Tuesday 24 December
This morning we climbed steeply out of Namche. Although it was bitterly cold first thing, and I couldn’t feel my hands or feet for the first 45 minutes despite thick gloves, we soon hit sunshine and the transformation was instant. Within seconds we were stripping off hats, gloves and outer layers and basking in the warmth. We climbed very sedately, with short breaks every 30 minutes or so, but we could certainly feel the altitude. I alternated all day between mild headaches, bouts of nausea and waves of dizziness, but almost all were shortlived, and it wasn’t enough to spoil my day.
On the way up, we saw our first yaks — until now, we had only seen dzo, which are a cross between a yak and a cow. Speculation broke out as to the purpose of a dzo (and why it is advantageous over a yak). Some interesting suggestions arose, but the answer turns out to be that yaks can only survive above 3000m, whereas cows can only survive below 3000m; dzo, on the other hand, can happily exist at both low and high altitudes, so are more useful for transporting goods up and down the mountains. Although they were mostly very docile, two of our group found themselves chased by an angry yak at one point, much to our amusement. Luckily, our multi-talented guides were all proficient yak drivers, and managed to avert disaster (and injury by sharp horns!) at the last second. Their technique involved running and shouting odd yak-like noises, at great personal danger to themselves. I don’t know what the yaks thought they were doing, but it seemed to work.
Our mid-morning teabreak today was taken at the very posh Everest View Hotel, which certainly lived up to its name. We were able to sit out on the huge terrace in blazing sunshine and simply admire the stunning views.
In the afternoon, we visited the Edmund Hillary-funded hospital in Kunde, which was surprisingly clean and modern despite having very limited facilities. I had a most interesting chat with the doctor there about the problems of drug availability and long term conditions. In particular, we talked about diabetes. Because they cannot get hold of insulin, type 1 diabetics just die, although type 2s do fare a bit better as they have access to some oral medications. It’s not a matter of cost (although insulin is expensive) – they simply can’t get hold of insulin. I felt very humbled, and very helpless being able to do nothing to help except offer a small donation. I remembered that a diabetic friend of mine, Jerry Gore, raises money with various mountaineering challenges for a charity called Insulin for Life, and in particular last year raised money to support diabetics at a hospital in Patan, Nepal. It all suddenly seemed very real now that I was in a hospital where diabetics were left to die! The doctor was absolutely fascinated to see my insulin pump, as of course he had never even heard of such a thing. It was incredible to him that as a type 1 diabetic, I could even live a normal life, let alone come trekking up mountains to over 5000m! I left the hospital in a very sombre mood.