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Published: October 14th 2014
Awake at 0200 feeling really, really nervous. But no headache! Lie and wait till 0400 then get into the multiple layers that are going to protect me from the 'killer' winds on the summit. Meet the others in the kitchen and eat 2 biscuits and a cup of Nescafé with dairy creamer (yep, really!) then we're ready to start. It's now 0500, head torches on. Starting Elevation - 4200m.
We have 1434 vertical metres to climb, 3.3 km total distance at a 31 degree elevation. I'm already puffing on the first small incline out of the camp. The sun is just coming up in the east and the surrounding mountains are black against that beautiful first orange, red band and lightening sky. I can't contemplate getting my camera out, it's too soon to break the rhythm. We are going at a really slow, sensible pace. Amir takes the lead. We are taking the southern route; the most common and non-technical. We make slow but continuous 'one foot in front of the other' progress up the sandy, rocky terrain. We take a couple of water breaks before a longer break where we're out of the wind tucked in behind a rock.
The sun is up and flooding the surrounding landscape, it's an amazing sight over the valley and mountains to the south. As the sun continues to rise we can see our tiny shadows on the rock face to the west. These moments are a good distraction to the breathlessness. It's really hard work. But still no headache. We reach the first ridge and eat some Bounty chocolate bars and pistachios and more water then after 15 mins we're off again. 4500 m = 300m altitude gain.
The first 5 steps after a break are heavenly, then the oxygen is sucked out of your legs and for about the next 20 steps my legs are dead until they get back into a rhythm again. I hate that bit. So we keep climbing, the terrain is sandy and rocky, you tend to sink into it a bit as you take the next step, it's essentially a switchback incline and this continues until we reach an area that involves a steeper rock incline. I'm trying regulate my breathing but it's a lost cause on these bits that require more effort. Amir occasionally lets out a horse kind of noise- you know that
forced exhalation that makes your lips vibrate - he tells me I should try it, I go with the more frequent deep blow out, actually very frequent. The wind has picked up and it's pretty cutting around the exposed skin on my face; a fashionable combo of polar fleece hat, buff and scarf are in use to try to combat that issue until we're in the sun then it's the cap, buff, sunscreen, scarf combo- definitely a better look- yeah right! I have the buff pulled over the cap and up over my mouth and nose but this doesn't work- not enough air. Oh, the trauma of protection from the wind and breathing at the same time!
All the while we have our eye on the frozen waterfall that marks the half way point, it looks tantalisingly close- all the time, but we don't seem to make much progress toward it. Amir says- don't look at it, too distracting. Our next stop is at the end of the first ridge at 4914m (714 m altitude gain), we hide from the wind and we share dates, lollies and muslei bars, then it's back on track. We encounter a snow line
First rest stop
Amir and Rostam in background
far off to the left, the wind has whipped it into little peaks like the place in Nepal after crossing the Thorung La Pass, I decide my next distraction technique will be to think about the trek day over Thorung La- it was easier!!! We are now not resting until we get to the waterfall area where there are flag markers, and apart from the breathlessness I'm now starting to feel nauseous after every strenuous up hill climb. Chris is tight in the chest. We hit an area of rock that involves using both hands to get up, hard work. The reward is a very short ( maybe 4 m) flat walk at the end of it though.
Finally we hit the flag marker where the waterfall is off to the right, this feels monumental, a big milestone. We take a fairly long break here and actually rest, backs to the rocks. Take the obligatory photos of the flag, the waterfall and the valley below. The Lar River and Dam standout with their bright blue water, although the water levels in the dam have apparently dropped markedly this year from last. Very mild headache starts = 2 Panadol. Chris
Lar Lake and Dam in view below us
is still tight in the chest, Amir and Rostam are both annoyingly chipper! Time to get on and make the next push, we're now at 5100m and almost 4 hours in.
The terrain has now changed, we're in the sulphuric area so there are lots of rock with yellow crystals which then gives way to white, limestone like small rocks. The vents at the summit are constantly blowing white smoke, it's quite striking. The effort to trudge is getting harder and we are going at snails pace. Rostam starts to develop a headache and after another hour we take another break behind a rock, I can barely force down some dried fruit and a juice box. It smells strongly of sulphur. It's blindingly white without sunglasses. Before we leave we all share some sweet tea- same cup, beyond caring. It's funny, the breathing is ok at rest but even the slightest walking creates about double respiratory rate. I forget to take an altitude measurement, I just know it's bloody high.
