Sleeping at extremely high altitude is completely bizarre. The first thing you notice is that your breathing patterns are far from regular. You can be be lying there, perfectly still and semi-conscious, and realize that you are literally panting, as if you are currently jogging up a steep hill. Other times, your breathing slows down to a total standstill. Breathing patterns become short and shallow and then almost imperceptible. For a few seconds you may not breathe at all. Then, all of a sudden, you will automatically take a huge, powerful inhale which is so dramatic that it can rudely awaken you from any dream. It's all the body's way of trying to regulate your carbon dioxide to oxygen ratios while it's immersed in an unfamiliar atmosphere.
Speaking of dreams, up here they are wild, vivid, and totally unpredictable. Dreams come quickly, lasting only a short time until you next take your next sudden gasp of breath. I find that I can always go back into the same dream I was having before my powerful inhale woke me up, only now things are even more weird than before and the characters in the dream are totally interchangeable. I spent another eight hours in bizarro dreamland last night, breathing like a maniac, and dreaming all over the place. I woke up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the whole experience and was relieved to be back in reality where things are solid and predictable. Of course, this whole trek is a bit like living in a waking dream- I never really know what to expect. Where I am going to go today? What will I see? Also, with all the uphills and downhills involved, my breathing is just as irregular during the day as it is at night. Just like in a dream, the background scenery is constantly changing. At least in my waking dream, the main characters stay the same from moment to moment.
The trail runs through this valley along the right side of the river.
Today was a perfectly blue, sunny day. The weather reminded me of typical Tahoe day- cold and crisp and not a cloud in sight. It was another one of those days where we were surrounded by a 360 degree panorama of gorgeous mountain peaks. Instead of the usual up and down hiking, today we continued steadily upwards through a valley of barren tundra for about four hours with the river to our left side. We finally reached a rest point after walking down and crossing over the river. We stopped for a cup of tea at a little restaurant and we gathered our strength for the 45 minute hike up a very steep gradient to 16,000 feet. I put my headphones on for this portion of the hike and Tipper's music gave me the extra boost I needed to get to the top
Finally, the climb ended and we came to the memorial site for all of the climbers that have died attempting to summit Everest. Large, cubical, stone memorials covered in prayer flags were scattered about the high plateau, all bearing plaques with the names and dates of the fallen heroes. Some contained short descriptions of the circumstances surrounding their deaths. Most commonly, the climbers had been able to summit Everest but then had died during their descent. It was quite a solemn place and a moving tribute to the men and women from all over the world who paid the ultimate price for following their dream of standing, if only for a brief moment, on top of the world.
Memorial to the fallen climbers.
After about ten minutes, we pressed onward. You cannot afford to stand around for too long up here because of the cold winds that are always blowing. After another hour of hiking gradually upwards through a rocky landscape we came to the village of Lobuche- elevation 16,200 feet. We will spend the night here before getting up extra early and making our way to the grand prize: Everest base camp. We are currently sitting in the lodge drinking our hot lemon ginger honey tea and reflecting on the journey so far. I cannot believe that tomorrow we will reach our goal of base camp. It has all gone by so quickly, yet at the same time, this journey has seemed to last an eternity. A bit like a dream, I suppose.
View from the memorial site.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.