayas had been a distant dream for years and with a short amount of hard work it became a reality.
My eyes droop, I have that familiar scratch in the back of my throat telling me I might have a cold coming on. I force myself back to the guesthouse before I fall asleep out in the elements, i’m in bed by 7pm and my ability to journal diminishes.
Note: Sunscreen thumbs.
Note: Stop eating all your dates, this is day 1, you have 2 weeks left.
Note: This is badass. Remember this when you feel lonely on the hike.
Note: I’m serious about the dates.
I make it to Naamche, 3400m, I have to stop here for 2 nights to acclimatise. Thank god. My throat feels like sandpaper, the cold I’d felt coming on yesterday is well and truly here. My muscles ache more than I expected, but I still feel somewhat human.
Anything above 3500m is considered high altitude, the oxygen is sparse and so the body has to learn how to deal with the change in oxygen levels. Your breathing and heart rate increase, your body makes more red blood cells and it redistributes the blood to the more important organs (your brain, heart and lungs). If you don’t take acclimatization days your body doesn’t know what the hell is going on and you’re at risk of altitude sickness, which can turn into a potentially fatal cerebral or pulmonary edema (the crazy science words basically mean you can get fluid in your brain or lungs, not ideal).
Note: At 3400m and i’m not feeling the altitude or the cold too drastically.
Revised note: Ignore what I wrote earlier. I feel like I’m dying.
Yet another note: STOP EATING YOUR DATES!
I wake up telling myself I’m a strong capable woman, I’m going to attempt a 3 hour acclimatisation hike. After breakfast I get back into bed.
“Just for a moment, just a quick nap to re-energise”
30 minutes later I got into my hiking gear, finished tying my shoes. Stood up. Sat back down, took my shoes off. Paused, berating myself. Put shoes back on. Took them off and finally admitted defeat and jumped back into bed where I proceeded to stay for the rest of the day.
Feeling incredibly sorry for myself, I spent the entire day wondering if I’d make it up to base camp. Weakling! Failure! The usual tirade. I knew it was just my tired, sick brain that was in dire need of a hug and chose to ignore it.
Just as I reached the height of my self condemnation, I looked out the window and noticed the clouds were disappearing and I finally had a view of the worlds highest peaks just across the valley. So close I felt like if I leaned out of the window I could touch them.
I aired out my sick room and the crisp mountain air worked its magic, taking away the feelings of despair I’d been laying with all day.
My hacking cough was attacking with a vengeance. I have obviously wronged someone in a past life. Or this life, perhaps my brothers have gotten into voodoo and were paying me back for that time I told mum and dad about the parachute they made out of an old tarp and tested it by jumping off the roof.
Today was the day of the toughest ascent. 600m straight up.
Luckily I’d met Spencer on the way. A moose hunting Canadian from Saskatchewan.
The universe sent me a new hiking buddy right when I needed a helping hand, the mental challenge of hiking alone had become too much. Pushing yourself up step after step when you’re sick and suffering through coughing fit after coughing fit is tough. It’s necessary to have someone there a) looking out for you and b) waiting for you to catch up so your ego gets the better of you and you push through the pain.
After what felt like hours and the idea of ‘reaching the top’ had become a distant dream from a different reality, we finally saw the end. We crested the hill, mostly alive.
We were greeted with a small town (if three lodges and a bakery can even be called a town), completely surrounded by fog. No mountains in sight.
Note: Thank god I bought that second packet of dates yesterday.
Today was the day of Mordor. We made it above the tree line into a barren, cold, wasteland. Falling rocks, evidence of landslides littering the landscape.
The altitude was kicking in, luckily it was a slow steady incline for most of the day. Nothing too drastic, but every ascent left me breathless. Followed by yet another coughing fit and another and another.
Spencer and I met some other hikers in the guesthouse and decided to merge our groups for the day.
The others were fit and healthy AND they had a porter. I looked in jealousy at their tiny backpacks and their long legs speeding off into the distance.
I had to come to terms with the fact that I was the slow one. Not because I kept stopping to take photos (the usual reason I’d be at the back of the group) but because my body wouldn’t let me go any faster.
Anyone that knows me, knows this would kill me inside. I’m highly competitive and grew up wanting to prove that I can do anything a boy, or a larger human, can do. I am never the slow one. And here I thought the struggles on this hike would all be physical, I never expected such an internal battle.
