Part 5: #EBC2017 – Climbing to Namche Bazaar and Getting Hypothermia

This is one in a series of posts about my recent Trek to Everest Basecamp (EBC). If you wish to read the posts you can access them at #EBC2017


Disclaimer: I am going to write this post as descriptive as I can, so some sentences may come across as ranting; it is not. I have had my share of sleeping and living in harsh conditions, so I am the opposite of a spoiled person.

March 21, I woke up after sleeping for almost 10 hours. My body was exhausted from yesterday’s trek, so you can certainly say I collapsed on my “bed.” I say “bed” because basically it was a wood board with a thin blanket on it that served as a “mattress.” The night was very cold around -6c degrees. I slept with my clothes on, including my gloves and wool hot, and I still found it hard to control my shaking. The walls in the room were made out of thin wood, and thus the temperature in the room was almost identical to the outside temperature; quite cold. The shower didn’t really work, and hot water wasn’t available—which made brushing my teeth quite uncomfortable (freezing water). Prior to my 10-hour sleep, I managed to rearrange my backpack a bit for better weight distribution. One of the mistakes I made on the first day is that I carried the heavier bag on me instead of giving it to the porter. I now managed to reduce the weight of the backpack from 12.5kg to about 6kg, which made the trekking much more comfortable.

Nepal - Yaks Marching to Namche
Nepal – Yaks Marching to Namche

I was up at 5:00am today. I went to sleep around 19:00, and thus was well rested when I woke up. After washing my face with ice-cold water, and eating a Cliff bar to get my body going, I stepped outside to get some fresh air. Breakfast was scheduled at 7:00am, so I had a few hours to “kill” before I could have my two eggs, potatoes, and two slices of bread (a common breakfast throughout the trek). The view was spectacular! It was cloudy the day before so I couldn’t really see the big icy mountains that revealed themselves in the morning. I stayed outside for almost an hour to watch the sun rising on these big mountains, and felt appreciative for the opportunity to be where I was at that moment.

Shortly after breakfast, we started our trek to Namche Bazaar. I was warned by others that this will be the toughest climb of the entire trek, but nothing really could have prepared me for it. We climbed for almost 1,000 meters—about 6 hours of which ~3 hours of it was straight uphill in one of the most challenging activities I have ever completed in my entire life…but wait, I will get to it.

Coming back to “shortly after breakfast.” Shortly after breakfast we grabbed our gear and headed toward Namche. I felt a bit better walking with my light backpack, and that feeling put me in a better mood. The only thing I was struggling with was the breathing. I was still trying to figure out how to breathe at this altitude, which was very difficult. The best way I can describe it is this: imagine that you’re holding your breath to the maximum of your lungs capability and right when you feel that sharp burning pain in your lungs (before you die from lack of oxygen), you open your mouth to inhale as much oxygen as possible. THAT is the feeling I got every time I tried to walk a bit faster, or if I skipped half a breath. It is a very uncomfortable feeling that takes some time to get used to.

Nepal - Walking to Namche
Nepal – Walking to Namche

The first 3 hours of the trek were not as challenging as the last 3 hours, but were challenging enough for me to struggle with my breathing. We climbed up and down, crossed bridges, and witnessed the most heavenly views I have ever come across! My senses were overwhelmed with the view around me to the point I could barely speak. I kept walking with a big smile on my face, wondering where I was. The “easy” part ended after three hours or so, and I was now facing the toughest part of today’s trek—climbing up to Namche Bazaar.

