Learning Lessons in the Khumbu Valley

Date walked: 31/12/2018

What follows is a record of my abandoned attempt at climbing Lobuche East in Nepal back in November of 2018. After humming and hawing over what format this report should take, I've decided that the best way to do it justice is to simply transcribe directly from my journal. I know this is a family forum so I've tried to tone down the swearies as much as possible without losing too much of the realism of what was involved - unfortunately this isn't possible in the YouTube clips but I've put viewer discretion warnings in the report where appropriate.

It's a long read, and if you'd prefer to just look at the pictures i'll understand. Otherwise, stick the kettle on, get comfy, and allow me to take you on a journey of beauty, wonder, blood & snotters, and all that is wholesome...

25th October, 20:00, Dundee

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

Tomorrow I leave for London by train on a journey that will eventually take me to the Himalayas. I've done trips like this before and it's often nice to look back at the photos but the details and thoughts and feelings all seem to get lost in the black hole of time and can never be retrieved so I hope this journal will help fill in the blanks years from now once the memories have faded. Usual pre-expedition nerves although more to do with the act of getting there than the expedition itself. Two-day journies are anxious affairs with a lot of potential for screw-ups so i'll be a bit more relaxed once I get to Kathmandu. I've indulged the usual "look at the intrepid explorer" post on Facebook, the bags are packed, i'm just keen to get there and get started now.

26 Oct, 19:00, London

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

I made it to London without any hassle and am writing this from Covent Garden Travelodge. The streets in this part of town are quite narrow and the bars look busy as i'm sure they will in any city in the country at 7pm on a Friday. The train journey south feels like a looking glass into British urban industrial decline and attempted rebirth with each town you pass though. Dundee is no different with the V&A just recently opened.

In the news, the FTSE100 index continues to be routed hitting 18 month lows, the spectre of Brexit looms large, global capitalism looks for all the world to be dragging us towards some sort of systemic economic collapse in the coming years and the "solutions" being thrown around are sinister enough to give you the unplacated fear. In fact, I can think of no better time to be disappearing up the Himalayas for three weeks and completely disengaging from the whole pantomime.

Tomorrow will be an early start, check out and tube it to Heathrow for a 9:45am flight. Two days of travelling can be quite wearing but i'm upbeat now that a start has been made.

28th October 02:00, Delhi Airport

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

I'm sitting in departures at Indira Ghandi Arport, Delhi as I write this. The journey is going to plan but the folly of that plan is now becoming apparent. Iwas up at 6am on Saturday, it's now 20:30 UK time, i've five hours til my flight out of here which arrives in Kathmandu at about 9am. I'll then need to stay awake all day to avoid jetlag. Not to worry, from memory Kathmandu isn't a city that often allows you to think about falling asleep. Waiting around for hours on end is an occupational hazard in this game. It's really boring but i'm nearly there.

The next two potential sticking points are my baggage not showing up in Kathmandu and my lift not showing up. Although my previous dealings with Babu convince me that the latter won't be an issue. If I can dodge those two bullets then I might allow myself to relax.

28th Oct, 20:00, Kathmandu

Finally i'm in Kathmandu after what felt like quite a short hop from Delhi. The scene that greets me on a bright morning as I leave arrivals is one of pandemonium. It feels nevertheless like good-natured well-intentioned pandemonium and lacks the hawkish cynicism of Delhi. I easily spot the Unique Path placard with my name on it amongst the swarm of taxi drivers. I am welcomed to Nepal by my driver and whisked off through the sprawling sun-baked dustbowl in an old Toyota Corrola. As we pass goats tethered to market stalls we make small talk about my last trip here before a traffic jam at the entry point to Thamel dries up the conversation. 45mins later we are at the Hotel Arts, quite a modern feeling place in the heart of Thamel with a bank downstairs where I can change currency. I am told to meet in reception in two hours time and I use those two hours to collapse onto the bed shattered.

Two hours later I meet with Unique Path's head honcho, Babu Situala. The meeting in Babu's office is warm, friendly, but no longer than it needs to be. I like the guy, he's really professional and has a presence that just seems to inspire confidence and respect from all in the room. If he's running the show then I just feel like that's one less thing I need to worry about. I'm introduced to my guide, Mr Ram, an older short fellow with glasses. He doesn't say much but his English is good and he wears a friendly smile. Seems nice enough, but it's what he does in the mountains that matters.

