Tag Archives: Everest Base Camp Trek

Altitude Sickness is Real

21 Sep

After the minimal research we did about altitude sickness, we really only found out two things.  One, it is not something to mess around with, and two, it can affect anyone.  Even if we did loads of physical training, there is no way to simulate how your body will react to such high altitudes.  At base camp, there is half the oxygen in the air that is at sea level!  Well, as luck would have it, my body was nowhere near prepared for the lack of oxygen, and I actually got a pretty bad case of altitude sickness.

The first sign of it was in a village called Namche Bazarre, over 11,000 feet above sea level.  I woke up early on a clear day to try to get a view of Everest.  As I was climbing, I started getting the first of my many headaches.  At this elevation, it wasn’t too big of a deal and simply drinking a lot of water was all I needed to ease the pain.  I told our guide, Ram, about the headaches and he replied the same way he replied to just about everything,  “No problem!!” He claimed headaches were no big deal and everyone got them, “just make sure to drink a lot of water.”  For the next couple days I followed Dr. Ram’s orders and felt just fine.  I still had a few minor headaches, but nothing too serious.

On day 8 of our hike, we followed up a rest day by heading towards a village called Lobuche, over 16,000 feet above sea level.  In the morning, I felt no different than any other morning, but as we started hiking, that quickly changed.  The first sign of it was blurred vision.  I was just walking along and, boom, out of nowhere, the river started looking really blurry to me.  I thought it might just be an issue with my contacts, but it continued.  I felt quite tired and was grateful that about 20 minutes after the initial signs started, we stopped for tea.  I drank a ton of water but clearly wasn’t feeling great.  I hadn’t said more than three words on the hike, which Alan mentioned for a loud mouth like myself, meant something was clearly wrong.

I didn’t want to stop, so I tried to tough it out and hike the remaining two hours to get to our tea house.  Luckily, the night before we met another American guy who was on his way down.  He gave us a drug called Diamox which was supposed to help with altitude sickness.  Upon Ram’s advice, I took half a pill and was on my way.  I felt alright for about 15 minutes until things started to get bad.  At this point I was past any macho, pretending to be fine routines and everyone knew that I was pretty sick.  I trailed behind the group for much of the next two hours and frequently needed to rest.  Having altitude sickness was a weird thing for me because it was like nothing I had ever felt before.  It kind of felt like I was just drifting through the fields, like I was in a dream or something.  I also felt slightly drunk because I didn’t have a very vivid memory of what we had done that day.  Finally, I was incredibly tired and felt like my eyes would just close at any minute while walking along the path.  We finally got to the tea house and all I could mutter was, “I need a bed.”

Ram told me some sort of wives tale about the altitude being able to attack me if I feel asleep so I promised him I would stay awake.  Two hours later I woke up and said, “Whoops!”  The rest helped a bit, but when I went down for dinner that night, I was at my worst.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t stand Ram because he kept bugging me, saying, “You have to eat!”

I was able to get down half a piece of bread before I just said I’m going to bed.  Ram tried to give me some words of encouragement saying that in the morning I would be fine and would be able to move on.  After I went upstairs, I later found out there was a meeting about me that I wasn’t aware of.  Ram met with Dane and Alan and basically said there were only two options.  One, first thing in the morning I would have to start walking to a lower elevation, or two, in the morning, he would call a helicopter rescue!

Luckily, for both me and my wallet, I didn’t need the rescue, and once I started taking the Diamox more regularly, I felt a lot better.  I still had some pretty bad headaches and a loss of appetite, but I was able to finish my goal and get to Everest Base Camp!

The next day as we were walking along, Ram had the quote of the trip as he tried to make fun of me.  He told me that my engine was made in “China and not Japan!”  Coming from Detroit, that was far from the pick-me-up I was looking for, but it made me laugh for the first time since I began feeling symptoms of altitude sickness. I took that as a good sign.