Beaten by the Flu

I have to say that my trip did not culminate exactly the way I had dreamed it would. Although I did not beat the mountain, the mountain did not beat me either… I was beaten by the flu.

I’ve now been back in dusty Kathmandu from the rich and clean air of the mountains for two full days. We’ve been eating well and relaxing, although Kathmandu’s oxygen rich air has played a trick on us and nearly every second of us has got some kind of a backfire flu, myself included. I hope this will pass soon, though it doesn’t matter that much down here…

The whole thing started to crumble down two days before the Baruntse summit push, but had already been dwindling for some days without me realizing. That day we were supposed to haul some gear to Baruntse Camp 1 for the summit push. It took me some 5,5h to reach the bottom of the West Col from the basecamp and I was totally exhausted. Something was wrong, but I was so delirious that I didn’t notice. I stashed some of my gear into the snow and started heading back down, following my mates Mia and Dave. Halfway, there was a stash tent for crampons and so on, and the moment we reached the tent I knew I had to take a little rest there. The daylight was waning and I was tired. Mia and Dave both continued descending because none of us had a headlamp with us (which was very stupid) and I could not have kept to their pace. I had to wait there for the next person to come by and accompany me to get back to the basecamp.

It took 30 to 45 minutes (it is hard to say how long a time passed) until Andy and Viv arrived. I explained the situation to them and started heading down on my own as I could still see something without the headlamp, and told them to catch me in a while. I actually managed to get quite close to the basecamp before they caught me. There was also some kitchen staff with juice, who the others had told to come and meet us. Then we descended in one line to the camp, but the last bit took a good while, as we had to navigate in the dark and there are many wandering paths near the basecamp. Eventually we reached the camp at 7pm after being on the supposedly “short” trip for 9 hours. We arrived just a few minutes before our expedition leader Arnold, who did the sweep that returned everybody tailing to the camp. His words “oh god”, after he heard when we had arrived, says it all…

The next day was no better. In the morning I came up with a wild idea to check if I had some fever. It was 37,2 in the morning. No biggie. But then it was 37,6 in the afternoon and 38,2 just before dinner. F**k. I knew that this is something you should NOT have at 5300m. I pondered on it for a moment and then said to Arnold that I was not going up the following day. He said “good” and some other comforting words, told me to rest for a day and join the others later on. Yeah. I’ll do that. The next day almost everybody (only three of us stayed at the basecamp) left for the summit. It was quite hard to watch that and say farewells to everybody and not go with them. Then…. the following day. I felt like shit. Headache, still some fever and all my sinuses and chest ached. I knew I had something more than just a flu and I started taking antibiotics for it. And then it hit me that this thing is now over.

The process of me mentally getting over the fact that summiting Baruntse was not going to happen nor would I even be able to give it a try, took a few days, a few tears, a few cries and a phone call to my wife who had 100 per cent faith that I would still get to the summit. But no… it was over for me. I had to get myself back into good enough condition to tackle the rest of the trip, as we still had a week more to go and half of the trekking to do, and also would had to cross the difficult Amphu Laptsa pass.

I had some time to think things over and figured, as I started going through all the symptoms I’d had, that I had probably been ill all the way from Mera Peak high camp. Back then, I had been thinking that “yeah, it’s just the altitude”, and Arnold was saying the same, but now I knew better. It was not the altitude but a freaking flu that had been cracking me up. I have a notorious habit of having fever without noticing it. Some people can’t get out of the bed if they have a 38 degree fever, but I don’t necessarily even notice the whole thing until it has eaten me up – just like this time. But I will not blame my unsuccessfulness on Baruntse solely on my illness. No, I’m quite sure now that even without being ill I would not have been able to summit. It was just too hard. The route was tough and only the strongest 7 out of our 16-person group eventually made it. Could I have done it without my climbing accident in August, I cannot say, but I’m not going speculate about that.

All in all, I am not unsatisfied with the trip. I have been on the longest trek of my life, reached higher than I’ve ever been to, seen some spectacular landscape, and spent time with some truly amazing people. No, I don’t think I have lost much here. On the contrary I might have even gained a lot as I now have some priceless knowledge of myself and the high altitude. And as they say… the mountains will always be there. My hunger for heights has not diminished but this trip has only made me yearn for more. I also don’t think this was my last trip to Nepal. In my guts I know that I will be back.

