Sunday, January 06, 2013

Bad Sport

Nuptse from Kala Pattar
I stood breathless and unsteady atop 18,300 foot Kala Pattar, a brown hillock of no particular significance but for its epic view of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse.  The hike to its slope shouldered summit was a slow slog of two short steps and a rest followed by two short steps and a rest all the way up from 17,000 foot Gorak Shep, the highest inhabited place on earth.  Though I was lightheaded when we reached the top the staggering panorama was worth every panting breath.  In the thin crystalline air Nuptse smiled with jagged snow clad teeth.

For trekkers summiting Kala Pattar or reaching Everest Base camp is the high point of their two week Khumbu adventure.  Each day of a Khumbu trek is a six hour hike of 2,000 feet or so between monestaries and tiny settlements.  That’s the formula for acclimatizing to altitude and being ready for the final push to 18,000 feet or for an attempt at a trekking peak of 20,000 feet or more.  Then at higher altitude the formula becomes two steps up and one down, where you climb to a new high point then come back down about half of the day's elevation gain to sleep.  Climb high, sleep low is the axiom. 

It was the morning after a climb high sleep low day that I woke up seeing a flight of birds in my right eye, tiny black specks in some kind of avian dance.  I was feeling fit and ready for our planned attempt on Island Peak in three days time but prudence and easy access to a high altitude medical clinic just over the ridge in Pheriche mitigated for discretion.   I couldn’t very well duck a couple of Docs an hour away.

The only things the American and the French doctor could do were take my vital signs and guess at my malady.  The most sophisticated test available was for oxygen saturation and mine was an outstanding 98%.  I was ready for a double marathon at 16,000 feet for Pete’s sake.  “Au contraire mon ami, said kindly Dr. Moreau, you probably have a retinal hemorrhage and we must insist that you go down.  Only bad things will happen if you continue.”   With those words or some facsimile thereof my hopes for climbing a 20,000 footer were dashed. 

All the way back down to Namche Bazaar I cursed like a stevedore, no pun intended.   I was so damn fit. I was the fittest person on our team, guide included.  Two solo days down the trail and two more days in Namche imbibing certain medicinal beverages brought me some equanimity.  But when my group straggled in with the news that they had been weathered off the mountain and could not summit I was not exactly disconsolate.  I was elated.


Jim Rogers Photography said...

Well, I'm assuming the reason I've not seen or heard squat from you lately was fully explained in this post. Thought maybe the holidays had interrupted your usual scheduling of posts, but that appears not the case. Whatever the circumstances, I'm impressed with the awesome photograph, and the narrative was spellbinding. Glad you had the good sense to listen to your doc and not risk anything permanent. Another great post, my friend. What a way to start off your 2013!

Steve Immel said...

Hmmm. I have posted faithfully throughout the holidays and I think you commented on one of my posts from Alabama. Anyway this image and commentary comes from a trip 20 years ago when I trekked in Nepal and hoped to climb Island Peak. The burst blood vessels in my eye put and end to that. Best

Steve Immel said...

Thanks bu the way. It's a special place.

Daryl A. Black said...

A truly stunning image, Steve, and the text is sublime. Your feeling about having to bow out of the ascent mirrors many who find themselves in the same situation. Beautifully written!

Steve Immel said...

Thanks Daryl. See you soon. S