Yak Kharka @ 4,000 meters
Fuck sky diving.
The most terrifying thing I’ve ever faced is high altitude trekking.
Yesterday we went to the high altitude talk that is given daily by volunteer doctors. I’m glad that I know the symptoms of AMS, HACE, and HPE (see this entry), but the distinction between normal and FUCK-YOU-NEED-TO-DESCEND-NOW is so fine that you have to be hyper aware of your body at all times. And your body is obviously under stress. Going up hills (or stairs even) that at sea level I wouldn’t think twice about leaves me totally winded. And at rest, my pulse is going so fast that I wake up from sleep with it racing like I just sprinted. Every breath feels different and I breathe more but the air has more than 1/3 less oxygen than sea level, so it’s never quite enough.
At 5,400 plus meters, there will be 50% less oxygen. And getting there is straight up for the first stretch. I read enough of topographic maps to realize just what kind of day I have ahead of me.
I bought my traveler’s insurance back before I signed up for this trek and it really wasn’t until I was signing forms at Three Sisters the night before I left that it eve occurred to me that my trek is considered “high altitude” and that my traveler’s insurance stops at 5,000 meters. Then, of course, the power was out in town right up until I left for the trek so looking into that wasn’t an option before the trek.
In Manang (where there was internet!) I did a quick search for companies that might cover me and, as my credit cards are in Pokhara and internet is stupid expensive, I emailed my mother asking her to look into it for me ASAP, hoping very much that it would be taken care of before I left the internet connection.
No such luck.
So, as far as I know, I’m uninsured. Any sort of medical evac will be stupid expensive for me.
I’m doing okay with the altitude so far, I think anyway. I’m definitely feeling it, but no headaches other than the usual mild sinus pressure as I go up and down. My biggest problem is with anxiety. Because of the increased breathing and pulse, my body is pretty much already in the state it is before an anxiety attack. So when my anxiety rises (say, because I’m worried about altitude), my heart rate and breathing pushes me so close to an anxiety attack that managing it is a feat in itself. I’m solving this by distracting myself hiking – talking (when I can breathe properly), or chanting in my head.
Somewhere in the past four months I re-established a connection with my spirituality. In a conversation last night with my new Romanian friends (Marius and Cataline – this is the third night we’ve stayed at the same guest house), God came up and for the first time in ages I did not claim the agnostic card.
This is not the Christian God of my childhood, or perhaps that is an aspect of it. But I find myself thanking the divine for my food, recognizing that I am lucky to have it. I find myself praying at times, or simply acknowledging the divine presence I feel in temples and in nature. But my brand of spirituality has no structure, and thus no chants or prayers other than my own. I’ve kind of adopted Om Mani Padme Hum. The beat of saying it in my head keeps time with my steps and I’m working on tacking my breath to the chant to regulate my breathing.
That, and snickers bars, gets me through the hard bits.