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Annapurna circuit – How to get altitude sickness (part two)

Vividly I remember crossing past the point of 3000 meters above sea level, the height which already bears a danger of getting high altitude sickness. It happened at the massive wall of stone Paungda Danda, polished flat by the force of immense glacial erosion, where I first realized my legs getting heavier and my head aching. The Himalayas, however, had a cure at hand. Right after one particularly exhaustive climb to the village of Dhukur Pokhari (3240m) they rose up from nowhere, as if they had suddenly gotten rid of the shyness that had prevented the mountains to show up until this very point. The display is enormous, at least for a first-timer like me.

Annapurna 3

Annapurna 3 on the way to ice Lake

Not that the first opportunity to see the mountains comes only after about a week of every-day trekking. Since couple of days before getting to Dhukur Pokhari, you get to catch a glimpse of one of the Annapurnas (there is four of them) every now and then. However, they never show up in full beauty. As if trying to figure out whether you are worthy the show, they only give up bits and pieces of what they have behind the scenes. They keep watching you sweat until the point where you are about to give up, then they throw in another sample view to get you on foot again.

Massive wall of Paungda Danda

Massive wall of Paungda Danda – a true testament to the power of glacial erosion

First one to loose constraint and expose itself almost entirely is Manaslu. The view right after passing Bhratang village is spectacular, literally taking one’s breath away. Well, that may have been the steep climb-up in combination with countless blisters on my feet accumulated over the past few days of trekking. In any case, I had to sit down and savor the moment.

a view of Manaslu

a view of Manaslu

“Eleven people died there just couple of months ago,” said a French couple catching up once again after falling behind the previous day. That remark had brought me back to the reality of Himalayan environment, harsh, unforgiving and non-welcoming for humans. Again I found myself contemplating on the reasons mountaineers have for climbing up the eight-thousanders. As beautiful as it may be, the feeling of satisfaction they get is certainly well deserved and hard-toiled.

Marsyangdi valley

The valley of river Marsyangdi

Manaslu is a well-in-advance opener for a symphony of eye and mind-pleasing displays of mother earth’s ability to both create and destroy at will. On one hand the Annapurna mountain range shows its icy beauty, on the other it demonstrates it’s power to change climate and ecosystem of a whole region by cutting it out of monsoon’s reach. After Dhukur Pokhari the character of the country changes drastically, from green subtropical forests to a stony dry steppe preserving only the richness of colors from its previous lushness.

s_Annapurna 3 with Gangapurna

After you manage to suck in the display there is yet another challenge to breath through – higher elevation makes its presence stronger every step you take. There are a few tips to make the acclimatization easier. One of them is particularly exhausting, all the more rewarding though. From Manang, the capital of the region, there are many side-treks to choose from, allowing you to make the advised day or two stopover interesting. More importantly though, the destinations are much higher in elevation than Manang which should serve as a good way to adapt. Provided you manage to come back the same day, that is.

Trail to Ice Lake

One of many views over the Annapurna mountain range on the way to Ice Lake

Anyway, staying on the safe side, I chose to visit Ice Lake. The steep climb of about 1000 meters of ascend makes up for it by the views presenting whole Annapurna range all along the trail. So much for the relaxation, I thought after 6 hours of crawling uphill. Well worth the spent energy, though.

a viewpoint on the way to Ice Lake

a viewpoint on the way to Ice Lake

Annapurna 3 with Gangapurna with a lake

Annapurna 3 and Gangapurna with a lake, not the Ice one yet

Having spent two nights at Manang, climbed to over 4000 meters above sea level and coming back with no indication of being sick, I thought it was time to continue the journey. Only after one day of further trekking I realized I thought wrong. Reaching Letdar village at 4200m was exhausting, but possible. However, sleeping over bordered with unbearable, having to get through a sleepless night of the worse headache I have ever experienced. The decision to descent 200 meters to Yak Kharka was relieving, though not for long. The next night proved to be even worse, so I made the final decision to descend further back to Manang, the closest point of no altitude sickness symptoms.

Bhraga Village

A view over the village of Bhraga nearby Manang

It was not easy to decide such step, especially bearing in mind there was not time to go back up. Just after making the first steps down the road I realized the not-easy part is only to come, though. My head was spinning, my legs were refusing to follow the instructions, lungs seemed to require hundred times more oxygen than usual. What took me half day to climb up two days ago proved to be barely possible to descend down in twelve hours at that condition. Moreover, after getting down and eating my well deserved piece of Yak cheese (only available in Manang, go for it!), my turmoil had not ended.

On the way to Yak Kharka (4050 m)

On the way to Yak Kharka (4050 m) – each step was heavier than the one before

Headache prevailed and, as if it was not enough, was topped by some gurgling breathing sound. At that point I remember getting a bit scared, so I asked the hotel owner for an advice. He brought me loads of garlic soaked in hot water to drink. Unfortunately, the local medicine did not work, so I went to a local pharmacy. “You have flu?” was the only answer I got after explaining the symptoms, “we only have cough syrup.” Hearing that I decided to speed up my descend and get down below 2000 meters as soon as possible.

Despite following all the instructions to avoid the high altitude sickness I managed to get it. Together with the instructions they also say the only way to get rid of it is to go back down. This time they are right. Soon after descending below 2000 I could again savor the surroundings, having only the beauty around in mind instead of the ache. They do not say how long it takes until all the symptoms disappear, though. I know it by now, it takes long. Fortunately the city of Pokhara has all the necessary remedies for a broken trekker’s spirit, making my week-long rehabilitation a fine treat.

So how does one get the high altitude sickness? I would not really know, despite the fact I got it. I saw many people, old as well as young, going up in good health and spirit while I also saw a young girl being transported down by a chopper. I guess the sickness really does not give a damn about how old, healthy, or scrupulous in following the instructions you are. One thing I know is once you do get it, go down before it gets worse.

Happy and safe trekking to everyone, despite the altitude dangers, Annapurna Circuit might really be one of the best treks in the world 😉

Annapurna mountain range panorama

Annapurna mountain range panorama

In case you missed the beginning here is the link to part one: http://wp.me/p3hsi0-3J

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This entry was posted on June 23, 2013 by in How-to, Nepal and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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