I woke up this morning, wriggled partially out of my sleeping bag, pulled back the curtain and wiped at the condensation. It didn’t fucking move. The condensation was frozen in place. I braced myself and slid the rest of the way out of my bag, went in search of a toilet and met Melissa on the way. I smiled at her and my lips cracked. My face pretty much hated me right now, it couldn’t be much drier even if I applied silica gel to it every fucking morning. To be fair, I was smearing it in a dubious SPF90 that I’d picked up in Kathmandu that was so thick it felt like I was dressing for Halloween, but altitude cares not for your lovely base tan and I’d rather resemble a parody vampire than risk burning.
Today was meant to be another acclimatisation day but we’d lost that when our flight to Lukla was cancelled the second time. I’d gotten chatting to a British couple who’d done it the day before with their porter/guide and in all honesty it sounded about as much fun as having your face ripped off by a rabid llama. I wasn’t too upset about not having to walk up a hill just to walk back down it again but it did make me very aware that we were very, very high up and that trying to get to Base Camp in seven days wasn’t the natural order of things. My head hurt again. Altitude sucked. And had I mentioned how cold it was? We’d been getting impossibly blue skies in the morning then in the afternoon it’d cloud over but regardless of what the sky was doing the temperature could accurately be described as “a bit nips.” I’d taken to wearing base layers as standard and so far hadn’t been too hot, then a t-shirt and another base layer and a hoody, a snood and a hat. A very expensive hat actually, it’s not often I spend money on gear but this bad boy was windproof and had ear flaps. I don’t suit ear flaps. I don’t think anyone really suits ear flaps. There seems to be a direct correlation between how warm the hat is and how special it makes you look but at this stage I couldn’t give two fucks about what I looked like, I just wanted to finish this trek with all of my extremities intact.
After a small incline which felt like the face of Everest itself, we walked along relatively flat ground across a bleak landscape somewhat reminiscent of moors back home in the north of England except with less oxygen until with reached Thukla at 4620 metres. Now that’s a 200 metre climb I could deal with, I barely even realised we were walking upwards until we got there and I was still surprised at how not-basic the facilities were. I don’t see a problem with the short drops with the wooden slats, though I wouldn’t complain if they made them at least appear to be a little less likely to cave in under the weight of my saggy arse. I tend to use a Whiz Freedom for pissing anyway which cuts down on any manner of precarious squat-balancing over vats of human excrement but even up here they provided either a western shitter or a porcelain squatter. I’ve no idea why they bother with toilets with cisterns when all the water is going to do is freeze. It’s that cold here. I felt like my piss was going to freeze mid stream and I’d have to snap it off.
Clearly there’d be the traditional post-lunch steep climb we’d become accustomed to. When you’re stood at the bottom watching people weave their way up you’re not quite sure how you’re going to cope with it. You can feel your body preparing extra large pools of lactic acid to punish you for even thinking you were in any way capable of getting to 5300 metres, what with your penchant for beer and cheesecake and sitting down. But when you take it bistari bistari it’s over before you know it. One foot in front of the other, plenty of breaks that upset the fitter group members because to be fair, you do get cold when you stop walking. The decision what to wear every morning takes into account how cold it was the day before, how high you’ll be trekking today and how many rest stops we’ll need. Do you wear wool or synthetic thermals? Fleece lined trousers? Do you pack a down jacket or will your hoody suffice today? Seriously, I have less trouble working out what to wear for a night out.
Eventually though you’ll make it to the top of the hill. You have to, there’s no other way. And at the top of this hill were loads of memorials to Sherpas and foreigners killed on Mount Everest. Some of them are simple rock cairns and others are larger, well built structures with plaques. I was reading about one Sherpa who’d summitted Everest 10 times. He held the record for getting to the top, less than 17 hours he did it in back in 2000 and in 1995 he summitted twice in two weeks. In 1990 he was trapped on the summit for 21 hours with no oxygen. Basically he was a double hard bastard, but it was on his 11th attempt that he fell into a crevasse and died. It’s such a dangerous job to do, if it wasn’t for the Sherpas and their skill and knowledge, no fucker would ever be able to summit Everest, or any other mountain in this region for that matter. So we rested here for a short while, read some inscriptions and decided against climbing all over the monuments for photos like other foreigners were doing. Seemed, I dunno, disrespectful.
I’d spoken to many people who had already done this trek because a lot of people go to Nepal first, then India so I’d met a lot of folks there. But then you also meet a lot of trekkers in Kathmandu who’ve literally just come back from the trek you’re about to attempt so you quiz them about every single thing you can think of including temperatures, how hard you can expect it to be, how long are you walking for every day, how likely are you to die horribly curled up in a corner and wanting your mum. And one guy said that cramp-ons might possibly be a good idea. Wait… what? Because that sounds a little too technical for the likes of me! Next you’ll be telling me I should pack a precautionary ice axe or some shit. But then he said you’ll only wish you had them for tiny parts of the trek so we didn’t bother. Anyway, the point of this is the fact that today we got to a part where I didn’t just want cramp-ons, I wanted ropes and carabiners and a fucking EU approved safety rail to my left. we were walking along a narrow path covered with ice and snow and I’m not comfortable on my feet at the best of times. Okay okay, so we’re not talking a terrifying death ravine or anything. If I’d slipped it would have been more of an embarrassing tumble down a snowy hill and a hard slog back up it as opposed to spending days trapped between rocks, drinking my own piss and chewing my own arm off. But still. I simply didn’t want to fall.
Lobuche is where we thought Hugh would drop out. Our favourite grumpy Yorkshireman had been having massive headaches for a few days but today it was getting too much for him. Sonam had been getting us all a bowl of garlic soup as standard to help us with the altitude so he ate that then headed off to bed, then wouldn’t come down for the rest of the night. He was in too much pain and nothing was helping. His oxygen was reading in the eighties though which is fine for being this high up and ours was all reading relatively the sameish. Iiiiiinteresting. Because four people in the group were taking Diamox as a preventative and the rest of us were carrying a stash of it, just in case. My headaches were manageable at the moment. I was still getting them but they didn’t last long and they weren’t so bad that I wanted to lie in a dark room and cry. My windpipe though! Sonam had advised us all to breath through our Buffs or snoods, apparently it takes the edge off the cold air and is better for your chest. I find it difficult though, I generally manage to convince myself that all of the CO2 I’m breathing out is accumulating inside my snood and I’m going to suffocate, so I tried as much as I could but mostly I was sucking dry, freezing mountain air into my lungs. By the time we got to Lobuche at 4910 metres I felt like some twat had poured liquid nitrogen down my trachea.
Lobuche, Khumbu, Nepal
Altitude: 4910 metres
Activity: Trekking with Adventure Club Trek & Expedition