Day 8 – Manang ‘Rest’ Day
Peanut butter on toast! I have gone an entire week without peanut butter, unheard of since I was a kid. I need my daily hit and I am missing its comforting nutty goodness. In fact I spent quite some time searching the shelves of all the local supermarkets at home before I came to Nepal, trying to think of a suitable unsquashable peanut buttery snack that I could bring along, alas to no avail. Here in Manang there is peanut butter and there is something vaguely resembling bread, toasted on the open fire, and it is mine for breakfast. Today is a good day.
Today is also an incredibly early day. Billed as a ‘rest’ day it will be nothing of the sort. Today is actually acclimatisation day. A day where we are tested for our physical fitness, strength and ability to climb higher. A day to test our endurance. We are already at 3519 metres, just over 11,500ft, and have now entered the ‘very high altitude’ bracket of mountain medicine.
A brief simplified science lesson; At altitude the air pressure is lower than at sea level and decreases the higher you go. This means that although the amount of oxygen in the air is generally the same, the amount of absolute oxygen in the lungs, and therefore the blood is lower. Oxygen is necessary for energy and for the body to function normally. The body will adapt – acclimatisation - to lower oxygen levels by responding by breathing faster and deeper and by making more red blood cells to carry the oxygen around. This takes a little time, roughly 3 to 5 days depending on the individual. There are three brackets of altitude regions in mountain medicine corresponding to the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere and therefore the adverse effect on the human body; High 1500-3500m, Very High 3500-5500m and Extremely High 5500m+. After the human body reaches about 2100m the saturation of oxygen in the blood starts to decrease rapidly, and this can cause Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Symptoms range from the fairly innocuous; hands and feet swelling, loss of appetite and peeing more. The slightly worrying; nausea, headache, fatigue. To the potentially deadly and really bloody scary; High-altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Above 8000m, called The Death Zone, the body can no longer acclimatise. The higher you go, the greater the risk.
Soooo, with that in mind I have a pocket full of Diamox for emergencies, a nifty drug that relieves AMS, and a paranoia of every headache. Which turn out simply to be dehydration due to me drinking less because I don’t want to need to pee and therefore drop trou in front of everybody.
Today’s ‘little’ excursion is up what appears to be a bump in a shoulder of the imposing giant of snow and ice, Gangapurna. Down here, a small, pretty wooded area leading up to a tea shack at the top. What a jolly little jaunt. Except this year Nepal has suffered unseasonably late snowfall (it fell for the first time in a decade in Kathmandu two weeks before we arrived) and colder temperatures. Today’s jolly hike is up a snow pitch that is sitting gloriously in the morning sun, softening it up. It’s a bit slippery but I’m loving it. Years of playing in the snow up on the Glyders and Snowdon have prepared me for this and it’s only when I reach the top, and its lovely little tea shack, that I remember I have got crampons in my backpack and that maybe they’d be better off on the bottom of my boots. I am also fine, I have all my breath in my lungs, no trace of any of the symptoms of AMS and feel, and want, to climb higher.
Susan, however, is having slightly less fun. Having developed the most horrendous blister I’ve seen on the very first day and now having walked and rubbed it into an even more horrendous blister, the slippery snow is not helping. Climbing slowly, aided by Gyalzen, she proves just how much the trooper she really is by making it to the top before the tea gets cold. Dilli busies himself by posing for a whole bunch of photos to keep Instagram filled for the next month. And then we descend.
After stuffing ourselves with dhal bat we sneak out of the Tilicho hotel like naughty schoolchildren with the intention of walking to Gangapurna Tal. There is no way Dilli would let us go unaccompanied – insurance, safety yadda yadda yadda, and I want to go there to paint. I do not want or need distractions or to be watched.
Gangapurna Tal is the most beautiful place I’ve been in the world, and I’ve been to some incredible places. Set between two crumbling shoulders, the lake is fed by the glacier above. Bright turquoise and silent between the rockfalls and the blasts of ice cold wind that periodically scour downwards, setting paint and paper flying everywhere. I’m sitting on a little bench on the lake’s tiny beach and this is just the best. This is the most peaceful I have felt in years and I recognise that this is a place that will live in my heart forever.
I have that weird tingle of a pair of eyes on me. Half hoping it’s just a yak I turn to find four, very much human eyes, looking on in wonder. These are the local teahouse owners, coming down to the lake to wash their pots after lunch. We have a chat in broken Nepali and English as I pack up to get out of their way, and then join them and Tom and Susan for tea. I feel truly at home here.
Over dinner we ponder Dilli’s reasoning on an extra early start tomorrow morning for such a short walk to Kangsar, around just two hours ahead. I’ll be sad to leave this place, it’s spirit and it’s peace. It has a similar charm to that I found in Sri Lanka’s tea plantations, just with slightly less sanitation. Sanitation I assume we won’t be enjoying now until Jomosom.