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Amen I'm Alive!

April 28, 2009

It was a rough hike on Monday from Dingboche to Lobuche (~16,500 ft.). I was still sick and it was a desolate walk though rocky, barren hills, as we have long passed the tree line. We crossed a rickety wooden bridge over a rushing white river then stopped for lunch at a small tea house in the middle of nowhere. Everywhere I go I get stared at from the villagers. Even though this is a very multicultural place, with groups of Europeans, Iranians, Japanese, and others passing through, they don't know what to make of me. When the locals ask where I'm from, they never know where Hawaii is or have even heard of it. I try to explain it to one man, as an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He doesn't know the Pacific Ocean. "It's part of the United States", I say. A look of dawning comprehension glows on his face and he replies "Ah, it's by North Dakotah!" I give up trying to explain after that.

At the lunch place I couldn't enjoy my French Fries (which they call potato chips) because of the severe cold. The sun is covered by cloud and the wind whips right through my down jacket & I am chilled to the bone. We continue up a steep, tall, rocky hill, and with my stuffy head and hacking cough, I fall to the rear of the pack again. I stuggle up the mountain, one foot in front of the other, lagging farther and farther behind. Two sherpas flank me like lionesses on the heels of the weak gazelle, and their presence goads me forward. Finally I crest the ridge to see scores of stone shrines, monuments to the climbers who have died in these mountains. I wander around, reading the inscriptions, and realize that most of these are for sherpas, with only a few European or Japanese names here and there. I glance at my favorite old sherpa, who happens to be resting here, and for once he does not smile. The mood here is somber indeed.

We continue a long, long way, although the rocky ground is relatively flat now. Soon the tiny village of Lobuche comes into view and we check in to our next tea house, Above The Cloud Lodge. The names keep getting better and better. But my health does not. I feel myself deteriorating as we push higher. My head is pounding, nose dripping, unable to clear my ears with all the congestion. The sherpas are concerned. They pour me a cup of mint tea and give me the key to my room with strict instructions not to fall asleep before our next acclimitization hike. Yeah, and you were thinking that I made it to our next destination & can relax for the rest of the afternoon. This, unfortunately, is not the case. At 4 PM we must climb 200 meters straight up the hellish little hill behind our lodge. This will prepare us for the higher altitudes to come. So I sit in bed, wrapped in fuzzy blankets, fighting sleep, trying to prepare myself for what lies ahead.

The acclimitization hike was short but terrible. I was literally seeing stars as I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain. Blackness clouded into my peripheral vision and specks of brightnes twinkled here and there. Sharp pains stabbed me like needles or electric shocks in random places. I could barely breathe and it was all I could do to keep from fainting. I eventually made it to the top, to be rewarded by a light dusting of snow on my nose, but I did not have the energy to lift my hands to shield my freezing face.

I woke up at midnight shivering violently with the worst headache you could imagine. My head was pounding, pounding, as if my brain wanted to escape through my eyeballs. My heart was racing erratically & I couldn't breathe. I thought I was going to die. Seriously. I fumbled for my water in the pitch blackness but hydrating didn't help. Altitude sickness is a serious threat here, at 17,000 ft. and it often kills at night. I decided to wake up Gourav and take some Diamox.

The next morning I was still coughing and now running a fever. Gourav gave me medicine for my headache and encouraged me to continue, as this would be the day we would reach Base Camp. I couldn't see myself completing the hardest hike of the trip, but I started out anyway with the rest of the group. There was a light snow over the rocky ground and the little river in front of our tea house had frozen over during the night. As I stumbled over boulder after boulder, I soon found myself weak and dizzy, fighting for every step. It was time to make a decision. I must turn back. The mountain has kicked my ass. And believe me, I have been beat down by inanimate objects before (several rivers and valleys come to mind). But what greater an edifice to give you an ass whooping than Everest. Mighty Everest has brought me to my knees.

Was I devastated that I would not get to Base Camp with only one day left? Surprisingly no. Not at the moment anyway, although I might beat myself up over it later. So why did I turn around? Was it the mind-numbing cold, the days of being filthy, the complete physical exhaustion, the terrible sickness, or the stigma of holding up the rest of the group? Those factors all came into play for sure, but the ultimate reason behind my decision is that I could not fathom spending another sleepless night, at an even higher altitude, thinking I was going to die. I was not going to have one of those stone monuments built for me. I was not going to get helicopetered out of there. I would walk on my own two feet, no matter how painful. So I did not get my picture taken at Base Camp. I did not summit Kala Patar. I did have the time of my life in the Himalayas, see Everest in all its splendor, witness things I couldn't have dreamed of, push myself to my absolute limits, and above all, I will live to tell about it. No regrets.

I am not out of the woods yet, however. I am in a bad state and Puri is in charge of leading me down to Dingboche. We return the way we came, past the stone monuments, down the hellish slippery hill, across the desolate plain, even more desolate now with just the two of us. On and on we trudge and I feel sorry that Puri must carry his own pack plus my heavy duffel bag normally carried by the sherpa porters. After a long, sad 4 hours, I stumble into our lodge at Dingboche. The look on the inkeeper's face scares me; I must look like hell. She pours me some tea and offers to steam my face with a towel. I ask for a hot shower instead, wanting nothing more than to wash my filthy hair and crawl into bed. I get my shower things ready, excited for a nice relaxing wash, then the inkeeper comes with a bucket of hot water and a cup, explaining with hand motions that the faucet is broken and I must pour the water over my body. I really don't have the strength for this right now but am already committed, so I strip down in the freezing cold stall and squat by the bucket & pour water over myself. I don't even try to wash my hair like this. There's no way. Even if I was well I would not attempt it. I get through the wash & crawl into my warm sleeping bag, utterly exhausted, for once able to have a good, long rest. I am down to my last roll of toilet paper from all the nose-blowing. And then the diarrhea starts. Oh, just get me down this mountain.

Tags: dingboche, himalayas, lobuche, nepal, travel, trekking

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