Single Status Update
(some segments of this entry were filled out in more detail from the original journal entry)
June 29th 3:45pm
For some reason, I don't feel like writing. But I'll do my best.
Yesterday we woke up early, packed and met in the street with Phil and headed off to the bus station a little after 8:00am. The bus was packed and drove fast through the mountains. We got awesome views of the giant snow covered peaks very visible from the road.
We arrived in Yungi where we were surprised to take another bus to the place where we start hiking. The bus wasn't there, presumably had left already and the taxi drivers that were there told us another one wouldn't come until 3:00pm and they were trying to give us a ride. But they wanted 20 soles - the same amount we paid for our bus tickets from Lima to Huaras. We eventually found a bus that would take us halfway and then from there we had no trouble finding a bus to the base of the mountain. We drove quite high on a narrow dirt road hugging a mountain side cliff. I was glad not to be sitting next to the window. The views driving up were spectacular. Mountain sides with many square patches of crops going right up the hilly mountain. There were many Burros now.
We finally arrived at the base of our hike after a 2,100 meter ascent. Harnessing my enormous pack was a task in itself to get my lungs working the thin air. We started hiking and in about 60 seconds I was out of breath and panting. I didn't stop panting the whole way up to our first stop and never caught my breath during our 30 minute lunch break. I was in agony. My pack was as heavy as I've ever had it. Packed with sweaters, pants, food (the food weighed a ton) more sweaters that I had bought and a tent was attached at the bottom of the pack. I pushed on through, barely able to breathe- to get enough air that is. We stopped frequent enough. Solomon seemed to be doing fine and Phil was just unbelievably unphased by the ascent. Both of them were never out of breath. Even when we stopped to rest I was unable to catch my breath.
We met some well seasoned hikers during lunch wearing big mountaineering sunglasses and hats. One of them warned about hiking in the intense equatoral sun at such high altitude with no protective sunwear. I didn't take much notice. I didn't see the need for aggressive sunblocking measures. It was winter - really, not neccessary.
Finally we arrived at around 6:00pm. We had started hiking at 1:00pm. I was so relieved to have that unyielding hiking over with. As quickly as I could, I removed my pack and changed into warmer clothes. I put on about 5 layers, but wasn't quite warm. - sorta had the chills. My breathing hadn't let up either. I just couldn't seem to be able to catch my breath. Everyone started setting up camp but I was too concerned about my current condition to bother helping. I sat down and then my limbs started to tingle. Then the tingling soon got worse and my breathing became more difficult. I told Sol as it was happening - for it happened in a matter of 30 seconds. But I failed to make myself clear and he brushed me off. My whole body was then buzzing like crazy and my breathing was getting even shorter. I couldn't feel my limbs and I was becoming desperate for air. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what was happening to me. I tried not to panic, but it was hard to rationalize or see how my situation was going to improve. My face started buzzing bad. I tried to tell Sol to hurry and ask those people in the nearby tent for some help, but I found I completely contorted and I struggled to talk. My eyes had squinted nearly completely shut and I had virtually no ability to move my lips to speak. This time he paid attention. Oh God, what was happening to me? It was becoming increasingly more difficult not to panic. My breathing was getting more rapid and my need for air was increasing. A couple in their early 40s perhaps came over quickly and started rubbing my limbs and telling me to try and move my fingers. But I couldn't. I couldn't even feel them. They were completely clamped shut in a tight fist- my arms clamped uncontrollably to my torso, immovable. They gave me two pills to swallow. They told me they were for mountain sickness and were telling me it would work like a charm and that I'd soon be okay. They were moving my fingers for me and told me to breathe into my belly and I tried to, but I don't think I did. The medicine slowly started to kick in. My breathing started to get easier and the panic slowly subsided. I was, with much effort, able to move my fingers a little. Slowly my body went back to near normal, but the tingly in my hands and fore-arms lasted for several days.
I was very lucky there were knowledgeable people nearby and that they spoke english. I would be lying if I said I wasn't really afraid for my life thorughout the episode, but I couldn't imagine I could die just from walking, and that was the small shred of hope I clung to throughout the ordeal.
They told me I had gotten hypothermia. I had no idea it could sneak up so quickly with no warning whatsoever. I had felt a little cold, but I wasn't freezing or shivering or anything.
Phil then recommended I go into the tent nearby and get warm. He said the people in there seemed knowledgeable and it looked like they had some sort of fire going inside the tent. I was then escorted over and the people inside were debriefed on what happened. I was still not quite warm and it was important to get my core temperature up again. It was prolly 55-60 degrees when this happened. The two men in the tent were from Spain and were experienced trekkers and ice climbers. The younger of the two, 29 years old, spoke very good english and was very hepful and kind. They gave me 5 cups of tea to warm me up and to hydrate me, although I had been drinking plenty of water while hiking. The pills I had taken were diaretic, so I'd be peeing alot and would have to replace fluids lost. Soon I was warm and the guy was telling me about why it had happeend. He had told me while hiking-- I slowly realized while talking with him it was the same guy we had met at lunch-- that it was very dangeorous to hike without a hat or sunglasses. Sol and Phil were both wearing sunglasses and/or hat. The tropical sun, which was much more intense since we were so high up (10,000 ft) had given me a fever. My poor circulation was the other big factor - exacerbated by the thin air. Not to mention my doctor back home had warned me of my sensitivity to the sun in general several years prior (hitherto, something I never took seriously). And let's not forget my collapsed lung I suffered for nine months before finally being admitted to a Hospital to have surgery on it without a proper, fully healed result (just a nasty scar to make sure I don't forget). So it turns out I didn't have altitude sickness in the traditional sense as explained in Phil's Guide Book. The pills had still worked because they get the circulation going as well as oxygenating the blood. I don't want to think about what would have happened if we were alone up there.
