Day 3—Mt. Everest base camp trek
No mo’ Jam-Jam
The previous day’s cloudy skies evaporated with the morning sun, illuminating blue agate skies and glowing snowcapped peaks. Before breakfast, I grabbed my camera and began climbing above the town, Namche Baazar.
Immediately I noticed breathing was easier than my arrival last night. Smiling, I assumed I’d conquered the next altitude adjustment and couldn’t predict the blindside I’d face later in the afternoon.
In the itinerary, Dingboche is listed as a “rest day”. Do not picture sitting under the sun and drinking a cappuccino. This is an acclimation day, where trekkers hike higher and sleep back low. I envisioned wandering the streets and shopping after our scheduled walk.
I was pumped with energy after a full breakfast as our group met outside for the next challenge. Chearing and Pemba encouraged us with “Let’s jam-jam,” which means “time to get moving”. We didn’t need to be asked twice.
Namche Bazaar sits in a bowl of sorts, with town following natural contours of the land. The trail quickly filled with a rush of porters and trekkers and the jockey for space began as we walked single-file up stairs and eventually along a dirt path to our first stop– the Sherpa museum and Hillary’s guide, Tenzing Norgay’s memorial. What a pleasant walk with beautiful views of town and surrounding mountains.
Behind Tenzing’s statue, Everest teased us with peekaboo views until swirling clouds hid the view once again. We spent a good amount of time in the interesting museum. From here, we proceeded to climb steep stairs to reach an even higher ridge line.
About half way up I lost control of breathing and pulled off the trail to let others pass. Seriously winded, I tried everything to slow my breathing. Breathe in with one step. Breathe out with the next. When that failed to quiet respirations, I slowed down, taking one step and breathing for 3 seconds. It felt as if an emergency brake locked down on my jam-jam.
Gulping for air, I looked uphill to see the goal, a distant restaurant that wasn’t getting closer at all. My shaky hand swiped hair out of my face as a military helicopter continued to swoop overhead, dropping off Nepalese troops returning from a border military base. It felt as if the plug to my energy reservoir got pulled as mist rolled in.
Pemba came up behind me. “Give me your pack.”
I wanted to cry. Maybe I wanted to hug him too. But mostly I wanted to cry. What was happening to me? How did I fall apart like this when I had such a strong morning? What was happening to my body? I felt like a wimp. Worse, my confidence red-flagged.
Unbuckling, I passed him my backpack. “Just until we reach the top, ok?” I didn’t like having to do this. Disappointment flushed my hot cheeks. Digging in with determination, I slowly marched uphill. With the extra weight off my back, breathing now matched my steps.
Pemba must have known, because he walked beside me. “Sometimes I carry 6 backpacks at a time to help out trekkers.” He smiled, and then sprinted uphill like a mountain goat. I wished he’d break into a sweat– just to make me feel less of a weenie.
Nearing the perched restaurant, I mentally dug in. I will do this even if it takes me longer than anyone else. Immediately I blocked the sobbering thought that no matter how hard I’d trained, at some point the choice to continue (or not) wasn’t in my control.