I’m going to get this out of the way first thing – altitude is a bitch, and that’s me being kind about it. Here’s my understanding of it, which even after everything we went through, is still very limited:
The higher you go, the less oxygen there is in the air. Seeing as how we breathe oxygen, having less of it available isn’t super awesome for your lungs and/or the rest of your body, particularly your brain.
What your body does (or is supposed to do) as you ascend is adapt to the situation by producing more red blood cells in order to absorb, carry, and deliver more oxygen. Altitude sickness occurs when your body isn’t able to do this efficiently, or when you ascend too quickly for your body to adjust.
Which means that altitude doesn’t give a shit how fit you are at sea level – if your body can’t adapt you can be an ultra marathon runner at sea level and still not last more than a few days into a trek like this. No one seems to be able to pinpoint a specific reason that some people are more easily affected than others so there’s no real way to predict what’s going to happen. Awesome.
Anyway, allowing time to cope with high altitude is the reason the trek takes so long. There were a couple of days where we spent two nights in the same place.
We’d trek there and stay one night, and then the next day we’d do an acclimatization hike where we’d hike for about 2 hours up, making sure we gained at least 500-800 meters in altitude, hang out for a little while, and then usually it would be around another hour back down. We’d then sleep in the same place the second night.
The reason for this (as I understand it) is because once you ascend to higher altitudes your body starts the process of adapting and producing more red blood cells – and it continues to do it even after you descend. So we’d hike up in order to kick our body into gear, and even though we slept at a lower altitude again at night, our body would still be producing more red blood cells. That would mean that the next day when we arrived at our next destination our body would (hopefully) have already adapted for it.
Here are some symptoms of altitude sickness, or AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness):
Loss of appetite; trouble sleeping; headache/dizziness; headache at the back of your head; vomiting
I wasn’t too bad when it came to worrying about it; there were definitely a few times I found myself legitimately concerned though. The more serious forms of AMS are called high altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema – the former being a build up of fluids on the lungs and the latter being a build up of fluids on the brain. Both can lead to death, sometimes within hours. So I felt justified in being a little weary of something like a minor headache.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we’ve finally made it to the first actual day of trekking!! It only took me 5 blog posts to get here… I’m surprised you’re still with me!
I left the last post off with a spoiler so you all already know that we survived our flight to Lukla. It was actually a really pleasant flight with a nice and easy landing.
Here’s a photo I took from the plane, that didn’t come out so great because it was an older phone, and through a thick glass window:
And these are photos of the little plane and the airport in Lukla:
There’s only one strip for take offs and landings. And if you take a look at it you’ll understand a small part of what makes it such a dangerous airport. That’s not a lot of room to take off or land.
So we’re finally in Lukla and I am SO. FUCKING. PUMPED. I can’t contain it. I love traveling, and I LOVE mountains, and I’m about to combine the two and I feel like there’s no way it will be anything less than the greatest thing I’ve ever done.
I have this tendency to get “little-kid-at-Disney-World” excited about shit where everything becomes “the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!!!!!” This was the most intense case of that I think I’ve ever experienced. I really don’t know how to accurately describe how excited and happy I was.
We stopped at a cafe called The Nest at Lukla for coffee before we started.
Of course I thought it was “the best coffee ever!!!” I distinctly remember thinking “I wonder if this coffee really is as good as I think it is, or if I’m just so excited that everything seems better than it would be otherwise.”
I got my answer to that question when I went up to order my second cup. Santosh had ordered the first ones for us so I didn’t see them making it. When I went up for my second one they poured a cup of boiling water… put some INSTANT COFFEE in, gave it a stir, and handed it to me. It definitely only tasted good because I was excited. I hate instant coffee. Under normal circumstances I’d prefer lighter fluid. I was so happy though that I just went with it.
Now we’ve had our breakfast, we’ve survived our flight in to Lukla, and we’ve had our coffees! We’re ready to jam jam! (In case you’ve forgotten, that means “let’s go!” in Nepalese).
Here are a few pictures from the day:
It’s not Burger King, it’s Everest Burger. And on the way back down I spent my last night in Lukla drinking in that Scottish pub!
This actually kind of annoyed me. I like Starbucks, and I still think it’d be nice to travel somewhere and not see a McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbuck’s, or whatever. And in an area this rural?! Is nothing sacred anymore?! I stuck with my instant coffee.
This arch is a memorial to Pasang Llamu Sherpa, she was the first Nepalese woman to summit Mount Everest.
I know, it’s a lot of pictures of animals. I can’t help it. They’re so cute!
Mantra’s (prayers) were carved into some of the rocks like this. It must have taken so much time and effort to get that done.
Then we got to a suspension bridge… this is not my forte. I’m afraid of heights. However, I recently resolved to get over that fear because I want to get in to rock and ice climbing and I think using the suspension bridges as a baby step towards that is a good idea. I made it across with only mild heart palpitations and absolutely no swearing whatsoever (not out loud anyway). Success! Then Santosh informs me that there are 5 more of those tomorrow. Son of a bitch.
The first day is only 3 hours of trekking which is perfect because Mike is still not feeling great, he’s doing better than we expected though! I think that’s partly due to the fact that none of us (or least not me!) knew that the first day is actually almost completely downhill. We started in Lukla at an elevation of 2,860m (9,383 ft) and ended the first day in Phakding which is at 2,610m (8,563 ft). No wonder that first day seemed so easy!
We were able to overcome the grueling, 3 hour hike downhill, and found our tea house. Mike went immediately to bed.
I was in love with the tea houses. Everything about them seemed adorable to me. These weren’t hotel rooms by any stretch – they were tiny rooms with no heat and two beds and that’s pretty much it. They have a rustic charm, we’ll say.
Here’s me, being ridiculously excited in our first tea house room:
Because they have no heat, everyone just congregates in the dining hall where the fire is. Since we’re all there doing pretty much the same thing (trekking) everyone gets to chatting and you can meet some really awesome people and have some great conversations. I’m pretty sure the atmosphere in the dining halls was what I loved most about them. Cozy and friendly.
The dining room in Phakding is where Santosh first taught us how to play a couple Nepalese card games. One had no name, the other was called Duhmal, I believe. That’s the one we played almost every night. Santosh and I would sit next to each other and help each other out. And by “help each other out” I mean we cheated. And still usually lost. 😉
We played for hours and then Mike made an appearance and seemed to be feeling heaps better, so that was good. We stayed up for a bit longer and then all decided to go to bed.
PJ had gone to bed a bit before me and when I finally came into our room she was laughing hysterically and yelled “Katie where have you been?! I needed you and you weren’t here!!”
Turns out she was using a fleece lining in her sleeping bag, and she had also purchased new yak slippers that she was wearing to bed. The yak slippers basically acted like velcro against her fleece lining and she literally couldn’t get in to her sleeping bag. Initially she thought I short sheeted her using the fleece lining… and I can’t blame her. That’s totally something I would do. In fact it was something I immediately was disappointed in myself for NOT having done.
She was able to sort it out on her own though. Which was good because I was laughing so hard that I was completely useless to her anyway. And then I went to bed, too.
It’s important to get good sleep this night – we’ve been told the next day is actually the hardest day of the whole trek! Yikes.