Altitude: 3000m – 3900m – 3840m
Throughout the night, I did indeed confirm that Diamox is a diuretic: I peed right before bed, then got up again to go at 10pm, 2:30am, and 5am. I also discovered that my sleeping bag, while claiming to be rated for 15 degrees F, is a big fat, synthetically-filled liar. The night was cold, but it definitely wasn’t below 15 degrees, and I was freezing. I wore long johns, sweat pants, a t-shirt, a smart wool shirt, fleece, and hat, and I was still cold. When I got into a fetal position in my bag I was pretty warm, but it wasn’t the greatest night of sleep I’ve ever had. A note on sleeping at altitude: as you go higher and higher, your body has access to less and less oxygen. Apparently many people experience periodic breathing at altitude, which are alternating periods of deep breathing and shallow breathing. When your body senses low oxygen, it will increase your breathing, which causes a large drop in carbon dioxide levels in your body. At this point, your breathing becomes very shallow, or even stops for a few seconds, before resuming again. I’m not sure if I experienced periodic breathing, but I do know that throughout the climb, I tended to sleep in 1- or 2-hour increments, wake suddenly, stay awake for 20-30 minutes, then fall back asleep. Whether it was periodic breathing, the cold, sleeping in a strange place, or noise, I’m not sure. But interestingly enough, even with this interrupted sleep, I never felt tired when I woke in the morning. I think part of this is due to the fact that I allowed myself to awake naturally, rather than with an alarm, so I’ve been considering trying this at home. This will either result in me feeling refreshed and happy each morning, or not showing up to work until noon.
We got up at 6, and had our first mountain breakfast: millet porridge, toast & peanut butter, eggs, potatoes, and sausage. I attempted to make the porridge delicious by adding chili sauce, but I don’t recommend that. I did, however, add ketchup to it and I thought it was good. I couldn’t really figure out why I liked it so much, until I had a can of spaghetti-Os when we got back to SF, and realized it tasted exactly like the millet porridge + ketchup. Go figure.
I was not feeling sure I wanted to continue with the Diamox, so I asked Richard his opinion. He said that if I was feeling fine, he recommended not taking the Diamox, because of some of the potential side effects, such as nausea. I didn’t take much convincing after the Night O’ Peein’, so I decided to stop the Diamox, and I didn’t take it again for the rest of the climb.
After breakfast we packed up our bags, and were on the trail at 8:30. We started out with Filbert, the assistant guide. I decided to leave my DSLR in my big backpack (the one the porters would carry), and just use my point-and-shoot, a Canon S90. Even though I probably missed out on some photos, I was glad to be rid of the extra weight, and it was definitely the right decision for me. The first part of the day was pretty much all steep uphill, but we went pole pole, so it wasn’t actually that bad. Eventually Richard joined us and took the lead, and at some point the landscape turned very rocky, and the fog rolled in, which was really beautiful. An aside: my body has a freakish ability to heat itself while I’m doing any sort of physical activity. As a result, even when the weather was cold, I was usually hot while hiking. So, Mom, you’ll see me wearing short sleeves in a lot of these pictures, but rest assured I wasn’t cold.
We took an early lunch, which consisted of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich (with the crust cut off!), juice, a banana, and a hard boiled egg. Richard said he was worried about the weather, but it never rained. We peaked at 3900m, then it was a short descent to camp. Shira Camp is very alien looking — rocky, foggy, and a few scraggly trees. It was a short day (we reached camp around 1pm), so after popcorn and tea, we decided to check out Shira Cave, which is a small cave nearby. On the way, we passed a helipad, which they use for emergency rescues.
Both of us felt a lot better than the day before, which was a good sign. I felt a little headachey during some of the uphill stretches, but I think that was probably dehydration rather than the altitude. I also had some tingling in my fingers, which is one of the more minor side effects of Diamox, though I suppose that might have also been attributable to the altitude or dehydration.
One thing I was not prepared for was the amount of down time on the climb. I stupidly decided to leave my Kindle at the hotel, so between the two of us, we only had one. We decided to take turns reading Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger out loud, and learned that reading out loud at altitude is quite a slow, laborious, and frankly breathy process, so I definitely regretted not bringing more forms of entertainment.
After a few hours of reading and resting, we had dinner. Every night for dinner, we had some kind of buttery vegetable soup, which sounds gross but was actually quite tasty, but we both got pretty tired of it by the end of the climb. (As I write this, I can actually taste it.) That night was carrot soup along with rice and ‘vegetable sauce’, which appeared to be some combination of peppers, carrots, and onions. Before bed, Richard came by and showed us a map of our route, which was cool and daunting to see.