I woke up with a start; gasping for air. My breath condensing heavily in front of me. It took me several moments to work out where I was and what was going on. Ahhh altitude … So; at last you’re playing your tricks with me.
I’d been lucky up until this point that I’d had no adverse effects to the 3000 meters we’d gained in coming from Kathmandu. At best, the side effects of altitude gain are mildly inconvenient (headaches, shortness of breath, nausea) at worst they’re debilitating and life threatening.
As I lay awake in our room, forcing myself to breath in and then out; like I was learning to do it for the first time, I contemplated the journey ahead.
After a days much needed acclimatisation, playing card games and eating cake, we carried on up the trail at ever increasing altitude. The ultimate goal: 5644.5 meters and the peak of Kala Patthar overlooking Everest Base Camp. I’m not sure if it was the diamox I’d taken, or the chill sauce I’d eaten with my soup that day (our guide insisted this was good for preventing altitude sickness), but I was feeling much better after the days rest and a night of breathing naturally.
(the ‘special’ chilly sauce in my ‘Sherpa Stew’ that they brought me was the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten, never mind the altitude I thought I was going to never be able to breath again after that!)
You become acutely aware of just how much we take our usually bountiful supply of oxygen for granted when you’re at and beyond 5000m. Simple things like a small flight of steps fool you into believing a quick ‘skip and a hop’ to the top is possible. Only to find yourself panting and wheezing when (or if) you reach the top. So using a camera (Fujifilm X-T1), and most of all carrying a full set of lenses (10-24mm, 18-135 and 56mm) and a tripod, becomes somewhat of a dedication (bordering on insanity!)
At times there were shots that I missed: being too slow for a moment ahead of me, too cold to stand around at night to take that sky shot I wanted, or just not wanting to stop, take off my pack and take out my camera for the 10th time that hour. But step by step I made it to, and up that mountain. From the top I could afford to stay just a few moments and gaze upon the highest mountain in the world in awe and wonder. Few know what the effort of climbing to the top of that is like!
Climbing Kala Patthar was one of the most challenge experience I’d had in my life to date. Little did I know that a week later, with the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal, I’d be experiencing something on a completely different level.
About Rich J Jones
Rich is a freelance outdoor photographer from Worcestershire, UK. He fell in love with with the mountains and far off places on his first trekking expedition to Nepal in 1999. After a trip to New Zealand in 2006 he found himself with a camera in hand more and more on his adventures. Today, capturing the landscape at its very best encourages him to slow down and enjoy the outdoors more than he ever has done.