Hallucinations & more – My Experience in Death Zone

“You cannot conquer a mountain, for it shall continue to exist beyond you. However, if not careful, a mountain can conquer you.”

Somewhere in Western Cwm – Resting on the way to Camp 2

8th, May 2022/11.30 PM.

I woke up and started packing for my summit push. In all honesty, I was very nervous and scared. After all, it was time for the real adventure to begin! Finally into the death zone.

We were to start at 1.30 AM and me being myself, got ready by 12.30 AM only to wait for my dai Mingma Dorje. I had my super early breakfast and waited but even after 1.30 AM, Dorje dai was nowhere to be seen.

Everybody started moving towards the Khumbu Icefall and I freaked out. I grew anxious and asked his twin brother where he was. He instructed me to move ahead with others, and that Dai will catch up soon.

I left around 1.45 AM almost alone as everybody was minding their own business. Really, I felt very low and lost at the very start of my biggest, greatest adventure. What would you do in such a situation?

I knew the route on the Icefall as we had previously crossed it a couple of times but perhaps I needed Dai for mental support. It was really perplexing to finally head for THE dream. Nearly after about an hour, I heard Dorje Dai asking others to let him pass. I sighed!

Then we kept climbing for about 6 hours till we reached camp 1 (6000m). It was hot! You might think, Everest & hot, unlikely!

But trust me, it was so hot I felt like removing my layers and walking in a t-shirt and track pants. The downside was, that it could make me sick. The wind was strong even with the harsh sun.

On the other hand, Dorje Dai was tired and decided to take a short nap. He’d carried about 20 kgs even when I tried sharing the burden and carried 10 – 12 kgs. While he slept, I took in the surroundings.

Everest as seen from South Col 8000m

Musings from Camp 1 – 6000m

Though this was my second time at Camp 1, I felt a little dizzy. Maybe because I was tired, maybe I was nervous – I don’t know! But I managed to put my bag on the snow in such a way that I could lie down on it. `

It felt nice; I felt grateful. I saw more climbers reach Camp 1 – some were tired, some were smiling and clicking pictures and a few were lost like I was. In their world of dreams apparently.

I feel I was lost in the beauty around me, or it can be that I was still in shock of finally being able to live this long-lost dream of Everest. Well, I might never have clear answers to these questions. So, I realigned my focus and observed the savage mountains in front of me.

Time went by in a jiffy in this. 3 hours gone in what felt like 3 minutes. Really, I don’t know what happened but it happens, you know?

Myself with Mingma Dorje Dai @Camp 2

Delay by a day at Camp 2 – 6400m

We started for Camp 2 at 11.30 am and reached by 2 pm. Really tired after the walk in the harsh sun throughout our way via Western Cwm. Dehydration & fatigue had kicked in so I lay down in my tent as soon as we reached Camp 2.

About an hour later, we noticed a storm and I immediately asked Dorje Dai how we were going to go ahead in such weather tomorrow. He said we’ll have to wait for it to clear.

In that moment, I felt the stress of pushing for the summit and making it to the top of the world soon. My mind wandered and I started wondering what if we don’t find a weather window for another few days and all the bad things.

Dai asked me to reign over my brain and be ready to go ahead at any time. I spent the entire day talking to the mighty Everest and drooled over its beauty. Thanked everyone who contributed to my fundraiser for Everest. Without you people, it wasn’t possible.

My first time when I used supplementary oxygen

My Oxygen Mask broke at 7000m

10th May 2022 / 7 AM : We woke up & packed everything. Had our breakfast and left for Camp 3 (7100m). I was hell nervous and excited. With our heavy loads and big dreams, we kept moving, one step after another. I didn’t look towards the mountain much to avoid overthinking about things that were to come my way.

At around 11 AM, before reaching Camp 3, Mingma Dai asked me to start using supplementary oxygen. I told him I felt very strong and would be fine without it till Camp 3. But he insisted that I must get used to it from this altitude.

My plan was to use it overnight but owing to his experience, I followed the suggestion and started using it. That was the first time I’d used an oxygen mask.

