Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Crossing

Day 10 Manang to Yak Kharka
Elevation Change:  1673 ft.
Elevation of :  13287 ft.
Distance: 6 miles
Time:  4 hrs

Yup thats Chantra.

Snow, snow, snow.  It’s everywhere now.  The trees are gone and all that’s left is rock, ice, and powder.  We’re really high up now and it’s freezing.  I’m not sure if I’m starting to feel the altitude but I think it’s getting a little bit harder to breathe.  No signs or symptoms of altitude sickness though, thank god.  My head is clear, no headache, it just takes a bit more effort to catch my breathe.  The weather is still good and after a day of rest in Manang, me and Chantra feel rejuvenated.  Not much to report today.  This “town” has only 3 buildings in it.  We saw some yaks and generally froze our asses off. 

Day 11 Yak Kharka to Thorong Pedi
Elevation Change:  1312 ft.
Elevation of :  14600 ft.
Distance: 4 miles
Time:  3 hrs.

Wow we’re really high now and it’s definitely harder to breathe.  This is about as high as I’ve ever been.  10 years ago I hiked up Mt. Whitney and it was about this high.  I felt fine then but I was also 10 years younger and 60 lbs lighter but that’s neither here nor there.  =)  Only 2 houses up this high.  How can anyone live up here?  There’s literally nothing but snow and ice.  Me and Chantra are really nervous now.  We cross Thorung La tomorrow.  Weathers clear enough for us to do it but can I really get my fat ass up over this pass?   I’m really thinking that I bit off more than I could chew.  I guess we’ll see tomorrow...

Day 12 Thorong Pedi to Mukthinath
Elevation Change:  3169 ft. to Thorung La
Elevation of Thorung La:  17769 ft.
Distance: 4 miles from Thorung Pedi to Thorung La;  6 miles from Thorung La to Muktinath; 10 miles total
Time:  10 hrs.

Ladies and gentlemen I would like to announce that the impossible happened, We, that is me and my beautiful wife Chantra, actually managed to drag ourselves up and over this mountain!  I can’t believe it!  Seriously, I didn’t think it was possible.  But let me rewind for a second and tell you about me and Chantra’s incredible day. 

It started at 0400 in the morning.  We had to start that early because it was going to take 4-5 hours to get up to Thorung La and another 4-5 hours to get down the other side.  It was pitch black and freezing cold outside when we got up.  We donned our headlamps, put on our boots, zipped up our jackets, and headed out into the night with hopes of slaying this beast of a mountain.  Let me tell you, that was no easy task. 

The first part of the crossing was extremely steep.  All the trekkers, guides, and porters formed a line and we slowly started our ascent.  Me and Chantra were close to the end of the line.  It was so cold that despite the boots and 2 pairs of socks and 2 pairs of gloves my toes and fingers started to go numb after only 30 minutes. 

The sun rose as hiked on.

The climb was surreal because although I knew we were getting higher and higher, the darkness hid any evidence of it.  When I looked down, all I saw was a field of snow fading into blackness, and when I looked up, all I saw was a line of lights slowly snaking up this mountain like a glow worm.  And so we hiked on and on and on.  There seemed to be no end until we reached a point called High Camp.  We stopped and rested for a while.  Our guide told us that it wouldn’t be as steep any more but that the trail continued on for at least 3 more hours, and that even though it wasn’t as steep, it would be more difficult because of the altitude.  So with a heavy sigh, and nervousness and anxiety in our hearts, we continued up the mountain.  At about 0530 the eastern sky started to brighten and I knew the sun was about to rise.  All I could think was, thank god, bring us some warmth because I literally can’t feel my fingers, toes, cheeks, or nose.  The cold and wind had done quite a number on me. 

One last outpost before the final ascent.

At about 0630 we reached 5000 meters.  Up to this point, besides being incredibly tired and cold I was feeling alright.  Chantra was tired and cold but able to continue.  There was one small shack here with a single individual selling warm cups of tea.  Where the hell did he come from?  I don’t know but I was glad he was there.  It was like an oasis in the middle of the desert.  We took some time to rest and warm up and then, after a 10 minutes or so, I looked at my wife and asked if she was ready.  She gave me a quick short nod and we continued on or “Jam, Jam” as the Nepali’s say.  

However, it was at 5000 meters that things started getting a little hairy for me.  As for Chantra, she had no problem with the altitude.  It was only a matter of putting one foot in front of the other for her.  I could tell by the look in her eye that there wasn't anything that was going to stop her from getting to the top.  Man my wife is one tough lady. 

