Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nepal2011: Summit Kala Patthar

May 2011
For trekkers wanting the big-view of Everest … overnight at Gorak Shep, wake-up at 3:45am, ascend Kala Patthar in the dark, and watch the sunrise on Everest.  But, It’s not that easy. 

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is caused by a combination of reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitudes [beyond 2400m / 8000ft].  Gorak Shep is 5164m / 16942m.  Kala Patthar is 5545m / 18192ft.  By the time we reached Gorak Shep, AMS had taken its toll on our group.  Some people stayed in their warm sleeping bags, rather than face the dark, cold, windy, harshness of the climb – for days they have been hurting from AMS-induced dizziness, fatigue, lethargy, and screamer-headaches.  Some of us were fortunate to not have these symptoms, nor the rib-rattling cough, nor the loss-of-appetite that robs strength and resolve. 

The climb is long, slow, and relentless.  The air has 50% of the oxygen that we expect at sea-level.  Lungs work harder to compensate.  Heartrate rises to force more blood to the big muscles. Muscles resist and retaliate when being pushed on half-rations of oxygen.  We each
struggle to find the strength and drive
to continue moving upward.  
Few words are spoken.  People stop for their own reasons - maybe only a rest, or to clear their foggy brain, or to question the pain vs the reward of this summit, or to deal with the nausea & pending vomiting, or from their body’s refusal to continue.  It’s not predictable who will be stopped by AMS.

Kala Patthur with Pumori in the background
I could see the prayer flags ripping on the wind swept summit.  How hard could it be to climb those last 100 meters?  I was amazed at how slowly I progressed.  Focusing mindlessly on my feet, it occurred to me that 
Each step was less
than the length of my boots! 

I was pushing myself, mentally and physically, and 
All I had left was 6 inch strides!  

My thoughts were simple.
Keep moving ... just one step at a time. 


2 Cancer Survivors and our guide Ganesh at Kala Patthur summit
Six of our team, ages 57 to 62 summitted Kala Patthar.  Summiting was worth the pain.The clouds cleared and the sun rose, showing  Everest with its perennial plume of snow blowing over its summit.

We spent 45 minutes on top of Kala Patthar, celebrating our accomplishment, hanging prayer flags, and taking pictures, yet regretting the absence of fellow-trekkers with whom we had shared the last 20 days.  The walk down had less physical exertion, but we remained focused, well aware of the perils of fatigue while descending.

Everest as seen from summit of Kala Patthur
Why did elders summit, when younger people didn’t?  
Maybe the elders were attuned to their aging bodies and avoided AMS by methodically moving ‘mountain-slow’.  Maybe the elders knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime shot, and they wouldn’t quit until they had nothing left.

Living Bigger with Colostomy on Kala Patthar summit 

Rob Hill climbed the SevenSummits
I climbed Kala Patthar
We all have our own mountains to climb.

Yes we can.  Ostomates can climb mountains.


For Rob Hill's campaign of the SevenSummits, read:

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