The hard days plan was almost undone the moment we awoke in a very cold Lobuche, the additional 1,600′ sleeping position had taken it’s toll on Dorina, clearly Angels live in clouds that sit below 16,000 feet for good reason.
Her symptoms were quite a bad headache & a somewhat swollen left side of the face, they were a clear sign of early altitude sickness this form being called Cerebral Endima. Today was always going to be our last day together in the higher regions of the trek, we had both been looking forward to it & all of a sudden it was coming undone. Not wanting to panic & accept that she must go down or at the very least not go higher I agreed to keep our initial reaction to a dose of Paracetomol thinking that if this removed the headache then the symptoms were very mild & Kala Patthar or at least Gorak Shep were still possible but Everest Base Camp would be pushing it too far. The Paracetomol worked, I somewhat reluctantly agreed with Dorina’s wish to continue & assess her as we moved on up, our day might still be a very good one.
Looking back on it now I made the wrong call, although Dorina feels otherwise. Whilst we were gone from camp this day another young woman in our group who’d been suffering with early signs of altitude sickness for several days took a sudden turn for the worse & it was only the quick & decisive action of Wendy Dodds that probably saved her life. From looking reasonably good at breakfast hours later she was unable to walk & had to be put onto a mule & taken 2,000′ lower back to Pheriche where thankfully she made a speedy recovery. In 2017 whilst climbing Pik Lenin a member of our group had to be evacuated from Advance Based Camp in exactly the same way & a older guy who’d climbed the Peak 20 years earlier & ate with us early on his anniversary climb was later to be carried off in a body bag. Altitude sickness is serious, I know it & yet I allowed us to play roulette with it, not clever, thankfully I got lucky.
All this said we moved on towards Gorak Shep slowly, I monitored & asked, & could only hope that a slower than normal Dorina was telling me the truth when answering my questions. She wasn’t getting physically worse, good sign & the 600′ climb to Gorak Shep passed without incident other than me realising how technical the Glacial Moraine terrain would be to run in the race.
At Gorak Shep a stop for plenty of tea, ‘Dorina, what do you think, that’s the climb over there it’s 1,300′, not steep apart from the start but a long way to the top?’ The answer was as expected ‘yes I want to’. Now the monitoring got serious.
We set off across the sandy plateau to the foot of the climb & began our ascent. As had happened throughout the trek on previous climbs Dorina set off too fast for my liking & soon needed a rest. Apparently she is deaf to my regular comments ‘slow & steady please’. It was time to take control, take the lead & lead slowly. Despite this Dorina struggled more on this climb than any other, we stopped regularly, her cheeks were a good colour if still a little puffy & her headache remained at bay. Under this fashion I reasoned that she wants it, it’ll be difficult to stop her lets continue cautiously. We made the summit even passing a couple of people as we did so & then focused on the photo shoot & the exposure to both sides whilst trying to smile. Once again the views were sensational, obvious Everest, Nuptse (very impressive) but straight ahead the conical summit snow cone of Pumo Ri (7,165 Metres) stole the show as it loomed over us at what felt like touching distance.
We lingered a little but not long, time to get out of a biting wind & to get Dorina down. Our descent went without incident, Dorina moving faster (had she realised she’d been throwing dice?), we soon reached the sandy plateau where other group members had moved loose rocks to spell out ‘O.E.M. 2019’.
The return to Lobuche gave me more time to recce lines for race day & my thoughts were ‘you are going to take a fall or two’.
More of the group abandoned tents that night to leave just 3 standing, -18C but Dorina & I felt cosy in ours (mind you Dorina was wearing her wardrobe as well as everything in it), we awoke with Dorina being no worse for ware.
It was soon time to say farewell as Dorina had to head down to her Marshalling point whilst I made my way back up to Gorak Shep for a pre-race night in a lodge with the other runners. Before leaving Dorina told me to keep my camera with me as she could use her phone to take race day photo’s (apparently that’s what the younger generation do), this was a game changer. I had a camera, Gorak Shep is less than two hours from Everest Base Camp, ‘Paul you are not going to be that close again in your life, it may be touristy but sod the rest day you are going there’.
A member of our other team got lost on the Glacier returning from B.C. the day before eventually returning to camp just before dark & both stressed & knackered but I was lucky as Richard from the same team also had a glint in his eye. At over 60 he’d been moving well all trip & like us had done many of the extras, I was in good company & we were to enjoy our 3 or so hours together. Base Camp itself was deserted, no tents, only 4 other sightseers, the camera’s (although I think young Richard used a phone!) clicked & clicked. I even spotted a Welsh flag which shouldn’t have been a surprise as apart from Prayer Flags they seem to be the most common flag in Nepal!
Quite how the Sherpa’s & their teams turn a glacier with it’s piles of ice & rock into a flat enough spot for a sprawling Base Camp every spring god only knows, yet more reason for us Westerners to marvel at these incredible people.
We left & returned to Gorak Shep where talk soon turned to the race, the race & nothing but the race. As for me I both thought & said with honesty ‘I’ve had a great trek, seen so much, the race is no longer important it’ll simply finish things off’ or something to that effect.
The race will be a blog in itself & I’ll then leave the post race wind down & walk out to your imagination or possibly might just cover it in a presentation at the Café if my fund raising for the London Marathon dictates it.
One thing I must say though is that I feel the final farewell to our Sherpas Porters & Cooks was not handled as well as in 2012, although this was not intentional clearly lessons should be learned. Thankfully Dorina & I did manage to seek out Pema in the mayhem & hand him my big Puffer Jacket & a pair of Dorina’s gloves, the least we could do to show our appreciation for his smiling face & genuine care for us at all times. At Lukla airport the next morning Pema was wearing the jacket & we all smiled farewell.