We all went to bed at about 7:30pm or so after teaching Phil how to play Casino. He caught on pretty quick and won his first game, but got no points in the second.
The side effects of the pill made me tingly all over again. But since I could breathe it wasn't so bad. However, I couldn't sleep and my body felt restlessly jittery. I couldn't stop moving my legs and no manner of moving them helped to soothe the jitters, so it was pretty uncomfortable. I am going to avoid taking those pills again if I can.
I sang songs to help pass the time and ease my nerves since sleep was not happening. Sol was having trouble sleeping as well. He was experiencing the frist symptoms of the worst kind of altitude sickness: stiff neck, head ache and insomnia. I had read it in the guide book Phil brought. Phil is a great asset to our hiking. He has a water filter and stove. No one has energy or the health to build fires at the end of the day for boiling water.
I became somewhat concerned about Sol since the guide book said if any symptoms arise, lower person 500 meters (1875ft) immediately. But at 9:00pm, with everyone asleep already - it was out of the question to disturb anyone unless it got serious. Serious means intense neck pain, halucinations, confusion, disorientation, nausea. Sol was fine. The ultimate result of this form of mountain sickness is severe brain damage or death. The guide book also mentioned young men are most likely out of any age group to develop mountain sickness. I didn't get mountain sickenss, which I was grateful for. Although it seemed I had had it the worst.
When the side effects of the pill finally wore off at about 12:00am, I managed to sleep light until morning. I think Sol slept similarly. Phil seemed to be fine.
4:50pm Breaktime in journal writing for a game of Caseno - Phil won't be playing - he went somwhere -- a walk? Sol and I don't know--strange. He's getting water for cooking. Phil is now cooking our food. I haven't lifted a finger this hike excursion. Back to telling of yesterday and today. In the morning I was feeling better. Fever was gone. Wait, Sol wants to play another round. Hahaha - I accidentally messed up the second game by putting my trick cards on the dealing pile. The game was giong pretty even.... When we replayed the game, I totally demolished him. --Fever was gone... had a bowl of hot muesli for breakfast - very yummy. Didn't need any added sweetener. I haven't eaten much since yesterday morning. Had some bread and hot leche with coffee (known in Peru as "Cafè con Leche"). Lunch yesterday on the trail consisted of bread with cheese or honey. Honey is delicious. Phil just burnt the food. Bastard. Just kidding!! For dinner - nothing - no appetite, understandably. For lunch today some walnuts dumped in honey - very good - some dates - excellent, I didn't know dates were so good. We just secured three burros for tomorrow. No more torture and life threatening scenarios - it's only getting higher. Although one reason we have been okay altitude sickness wise is that in Huaras - 10,000 feet, we climatized some.
We took it slow today to recuperate. Hung around till 10:30am, then left for a lake 2 hours up the trail with only water. Hung out there. Very beautiful. A giant - hmm - a snow capped peak was behind, between two peaks rising out of the swampy outskirts of the lake. The color of the water everywhere is so clear. The lake is tropical island color: bright torqoise. I the air is ... okay, okay. It is thin, though, but today without pack was able to haul without overdoing it. Never lost my breath. Thank God we all agreed on Burros. We just met our Burro driver. Except I didn't. I'm inside the tent where it's warm. Today was windy and colder than usual. Tonight will be cold. Guess what the average low temperature is here at 15,000 feet in winter in the Andes. Guess. Nope, you're wrong. The correct answer was 40 degrees Farenheit. Tonight it might push 35! OMG! The Burro driver is sleeping with Phil in his tent. Me and Sol are in Vinnie's tent that Nikolai lent us. Thank God we decided to take the tent at the last second. We almost didn't. Our Burro driver is very nice. Phil and him will have a great time. phil is worried about whether we have enough food. We have shitloads of food. Rice, pasta, packets and other stuff, too. yet we have only eaten half the rice and sauce Phil brought. We haven't even started on the other stuff.
On the way back from the alke I booked. I'd take long deep breaths and with each breath my lungs would fill up a little more until they were at full capacity. Felt real goo walking fast and breathing full. I am well climatized now and should have no more problems the rest of the trip.
Yesterday was just all wrong. I started out on an empty stomach (didn't eat lunch until on the trail at 3:00pm) had no hat, no sunglasses, was outta shape - and the first stretch was the hardest - it's all been flat almost since frist 5 kilometers or so. I'm gonna go wash some dishes now in the cold windy air and the colder, water.
(I didn't have hypothermia, but rather a condition called "hyperventilation syndrome", which during another hiking trip in the Adirondacks with another hiking friend of mine, an elderly fellow certified in something or other came upon me alone on the side of the trail [I had gone ahead] and I told him to get help because I was suffering hypothermia. He checked me out and told me I wasn't suffering from hypothermia. When they had safely gotten me down to the bottom of the mountain after a long battle with the tingly madness (I did not have the aid of the pills this time) - I went to the hospital and that's where I learned of my weakness. I now know how to control it whenever an episode threatens, but it's always a bit scary. Slow deep breaths.)