But for me, it was a different story.  First of all I’m way out of shape and overweight.  Secondly, I started experiencing symptoms at about 5000 meters.  First symptom, headache.  It was minor at first and I didn’t want to say anything.  But it was getting worse and, as a Nurse, I knew that this was the first sign of altitude sickness.  But we were so close and I didn’t want to turn around.  So I kept my mouth shut and hiked on.  Then I started getting dizzy.  At this point I let my guide know and asked how much further it was to the top.  We only had a few hundred meters in elevation to gain and we’d probably be across in an hour or two.  I can’t turn around.  I won’t.  After about another hour it became very difficult to breathe.  I couldn’t even hike more than 20 or 30 feet without having to stop and catch my breath.  Inhaling deeply brought a dull kind of pain and harsh ragged cough.  I was thinking, “Great I’ve already got neurologic symptoms and now pulmonary edema may possibly be starting?”  I wanted to turn around and if I was alone I probably would have.  But Chantra was symptom free.  I didn’t want to be the reason she couldn’t cross.  So I struggled onwards. 
My guide kept telling me that we were almost there and I thought, “God Damn It!  If it’s so close how come we’re not there already!”  And then finally I saw him stop, turn around, and smile.  When I reached him he simply pointed.  I followed his finger and saw a row of beautiful Tibetan prayer flags and a tiny little sign that said “Congratulations for your success.   See you again.”  I was so tired that all could do, between each gasping breath, was to shake my head and hug my wife.  We had done it.  18,000 feet.  I’m so proud of my wife and myself.  I didn’t honestly think I would make it.  But it just goes to show.  You just never know what you can do or how far you can push yourself.  My own father said I wouldn’t be able to do it.  I can’t wait to show him the pictures.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rest finally...

Day 8 Lower Pisang to Manang
Elevation Change:  951 ft.
Elevation of Manang:  11,614 ft.
Distance:  9.3 miles
Time:  4 hrs.

God it’s getting cold.  There’s considerably more snow now.  It covers most of the trail in fact.  The rain seems to have passed and the sun came out today.  Arjun told us that we need 3 or 4 days of clear weather and we should be able to cross Thorung La.  Me and Chantra are pretty nervous about the pass.  To be honest, we’re not sure if we’re fit enough to get across.  Oh well I guess you’ll never know unless you try.  No point in worrying about it now right?  We spent dinner huddled around a small iron wood burning stove.  There are few luxuries at this point.  Electricity?  Forget about it.  Warm water?  Well there’s a solar shower that can heat up enough water for about 1 or 2 baths.  Good food?  Ehhhhh, mediocre at best.  At this point the only luxury we have is the fact that we have to start acclimating to the altitude in preparation for crossing Thorung La.  That means 1 day of rest in Manang and much shorter hikes until the crossing. 

Day 9 rest at Manang
Elevation of Manang:  11,614 ft.

Oh man, I hate to admit this but I’ve started to accept some pretty disgusting habits.  So let me tell you what I did.  I woke up this morning at 0600 as usual and I wanted to brush my teeth.  I go to the sink and turn on the faucet and nothing.  No water.  Unfortunately at this altitude night time temperatures regularly drop into the negative and water is frozen in the pipes.  But I have to brush my teeth right?  So I look around for water and the only water available is in the bucket next to the squatty potty that people use to wash the poop down into the septic tank.  I could ask the kitchen to boil me some water but that would take time and waste resources and they’d charge me an arm and a leg for it.  My guide tells me it’s o.k. and that the locals use that same water to brush their teeth.   So I think to myself “fuck it, the water’s clear, it probably won’t kill me right?”  I dip my tooth brush into the bucket, brush my teeth, rinse my mouth, and wash my face with the water in that old dirty bucket.  And I know it sounds gross but I didn’t get any diarrhea or any ill effects from it.  In fact a little bit later I used it to shower.  When my guide asks if I did it I say yes.  He laughs a little bit pats me on the shoulder and says “This is Nepal”. 

Besides that disgusting little story we finally got a day of rest.  At this point in the trek we have to start acclimating to the altitude.  But that doesn't mean we're not hiking.  During our one day off we have to hike up to an altitude of about 4000 meters stay their for an hour or so and then hike back down.  The good news is that neither me or Chantra feel sick, but then again theres still about 8000 more feet to go.  For now I'll just keep my fingers crossed and hope everything works our alright.

Tibetan Prayer Flags.  In the higher elevations the people are of Tibetan descent and primarily Buddhist.

Manang Valley

Frozen Lake