RAF100 HIMALAYAN VENTURE 18 - Blog by Emily Brittain (Entry #2)
Nameste from Thengpa!
It’s Tuesday 11th September and we’ve had our first acclimatisation day. This meant a luxurious lie-in until 7am and our first alfresco breakfast of potato frittata and toast! The setting was stunning - the sun was shining bright and the majestic snowy mountain peaks at 6000m towered behind us, not a bad way to celebrate my tent buddy and fellow team mate Elaine’s 24th Birthday!
Our trek from Monjo (when I last checked in) up to Namche 3 days ago was a really tough one for me, despite it only being a few hours. I think the past 8 days of walking was catching up and I was so glad to arrive in the infamous bazaar. It was amazing to see Namche, our campsite which was a 15 minute walk up from the shops offered a wicked view over the colourful buildings all nestled in the valley. It was really cool to experience the atmosphere after hearing so much about it. We arrived on a Saturday but unfortunately missed the last remains of the weekend market, but there were lots of shops to restock our mars bars supplies and trekking bits and bobs. The highlight of my day was having a sit-down in one of the cafes and eating chocolate carrot cake (which was AMAZING) and a coke, which tasted out of this world after a week and a half in the wild.
As all of our team were dealing with the altitude well so far, we decided to push on to Thame and then to Thengpa on consecutive days and save our acclimatisation day for higher altitude. We’re currently at 4,300m here in Thengpa and we’ve had a few headaches in the group, but generally well. I’m also feeling a bit fresher after a nap yesterday afternoon and a great nights sleep - my earplug/eyemask sleeping system is something I swear by!
For our acclimatisation walk today we trekked for about 3 hours up to the valley to our highest point so far - 4,800m. A couple in the group had to turn back at 4,700m as the effects of the diminished oxygen were becoming apparent with headaches and nausea. I definitely was feeling it, becoming out of breath in 5 steps! And feeling much weaker on my feet than I have before, but we will be better prepared in the next few days because of it.
After shooting back down to camp and meeting Team 1 and 2, our fellow RAF trekking groups who had caught up with us on the route, we had a warming but unusual lunch of hash browns, veg and sushi! After tinned fruit, we got our B2 boots and crampons out of our duffle bags to practice putting them on to make sure we were ready for any snowy or icy conditions coming up in the next few days as we head towards Tesi Lapcha Pass at 5,755m.
Throughout our 3 week trek, our team are being participants for a medical research project, investigating the effect of nitrate supplementation in the form of concentrated beetroot juice versus protein supplement on the symptoms of altitude sickness, fitness markers and inflammation of the bowel.
This has involved us doing twice daily assessment of blood pressure, oxygen saturation and Lake Louise scores for altitude sickness symptoms. In addition to this there is a step test every few days, plus stool samples (!) where we are looking at the level of Calprotectin - a market of bowel inflammation.
I was randomly selected into the beetroot juice group, which is a daily struggle!! The 100ml bottle which smells like salty baked beans, and tastes even worse, has to be followed by a spoon of honey to make it palatable!! But it’s all in the name of science!
I’m really excited to see the results, as I’m so interested in how the human body copes in extreme environments! It’s a core part of expedition medicine and applicable to occupational medicine in the Royal Air Force, where pilots and deployed personnel can be subjected to hypoxia in daily life and training.
The local people and our porters that we’ve met have all been so friendly. Most of them speak limited English but we have been trying to pick up some of the lingo. Our 3 daily phrases, spelled phonetically are:
“Dan you’re bad” - Thankyou
“Jam Jam” - let’s go!
“Bistari bistari” - slowly slowly
It’s absolutely crazy how much the porters carry - while we’re struggling up the mountain with 5kg, they’re lugging 30kg+ duffle bags in flip flops! And they’ve always got a smile on their face, I’ve got so much respect for them.
They look after us so well, Bhindra and his son Moni keep a steady pace on the walks, brings us bed tea, and feeds us all of our meals and our sirdar Ram offers so much knowledge about Nepal and trekking in the Himalayas.
A last note about our team dynamics - you’ll be surprised to hear (!) that our group of 12 students are all getting on really well and having a right laugh along the way! It’s been so great to get to know everyone so far and find out what we all bring to the group, from banter and jokes, to advice and reassurance or a shoulder massage at the end of the day! No one has fallen out so far (!) and as our trek takes a more challenging turn, our teamwork and friendship will be of vital importance.
Till next time!