We arrived in town at the same time as a cloud. So much hiking, so much pain, and I’d hardly seen any snowy peaks. Maybe it was the same cloud from yesterday, following us and taunting us.
It hit 9pm, and my eyes were burning with tiredness. My body ached. I climbed into bed expecting to fall straight asleep, but the altitude had different ideas. There isn’t enough oxygen to slip into a deep sleep.
I tossed and turned, coughing constantly until 5am. The whole time questioning every aspect of my life and travels.
Wondering if I am in fact the strong person I always thought I was. Painful questions plagued me until I eventually fell into a shallow sleep. Will I make it up to base camp? I’ve hardly taken any photos on this hike, am I even a good photographer? Should I just quit and go home where mum will look after me and play ‘Don’t worry be happy’ by Bobby McFerrin until I feel better?
Note: Add ‘Don’t worry be happy’ to your spotify playlist for your next mentally destructive hike.
I woke up at 9am to a blue sky, unexpectedly sweating in bed (we’re well over 4400m here). Not ideal due to the fact I won’t be showering or washing my clothes up here. (Yes boys, I am single ;).
My filthy hair is matted over my face adding to the incredibly attractive picture I have obviously created. I feel like a truck has ran over my head, but I finally have a view of snowy peaks outside my window!
It’s Everest Marathon day. The hike began with a constant stream of marathon runners rushing past. Just when I thought I’d reached the end of my tether, these people would speed by reminding me what the human body is capable of.
If they can run 42km’s from base camp to Naamche then I can hike for a few goddamn hours! It was a necessary vote of confidence seeing as yesterday’s hiking group had powered on ahead, leaving Spencer and I behind. Their guide hadn’t wanted to become responsible for two slow pokes who were battling illness.
The day included yet another gruelling ascent. (Surprising really, that hiking a mountain includes so many uphills)
It was made easier by the fact I ran into Bob, a friend I’d hiked another mountain in the Himalayas with. A kind-hearted english lad who has the same penchant for pain as myself given that we’d only finished our last high altitude hike 2 weeks earlier. The duo became a trio.
We were hiking between two mountains above a valley where the wind was whipping through, buffeting us as we climbed.
As many small people already know, strong winds are not my friend. I distinctly remember being 9 or 10 and making the mistake of running outside in a very large coat where I was quickly picked up by a ferocious gust and forcibly slammed back into the ground.
The memory stuck with me as I scrambled up the mountain. Perched precariously on rocks nervously waiting for a train of yaks to pass and watching admiringly, as the porters did the same ascent with triple the weight on their backs.
The key to tackling these ascents is to avoid looking up. Look just ahead and slowly put one foot in front of the other. Continue this until you reach the top.
Don’t think how far it is to go. A watched pot never boils as my Nan used to say. A watched summit never gets any closer.
Instead look below you and admire how far you’ve come. Take in the magnificent view, which reminds you why you’re subjecting yourself to so much pain. Pat yourself on the back for how amazing you are for even attempting it and then keep on climbing.
Ignore the hikers who are descending and say helpful comments like ‘ooph, you’ve still got a long way to go’ or ‘I’m not going to lie, it’s a tough hike’
Internally you sarcastically answer ‘Oh really? I didn’t notice. My eyes stopped working years ago.’ Externally you smile and nod as if their words helped you.
But then an older gentleman walks by and says ‘you’re doing a good job!’ and you can hear the sincere good will flowing out with his words, so you give him a heartfelt smile and use his words to get you up the last few steps.
Finally you reach the top and look down at the small town below you. You admire how far you’ve come, but also admire how long it took you to ascend such a short amount, thanks altitude.
It’s here that I get a proper reminder of how many people die on this mountain. Stupa’s are erected as memorials everywhere you look. Americans like Scott Fisher, Indians, Europeans. First time summitters and old hacks who’d done it so many times they probably thought they were invincible (as we all do I guess).
Everest has its way of constantly keeping my own mortality at the forefront of my mind. With the constant hum of helicopters flying overhead, never knowing if it’s a scenic flight or a rescue operation.
With news coming in that a flight crashed in Lukla, killing two people and injuring one. The news that 2 people died at Gorak Shep, the town I was heading to in 2 days. 4 bodies where found at camp 4 (2000m’s higher than I’d be heading, but still) the lack of oxygen overwhelming their poor bodies.
