I ’m breathing heavily, like Darth Vader. My legs are aching for a massage and my nose is running like a tap. Fingers and toes are frozen beneath fleece-lined gloves and woollen socks. The faux yak-fur cap keeps falling off my head, causing mild anguish.
The backpack weighs a tonne. I’m farting like a trooper and trying to hold back from peeing. Yet none of these are major symptoms of altitude sickness.
So I have a go, and find the heart to climb for the prayer flags at the top of Kala Pattar (5,545m) for this mesmerising view of Mount Everest which I cannot forget.
I admit that getting to Everest Base Camp was a surreal experience and feelings of relief and accomplishment washed over me as I returned to the entrance gate at Lukla at the start of the trek. I still recall the decimation of trekkers to altitude sickness at Gorak Shep (5,153m).
I walked with three trekking groups that final morning and most seemed okay, but by lunchtime half of the groups were sick, some trekkers even had to descend immediately.
I had somehow escaped malady. All I thought about that day was eating and sleeping, and I had some quite vivid dreams at high altitude involving friends.
I prayed that I would be able to sleep at the highest lodge in world. On the previous seven days of the ascent, I had been woken up several times in the middle of the night by a call from nature to be confronted with an icy, messy squat toilet or crack pit in the bare wooden floor. Sometimes I noted that the other trekkers’ accuracy was questionable and the luxury of a western seat toilet without frozen plumbing was now only a mirage in my mind. But it seemed that the gods were on my side that night as I slept entirely through it for the first time.
I also recall one British guy who would just stare into space or slam his head on the dinner table at the lodge as he was very sick, and meanwhile I was addicted to Chupa Chups, which proved soothing for my contemplative mind. It was as if I was slowly
re-energising each cell of my body through small doses of glucose, as altitude and the lack of air at that height had zapped all my energy.
I totally resented the Nepali Maobadi (Revolutionary Maoist party). We were all forced to ‘donate’ 100 rupees ($2) to their cause against the current government at a roadblock; their revolution being exactly why I had not travelled to Nepal four years prior. When they asked me if I wanted to buy their supporters’ t-shirt, I just turned away in disgust. In hindsight, I was one of the lucky ones, as on the popular Annapurna trails some trekkers were coerced into donating 2,000 rupees ($40), and the Swiss backpacker who refused to pay was later beaten up by the Maobadi.
I remembered the first time I shaved after five days. It took 20 minutes as the growth was so thick, and then it was also freezing, so the shaving gel stuck to my face for ages like glue.
At the first ‘luxury’ lodge ($15) I made a beeline for the showers and hot water. I luxuriated in the plentiful rivers on tap. I recall closing my eyes with my head arched back, as if in some dream sequence or fantasy. It was as if earlier I was a solitary Lawrence of Arabia character in the desert, deprived of what I wanted most – to quench my thirst. But here it seemed available in ample supply, a veritable surfeit of warm aqua, so I indulged in this moment, this once. After having dipped and relaxed in fine liquid gold, I was entirely relieved from any stresses of travel I had once felt.
Lastly I would like to say that Sir Edmund Hillary was very good at Stairmaster. I don’t think I will neglect that piece of gym equipment again as it does come in handy on steep ascents on Himalayan peaks. Completing that trek in the mountains showed me that I have more mettle than I have ever given myself credit for.
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