“The mountain always wins. You never win. Occasionally it just decides to let you through.”
With all that has been going on in Nepal in the last month, it has been an emotional time for many, including me. I have worried and feared for friends that were in Kathmandu, I have seen other friends of mine lose loved ones. It has taken a huge toll on many. While for myself, for those who didn’t know, I was evacuated out of Dingbouche on the way to Everest Basecamp with pneumonia and acute pulmonary edema. I was incredibly lucky to be in a place where I could be evacuated or otherwise I could have died. After my stint in the hospital I met someone also evacuated and he said to me ‘the mountain always wins. You never win. Occasionally it just decides to let you through’. This has resonated with me for a while considering the incredible misfortune people have been suffering in Nepal during the earthquakes. It has given me time to reflect on my own trek while I was there before everything went sour for me. The following is the first 8 days of my trek to Everest Basecamp.
We didn’t start on the best of notes. The day before we were due to leave I came back to find my friend on the bathroom floor dying of a chest infection. I went to the pharmacy, bought her the best antibiotics I could get my hands on and then fed her paracetamol to lower her fever while I sat in the bathroom with her with hot water steaming out the bathroom while I rubbed tigerbalm on her back and tried to pound some of the crap out of her chest.
The following day, despite still being a total mess we got up and went to the airport as a group to get our flight to Lukla. But there was a thick fog over Kathmandu that day and our flight was delayed until the fog lifted. We sat in the airport for four hours before they said the fog had lifted enough for us to leave. We got onto the bus that took us out to the tarmac to wait for our plane only to be turned around and told that we had had our flight cancelled due to bad weather in Lukla. It was somewhat a blessing in disguise. We got to go home and rest for another day.
Day 1- Kathmandu to Lukla, Lukla to Phakding
Better luck than the day before and the skies were crystal clear and we managed to take our flight to Lukla. We were told that the best kinds of views are seen from the window on the left side of the plane so we rushed our way in to get prime seats. I had never seen anything more spectacular in my life than the view of the mountains as I excitedly flew next to the Himalayas on my way to Lukla.
Before I knew it we were approaching the runway which is pretty much a strip that runs on an incline uphill from a sheer drop at the beginning of a cliff, to a cliff wall at the other end. I could see how it had gained the reputation as being one of the most dangerous airports in the world.
After eating lunch, it was time to start on our way towards Phakding, our first destination for the evening. It was a relatively flat and easy walk and along the way I met the most adorable boy who was drawing with permanent markers. He drew a watch on my wrist with red permanent marker to match his watch that he was wearing and for the rest of the trip I wore that red watch until it eventually rubbed off. Every time I looked at it, it made me smile.
We arrived in Phakding and checked into our tea house. After dinner it was time for a rest. It had been a long day.
Day 2 – Phakding to Namche Bazaar
It was the first day of solid hiking and as my friend was still not feeling a hundred percent it was a slow day. The views as we progressed along the trail became more and more spectacular as the day progressed. For lunch we stopped in a village where there was a small boy who was believed to have been reincarnated from one of the elderly men in the village down the way. He apparently can tell you who his mother was and other family members from his previous life. Incredible story.
As we continued on, we arrived at the foot of the town of Namche Bazaar, the town that was later to be the epicentre of the second massive earthquake within the region. We were staying near the top and it was starting to get dark. It was a long slog up giant staircases but we eventually made it. The night was spent hanging by the fire and playing Monopoly (in which I behaved like a five year old competitive child and won everybody else’s money and properties).
Day 3 – Day hike to the Everest View Lodge
Acclimatization day number one. We started in the morning in decent enough weather on the climb up to the Everest View lodge. About half way up it started snowing and the weather turned and became freezing. Eventually we made it to the top and sat in the lodge drinking tea and soup, somewhat disappointed that our first ever view of Everest was not going to happen due to the haze covering all of the views. It did have a very eerie and cool feeling to it though.
On the way back down we got lost as there was so much snow we couldn’t see the path. At one point we went the wrong way and then had to back track. I fell over in a super muddy patch and got my pants incredibly dirty and yet still laughed the whole way. It was a great day and I was settling well into the routine.
Day 4 – Namche Bazaar to Debouche
I woke up not feeling the best. I was starting to cough a little and my lungs were starting to hurt. We walked the first part on the flat and for the first time I laid my eyes on Everest. She popped her top out from behind a bunch of other mountains. As far away as she was, she was daunting and beautiful. We sent our porter ahead to buy some boiled eggs from a local place and we ate those as a snack before the hard work began… the massive uphill climb to Tengbouche.
I struggled. But I kept on going at my own pace with my earphones in and I actually made decent time. At the top I was fairly spent and we tried to go to the Tengbouche monastery but it was not open. I had a rest on the stairs out the front and then made my way down the hill another twenty minutes to Debouche where we sat around by the fire, drank lots of tea and went to bed early.
Day 5 – Debouche to Dingbouche
I woke up feeling great. The rest had done me good from the day before as had the cold and flu tablets I took to try and kick my symptoms overnight. The hike for the most part of the day was fairly flat along the edge of the mountain ridge towards the holy grail of mountains. Towards the end it was getting very windy and two of my group members started to feel unwell. One of them started vomiting. The altitude was kicking in
Eventually we arrived in camp at Dingbouche and got settled in. I bossed the others into drinking heaps of water and got the nurse from the volunteer medical centre to check them over. They both were diagnosed with moderate altitude sickness. I had a test myself and my oxygen levels were normal. My heart rate was getting pretty high though and was 124. I assumed this was somewhat normal for me as I have high resting heart rate anyway. I took a couple of photos on extended shutter of the mountains in the dark and went to bed.
Day 6 – Dingbouche Day hike
Up early and time to do the acclimatization hike. I was feeling good until I started and as soon as I started uphill I started feeling the effects of the altitude. Breathing was harder. I felt so ridiculously fatigued I didn’t know if I was going to make the top of the hill at 4700m. I kept plugging away at it slowly, determined. I knew that if I couldn’t make this I couldn’t make basecamp and I was determined to do it. I watched everyone else sail up the hill past me and felt rubbish about it. I eventually got there. I sat for half an hour resting and looked out over the most spectacular views. Then I started my descent.
Once I got back to the teahouse I sat with two minus twenty sleeping bags on trying to get warm drinking a 2 litre thermos of hot lemon. I tried to read my book and couldn’t concentrate. I still felt incredibly fatigued and was trying to stay awake for the afternoon and do what I needed to to ward off altitude sickness. Eventually I caved, ate dinner and went to bed.
Day 7 – Getting evacuated from Dingbouche to Kathmandu hospital
At one in the morning I awoke to severe coughing with the realization that I was coughing up handfuls of water. High altitude pulmonary odema had set in and I knew I was in a very serious situation. After a night of trying to be calm and conserve oxygen we sent for the helicopter and they evacuated me back to the hospital in Kathmandu. The dream of getting to Everest basecamp this trip had died. But I knew I would be back to finish what I started at some point later, because I hate not finishing what I started.
If you haven’t read already, check out my blog post “This Week I Almost Died” for a more detailed account of what happened when I got evacuated off of Everest Basecamp trek.