Or just constantly meeting people who are suffering severe altitude sickness and heading back down, or know someone who did.
Not to mention all the documentaries and films you watch on the hike about the Everest disasters.
As I stood reading each memorial, the sun disappeared behind another cloud bringing an added chill to the already frigid day. Although I tend to try and push through the pain, I made a mental promise to my mother to pay attention to my body and not continue if I had signs of altitude sickness. (Mum probably would have considered my cough bad enough and the fact I hadn’t slept as reason enough to head back. But since when do we travellers listen to our mothers!)
We took a moment to respect the people who didn’t make it back down this path, which served as an important reminder that this endeavour isn’t to be taken lightly. I tend to force myself through the pain of a tough situation, knowing it will be worthwhile on the other side, but with high altitude trekking, this isn’t the case. I thought often whether I should turn back and assessed my body before deciding to continue. Hiking at altitude is the one place you should definitely not just push through the pain.
The hike continued and we hit the desolation area. A world of white, grey and black. The only colour coming from the trekkers garishly bright clothing, and the blue North face bags piled onto the backs of the yaks heading back down the hill, as the seasons base camp was slowly packed down.
The wind whips through the valley. We scramble over rocks, we catch sight of a glacier completely covered by grey boulders. The snow capped peaks constantly appearing and disappearing behind the clouds.
The air is dry and harsh. A reminder that this place is not designed for life.
We reach Lobuche. I’m so tired I can hardly string two sentences together. My eyes are drooping and I retire early hoping I’m finally tired enough to sleep.
Don’t hold your breath like I did. I tossed and turned until 5am again.
4900m is not an ideal spot to try and get your 8 hours.
I’m too tired to get excited about base camp tomorrow.
Note: The dates are finally gone.
Note: I now realise how much mental endurance came from that small pocket of sugary datey goodness.
Note: Farewell my sweet friends, farewell.
Note: Hot tea has become my new best friend.
Base camp is only used by those attempting the summit. It becomes home to mountaineers for 2 months while they acclimatize on the mountain. Small tent communities spring up next to the Khumbu ice fall, one of the most dangerous parts of climbing up Everest.
The normal folk like me, just head to base camp to stare in awe, touch the ice fall, take a selfie to brag to family and friends back home, and then head back to Gorak Shep to sleep and maybe make a plan to come back and actually hike it one day.
Base camp is 5364m above sea level. It’s going to be a tough day due to the altitude, no matter what the terrain is like.
It’s ‘Nepalese flat’, which means it’s not flat at all, but a constant up and down. It started cruisy enough and the constant view of the worlds largest mountains always make it easier.
But eventually we were scrambling up and down massive piles of boulders and rocks.
Luckily, when you reach Gorak Shep (home for the night) you can put your pack down before you continue the hike to Everest Base Camp (EBC to those in the know).
Unluckily for me, I’m a photographer, so my bag still consists of 5kg’s of camera gear.
We ran into a couple who had just got back from the hike, they were energised, fresh faced, not suffering any illnesses.
They told us “It’s a pretty easy hike, took us 2 – 3 hours return”. Stupidly I took them at their word, forgetting I still have several kilo’s to carry, and my rattling lungs (which by now I was starting to suspect wasn’t a simple cold) made every expulsion of energy into a difficult and time consuming challenge.
For the fit and healthy it’s a 2 – 3 hour hike. For our group it took maybe 4 – 4.5 hours.
I take full responsibility for the hold up.
We finally reach a dead end, were there is a group of people sitting around chatting. ‘We’ve arrived’ I think in relief. I celebrated too early, I looked down and realised base camp was below us, it was a swift descent down and then back up to actually be able to walk in amongst the few tents that were left (most of base camp had packed up in the preceding week).
I considered not making the effort but I hadn’t trekked for 9 days to sit on my tired sick butt and NOT go explore base camp. So down we walked, right up to the Khumbu glacier. The ice fall. The most dangerous part of the Everest summit ascent. The part that has claimed 44 lives.
Also the first glacier I’d seen up close. Undulating waves of ice reaching it’s way up the side of the mountain, glistening as it melts under the sun, causing a river to run below it, with water so clear the only reason you can see it at all is the ripples caused by it’s fast descent over the stones.
