Day 11 – Different mountain, Same outcome

the descent

Altitude – 4300m

Weather – ‘its raining again’ Supertramp

Well I must say I wasn’t expecting 36 hours of absolute misery, especially after an excellent amount of time trekking to improve acclimatization. But there you have it – my body was not meant to travel above 4000m. I started to get a headache at the 3600m camp, which progressed steadily through the day yesterday until when I arrived at the 4300m lodge I knew I was in deep trouble.

What is so fascinating though is that as part of the science [our program in collaboration with the Montreal Heart Institute led by Michel White] to better understand why some people acclimatize well and others don’t, we had used oximeters for almost 36 hours; through the night at 3600m and then through the day while climbing and again throughout the night at 4300m. I made for an excellent guinea pig. The most interesting part of all was that my oxygen saturations fell to the low 70’s overnight and for whatever reason my heart rate did not respond normally, it stayed in the 50’s and 60’s. Normally that degree of hypoxia should have stimulated a big increase in heart rate to try to improve oxygen delivery to my tissues. During exercise, during the climb, my oxygen saturations fell into the 60’s. The same low oxygen saturation and inappropriately low heart rate repeated itself overnight at 4300m. I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the oximeter reading a saturation of 74% and a heart rate 56 at rest. I mean really what’s up with that? So while I felt miserable, I provided great data to try to come to a better understanding of why, perhaps, some people do not do well with altitude.

Needless to say I came off the mountain. Even more amazing is yet again Dale was by my side. He once again turned away his opportunity to go higher and further to make sure I arrived in Lukla safely. We started a 7 hour trek – up 300m (that hurt) and then down 1700m to Lukla. We arrived safe and sound in Lukla and actually met up with Charles who was still waiting to get out of Lukla by plane [no flights because of the monsoon]. What can be said about Dale other than he is a most amazing individual. He is an inspiration to all transplant recipients and those waiting, I believe there is nothing he can’t accomplish and yet he continues to put other peoples safety (e.g. me) ahead of his own goals. He acclimatized very well and I have no doubt whatsoever that had the weather been reasonable, and I had not been present on the trek with Acute Mountain Sickness as an obstacle, he would have summited Mera.

On the way down from the pass we stopped off at the local Lukla hospital and donated all of our XS meds – including Viagra (happy Sherpa’s). I had met a young woman and her baby 3 days previously. The baby had a severe skin infection extending into her ear. We did not have the right meds to treat her so I gave her money and asked her to promise {on Buddha} to take her daughter to the Lukla hospital. Serendipitously there she was when we came through! I spoke to the staff at the hospital and explained why I had sent her in. They were also quite worried given the location/type of infection and the risk that it may have caused meningitis. A clinic visit costs 50 rupees about 80 cents. Her daughter will receive the care she needs. That in itself made the trip worthwhile.

All’s well in Lukla – we even managed to have the locals watch us play pool last night! We found a place that made fresh cut fries? Can you believe it? Perhaps it was just 2 weeks of camp food but man they were good. We went to the Lukla airport this morning in the hopes that our flight would come in. They use twin Otters and have to be able to see both the runway (sloped down at an alarming degree, very very short, with a 1000 foot fall off at the end) and the mountains (alarmingly close). Charles had spent the entire day before at the airport in the hopes of getting out but no such luck. We watched 8 flights come and go as the clouds slowly moved in, then finally our flight came in. They emptied the 18 seater of people and luggage and reloaded for takeoff in under 7 minutes (Air Canada – take that!). We arrived in Kathmandu to 34 degree weather and now must make the rest of the 5 flights to get home- it will take some time.

The Montreal Heart Institute team has decided to press on to Mera despite the weather which has been getting steadily and steadily worse. We spoke to some climbers who had come down off Lhotse (>8000m peak) who said that when you’re high in the mountains you are above the clouds, so we can only hope for good weather, success and most importantly the safe return of the MHI group…..but clearly things are getting tougher. In truth the weather is so bad now that you can’t even be sure you’re not hiking in Scotland. The MHI group has a satellite phone and email access and will provide updates directly to individuals/loved ones.