The second half of the trek started with a steep uphill climb, followed by steep uneven stairs made out of uneven rocks, and continued this way for the next 3 hours or so. Each step was a big lunge climbing uphill that repeated itself thousands of times. Shortly into the climb, I started feeling the mental part taking over my body. I felt out of shape (even though I am not) as breathing at this altitude was something new to me. The trail was relatively busy with climbers, porters, and locals who were all taking the same route to Namche. Being the competitive person that I am, I tried to compete with them by keeping the same pace and soon discovered that it was a crucial mistake as I kept losing, which added to the demoralizing feeling I already struggled with. Clearly, things were not going as I planned, I thought to myself, and it was the first time I actually broke down. I sat down on a big rock facing the valley below in order to recollect my thoughts. Bad thoughts were coming to my mind, anywhere from “what am I doing here?” to “I cannot do this.” I felt frustrated, demoralized, and the thought of quitting made me want to cry (I don’t like quitting). It is at this moment I (re)discovered a new “muscle” I have forgotten I had—the mental muscle.

Nepal - Getting my head straight
Nepal – Getting my head straight

As I was sitting on the big rock facing the green valley below, strong cold wind blowing on my face, I realized that my struggle is not physically but mentally. I needed to come up with a plan to climb this monstrous challenge—a plan I later called “the short goals” plan. It was a simple plan, but it helped me go through the entire journey that was ahead of me. In a nutshell, I set myself short goals as I was climbing up. A short goal was usually a big rock 5 meters ahead of me that I needed to reach. Once I reached that goal, I would pick another short goal. I kept repeating this process hundred of times until I actually reached the final destination for the day. The second part of the plan was never to look forward, or up. Whenever I picked a goal, I put my head down and kept walking until the “goal” crossed my eyes. This is the point when I looked up to pick a new short goal. It was a simple plan, but it helped me keep my focus. It disconnected me from the negative voices inside my head (the “let’s quit this” voices) and helped me organized my mind. I felt at peace after coming up with this plan—though very tired physically— and knew then that I have discovered the secret that will take me all the way to Everest Base Camp.

Nepal - Namche Bazaar
Nepal – Namche Bazaar

By now I have climbed for almost 3 hours. My legs were beyond tired, I was breathing heavily, my eyes were red because of the dried salty sweat, and overall I was completely depleted. When I finally entered the gates of Namche Bazaar, I felt as if I wanted to cry out of joy. I never thought I will reach there, but I did, and it felt super good! When I finally arrived at our hotel (The Nest) and sat down at the table in the dining room, a strange thing happened to me that I have never experienced before. My body has started to shake uncontrollably, and I felt very cold. In addition, my heart rate dropped to about 45 bpm and I felt a bit confused. I knew immediately what was happening and I needed to act fast! I was getting a hypothermia. The temperatures went from hot to cold, and vice versa, during the climb (strong winds will drop the temperature instantly), which encouraged sweating (hence the hypothermia). In addition, I exhausted my body during the climb and forgot to replenish the carbohydrates (glycogen levels) I lost during the activity. My body was getting into a shock, and I needed to act super fast if I wanted to continue my adventure and not be flown back to Kathmandu in a helicopter.

Nepal - Namche Bazaar Airfield
Nepal – Namche Bazaar Airfield

Shivering, weak, and disoriented, I immediately went back to my room and grabbed two Cliff bars which I shoved down my throat in seconds. I then took off my clothes and got into a very hot shower, followed by wearing all the hot clothes I could possibly wear. I went back to the dining room and ordered a big bowl of soup and some hot tea, and that seemed to help. My heart rate slowly climbed up to about 65 bpm, and the shaking slowly started to fade away. I was in the safe zone again and seemed to overcome this awful and scary experience. I kept sitting in the dining room for another two hours or so until I went back to my room and fell asleep for about 12 hours. I was tired after the long climb and the minor shock my body has gone through, so I think sleeping was the only thing my body could think of. I never slept 12 hours in my entire life, so that was a strange feeling in itself.

Nepal - Namche Bazaar Sunrise
Nepal – Namche Bazaar Sunrise

We stayed in Namche Bazaar for two days (acclimatization day), which was great because I needed the rest. On the second day, we climbed to Hotel Everest View to view Mt. Everest for the first time, and also prepared ourselves to the next part of the trip: climbing to Tengboche.

To be continued…


This is one in a series of posts about my recent Trek to Everest Basecamp (EBC). If you wish to read the posts you can access them at #EBC2017

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