It's amazing what a lack of sleep can do to your mental health.
While I was awoken frequently by Zev getting up and down to dash to the bathroom, I managed to snatch some snippets of sleep throughtout the night. Zev, meanwhile, was almost catatonic, and looked like he was on the verge of a breakdown.
When Zev gets sick, I always find it pretty scary, because he doesn't get sick very often. When he does, he goes from fine to near death very quickly. The last time I saw him this sick was in Goa, when he had heatstroke, and could barely form a sentence. This time, he was just sitting on the bed, staring at the wall.
The decision was clear - there was no way we could continue going up with Zev (and to a lesser extent me) in this state. We packed our bags and headed down, paid for our accommodation in a whirl, hitting the trail back to Pheriche at 0820am.
Our plan was to make it back to Hotel Edelweiss, check in to a room with a private bathroom to cut down on Zev's commute, and depending on how the rest of the day went, maybe go back to the doctor's in Pheriche to see if they had any recommendations for us. In a couple of days, when we were both feeling better, we'd carry on back up the trail to Base Camp, but for now, it looked like the Gokyo Lakes side trip was off.
When even downhill is hard
As we started clambering back down the slope to Pheriche, it was clear that we were in worse shape than we'd thought. We were both still absolutely freezing from our frosty room, and the wind was zipping up the valley yet again, chilling our bones.
We were stopping every few minutes to rest - even moving downhill was pushing the limits of what we were capable of.
And even though going down in altitude was supposed to make you feel better, we weren't feeling any effect at all.
We collapsed onto a boulder on the side of the trail, huddling to keep warm, toroughly miserable. After a brief period of silence, I just said it. "Let's get out of here". Zev looked at me. "We're both miserable and sick, and neither of us is having a good time any more. Even if we do feel better in Pheriche, the thought of having to climb this hill again makes me want to die. I don't think Pheriche is low enough to make a difference to how we're feeling, and I think we should just go."
While it was an incredibly hard decision, and we both really REALLY didn't want to give up, it just felt less and less achievable with every passing day. With a huge amount of sadness and frustration, but a great deal of relief, we agreed to carry on back to Pangboche, then to reassess once we got there.
Thukla to Pangboche
We continued our descent, walking back through the valley and past Pheriche, before climbing up and over the hill out of town.
Soon enough, we found ourselves back in the field in Orsho that we'd stopped in on the way into Pheriche.
We sat down in the field, finally sheltered from the wind, and let the sun shine down on our faces, finally warming us up. I think this was where it hit us that we were really going back. We spent a little time processing all the amazing experiences we'd had hiking in Nepal up to that point. All feelings of disappointment were mingled with immense feelings of relief, making it a little difficult to really make sense of the whole situation.
We hit the road again, polishing off the hour or so's walk to Pangboche, where we stopped to refuel at the bakery we'd stopped at on the way up. Mirroring the change in our moods, the cinnamon danish was stale, so we didn't linger.
Pangboche to Tengboche
We powered through the walk from Pangboche to Tengboche. Although we hadn't felt any better on the descent from Thukla to Pheriche, the path between Pangboche and Tengboche was, for the most part, flat or downhill, so managed to trick ourselves into thinking that we were feeling a little peppier.
The veneer fell sharply away as we began the ascent into Tengboche. Despite the short distance, the brutal climb left us breathless and sweating by the time we reached the top of the hill.
Tengboche to Namche Bazar
At the top of the hill, with replenished water, we made the decision to push on back to Namche, where we knew we could get nice rooms, hot showers, good food and more oxygen.
First, we had to get back down the mammoth hill we'd climbed up into Tengboche so many days ago.
45 minutes of knee smashing, kidney jarring downhill later, we had reached the police checkpoint where we checked out. We stopped for a quick drink and a muesli bar in Phungi Thenga (which we had deliriously nicknamed Funky Finger).
This was where things got difficult. From here, it was a 1.5 hour uphill slog, followed by another 1.5 hours of a relatively flat path back to Namche. We had our work cut out for us.
The uphill was excrutiating. It was the first time in my life that I've ever beat Zev up a hill. He looked absolutely dead on his feet, was struggling to put one foot in front of the other, and wasn't even talking any more. But we'd made the decision to carry on to Namche, and dreams of comfortable beds and hot showers were pulling us through.
Sure enough, about 1.5 hours later, the path finally started to level out. It was getting late in the day, and the clouds were rolling in. We couldn't see more than 50 metres ahead of us on the trail as the low clouds obscured the path. And Zev was really struggling
At this point, I actually started to get worried that he might not make it back to Namche. I was torn between wanting to hurry on ahead to sort out accommodation, drop my bag and come back to help him, or maybe to send help back for him, and being scared to leave him by himself.
The further along the path we trudged, the more things started to look familiar. Once we reached the stupas where we'd got our views of Everest on our way out of Namche, I knew we were getting close.
Suddenly, a photo shop I recognised on the outskirts of Namche popped into view, and I could have cried. We'd made it!
From there, it was a 10 minute dash down the neverending stairs in Namche to check ourselves in to Khangiri Hotel.
Within 5 minutes of arriving, we were in our beautiful, warm and comfortable room. Zev collapsed on the bed, so I went to organise the hot showers for us (they cost extra, and are on a different floor). I can honestly say it was one of the best showers of my life, and I could have spent hours in there, washing off the dirt and stress of the last few days, and finally warming up.
I headed back to the room, expecting to find Zev comatose. Instead, he was up and organised, just waiting for his turn in the shower. It was the best I'd seen him look in days, and I couldn't help but think that being 1000m lower than we were 10 hours ago was making things a lot better.
20 minutes later he returned (there was a 15 minute time limit on the hot showers), looking like a new, albeit tired, man, and climbed into bed.
I headed downstairs for dinner (a delicious chicken burger and fries) while Zev rested.
I was absolutely delighted when I got back to the room an hour or so later to see him blissfully asleep, for the first time in days.
It was worth hiking 22.8km over 10 hours just to see that.
Lots of love,
S & Z