Somewhere around 6800m

It felt strange. Well, we kept on moving but barely a hundred steps later I told him I wasn’t able to breathe properly. He said it’s usual and does happen at the first attempt. So, I nodded and kept climbing.

To be honest, it felt extremely hard. I was doing better without it. But I kept moving, removing my mask to gasp for some air and then put it back.

We reached 7000m and took a break. People ahead of us were moving a bit slow and we had to wait for them to gain distance. There I removed my mask for the 100th time and – it broke!

I got scared. What would happen now? I informed Dai and he got angry at me. He said ‘I don’t know what you will do in the death zone if you are already fussy at 7000m. You should’ve just kept your mask on.’ I didn’t know what to say. So I kept quiet and took one step after another, struggling every second until we made it to Camp 3.

I went inside our tent and didn’t utter a word. We didn’t have a spare mask and without one, we couldn’t continue. Not only had I broken my mask, but I’d broken my heart too.

I was on the verge of crying. Did this really happen? Or was I hallucinating? I stopped responding to Mingma Dai, didn’t drink, didn’t eat – just sat still. There was a whirlpool of negative thoughts driving me crazy. I’d never had such vivid negative scenarios in my head and I had no clue how to stop them.

Somehow Mingma Dai offered me his mask and asked me to not touch it or else he’d make me descend immediately. I registered that and nodded. Within a few minutes of using this supplementary oxygen, I felt my senses kick in. My brain was responding and I could easily breathe with this mask.

Mingma Dai checked my mask and found a hole in the pipe. He was apologetic for his behaviour but indeed, it wasn’t his fault. How can anybody know of such a small hole?

So, it was the hole that did not let me take supplementary oxygen during the climb plus the mask blocked the natural oxygen. Imagine the kind of situation I was in!

I had had the feeling of giving up. It genuinely felt like the end of my expedition. But, we made it to Camp 3 and found out what was wrong.

Now, things were back on track. We found a problem and its solution. The pipe was fixed and I was feeling my absolute best again.

We ate well and slept early to start for Camp 4 the next day. Yay! It was an ecstatic feeling, though I felt very scared of things going wrong. And I kept telling myself – nobody knows what’s gonna happen, so just enjoy till you can and try your best!

Camp 4 8000m

Entering the Death Zone – 8000m

11th May 2022 / 5.30 AM Dai asked me to start early to avoid traffic jams while he’d pack everything and catch up soon. I double-checked my oxygen pressure, regulator and mask. Everything was working fine. And I left, with the hopes to make it to the top of the world soon.

Moving from 7100m to 8000m wasn’t going to be easy. I maintained a steady pace from the beginning. One step at a time, syncing well with my breath. After about an hour of continuous climb, Dai caught up with me. We rested on the fixed line itself as there were some people ahead of us.

We moved again and post 7500m, my brain started playing games. I felt I was walking fast but in reality, I was really slow. Dai asked me to up my speed and I kept saying, I am moving fast. It was strange. The altitude was tricking me.

While training for the expedition, I’d heard and read stories where people lose their consciousness in the death zone. But I wasn’t even there yet!

Yet, I didn’t take a break and Mingma Dai supported me mentally & emotionally throughout. He said, “You are doing fine, don’t worry much. Keep climbing and don’t be very slow.”

We had limited oxygen. But thankfully, after crossing the Yellow Band (nearly 7700m), I started gaining on my senses. I walked faster and could express my thoughts to Mingma Dai. Soon we reached Geneva Spur (approx 7900m).

Both, Yellow Band and Geneva Spur are technical and include cramponing on rocks and vertical walls. It could have been a tough bend had I not experienced the same during the Ama Dablam expedition.

So, within an hour from Geneva Spur, we reached Camp 4 aka South Col. I was blown by the beauty around me. It was so emotional! I couldn’t stop being thankful to everyone who had supported me in this journey.

But the challenge has just begun! Stay tuned for more!!!

Wait for the next blog!

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