Day 8 (16th Nov)
Route: Manang – Yak Kharka (3-4 hours)
Today we push to get to Yak Kharka without stopping. The aim is to have lunch there, go for an acclimatisation hike in the afternoon (400-700m) and stay overnight. The reason a acclimatisation hike is a good idea: First of all, we are reaching sleeping altitudes above 3000m which means theoretically we are climbing too quickly. We could suffer from headaches and other AMS symptoms which often are alleviated by climbing higher during the day and climbing back down thereafter.
By today, Ed and I both suffer from headaches. Raphaelle had headaches the other night and struggled to sleep. Today she suffers from stomach problems. Ben and Holly seem to be ok like pretty much throughout the entirety of the trip. Holly, the machine as I call her, is pretty much always in front, always one of the first one’s to arrive and does not suffers from any AMS symptoms whatsoever.
My mind wanders off to my fascination of star signs: She is a Gemini which explains her insatiable desire to talk – but I’m sure she has a lot of fire in her chart. I wouldn’t be surprised if her Ascendant was Aries. She too, like myself, seems to be quite hard on herself and she is not someone who likes to show weakness. She is a tough cookie and likes to present this image to the world.
It’s interesting that all elements are represented on this trek.
Earth – Capricorn – Ben.
Air – Gemini – Holly.
Water – Cancer / Pisces – Ed / Raphaelle.
Fire – Aries – Me.
We have all taken a break from our professions. We all have to deal with disappointments. With exhaustion. With illusions. Like the Tibetan prayer flags, we are united and represent our individual elements – all of them different but none can do without the other. Even if our elements clash at times and our nature does not allow for a comfortable symbiosis. On this trek, we have one common cause: to find some answers. To gain clarity about the future with each step we take. To find what we are looking for.
My Aries fire is extinguished – I feel I have faded and I’m not myself on this trip. Whatever is left of my red flag is now flapping in the wind trying to keep up with the other elements around me. I’m battling with myself and I’m sure this is the vibe I give off most of the time. It’s me & myself – true to Aries – the sign of ‘I’.
Earthy Ben is fully in his element and enjoys a mix of solitude and social interaction whenever it pleases him. Sometimes I can see a child-like Capricorn resurface when he hops over his territory, onto his boulders to see out into the world. His occasional aloofness signals to everyone when he needs his peace.
And so does Ed, who often walks alone contemplating what is going on around him. True to his cancer personality, he occasionally flees when one comes too close to him or totally ignores what is being said to him whenever he is in his own little world. He often appears like a philosopher, lost in thought, dreaming away or contemplating the next big invention.
Raphaelle, the most analytical one in the group (an analyst by profession), would probably be deeply annoyed reading this. Pisces are not much for unscientific non-sense. Facts. That’s what one can impress her with. She nearly drowned in her last job, giving too much of herself finding no strength left, almost burned out. Let’s see what happens when she goes back, she says – one thing is sure – she is not going back to her last job.
Naturally Ed and Raphaelle, the Water signs in our group get on with each other & Holly’s free-spirited sociable Gemini nature fits well in their newly found trio. Ben and I – the couple – are a unit while they form their own. Ed & Raphaelle try to teach Holly French – everyone amused about the English-speaker’s inability to pronounce the French ‘u’ correctly.
Holly’s crazy laugh is contagious and so is Raphaelle’s direct comically pitched ‘WHAT?!’ whenever she does not understand something; with Holly mimicking her and laughing at her directness. In fact, Raphaelle’s ‘WHAT?!’ stuck with us forever and still whenever I don’t understand what Ben mumbles, I find myself saying ‘What?!’ and we start giggling as it reminds us of the lovely French lady we met on the trek.
That day, we can feel how cold it is – at 4050m we are high up- the nights will be icy for sure. We are all struggling to breath. I faithfully stick to my garlic soup and Tibetan bread combo for lunch still hoping to alleviate my symptoms. I’m hoping Ganesh is right and the headache will disappear. As in case it does not, I will be forced to descend.
One of the things one must not do under any circumstances is to continue climbing up if headaches persist and nausea (first warning signs of AMS) does not subside after a few hours at the new altitude. Ed looks worried, as he too suffers from headaches. He does not want to feel like he did the last few days. I can empathise. It is an unpleasant.
As if you are wearing a helmet that is too tight – there is this ring of pressure around your head. The high altitude hike in the afternoon helps indeed – even if Ben and I only climb another 400m. Holly and Ed continue and make it to a total of 700m extra. Raphaelle descends with us and hurries back to the teahouse as she suffers from a stomach bug. Once we descend and head back to the teahouse, I feel much better – Ganesh was right – the hike was what we needed to acclimatise.
The flora & fauna is unlike anything I have ever seen before. The land is so untouched, I feel like we are not supposed to be here and we are intruding. One small hill after another – there is no flat land here, apart from the land on which the teahouse is built. The grass has a funny colour – it is a dark green, sometimes brown with icy patches in between.
Ben finally got to build his snowman on this hike – he does indeed look cute with his eyes made out of little rough pebbles and his dried brown sprigs. We see horses galloping across the fields behind the teahouse – they are wild & free and look immensely beautiful not having a care in the world; at least for now – soon they will be back to carrying heavy loads and be bossed around by their Nepali owners who, up here, all look like Tibetans. And there is a noticeable difference in their facial features.
Many Tibetans reside in Nepal. The higher you go, the stronger the Tibetan Buddhist influence. We are amazed about the difference in appearance of Nepal’s people. Some look Indian, others could easily be guessed to be of Southern American descent (or Hispanic for that matter). Others have almost European features. And then there are the Tibetans who look much more Asian than all the others, as their eyes are smaller – they have a very distinguished look.
Ganesh has big almond-shaped eyes – and he too appears Hispanic – if I bumped into him in London, I would have guessed him to be from Peru perhaps. It is hard to tell. In essence: there is no such thing as a typical Nepali, the same way there is maybe the prototype Scandinavian-looking person. The anthropological diversity makes Nepal even more fascinating. I’m amazed about the differences and find myself staring at the beauty of the people we encounter.
Have you ever suffered from potential High Altitude sickness symptoms? I would love to hear your your thoughts via the comment section below.