[Note from Sabrina: I just spoke with her this morning. She’s doing well, and is on her way down from Basecamp. Judging by the fact that she wrote this entire story on her cellphone, I think it’s safe to say her fingers are still intact)
My apologies for the disjointed mess of my last post. The internet, when available, here in the himalayas is sketchy at best. After writing it out a few times and losing it, I sacrificed any resemblance of style in my rush to send it off.
I am feeling weak and tired today. It is so much colder. We wake in the mornings, our water is frozen and the frost covering the ceiling and walls of our little plywood room give the impression of sleeping in an icebox. We are getting more remote every day.
I don’t know how anybody lives here. The mountains are spectacular but the weather and lack of oxygen make the land hostile and unforgiving. The Sherpa are a tough and resilient people. Porters carry loads three times their weight in huge baskets piled high, with a strap across thier forehead, sometimes wearing only flip flops on their feet. Still, we have been incredibly lucky as last week it was storming and snowing. And Govinda, our guide, has said sometimes it is not even this warm in September. There is nothing like doing without the basics of oxygen, warmth, showers, and clean clothes to fully appreciate them. You cannot imagine what my nails look like.
We have an awesome group. There is Alan and Chloe from England. They are in the middle of a year long trip around the world and add a lot of humour to our little team. Jack and Alix are from Australia. They are on their way back home after spending a year living in London. Jack is a chef and Alix is a science major who has been working as a nanny and is a real sweetheart. Shelly and Jamie are a super nice mother/daughter team from Seattle. Shelly is a nurse, her daughter Jamie is a crazy fit accountant. The last couple are Ashley and Liam. Ashley is a perky, young doctor, a first generation Canadian of Philipino decent and Liam is a civil engineer from Ireland. Everybody except for Jim, me and Shelly (who is 49) are in their twenties but we have all meshed together nicely.
Before I became so nauseous and lost my appetite I was craving meat. In one of the tea houses (correction – they do have limited electricity through solar and generator) cheezeburgers were offered. I was so excited. What came was a slab of yak cheese between two pieces of bread. Talk about disappointed ! The food is generally inconsistent except for the Dal Blat. Meat is scarce.
We make the final push to base camp today. It is like someone has flipped a switch on the group. There wasnt much talking at breakfast. Most of us are feeling pretty rough except Jack, Alan, and Jamie. Sadly, Alix has had to turn around and we will meet her a couple of camps down. She is being escorted by one of the porters. We have passed many memorials of people who have died on these mountains. A sobering sight.
We made base camp! It was an awesome feeling of accomplishment reaching our goal but base camp itself was a little underwhelming. It was a far smaller area than I imagined, rocky and uneven. BUT we saw the khumbu ice fall between base camp and camp one. I have read much about it but didn’t think we would see it from where we were. It was exciting for me. A large percentage of those who die on Everest perish there because it is notoriously unstable. We heard the roar of three avalanches and saw two very small landslides. It was surreal. On the the hours back to camp the world faded out for me. There was no past, no future, no place and no people. It was just the click of my poles and the sound of my feet hitting the earth, one after the other. Everything else disappeared.
The day after base camp the plan was to go up Kala Patthar. Unfortunately, we were in pretty bad shape. I was coughing badly and blowing blood out of my nose, Jim was dizzy and faint, and we both were heaving with bad headaches. We haven’t been able to stomach much for days. From the peak of Kala Patther you are face to face with the peak of Everest. Only Alan, Jamie and Jack were attempting it. Even 15 minutes before they set out, I couldn’t decide what to do. Jim wasnt going but I so badly wanted to look Everest in the eye. Base camp was the goal but for me, so was Kala Patthar. In the end, sense trumped sand. I have made my peace with it. There is no doubt in both of our minds that not going up was the right decition for us. Jack ended up coming down. Alan and Jamie made it. We have met Alix again. She toughed out another day but had to be airlifted to the hospital in Kathmandu where she is now. Jack went with her. Hopefully we will see them when we get back there. We are on our way down now. We should be there in four or five more days. Already we can breath better and the symptoms of altitude are fading. The air is warmer, our appetite is back. Ashley has managed a shower of sorts and has said “It is so nice, I don’t smell like vomit anymore”. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and there is no question that I have aged ten years. I hope it’s reversable. We are having a break today. We need it. I think that whether you are on a mountain or managing daily life, you can’t avoid the uphills. You soldier on and take a break when you can. For now, I am off to eat some Dal Blat. Tomorrow morning it will be Tibetan bread with honey before setting off back on the trail.