I woke up very early this morning in the Friendship Lodge in Dingboche. The temperature on my watch showed -1 C, and the water beside my bed is partly frozen. For the first time on the trek I slept with clothes on in my sleeping bag. Slightly too much information there perhaps, but normally I never ever wear clothes in a sleeping bag, no matter how cold. I even wore a hat. And this is inside, so I cannot imagine how cold it is outside. In under a week, if I make it that far, I will find out, as by then we will be camping, on a glacier, and at 1,200m above where we are now.
I said above “if I make it”, as if you have seen my previous entries you will know that for the last day or so I have suffered from mild AMS symptoms, and they aren’t pleasant. They aren’t exactly the end of the world either, being bad headache, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath, but the point is you can’t let them get worse.
There are only two worse types of AMS, and without wishing to overdramatise the situation (although I have been called a drama queen many times in the past :)) they can both result in death within a day if not treated immediately. One is called HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema), the other HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). With one you drown as your lungs fill with fluid, the other is fluid on the brain. I don’t want either, funnily enough.
Anyway, I won’t be getting any of those for two reasons. One is that we are being very well looked after on this trip by our guide Ngima and his assistants. They carry full medical equipment including a Gamow bag, which is used to pressurise the air and relieve symptoms, and also oxygen and dexamethasone. Secondly I know my body well enough, I think, to know when to cry for help. I don’t want or need to summit Island Peak that badly that I want to put my health at risk. I am reminded of the quote that Ed Viesturs (Ed has climbed all 14 of the World’s >8,000m peaks ) uses often in his excellent book “No Shortcuts to the Top”, which goes something like “getting to the top is optional, getting down is mandatory“. That’s an ethos I won’t have to try too hard to follow, believe me.
Anyway – back to today. We are now at 4,360m or so, having arrived here from around 3,800m yesterday, and so today it is very important to acclimatise. You can do this in one of two ways – either you stay put for a while (a day or so) before moving any higher, or you can do an acclimatisation walk. This means that you climb higher, and then you come back down so that you utilise the ‘climb high, sleep low’ philosophy. With this technique you are (even though you have just ascended higher than you would wish to stay), coming back down to more oxygen rich air, which your body craves. We took this latter approach.
The morning was yet again clear and crisp, and also very frosty, and offering beautiful views of the surrounding peaks. It is now cold enough to merit down jackets, gloves, and hats are essential at all times. This was the view I woke up to in fact, of Lhotse in the distance:
We began our ascent of Nangkartshang Peak (5,050m) at around 7.30am. The walk is steep, almost unremittingly steep, and a struggle for me right from the start. Very quickly however, some spectacular views were on offer, including our first proper view of Island Peak, nestling below the gigantic Lhotse. It still looks a fairly fearsome peak in its own right, and the snowy summit ridge was clearly visible.
As we got higher, the massive soaring Ama Dablam was to our right, Lhotse in front of us, and gradually we got sight of Makalu, at 27,765 feet the fifth highest mountain in the world. Around every corner in the Himalayas you see something different, and as you get higher into the upper Himalayas the views get more spectacular still, as the panorama of ridiculously tall peaks gets more and more impressive. I have in fact now seen four of the top 6 mountains on the planet (Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu) today alone.
The westbound view from here alone also shows just how substantially the landscape has changed:
The climb up also showed the difference in walking abilities/fitness in our group quite markedly. For example, Tony reached the summit in 1 hr 25 minutes, Rob in 1 hr 40. I brought up the rear with Maureen at a shade under 3 hours. How telling this is for Island Peak I do not know, but I am sure that Ngima has it figured out. I asked him on the way up (at a rest point where I could breathe) as to the ‘success rate’ on this trip. He said it was a little over 50%. If I’m terribly honest with myself I will be amazed if I make it, but we will see – I’m not giving up yet by a long chalk.
The summit itself of Nangkartshang Peak is very small, and adorned by prayer flags. I did manage to take a couple of panoramic shots, shown below. If you click on these they will expand and look more impressive….
The whole vista was simply magnificent – and very cold, but I was very glad to have made it to over 5,000m – my watch showed 5,100m or so as seen below:
The walk back down was straightforward, and it was nice to get to more oxygen rich air. The climb up was over 700m, and actually took us higher than we will get to tomorrow, which is a place called Lobouche, at 4,940m. I got back in around an hour and a half, the same time as it took Tony to get up. I really hope, that if I do get to attempt Island Peak, that I don’t hold these guys up. I got back with nothing more than a sharp headache, which after a couple of Paracetamol abated significantly.
After a lunch back at the Friendship Lodge we were treated to a demonstration of how a Portable Altitude Chamber (PAC) bag works. It was fascinating, and Ngima showed how just by pumping air in with a foot pump, the effective altitude reduced from 4,400m to 2,600m by placing my watch inside.
After a quick walk through the village with Rob to kill a bit of time (where we were afforded a great view of Island Peak) it was back to base for dinner.
We then had our evening briefing for the walk to Lobouche tomorrow. It seems a reasonably straightforward affair (if anything can be straightforward at 5km up in the air), albeit punctuated by a pretty stiff climb in the middle.We will also apparently see a number of shrines and memorials to the many people who have lost their lives in and around Everest. That will be a very emotional experience I am very sure.
In just two days time now, I hope, I pray, I will be at Everest Base Camp, staring at the Khumbu Icefall, surrounded by Nuptse and Lhotse, and treading in the footsteps of giants, both animal and mineral, and getting no doubt even more nostalgic than I have been so far.
You have so much thinking time in the mountains, whether just when walking, or during the inevitable numerous times that you are awake in the night due to the altitude. I will share some of those deliberations another time. Bring on tomorrow.