23 July 2013

Everest Base Camp Trek - Days 5-6: Acclimatizing in Dingboche

To read all posts on my Everest Base Camp trek, click here for the complete series.

Dingboche on the way to Everest Base Camp
O Little Town of Dingboche - Photo by Gina Sales, 2013
Day 5: June 2, 2013

Today did not turn out to be so difficult as I had expected. Or perhaps, by the fifth day on the trail, I may have had become trek-hardened already.

Whatever. As if.

The 'medium' headache was completely gone that morning, and I happily breakfasted on hot chocolate and apple pancakes--which I still could not finish. (I swear, people who want to lose weight may seriously consider climbing the Himalayas; one can barely eat anything at such high altitude.)

I had also taken a gas shower early that morning at the Pangboche teahouse, so I was feeling squeaky clean and chipper.  Gas shower, when I first heard about it, sounded like something really awful (think Holocaust!) but it's just the casual term that Nepalis use when referring to an LPG tank-powered water heater connected to a shower head.  For the price of 300 Nepalese rupees, or around 3 US dollars, a gas shower at a temperature of around 40-42 degrees Celsius in such cold weather was marvelous.

As I ate, I was on the phone with Naba, who wanted an update on my condition; he was glad to know that I was doing much better compared to last night. However, since I was heading for Dingboche that day, it meant I would be going past the 4,000-meter elevation mark. Naba was advising me to be more and more attuned to my body's response to the high altitude and to take greater precautions. After all, reaching 4,000 meters and above (13,123 ft+) was no laughing matter anymore.

Everest Base Camp: the trail from Pangboche to Dingboche
The scenic trail from Pangboche to Dingboche. Dhan Kumar ahead, as always.
The three of us walked at a good pace, starting at 8:30 am. The first two hours of the trek were pure sunshine and good wind. The itinerary indicated it would be a 4 to 5-hour trek from Pangboche to Dingboche. Days 5 and 6 would be my favorites in the trek simply because of the good weather and the fact that I was feeling a whole lot better, thanks to Diamox.

Sure, Diamox made me pee like crazy, and it caused a bit of numbness on the toes and tingling sensations at the tips of my fingers. Those were the expected side effects anyway. But anything that made me sleep well at night and helped improve my breathing pattern in order to adjust well to the altitude was certainly welcome. I was deathly afraid of getting those headaches again.

The road to Dingboche is a good one--not too hard yet not that entirely easy as well.  Struggled a bit with the altitude but at least it was not a huge problem for me that day.  We reached Dingboche (elevation: 4,358 meters / 14,295 feet) at 1:00 pm, just less than 5 hours of walking, as promised by the itinerary and just in time for lunch.

Dingboche is a lovely little farming village settlement with rolling grasslands as well as stone walls separating crops like barley and potatoes. A white stupa with a bright yellow top and a big bungalow with the words 'French Bakery' charmingly written on its roof were the first ones to greet me. I felt at home in Dingboche right away.

arriving at Dingboche
Arriving at Dingboche. Home sweet home for the next one and a half  days.
Lunch was macaroni with garlic and creamy yak cheese. These Sherpas sure know how to cook. The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to stay awake.  The teahouse was quiet, with very few guests in it. I met there three French Canadians traveling together and a solo trekker from China. I chatted with them a bit and found out that they had been in Dingboche for two days now and would all be heading up to Lobuche the next day. I, on the other hand, had to stay behind and complete the required acclimatization or 'rest' day in Dingboche.

To while away the time, I started reading Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, which is probably what every trekker has inside his or her day pack while on the Everest Base Camp trail. It is a gripping autobiographical account of the disastrous 1996 Everest summit expedition. The book is sure to make you feel that your base camp trek problems are much smaller compared to what that expedition group faced at the summit.

Played cards with Madan and Dhan Kumar as usual, until it was lights out for us at 9:00 pm.  Because the teahouse was solar-powered, the use of electricity was limited in the evenings, and we had to manage with our headlamps on at night while in our rooms or on the way to the toilet.

Day 6: June 3, 2013

Woke up at 5:30 am, disoriented. For a moment, I thought I was back home in Manila.

Today promised to be an easy day because I would just be resting at Dingboche. But 'resting' is such a misnomer in the Himalayas. There is no such thing as a real rest day. I still had to peel myself off the bed, get out of my clean sleepwear, and don the same dirty hiking pants that I'd been using since Day 1. And let's not forget the morning cleansing ritual via wet wipes, shall we.

Rest Day on the Everest trek actually meant 'Get Out of the Cozy Teahouse and Acclimatize by Climbing Some Difficult Hill' Day.

The road up the said steep hill was actually right outside our teahouse in Dingboche. Since it was just a short half-day trek (2 hours going all the way up, and 30 minutes going down), there was no need for Dhan Kumar to join. At least he could stay in his own warm bed and have a true blue, honest-to-goodness rest day, while I had to suck it up and hit the trail at 9 o'clock that morning.

Ama Dablam
Waiting for Ama Dablam (6,812 meters) to reveal herself
The uphill trek wasn't actually that bad; Madan and I talked a lot in between catching our breaths. Talking really helped pass the time, especially since steady uphills can be such total drudgery. As I headed up, I had glorious views of the hills and the river cutting through the valley. I could see Mt. Thamserku (6,608 meters) in the distance and sneak previews of the greater Mt. Ama Dablam (6,812 meters), barely seen behind thick, passing clouds.

Although it was just a short trek, I could feel the thinning air and stopped to take a break once in a while, which is what every sensible trekker should do.  We were roughly at an elevation of 4,500 meters, I suppose, by the time we reached the top of the hill at 11:00 am.

Prayer flags flapped in the strong wind as I plopped down on a rock to guzzle down the contents of my water bottle. We snacked on chocolate biscuits and took turns watching for Ama Dablam to appear, as she remained hidden behind the clouds.

And then I gasped and pointed behind Madan, and he turned to look. The clouds had finally parted, and there was Ama Dablam herself in her full glory.

The Himalayas: Ama Dablam
The majestic Ama Dablam, one of the Himalayan greats
My face was smarting from the cold and wind, but I was happy to be where I was at that point in time. For a moment, all my worries and fatigue melted away, and I just soaked in the experience of being brought face to face with one of the most striking mountains in the world.

We spent about 30 minutes at the top of the hill, taking photos and enjoying the good weather. It was a halcyon day, a great day--one of the brightest spots in my challenging 12-day trek. And it was exactly the kind of day I needed to inspire me to persevere. I knew I needed all the motivation I could get to make it through the next two days, which were the most crucial.

I was in good spirits when we returned to our teahouse in Dingboche by lunch time. Good weather, good trek, and zero signs of altitude sickness. That evening though, I could really feel the thin air. Tried hard to breath in as much as I could. My nose was stuffed due to a cold that wouldn't go away, and every time I blew my nose, there was some blood mixed with the snot (sorry, too much information).

But other than that, I was feeling good and strong enough, as my body was indeed reacting well to the daily medication of 250 mg of Diamox. Sleep came easy enough that night.

Everest Base Camp: Ama Dablam
The great Ama Dablam and wee, hobbit-y me
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If you want the same Everest Base Camp trek experience I had, visit Himalayan Planet Adventures and go for the 16-day Everest Base Camp trek package.


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