So many doco’s, movies, pictures, books. So many years of dreaming of this moment and here I finally was.
Standing ON the worlds tallest mountain, maybe standing on the place where one day, I’d start my ascent to the summit (although we’ll wait and see how expensive it gets, I am just a struggling artist).
These moments are always so anticlimactic. It’s hard to sit in awe when you’re so breathless and cold and tired, knowing there’s still so much more hiking to go.
I sit down and rest, my brain finally getting enough oxygen to start appreciating what I’d achieved.
What a beautiful, desolate wasteland base camp is. What a strange world we live in were we push our bodies to the limit for a pretty view, for an adrenalin rush, or just to say we did.
What many don’t realise, is base camp isn’t the most exciting part of this trek. Kala Pattar is what I came for. The highest point of the hike, it’s a peak 5600m high with the best view of Everest and 360 degree views of the worlds largest mountains.
We had to get up at 4am.
I genuinely wasn’t sure if I could do this.
I hadn’t slept in days. Every breath was becoming an effort. The familiar tickle in my throat that signified a coughing fit filled me with fear. Not knowing if it would stop after 20 seconds or 2 minutes. My throat felt swollen after every fit. Knowing by now it wasn’t just a normal cold, but something more sinister.
We’d met so many people who had made the hike and faced a complete white out. They didn’t see Everest. A 500m hike up at dawn, in the cold, with the altitude, for nothing. If that happened to me I knew I’d probably have a mental break down.
That night, I climbed into bed, with 3 layers of clothing on, hoping I was warm enough and tired enough to actually get some sleep. Of course that wasn’t going to happen.
Every time I blinked I’d doze off, but my body would shake itself awake with yet another coughing fit.
My eyes were weeping and gluing the lids shut. I was bought to tears. It felt like a torture my own body was inflicting upon itself.
“I can’t do this” I kept telling myself. At 1am I turned off my alarm, knowing one day soon I’d regret this decision. But in this moment my health was more important.
Another 2 hours of tossing and turning and I became too bored of sitting in bed NOT to give it a go. I switched my alarm back on and finally fell asleep just after 3am.
A whopping 45 minutes later my alarm tore its way into my sweet slumber. I wondered what on earth I was doing, cutting my precious and healing sleep short, but a quick look outside showed that it was a clear morning, the soft pink hues of dawn were just beginning to dust the tips of the snowy peaks. A sunrise over Everest was waiting, so I pulled my aching body out of the warm cocoon I’d created in my sleeping bag and sighed heavily. I didn’t want to go. I had to go. I had to do it for the pain and agony I’d put myself through, to be able to look at myself in the mirror when I got back down. So that when I was back in the comfort of my own home having an intense netflix binge and hadn’t left the house in 3 days I could still feel good about myself because I’d done THIS. This moment would serve as a reminder that I can do it. Whatever it is, I can do it.
But first I had to actually climb the thing. Five hundred metres up. Straight up.
Eyes burning. Muscle energy reserves completely depleted. Lungs dying. Thin Oxygen. Torture.
As we hiked higher, a cloud drifted back in. I couldn’t see a single mountain. (I bet it was that same cloud from before, if he was a person, he’d be that annoying housemate called Chuck that uses the last of the milk and puts the empty carton back in the fridge and just completely ruins your day) Visibility dropped to about 10m’s. I was alone on the hike now, well Chuck was there, but I wasn’t talking to him.
Was this it? Would the clouds clear? Can I keep going?
I continued walking. For a few steps. Pause. Breathe. Cough. Lean on walking stick. Cough. Breathe. Keep walking. Repeat. Repeat.
After another 30 minutes, the sun started peaking over the mountain tops, like a biblical scene the clouds parted and there was the tip of Everest, just as the first rays of light started bursting out behind it.
I was still only half way up but I stopped to take in this unbelievable sight. Literally unbelievable. I never really thought I’d actually see the sunrise over Everest.
Basking in what I’d just seen I started asking myself ‘Can it get better? Should I keep going?’
I really considered turning back, the mental torture of the hike to come was overwhelming.
‘I haven’t come all this way to let a cold and a bit of lacking sleep to stop me hitting my goal’ I told myself.
So on I went.
