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Last Updated: Monday, 10 July 2006, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
My Everest flirtation with death
By Navin Singh Khadka
BBC News, Nepal

Navin Singh Khadka on his epic trek
Bad weather and illness suddenly hit Navin Singh Khadka

While making a BBC World Service documentary on the risks porters take to earn their living in Nepal's Everest region, would I be risking my own life?

That was something I had not even thought about during my climb in March to an Everest base camp.

Having reported from the region in 2003 and having trekked other Himalayan routes across Nepal without much difficulty, I took it for granted that I had the experience to cope with high altitudes and cold weather.

My complacency was strengthened by the fact that it was spring - the beautiful season when you normally do not encounter weather problems.

The mesmerising and unobstructed views of the towering Himalayas - including the imperious Mount Everest - were there to encourage me in my labours uphill.

Slushy trail

Before I started, guides explained that if my climbing party left early, the snow - which had recently fallen - would be crusty and we could walk more easily. Later on in the day it would get slushy.

Porter Lhakpa Sherpa
Porters tried in vain to remove slush from the trail

What happens when you walk on a slushy snow trail was something I began to learn about soon after I began my uphill trek on 12 March. Each step was risky, as a climber could slip at any time.

Although it was spring season, I was wearing a pair of simple - and fairly basic - trekking boots. Wherever I trod on the slushy trail, I began to slip. Each step became increasingly risky, especially with a steep cliff on my right-hand side.

Worse still, the sun was bright, making it harder to see on an already challenging journey.

By the first two hours of the trek, I had slipped and fallen more than 10 times. But at least my hands and legs were still safe.

The trickiest part was holding the microphone and the mini disc recorder while following the porters and interviewing them.

After a while, the porters pressed ahead and I was left far behind. I tried to move a bit faster even if that meant taking a bigger risk.

It was then when disaster struck. I found myself performing a somersault half way up the Himalayas.

'Night to die'

I nearly broke my neck. Yet as I tried to get on my feet, I could hear a chuckle of laughter. It was a small boy who had been sliding down on a sledge and it was because of him the trail had become even more slippery.

I tried to laugh at myself too, but I could not, especially when I saw a notice in a small tea house.

"Acute mountain sickness kills," it announced, "so descend now. Don't wait for the night to die."

Just then I realised that it had become cloudy and had begun to snow again. Worryingly I was only half way through my journey to Tengboche at an altitude of 4,000 metres (13,123 feet).

the town of Namche during spring
Heavy snowfall can often catch people out in spring

The rest of the uphill climb was both treacherous and arduous.

It kept on snowing, and started to grow windy. The worst part was the poor condition of the trail. I slipped and fell down umpteen times as I became more and more breathless.

I was panting and pushing myself up. Now that my climb had drastically slowed down, I realised that my legs and toes were freezing. I tried to ignore them and carried on until I reached a rest lodge, changed and tried to make myself warm in the dining room.

It was from that time I began to cough, and did so continuously because I felt there was something in my chest which needed be removed. The more I coughed, the more I wanted to carry on doing so.

I chose a corner and kept on coughing. After an hour or so I could not raise my head properly and begun to swallow my own blood.

Deteriorating weather

I knew that the more I coughed, the worse the situation would become.

Haggard and sick, I returned to the dining hall and tried to distract myself by listening to the conversation of the porters. The idea did not work.

I stumbled outside again, looked up, and noticed that I could no longer see the mountains. The clouds had become thicker and thicker and it was now snowing more heavily than ever. What was once such a beautiful place had suddenly begun to become very frightening.

Each step was risky, as a climber could slip at any time

I had to make a decision. I took out my satellite phone and dialled home. I told my family that I needed to be rescued because the weather was deteriorating and I did not want to walk back down the same slippery trail I had come up that day. I did not tell them the full truth because I did not want them to panic.

As I tried to fend off dizziness by recording the porters, my satellite phone rang. It was Neil Trevithick, my editor at Bush House in London, who reassured me that a helicopter would rescue me the following morning.

Physically, my condition had worsened by then. But psychologically, I had begun to feel better. There was hope of getting out of this place with its terrifyingly adverse weather conditions, even if that meant waiting for one whole night.

The night was long indeed. At first I tried to sleep, but as soon as I lied down I felt like coughing more.

Everest region
Weather in the Everest region is notoriously volatile

When I next opened my eyes, I could see the top of towering Everest growing orange in colour. The golden view meant that the morning was going to be clear and that my helicopter could arrive.

And it did. Just as I was about to board, I looked for a final time at the awesome view of the mountains all around me.

I had by then learnt my lesson. If I wanted to enjoy such a wonder in future, I would have to be better prepared.

The helicopter brought me down to Lukla where I began to feel much better. A doctor at a local hospital diagnosed that I had suffered from an initial stage of pulmonary oedema.

What better way for me to realise the risks endured by porters eking out their living in the Everest region?


SEE ALSO
Everest weather's ups and downs
05 May 06 |  Science/Nature
Himalayan melting risk surveyed
05 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
UN investigates Everest threat
14 Jul 05 |  Science/Nature
Himalaya glaciers melt unnoticed
10 Nov 04 |  Science/Nature
Country profile: Nepal
25 Apr 06 |  Country profiles

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