This morning some of the group got up at 4.30am to try and climb Kala Patthar, the 5554 metre mountain that Gorakshep sits at the foot of. It was a two hour climb but here’s the thing; it was before breakfast. I can’t function before breakfast. But I was going to try anyway. Katherine, Sin Mei and Hugh didn’t fancy it due to tiredness or illness so at 5am the rest of us set out with Kali and Bhim. Just walking to the start of the trail fucking knackered me out and as soon as I set foot on the bastard thing I started to feel sick. To be fair, I always feel sick and light headed when I try and climb a hill before breakfast to watch the sunrise. Usually I just need to sit down a few times until I feel okay to carry on but I generally get on with it and make it to the top. I’ve never attempted it at high altitude in sub-zero temperatures before. It kinda changed things.
Every five to ten paces I had to sit down on a rock whilst the sickness passed, then I’d get up and walk a few steps then have to sit down again. It was pretty fucking miserable but Kala Patthar was meant to be a highlight for me. I really, really wanted to do it. Everyone else had gone on ahead and Bhim stayed with me, standing there as casually as if he were waiting for a bus or some shit. Every now and then he’d say, “Let’s go,” and I’d try, but then I’d feel really sick again and have to sit down. I looked back. I hadn’t come far at all. I looked ahead and saw a relatively flat bit not too far ahead. I figured I could make it as far as the end of that, right? Not a fucking chance, sunshine!
I got to the top of the first climb and started shuffling along the very slight incline, and when I started seeing stars and my vision clouded, that’s when I figured I should turn back. The really upsetting thing is that I felt absolutely fine walking back down. At one point I turned around and tried again but immediately I felt sick and light headed so I returned to the lodge to wallow in bitter disappointment. I was so, so fucking annoyed with myself. I sat in the common room, so fucking cold you could fashion diamonds with my nipples, wondering if I should ask for a bowl of porridge to wolf down before trying again. Even if I couldn’t get to the top, could I get halfway? I figured I didn’t have time though and it wasn’t too long before Mel came back. She’d gotten as far as where you could see Everest, taken her photos and walked back down. Christopher and Nat were the next to arrive, they said it was really really hard. Christopher was sick a couple of times but they’d made it to the summit and I kicked myself even harder for not pushing through it. Nia, Sarah and Olly showed up a while later. Apparently Olly was a complete legend! He’d powered up it with no ill effects and helped and encouraged the others. Everyone said they’d have turned back if it wasn’t for him. Nia said the whole thing was horrific, it was the hardest thing she’d ever done, the water in their bottles frozen solid too it was so fucking cold. But she’d still done it! I swear, I’ll hate myself until the day I die for not climbing to the top of Kala Patthar. And that’s the last time I try and do anything involving an incline before stuffing my facehole with food products.
I’d literally only just managed to warm up by this point. I swear, I’ve never been so cold in my life and I don’t wish to be ever again. I was sat there in all of my base layers, my hoody and my rented down jacket, plus all of the things used to stop your extremities from icing up. I ended up taking my trainers off and tucking my feet under my legs to try and get some feeling back in my them, and I bought a cup of tea just so I had something warm to wrap my hands around. Breakfast helped too and by the time we were ready to go I’d stopped wondering if my insurance covered me for frostbite. I was still exhausted though, I could only imagine how fucked the five who made it to 5554 metres felt. Altitude is like that mate that takes your things and returns them in shit condition. In this case it’s your energy. Altitude takes your energy and resolve leeches about 70% of it then throws the rest back at you and expects you to function. Altitude is a wanker. Humans really aren’t meant to be this high up and it’s no wonder the local Sherpa people have noticeably ruddy complexions.
Today was the first day we’d almost kept pace with our porters. We’d just been leaving our bags out and buggering off and they’d magically appear at our next destination. We had five porters between the ten of us and our bags only weighed around 10kgs, so each porter was carrying 20kgs of our crap plus his own, hopefully making it under the 25kg maximum it’s recommended that you should allow a porter to carry. We’d met a Russian chick at one lodge whose group thought it was fine to get their porters to carry four bags each. We asked her how heavy their bags were, thinking maybe they packed lighter than us because Russians are double hard and don’t feel the need to pack all of the thermals in the world, and she replied they were about the same as ours. You’re shitting me?! They’re carrying 40kgs each? I mean, I have no doubt they’re capable of it but I wouldn’t feel in any way comfortable making another human being carry that much crap up a hill. I genuinely appreciated our porters and the work they did for us and it was good to take a quick rest with them and rope them in for a group photo. Not that they knew what jazz hands were, and even once they did they were totally above indulging the tourists and their slightly odd jazz handy ways.
We were aiming for Pheriche at 4240 metres today, but at lunch time Sonam asked Sin Mei who was our group organiser if we wanted to push on an extra hour and a half to Pangboche because it would cut a nice chunk off tomorrow’s walking which was set to be a long day. I was happy either way but not everyone was well; Sarah and Christopher looked like the were auditioning for Night of the Living Dead. I was happy to go with whatever they wanted to do but the general consensus was yes. Let’s smash this shit out and get down to 3985 metres. We were going to be below 4000 metres! Sweet joy of joys! It’s insane how the landscape changes from rocks to bleak scrub land to villages with trees. We had to deal with that mildly terrifying snow ledge from day six again and it gets pretty interesting when there are whole groups heading the other way. I took to just trying to lean as far left as I could to make it undeniably clear that no way was I stepping to the right to give way. A couple of the group were really struggling which made me realise how much of a pussy I really am. If that were me I’d probably sit down, sulk and have a bit of a cry but they got on with it. I definitely need to work on pushing myself physically rather than stopping as soon as it starts to hurt and going to the pub.
On a trek like this a flushing western toilet is like the holy grail, and one of the perks of being below 4000 metres was running water. You forget how much you miss the simple things, like being able to walk up steps whilst breathing properly, and having feeling in your toes, and brushing your teeth with water that you haven’t had to retrieve from flesh numbing water underneath a centimetre of ice. I’m glad we’d made it to Pangboche. I’m not saying it was warm enough to strip off and streak through town without taking half the town out with your nipples, but it was already better at this level. I must sound like I hated every fucking minute of this trek but that’s so far from the truth. This isn’t like that time I did the Roraima trek with 11 other people who were way better trekkers than me, most of whom I had no conversation in common with because I don’t know the first thing about economics, in near-constant pissing rain, whilst recovering from shingles and being savaged by tiny biting ninjas known as puri-puri, where I still haven’t been able to filter out the misery that enveloped my very being the whole six bastard days. I was really enjoying this trek, despite the bitter coldness and the altitude. I mean, I’m not saying I’d be rushing to altitude again any time soon and I was already rethinking my Annapurna plans to encompass a nice, easy stroll to 3800 metres as opposed to the 5400 metre mission I originally had in mind, but I was genuinely having a great time with these awesome people.
Pangboche, Khumbu, Nepal
Altitude: 3985 metres
Activity: Trekking with Adventure Club Trek & Expedition