One foot in front of the other. Plodding away. Or trudging might be a better adjective. Plodding sounds too light-hearted and happy.
My steps were so slow it felt like I wasn’t making any headway. Stuck in quicksand, pushing my body so hard but getting nowhere.
‘You can do it!’ came Bob’s familiar voice. I looked up and there it was. The peak of Kala Pattar.
I could see the top. Maybe 20 or 30m’s up. Bob, who’d already been up there for an hour kept shouting encouragement to me.
I had no option but to believe him. Stopping again and again. Two steps. Stop. Sucking air into my lungs.
Somehow I made it.
I was as shocked as you are.
As I looked at the view I couldn’t believe I’d even considered not doing it. Base camp might have felt anticlimactic, but this certainly did not.
The weather was better than I’d even hoped. Uninterrupted views of the largest mountains in the world.
Staring straight at Everest.
The summit that took decades to conquer. It took longer to put a man on Everest than it took to get one to the moon. One of the most unforgiving place on earth.
I looked and wondered if I’d make it up there one day. I could see a possible path my life might follow in which I become a badass mountain climber. So many epiphanies about life and the options open to us. The kind of epiphanies that are only conceivable when you’ve pushed your body and mind further than you thought possible.
If I can do this, I can do anything.
After an hour of admiring our planet, our world, our lives and our own abilities we started the descent.
Many of you might think the story is over now. But don’t be fooled. This is where the best action happens.
The Everest descent. The true tale of woe.
Don’t worry guys, I did survive.
5 nights of practically no sleep. Hectic exercise. Intense cold. Dry wind. Dusty paths. Became a nearly fatal combination.
We were descending to Periche, 1500m below Kala Pattar.
We walked down for hours, a small town visible for most of the descent. As we got closer our spirits raised, we’re almost there. Thank god. My lungs were really struggling, their capacity had dropped to 70%. Worrying yes, but doable when descending. And we were close to the town so I didn’t let it get me down too much. When you’ve watched the sun rise over Everest, it takes a LOT to get you down.
As we got nearer we realised this wasn’t Periche. The town we were aiming for was approximately another hour’s walk further into the valley.
Remember when I was talking about the walk UP to Everest and being caught by the wind. The vicious wind whipping through the valley and almost picking me up and flying me away? Yep. Well this is the valley.
As I’d discovered over the previous few days cold, dry wind makes my cough worse. The wind was tearing through, I felt colder than I’d been the entire trek. I couldn’t breathe through my nose thanks to my sinister sickness so my throat was suffering more and more. I had a neck warmer and pulled it over my mouth in an attempt to warm the air up a bit before I breathed in. It helped a little, but not enough. As we got closer and closer my breathing diminished more and more.
I slowed down, my body going too fast for its oxygen intake, my little hiking group got further ahead. I’d lost my voice and the wind was strong, going in the wrong direction, so I couldn’t shout to them. I’d just have to wait for them to notice how far behind I was. (Mum, you know I like to exaggerate while I write. I was actually safe and sound and we drove a heated car to Periche. Ignore all of this.)
I was a few hundred metre’s from the outskirts of town but my breathing had dropped to what felt like 20%.
I was having to force air into my lungs and the sound was terrifying. It felt like an asthma attack but I haven’t had asthma in years. I stopped walking completely and leaned on Wallace, my ever trusty walking stick. Always there to help me through a particularly painful moment.
Tears welled up and I let them, if this wasn’t a moment to get upset then I don’t know what is. My life flashed before my eyes. This life of adventure, of pushing myself hard, enjoying the pain, knowing it was making me a better, tougher person. All for what, to have pushed through and have it all end here? Everyone that died on Everest was once a very motivated person, and I truly thought I was about to join the list. My lungs were shutting down halfway up a mountain where we had no phone, no internet, my friends ahead of me and no breath left to shout for help. ‘If I survive this moment’ I mentally promised myself, ‘I’ll stop being such a god damn idiot and admit when I need help in a more timely manner.’ That moment being 2 hours ago when my lung capacity first began it’s drastic decline.
The effort of crying stopped my breathing completely so I had to force myself to calm down. By keeping the rising panic at bay, my breathing went back to 20%.
Bob and Spencer had noticed how far away I was and they were patiently waiting, having finally reached the very outskirts of town. At least if anything happened they were close enough to call a helicopter and hopefully it would arrive soon enough to save me.
