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ALPINE RUNNING I 16.11.2018 I Stefanie Traurig

Dreams and nightmares in the highest mountains in the world

Every mountain athlete has a dream, a really personal goal that he or she wants to achieve at some point. His or her own MOUNTOPIA. And that was true of me, too – Mount Everest base camp or even higher was the dream. Indeed, to travel up into the Himalaya is about like running an ultramarathon. There are difficult climbs and moments where you think even one single step seems like a big task you can hardly muster. Then, all of a sudden, progress is again without much effort at all, and this ease seems as if it will continue for all eternity. Precisely these phases are what I experienced during my endeavor, which made my long-desired Mountopia both a kind of a dream and nightmare at the same time.

From the most dangerous airport in the world off to giants of ice

Early in the morning at 6:15 our journey started out in a small prop plane from Kathmandu to Lukla, the most dangerous airport in the world. Luckily, the flight was better than expected. After arriving, we ascended on that first day some 30k with 2,000 meters of vert at a good pace to where we could acclimatize relatively quickly after Namche Bazar (a small mountain village at 3,400 meters). The landscape was amazing and seeing the huge giants of ice as a backdrop was an overwhelming feeling. Covered with snow and instilling respect and awe, they tower into the sky, more than 8,000 meters. Up until this point, the mood was really good.


Arriving in Lobuche, at about 5,000 meters above sea level, in the middle of the Himalaya, the sky is blue, and the air is cool – or, better said, icy cold. On the way to Mount Everest base camp, we were in a long hall from which small bedrooms branch off. The walls are hardly thicker than particle board, which you notice in particular during the night. Hot showers are also a bit of a luxury up here, and you can’t really get yourself warmed up in the “sitting area.” With temperatures below freezing, you really just want to tuck yourself into your sleeping bag in your room with your down jacket and blanket over it all.

Pretty soon, it was snowing outside, and the water in the rain barrels and outhouses was frozen, as too was the water on the ground. In the morning, a quick dash to brush your teeth and back into your climbing clothes. That’s how it went each morning.

Why do we do this to ourselves?!

But, hey, it’s a dream and the best part is that it will come as usual to an end. That it would turn into a nightmare is not something I recognized at this time. Nepal in October – that means not only bone-chilling cold at night, but also a clear view of the mountain range in the rarefied air. There was not a cloud in the sky, only helicopters, which moved like bubbles between the mountains to fly people into the valley who had altitude sickness. The view of the mountains was breathtaking. Nevertheless, I had managed to catch a bit of a cold which didn’t really make any of this any easier.

Mood sinks to a low, fatigue couldn’t go any lower

The route took us a rather long ways through the Nepalese Khombu region to Gorak Shep, the place where most tourists don’t stay more than one night. It is at 5,207 meters. From there, we headed out, with only a few hours to the base camp at Mount Everest. Already pretty beat and exhausted, we got ourselves going. Grasses don’t grow up here anymore and as the elevation increased the remaining oxygen content sunk. Finally, we were there – arriving at the base camp, we were now at 5,350 meters. But I couldn’t really enjoy all of it in peace. Loud music pounded out of ghetto blasters, hundreds of people, a wedding, tourism en masse – I just wanted out of here, what a nightmare. I first just sat down, and I had to increasingly fight with the lack of oxygen since my cold was getting worse. All of our moods were really at an all-time low. Was all this my dream?  Should something like this remain on the “to-do” list?  NO. TOTALLY not.

 

The return trip to Gorak Shep was another nightmare, hardly any energy, and sick, really completely sick. The air was icy, windy, and I noticed that I was staggering, and coughing like mad, my head was pounding and I was really super nauseated. Heading down I had to take a break. With this flu, I had all the signs of altitude sickness. With my last bit of strength, I dragged myself into the lodge. Everything was surreal, like in a dream. I was not hungry at all, felt totally sick, and it was clear I had to get down the mountain. Heading the next day to Kala Patthar, with its elevation of 5,675 meters, was also off the agenda. A friend of mine was also feeling some altitude sickness so we headed down at a good clip.

This journey, it was not about comfort, but was to be a challenge. The more unusual and extreme, the better to forget daily life. Still, this challenge had pushed me right up to the edge of my physical and mental limits. I learned to appreciate the small things in life more. And my gaze isn’t just directed stubbornly to the next summit.