Sandakphu trek- Darjeeling

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May 1st 2010
Published: August 15th 2010
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SANDAKPHU TREK 3636 meters high

1/5/10: Late last night Jacinta threw up after trying to hold it in for a few hours, after she finally did, she felt so much better and was able to sleep. I was also not well, after rushing to the toilet It reveal that I had bad diarrhoea, once again I had to take some antibiotics. We met Rambo at the top of the Darjeeling hill around 8:00 so we could catch a jamb packed jeep to a town over an hours away called Maneybhanjyang (elevation 2134m) right on the border of Nepal. By the time we got signed in and ready to walk it was around 10:00. Rambo got a porter to carry things because he said it was compulsory. At first he sneakily tried to say we need one because of the new rule and we had to pay, we were adamant about not paying any more money and we were going to carry our own bags. He realised we weren’t going to be fooled and said that he was paying for the guide as it was included. We walked 100m before reaching the Nepal border where we took photo’s before starting to walk up the stairs. We were both feeling weak from being sick last night and the trek could not have started in a more torturous way. We had to walk up a steep incline for what seemed like 1km, this absolutely killed us and we both were wondering if we made the right decision about this trek. Rambo (guide) and Akalay (porter) waited for us as we both lagged behind with little energy to keep up. It was also the first time we used two trekking poles at the same time; this made it a hard to concentrate on pole placement and walking at the same time. Around two hours later and a dozen stops to get our breath, we made it to our first tea house soaked in the dense clouds. We were both happy to rest our legs and get some energy back into us. Some hot noodle soup with a hot tea did the trick. Rambo offered me some local rice whisky which I hastily accepted. It was mildly sweat with a strong alcohol after taste. He said it would give me energy like Viagra, I failed to laugh as hard as he when I looked at the size of the glass he had poured me. Trying to be polite I drunk half the glass before secretly tipping the rest out the window. Jacinta and I got up early from our lunch so we could get a head start. Akalay joined us and Rambo said he would catch up. It was hard to see anything because of the cloud, originally we thought we had lunch on the top of the mountain, we couldn’t have been more wrong as we had to keep walking up hill getting higher and higher. The gradient had shallowed slightly which help both of us to walk. It was still tough going, we felt like having a rest every 50m or so but we kept powering on. The whole 1.5hrs we walked we kept looking behind for Rambo to see if he was going to catch up We spent the time getting to know Akalay while he taught us how to speak Nepalese. Jacinta and I hoped we were walking so well that he was having trouble catching up but when we reached the next tea house Rambo was sitting down having a tea, he had caught a jeep up from the first tea house saving himself 3km of uphill walking. This pissed us off as he was the guide and should be looking after us. We cut our tea brake short again so we could get to our home stay early. Again we had to keep walking up the mountain and wondering how high this mountain was as it felt like we had walked 10km straight up. Only 200m up the hill we Rambo pulled out 2litres of local rice whisky and offered us a drink. It was way too early for us to start drinking; we were having enough trouble as it was. We reached to next town called Megma (elevation 2900) we had hot boiled potatoes with butter for lunch and tried to stay warm as we cooled off in the now 10deg C temp. It was great to get some more energy into us as we needed every little bit. After lunch we followed the rocky road all the way up to Tonglu (elevation 3070m). I felt totally pissed off when I saw a sign saying 3070 altitude, we had been walking for a solid hour winding our way up the steep road to find that we had only climbed around 200m. Someone had definitely got the heights wrong; one hill we climb would have been over 100m high and we climbed five of them with only shallow declines on the other side. The only good thing about walking the 11km up to Tonglu, its was our highest point for the day and we would be climbing down to Gairibus some 9km away. Rambo told us it was all downhill from here but that was short lived as we had to climb up half a dozen hills to come down again. The road was really rocky and hard to walk on, my shoulders were sore from carrying the pack and I was sick of looking down at my dam feet just too watch wear I was going. I had to keep reminding myself to look up at the cloudy surroundings otherwise I would miss out on the very thing I came to see; the view. We started to finally go down some steep sections of the road, by this time it was 5:30 in the afternoon and starting to get cold and dark, all we wanted to do was reach the home stay because we were so sick of walking. We didn’t reach our home stay in Gairibus until 6:30 that night and we were both absolutely stuffed. I was so proud of how well Jacinta had walked, she did well to keep up with myself and the others. Rambo showed us our beds which was a piece of plywood with a sheet on it for padding. I had to explain that if I slept on that hard bed I wouldn’t be able to walk because of my back problems. It wasn't a problem as they put more bed covers on until it was just soft enough to sleep on. I still do not know how they can sleep on a plank bed, I’m sure if I did manage to go to sleep I would wake up with bruises all over my body. We had a quick sponge down before dinner and also had some protein drink that we brought with us for our tired muscles. Rambo was already drunk when we came down for dinner and well on his way to getting shit faced. We tried to communicate with the family as best we could; we both found ourselves teaching the eldest son how to speak English. He spoke broken English quiet well and needed help with some of the daily words that we all take for granted unless we don't know English. He was very grateful for our efforts and he said he was happy that we were here and that he had a chance to meet us. Dinner was served at 8:00; it was a potato dish served with rice and Dahl soup. It was really nice but we ate as fast as we could just so we could go to bed.

