Onwards and Upwards

It’s been 11 days since my last post and so much has happened that it is difficult to recount everything.  As predicted, the availability of internet and power were scarce and expensive as we ascended higher, and upon returning to lower altitudes a storm knocked out internet service for most of the Khumbu Region.  As such, the next few posts recapping the amazing second half of our trek will be written from the comfort of the Kathmandu Guest House!

The air has become thinner, the lodges far more basic, and the view absolutely stunning

On the morning of May 10th we pushed (slowly) from 3876 m in Tengboche to 4200 m in Pheriche. Over the 8 km trek we witnessed a drastic change in the landscape as we ascended above the tree line, transporting us from the lush, green landscape of lower Himalayan altitudes to an arid, rocky desert. However, we were happy to trade the green valleys for the massive snow-capped peaks that we all came to see. Unfortunately, (and predictably) more people in our group began reporting the ill effects of increasing altitude during the trek and upon arriving in Pheriche.

Ama Dablam as seen from Pangboche
Scramble down into Pheriche

Once we checked into our lodge we were treated to a delicious meal of Sherpa stew and a much-needed hot shower (my first in 5 days). After refuelling and scrubbing out 5 days of trekking, we checked out a presentation on Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and pulmonary edema (HAPE) put on by doctors from the Himalayan Rescue Association. At these higher altitudes, ascending too fast and/or ignoring signs of AMS can have very serious health implications.  The Himalayan Rescue Association in Pheriche puts on daily AMS talks to educate trekkers on AMS and the numerous maladies associated with high altitude endeavours.  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for trekkers to ignore these recommendations and end up needing emergency medical intervention.  In addition to their work with trekkers and mountaineers, the Himalayan Rescue Association plays a critical role in providing health care for locals (for more info, check out their site).

A doctor from the Himalayan Rescue Association displaying the Lake Louise Scoring System used to diagnose the severity of AMS.

In front of the clinic was a memorial for all those who have lost their lives on Mt. Everest and upon reading the names listed on the memorial, we quickly realized that May 10th, the day we stood in front of the memorial, marked the 20-year anniversary of the 1996 disaster on Mt. Everest, that was chronicled in the booked ‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer and the recent movie ‘Everest’.

Memorial to those who have died on Everest
The names of those who died during the 1996 disaster on Everest

Pheriche was a scheduled rest/acclimatization day, as well as an experimental day; after all, this is a research trek!  First thing in the morning, our group overtook the lodge’s common room and delved into a long day of physiological experiments.

Trevor and his crew in their makeshift lab at 4200 m.
Gary focused on getting the data!

For my study, my fellow trekkers (AKA the research subjects) performed their pre-exercise EEG & cognitive test, then strapped on heart rate monitors and hiked around the hills of Pheriche for 20 minutes. After their exercise, subjects marched back to the lodge and performed their post-exercise EEG & cognitive test.

Breezy and the Dalai Lama smiling while Cayla and James focus all of their cognitive powers following exercise
Gord and Olav “supervising”
Jess happy to be done with all the tests!

While these data won’t be analyzed until after the trek, anecdotally I can attest to a noticeable decline in my own cognitive abilities in Pheriche (and beyond). It’ll be interesting to see if exercise has any effect on cognitive function in our group of trekkers.

Pheriche marked our last rest day and, in effect, our last day of full experimental measures before heading to Everest Base Camp. The next push for our group was the biggest of the trip, as we ascended from 4200 m to 4900 m.

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