The following is a guest post from Kellie Parry. Kellie is a travel writer who is currently based in Melbourne, Australia. She spent 18 months working as an Assistant Bar Manager for Carnival Cruise Lines. During this time she had the fortune of working on 5 different ships within the company, with each ship taking her to a new exotic location. It was here that she found her passion for travel and has spent the last 6 years criss-crossing the globe on her own. She now documents her many trips on her blog, www.meandmypassort.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @MeAndMyPassport or on Facebook.
I felt stoned.
That was the only way to describe it. I was light headed and giggly and I was certain I was walking like a Thunderbird puppet. I had just arrived in Lhasa, Tibet, otherwise known as the “Roof of the World” – a rather apt title since I was now 3,650 meters above sea level. It’s a strange feeling being at such a high altitude and until you acclimatize there’s no escaping that feeling of being stoned. But this wasn’t the highest I was going. No, I was heading to Mt. Everest Base Camp which was 5,200 meters up. So if I was feeling stoned now, it was only going to get worse!
Mt. Everest has long captured the imagination of man. Every year scores of people attempt to reach the summit. But I had no intention or desire to go that far. Base Camp was enough for me. Actually I was so keen to do Base Camp I was doing it twice. For those of you that are unaware, there are two Base Camps. The Tibetan side is known as the North Face and was the route taken by George Mallory in 1924. Base camp in Nepal is the South Ridge and was the way Sir Edmund Hillary trekked back in 1953. I was doing both.
I acclimatized in Lhasa quite well. After a day or so the dizziness had passed. I decided, against my better judgement, to not take altitude sickness medication. It was a decision I would later regret. After a few days in Lhasa we loaded up our bus and headed out to the Tibetan country side. We drove over passes that were 5,000 meters high but we never stayed there long enough to acclimatize.
Finally we entered Mt. Everest National Park. The road went from smooth pavement to a a badly maintained dirt track full of potholes. We bounced our way along with the bus protesting loudly. At one stage we hit a hole so large that I came flying out of my seat and rammed my head into the ceiling of the bus. My head cracked so loud that everyone turned around to see what we had hit. I certainly did not need a concussion on top of the effects of the altitude. After six hours of driving we finally made it to Rombuk, where we would be camping for the night.
Our guide informed us that if the weather was favorable we would be trekking to Base Camp as soon as we arrived. Unfortunately, this was the last thing I felt like doing. My head hurt and the altitude was giving me the worst sinus headache I had ever experienced. But we were told to put our backpacks into our tents and to get ready to go. Our guide reasoned that not only was he not sure what the weather would be like tomorrow, but after spending the night at 5,000 meters it would be too tough for us to do the walk the next day.
The walk to Base Camp was only 5 kilometers but it would take us a couple of hours due to the lack of oxygen. When you cant breathe it’s very hard to move quickly. We had a brief meeting and our guide told us that we could walk there but he insisted that we all catch the bus back. Bus? I guess that was one of the effects of Chinese occupation in Tibet. They had built a road to Base Camp and put in a bus service. There was also a post office at our camp site.
Once we were on the road I couldn’t help but feel excited. I temporarily forgot about how bad I felt. The surrounding landscape made me feel like I was walking on the moon. It was so arid and dry and was made up solely of rocks. Behind us a stray dog was following. He looked out for us and waited every time we stopped. He kept his distance but we couldn’t help but feel that he was watching over us. We walked at a snail’s pace but were breathing so heavily you have thought that we had just run a marathon. Just when you felt that maybe you wouldn’t make it, the clouds would clear and right in front of you was the peak of Everest. It’s the most magical thing I’ve ever seen.
We walked on, slowly making our way up the winding road. After a couple of hours we had reached Base Camp. I stood there looking at the peak and couldn’t believe I was here. I was now at 5,200 meters and my elation trumped my altitude sickness. This truly was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. After endless photos at the Base Camp sign it was time to take the bus back to camp. The whole group was animated and chatty on the way back to our tent. We wanted to have a drink to celebrate, but alcohol is not advised when you are so high up.
The altitude had taken away my appetite so I barely touched my dinner. Our host literally tucked us all into bed after making us sleeping bags out of blankets. I was toasty warm and felt like I was in a cocoon. But I had the worst night’s sleep I think I have ever had. I felt nauseous and my head was pounding. I craved oxygen. The next day we loaded up the bus and drove on to the next town. I wondered how I was going to do this all again in Nepal. It was a two week trek to Base Camp from the Nepal side and I wasn’t sure if I was up to it.
But I at least learned one lesson – as soon as I got to Kathmandu I would be buying enough altitude medication to fill my backpack for the next trek!