Annapurna Circuit - Day 11 - Yak, Yak, Yak
Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
165Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
High Camp Hotel
Total Kilometres: 105 Today: 6 (10 including trip up and back from High Camp)
What a complete 180 degree turn from yesterday. Along with whatever effect the sea buckthorn juice might have had, something else seems to be attacking my stomach and bowels. Added to this were the first strong symptoms of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Leaving Yak Kharka this morning it felt like I was breathing through a straw, gasping to get oxygen into my body. My legs and muscles felt strong but it was like there no fuel to move them.
The first hour of our walk took us through a tree less, rocky barren landscape that felt scraped raw. Dozens of makeshift tents dotted the landscape, housing Nepalese drawn to the area to search for the valued aphrodisiac caterpillars
This is yak country, and today I was nearly crushed by them. Matt, Pia and I had made our way down a treacherous descent to an old wooden bridge that crossed the glacial river below. On the other side of the bridge, I stopped to catch my breath while Matt and Pia began the long climb back up. I was just beginning to move towards their position on the above curve when I heard them yell "DJ! Yaks!"
Looking up I saw a herd of the woolly beasts hurtling down the switchbacks. On the corner of the switchback just above me they paused. One yak, seemingly more regal and larger than the rest, peered down at me with all the disdain of a medieval king examining a peasant brought before him in his court. After this split second stare, it and the rest of the herd threw themselves into motion. They rumbled down the switchback towards me, but some simply jumped straight over the edge and ran almost vertical downwards. I turned and ran back towards the bridge looking for a pot I could stand and brace myself but also leave enough space so the yaks could get by me to the bridge without running me off the path and into the river below
A few barrelled by me, but then one, perhaps spooked by the trekking poles in front of me defensively, jumped off the path and raced down the steep incline into the freezing waters of the river below. Others followed, and they waded across the river and clambered up onto the opposite shore and continued on their way. Heart racing a little faster than the symptoms of AMS could explain, I started slowly making my way up the long steep hill.
As we made our way closer to Thorung Phedi the world around us was painted in grim shades of black, brown, and grey. Almost no plant life lives here at this elevation and in this climate. Steep slopes on either side of the valley fell to meet the river far below. The last twenty minutes of the trail was on the steep slopes of a landslide zone. Porters from other groups told us to move carefully, quickly, and try not to stop. At points the path was literally the width of your foot, made up of slippery, sliding rock. There was almost a visible releasing of tension when the section was passed.
Arriving in Thorung Phedi (which literally means "foot of the hill") we had lunch and decided to take rooms for the night instead of pressing onto High Camp, another 300 metres above us and an hour away
Arriving at Thorung Phedi, I was a mess. I was exhausted, breathing with difficulty, battling nauseam, and occasionally dizzy. These are all symptoms of AMS. In these cases one should stay at height for 1-3 days to acclimatize, or descend if symptoms persist. The one thing you are not supposed to do is to ascend anymore.
I decided to ascend.
I come from a family of stubborn people. Along the way I have developed my own version which occasionally borders on masochism. I have a number of issues with my body ranging from back to knees to stomach. When these things rear up and cause pain or problems it makes me angry and I occasionally get a little adversarial at myself. This is an incredibly stupid way to be and I fully realize it. Nonetheless I figured if the symptoms of AMS are generally relieved through descending, if I could just force myself to climb a bit higher and then descend, then it was just possible my symptoms would reduce at the current altitude
Accompanied by Matt, we eventually reached the High Camp Hotel where we had a cup of chai to warm up. I sat in the dining room like I was stoned, altitude further addling my questionable mental state. After the tea we climbed back down to Thorung Phedi where we ate dinner.
At this point, it seems to have worked. AMS often strikes the worst at night during sleep so I will know in a couple of hours. At this moment I am suffering from diarrhoea which is taking up more of my attention. My alarm is set for 4 am. We hope to start climbing by 5-ish and with any luck will summit the pass by noon and begin the 1600 metre (1.6 kilometres straight down) descent towards Muktinath, the nearest village on the other side of the pass.
I'm nervous and hope my body allows me to make it over.