Thanks for following along and for all of your comments, which were wonderful to read while the tents surfed away in the storm. IWD thanks for the equipment and satellite phone to make the blog possible; PS you were right. I must also thank Hark for all his technical support. Jason Chiu with the foundation is the poor sod who got up early, weekends included, in order to get the blog loaded – thanks Jason!!!!!

Mom I promise I am done with high adventure. The next testyourlimits adventure will be much closer to earth – guaranteed!! Stay Tuned……..


Lukla airport
nightlife in Lukla

Day 10 photos

Altitude – up 800 or so, down 200

Weather – ‘raindrops keep falling on my head’ Hal David and Burt Bacharach

We awoke to a brilliant sky. The camp was perched on a high ridge about 3600m. The sun had broken through and we finally caught a glimpse of what has been eluding us for days. Nothing had washed away in the night, everyone was still present and all gear accounted for. We set off up a steep hill and realized, since we could see, that we were highly exposed. If you look at the picture of Dale reaching the top of one section and look back in the distance you can see another hiker moving across a relatively flat section. Wow.

A few Sherpa rules became law on the day

Sherpa flat = up/down 10-30 m repetitively such that after about 1 hour you have not gained or lost any elevation [but you feel that you have already climbed a few mountains].

Sherpa factor – regardless of measure: time, distance or elevation gain; multiply by a factor of 1.5 and you will get the real amount.

We steadily progressed up the climb until we reached a spectacular area where we crossed ridge after ridge. There was a part of me that was thrilled for the mist as I couldn’t see just how far I would fall if I slipped. After about 4.5 hours we came to the lunch spot. It was a brief affair as the rain came again. We then climbed a further 350m to the pass, with vivid imaginations in play as 2 8000m peaks are normally seen from this pass – and we saw cloud/mist/rain. As part of the science all of us wore oxymeters for the duration of the hike as it was our first over 4000m. We then descended down into the lodge for the night a plain wood building with minimal amenities. We had to splurge 10$ in order to stay there – which we did happily – because it was dry. Camp at 4300m.


Dale as study subject

high exposure

sunrise over camp – day 10

Day 9 – the day of the leech

the enchanted path

Altitude – up 800m steady

Weather – ‘here comes the rain again falling in my eyes like a tragedy, tearing me apart like a new emotion’ – Annie Lennox. In truth it was a bit better today. We moved through mist and cloud with brief rain.

Last evening I went for a moonlight walk at 2 am. There was a full moon and all the constellations were visible. In the distance were two large snow covered peaks (6000m range) reflecting the moonbeams. It was so magical and so perfectly clear that I wondered whether we should turn our clock around and hike at night.

We started earlier this morning because of fears of the rain. We used a new path that was enchanted. It rose up at a 45 degree angle into the rhododendron bushes again – red, pink and white. Unlike back home these are 20 feet tall and tower over you as you walk dropping their petals on your path. There were steep fall offs as we moved along the ridge after climbing 600m. I was partly grateful for the mist so I couldn’t see just exactly how far down it went. Dale spent a portion of the day walking with his umbrella looking like a real native, but eventually had to give in to his walking sticks because of the steepness of the path. I was walking behind him and noticed a leech stand to attention and attach itself to me. I jumped, startled, and brushed it off. The second one I was a bit more cool about – oh hey there’s a leech on me, no worries – and brushed it off. The third and fourth were just irritating. By the time I removed the 5th, I thought I should see if his/her siblings wanted some blood too.

We paused briefly for a packed lunch [yeah the goat is done, no more goat!]. We then climbed a further 200m to camp.The camp is built on multiple levels at 3600m high on the ridge in the clouds. There are three trails leading to camp – two established and ours [very new].

Ablutions are a real challenge here. The photos show the good and the bad. The ugly has been censored in case anyone is eating while reading the blog]. In the wild is easiest!

