Extract from Mark’s Blog entry:
Thursday, April 2
Trek Day 02 - Bengkar (2,630m) to Namche Bazaar (3,440m)
Luckily there are a couple distractions before the long climb at the end such as the entrance to Sagarmatha National Park and five exiting suspension bridges.
Well four exhausting hours after departure, Sonal and Ray arrived at Namche Bazaar - a superb effort! I was following Mum who was hand in hand with Nima. The reason for following was that I was bringing my CTU up the valley with me, and was suffering under the load due to the lack of training caused by my broken arm back in January. Wendy was doing a sterling job, one step at a time and an hour later arrived to meet Sonal and Ray in Namche. The killer news was that our lodge was at the top of Namche another 150m higher....
Posted by Hoseman at 1:42 PM
After our heady spell of site-seeing in kaleidoscopic Kathmandu, we were almost unprepared for the next bout of excitement of flying to and landing at Lukla (2840 m) on that remarkable and abbreviated runway. Disembarking, we were immediately awed by the towering ice peaks almost within arms reach. After so much sitting around at airports and in aircraft, strolling through various Durbar Squares or ducking and diving in and out of the traffic melee that is boisterous Thamel, it was great to slip on our backpacks and stretch our legs on the great trekking highway that is now the main route to that T-shirt mecca, Kala Patar and Everest Base Camp.
Because we had had a good start and were relatively early, a decision was made to go beyond the usual first stop at Phakding (2610 m). We joyfully pressed on to a smaller village of Bengkar (2630 m) where we enjoyed a good meal and night’s rest in our first Khumbu Tea House/Lodge and were introduced to a Nepalese-style toilet across a cobble stone yard.
My First Mistake
Next day, suitably refreshed, Mark, Nima, Sonal, Wendy and I, (the ‘High Fives’), set off for the Sagarmatha National Park entrance at Josale (2740 m) where we registered with our official permits. Mark amused everyone by enquiring who the oldest person was that had been admitted over the past few weeks. It turned out to be Wendy! My name appeared on the next turned-over page.
While Mark was still fooling around photographing a dear old Sherpani lady, who smiled sweetly for us, Sonal took off on her own. As Mark handed me my backpack he weighed it and said: “Far too heavy!” and strapped it on top of his already huge backpack.
Here occurred my first mistake. Instead of protesting or arguing, I let it be. My backpack contained my personal goodies including new fleece jacket and magnesium tablets and, most importantly, my full water bottle. See my backpack below, strapped to Mark’s backpack!. I set off rationalising that, strong as he is, Mark would soon come pounding up from behind and I would cadge whatever I needed at that stage.
Unfortunately, because of his heavy backpack, made heavier because of his new computer, solar charger, and additional gear, etc Mark decided (wisely) to take it easy during this initial stage and to keep up with Wendy and Nima, her personal Sherpa.
Picture on left shows all I was wearing. Soon, I began to feel thirsty and worried because, obviously, Mark was nowhere to be seen and obviously not about to overtake me with my backpack. As I became more and more de-hydrated, I worried even more and wondered whether I would have the nerve or courage to ask the many people on the trail whether I could beg some water off them – and then I would not know whether that water would be safe!
Just when I felt my situation was becoming desperate enough to ask someone for water, I came across ‘Naartjie Corner’ - one of the spots where, if you were lucky, you could catch a first glimpse of Everest. Here a group of enterprising women were selling tangerines. As I realised that I didn’t even have money to buy these tempting thirst-quenching fruits, I heard my name called and there was Sonal! She immediately gave me a much-needed drink of water and kindly shared her ‘Satsuma’. I assured her that she had just saved my life!
My Second Mistake
“The climb to Namche is long and takes you from a ‘safe’ altitude to one in which altitude sickness is a real danger. One important aid to acclimatisation is to avoid getting exhausted; therefore, it is important to walk slowly on this hill. Many fit trekkers have spoilt their trek by racing up this hill and becoming exhausted or worse.”
Lonely Planet - Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya by Stan Armington (p192)
Sonal and I set off together and then my ‘natural’ (Marloth) pace took over and I went (I would hardly call it ‘racing’) up the hill on my own. (My second mistake!).
Later, but too late, I was to learn the importance of the slow trudging ‘Nepalese’ pace that Nima was teaching Wendy, step by step. When I reached a convenient Tea House at the entrance to Namche (3440 m), I was quite happy to sit and wait for at least half an hour until I saw Sonal approach. By then it was getting quite cool in the afternoon so we decided to find a warmer Tea House where we could sit indoors and yet have a good window view of new arrivals to Namche. In fact, I was quite cold and Sonal saved another of my nine lives by lending me one of her jackets – a bight pink one!
We searched high and low but couldn’t find a suitable venue. We did however see our second casualty being evacuated on horseback. The first was a woman seen on the trail. This time it was an older man with his eyes bulging and his head lolling as he was being lifted onto his horse. He was carefully instructed on how hold the saddle pommel with his right hand and a rope behind with his left. He looked most insecure and I wondered how he would ever reach safety down the steep parts of the trail. Little did I realise that this form of transport would be considered for me in a day of two – “Horse or Helicopter?”
By now, it was getting uncomfortably late. As there was still no sign of the rest of the party, I grew more concerned as to what had happened to them. I knew Nima and Mark were strong as yaks and therefore felt uneasy that something might have gone wrong with Wendy. If this was the case, I reasoned that, presumably, Mark would have returned to Bengkar with Wendy while Nima would have come to look for us at Namche.
I urged Sonal to accompany me once more round the prayer wheels at the Namche entrance – to bring us luck. We then decided to go down to the Sagarmatha police post where we would be sure of meeting our party or, confirming my fears, a remnant of it.