2/5/10: We woke up early to a massive thunderstorm outside. The rain was nice to hear beating down on the roof but we were both dreading having to walk in it. We rolled out of bed at 6:00 and our leg muscles were better than expected. We had boiled potatoes for breakfast and by the time we walked outside the last rain drop fell on my head paving way for a beautiful day. Jacinta and I got a head start while Rambo and Akalay sorted out the border and park fees. It was the last time we saw them until 4km and 2hours we reached Kalpokhari (elevation 3108). We walked so well that we left them in our tracks. The walk between Gairibus and Kalpokhari was nice; it was the first time we had a chance to see some highland forest including some real spooky moss covered trees. Even though it was only 4km between towns it manly consisted of walking up the hill; feeling a sense of accomplishment, to only find out that you had to walk back down the other side, losing all elevation, then having to walk back up another hill to get to the same elevation as before. It was frustrating, I suppose we would have to learn that nature just doesn't make hills that have the same incline all the way to the top. We waited half an hour a Kalpokhari until the others finally caught up. We had some salty fried rice for lunch and got moving as soon as we could. We topped up our water bottles with what looked like creek water. We were assured that it had been boiled but we sterilised it with our steripen just to be sure. The visibility was still clear from the early morning storm and we could see Sandakphu from Kalpokhari, it didn't look to be that high and hard to climb; thinking this was a big mistake, as we would later find out. Rambo told us to wait for him at the next town an hour away, we had walked that fast along the flat road that we got there in 40min. There was no sign on the town and I naturally thought the town was further on. We waited for 15min for the others until finally pushing on up the base of the mountain. The weather started to get really cold with clouds zooming passed us like we were standing still. It was great feeling to see and feel a cloud race up the mountain to meet you, then have the temperature drop 5deg in one second while the mist rapped around your body and carried on up the mountain until the visibly return from 10m back to 500m. It was even stranger to be walking only 10m apart while Jacinta was totally covered in thick cloud as I watched it zip by totally untouched , I have never experienced this before, it was almost ghostly. The further we climbed up the mountain the worse the weather got. Jacinta and I powered up as quickly as our legs would let us; which wasn't very fast as we started to approach 3300m high. With every step we took the road got steeper and steeper. With every step we took we got tireder and tireder. With every step we took we were higher and higher. With every step we took we had less oxygen in our bodies. The last 1km seemed to be on a 30deg angle, taking all the strength we could muster to keep going. We had walked really well up until this point and we had to stop every 40m to take a rest. The weather was turning very nasty by now as the whole mountain was blanketed in cloud. The wind howled over our heads as we tried to use the road banks as our shield. We finally made it to the top around 2:30 and just had enough energy to give each other a congratulations kiss. We were still half an hour in front of Rambo and Akalay so we sheltered ourselves from the cold wind behind a lodge while we spoke to some other fellow trekkers. Finally the other two turned up from the mist and we were shown to our room for the night.

The lodge was bitterly cold, even though it was free of the frosty wind it felt colder inside than out. We all had a hot tea to warm up; it looked as if though we were in a smoking room, we all exhaled condensation only to go back for another drag taking a sip from our smoking tea cups. With only limited amount of daylight left I convinced Jacinta to go back out in the blizzard to take some photos of the lodges and of Sandakphu village that was the size of a football field. It didn't take long to cool down even with two long sleeves shirts; one being wool, a Gortex goose down coat, two pairs of pants and a beanie, we raced back inside after only 10min and took sheltered in our draughty room. I was so cold and I couldn't warm up, I had to crawl under four layers of blankets just to try and feel warm again. Little did I know this was the re-occurring stomach bug I thought I had left behind in Darjeeling on the first day of trekking? I didn't take enough antibiotics to kill the stomach bug; this was confirmed by the absolutely horrendous fart gas I was belching out and hour before but had mysteriously had stopped just before we got to the top. I was so cold that I was shaking uncontrollably and I started to have my suspicions about the illness when I started to feel a little nauseous.