We experienced such a storm this afternoon that all we were missing were the locusts. My tent is officially a Noah’s ark. We dug trenches around all the tents to prevent flooding. The deluge was immense, hail included. I think it is official the monsoon is here – we were hoping for monlater but got monsoon.

Tomorrow another big day – steady up again to about 4600m.


the good throne

the bad throne

sunset in mist

Day 8

Altitude – gain of 850m to an altitude of 2859

Weather – how many different ways can you say rain?

We woke up to rain this am at 6. However by 930 when we said a tearful goodbye to Charles the sun had come out. It was about 33 degrees. We climbed steadily out of the valley to an old monastery that was mostly abandoned. As we waited for lunch the skies again opened up and the rains came down. This time with a vengeance. Lunch was goat liver (I asked Dale how long he thinks we will eat goat and he figures about 20% of the goat is being consumed per day so hopefully only 4 more days [I don’t think we should sell goat at the Tibetan bread stand, unless Stella you think you can cook it well]). We perched for lunch on the 2nd floor of the deserted monastery looking in on the inner courtyard while the rains came down. There was a small family living at the monastery, one of the women admired the beads that I have carried (thanks Jason). They have become a talisman for me.

Now please close your eyes and imagine. That’ not going to work is it – actually how about if you just imagine. An eavestrough about a boot and a half wide, full of leaves and dirt, at a 15 degree angle, draining the runoff from Niagara falls. That is what we hiked up this afternoon. After a couple of hours of eavestrough walking we arrived in Pangom. The good news was that we had a lodge, small but wonderful. Even better I broke out the tunes with my iPod and tiny speakers. At present Bob Marley is playing away. Anything to lift spirits.

Housekeeping is a challenge. We were only allowed to bring 25kg of gear. Sounds like a lot but when you add the sleeping bag, tent, warm gear, spare boots it doesn’t leave much room. Hence we are always trying to clean clothes. The problem is, with the damp weather things just don’t dry. This is a constant for us – damp clothes, boots, socks etc.

We go up and up from here – planning to hit a 5300m pass in three days?! Dave is thrilled about this because he seemed to attract all of the flying beetles into his dinner last night. These should be less of a problem once we go higher.


the french quarter

lunch at the monastery

Day 7 – Extra

Well as I walked down the small dirt path that passes for mainstreet in town on my way, fairly excitedly I may add, to have a hot shower 100 rupees (1.50$) I passed the porters skinning a goat. On the way back from the shower I saw the goat eviscerated, drawn and quartered and every piece, and I mean every single piece (2 porters stretching the entrails from end to end – 4 hands deep in the beast), and I mean every piece being hacked, chopped and taken to the cook.

2 hours later fresh goat soup; goat stew and a whole chunk of goat (looked like the head at first – but it was both hips – hard to believe I got an A in anatomy [no comments Cindy]) arrived at the table with much celebration. It was eaten with gusto from the team – a true Nepalese experience!


Team photo from left to right (members and Sherpa): Pasang Ongchhu (Sherpa), Charles, Helene, Dave, Michel W, Yanick, Michel V, Dale, Heather, Julie, Raphael, Jani, Mingmar Dorji (porter), Gnawang (porter)
front row: Nima Sarki (Sherpa), Takta (Sherpa), Manu, Pasang Kazi (Sherpa)
Missing are: Phu Dorji Sherpa, Sarki (Sirdar)

Dale at monastery overlooking Kharikola

Day 7

view from the throne

Altitude: we left the Shangri-La and went down 800m to the gorge. Then up 600m to Kharikola town to camp.

Weather: Oh Boy – 35-38 degrees with the sun beating down for the ascent. The clouds chased us but never caught up today.

We had a slightly slower start to the day today. Normally wake-up is around 5 but today we woke up at 530. Got packed and left the lodge at 730. We descended to just below 1500m altitude (800m down) and it was like dropping into the tropics. There were leeches on many branches and Yanick had one attach. One of the porters had a leaf with a leech on it – about 0.75 cm long and 0.25 in circumference. But boy do they grow. You can get them to do a dance by holding your skin above them – they will stretch and stretch to try to get to your skin.

