Monday 27 March

(magnify) Ridge above Machemo

I am used now to the nights being cold; tonight is especially clear and starry. In the morning I’m woken by Purba bringing round tea and coffee. The ground is solidly frozen. So is the flannel in my washing kit. There is no need to pack as today is another acclimatisation day.

Heading up the ridge

After breakfast we set off up the ridge above the campsite. After an initial fairly steep climb we come to the end of the ridge where prayer flags fly in the breeze. There is a splendid view down over the campsite and of the Gokyo valley stretching away behind. From here we continue on a gentle uphill along the ridge towards a rocky outcrop where we find shelter from the cold wind. Whispy clouds drift across the sky between the sharp outlines of the surrounding peaks. on the ground the patchy snow is hard and crunchy.

(magnify) Acclimatisation break

After a breather, Dan, John, and I continue up a little further and reach, according to Dan’s watch, 4800 m. A German party seems to be doing much the same as us, and a few of them are pushing on a little further still. But beyond where we have stopped there is no obvious goal to aim for. It is possible to see the Cho La from here, which we hope to cross, conditions permitting, in a few days time.

I feel quite exhausted as we return to camp at 11 am. Pull my sleeping bag out to air and dry the inside of my daysack after a minor platypus leakage due to a frozen rubber gasket.

Eggs, chips, and baked beans for lunch, followed by a long siesta.

(magnify) Looking back over Machemo

At 3 pm, we congregate outside the lodge for a talk from our local International Porter Protection Group representatives on the medical horrors that await us at high altitude. Barbie is from Calefornia and Patricia is from Poland – they are here on placement to work in the newly set up hospital at Machame. Probably the most gruesome fate is the kind of swelling of the brain that results in it being squeezed out of the back of the head where the spinal column enters the skull. Fortunately that is rare and if we pay attention to the warning signs we should never reach that stage.

(magnify) View from the ridge

The main mission of Barbie and Patricia in Machemo is to provide affordable healthcare to porters, of whom many are surprisingly (to me at least) not mountain people, but poor farmers from the lowlands supplimenting their incomes with this work. Consequently they are just as susceptible to mountain sickness as we are, but they are the ones carrying the heavy loads.

Before Barbie and Patricia go, they get out the blood saturation meter and we all get measured. I am down only one percentage point from Phakding at 93 per cent, which is remarkable – most people are in the low to mid 80s – but my pulse has quickened to 81 bpm.

For dinner, we get pizza with rice and potatoes – good carb loading I suppose. Afterwards we play the dream game, with Rachel and David as the victims. We end up with something about Rachel cooking yak meatballs for Mindu (one of our guides) next to a lake filled with tea.

I turn in early with still seven minutes before eight o’clock. The toothpaste is frozen again.