As we approach the summit the slopes are streaked green and yellow and the surface gets powdery. Here is where I get my first taste of sulphur in
the air, it burns and makes you cough. Rostam and Chris are a bit further behind us, the gap has widened and the sulphur clouds are wafting around us. Amir seems immune. I get another lung full, start coughing and feel really panicky. There's a steep hill to get up and more smoke is heading our way, Amir tells me we have to get up as fast as possible and virtually pulls me along. Scary. We get out of the smoke and round the bend and we're at the top! Amir congratulates me and I actually don't believe him, he has to tell me another couple of times and then I feel completely overwhelmed. Amazing.
Chris and Rostam arrive and we are all pretty excited, we've become new best friends over the last 7 1/2 hrs. It's pretty awesome. It looks like there is a glacier behind us and we are surrounded by a white and yellow streaked surface. We celebrate in the best possible way- with Snickers bars and water. We are at 5632 m. Suddenly don't feel even vaguely breathless. Take a bunch of pictures and soak it in before heading over to the technical peak. There
are flags and memorials and momentos and the famous dead sheep and ? fox carcasses on the rock. We congratulate each other again and take more pictures- the Kathmandu water bottle that went to EBC, Kala Patthar, Gokyo Ri, Mt Agung, Mt rinjani crater, etc. then we do the various individual shots, the 4 of us shot, our shots with our guides, the. Toyota shot.... I leave my Nepal bracelet up there, then we have to go.
The downhill is initially excellent, we take a different route and sort of ski/ slide down the scree. We make very fast progress. Take a couple of breaks and Rostam is feeling really bad, give him some Panadol and make him drink some water and keep going. After the fun bit it just gets super slippery and I rack up about 3 falls, minor but annoying. No one is immune, luckily no one gets hurt. We keep going and start to meet other trekkers coming up for acclimatisation hikes. We get back to Base Camp at 1540- it has taken only 2 1/2 hrs to return. We've had a 10 hr and 40 minute day. Rostam is on the improve but now
Chris has a headache- dish out more Panadol and we have some coffee (with the dreaded dairy creamer). Filthy with dust. Exhilarated still. Exchange email addresses and organise to photo share and they have to keep going back to Camp 2 to get a car back to Tehran. Amir is a fixture in the kitchen, chatting away with all the guys there that he knows. Looks like we are staying the night.
Then.... The plan changes. We're going to go down as well if I'm up for it. Hmm, another 3 hrs downhill? Hmmm, a shower at the end- yep, I'm up for it. So, at 5 pm I down a bowl of noodle soup and 2 chunks of celebratory watermelon, pack up, say goodbye to every one that I've met and we're off again. It's 5:30. The sun is going down, it is utterly beautiful light and then it's dark. Head torches back on and we're retracing the 4.7 km trip we took yesterday. Slipping and sliding and falling twice. Inhale even more dust. Take a break for water, watch a beautiful sunset and moonrise, later turning off the torches altogether- it is pitch black, starry and utterly
silent - so awesome. The camp light never really seems to get closer and my legs are almost like jelly then we hear the dogs and some voices- we're there. I was looking at some other random light somewhere off in the distance! It's 8 pm- a 2 1/2 hr descent. The jeep is waiting and we bump over the 'road' till we hit bitumen, arriving back at Camp 1, Polour, at 9pm. Mr Soltani is there with a big congratulation, a room with a shower and the promise of some dinner.
So, at 1030 pm I sit around a table (clean, hair washed, lipstick institu, head scarf back in place, modestly dressed) with Amir, Mr Soltani, the owner of the building and 3 other guys who work there and virtually inhale a chicken kebab with rice, tomatoes and lemon basil. We toast over tea- one of the men says how fortunate we all are to be united around the table with the mountain in common. I agree.
All very surreal. What a day.
addit- it's now 14 Oct- what a trip so far, leaving Esfahan today for Kashan. wifi erratic so very far behind in blog!!
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