Me on top of Mera Peak

Me on top of Mera Peak. On the background you can see mountains like Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam, Khanteka on the left and to the right, Nuptse, Everest, Lhotse, Baruntse.

This will be my last post before I reach home after a two-week-trip to India.You can read about the progress of that part of the trip from our travel blog, but it is in Finnish only. I will write a post to cover the whole Mera Peak and Baruntse trip, but that might take a while.

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On terrace between Tengboche a…

On terrace between Tengboche and Namche drinking chhang. Sun shines and life is good. Cute little gray kitten keeps me company.

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Within Civilization Again

Greetings from Mikko to everyone! He sent an SMS this morning, announcing that they are back in the civilized world again (i.e. within the range of cell phone coverage 😉 He was both in good mood and health.

But he was already aware of the next little obstacle they may be facing: fog has shut down Lukla airport since last Wednesday, and some 2,500 trekkers are now stranded over there. According to the original schedule, Mikko’s expedition group is supposed to fly from Lukla to Kathmandu only on Saturday. So let’s hope the fog clears soon and they get the planes flying again well before next weekend, because Mikko has got a date with me in Kolkata the following Monday!

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The Journey Continues

After being forced to spend several days at the basecamp, it seems that Mikko is finally on the move again. I assume the expedition group has now left the basecamp and are trekking toward the Amphu Labtsa pass (at 5848 meters), which they should be crossing tomorrow.

After the pass, there should be cell phone reception again, so I hope we’ll be able to hear directly from Mikko himself in just a couple of days!

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Speculation

I haven’t heard from Mikko since Sunday, but his Spot track reveals that he has stayed put at the basecamp. Let’s hope these two rest days have given him enough time to get better!

According to the latest post on the SummitClimb website, the others are planning to summit already tomorrow, Wednesday 2 November, weather permitting. And if everything goes well, they will be back in the basecamp already on Thursday.

If realized, this schedule would mean that Mikko won’t be able to summit Baruntse, which is of really unfortunate (but of course it may be that his health would prevent him from summitting anyway). But on the plus side, if I recall correctly what he told me before they left Kathmandu, extra days might give the group an opportunity to continue trekking in the region and perhaps even visit Everest basecamp. According to the original schedule, they were planning to return to the basecamp only on Sunday, which means that they might be able to gain three additional days to take the expedition somewhere new and exciting.

Anyhow, this is just my speculation and only the next few days – and Mikko’s Spot track – will tell where he and his fellow expedition members end up.

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Fever News :(

Mikko called a couple of hours ago via the satellite phone with some bad news. He has fever but fortunately not much, at least not much for him. Usually his temperature climbs right away up to at least 39 but now it’s “only” around 38 degrees Celsius – he has a thermometer with him so this should be pretty accurate. This is some sort of a curse of his – Mikko has had fever on every single journey we’ve made, and sadly, this expedition will be no exception.

Luckily, Mikko’s spirits still seemed relatively high, and he was very happy with everything he has been able to do and experience so far. Besides, all is not lost yet and he may even be able to summit Baruntse at the end of next week. The last chance for the summit push will be on Saturday 5 November, and there’s still plenty of time before that, right?

The others will be ascending to Camp 1 tomorrow and will spend two nights there before moving on to Camp 2, from where they will attempt to summit on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, depending on weather conditions. This means that Mikko will have several days to regain his health and catch up with the others. For now, he obviously has to stay at the base camp in the tender care of the sherpas, but if he is feeling better, he will join the others at Camp 1 in a couple of days.

Let’s all hope that Mikko will recover fast and that this fever episode will be just a minor setback on his way to Baruntse!

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Mera Peak

17 expedition members and staff have succeeded in reaching the summit of Mera Peak (6476 meters) on Wednesday morning!