On my return to the hotel I sleep for another 4hrs before venturing out into the narrow streets where it's now dark. The place is thronging and young guys surreptitiously sidle up to me offering hashish. I find a wee street food place that does ten veggie momos for about a quid so I fill my boots, pick up a few things from the supermarket and wander back to the hotel.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of Kathmandu tomorrow but for now i'm just glad to be here. It feels like the thing has started now and i'm excited to see where all of this takes me.

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

29th October, 18:30, Kathmandu

Today has been pretty chilled out. I woke up at about 9am and went for a walk down to Durbar Square. Cars, motorcycles and pedestrians all jostle eachother along the narrow crowded streets as shopkeepers pull up shutters to start the day's trading. I pass a few stupas along the way, all adorned with the bright prayer flags that make Kathmandu such an explosion of colour. Durbar Square still shows scars from the 2015 earthquake that killed over 9000 people in Nepal, the rebuild is ongoing. The architecture here is very much of its time and the ancient sloped rooftops provide a meeting place for thousands of the city's pigeons. However it has the feel of a tourist trap and you don't get peace to walk around without being hassled by rather persistent tour guides so I don't stay for long. My body clock is still all over the place so I get my head down for three hours when I get back to the hotel.

Babu phones to let me know that it's a 5am start at hotel reception tomorrow. I rationalise my kit before heading out to change money and I stop at the Roudhouse Cafe, a touristy restaurant, and fill my belly to bursting point with pizza and wedges. My last big feed before I head off. The flight to Lukla will be dicey but I reassure myself that hundreds of flights a week pass by without incident there. The feeling right now is one of nervous excitement. It's almost time to start in earnest.

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

30th October, 13:30, Phakding

5am start this morning, the drive to the airport is traffic free through the dark although the car does need to dodge a squad of teenage lads swigging cans of beer. Just like being back in Coldside! :lol: At the airport I chat with Terry, an English chap of Asian descent doing his first big trek, apparently to help him stop smoking, I guess there are worse reasons! His enthusiasm makes me smile and he is full of questions. It feels strange being the experienced old head dispensing the wisdom and advice when it doesn't feel that long ago I was in his shoes. I guess that's just the natural progression of these things. At any rate I hope his first trek is the life-changing adventure mine was.

The flight to Lukla is blissfully uneventful although flying over the high pass is always a bit tight with the treetops not far below. On arrival in Lukla it's a wonderful surprise to bump into Rewanta who guided me back in 2014. It's all smiles and handshakes as we catch up.

Big jagged mountains tower above Lukla and you have to bend your neck right back to look at them. The trail snakes through forests and small villages where the smell of log burners hangs in the air. We dodge the oxen and mules as well as some goats bizarrely muzzled presumably to stop them from eating the newly planted trees.

Phakding is reached without any drama other than my slightly gippy stomach which i'll subject to ongoing monitoring. It's a very gentle introduction and I know that tomorrow's yomp to Namche is considerably harder. Mr Ram I think is going to be a good guide. He's matter-of-fact which I like, has a sense of humour, and doesn't hang around in getting things done. I feel as though i'm in good hands.

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
With Rewanta...
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

31st October, 06:30, Phakding

Last night's feast of veggie momos followed by pears and pomegranate seeds has cured my gut problems and I feel optimistic about the day ahead. It was a chilly old evening as evidenced by the colourful array of down coats, fleeces and bobble hats on display around the dining room. The sleeping bag passed the first test with flying colours and was so toasty I had to take the liner out. It's an arctic down sleeping bag that I ordered from an army surplus store in Forres and I felt the guy slightly diddled himself on the postage costs but I made sure I left a good review. At any rate i'm confident now that it'll be up to the challenge of -20C temperatures at our 5400m high camp on the mountain.

Phakding's western flank is banked by steep rocky peaks and the morning sun catching the tops is worth the early rise. Time to get fuelled up on a breakfst of pancakes with honey and jam before beginning the long hard slog to Namche Bazaar.

