Thursday, 25 April 2013

High Camp Birthday Highs and Lows

Day 8
Letdar to High Camp
7 km
8.30 am - 1 pm

Today was Sarah’s 31st birthday which didn’t mean too much schedule-wise except that we both were looking forward to a birthday slice of apple pie at the end of the day… However, the first we thing we did this birthday morning was empty out our shoes as some field mice had kindly planted a good portion of our dried fruit in each one, a small parting gift with the light of day… We had decided not to hit the road till 8.30am as we didn’t have a long distance to go due to the altitude, so we relaxed over our buckwheat pancakes that were drowned in honey and sipped our masala tea while watching the keen early morning hikers race pass the large window, shivering in the cold morning. We just sat back and smiled with our piping hot tea in hand.  

Avalanche warning sign and our narrow path
We set off with Andy and Miriam, hiking at a fairly decent pace to warm ourselves up, although a few sections required that we slow the pace and creep along carefully as they were avalanche prone. This meant the path was reduced to about 10 cm in width, covered in small, slippery rocks and shale and having a huge drop down a cliff on the right-hand side. With only one hiking pole each this meant we took it very cautiously!

About an hour and half after starting we stopped at a tea house with a view and A&M kindly shouted us a birthday Masala (something greatly appreciated as the price of tea increased proportionately with the altitude….) The views along the valley were awesome and we again took our time enjoying the scenery and company as we knew it would be a short hiking day.

Birthday cuppa - thanks Andy and Miriam!!
From the tea house it took only another hour to arrive at Thurong Phedi, the camp where many people spend the night before the final ascent.  We had decided, however, to continue onto High Camp for the night as this meant we would have less of a climb the following morning.  We rested in Thurong Phedi for an hour to help acclimatise and shared another tea with A&M, but around midday the clouds began to close in and we decided we’d better head off in case it worsened.  

Even though A&M were staying in Phedi for the night they decided to hike up to High Camp with us to help them acclimatise, hoping to descend again before the clouds rolled in with snow.  It was a tiring slog to say the least, up a steep slippery slope that looked akin to the surface of the moon, and we were definitely feeling the effect of not much O2 in our lungs! Even so, we arrived at High Camp within the hour and reluctantly paid the exorbitant price for a room – there’s not bargaining power when there’s only one place to stay!  

We farewelled A&M as they now needed to descend before any snow arrived and then we settled in the common room for a light lunch as we wanted an early dinner and an early night so we could make an early morning start the next day.  We met up again with Neville and Louise, the pseudo-Aussies we’d met a few days earlier, and when the skies cleared again around 3.30pm we all went for a small hike up to a look out point and saw part of the narrow, snow/ice covered track we’d be taking in the morning.  After much debate, and listening in on everyone’s discussions, we decided to leave at 6am even though there were quite a few people leaving as early as 4am. Since such as early hour would mean packing and leaving in the pitch dark, and keeping the narrow track in mind, we thought waiting for daybreak was a better idea.

View from our small afternoon hike across the mountaintops
We enjoyed a tasty dinner, followed by the long awaited for slice of apple pie for Sarah’s birthday, before we commandeered another hot water bottle and climbed into our cold bed to try and get some sleep despite the excitement that on the next day we’d be conquering the pass!  It turned out that it wasn’t the excitement that prevented sleep at all.  At around 11pm Sarah woke up with the feeling that she was drowning due to the lack of oxygen at 4850m – it hadn’t helped that she’d stuck her head in her sleeping bag to try and stay warm which further depleted the oxygen supply... Luckily Dave knew a few meditative breathing techniques and managed to prevent a panic attack, and we then spent most of the night huddled together ‘deep breathing’ in slow careful breaths, trying to fight the altitude sickness that can be quite frightening. The thought, however, of having to battle the steep, slippery descent back down to Phedi in the dark was almost as scary as the sensation of drowning.  

The glorious 5am sunrise
So the good nights sleep we were hoping for didn’t happen as every time Sarah became drowsy her breathing would slow and she’d re-awaken panting for breath. It was a long night to say the least and we were both still awake when we heard the 4am crowd leave, and even though we could've joined them we still didn't like the idea of tackling the narrow track with one pole and a head torch each. It was a mighty relief to see the first cracks of light appearing on the horizon at 5am, as for some reason everything seems a bit better when the sun is out, and we decided that we'd come this far and even though Sarah had had some altitude sickness we would still do our best to conquer the pass. We gladly packed up our sleeping bags for the last time and prepared ourselves for the morning's adventure...

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