Melodramatic? In hindsight, being still alive. Yes. In the moment… No.
As I reached them and managed to wheeze out a quiet ‘I can’t breathe’. Bob snapped into action, he made me drop my pack and sit down.
‘I don’t think it’s a normal cold, Lou’
I nodded my agreement.
‘We need to get you to a doctor’
I agreed wholeheartedly.
A little part of me was happy knowing I hadn’t let a normal cold slow me down so much. The other part of me was berating myself for stupidly putting my life at so much risk.
Alas the doctor was 700m’s below us in Naamche. For now I just had to get somewhere warm and hope my lungs would sort there shit out.
Bob and I swapped packs so my load wouldn’t be so heavy and we made our way into town. I was considering evacuating myself, wondering if I was sick enough to claim it on insurance. If my breathing didn’t go back to normal there was no question, I would never make it down the hill on my own.
I was hoping it wouldn’t, I was so tired and I just wanted to be at normal altitude and able to get better and a helicopter would be a fun way to save myself.
But alas, after laying down in the warmth my breathing returned to normal (well as normal as it could with lungs filled with phlegm) and yet again, that annoying ‘I can do it!’ little bitch of a mental voice, started whispering in my ear.
Everything ached. I’d been carrying my camera around my neck for a few days and the muscles had seized up, so I couldn’t turn my head from side to side. I was so cold. So tired. But I was alive.
I thought the hardest part of the trek was behind me. A goal I’d wanted to achieve for years. Another reminder that life is what you create.
I actually managed 4 hours sleep. What a blessing.
However we still had another mission ahead of us. The doctor was in Naamche. 700m’s below us.
Even though we’re going DOWN the mountain, there’s still a fair few drastic inclines we would have to conquer before I could get the necessary medicine to heal my aching lungs.
Away we went, we hit the first small incline of the day and instantly my lungs shouted out in protest, my breathing plummeted back down to 70% and kept dropping.
We made it to the top before my lungs put out completely, but I was thinking about the rest of the hike to Naamche with trepidation. We had a 600m descent, instantly followed by a very sharp 300m incline.
I was not going to make it.
Luckily there are horses for hire along the route. Unluckily it was going to cost $100 US to get me up the hill.
To those of you reading this at home, drinking your morning coffee before you head to your cushy office job, $100 isn’t much for a horse ride that feels life saving.
However for a poor traveller $100 is a gigantuan amount, that’s 28 days of accomodation if you don’t mind staying in the dingy rooms. Or about 33 meals, 100 bottles of clean drinking water, 14 long haul bus rides.
Yesterday’s panic was fresh in my mind though so I reluctantly forked over the money, as you can’t enjoy travelling in Nepal if you’re dead. (Yes mum, that actually was an exaggeration.)
As soon as we started the incline, my regret over the money disappeared. I would not have made it up that hill.
I patted Dongma, my white and grey horse and saviour. He was breathing heavily. I thanked his owner who’d led us up the hill and off we went to Naamche. (It was going to cost another $100 to get the horse all the way to town, and no way I was paying that!)
3 more hours of torture before we finally made it. My lungs had reached the end of their tether. My vision was blurry and my eyes were bloodshot.
I still couldn’t move my neck.
The next morning I would be sitting in a doctors office with a cold stethoscope pressed into my back, being diagnosed with a chest infection. An infection that causes your airways to become swollen and filled with mucus, making it difficult to breathe. Not what you want when you have to walk for hours on end, carting heavy bags up a mountain were the oxygen is already sparse.
For now I took my first shower in 10 days, guzzled some cough syrup and collapsed into bed.
I may not have made it to the summit of Everest, but in that moment of bliss as my clean body fell into the sheets and I had enough oxygen in the air to breathe normally again, my muscles relaxing after a hot shower and knowing it was all downhill from here, I felt like I’d summited something far greater than a mountain. The memories that overwhelmed me as my body finally relaxed will stay with me for a lifetime as a constant reminder of all the things that I can do, even when it feels impossible. The pain I had experienced over the past 2 weeks washed away and left room for the new faith I found in myself.
I smiled briefly as I slipped into my heavenly slumber and dreamt of the packet of dates I was going to buy tomorrow.
Note: The dates were delicious.
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