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

31st October, 15:40, Namche Bazaar

In the end we skooshed the hike to Namche in less than 5hrs. Not as arduous as I remember from four years ago but I guess i'm fitter and healthier than I was back then. We're not long out of Phakding when Thamserku comes into view and it's utterly colossal. Even the steep banks that tower above ravines are just so different in scale to Scotland. It's like something out of some far-fetched fantasy movie.

We stop for tea where I get chatting to a Californian girl called Salaam and we exchange hiking stories. She talks about a previous hiking holiday in Costa Rica which is a destination i'd never condisered before. That's the beauty of these trips, you chat with so many other adventurous souls who serve as a mine of ideas and inspiration.

The trail follows the ferocious Dudh Kosi river to the Hillary bridge, an Indiana Jones-esque construction which crosses the river at a profane height before continuing up through the trees in a series of steep switchbacks. Despite the heat we make good progress up to Namche stopping en route to photograph Everest through the trees.

Namche Bazaar is a stunning mountain settlement sitting in a natural amphitheatre at 11,000ft. I devour a plate of chow mein then go for a wander stopping for cake at the bakery then buying a pen so that this journal can continue! It's a relief ro be here and not be showing any signs of altitude sickness although i'm pretty tired which should ensure a good night's kip if nothing else.

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

1st November, 12:30, Namche

The teahouse was full last night and the dining room was packed so I sloped off to bed early. Not through any social aversion, I just don't think it's good to have so many people in an enclosed space at high altitude with reduced oxygen, you end up with a headache.

After breakfast this morning we began our acclimatisation trek. The route up out of Namche is a steep stone staircase and the trail is busy with hikers breathing harder than usual. Meanwhile local Sherpa porters whizz by with 50kg loads on their backs. Their physiology really is a freak of nature. The views to Everest, Lhotse, Thaboche and Ama Dablam are impressive and there's now a feeling that we're approching the really big stuff. I admire the vistas with a pot of honey, lemon and ginger tea at the thronging Everest View Cafe. We also visit the museum which now has a bronze statue of Tenzing Norgay mounted onto a 3ft rock plinth with the warning sign "DO NOT CLIMB". Part of me really hopes this is the work of a Nepali with a sense of humour.

I briefly chat to a Swiss couple who comment on my Glencoe Marathon t-shirt telling me that they also run mountain marathons in Switzerland. I'll spend the rest of today pottering about in Namche before tomorrow's gentle stroll to Tengboche where I intend to boost my morale by putting on a fresh pair of socks after four days on the trail. There is real gratification in life's simple pleasures up here!

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

2nd November, 19:00, Pangboche

The remainder of yesterday was spent in uneventful fashion pottering about in Namche and sending a postcard after going off the beaten track to find the post office. It was noted as I lay in bed last night that I was sniffling and sweating but I tried not to dwell on it too much.

The day's hike begins with the unavoidable steep pull out of Namche before easing off onto a flat track cut into the side of a steep bank passing stupas with glorious views to Everest. There are many yaks on the trail and some get confused when convoys pass eachother in different directions.

I'm sweating more than usual but we hit a prolonged downslope which makes it less noticeable. We stop for tea by the river before setting off once more to regain the lost elevation. It's really hard going and after 20 minutes we stop for a rest. I'm struggling. We go again but not more than five minutes later I have to stop again and it's clear that I have a problem. I'm sweating profusely, my legs are shaking and I have no strength. Mr Ram takes my rucksack and I shamble behind pathetically to Tengboche where I force down a plate of momos and a litre of water. I now have serious doubts about my ability to complete this expedition. If I can't even do this then how am I going to scale a 20,000ft peak? I'm having a major physical and mental wobble.

Before leaving Tengboche I bump into Terry from the airport and his enthusiasm is irrepressible, it's great to see. We make it to Pangboche, Mr Ram still carrying my pack, and I collapse into my sleeping bag for a couple of hours. This is where a lot of thinking is done.

