Writing a daily journal definitely helps me to keep track of the date, even though I think it’s a total waste of time to calculate which day of the week it is.
Today, we walked about 2.5 hours from Dole (4110m) to Machhermo at 4465m, just in time for lunch. This is already higher than Aconcagua base camp, but I’m still feeling good about the altitude, not even feeling a headache. Staying with “Sherpa” items on the food menu also kept my stomach happy (I mean calm, though obviously it’s not as filling as I was used to). Sherpa tea and stew became my routine of every meal, and the rice dish “Dal, Bhath, Tarkari” (Lentil soup, rice, vegetable curry) is one of my favorite meals now! I want to be safe and stay away from meat.
The morning is clear, with Cho Oyu in front our eyes most of the time. Cho means “Lake,” and “Oyu” means Turquoise (jade). It’s a beautiful mountain. Similar to the view of Everest, a huge flume of snow dust is blowing off from the summit that covers half of the view of the mountain.
Shortly after lunch, snow flurries dropped from the sky and have been non-stop all afternoon. If the snow continues like this, there might be avalanche danger on the trails ahead, and we may need to stay in Machhermo to rest for tomorrow.
At Dole, we had the lodge all to ourselves. Here we were joined by a big group of college kids. There was a talk about altitude sickness at the health post office at 3pm, so I took the opportunity of the quiet moment to work on my laptop while everyone went to the talk. I’m happy to find that my laptop still works here. I heard that non-SSD computers would start to have problems around 4000m, so I was a little bit nervous when I pressed the power button. So far so good!
Obviously, altitude sickness became the topic of our chat when Brad and Mike came back. For most people who have had experience with altitude, their experience with altitude sickness is mostly related to headache, loss of appetite, or trouble falling asleep. But here at such an extreme altitude, altitude sickness means life threatening HACE or HAPE developed rapidly (in terms of hours, not days) without any warning. Not only are people who have been to such altitude not immune to it, even Sherpa who grew up here and have been climbing all their life here can develop it suddenly.
Minus 40 degrees may not sound so cold to people who have worked in Alberta or have done a lot of winter climbing on Mt Washington. The coldest continent, Antarctica, can easily beat Everest in terms of coldest temperature. But the extreme altitude makes it a totally different game. 8000m (26000 ft) is the death zone. What does that mean? Not only does our body cannibalize itself, it also shuts down a lot of basic functions, such as heat generation. That’s why, in the Himalayas, climbers wear much heavier layers than climbers on other mountains even though the temperature does not appear to be so extreme. Unable to generate heat, sense of body parts and judgment capability also deteriorate. That’s why it’s so easy to get serious frostbite on Everest. The death rate on Everest may not sound so extreme given all the commercial guiding making it more accessible to many non-professional climbers, but that does not make it less serious. The injury rate is way higher than people would expect. It’s too easy to sit on the couch and blame climbers making “stupid” mistakes high up on the mountain.
Note to readers:
I may mention people I met on this trip, but in no position I am serving as storyteller of their experience here. Only official announcements or reports from themselves directly should be relied on for news on any climbers on this trip. Premature news sharing would cause false expectation or unnecessary worry/ desperation to those who care about them.