5 am, breakfast—We were told that we would be walking for at least nine hours, ascending 1200m before lunch. I was not sufficiently humbled by the previous day, so I thought I could do it. But it was soon clear to me that my lungs were compromised by this infection and the altitude. We literally stopped every five steps and Davidson ended up carrying both our daypacks.
As we started to climb the (ominous yet aptly named) Dead Woman’s Pass, the steps were so steep that I stopped to hack out my lungs every two minutes. We took one of our breaks with new Aussie friends, Ross and Karina (pictured). They kindly offered us some coca leaves to chew. (Side note: other trekkers had chewed leaves the day before, relying on them for an energy boost) I was leery, but tired enough so I took some.
I sped up for about 15 minutes, but my stomach started to lurch with huge waves of sharp pain. Climbing a steep incline with malfunctioning lungs, nostrils and intestines—nothing short of horrid. I tapped my reserves of willpower, looking down and putting one foot in front of the other. It helped that Davidson was saying “good job” every 30 seconds, and that we were near enough the peak where our fellow trekkers were cheering us on.
Once we struggled to the peak, I knew my system would be emptied uncontrollably. So while everyone was taking pictures of the gorgeous summit, I was finding a place to, err, purge. As luck would have it, my lungs started to seize and I thought I may be having an asthma attack. Luckily, fellow trekker and new friend Kavita is an oncologist and she soothed me. There were no medicines at the mountain top so all I could do was drink more water and um, purge again. Kavita and Davidson were deep in discussion. “You might be allergic to coca leaves,” one of them said. I was dazed, so I don’t remember who. I did remember that I had similar cramping after post-knee-surgery Vicodin. Great.
The nightmare didn’t end there—we were only halfway. We had to descend 400m of jagged rocks. I tried to do it but was severely weakened. Every muscle was shaky and I was dizzy from purging. And my lungs were getting tighter from the effort and infection. Davidson reported that he saw our campsite. It looked about 2 hours away at my snail’s pace. It was getting dark, and he looked crushed.
Mothers, don’t freak out—our guide, Victor came to the rescue. He walkie-talkied the campsite, and two porters met us. (These porters usually carry our heavy packs with the tents, sleeping bags and gas tanks for cooking.) “These porters will carry you now.” I’m not entirely sure why I protested. I guess pride can be ridiculous. The other porter picked up Andrea, a Canadian with a bum knee.
I hopped on the porter’s back and he started to run frighteningly fast down the jagged rocks to our campsite. I think it took him 15 minutes. Kavita was waiting at the campsite for me. She had found an inhaler. I had never been so happy to see an inhaler, ever. My lungs opened up, and I was fed some soup. Then I was told to go straight to bed. Well, sleeping bag.
(Later that night, Davidson was told that one of our trekkers was so breathless she had to be taken off the trail on horseback. Maybe I should have thought of that.)
Up next, Day 3—the longest day with the steepest downhill action. Guess who is less than thrilled?