Mt Everest Trek: Day five

By Ian Connellan November 7, 2013
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Altitude sickness both hinders and humiliates our editor on his Nepal trek.

Read more about the AG Society supported Ama Dablam Everest Trek in Nepal, run by World Expeditions. See a gallery of great images from previous Ama Dablam expeditions here.

Our rest day in Namche is set aside for a walk above the village to the Everest Panorama Hotel, and everyone sets out in bright sunshine about 9 am – everyone except me, unfortunately.

I wake at about 4am with a bad headache but decide to wait until early tea to tell trek leaders Manoj and Karma. Bad move. By about 5am I feel badly nauseous and by the time Manoj sees me around 6.30 he doesn’t hesitate to shove a Diamox straight down my throat. Diamox is the drug of choice for countering altitude sickness; it acts on the kidneys to make the blood more acidic than usual. In an attempt to maintain normal pH in the blood, the small receptors in arteries stimulate hyperventilation in an attempt to blow off excess CO2 in the lungs, which lowers the pH back towards normal. It’s thought that the increased rate of respiration to blow off CO2 increases oxygen intake, which counters hypoxia. There’s also a mild diuretic effect, which may help counteract cerebral and pulmonary oedema.

To make it that little bit more exciting, when I say I’m feeling too nauseous to eat breakfast, Manoj gives me an hour in the Portable Altitude Chamber (PAC) – a vinyl tube in which the air pressure can be lowered to give altitude sickness sufferers relief. The night before, 64-year-old trekker Mike Doolan had been the first in the group to log time in the PAC, but I’m 15 years younger, and a bit fitter (I think), so I’m struggling not to feel just a little bit embarrassed by this turn of events.

I wave off the other trekkers – knowing that I couldn’t walk uphill for all the yak-butter tea in Tibet – and embark on a quiet little walk around Namche with trekker Julia Lin and sherpa Bharat as watchdog. Hard to describe how terrible I feel. I can’t walk more than 40-50 paces without feeling like I’m going to hurl; my head is pounding and I’m as weak as a baby. We spend about 90 minutes away from the lodge and it feels like a month. When I can’t get any lunch down Manoj has me back in the PAC for another 90 minutes, and when I come out I at last start to feel a little better, although rice and dhal is all I can come at for dinner.

The night inside is a tonic, with a wood stove keeping everyone cosy and Lincoln telling fabulous stories about his mountaineering, trek guiding and travels. Marty teaches Linda and me to play a new card game — “bulls..t” — and later Rob, Alistair, Lincoln and I play the world’s least organised game of Five Hundred. I fall asleep almost as soon as my head settles on the pillow.

A portion of the profits from all AG expeditions go to the AG Society to assist in its work. Join us on an AG Expedition in 2010. Thanks to: AG Society Travel Partner: World Expeditions, AG Society Technology Supporters, Power Source Australia and Epirbhire.