Thursday, September 8, 2016

An attempt at 3 passes - Day 6 to Gokyo via Renjo La

I woke up at 3:30 am in a sour mood - I was tired and in pain because of carrying my backpack all these days and because it was mind numbing cold at this hour. Somehow I managed to get ready in time for the breakfast which I couldn't eat as it was too early in the day for me to consume any calorie rich food.
We packed some food for the journey as crossing a pass means no shelter till you reach the other side and come down back to the valley. This also implies that we needed to carry more water than usual considering we would be gaining lot of altitude in one day and hydration needs would be higher than usual (to counter the effects of altitude). We had chosen the more difficult side to cross this pass - we would be climbing 1000 m to get to the pass and lose 600 m to get down back to civilization. The views are more beautiful this way but climb is exponentially tougher and most folks prefer to cross the pass from Gokyo to Lungde.
Anyways, it was too late for us to change our plans and thus, we started the hike at 4:45 am - the sun had started to come out giving a nominal feeling of warmth. Given I was tired already and this was to be a really tough day, I decided to offload a fair bit of my load to the porter. I had carried about 12 kilos (including water) till Lungde but today my backpack was about only 5-6 kilos. It had only essential clothing, medication and water. 
We were already in Very High Altitude zone to begin with and I was not surprised that initial few steps of the climb started to leave me breathless. I decided to slow down to allow my respiration to catch up with the ever thinning oxygen. A few minutes into the hike, AA realized that he had forgotten his phone back at the lodge and he went back to retrieve it. Not wanting to delay us, he decided to run back to the lodge - a big mistake at such altitude. By the time he caught up with the two snail paced women, he was very breathless and kind of turning blue thanks to lack of oxygen. Given his current condition and his discomfort the previous day, I and the guide both felt that he needed to start taking Diamox. 
AA took some Diamox and we rested a bit for his breathing to become normal before proceeding with the hike. After the initial climb to the ridge, the route was mostly flat. The views were amazing and at one point we even walked through a dried up mountain lake - felt like a dessert crossing. The ups and downs of the route were not really steep but the lack of oxygen had started to tire AD & I out significantly more as compared to AA (who was on Diamox). 
Lake en-route to Renjo La
We encountered another lake (this one had water) and after that the route started getting steeper. The last 90 minutes to the pass comprised of stone steps which were more uneven than usual due to the frequent seismic activities affecting the region.

Renjo La lies at an altitude of 5340 m which is considered Extremely High Altitude - so it was no surprise that as we got closer, we could barely walk a few steps before requiring a rest to get breathing back to normal. Low oxygen levels also tire you out as body is unable to convert glucose into energy.
These last 90 minutes felt like torture - I couldn't breathe, I couldn't climb (was extremely tired) and I couldn't go back as Gokyo was closer than Lundge at this point. Both AD and I continued to struggle till we reached the pass. AA was doing amazingly well and showed no more low-oxygen related distress.
We reached the pass around 11:50 am - 7 hours is a long time to walk without much break and at such altitudes. On the way, a hiker had passed us and he was practically running - he was high altitude runner and his aim was to do the whole trek from Lungde to Gokyo in 4 hours!
View from the pass - Gokyo lake in the distance
Once at the top we all had something to eat (I couldn't manage much due to my tiredness) and some black sugarless tea to drink. The views were just awesome but the cold and thin air didn't allow us to stay here longer and we started the descent just after 15-20 minutes. We still had 3 hours of hike ahead of us - all downhill or flat but not easy. At this point the cold and the low oxygen had started to give me a dull headache - a sure shot sign of altitude sickness but since it was almost time to descend I wasn't too worried - descent meant more oxygen and hence improvement in all vitals!
Descent to Gokyo Lake
First one hour of descent was nightmarish for me - the slopes were steep with lot of loose stones and dirt - making it difficult to get good footing. Then we encountered snow on a very steep slope - at one point I just couldn't move forward lest I fly off the face of the mountain. Our guide noticed my dilemma and held my hand till I was comfortable to get down on my own.
Our guide helping me on the snowy slope
My headache that should have subsided with loss of altitude instead increased with time and my tiredness continued to get worse. Only thing that kept me going were the amazing views of the Gokyo lake and valley. Guess my inability to eat had caused me severe fatigue - once again! (I had similar issues at HMI base camp)
Finally around 3:30 pm, we were in the lodge at Gokyo called Fitzroy Inn. We chose this one because we wanted attached toilets. As luck would have it, only one of the available rooms had attached toilet and AD & AA were gracious enough to let me have it - I must have looked pretty close to dying :)
After a cup of hot mango juice, I gathered enough energy for a shower and went to bed - I was too tired to even sit, let alone chat. While I didn't sleep (it’s not advisable to sleep immediately at high altitudes) I did manage to get some rest before joining them for dinner. I ordered some lasagna but I couldn't have even one bite. I had some potato croquettes instead and retired for the day.
Thus ended one of the toughest and longest days (10.5 hours from Lungde to Gokyo) I have ever encountered while hiking. Only HMI trek comes close to this one but there I was able to carry the full load till the top. Today even without the full load and then no backpack for the last few hours, I was quite close to just giving up. The big difference in two treks was the altitude - our hike today had started at the altitude of HMI base camp and then taken us to the same altitude as EBC before descending to Gokyo.

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