|Photo by Luca Galuzzi - www.galuzzi.it|
It stands 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) above sea level, making it the highest mountain on earth. Thousands have risked their lives to reach the top. More than 200 died trying. For decades, I've wanted to visit Mount Everest. Now, I've finally got my chance to both see it and climb it.
Don't worry. I'm not heading to the top. That requires a couple of months and costs upwards of $65,000, neither of which I can afford. Instead, I'm venturing to the Everest base camp, a mere 17,598 feet (5,364 meters) high. It's the same camp where those journeying to the summit acclimatize for several weeks before making their final push.
At the end of March over spring break, I'll fly to Nepal to participate in the 12-day hike.
I guess everyone has a different set of reasons for doing it. For me, it isn't the challenge, although the challenges are many. Instead, I'm after the experience - soaking in the beauty of one of the world's most famous mountains, visiting the monasteries and the tea houses along the way, walking in the path of Sir Edmund Hillary. I'm not scared of dying one day; however, I 'm terrified at the thought of never having lived, hence Everest, hence seeking out adventures around the world.
I'm not taking the trek lightly. Since November, I've been doing everything I can to get into shape. Each morning, I spend 35 minutes on an inclined treadmill and afterward climb the 30 floors of stairs in my apartment building, as well as any other steps I find in Singapore, before walking 25 minutes to and from school. Each weekend, I do a four-to-five-hour hike in the grueling heat and humidity, and I've been laying off all of my favorite libations. My stamina is near an all-time high, especially after months of sweating through tens of thousands of stairs.
I feel confident about the trip, except for a couple of factors. One, I worry about my ankle. Back in college, I ended up in two casts over a four-year period, so, despite strengthening exercises, my ankle has always been weak. I'm not sure how it will hold up hiking 5-6 hours a day.
Two, it's unpredictable how I'll react to the altitude. It's not a question of one's physical conditioning. A world class athlete could be wiped out by altitude sickness, while a couch potato might suffer no ill effects.
Back in 2009, I visited Peru, reaching altitudes as much as 15,800 feet (4,800 meters) with only minor problems. At the beginning of my trip, I flew directly to the Andes without time to acclimatize, suffering a bit of altitude sickness in the form of headaches, nausea, exhaustion, and dizziness, but it went away after a few days.
So, I should be fine, right. Well, actually, each trip to a high altitude is different. Past events are not necessarily an indicator of future ones.
According to The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, about 20% of those journeying above 8,000 feet will experience some sort of altitude sickness. The number jumps to 40% if one goes above 10,000.
I've read that older people tend to suffer less from altitude sickness because they take the threat seriously and ascend less slowly, thereby giving their bodies more time to acclimatize. Score one in my favour.
Acute altitude sickness is to be expected, but hikers can also experience life-threatening forms of altitude sickness: cerebral edema and pulmonary edema. In those situations, the person has to get to a lower altitude immediately. Fortunately, such reactions only occur in about one percent of the population.
The difficulty is distinguishing between routine and severe altitude sickness. That's one of the reasons I chose a highly-regarded Nepalese outfitter known for its emphasis on safety, including carrying a portable hyperbaric bag to deal with altitude emergencies. I even had to sign a form saying that the company reserves the right to make me stop hiking if they feel that I could be endangering my health.
As a 49-year old, I'd like to think that I'd be wise enough to turn back if I were experiencing major problems, but I know myself well enough that I might not. Several years ago, I broke two ribs during a caving trip. A few weeks later, I had an opportunity to participate in another trip to a rather challenging, multi-drop cave that would have involved a lot of intricate rappelling and climbing, as well as crawling through hundreds of feet of passage.
When I contacted the trip leader, he refused to take me along, saying he wouldn't accept the responsibility of me possibly puncturing a lung hours into the cave. He was right. Had that occurred, I would have died long before someone could have extricated me. Caves are not the place to be seriously injured.
At the time, I was quite angry. Looking back, I'm grateful he ignored my poor judgement and made the right call. It's reassuring knowing on Everest that experienced guides will be on hand to make such hard decisions on my behalf, if I'm waffling.
With all that being said, I am expecting good things, and I would appreciate you all sending out positive vibes/prayers into the universe on my behalf.
Although some internet service is available on Everest, I'm not going to lug a laptop to 17,000 feet. As always, I'll share my journey on the blog, but I'll do it after I return. My plan is to daily record all of my thoughts in a journal and then transfer them directly to my blog. Even if I don't make it to the top, I'll share my unedited reflections. What I wrote on the page at the time is what you'll see on the blog.
If the weather cooperates, I'll begin hiking on March 30 and return to Singapore on April 12.
I'm prepared. I'm excited, and I'm raring to get started. I hope you'll join me on my expedition.
Note: The photo of Mount Everest is being used with permission from Wikimedia Commons, a free photo sharing site.