Last night was one greatest nights of sleep I have ever had. The large down blanket on top of my North Phace sleeping bag made all the difference. I actually slept the entire night and didn't wake up until dawn had already broken. This was to be another one of those "rest" days which, as we have learned previously, means hiking straight uphill for hours and hours and then coming back down again. Now, keep in mind, we are already at 14,550 feet, which is higher than the summit of Mount Shasta. Imagine what it's like to have to get up early at this level of altitude and then have to hike another 1,400 feet up the side of a steep slope. No one said this was going to be easy.
The whole theory behind these acclimatization days is that you go up as high as you can so that your body produces the extra red blood cells in order to cope with the increase in altitude and then you come back down to rest. This way when we hike up to 16,000+ feet tomorrow, our bodies will already be adjusted and so there is less chance of getting high altitude sickness. If you aren't careful and you ascend too quickly, you run the risk of not only bad migraine headaches but also respiratory edema whereby your lungs fill up with fluid. In the worst case, you could come down with cerebral edema in which the brain swells up with blood. Both conditions can be fatal and require emergency helicopter evacuation. I just witnessed an unconscious hiker being carried down on the back of a Sherpa, so I can confirm that the dangers are real.
Therefore, although hiking up to 16,000 feet today felt like a daunting task, it was much more preferable to the alternative so I took the hike in stride, so to speak. Fortunately, we were not in any kind of hurry to get up to the top on this hike and there were plenty of opportunities to stop and rest. Also fortunate was the fact that we were surrounded by majestic snow capped peaks in all directions. I thought our last rest day was amazing when it came to the scenery but today was just as good if not better. Words cannot describe the beauty of this area. I could try to describe how the gigantic, jagged peaks thrust up into the sky, defying both gravity and logic but, honestly, you will just have to come and check it out for yourself.
We were blessed with beautiful blue skies and mild weather for the entire ascent. At a certain point on the climb the blue sky was quickly replaced by gray clouds.
Highest point reached on our "rest" day.
All of a sudden, the wind which had been blowing all day picked up and the temperature dropped dramatically. Our summit was in sight but we all agreed that it was best to turn around before the storm closed in. On our way back down we passed a number of groups eagerly going up in the other direction. Either they didn't know that a storm was about to hit or they were just blindly following the directions of their guides and trying to get to the top regardless of the circumstances. We hiked our way down through the cold wind and made it to the safety of the lodge just as the first snow flakes began to fall. This turned out to be a pretty significant storm with big flakes falling thickly from the sky. Our day hike was over and we were safe and warm but I couldn't help feeling sorry for all those groups that were still ascending as we rapidly made our way off the hill. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in our rooms under blankets. I finished Bear Grylls book *spoiler alert, he summits Everest (although it nearly kills him). By the time night came around I was ready for another solid night of sleep.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.