Wake-up time was already at midnight, and after breakfast, the group left the high camp at 2 o’clock. The weather was calm and surprisingly warm according to Arnold, and only close to the summit they encountered more wind. On the way, the expedition divided into smaller groups, each lead by a sherpa, because people naturally vary in their climbing speed. After several hours’ hard work and ice climbing for the last 10 meters with a fixed rope, they reached the summit of Mera Peak between 6 and 8 in the morning.

After the summit, it was time to return to the basecamp via the high camp. The next stop is Baruntse basecamp, which the group may reach already today.

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High Altitude Greetings

Apologies for the long delay in updates, the updater was away on a mini-break in Amsterdam…

In the meantime, the expedition has advanced pretty much as planned. After the rest day on last Wednesday, the group has been steadily gaining altitude and making their way towards Mera Peak.

From Tagnag, they trekked to Khare at 4900 meters, from where the route continues to the Mera Peak basecamp through the Mera La pass at 5600 meters – the highest point that some of the group have ever reached (including Mikko, I assume). The pass also presents some technical challenges and requires using crampons and ice axes for the first time on this expedition.

The group had to stay in Khare for an extra day because it was snowing and it would’ve been too risky to attempt the Mera La pass, especially for the porters who don’t have the same equipment as the members of the expedition.

Fortunately, the following day was sunny and, despite the trail being covered by a couple of centimeters of snow, walking wasn’t too difficult. Expedition leader Arnold depicts the Mera La pass: “The route follows the glacier moraine until you hit the snow cover on the pass. From here you have to climb a little steeper on top of the snowpack, but once you’re on top, the route is kind of straight and flat until the pass drops down again.” He also characterizes the area as a “playing arena for mountaineers”.

From now on, there won’t be any permanent settlement until after Baruntse. This means that the expedition will be completely self-supported with kitchen, dining, shower and toilet tents set up for them. According to Arnold, the Mera Peak basecamp is at a great spot, and they get to have it for themselves since there’s nobody else there.

On Sunday, it was time for some rope training before pushing further. The group practiced cramponing, jumaring, rappelling etc., all of which must be necessary skills later.

The group reached Mera high camp at around 5750 meters on Monday. From there, Arnold called a voice dispatch, telling that they were all very excited to be up there. It had been nice weather with sunshine and no wind, and they had been able to enjoy magnificent views with five of the highest peaks in the world visible.

When Arnold called, the weather was looking good, so he was hopeful about the group being able to summit Mera the next day, i.e. Wednesday. Judging by Mikko’s Spot track and elevation figures, I believe they have succeeded and have returned to the basecamp. I hope there will be a voice dispatch by Arnold from the summit available on the SummitClimb website tomorrow!

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Rest Day

The latest update is by a Dutch team member Jan van den Bos.

Yesterday, as planned, the group gained 700 meters of altitude as they climbed to Tagnag at 4200 meters in good weather and along a nice path. They will stay there for two nights, having a rest day on Wednesday for acclimatizing, resting and showering.

Jan depicts the expedition members: “we’re a quite a strong group right now and also a group of people that creates a good atmosphere, with animated talks during all meals, from breakfast to dinner. Mostly English is the common language, but sometimes you can hear Finnish, German or Dutch too.” (Besides Mikko there are two other Finns in the group.)

It seems that everything is more than OK, and as Jan puts it: “It’s a good life here in the mountains.”

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First glimpse of Mera Peak

More expedition news from the SummitClimb website:

On Sunday, the group passed the Zetra La. Fortunately, the fog had lifted, so on the way the group was able to enjoy clear views of Cho Oyu – and their caravan of porters, speeding away with 30-50 kg burdens on their backs.

The group spent the night in the small settlement of Zetra at 4200 meters and continued to Kote on Monday. During the trek, the elevation dropped by several hundreds of meters with the vegetation also changing from rhododendron and bamboo trees to giant ancient pine trees. At the beginning of the trek, the group caught the first glimpse of Mera Peak at the end of the Hinku Valley.

Kote is situated along the Hinku River at 3500 meters, and here the group stayed for the night and got resupplied with fresh food.

On Tuesday, the group continued to Tagnag at around 4300 meters. Wednesday 19 October is supposed to be a rest day to help with acclimatization before ascending to Khare at 4900 meters on Thursday.


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