Yes, today was a setback, yes the expedition feels like it's hanging in the balance. But let's break it down and rationalise it. We made it to our intended destination today and no ground has been lost. I've got the bloody cold not the black death and whilst I won't be able to climb Lobuche feeling like this that's six whole days away and I have time to recuperate. Tomorrow is a new day, I might feel better. We only have to walk for two and a half hours to get to Dingboche and then the following day is a planned rest day which I can use to regroup and recover. So whilst today has shaken me, this thing is nowhere near over yet. If this had happened the day before the peak climb then it would have been curtains but as it stands time is still on my side if I can start to recover. I don't have to climb the mountain tomorrow, I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and I know I can do that. One day at a time. Negativity is a choice and it's too easy to catastrophise about things when there are always positives there if you look for them. Let's just roll with it for now and see what tomorrow brings.

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

3rd November, 11:30, Dingboche

I spend the night coughing and sniffing but I rise at 6am feeling stronger than yesterday. I have a chat with Mr Ram and we decide to press on to Dingboche today. He gives me a Nepali lotion called Sancho which smells like Vicks and instructs me to apply it to my chest and below my nose. The directions for use are in Nepali so I just guess the dosage caking my moustache with the stuff and my eyes begin to stream like i've been chopping onions.

Stray dogs mooch around looking for breakfast as we make our way out into the crisp cold morning. The landscape is arid and barren here with plantlife confined to the few scrubs that can survive at this altitude. The natural corridor to Dingboche is divided by the Dudh Kosi with Lhotse in front of us, Ama Dablam to the right and Thaboche to the left. Soon we catch our first glimpse of the expedition's target, Lobuche. It cuts a fearsome and impenetrable figure.

I've spent the two and a half hour journey blasting snotters out of my nostrils and coughing my guts up but my legs are working today and I manage to carry my rucksack the whole way so my ego is redeemed for today.

We drop down into Dingboche to a well presented teahouse with ornate wooden carvings where the young owner busies around the dining area squaring up tables & chairs and straightening cushions with delicate precision. I'm a spluttering mess but i've felt stronger today. Mr Ram agrees and proposes an ambitious change of itinerary. Instead of spending two nights here we will continue on to Chukung tomorrow where we will spend two nights punctuated by a challenging hike up Chukung Ri. At 5560m this will serve as both good training for Lobuche and acclimatisation.

After yesterday's calamity we're once again talking in terms of Lobuche being achievable and that's an improvement on where we were 24hrs ago.

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
Lobuche -
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

4th November, 13:00, Chukung

Dingboche feels like the coldest place on earth this morning. The water in my bottle is undrinkably cold and serves only for brushing my teeth. From now on the bottles will be spending the nights in my sleeping bag with me. The hike up to Chukung is mercifully gradual and we devour what was meant to be a three hour hike in two. It's no warmer in Chukung. We stop for tea before preparing for a short hike up near the icefall that slopes off Ama Dablam. This hike takes us up to about 16,500ft and while the scenery is delightful i'm starting to feel nauseous with the altitude.

Once back at Chukung I force down half a plate of veggie fried rice but my appetite is non-existant. I can feel a very mild headache coming on so I guzzle down some water. Even as I write this journal entry my vocabulary feels limited as if I can't find the words the way I usually can. For the first time the altitude seems to be affecting me but we're nowhere near the point of having a decision to make yet. I'll rest, drink water, and let time do its thing. We're 15,750ft above sea level so we're not mucking about anymore. It's serious elevation and a little discomfort is to be expected.

My sniffles and coughing continue but i'm hoping my cold is in its final stages and is just trying to fleg me. Tomorrow is going to be a big test, a gruelling yomp up the 18,345ft Chukung Ri. This will give me an idea of whether or not i'm going to be up to the challenge of Lobuche. The added carrot is that we descend back to Dingboche tomorrow where the oxygen will seem plentiful in comparison.

I feel a bit ragged but in the time it has taken to write this journal entry the headache has gone away. All I can do is just keep it together mentally and keep putting one foot in front of the other on the trail. For now I have Levison Wood's book "Walking The Nile" to keep me company.

ImageUntitled by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageUntitled by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

4th November, 15:00, Chukung

I've resisted the temptation to sleep this afternoon as it ruins my appetite at teatime. A group of German climbers have just poured into the dining area from a succesful expedition on Island Peak. They look totally knackered but understandably chuffed with themselves.

