Everest is one of the coldest places on earth. Besides that, the air is so thin on top of Mt. Everest that without acclimatization one can pass out and die in a short span of fifteen minutes.
What difference does less oxygen make to humans? Our bodies need oxygen to make energy. Without it, our muscles will eventually seize up and die. The less oxygen our tissues receive, the more likely we’ll experience altitude related sickness. And at an altitude as low as 6,500 feet you could feel dizziness, nausea, headache, lethargy and poor sleep.
Yes, there are oxygen masks but they don’t really save lives.
So how do mountain climbers avoid death by thin air?
On my many expeditions in different places, I have followed this meticulously: Spend more time going down as compared to going up.
Sounds weird? I call it descent for an ascent. This process is known as acclimatization - a slow and steady way to prepare the body for the hazards of high altitude.
We started our acclimatisation push in the wee hours of morning, from Base Camp. We moved fast through the dreaded Khumbhu Icefall to reach Camp 1 at 6100 meters. And then, the weather turned bad. The Khumbu ice fall is one of the riskiest parts of the Everest climb from the South because it is unstable, continuously melting and causing the huge ice seracs to widen, deepen and topple over. It is hence usually negotiated during the night.
I spent a cold sleepless night and wondered about the relevance of ‘descent for an ascent’ in life.
The many treks, hikes and journeys that led to me being here came to my mind. And where did it all start: The day I got to know of my brother’s heart ailment (at such a young age), it changed something in me. As if a plug was pulled and I decided that things needed to change, my unhealthy life-style needed to stop. And several diet regimes, hikes, marathons, squash games later I found myself fitter than I had ever been and, on a quest, to climb to the top of Everest. When I allowed my body to become healthy by working hard and providing it the right nutrition- in terms of diet and supplements it made me strong enough to go for such an extra-ordinary dream.
Retracing the steps of our past, of how a certain quest started often gives us the strength to move forward. Re-visiting our story shows us how strong we have always been and if we keep going we can make it to the finish line. Sometimes we need to take the sour lemons that life offers us and make a lemonade out of them.
On that thought, I set off for our next target - Camp 2 @ 6500 meters. The route through the Western Cwm was quite challenging yet to my utter satisfaction we reached Camp 2 within our target time. I spent the remaining time trying to relax and recover at Camp 2 - with freezing cold morning and evening and an insanely hot afternoon!
After my third consecutive sleepless night, we set-off towards the Lhotse Face @7000 mts - our target for the day. We moved fast on a cold morning to reach our target on time and then turned back towards the safety of Camp 2 for another super cold night!
Finally, after days of not getting sound sleep, I slept that day. I woke up feeling fresh and energetic and together with my group went for a quick descent. We were back in Base Camp well in time for a hot lunch some nutrition supplements and a hot shower.
More on my Everest journey in my next blog. Stay tuned.