Day 10 - Pheriche, Nepal
Day 10, May 8, 2018. 3.8 miles, Pheriche acclimatization day, elevation 13,840 up to 14,600 and back.
Sari and I awake in our sleeping bags to the sounds of a helicopter just a few hundred yards from our window. “There goes Roman,” we sigh and then giggle like the total fan-girls we have become. To attempt an Everest summit takes a lot of guts, determination and the ability to detach oneself from the very distinct possibility of death or having to turn back, mere meters from the top for lack of time. Intriguing, but not sure it’s something I would like to try, I think.
We head upstairs for a leisurely 8 am breakfast, as we are staying the day in Pheriche to do another acclimatization hike before continuing onward tomorrow. To our surprise, Roman and Rafael are still here — this morning’s helicopters have all been heading down the mountain and their’s is due to arrive soon. All of us photographers compare mirrorless camera notes with Raphael about the benefits of Sony vs. Fuji and what else we all like to shoot when we are not in the Himalayas. He is excited to be in the company of people who understand his chosen craft.
After breakfast we say our final goodbyes to R&R and take off with our group to head uphill. We will hike as far as we feel comfortable to on the hill to the right side of town. It is a bit slow going as we make our way, everyone taking photos of the surrounding mountains and navigating around other groups of trekkers who are also doing acclimatization hikes today, plus of course, we’re a bit out of breath. Except for Alex — he breaks out into a rendition of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” while sitting on a rock and waiting for the rest of our group to catch up. Danny and I start laughing and then Alex all but forbids us from filming him.
There’s no official destination for today’s hike, just up in elevation, and I’d like to go farther, but the clouds are starting to thicken over the mountains above us and it seems like our guides want us to get back down before we get stuck in the impending winds, (either that or they lack faith in our group’s overall abilities to go much further). The pace of a trek like this is slower than all of my previous backpacking trips and so I’m feeling a little antsy — like I want to stretch my legs more and keep moving. At the same time I don’t know how my body will respond to higher elevations if I don’t allow myself enough rest. So down we go back to Pheriche and the promise of hot lunch at the Edelweiss.
Every day at 3:00 in the afternoon, the Himalayan Rescue Association gives a talk at their Pheriche Aid-post about altitude and all of the signs and symptoms to look out for when traveling to heights such as these. Sari, Kaddy, Heather and I head over there after lunch. William, who’s attended the talk on his previous visits decides to sit this one out and Danny opts for a nap instead.
Outside of the Aid-post is a beautiful, albeit stark reminder of the mortal dangers of high-altitude climbing. The Everest Memorial is a cone-shaped stainless steel sculpture, divided down the middle into two halves, with the names, dates and nationalities of those who have died on Everest etched onto name plates in the space between. According to a description on the outside of the sculpture, rocks from the surrounding mountains fill the interior framework while the surface itself is “not trying to compete with the mountains, but instead reflect them.”
Today’s talk is being given by Simon Randfield, a general practitioner from Scotland. The HRA was established in 1973 in an effort to reduce the amount of casualties in the Himalayas as the numbers of foreign and local trekkers to high altitude were increasing. By teaching people about and treating people with Acute Mountain Sickness, the HRA has saved countless lives over the years. Simon teaches us about what we should expect to feel as we continue up in elevation and what signs to look out for.
The Himalayan Rescue Association is a non-profit which relies primarily on financial and supply donations. Simon and the other Western doctors who work with the HRA are all volunteers. During the two trekking seasons, aid-stations in Pheriche (on the way to Everest Base Camp) and Manang (in the Anapurna region) provide emergency evacuation services and medical assistance to trekkers and mountain expedition teams. They also provide free or inexpensive medical services to the local Nepali communities.
This year is the second time (and 20th anniversary) that Simon and his wife Helen have volunteered with the HRA. For the last six weeks they have been stationed here in Pheriche with a third foreign doctor, Carlo Canepa, a New York native, now practicing in Boston, and with whom we talk excitedly with about our favorite pizza spots. A fourth doctor, local Nepali, Thaneshwar, is spending his 7th season here with the HRA. With just two weeks to go in the spring trekking season, they have already treated hundreds of trekkers. They are a warm and welcoming group and in meeting them, my faith in humanity and belief in our human capacity for generosity is restored. Either that, or it’s the lack of oxygen that is making me feel so verklempt.
Back at the Edelweiss, we enjoy our third meal of the day and sit around the stove once again, keeping warm and chatting away with some fellow trekkers from all over the world. A large group of Indians, many now living in The Netherlands, are on their way down from Base Camp and are celebrating with beers and Khukri, a Nepali rum that William has warned us off of — at least until we’re on the decent. Despite all the warnings from the HRA this afternoon about the effects of drinking at altitude, I do accept a splash into my hot tea when offered, and dang, it feels nice. But just one splash — we are going up in the morning after all.