The gorge was quite beautiful. The waters are fed by Everest – green and cold. We then climbed up the other side for lunch (potatoes, our soon to be available at a Dale and Heather’s Tibetan Bread Store bread, veggies). Then the slog up hill under the heat of the sun. The team started to stretch out over the climb. Dale and I reached the top where there is a spectacular monastery with many kids running around. Traditionally the 2nd son and the 2nd daughter must become monks/nuns respectively. Although this is slowly changing this has always been the way. The monastery was so colorful– perched on top of a hill overlooking 3 separate valleys that converge.

We arrived in Kharikola were our camp is sitting overlooking a deep three pronged canyon. They have set the tents out in two slightly distinct groups – those of us who brought tents on one side and the Trekking company tents on the other – we prefer to think of our side as Park Place – certainly location location location holds!

On a serious note Charles has significant sleep apnea. As part of the research that is being done on acclimatization we all wore oxygen saturation monitors for our first night over 3000m. Almost everyone had levels in the 88% or > range. Charles’ oxygen levels dipped quite low, in a rhythmic way, during the night. Last night (he roomed with Dave) he had apneic episodes (stopped breathing for a period of time). The decision has been made, for his safety, for him to proceed to Lukla and on to home. That means tonight is the last night with the team together. Tomorrow Charles will go in one direction, accompanied by a Sherpa, and the rest of the team will move on towards Mera. It has been quite an emotional time this afternoon, and I personally can relate having to come off mountains now on 2 separate occasions. The disappointment is immense. However, the single most important thing is that everyone comes home safe. He did an amazing job, and is absolutely fine, dejected but fine, this is completely out of his control.


Day 6 of climb

Weather: no change – overcast this am; downpours this afternoon. Dale and I picked up on the locals method for dealing with it, Dale should really get the credit, We bought a novel invention, they may have them in Canada – I think they are called the umbrella. We attached it to our packs and the two of us were dry as a bone when we arrived at our location.
Altitude – 400m down into Ringmu then 400m up to Taksindu pass then descended 750m to Nunthala.

I woke up this am to watch the sunrise on Everest. I was totally excited so I actually woke up at 3 but the sky was full of clouds. By 430am the sky had mostly cleared and I woke up Helene (an Everest enthusiast), Dale, and Michel who filmed the sunrise. We had Sherpa tea and spent 45 minutes. Amazing – the really terrifying part is that due to the deception of distance, Mera looks bigger!

Today is the Birth Day of Buddha. There was a huge celebration/prayer at the Monastery about 200m below Taksindu pass. We went in and watched the ceremony. It reminded me of church growing up with the kids creating havoc in the first few pews of the church, while the service was going on. In the temple the ceremony went on at the front and in the centre. The kids, 50 or so of them, created chaos in the back. Tibetan tea (nak [female yak – no joke] butter and tea) was served to us as we sat along the sides on mats on the floor. There was a Lama at the front overseeing the service. The Temple is extremely colorful. On the front wall there were slots 20 x 20 on the second story filled with Buddhist prayers. One of our Sherpa said prayers for 4 hours on trail ‘om mani padme om’ which means ‘God make the human life better and peaceful’ in his words.

kids at the monastery

When we landed in Nunthala I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to find we were staying at the Shangri-La hotel………..and they have a shower……cold water but still clean.

There are still major concerns that we are dealing with the leading edge of the Monsoon. When we arrive in Kharikhola tomorrow we need to make a decision – do we go on or do we go to Lukla because of the monsoon.


artsy photo to drive Dale crazy

Day 5 – Late Entry

I SAW IT, I SAW IT! Everest came out to play just at sunset, with a full moon rising – epic, fierce, beautiful, magnetic……I can sleep now.

