The low cloud from yesterday had cleared, sun broke through the curtains that didn’t fill the window of my room. When your view from the tea house bedroom is the highest mountain range on earth I didn’t want a curtain anyway. The mornings ritual of breakfast, a wash and sorting your water and kit for the day was now routine. Today was slightly different, as we were to do an acclimatization day and condition our bodies for the higher altitudes to come. Stepping out into the cool fresh air of Namche we followed our guides to a small outpost used by the army, from where we would get our first view of Everest and Ama Dablam.
The path wound itself around the plateau’s and terraces out of Namche. Climbing higher and sleeping lower allows our bodies to adapt to the thinner air, the blood can carry more oxygen around our bodies allowing us to perform later on in the trek. Ascending slowly also reduces the risk of High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). HACE appears in patients with acute mountain sickness which causes the trekker to become disorientated, nauseous among the symptoms. The brain swells with fluid and the patient must be taken to lower altitudes quickly with supplemented oxygen or death can occur. HAPE is brought on due to a shortage of oxygen caused by lower air pressure at high altitudes. It is life threatening as the lungs fill with fluid and the patient struggles to breathe and the chest becomes tight. Evacuating the patient to lower altitudes must be immediate for any chance of saving the person’s life. Altitude sickness was a topic that was frequently talked about on the trek, the teams doctor regularly checked all of us on a daily basis. Unbeknown to me at this point the reality of altitude would affect the gentlemen I was sharing a tent with and the consequences of not acclimatizing would be very real in a few days time.
Following the day acclimatizing to the altitude we would leave Namche Bazar out through the plateaus and onto Kunde at 3840m. The snow was deep on the trail and it was exhausting at the higher altitude. We crossed over the pass and into Kunde, the temperature really dropped during the afternoon and the drawn out line of trekkers dropped into Khumjumg for todays overnight stop. The tea house was a stunning building, but cold! We all huddled around the wood burner in the centre of the room and like penguins in a large group we rotated to let the outside trekkers in to the middle to warm up. After a game of cards we all went to our rooms to get a good nights sleep.
The trail followed the valley towards Ama Dablam, it left Khumjung towards Deboche the next overnight stop where we would be back in tents. On our way we would stop off at Tengboche Monastery. It is situated in the Khumbu region and was built-in 1916 by Lama Gulu for the Buddhist monks of the Sherpa community. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1934 and rebuilt before being destroyed by a fire in 1989. Climbers stop off here to be blessed and pray for safe passage to the summit of Everest and the surrounding peaks.
Just a short walk from the monastery is Deboche, our porters and guides had spent the afternoon clearing snow and erecting our tents for tonight’s camp. We all had a choice here of either our tents or a room in the tea house. My tent was calling me, I missed being in the tent. The gentleman I shared with was now struggling and opted for the tea house.
The following morning we woke to up to a very quite sombre atmosphere in the camp. Snow had fallen overnight and the space between each tent was full to a point that opening the tent door was difficult. Anyone who has camped in snow knows that silence that snow brings to a camp, sound seems muffled, this added to the atmosphere. News soon spread that three backpackers from Germany had made camp next to us and had trekked up from Lukla very quickly without guides as they had a short time window to get to base camp. Unfortunately overnight one of the group had passed away overnight with altitude sickness.
A bowl of warm water for a wash and some tea was brought to our tents, we packed our day packs and all slowly made our way over to the tea house for breakfast. Ama Dablam stood tall above our camp and our thoughts were with the backpackers as camp was struck, the prayer flags fluttered and we set off on another days trek with the effects of altitude resonating in our heads.