Post written December 23: The past night has been the coldest so far. I’m pretty sure I was wearing most of what I own: a baselayer and fleece-lined windproof pants. Underlayers on top, with fleece and a heavy down jacket. Then I shimmied into my fleece sleeping bag liner, into a heavy sleeping bag, followed by a heavy blanket on top. And I was still cold. When Dan and I awoke, a layer of ice covered the windows.
After yesterday’s reflection, I knew today was going to be a big day. We were scheduled to ascend from 3820 metres to approximately 4400 metres. Given my hardships to that point, my gut was telling me something. I don’t think I wanted to listen just yet though.
I had maybe a third of my porridge this morning, which is the staple I had been trying to keep down for days. Today would be the least amount I had consumed in a sitting. We left the hotel, trekked through the snow and ice, and began making the 5 hour gradual ascent to Dengboche. Again, physically, my body was fighting to make it. But I kept at it. “I can do this… surely I can”, I would tell myself. At some point, I spoke with the guide, Ramesh. I had been having minor vomiting sensations. We discussed the possibility of going back down, but I requested we just assess at the next major stop.
This conversation caused me to break down. After days of staying as strong as I could, the emotional toll just got to me. I tried to hide it by staring at the mountains away from the group, but I think everyone knew there were tears. At that point, I think I knew the inevitable would happen. But I still didn’t want to believe it.
We kept ascending and reached Orsho at 4040 metres. It was lunch time, and I did not want to eat. When I told Ramesh this, it was time for the talk.
Going into this trek, weeks before I had left, I had acknowledged the possibility that something could go wrong. Having done the Inca Trail before, and knowing how my body responds to altitude, I anticipated that the trek would be difficult. Physical fitness has nothing to do with one’s ability to adapt to altitude, so to ascend to 5300+ metres to base camp would be quite a test. I also told myself that if I am advised by an experienced guide to stop the trek, I would do so.
And that ‘talk’… that moment of advice… was now here. And in the moment, the decision was definitely not an easy one.
Sadly, 4040 metres is as high as I would go. And when I recalled the previous days, it made sense: I became quite sick on day 2 of the trek with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. That day and the next three days were some of the most physically, mentally and emotionally draining days that I can remember. By Namche Bazaar (3440 metres), I began feeling the effects of altitude. And now, at 4040 metres, acute mountain sickness had set in: more of the runs, headaches, nausea, deep cough, and a complete loss of appetite. I no longer wanted to eat even the simplest of foods. I was incredibly weak and had been going for days with barely anything in my system. I’ve hiked a lot in my life, and this was by far the toughest few days.
Today, I had to face the sobering fact that my body would not be able to continue. The difficult decision was made to helicopter me out of the Everest region back to Kathmandu. Ramesh called Chhatra and arrangements were made for an emergency air evacuation. For those who know me, you’ll understand why this decision was so tough and caused me many tears. But it was also the right and safest one. Having a healthy life will allow me to keep doing (and attempting) all the amazing adventures this world has to offer. Thanks to Ramesh and Nik for being awesome, patient guides throughout this and for keeping me safe. And a huge thank you to my travel companions Dan, Sanjay, Petrina and Alan for helping me navigate a challenging decision- one where logic and reason say to turn back, but ambition wants me to keep going. Dan said something during all of this that he may or may not remember because he babbles on about stuff a lot: “Sometimes being awesome means knowing when to turn back”. That means a lot to me. It was time to turn back.
Once we reached the helicopter area, I said my goodbyes to the group. Honestly, it was heartwrenching for me in ways I don’t think I can articulate. This was my first time traveling with Sanjay and it was great. In the moment, I couldn’t believe I wouldn’t be reaching base camp with him. And then I hugged Dan- my adventure buddy in crime- and we may or may not have gotten all teary emotional. It was tough. And then they were off to Dengboche. I’m confident they’ll all make it to base camp and I can’t wait to hear all about it!
Ramesh and I waited for the helicopter to be air rescued out of the region. But first, thanks to Ramesh, the pilot detoured and flew over the Everest Base Camp area, where I was able to catch a glimpse of base camp itself. The verdict? The area is glorious in the most rocky, stark, desolate, glaciated way imaginable. God was it ever gorgeous.
I’ve had so much support throughout this trek, and all the kind words and gestures have been incredibly up-lifting. Thank you. To say that this has been a tough time for me is an understatement, and I’ll have to deal and accept this in whatever way makes sense to me. But for now, I’m keeping this quote in mind: “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” – Robert Schuller. Today was not my day… but my time will come.
Oh, and random: one of the highlights of the day? I took a selfie with a baby yak. Win!