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January 2020
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The Road to Thorung Phedi

Thorung Phedi, Around Annapurna, Nepal, originally uploaded by noam_fein.

Royal Chitwan National Park. Day 2. May 1, 2000. Diary excerpt.

The last entry I wrote from the Annapurna Circuit (April 26, 2000, I believe) was to be the last I’d ever write from the trek. At 2 a.m. on the morning of April 27th, the trek ended abruptly and David and I (not to mention our sherpa and porter, Chamar and Maila) were forced to descend 4,660 ft. to Manang from the low base camp at Thorung Phedi.

Soon after awaking from a very early evening—I think I went to bed at 3 p.m. because I was that wiped out, I became sickeningly nauseated and vomited all over the stair case just outside the dorm room where we were sleeping.

As I would later learn from American doctors at the Himalayan Rescue Association in Manang—the same doctors who had given the excellent lecture on AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) the day before, which ultimately saved my life—I had HACE AND HAPE.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is the severe, advanced form of AMS and I had actually read about it in Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air. More than a few people on that ill-fated 1996 Everest Expedition suffered from it—often in an even more severe form than I did because the altitudes reached at the summit of Everest are far higher. However, once you develop it there’s nothing to do but come down—as quickly as possible. And believe me: descending nearly 5,000 feet in the dead of night, with very little light, treacherously steep footing, and in such a weakened state that at any minute I could have gone flying off the precipice were it not for the Sherpas supporting me and dragging me forward—well, it’s just about the most agonizing, God-awful thing (other than Jack’s death, which was mentally, rather than physically painful) that I’ve ever endured.

When I woke up in the dorm room at Thorung Phedi I realized I was freezing cold. This had been a problem for the last three nights. I’d noticed it the night before in Letdar (13,940 feet) and even somewhat in Manang (9,840 feet). By now I was wearing every shred of warm clothing I’d brought along, including polypro uppers and bottoms, the pull-over I’d bought in Oxford, my fleece, not to mention hat and gloves. Still, I shivered. I even threw on an extra blanket, but my teeth kept chattering.

I was so uncomfortable and restless that I went out to the toilet—a wooden squat box that stank of piss, shit and flies—and tried to lie down in there. I felt sick, but still wasn’t “spewing.” (to quote Wayne and Garth of Wayne’s World).

Eventually I determined—after, I think, vomiting first on the stairs, although I’m not even certain of this since the order of events that evening is a bit skewed in my mind—that the only wary I’d get warm would be to sit by the fire inside the lodge.

So I did that. By this point it was late enough that the only people inside and still up were the inevitable throng of card-playing and gambling Sherpas and porters. A place was cleared for me directly in front of the fire. Seated to my left was Raj, Kim’s sherpa. (Kim was one of four traveling Australians that included Peter, Wendy and Geoff.) Kim had already told me that Raj had been attempting to make the moves on her since day one, but she’d rebuked him. Well, he obviously had no inkling of how sick I was then—or, for that matter, how sick I was subsequently about to become. Before I knew it one arm was around my shoulder and another was on my knee. But I felt so wretched and drained that at first it was actually comforting.

I even leaned my head on his shoulder because I was so damned tired, but I had to sit up so I could be by the fire. One of the porters brought me some plain tea, so I sipped on it and tried to feel better.

It didn’t work.

I finally told Raj that I was going to attempt to retire again. By now he’d gotten fairly possessive, with an arm around my shoulder he began ushering me back to the barracks of a room we were sleeping in. He was also busily looking behind him to see who might be watching our progress. As soon as he was sure that nobody was, he turned toward me and sucked my mouth up, as by the suction of a powerful straw, in the most voracious, forceful and unpleasant kiss I have ever experienced. The most disgusting part of all was that I had not brushed my teeth since vomiting, but this seemed to escape his notice. It wasn’t long before he was trying to grab for some more intimate body part, but I had the wherewithal to cut him off at the pass and told him I needed to get some shut-eye.

Of course, he wanted to sleep in the same dorm room, but I told him there wasn’t room. So he pissed off somewhere, but would reappear later to play an important role in my rescue mission.

Once again I attempted to sleep, but in vain. I think by now Chamar had woken up, and, being Chamar, was pretty damned annoyed that I’d gotten someone else (i.e. another guide) to take care of me instead of waking him first. If he’d known the style in which Raj had “taken care” of me, he would have been more outraged than offended.

Chamar looked around for a real duvet to replace the coarse blanket I’d thrown on top of my sleeping bag. He tucked me in really well and I hoped I’d start feeling better. Well, I didn’t. I ventured outside again and before too long was sick again—violently on the stairs. Bad news. Before much more time had elapsed a flashlight was trained on my eyes and I glimpsed several porters peering into my face.

To be continued…

Photo courtesy of Noam Fein under the Creative Commons license.