Sunday, May 4, 2008

Down, Down I Go




We’re going down, down, down. We’ve reached our goal. And that is so hard for me to fathom that I still don’t know what I did. My glasses fog up so much and as I’ve said my fingers freeze so I haven’t been able to really inspect the photos, particularly at 6:30 in the morning dodging the rays of sun coming in the lodge dining room.

Today Jeta was my leader since Nima went with Brad on some more daring alternate route - he is a mountain climber. And I woke up weakened after another night of no sleep, and horrendous chest congestion. How was I going to pump my lungs sufficiently to descend for six to seven hours over scary rocks and thrills?

The fear factor is more than paragliding or diving off cliffs of Acapulco or eating snake hearts for TV. The steep descent is easier on your breathing apparatus but harder on your bent body being held up by those two trusty sticks. Some horrendous declines seemed to me to be a more efficient method of safety like I sitting on my rear end and scooting down - in spite of the loose gravel, but then there is all the yak poop. So it’s the same ole one step at a time.

We took off early yesterday from Loboche. I was frozen. It’s hard to deal with no heat, as I’ve said before. And by the time night is over, my two hot water bottle acompaneros are cold too. This lodge also has a night time toilet (i.e. a real toilet) and then day time toilet (outhouse.) She locks the night time toilet about seven. I didn’t have much appetite. Not good, but effects of the still high elevation persist.

The task was to get from Loboche to Pangboche, Nima’s home, and Tashi’s lodge where we knew there’d be hot shower and an American toilet but better, great fellowship. We would descend approximately three thousand feet. That should be a life saver for the lungs and dizzy heads. The dust, the yak dung burning and the altitude spits pain through the breathing apparatus. Karen was sick with nausea and overwhelming tiredness. Jim has the Everest hack. Even Brad is coughing and fighting a headache.

There were hundreds of people, it seemed, on the trail. Most were going upward, poor souls, and a few, usually Sherpas, were heading downward to get more supplies for Base Camp. We didn’t have to make so many stops for air or even for tea because it’s the knees and feet that suffer more (take Ibuprofen). But after one harrowing descent, my chest was getting croupy. The winds were brutal and cold. So Jim brought out his medical kit and loaded me with a couple of pills. When we finally arrived at Dingboche for lunch (where we had spent the night going up), we had been on the road, so to speak, for four grueling hours. The sun was strong and so we all sat around and let our faces tan. I had little appetite for my usual grilled cheese but I needed energy. It is imperative that we stuff ourselves with carbs and energy. I can’t shake the diet mentality. What to do. But yesterday I just felt sick.

After leaving lunch, it was pretty much descent and long, long stretches on the edges of giant mountains, hard on the arms with the sticks. We were watching the skies which seemed to be embracing the mountains with dark clouds. Oh heavens, we thought. We’ve got to move it on. This wasn’t as hard as if we would have to ascend. In fact, the few times we had short steep inclines, I could hardly make six steps before taking a rest. Then, since I was freezing, Jim pulled out his gear and made me wear his down jacket and rainproof jacket. (Jim always wears the same red jacket day in and day out.) Then the rains came. Water dripping off my cap. Winds so strong it brushed the hair off our arms. Even thick gloves were not warm. But we didn’t stop for any rests now.

It took us about two and a half hours to get to Pangboche, at last. I was a damp iceberg, coughing like death, and miserable. Tashi immediately opened our rooms and filled up my hot water bottles. Then Jim came in with the medicine kit. I was served a dinner of potstickers and potato salad in my room, but I couldn’t eat much. Most important was catching up on my sleep, now that we were at lower levels. Although I coughed throughout the night, my chest was opening. This is what altitude does to you, and the lower we descend, the better we’ll be able to breathe. I guess wheezing chests, sneezing and gross coughs go with the privilege of experiencing the extraordinary landscape in the Khumbu Valley of Nepal.

Funny how information comes from the mouths of trekkers. We still don’t know who won the Pennsylvania primary, but we know from today’s verbal morning report, garnered from passing trekkers, that we could not have left Gorak Shep and the base camp area at a better time. Over
200 people were forced to crowd into the sparse uncomfortable lodges to escape 5-6 inches of snow that fell. Thank you God. I have felt God’s step before us and behind us throughout this trip.

Photos: 1. Kala Pattha, near Gorak Shep. 2. Bottom left under black pyramid rock is base camp. 3. Looking down the Khumba Valley.

2 comments:

Richard Woodall said...

I've been following your journey through every one of your blogs. Thanks for the adventure you give to me - though vicariously. Although many times I've thought, "I'm glad it's you and not me on that expedition," I am impressed with: 1) Your realness, 2) Your spirit, and 3) Your stamina.

You go, girl! I'm proud of you!

Anonymous said...

Proud of you as always. Aren't the toilets a bang? Like when I went to SE Asia... culture shock (but at least I was in a warm climate).. Glad you are holding up and sharing your journey. Love you bunches, as always, cypriania