Mr Ram has spent the last half hour in a circular debate with two young Chinese lassies. They want to go from here to Lobuche in one day as the crow flies. They don't understand contour lines on maps. Nor it seems do they understand what they see with their own eyes because there's a big jaggedy thing called Lhotse, the world's third highest mountain, in the way. Mr Ram continues to explain to them that the only option is a two day detour via Dingboche but this seems unacceptable to them and they maintain that there MUST be a way to do it in one day given that it's only a few kilometers away. They seem to have no notion of mountain terrain and without a guide I fear they may become a news story.

Meanwhile the teahouse's Sherpa owner fills up the burner with dried yak turds, dips the final three in paraffin and lights them before chucking them in. It's going to get nice and toasty in here shortly and we can only hope it thaws out some Chinese brains.

5th November, 15:00, Dingboche

High altitude hiking can play tricks on your mind and it's important to always remember that things are never as bad or as good as you think they are and try to occupy that middle ground. Last night I was in fine form after demolishing garlic soup & chips followed by pomegranate seeds and pears. Then I got up in the middle of the night for a pee and my back was sore enough to make putting my shoes on require some tactical changes. Once again the fear set in. I manage to clunk my spine in both directions in the morning the way a chiropractor showed me years ago and while it's not perfect it doesn't stop us achieving the day's objective.

It's about a 750m ascent from the teahouse to Chukung Ris at 5560m and progress is obviously slow due to the thinning atmosphere. Up on the ridge there are similarities with Skye, black jaggedy rocks with some simple scrambling. The views are sensational and I feel like making it to the top puts to bed the concerns of the last few days.

On our way down we pass a Frenchman who has decided not to hire a guide but has taken the liberty of relying on route advice from other people's guides who he has not paid. He starts going tonto at Mr Ram accusing him of sending him the wrong way earlier in the day and calls him a bastard in French as he storms off. It's a bold move given that David Gottler and the late Ueli Steck had ice axes thrown at them and were threatened with death for insulting a Sherpa not far from here only a few years ago. Mr Ram to his credit leaves it be but ultimately if the French guy is going to go onto a mountain on his own then only he is responsible for himself, nobody else is. Personally I think he's an absolute helmet but there you go.

The hike back down to the abundant oxygen of Dingboche is a triumphant one. After the travails that have beset us today feels like the day we got this thing back on track.


ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

6th November, 12 Noon, Lobuche Village

Yesterday evening Mr Ram and I had a chat about my cold and the fact that it's not going away. It worries him. He's concerned that each day I spend at high altitude with a cold will progressively weaken me and with that in mind he's keen to accelerate the itinerary further and bring summit day forward by a day or two so that i'm strong enough for it should my condition continue to stagnate. I can see the merit in it. Clearly the flipside to that is that we're rushing the acclimatisation and running the risk of failing due to altitude sickness but it's one of those situations where we're damned if we do and damned if we don't.

I spend quite an uncomfortable night with my cold now developing into a productive cough. Some of the stuff i'm coughing up is green and although there's no blood visible in the tissue when I cough I can taste some at the back of my mouth. Nevertheless we get up in the morning and get on with it.

It's a stiff steep pull out of Dingboche but i'm well acclimatised so we make short work of it. The landscape then opens up into a barren dusty plain and it's hard to believe that in summer this area is a lush green meadow providing pasture to yaks and horses. The imposing rocky towers of Thaboche & Cholatse guard the valley's left flank as we ascend. Soon we reach the small settlement of Thukla where we set down and rest over ginger tea. From here Lobuche dominates the view and I feel as if I could reach out and touch the top but I know there's still a body of work to be done before that can happen.

We continue up the steep slope which almost broke me four years earlier but this time we breeze up stopping briefly only once. We pass Salaam on the slope. She tells me she's been ill, only made it half way up Kala Patthar and can't wait to get back to Kathmandu. Life on trek is hard going at times but it's been my experience that over time the memories of all the shitty stuff fade away and you're left with the good stuff. It's the reason we all keep doing it.

Soon we reach the Everest memorial to fallen climbers where the view of the arc of mountains from Ama Dablam to Thamserku is a delight. We briefly pick up a walking companion as a dog joins us for a short section of the trail where the skyline is dominated by Pumori. My memory of Lobuche village is of quite a bleak place but they seem to have built a few more teahouses since my last visit. I'm still coughing but my appetite is better today.

