It’s Day 6 of our trek to Everest Base Camp and it’s a hive of activity this morning. Either we’re around a little earlier, or the porters have had a slow start. Today we head from Dhole to Machhermo.
Dhole to Machhermo Logistics
If you’re interested in the details of how far we trekked each day and what the altitude gain is, here are those details.
Dhole to Machhermo Distance
The distance between Dhole and Machhermo is 3.3 miles or 5.3 kilometres.
Dhole to Machhermo Altitude Gain
The altitude of Dhole is 4200m, the altitude of Machhermo is 4470 m. Today we gained 270 metres in altitude.
Dhole to Machhermo Time Trekking
It took us 5 hours to walk from Dhole to Machhermo.
We’re all buoyed by the fact that its “just” 270 meters increase in altitude and it should take us three hours. Our briefing tells us that it shouldn’t be too hard and of course we believe it.
Dhole to Machhermo Map
Down we go from the campsite, over the stream and then of course up, over a small ridge and then we’ll walk up the valley from Dhole to Machhermo.
The peaks seem further away today, but continue to amaze.
There’s little other traffic other than a few yaks, but buildings that look picturesque, but not necessarily waterproof.
The sheer number of buildings that don’t use cement is astonishing – such a reliance on making the stone fit shows a huge amount of skill, time and effort.
How is the Trail from Dhole to Machhermo?
The trekking is relatively easy today – I mean apart from the fact that we’re at more than 4000 meters. There’s a defined track, not much scrambling and its easy to daydream away.
Until we get to the mud. And the snow. Where there was once track there are now lots as everyone seeks to avoid the mud, which looks ankle deep. So we choose high or low and start to scramble through low level brush.
Further on we get to choose between knee high snow or mud. I pick snow. And slow.
Altitude Sickness Strikes our Group
Normally at the front, Tim, our super fit short wearing Aussie is going slow today. We’re about 2 hours in when he stops and we wait for Ramesh, our leader and first aider to catch up. His lips are blue. He’s having a tough, tough time when he walks, but is fine when he stops.
At our stop for the night, Machhermo there’s a Porter Rescue post – stationed by volunteer Doctors from the UK, we’ll all continue and if he’s no better, Tim will be able to take a consultation.
Other Trekkers Are Interesting to Watch
Somewhat sobered, we all plod on slowly, although there’s a Happy Asian Chick, who passes us almost at a run on a regular basis. She gallops past with her guide and porter, arranges herself and her perfect hair for a series of photos and gallops off again. It’s exhausting watching her and I pull my beanie tighter over my hair, which is now not fit for photographic consumption.
There’s a final snow covered slope that we slither down, head over a stream and we’re there.
Dhole to Machhermo in 3 hours ?
It’s been a hard “three hours” – actually its been 5 hours, but what’s 120 minutes between friends. At least we’re beginning to understand the difference between flat, flattish and up.
Our first selection of tent is somewhat flawed, the zips are broken, so we end up with a four foot wide chunk of ice in our entrance.
My legs can’t stretch over that, so envisaging a lot of night time trips to the toilet, we enlist the help of our porter team. Nigel gallantly carries the pick axe, but it’s decided its safer for him not to use it and 15 minutes later we can enter the tent without taking our lives in our hands.
Machhermo and the Porter Rescue Post
Next to the campsite is the Porter Rescue Post run by Community Action Nepal (CAN) and the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG) – it’s a group of charity organizations – with UK based volunteer doctors – there are four here today, tomorrow two of them will be trekking up to Gokyo, where they’ll open the Rescue Post there for the season.
Nepali Porters and Healthcare
There’s no national health service here and with an annual average salary of US$724 per year, most healthcare is unaffordable for those who survive on the land or on porters wages.
The Porter Rescue Post runs on donations – healthcare is free to locals and a consultation for visitors is US$50 (of course that can be claimed on travel insurance). The Porter Rescue Post run by Porters Progress also provides beds for the night and meals for 250 NPR per porter.