Just then, after another round at the prayer wheels, we spotted our porters who cheerily informed us the rest of the party were on their way. Sonal and I took up positions on the stone wall at Namche’s entrance. I stretched out on my back and promptly fell asleep! In my dream state, I thought I heard Mark’s voice. I woke up and there they were – our prayer wheels had worked!
My Third Mistake
Namche Bazaar (Namche), at 3440 m, is the administrative centre for the Khumbu region. Acclimatisation is important before proceeding higher. This is the first of two specific ‘acclimatisation days’ that everyone should build into their trek schedule. You can spend the day by taking a day hike, by visiting Khunde or Khumjung or by relaxing or exploring Namche Bazaar.
Lonely Planet - Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya by Stan Armington (p195)
My third mistake was not allowing at least two ‘acclimatisation days’ before advancing to a higher altitude. In my defence, I only read about this important suggestion in my guide book after returning to Swellendam. We only spent one day in Namche, acquiring last-minute things like warm Tibetan yak headgear. The following morning we set off for Khumjung.
After deliberating at the stone stile junction whether to take the short but steeper route or the longer, more picturesque route, we chose the shorter route. In the end, it did not matter all that much for Wendy and I because, by afternoon, we were returning via the other route.
We got to Khunde (3840 m) quite happily but, at Khumjung, while photographing the entrance gate and being photographed in turn, I noticed I was feeling a bit odd. I had a typical migraine headache. By the time we got to a Tea House for lunch, I felt I had acquired the dreaded Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) ‘headache’!
Referring to the guide book again:
“You must become familiar with the early symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headache, loss of appetite, nausea and fatigue. Once you are familiar with these symptoms you must be willing to admit that you have them.”
“Three trekkers on average die each year of altitude sickness in Nepal despite the fact that we now know as much as we need to know to prevent every trekker from dying of altitude sickness.”
I also suffered a tiny bit of disorientation. Trying to tell Mark about my headache, I just couldn’t think of the word ‘migraine’ which annoyed me. We decided to heed the first and foremost well-known injunction which states:
‘Immediately descend to a lower altitude. Never ascend to sleep at a higher altitude while showing any symptoms of AMS.’
Regretfully our ‘High Fives’ would be split up with Mark, Sonal and their porter going on to Gokyo while Nima, Wendy and I returned to Namche via the longer picturesque route. Our intention was to rest for a day or two and then go to Thame to await Mark while he did his Gokyo Ri and Renjo Pass circuit.
Unfortunately, I spent a very uncomfortable night. The next morning at Nima’s behest, we were up early to witness that most magnificent panorama of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and Ama Dablam but, by the afternoon, I felt bad again. Much as I regretted doing so, I felt I had to return to a much lower altitude. We would have to forego Thame.
Major Hume (Peter) came to see me and that night we all gathered in the lodge’s kitchen (to be near the satellite phone aerial) and discussed the situation with Mark. He wondered whether I should be evacuated by helicopter but I said: “While I have my own two legs – No”.
Nima said ‘No’, Peter echoed ‘No’ and the proprietor of the Khumbu Lodge, dear old Chuldim, summed up the consensus by saying ‘No’. It was accordingly agreed that, in the morning, Nima, Wendy and I would go back to Lukla and try and get a flight back to Kathmandu. Having seen the horse rescue in operation, that wasn’t even considered.
That night, going to bed, I chanced to see Wendy’s knee – it was a huge swollen balloon! I said: “What’s wrong with your knee?” and got the inevitable answer: “Nothing!” I tried to get her to show Nima but she refused. (Pity I did not photograph it!) At least Wendy agreed to take the anti-inflammatory tablets that I had with me.
My personal thoughts were, at least we were homeward bound. I could still walk but had Wendy gone on to Gokyo, we might well have required some form of casualty evacuation. If not a helicopter or a horse, at least in a porter’s basket!
The next night at Monjo (2840 m) was my worst night ever. I sat up all night trying to breathe and didn’t sleep a wink. After a while, Wendy’s knee started paining her and by now her ankle was also badly swollen. We had a lovely offer by Mark to visit Langtang Reserve but our better judgement told us to head for home. Luckily, but also sadly, Kedar found a suitable cancellation for us.
Days later, back in Swellendam after a bout of severe coughing, I chanced to read another of my guide books. It said tersely:
“If you get a chest infection or upper respiratory infection, which is usually marked by the production of green phlegm and difficult breathing, it is time to hit the antibiotics.”
The Trekking Peaks of Nepal by Bill O’Connor p201
My symptoms exactly! I wasn’t prepared to make yet another mistake and immediately made an appointment to see my doctor. I asked: “Are my lungs injured (as a result of High Altitude Mountain Sickness) or infected? The doctor said: “It’s definitely an infection in both lungs and sinuses!” Fortunately, after the antibiotics, there is now a definite sense of improvement.
Days later, Mark (concluding independently), said he did not think I had caught AMS. He felt I had caught a chill waiting at Namche. I’m inclined to heartily agree with him – and with the doctor who felt the same! I then remembered I thought I had picked up a flu bug in the bus we travelled in to Camps Bay earlier in the month. Maybe something was still lurking in my system?
Wendy also saw a doctor who tested her knee and diagnosed an inflamed media meniscus, the cushion pad that rests under the knee on top of the lower leg joint. He was concerned that this cushion might have torn or ruptured - which would have meant micro-surgery. Nice!
It only requires three small punctures – one above the knee for the tiny camera, and the other two for the needle and thread to stitch it up! Fortunately, after a course of medication, the knee seems to have recovered - but has not been tested yet.
Anyone for 12-Uur Peak?