Rhododendron Day

Day 5 – what I am calling the Rhododendron day. We started today at camp and climbed 400m up to the pass. It was misty, Ireland/Scotland/Wales misty. Full of Rhododendrons all in full bloom. The path was wide intermittently paved with stone and hard packed earth. There were blooms all over with the air rich with their scent. They kept talking about all the hills – pointing to 5000m MOUNTAINS, wow what can we say now about Mont Royal or Hoggs Hollow – I mean really – who are we kidding?

We crossed the pass, 3500m, and as we started the 900m descent on the other side the skies opened yet again. This time the hail actually hurt. I can’t tell you how dispiriting this was. All of our previous days the mornings had been beautiful and the evenings rainy – we were all panicked that this meant a full day in the rain. But just after lunch (potatoes, flatbread, spinach ( Peg – Dale ate his , I didn’t [sorry Mom]), yak cheese) we started out and the sun came out. We crossed into Junbensi, delightful town tucked into the folds of 4 separate ranges with a large river and it turned into a magical day.

We then climbed back up the other side 400m to camp at Phurtyang Beni. We had a brief glimpse of Everest too short for me to get a photo but I may stay up all night and just stare into the horizon to see the mountain of my dreams.


Junbesi town with directions!

misty road
the beer team

Day 4 – A big climb

Sorry about the delayed posting of photos yesterday, the dread bug felled me and I went to bed before dinner. I just didn’t have it in me to stand in the cold. Today dawned sunny and beautiful, I was so happy I celebrated by changing my underwear. We climbed 1400m steady up. Now at 3178m. The day started hot, sunny with risks of dehydration and sunstroke. We stopped at a wonderful Buddhist prayer centre for lunch. The Buddhist prayer centre was in the midst of prayers when we arrived. They allowed me to watch; very peaceful chanting with drums crescendo-ing (Mom is that a real word?) into a cacophony of discordant sounds, horns and drums. Lunch included Tibetan flat bread, Dale and I have decided to open a chain in Canada – way better than Krispy Kreme.

Then it all changed. And the clouds came, and the wind came, and the heavens opened up on us. We spent the last 700m clmibing in pouring rain, hail, clouds, mist. The thunder boomed and I realized it was because we were in the eye of the storm. Rivers of mud flowed down the path, small rocks and twigs made their way down the hill; even the goats had enough sense to get out of the rain (photo). As we came close to cresting the pass the sky opened, leaving us with only a light haze, the sun came out and we could see the first of the snow covered peaks (not Everest though). The view was worth the price of admission. Even better the camp ground was washed out!!!!!!, wait for it, ………….so we were told we were staying in the LODGE!!!!!!!! dry, clean, warm, friendly, fanta, coca-cola. Amazing!! The morale of the team was so uplifted at the thought of a dry night and the opportunity for clothes to dry, to say nothing of yesterday’s laundry.

the goats know better

Everyone in the group has now been sick except of course DALE, cause he is only immunosuppressed! Once again irony reigns. The team has bought stock in ciprofloxacin. God help us if we go through it again as I am not sure there is enough cipro left amongst us.
Highlights of the day include a donkey parade carrying rice into Lukla. There are only a few modes of transfer of food across this path. Porter – a great one can carry 150kg > twice their body weight; average 100-120kg. We saw our first female porter. She was wearing a skirt and still carrying her 100kg up a totally stupid hill. About 5% of porters are female. Basically they function the same, same strength, same heights as the men. Donkey as well. Otherwise things are flown into Lukla and brought back this way. This trek we are taking is the only way to get from Jiri to Lukla, there is no road, no train.
Takta – one of our Sherpa has been up a bunch of the biggest peaks here – Cho Oyu 8200m; Manaslu 8115m; Dhauligiri 8120m – Can you believe it – to say nothing of all the 5000-8000 m peaks that are too numerous to name here.

Tomorrow we hope to see Everest if it is a clear day – we will also have the first viewing of our goal Mera.


the river runs through the path
Raphael walking in mist and rain