Altitude Talk at the Porter Rescue Post
We join them at 3pm for their daily altitude talk. It’s well practiced, informative and well presented. They not only discuss how the charity was formed, but the problems of altitude, not just for us, but also for the Nepalese.
Nepalese Porters Earning Pressure
While Sherpas do have some physiological differences (there’s some seriously heavy detail on that here: ) to those of from lower climes, many of the porters found during the pre and post monsoon season are actually from the lowlands. The climbing and trekking season is short. From late October until late May – so the pressure to earn while us foreign spenders are in the country is huge. Alternative employment options are limited. We hear about porters sleeping in caves, wearing flip flops or plimsolls, even in heavy snow. We’ve seen this for ourselves and we’ll see even more of it as we join the main trails again.
The Impacts of Acute Mountain Sickness
We’re led through a discussion of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and how it impacts us – here at more than 4,000 meters there’s only 50% of the oxygen that we’d expect at sea level. We can expect head aches, breathlessness, a lack of appetite and sleeplessness. It feels, they tell us, like a hangover. We need to hydrate constantly. Each breath that we take removes moisture from our body.
The Only Cure for AMS is Simple.
The only cure for AMS is to get down the mountain. To reduce the altitude. The oxygen chamber that we saw demonstrated two nights ago will help reduce the symptoms. The only way to get out of danger is to get off the mountain.
Trekking at altitude carries risks. We insured ourselves through World Nomads – buying specific altitude coverage in case of altitude sickness. We were also able to renew our policy while out of our home country. Get a price for your travel and health insurance now.
It gets worse. Untreated AMS can develop into High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), where fluid collects on the lungs. High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is where fluid collects on the brain. Both can quickly be fatal if untreated. And treatment is the same as for AMS. Get off the mountain quickly.
Oxygen Sat Tests
We all opt to have an oxygen saturation test done – for 100 NPR, the Docs will test the level of oxygen in our blood. We all come in with stats somewhere in the 80’s – pretty average , say the docs.
However, we’re chilled by the report later that Tim’s oxygen sats are just 39%. He spends the night at the rescue post. He’s in and out of the oxygen chamber under the supervision of the doctors. We all contemplate the sheer good luck of the location of the rescue post. Its a subdued group that eats dinner in the yak poo fuel warmed dining room.
In other news, the toilets are most definitely an improvement on Dhole. And that’s a good thing because I’ve turned into the human liquidizer. Everything is going straight through me. And I’m not sure its touching the sides on the way through.
No sooner has Ramesh returned from the first of many visits to the rescue post, he’s doing his rounds of the rest of the group. There’s no embarrassment as he asks about our symptoms. He then dispenses knowing looks, antibiotics and electrolyte drinks. He also suggests that those of us who aren’t taking Diamox now start to do so.
Diamox and Altitude Sickness
While some of our group have been taking Diamox since Kathmandu or Lukla on the advice of doctors from home, we hadn’t been. The Doctors at the rescue post spent a good deal of time discussing the benefits and provided handouts with information
Diamox is a medication that forces the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate (the base form of carbon dioxide). This re-acidifies the blood and helps to balance hyperventilation that occurs at altitude. It helps to accelerate acclimatization.
I’ll be taking half a tablet morning and night. While it doesn’t remove the requirement to remain hydrated, warm and get rest, it should help with the headaches and some of the breathlessness that happens even when resting. A course of antibiotics and some electrolyte replacement drinks are also prescribed for my stomach.
Tomorrow we “rest”
We’re also taking a rest day tomorrow. We had a day in hand because of our accelerated schedule – by missing the night at Ghat, as on our first day we headed straight from Lukla to Monjo. We also want to see how Tim is doing in the morning. There will of course be an optional short trek, being that its a rest day, just to gain a little altitude and climb high sleep low. The hike won’t be as long as the one we did through the Khumbu Valley on our first rest day out of Namche Bazaar. It’s an early night as we retire to rest, stay warm and drink water.