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Out of breath in Gokyo

NEPAL | Sunday, 9 October 2011 | Views [358]

A few weeks further and finally getting use to the lack of oxygen..!

At the time of the last update Mika had already moved on to Maccherma with the rest of the crew (coordinator Chhewang, cook and multitasker Kancha, doctor Helen and doctor Sean, physio Anna and five dzopkios to transport all medical and personal gear (no huge backpacks for these lucky guys!). Upon arrival at the rescue post there were some emergencies requiring three heli-evacuations in the first few days, however after that it was pretty quiet until the October-trekking season finally kicked in.

Life at the post is fairly relaxed as there are not many patients: a few locals, some porters and tourists, but on average between 2 and 5 per day. The issues can be very simple (cuts and grazes) or complicated (mostly trekkers with medical history who are stressing their bodies on the way up to some pre-defined GOAL). Part of the work is therefore to make people aware there is more than Everest Base Camp, Gokyo or some high pass to climb, so that’s where the daily altitude talk comes in.  Attendancevaries strongly on how many trekkers are in the five village lodges and what nationality they are.  We’ve seen talks with 3 people attending, but also days with 35 or more people. The talk is based on hand-written flip-over sheets with many graphic illustrations. English is the main language, but as also local porters / guides, Germans, Italians, East-Europeans and many more nationalities attend, the level is rather basic but enough to create awareness for strange head-aches, shortness of breath etc.  Asian people tend to attend less, possibly because they nearly always travel in groups, and because of fear of not understanding the English?

As part of the talk some info on IPPG is given: it provides care and shelter for porters, guides, and is partly subsidised by local bodies and partly through medical care for trekkers (who tend to be insured). At the end of the talk the oxygen saturation can be measured with a simple instrument: this is a hit as several hundreds of people do so per season, and we can charge a bit of money for it. Also some T-shirts and other stuff is for sale, but people going uphill usually don’t like too carry more weight.

The post itself is a ‘sustainable’ building (as most of the places in Nepal due to lack of money): electric power comes from PV panels; the shower is only warm if the black plastic ‘solar shower’ bag has got enough sun, and the stove is running on a mix of yak-dung  and some wood. Cooking requires kerosene, with regular supplies from the “kero-guy”. The collection of yak-dung is major business for all households at it is free fuel for the cold winter months. The women do most of the work on the fields, and this involves making flat pooh-patties that can dry and subsequently be stored for future use. So far the temperatures have dropped slightly below zero on clear nights, and the morning sun chases away the chill pretty quickly. Some  afternoons the humid air travels up the valley resulting in a thick mist, but mostly the sun can heat the common room in the post to quite a good temperature.

Daily routine is also strongly influenced by our cook Kancha: morning tea is brewed before 7, then a warm breakfast (porridge, eggs with toast, pancake) is served. To warm up the muscles we play a bit of table-tennis or go out for a morning walk. A warm lunch is served just before noon, and around 1.30 we do a round along the lodges to notify guests of the upcoming talk at 3PM. This usually lingers on till about 5PM, soon followed by dinner.  The kitchen in the lodges in the area is definitely influenced by Western favourites, and Kancha also knows a few ways to make hash browns, pancakes, chow mein, fried potatoes and much more. It’s just the lack of cookies and other in-betweens that keeps us hungry, although the regular sugar boosts (sweet coffee, tea, hot fruit juice (powder-based)) keep us alive.

Over the last few days Mika had a brief ‘holiday’ as her colleague Sean had been trekking with Anna for a few days.  We both headed up to Gokyo (3 hrs north) as a base  for some day walks. This is where it came clear that acclimatisation only works as igh as you go: in Maccherma we were both doing OK but 300m higher there was a clear shortness of breath. From Gokyo one trip is up the Gokyo Ri, which is a small peak at about 5350m. Your lungs get only 50% of their nomal intake of ocygen at such a level, so it was reasonably hard work to get up the hill. Hans was boosted by antibiotics to get rid of the last bit of  coughing, and Mika has the honour and responsibility to carry the day pack. Views were indeed great: lakes, glaciers, many mountains over 7000m and also a glimpse of the famous Everest, and best of all we fond a good address in Gokyo for freshly made apple pie!! No wonder downhill went faster than uphill. On Saturday 8th Mika headed back the main valley to the post, and Hans went over the Rhenjo La pass to the next valley west. This time nobody else to carry the backpack, so hard work! The views were equally impressive, with one side of the pass (also 5350m) having blue skies and some cloud, and the other side covered in a white-out. Just following the footsteps the views improved, and a few hours later there was a lodge for a well deserved hot soup. Biscuits and buffalo-jerky are OK, but something arm feels better. From the other side of the valley it is about 10 rs walk to Namche, where I’ve just  had my warm shower, good lunch and coffee. This is also the spot where good internet is available, and goodies as Mars-bars are for sale ($1 US each, but high up the valley the Swiss-like sherpas ask $3).

After a good night sleep I’ll work my way back to Maccherma; in the meantime Dr Sean will have gone up to Gokyo to open the medical post for a 4-week period. Sean and Mika will swap each week, so it’s likely that we’ll be back in Gokyo soon to explore some more tracks, and regain our breath!  Just the idea that there is an Everest Marathon, involving running from Everest  Base Camp (over 5000m) to Thame (3500m) and back! Anyone interested is strongly advised to do some weeks of acclimatisation!

We’ll happily watch from the side…. And do some more realistic walks in the area.

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