The dangers of hot chocolate: Struggling to Ama Dablam Base Camp, Nepal

Since the end of my seven months of travelling in June 2013, I have never once stopped thinking about doing it all again – just more professionally. And I can’t help but feel that the highlights-reel style of my blog posts from back then – which I have now imported to this blog – doesn’t quite do the memories justice. I thought I’d home in on some of my most treasured recollections and put them into a more detailed format. The upside of this concept is that I get to garnish my memories with pictures, which I have finally selected and begun to process to make them look their best.

The first such recollection is from the trail in Nepal, as Steve and I were on our way to climb Island Peak. At 6,189m (20,298ft), it is nearly twice as high as anywhere either of us had ever been. On our way there, we would visit Ama Dablam Base Camp, where we would leave extra gear for those members of our team who would go on to climb this significantly higher mountain.  This little stop would also lighten the porters’ loads and give us time to acclimatise at 4,600m and to practice our rope skills on a boulder near camp.

Ama Dablam in Nepal's Khumbu Himalayas

Ama Dablam in all its glory, towering above Tengboche Monastery.

In the above picture, base camp is just out of sight behind the orange-coloured hills to the right. We would walk in from Tengboche Monastery, which looks tiny in the foreground and sits at 3,800m. However, we had to descend to about 3,300m before ascending to Base Camp, making this by far the single most arduous day’s walking with the exception of our summit day on Island Peak.

Near Tengboche Monastery, on the way to Ama Dablam, Khumbu Himalayas, Nepal

Our tents at Tengboche in the evening. This is where the bugs multiplied inside me…

Unfortunately, my body chose this very day to let me down quite comprehensively. I went to bed happily enough the evening before, after a tasty dinner and some hot chocolate at the Tengboche “German Bakery”. Under no circumstances were we to eat cake, which due to its cream content is liable to produce rather, er, effusive bouts of food poisoning – but hot drinks are generally fine.

As we departed Tengboche and wove our way through rhododendron forests to the bottom of the gorge, my stomach started complaining more and more loudly, until I dry heaved while crossing the wire bridge across the river. Steve repeatedly offered to carry my bag, but I declined, being mortified at my own weakness. Thanks to our porters, we only carried water, a jacket and cameras anyway – surely I couldn’t fail to carry my own?! But after I refused several times and slowed down more and more, Samira, one of our guides, commanded me to hand over my bag to Steve.

Near Tengboche Monastery, on the way to Ama Dablam, Khumbu Himalayas, Nepal

Lovely rhododendron forests near Tengboche – Hata-san walking briskly ahead.

As we began to ascend again, with well over 1,000 vertical metres between us and our destination, things started getting ugly. While I never ended up throwing up, I felt nauseous and so weak that I could only take a few steps at a time before having to stop, and after a while I developed a headache because I couldn’t bring myself to drink anything. These being the standard symptoms for the onset of altitude sickness, I was naturally worried – although I was reassured by the presence of Chris, our other guide, who stayed behind to bring up the rear with me. A veteran of many expeditions on 8000m peaks, I trusted his assessment and considerable experience fully, and he consistently nudged me to go on, to stand up again and to keep moving.

Worrying about altitude sickness, I was on the verge of turning back at many points during the slog up to Base Camp. In the end it was Chris’s gentle insistence that kept me going and helped me stumble my way to Ama Dablam Base Camp. Of course, he turned out to be correct – after I wheezed my way into camp well over an hour after everyone else and collapsed into my sleeping bag, I was out for a couple of days with nothing but a nasty bout of food poisoning.

Ama Dablam in Nepal's Khumbu Himalayas

Our tents at Ama Dablam Base Camp. At this point, it started to get really quite chilly before sunrise and after sunset.

It was just as well that we had a full rest day scheduled, which allowed me to start to recover – although from this point onwards, I was always among the slower members of our team. But I made it up Island Peak with the slow-and-steady approach, which is all I could have asked for.

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