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The Amnye Machen Entries, Part 3

Here's yet another entry from my journal on our Amnye Machen trek. If you're not a fan of diving head-first into the middle of a story with zero context, read Part 1 and Part 2 first. If you're into that kind of thing, however, by all means please dive away. Judgement-free zone here. 

Date: 7/14/14
Location: Camp 1 to Camp 2           
~4200 m (13,780 ft)

Altitude Sickness

I wake up feeling pretty horrible despite having slept through most of the night. I had a sharp pain in my chest every time I breathed deeply. It was easily the most worried I've ever been while hiking before. Even more so than the Iceland debacle. I tried to shake it off, knowing that constantly thinking about it would make it worse.

The first order of business was to cross the glacial river next to the camp. For some reason, Kate, Monk and I decided to follow a Chinese group that had set up camp next to us last night. Our guide had ridden ahead on his horse to scout out a path and we were going to the same place anyway. This proved to be a bad decision as their guide proceeded to demonstrate that he lacked a lot of basic mountaineering knowledge.

Instead of going west of the camp where the stream got weaker, he was heading toward the glacier where it was surely stronger. When he saw there was really no where to cross, he began throwing stones into the deep river as if that would help. We shook our heads and went back the way we came.


Then our guide and the horseman came to the rescue. Despite my aversion to horses, we needed them to cross. I really didn't trust them. I mean, two of them got in a massive fight at the campsite the evening before, rearing up and beating the shit out of each other until the monk broke up the fight. That guy is fearless. It was a bit unsettling looking into the rough waters before the horse plunged in, but we made it.

So, we spent an hour trying to get over that river. The flat ground had been no problem for me, but when we started on the series of uphills in the grasslands at the foot of the mountain, I felt the altitude. I had to take longer breaks much more often. The monk was constantly reassuring us, telling us to go slowly, "mandian" in Chinese and "gale galesan" in Tibetan.


After the grasslands, we had two choices: go the "dangerous way" or take an easier way that was longer by 15 minutes. After this morning, of course we chose the easier way, which basically consisted of constant downhill and scrambling under nomad fences until we reached the valley below. I was in no shape to be a hero today.

Then we headed up an old dirt trail, heading straight for a different corner of the mountain in the distance. It was all anyone could have asked for in a Tibetan experience: a rocky road with houses on either side, prayer flags every few hundred meters and an ice-capped Amnye Machen in the distance. It wasn't too different at all from photos I've seen of Everest Base Camp.

While taking a rest on the road, we soon saw the difference between the easy way and the dangerous way. The Chinese group could barely be seen at the edge of a cliff with a rocky scree leading to a grassy/stony hill below. It did indeed look dangerous. The monk was cracking up over their predicament.

They started one way, decided it was too difficult, started another, and on and on. When they eventually did get down, we tackled the final leg of the day's hike together. It didn't take long for us to encounter another obstacle, however. We needed to cross another glacial river, only this time we were blessed with a thin sheet of metal that was acting, I guess, as a bridge. No problem.


One of the horses was not a fan. No amount of urging, coaxing or pulling would get him across, the rough waters had spooked him so much. The guide and horseman had to lead him to a gentler part of the river downstream to ford.

We pressed on. The rest of the hike was a lot of uphill on a worn-out, winding path that eventually became a yak or sheep path. When we summited the final hill, we took a breather and looked out over a flat, stony valley floor where we would be camping. The entire place must have been a river long ago.

I was a bit worried about Kate tonight as it seemed her cough was coming back. The thing had been plaguing her since three weeks ago. We had climbed up to about 4600 m (15,100 ft) and it was clearly affecting her. I kicked myself for not suggesting that we call the whole thing off. She already had her herniated disc, and now this as well. I'm not sure what I would do with myself if something happened to her.

Continued in Part 4.

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