Before I ever experienced altitude sickness I’d assumed it meant breathlessness, struggling to inhale and chest problems. How wrong can you be? I first suffered mountain sickness on a trip to Peru and Bolivia, succumbing to a debilitating headache and accompanying nausea, so I knew when the tell-tale signs grew that I was heading for another bout there in Leh.
As we travelled back to our hotel, following our visits to some local Gonpas my headache became worse and I needed to exert some strict control over the nausea that overwhelmed my system. Once back in our room I began throwing up and continued to do so throughout the night, kneeling on the concrete floor of our little shower room, grateful for this small luxury, at least.
Our tour guide, Adrian was aware of my problem. As we were due to go rafting on the River Indus the next morning he explained that I’d have to miss out on it, which did nothing to lighten my mood. Worse still, if I didn’t improve there’d be no trekking either. The walking would be hard, with some steep climbs and long days at altitude. I missed out on dinner and tried to sleep. Maybe I’d have rallied by the morning.
I did manage to sleep, waking next day and feeling wrung out but much improved. When I begged to go on the river trip Adrian relented but instructed me to ‘sit at the back and do NO work’, meaning I wasn’t to take an oar but was allowed to do some light baling, using a plastic bucket. In the event the rafting was quite tame, the rapids mild and we all survived intact. The Indus here was monochrome, sepia, without vegetation and flanked by steep, rocky peaks.
As I’d no ill effects and seemed to be acclimatising it was decided I’d be ok to trek. We gathered to meet Sonam, the Ladakhi guide who was to accompany us, a slim young man about Adrian’s age with a charming smile. We’d be visiting his parents’ home along the way.
We were to carry day-packs, small rucksacks packed with our water [minimum 2 litres], small items we’d need, and our picnic lunch, made for us firstly by the hotel and thereafter by our crew. The crew consisted of three guys and a string of small, hardy ponies who were to carry our main luggage as well as the tents, the cooking gear and all of the food we’d need for the next few days while we were tramping around in the foothills of the Himalayas. These brilliant guys went ahead of us, taking our luggage, pitching our tents and preparing our evening meal whilst we trudged up and down mountains and hills experiencing some of the most extraordinary scenery the world has to offer.