We give a handful of instant coffee bags to the lady of the lodge, who gave us such a sweet advice yesterday. Coffee is bad for altitude sickness, so why drag those bags along? And the poor people here are happy with it. She gives us the contact details of another lodge in Machhermo and adds that they will certainly help me if I have to be evacuated to the hospital. But let’s hope that it does not have to come this far.
When we leave, she comes running after us. She wants to give me hot water. And salt. She says it will help against the laryngitis. We thank her, say goodbye, and make our way through thick clouds. The dense fog hangs an almost impenetrable veil over the landscape. It gives the landscape something ominous. As if it wants to warn us for the horrible scenes that we will soon find behind the mysterious curtain.
But when an hour later the fog slowly rises, those scenes turn out just fine. From behind the clouds a beautiful rolling landscape comes peeking. The snow-covered peaks stay hidden for us, but it won’t be long before also they will show themselves in full glory.
We dive into a small forest for a while, before finally reaching the tree line. More and more we get the feeling that we are climbing to the roof of the world. All the green, all life we leave behind us. We exchange the fertile nature for poor mountains with dry grass. They are the harbinger of the rocky and snowy landscape that we will have to cross later.
We steadily climb our way up until we arrive on a wonderful trail above the Dudh Kosi. The Dudh Kosi is not an unknown name for the readers of my home town Lommel in Belgium. After all, a local outdoor company carries the same name. It is also the name of a river, which literally means “milk river”. The river owes its name to the fact that it is characterized by fast flowing, white water.
The Dudh Kosi rises from the Ngozumpa glacier, which we have to cross in a few days. The ferocious character of the river, combined with the fact that the Dudh Kosi is the highest river in the world, makes die-hard outdoor enthusiasts dream out loud of taming her by kayak. A sixteen-strong team ventured in 1973 in good spirits the very first descent of the river by kayak. They needed no less than 110 sherpas to bring all their material to Pheriche (4243m), where their departure began. Two months and 126 kilometers later, they successfully arrived in Sun Kosi.
In the village of Luza, a resident points out that we are taking the wrong turn. He quickly puts us back on the right trail, after which we take a short break before starting the last part to Machhermo. And those last miles really get to me. I don’t get any oxygen pumped into my lungs and every step feels like half a marathon. When I catch a glimpse of the village in a small valley behind a hilltop I feel really relieved.
When we finally arrive in Machhermo we go straight to the “rescue post”. It’s on the other side of the village, so it’s still a bit of a walk. On the way over there we encounter a Tibetan snow cock.
A metal hut with a large red cross painted on it serves as a medical practice at high altitude. Someone lets us in, so we don’t have to wait outside in the icy wind. Not that I can remove my gloves and beanie inside, since it is freezing cold here as well! The doctors went for a walk and nobody knows exactly when they will return. Apparently a Swiss girl has been waiting already for more than an hour. Three quarters of an hour later, however, the doctors are back and they are all ears for us. The Swiss girl has a mild form of altitude sickness and is advised to descend today or tomorrow. Then it’s my turn …
The doctors do a complete body check-up with the primitive equipment that is available here. For example, checking the throat is done with a headlamp we also carry in our backpacks. The oxygen level in my blood is being measured. Normally it should be between 95% and 100%. My oxygen level appears to be 86%. But no panic. That’s completely normal at this altitude. Nevertheless, it is important to keep an eye on the oxygen level, because if your blood doesn’t pump enough oxygen to your body parts, it can lead to very unpleasant consequences. My heart rhythm is fine too. But the fever thermometer betrays with its 34.5 ° C on the display that I don’t feel very well. I look anxiously at the doctor, but he immediately says that it is nothing to worry about. “You are exceptionally fit and you do not have altitude sickness,” he says firmly, after which Wim and I sigh with relief. I do seem to have severe pneumonia, which must be treated because according to the doctors it sucks all the energy out of my body. Yep, I felt that…
I have to double my dose of altitude sickness medication to reduce the headache. In addition, I must start with an adjusted antibiotic treatment (the antibiotics that I had from home didn’t work), and the doctors recommend to have a rest day in Macchermo. We thank the doctors, pay the pricy bill and walk back to the village. And during that walk I am confronted with the harsh reality that a rest day will indeed be necessary. I am really dead after a few steps and I feel like my head is splitting open. So it’s back to bed, and let the antibiotics do their work …!