Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk: Nepal, Himalayan jewel (Part 3)
Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk-
Today was the day we would emerge above tree line. We all arose early, as we were eager to see the changes in the terrain. Amar, Guindi, Siri, JP, and I headed out towards Dingboche enjoying each step of the way with much of the trail ascending. As we trekked, we periodically viewed mountain peaks above the wispy clouds. The most commonly viewed one was Ama Dablem (20,987 feet), east of our trekking route.
All the way up the trail (even above the tree-line), we enjoyed wild flowers carpeting the mountains in the colors of garnet, pearl, sapphire, lavender, and crimson. As we climbed above the tree line, the trail began to change from rocky to smoother dirt sprinkled with smaller stones. There were endless fields ringed by rocky fences. Potatoes, a staple food, was grown in these fields. There were many Nepalese working the fields to prepare for the upcoming winter. In each teahouse we stayed, we noticed ever growing piles of potatoes stored inside for the upcoming months.
As the trees disappeared, they were replaced by wider open spaces enabling us to see farther down the trail. We could see Pangboche long before we stopped for lunch. We slightly felt the effects of altitude and hiked a bit slower. As we had each day before, we ate soup for lunch making sure to keep ourselves well hydrated. Good hydration and eating properly is an important part of trekking to keep you healthy and strong. By keeping hydrated, eating, walking at a reasonable pace and getting as much sleep as possible, you will have less likelihood of getting AMS (acute mountain sickness). AMS is the effect of high altitude on people, which occurs through the acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude. What happens is the air gets thinner. This occurs at 8,000 feet or above; although people have gotten it as low as 6,500 feet. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, weakness or fatigue, shortness of breath, insomnia, rapid pulse, drowsiness, diarrhea, and swelling of hands, feet, and face. On a fairly low altitude trek such as ours (15,518 feet), this was our main physical concern. At higher altitudes, there are other physical problems such as pulmonary edema (which can kill you). We arrived at Dingboche (14,468 feet) tired and ready for a rest. The owner of the teahouse in Dingboche was evidently well acquainted with Amar. He greeted us with open arms, gave us a room with a view, and a private non-flush toilet. It felt like sheer luxury. Eventually, JP and I went down for a long afternoon nap.
The following day, we hiked to Chhukhung (15,518 feet) and back to Dingboche due to our time restraints. Upon arriving in Chhukhung, we encountered a solo Chinese man who kept saying over and over again, “I’ve waited here two days and the weather won’t clear.” He kept saying this and looking at us as if we could do something about it. This is the way of the Himalaya, the weather is often unpredictable. Apparently, the cloud cover over the surrounding peaks had been present for a number of days. Originally, we had wanted to go to the base of Island Peak, but time just didn’t allow. After lunch in Chhukhung, we began our descent back to Dingboche. This was the easiest hiking of the trip. Upon arriving, we had our afternoon tea as the only guests of the teahouse, hung out some clothes to dry, then retired to our room to read and rest. Quite suddenly in late afternoon, a deluge of rain came pouring down. Guindi grabbed the clothes and I went back to reading while JP napped. It poured and poured and poured. When the sky cleared, it was near dusk. With a knock at our door, we were told to look out. Speechless, we watched the whole pearly outline of Island Peak surrounded by the crimson sunset. It was magnificent. JP and I both took photos. As you looked down the village, you could see various flashes of other trekkers’ cameras going off. What a spectacular way to end the day.
Trekking back down the trail involved plenty of ascents as well as descents. We re-entered the tree line and enjoyed the canopy of pine trees, the roaring river, and the hillsides dotted with numerous waterfalls. Many more hikers were beginning to come up the trail, including large groups of all ages. We stopped in Tengboche in a teahouse partially full of other hikers just as the rain was beginning to come down. This was the first teahouse that we’d been in with other trekkers. We were able to share in some of the camaraderie of the trail, especially with a young Thai couple who were on their way up. Not only were they trekkers, but in speaking with them we learned they were scuba divers just like us. We shared our appreciation of Thailand with them, having been there a number of times ourselves. Up early the next morning, we headed out for Namche Bazar appreciating every step of the way. In Namche, we stayed in the same place we did on the way out, the Himalayan Lodge. Again, we were the only ones there, JP, Amar, Guindi, Siri, and myself. The significance of the lodge was that we first heard about it at the new Sausalito restaurant, Taste of the Himalaya. A young female waitress, Basa, who waited on friends and us two days before we left, was from Namche Bazar. Her father owns the Himalayan Lodge. At the lodge, his other daughter was especially helpful, and painfully shy at the same time. Upon departing Namche, she generously presented us with Katahs, in Buddhist tradition these scarves are given as a sign of well-wishing. It is a great honor to receive these.
The final day of trekking presented the longest day yet. We were to go all the way from Namche to Lukla. Heavy rocks and numerous rocky stairs stretched out before us. JP’s goal was to finish strong, yet he was tiring a bit. He told me to say, “I chased Dr. Joan up and down the Himalaya and she ground me into dust.” I replied, “Very funny.” A hard day ahead, we initially moved well along the trail. My goal for the final day was to slow down and stay with JP as much as possible. Unfortunately, he lost his footing several times and went down hard, hurting his back a bit. The pace slowed but we kept moving along solidly. We loved the raging rivers, spectacular waterfalls, glorious wildflowers, trees of all sorts, and trails leading to a thousand places. We stopped in Phakding for tea and lunch, eating a bit more for the long day of hiking. With a couple of hours to go and all upward, the rain began to come down steadily. We had brought rain suits so we were fully prepared, but tired. In nine days on the trail, we’d trekked eight. We went from 4,600 feet in Kathmandu to 9,317 feet in Lukla to 15,518 feet in Chhukhung and back to Lukla. We were tired, happy, and sad all at the same time. Each moment of the trail taught us lessons. We learned our strength and appreciation of the nature around us often trekking for miles without saying a word. When it got hard, we got stronger. We enjoyed the Nepalese people, their shy sweetness reflected in their soft eyes and hesitant smiles. Having always measured our life in goals (such as climb Mt. Kilimanjaro), the idea of taking a trek taught us to appreciate just being in the surroundings we were in. A part of my old self was revisited and revived. The trek was magical and spiritual. Both of us returned feeling refreshed and renewed with a three year climbing plan in mind.
For more information about trekking and other outdoor adventures with Destination Nepal, please contact Pancha Tamang firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Joan Steidinger is a sports and clinical psychologist with offices in Mill Valley and San Francisco. She has been practicing sports psychology with clients ranging from recreational to pro athletes for the past 17 years.
As an athlete herself, she has been a competitive ultrarunner, Ride & Tie competitor, and ultradistance cyclist.