There have been times on this expedition when confidence has been low and doubts considerable. But another day goes by and i'm still here like a turd that won't flush. I just keep going and going and there is a sense now that we're getting really close to the prize. A lot seems to be against us but if a wee bit of luck could just turn our way we might just do this after all.

ImageUntitled by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageUntitled by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

7th November, 13:00, Gorak Shep

The rest of yesterday afternoon was spent going for a wander up onto the ridge to the side of Lobuche Village with vast expanses of what used to be glacier but now looks more like gravel.

I blether away to the chap from Newry and his French lass who I met at Chukung a couple of days earlier. I also chat to another Chukung acquaintance, a young lad (can't be any older than 25) from Atlanta, Georgia USA who is doing the high passes trek on his own completely independently. What an inspirational young guy. When I was his age I was far too busy drinking, smoking and footballing to be getting out into the world and finding out what life is for. I guess it comes to some of us later than others.

I spent an uncomfortable night enduring two ridiculously violent coughing fits which take me to the brink of vomiting and I can still taste blood at the back of my mouth. At that time of night though there's really nothing to be done and I somehow manage to settle down and get some sleep. When the morning comes it is bitterly cold as we wrap up and follow the long caravan of trekkers and porters up over the seemingly endless boulderfield to Gorak Shep. The early morning sun illuminates the conical peak of Pumori so brightly that for a moment it feels like our Biblical guiding star. Along the way I spot a saltire on a girl's rucksack and after a brief blether it turns out she's originally from Kirkcaldy but is currently expatriated in the USA.

I cough and splutter my way into Gorak Shep where I have time for a quick ginger tea before we begin our ascent of Kala Patthar. My nose is blocked so I crudely press one nostril closed and blow the other one clear but all that flies out is a big wobbly clot of blood. This unsettles me and I struggle my way up Kala Patthar. It's supposed to be getting easier as I acclimatise but it's getting harder and I feel weaker than I have at any point on the trek. My legs lack the power they had on Chukung Ri. Maybe i'm just expending more nervous energy worrying about the blood thing, who knows.

I ghost to the top of Kala Patthar and as I collapse into a seated slump on a rock I barely have the energy to speak and yet the words "Mr Ram, maybe the peak will be too much" tumble out of my mouth. It's the first time i've actually said it. I worry now that part of me has quit on this expedition as I sit atop Kala Patthar and if I have then there'll be no getting it back. Quitting is ****ing terminal. He replies "Yesterday you are ok, today coughing more".

We shuffle down to Gorak Shep which is now a dustbowl in the blazing midday sun but Mr Ram has to stop for a rest because of a sore back. Maybe he is human after all! And if he can have struggles but pick himself up and keep going then why can't I? Upon arrival back at Gorak Shep I demolish a pizza and a coke and I start to feel a bit more human.

Today has been the hardest day so far both physically and mentally and there will be harder to come. But I completed the task that was set for me. For all my ruminations about "have I quit?" I didn't quit. I kept going. And physically, mentally, I think I can keep on going and will probably keep on putting one foot in front of the other until I die. That is what worries me upon cold hard reflection. Maybe reaching the summit means too much to me and i'm letting it cloud my judgement. Maybe the discussion in my head about "am I able to continue" needs to turn into a discussion about "is it wise to continue".

I'm not out of the fight yet, and I really want to keep going and do this. But the reality is that i'm in a terrible state and I need to start seeing improvements soon because we're now nearing the time when a decision needs to be made. Tomorrow I feel is going to be crucial. It needs to get better.

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
Everest viewed from Kala Patthar -
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

8th November, 10:00, Gorak Shep

No written journal. Video journal instead.


9th November, 17:00, Namche Bazaar

No journal entry yesterday as I just didn't have the emotional thrust for it. On the night of 7th November I continued to cough up thick green phlegm and suffer violent coughing fits and felt no better in the morning. At this point no amount of positive thinking or acting the tough guy changes the fact that I am sick, I need to descend, I need medical advice, and that the Lobuche dream is over. I'd feared it for a while. I needed my cough to get better or at the very least not get worse but at this altitude it tends to only go one way.