Rambo called us up for dinner but I didn't want to get out of bed. Jacinta only managed to convince me when she said she would wrap a blanket around me to help warm me up. Dinner was served; fried potatoes with rice and tea. I took one look at it and I couldn't eat it, that's when I knew that I was somehow sick. My stomach felt so tight and bloated. I tried to rest my head on the dining room table, as I bent forward the pressure in my stomach increased so much the pain forced me to sit back up. I was still shaking uncontrollably, it took all my concentration just to try and stay warm. I could hear Jacinta talking to me in a firm voice; almost demanding me to stop shaking. She was talking right into my ear but she sounded like she was whispering from the other side of the room. She demanded it again “you need to stop shaking!”
I wanted to tell her to shut up, there was nothing I could do about the shaking; it wasn't me who was doing it. In between the shaking I murmur to Jacinta “There’s something wrong?”
My stomach was tight; I had to try and go to the toilet but I didn't need to. I rolled my stomach in an out to unblock my pipe work and to get things moving freely again. I felt something let go; thinking this may be my chance I had to first try and get up as my toes, legs and arms just didn't want to function, they just felt so cold. The worse part wasn't getting up or even taking the blanket off, it was standing over the squat toilet with a zero degree breeze blowing up through my legs sucking every last bit remaining heat I had left. It felt as if I was in the toilet for half an hour as I dumped the contents of three days worth of half digested food down the toilet. I had to continuously keep standing up and squatting back down again to unrestricted the blockage and allow the noxious gas to escape from what can only be described as the rotting death inside me. My shivering was now almost epileptic and it took all my focus and concentration just to wipe the shit off my arse and not get any on my hand. I tried very, very hard not to finger paint my butt cheeks. By the time I stood up for the last time and felt the pressure relieved in my stomach, ten minutes later, I returned to the toilet once more to give birth to more alien slop. I had now shat out at least two to three litres of the foulest human waste possible. This was all due to this dreaded stomach bug I had back in Darjeeling. But it was also my fault not following up on the second and third antibiotics tablets to kill the bug. My body wasn’t able to tell me I was sick because I was too busy pushing it to walk up and down steep mountains. It was certainly telling me now! As I returned to the bedroom, Jacinta had put two doona covers on the base of the bed followed by four blankets and doona covers on top. Sitting on the edge of the bed with eyes half closed, clutching my stomach and with a blanket raped around me, all I had to do was take off my shoes and crawl into bed. It sounds easy but I was having trouble just keeping my eyes open with freezing cold temperatures, violent shivering muscle spasms, one worthless candle light, a maze of shoe laces on both trekking boots; it became more difficult than first thought. I just wanted to sit on the side of the bed with the blanket wrapped around me and try to get warm. I was getting worse; the sickness overwhelmed my body letting the cold get deep inside me. While Jacinta got everything ready for bed, she forced me to take my shoes off, yelling, “take your shoes off, c’mon”.
At the time I thought she was being a bitch and there was no need to be so stern. But I think if she didn’t, I would have just sat on the side of the bed for the rest of the night shivering or dying.
I spoke to myself, working up to it fact that I would eventually have to take my shoes off. I played it out in my head first, I sat and thought. I listened to the howling cold wind outside, the wind was really howling, I could hear it trying to come through the gaps in the window, it was cold “Stop!”, I have to concentrate, I have to try and not think about anything else. I stared at my laces willing them to untie themselves, that's the plan! I will un-tie my laces and get into bed as quickly as I can. I was about to go over the plan for the third time when Jacinta yelled, “get your shoes off!”
I used this as a pistol start and untied my shoes and whipped into bed as fast as I could. I was happy just to get through it, and the plan worked! I lay on top of the covers in a foetal position, when again an uncontrollable shivering came over me, I was freezing. The bed sheets were like laying on a frozen stainless steel gurney.
