EBC Day 8, Gorak Shep to Pheriche
The altitude is getting the best of us. Dave still feels nauseated, diamox is not helping much. My nose is stuffy, my throat burns. Neither of us can sleep. We toss and turn, trying every imaginable position to get comfortable. This is by far the worst night of the trip, the kind when you look at the clock with a great frequency hoping that maybe despite being aware of it you managed to fall asleep, just to find out that barely 15 minutes passed from your last check.
The plan is to see sunrise from the top of Kala Patthar. This means we have to rise early, much earlier than on any other day of this trip. It’s still pitch dark when we meet Dorji, Derek, and another group from Himalayan Glacier Trekking company outside the tea house. It’s freezing. Dry biting cold penetrating through every layer we have.
Climbing Kala Patthar, the brown bump rising against the formidable South face of Pumari turns out to be a challenge our bodies refuse to complete. Dave’s nausea progressively worsens. My nose is running lice a faucet. We move at a slower rate than our bodies can generate heat, and despite of heading uphill, my toes feel frozen solid.
We are about 2/3 up when we decide to turn. I’m worried about Dave’s nausea, I don’t want to risk letting it progress to any more serious form of altitude sickness but even if he were perfectly fine, my body simply refuses to make a step further in the uphill direction. We can see the top. It’s so close but for our condition so unreachably far. I’ve read stories about mountaineers turning couple of hundred feet from the summit for reason other than the conditions of the terrain, and often I was wondering why they could not pull that bit of will power to complete their quest. Now I know.
On the way down I have plenty of time to contemplate on what went wrong. Would it make a difference if we had taken the extra rest day? Would it helped if we stayed put at the first signs of my cold to let it get better before proceeding further? In my head I’m playing various scenarios but the outcome is always the same, and it comes down to time. Yes, we should have taken more time for acclimatization.
Time. There is not enough of it in our itinerary to allow our bodies to recover and strengthen before our planned Island Peak climb. The high altitude won’t help Dave’s nausea, neither it will cure my cold. It’s a sad realization, but the safe thing to do is to abandon the climb and return to lower elevation.
Our choices are justified later that day. Two members of the other Himalayan Glacier Trekking group join us for a cup of tea after the long descent all the way to Pheriche. We chat about our experiences, waiting for two more people from their group to arrive, father and a daughter. An hour passes by, then another one. There is no sign of them. The father and daughter team were last seen during lunch break in Dughla, and the men was noticeably having hard time keeping his balance. Another hour passes by. We know their guide and porter are with them, still we worry.
Finally they arrive, 4 hours after we did. The father is not doing well. We suggest the daughter takes him to the doctor, luckily we are in Pheriche and there is one available. The doctor suspects HACE and immediately puts him on oxygen. Next day he is airlifted to a hospital in Kathmandu where HAPE is also diagnosed.
Time. Their itinerary pushed them up just as fast as ours did. Even though it seemed similar if not same to others we saw while researching the trip, it simply did not allow enough time for acclimatization. It is an expensive lesson but one well learned.