To the Cross

‘Wednesday 8th October 2014, ~3.30pm

On the train to Aguas Calientes.  The scenic train.  But I’m plugged into my iPod zoning out.  I need some me time.

We had lunch in the sun, outside with hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.  The Andean weather really does have a lot to answer for.  We also finally met the rest of the crew.  Danni – head cook, Rolando – sous chef.  Victor – the chief horseman and his helpers Fernando and Sebastian.  It was a shame not to have met them sooner.  To meet them just at the end to give them money just felt wrong.  I felt really bad about it actually.

The group

The group

Victor was so cute, proper Peruvian gear and everything.  He apparently owned the mules too.  Real warmth to his smile and wonderful handshake to boot.

So with that, let’s go back to 4,600m – ish.  I had my first moment – keep going.  And in fairness, I did.  I remember LV being with me for most of the last 100-200m or so.  At one point, I actually had to stop and sit down.  I remember feeling my head pounding in my chest.  Don’t panic, I tell myself, remembering Ama Dablam base camp day.  It is just your heart telling you it’s working a little harder than it wants to.  100, just under in fact.  (I’ve listened to enough neonatal flutterings to be able to tell).  Ok, that’s quite high.  Regulate your breathing, right into the base of your lungs.

I look down at my nails – blue.  Definite blue along the nail bed.  So that’s not great.

Time to sit down I think.  I take my bag off and put my head between my knees – anything to increase the oxygen to my fuzzing brain.  A few minutes repose and I look up.  ‘You look a better colour’ LV says.  Who knew brown could do pale?  Or grey?  Maybe I was grey.  Anyway, I felt better so we kept going.

And all the while my eyes don’t leave the path ahead or the ‘cross’ signifying the summit.

That bloody cross just never seemed to get closer.  KY was with me at the end.  We battled our way together to that bloody cross, took our pictures of victory and set our eyes on the magnificent view down into the valley.  It was magnificent, but by this stage we had been walking for 7 hours – remember breakfast was at 5am.  Our bodies were not only starved of oxygen, but also food.

That cross

That cross





So we set off straight away to lunch.  One hour down – easy right?  Wrong, for some reason.  It was not an easy trek down, boulders, large crumbly rolling, sloping boulders.  And my conviction that I would feel better as soon as I started going down somehow wasn’t holding true.

By this stage the side effects of the Diamox had started to kick in, fab.  Paraesthesia of the face (imagine your whole face having that funny bone feeling), buzzing, buzzing.  Pins and needles of my hands.  And dry mouth – that was a new one.

I drank and drank and drank.  At least I was doing something right.  I peed 8x up that bloody mountain.

As I’m going down I’m thinking to myself – why did I decide to do this again?  What exactly am I proving or achieving?  Why can’t I find a more normal hobby that doesn’t involve mental mulching?  Still, my spirit didn’t break.  It will get better, I  know it will.  We’re just not low enough.

It dawned on me that B, C and K were all feeling fairly horrendous with poor LV, LR and KY holding the team together.  And A ?  Racing ahead for no apparent rhyme nor reason.  As far as we were concerned, we had no guide.  At points, LR was making the route up aiming in general at the food tents she could see in the distance.

And then I had wobble number 2.  It was shortly after I had spoken to A. about how low we would be sleeping.  He was fairly insistent we would only be going 20 minutes post lunch, lunch being at 4,400m.  Not low enough.  ‘We’ll take a vote’.  You are not listening.  My voice is saying, ‘Help me’ – how can you not hear that?  How could you not do what Pemba and Chitra did and make the decision to send us 4 sickies down further?  The truth, logistics.  There was no Pemba to take us down.  Just him.  And we would have to go a further 4 hours (average pace) with the whole group – not ideal.

So wobble 2.  I slipped.  A small slip, but enough to knock me.  I sat down, with C huffing and puffing beside me.  I try and take a sip of water but my camelback is dry, just like my mouth.  ‘Water’ I whisper.  B gave me some of hers.  I believe I couldn’t even hold the bottle.  She gave me some chocolate, I managed about half of it before I started to feel sick.  C had the other half.  ‘I can’t do it’ I hear myself say.  ‘I can’t do it’.  And then LR’s sweet voice, ‘We are so unbelievably close’.  And we were.  Literally minutes.

As I approached food camp LV came out and took my bag.  We sat, I peed (9) and ‘had lunch’.  I remember being able to eat nothing.  I remember feeling so unbelievably exhausted.  Like working 7 night shifts with no sleep in between.

And then the discussion, how far we would go, how we could evacuate, it makes me angry remembering most of what A. said.  ‘The second person only speaks Spanish so we can’t split the group’.  What utter nonsense.  And the worst part, ‘No this has never happened before, it’s up to the individual to know if they can come’.  Excuse me?  I know for a fact other people who have done this exact trek and had altitude problems and still gone on to do more altitude treks so don’t give me that nonsense.  Also, if you had done your part as a proper guide you would have risk assessed K on Day 2 since she’d been having big problems from Day 1 AND been more supportive of B from the word go to keep her positive and keep her going stronger.  Not to mention even bothered making sure C was ok.  So as far as I was concerned, any kind of tolerance I exhibited to him before was gone.

I remember putting my head in my hands and just wanting to go outside and lie down and sleep.  LR put a hand on my back, a simple caring gesture which meant so much in that moment, and LV was saying, ‘I wish there was something we could do to make you feel better’.

Our ‘conversation’ about whether to go down 20 minutes or 1 hour was largely (thankfully) led by LV and LR.  1 hour – we should try and get to 4, 200m and sleep lower and if people aren’t better by the morning, we evacuate.  Together.

So that is what we did.  In the now rain, we plodded our way, wet and cold and sick down to 4,200m.  It went fast actually.  And when we got there, the tents were only just getting put up.  The mules weren’t there yet and as they arrived I heard in my head, ‘The eagles are coming!’  It was that kind of life saving.

The Eagles Are Coming!

The Eagles Are Coming!

K and I bundled into our tents and literally passed out.  We tried to keep wet bags, shoes and jackets in the tent, but outside the bit we were sleeping on.  This was risky as if it rained, it probably wouldn’t dry.

A rude ‘we are waiting for you for dinner’ woke us.  I went, ate nothing and left prematurely to sleep the night away. 

Damn, arriving.  Almost there, almost!’


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