Jacinta draped the icy doona covers over me like a mortician covering up her work and finishing for the day. It felt like I was in a morgue room theatre slowly being wheeled on my own death bed towards the dark storage hole. With the stretcher lined up I feel a sudden clunk as the stretcher mounts the guide rails. I feel the rails grip then lock in, the first guide wheels shrill with a high pitch noise until the second runners steer the stainless steel tray securely in the runners take up the load. I see the faint light through the doona fade away as I’m being put into the closely confined coffin. Another squeak but this time from the heavy insulated door as its swung around, slamming against my head. The now muffled sound of the latch bolt slides into the keeper and drops down clanking against the metal door. As I lie motionless in the dark, I’m aware of the close confines. Its quiet, my breath is the only thing to keep me company, as I exhale, I feel the carbon dioxide rush out from my mouth, quickly at first then losing momentum as the swirls slowly vaporising onto the sarcophagus ceiling. The poison I breathe out is now thick, my oxygen starts to run out and the walls move in closer and closer, my breathing increases; I can’t breathe, I needed air and fast! I raised my hand above my head ripping the four doona covers away from my face letting the icy air hit my face with a rush. I took a big breath, then another, then another. I was back in the room on the mountain, the air was still thin, but better than under the covers. Slowly the oxygen dissolved back into my blood stream, I started to feel better, I actually started to fall asleep, hoping I wouldn't have dreams about another morgue I laid my head on the pillow and drifted asleep. BANG! I woke up in an instant like somebody had been suffocating me in my sleep. My heart jumped out of my chest and I hyperventilated for as many breaths as it took to feel normal again., this happened a dozen times throughout the night; the thin air made it so hard to take in enough oxygen, Jacinta demanded I slow my breathing down but I couldn’t help it, I had to breathe. After I relaxed I tried again to sleep, I managing to only dream for the next three hours trying desperately not to dream of drowning, strangulation or that damn morgue. I must have been talking in my sleep, Jacinta told me to go to sleep and stop being stupid, at the time I wasn't sure what she was talking about. I dismissed it and thought she was just being demanding again. Jacinta told me the following day that I was very concerned about getting down the mountain saying “I need to get down the mountain, I’m not going to make it” I remember dreaming about taking a jeep back down the road because I was too ill to walk. I woke up from my dream state thinking it was 3:00am in the morning but it only was only 10:30pm. I felt better and I managed to brave the cold just to go to the toilet one more time. The shivering had stopped and my breathing started to return to normal. The fever was gone and I was left to resume a deep sleep until 5:00am the next morning.

3/5/10: I woke up at 5:00am with the outside of the blanket soaked in condensation, the windows were also soaked making it hard to see outside. I felt fine but weak from the events of last night. We both managed to get up before the alarm went off and packed our gear that had been strewn all over the room just because it was too cold to be tidy. We managed to get one tea in before setting our feet outside to take a quick glimpse of the view from the top of the hill. As soon as I walked over the rise I couldn’t believe the view of Kanchendzongja (K3) the third tallest mountain in the world standing at 8598 high. I even managed to see Mt Everest through the haze and it was a magnificent view. Being so high up the early morning clouds were below us, it was great to looking down the valley, the clouds look like thick puffy cotton wool. We couldn’t enjoy it for long though, we had a 16km walk all the way down to Rimbick with an elevation of 2286 meters. We walked onto a little trail that turned into a beautiful walk through magnificent highland forest. We caught glimpses of Kanchendzongja early on but slowly descended to deep allowing the other mountains around to dominate the scenery. The Rhododendrons were in flower, the ruby red flowers stood out in the view. The forest was so pretty, the trees all contained large amounts of moss, As we trekked lower the trees grew larger and larger.
The walk trough the forest was the best part of the whole trek; we were glad we chose this particular trek instead of back tracking through the same scenery. We stopped at a little lodge 3 hours after we started our walk, we had our first meal of the day, I had noodle soup and Jacinta had scrambled eggs, we were starving hungry. We couldn’t hang around to long because we had to catch a jeep back to Darjeeling by 12:30pm. The trek down was hard, very hard. It was harder than walking up and our muscles weren’t used to it. My big toe was pushing against the front of my boot making it extremely sore, Jacinta had the same problem. The trekking poles came into their own, they took 30% of the weight off our legs, they also help soften the load exerted on our knees as we stepped down. It wasn't until half way down did I realise that my boots had to be tighter in order to stop it from slipping forward, ahh, that's better. We heard the sound of running water as we got further down the valley. We came across a crystal clear river that had massive boulders and cold mountain water running through sections making small waterfalls on either side of the rocks. We crossed the bridge and carried on back up the other side of the mountain. From the side of the mountain we followed the river through the valley until we reached a large suspension bridge crossing the much larger river. We trekked along the other side of the mountain and were thankful it was flat walking from now on. They were building a road for the next 2km, we past workers with big sledge hammers and chisels splitting massive rocks in two, then splitting them again until they were big enough to man handle and lay into a retaining wall; just like the good old days. Our legs were really tired now, we had 1hour of walking left and Jacinta was struggling. We finally arrived at Rimbick around 12:30pm; Akalay ran ahead to secure a jeep early on and it was just as well as there was only just enough seats on the last jeep to Darjeeling. When I say just enough seats I mean we had 17 people in a jeep troop carrier including people on the roof. It was a slow uncomfortable 4.5hour ride all the way but we were glad to get into Darjeeling for a hot shower and some good food and rest.

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