Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 – slowly the days have started to blend together. A continuous cycle of cold nights, bland meals, and endless trekking: by day 5 it seemed like I had been doing it forever. Life on the way to Everest Base Camp had become second nature.
It’s Cold. Really Cold. I mean obviously – it’s Everest. During the day, when the sun is out and you are walking up hill – it’s not so bad. Then comes night time – and it really is that bad. Every part of you is freezing. There is no heat, no hot water. There is one, small, yak dung burning stove in the dining room. If they turn it on. If you can find a place amongst the other trekkers, guides and porters huddled around the stove.
Everyday I wore thick socks, hiking boots, long johns, hiking pants, three shirts, a fleece, my coat, a scarf, gloves and a hat. I hiked in that outfit. I ate in that. outfit I even slept in that outfit. Changing your clothes becomes an ordeal. It’s not worth it to change before bed and waking up – easier to just sleep in your filthy hiking clothes and try not to worry about how gross you are. When it does become strictly necessary to change your underclothes, it’s a strategic process of stripping off everything, changing as fast as possible and trying to ignore the stinging cold.
Sleeping is the worst. We had sleeping bags and we always begged for more blankets, but it was never enough. Wrapped in all our clothes, under as many blankets as we could find, we slept in tiny balls hoping for morning. Shannon coughed almost continuously from the altitude and I had trouble breathing the freezing thin air. The air is so cold it burns your lungs. Your nose and face freeze but the air is much too thin to cover your face with the covers. Every night seems like a constant battle to keep warm and breath at the same time.
In Namche, Shannon and I bought “booties” to keep our feet warm. We had discovered our thick hiking socks weren’t enough. Made of wool and fleece lined we wore them everywhere we weren’t wearing our hiking boots.
When I had to pee, which was often thanks to a fun side effect of the altitude sickness pills and a result of all the tea we drank to stay warm, I spent minutes debating if I really need to get out of bed into the cold air. Obviously the call of nature always wins, but it made for the most miserable moments.
Before this trip, the highest altitude I had been at was in Puno, Peru. Nothing compared to the heights we would reach during this trek. And while I was lucky not to get serious altitude sickness, I was surprised how it affected me.
On the fifth day, as we hiked to Dengboche at 4400 meters, I started to feel fuzzy headed. Each step felt like a task and it became difficult to motivate myself to move forward. I could see Marten and Shannon dragging as well. The hike on this day isn’t very difficult in terms of terrain – hardly any up hills, but we still all found it to be a challenging day. The air has gotten very thin and you feel as if you are out of breath. It was if we had just done an extremely difficult run and were now attempting to walk home. I felt exhausted and out of breath even though the day had just started.
Every night we stayed in a different teahouse. These were basic accommodations – usually one large room with tables for eating and drink tea and, in a separate building, a collection of small, barren,uninsulated rooms, with hard wooden beds. After the first few nights, there was no electricity and no indoor plumbing. There was never heat.
If you took a shower, it cost money, and you were handed a bucket of water heated on the yak dung stove. Our group actually decided not to shower during the hike. So, for eleven days we didn’t shower. Oddly, we all bragged about how it was a new “no-shower” record for each of us.
The toilets were usually squat toilets shared by everyone staying in the teahouse. In many cases they were located outside – meaning a midnight bathroom run involved running outside in the freezing air. Since there was no running water, flushing involved dipping a cup into a barrel of water and pouring it into the toilet. During the night the bucket of water would freeze solid. The bathrooms were filthy and usually the floors were covered with a mixture of water and dirt. During the night, this would also freeze making the dark bathroom extremely hazardous. Obviously, there was never any toilet paper.