As we beat a hasty retreat down the Khumbu Valley I can barely bring myself to look at the dramatic mountain scenery all around me like a penniless bum walking down Oxford Street past shops that will never have any relevance to him. We stop at a clinic in Periche where an English doctor called Beth gives me a consultation. She tells me it is unlikely to be a bacterial infection and is more likely to be viral. A particularly nasty virus that has been doing the rounds in the Valley this season. My oxygen levels are good and I leave with some decongestants and $70 lighter but reassured for it.

When we arrive at the teahouse in Pangboche the scene resembles a leper colony with half a dozen trekkers all coughing and wheezing. I pass the time of day with an older French lady alternating between anglais & francais. I then get talking to a very interesting old guy (65 but you'd never believe it to look at him) called Jim from Montana. His grandfather seemingly ran away to the States from Scotland to escape an overbearing mother. He works in real estate and when I ask him if he enjoys it he pauses before giving a knowing look and replies "so so". I guess we're all really just frustrated adventurers at heart who do the mundane office stuff out of financial necessity. Jim is a gnarly looking fellow and it doesn't surprise me to be told that he's been climbing mountains for 45 years. He's looking for a book to read and the only two books in the teahouse are in Hindi. I've just finished Levison Wood's "Walking The Nile" so I pass it to him and say "see what you think". After one chapter he is enthused and I tell him to keep it. I think it'll be right up Jim's street.

Today's 13 mile yomp to Namche felt like drudgery, it always does at this stage when everybody is just wanting home. The dusty trail does my coughing fits no favours but we arrive in Namche to youngsters dancing to music in celebration of what's now the final day of an annual five-day Nepali festival.

I manage to get some WiFi at the teahouse and spread the news via the modern-day town crier that is Facebook that i'm defeated, infirm, but importantly alive and safe.

So how do I feel about everything that has happened? In the end I think if you raise the bar as consistently high as I do then you're not going to clear it every time and that's a healthy thing provided you have the inner confidence and emotional resilience to not define yourself by your failures and I think that's a lot more true of me now than it was ten years ago when something like this would have crushed me into never lacing up a pair of hiking boots again. But I hike for the love of it today and once i'm back in Dundee rested and recovered i'll brush this off and go again. When you make the decision to regularly test your limits you have to be prepared to find them from time to time and accept it as a part of the exercise. Will I come back to Nepal in the future? Possibly, but if I do it won't be to the Khumbu Valley. It's just too busy and when one person gets sick everybody gets sick. The 20,000ft dream may never be realised but I can live with that. If I come back it'll probably be for a go at Tharpu Chuli or similar in the Anapurna region. I've scaled two 18,000ft peaks on this trip and met some really wonderful people. It's been a fabulous experience and failure does not diminish that. But for all the trip evaluations what I want right now more than anything else is to lie down and just get some sleep without coughing.

ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr
ImageNepal by Ross McGowan, on Flickr

Epilogue, Hogmanay 2018, Dundee

After that final journal entry about a week was spent in Kathmandu convalescing with the help of pizzas, buffalo steaks, and copious amounts of full fat coke. Upon my return to Dundee I was 13lbs lighter than I had been when I left. Heaven knows how much i'd lost before my week of culinary delights in Kathmandu. And the respiratory problems persisted for a further three weeks.

I am now back to full health and looking forward to an opportunity to get back in about the hills. It hasn't dampened my enthusiasm. Failure is occasionally a part of life and is also a great opportunity to learn about yourself and grow as a person. Looking back I have no regrets about the decision to sack it. If anything it's a decision that should have been made a good deal sooner but I was just so desperate to climb the mountain that I think I just kept saying "one more day". A summit attempt in my condition would have been unnecessarily dangerous not just to me but to my guide and would have been driven by pure ego on my part, nothing else. It was the right call.

I hope you've all enjoyed reading about the trip as much as I enjoyed living it and I hope i've given you a flavour of what hiking in Nepal entails. I also hope that I haven't put anybody off, it's a wonderful place and if you love mountains you should definitely try to make your way there once in your lifetime.

Happy New Year to you all when it comes.



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