For the first month in Nepal, I trekked. I didn’t shower for 23 days and I loved it. I was so greasy that I started to repel water.
Trekking is as good as they say it is: The views, the sense of accomplishment, the detachment from the rest of the world. As soon as you’re up there, everything else slips away. WiFi become an unjustifiable outgoing, and the date is of little coincidence.
Life reduces to staying warm, fed, rested, and not collapsing on the side of a mountain; incapacitated with a bout of Altitude Sickness; cerebral fluids permeating into your brain.
People, it’s a headache – you do not need a helicopter.
If you’ve trekked, you’ll know the types I mean. The people who rack up lines of Diamox on their crampons at the slightest notion of a blister. (Diamox is basically altitude medicine.)
As I mentioned before, I dropped over a grand on basically climbing a really big hill. Imja Tse (more commonly referred to as Island Peak) is located in Sagarmatha National Park, Eastern Nepal (Sagarmatha being Mt. Everest). It is 6189m tall and can be climbed from base camp at 5100m in a day.
For your money, you recieve a trekking permit, two chefs to cook, a tent to sleep and a Sherpa guide to stand watch as you take a dump at 6000m – in my case at least.
Aside from our Sherpa, Namgel, I would be adventuring with Raoul, a Dutch guy. He was really cool. We bonded over a spliff in the tent at basecamp, where he told of his recent “darkroom” pregnancy scare.
“What’s a darkroom?” I asked, bristled with naive inquisitiveness.
“It’s a room in a club that adopts a certain, “free love” mentality… basically, you can fuck in there.”
“In a club? Like a public club? With dancing and drugs?”
“Yeah, and sex. It’s Amsterdam man.”
“Wow,” I said, taking a long contemplative drag on the joint. “So, you fucked a girl in a club, without protection, and she might be pregnant?”
“No, no, no, she’s not pregnant,” he said cooly, “I visited her in prison and got the all clear.”
I creased over in laughter. Raoul too.”What the fuck man?!” I baulked.
I had been slightly worried that I’d be partnered with an irritatingly enthusiastic lover of the hills, someone who marvels at the wonderous beauty in every stone… I needn’t have worried.
As dusk slowly chewed at the labouring light of day, we rolled and smoked another joint, passing the time until dinner.
Akin to a bear before hibernation, I thought it would be wise to consume all available food; to occupy every permissable space in my stomach with energy reserves; namely rice, daal (lentils) and curry. Then a few hours later, just after midnight, breakfast: two hearty bowls of porridge, 2 eggs and 2 toast; that I had to drag, kicking and screaming into my gut. I didn’t feel too great.
As soon as I’d cleaned my plate and sank a coffee, Raoul and I were rushed outside and told to pack our gear. It was about 1 ‘o’clock in the morning. We waddled off into the boulder fields. Cool rocks reflected the soft glow of the stars. Headtorches weren’t needed.
It was like being in a battlefield, as Nature lay seige to the mountain. Helpless to the anger in the sky, and the harsh agenda of the earth, Island Peak succumbed to relentlessness of rain, wind, sleet and snow.
Wonderful scars in the rock and the litterings of scree told of an inevitable tragedy; as slowly the mountain succumbed to the indifferent march of time.
My bowels squealed with unease.
It might have been the weeping spice that I’d garnished my dinner with, or the water I’d drank, untreated from a stagnant barrel in the camp; or maybe the breakfast, hurriedly consumed moments before; or, all three – working together in malevolent partnership.
Whatever the case, my stomach felt fucking terrible.
Following the powerful, insulated rump of Namgel, we dug into the first few hundred metres of the mountain. The Sherpa had a body of a bear and the step of a goat; an Everest summiter six times over – boasting the scalps of many of the other 8000m giants – he was a real Mountain Man.
I shadowed his movements with Raoul behind me, continuing in this manner for the first few hours; the mountain still shrouded by the black drapings of night.
I was a slave at this point, tied to the whimsical convulsions of my belly.
It felt as though the centre of the earth had become the new, arsehole roomate of my stomach; a fiery plasticity of lead and nickel that twistied and convulsed with a steely, inconsiderate malevolence.
I trundled on, riding waves of discomfort into the upper atmospheric reaches of that malicious shit storm, bending at the waist when a particularly colourful contraction would stretch throughout my abdomen – balls to diaphragm – like a baby trying to stand up.
I looked skyward, regarding the clear, calm blackness with envious eyes.
Morning stretched it’s legs, and limbs of gold lapped at the walls of the icy basin in which we tred; the deep blue body of night sugglishly withdrawing to the West. In the East, a new pale light hugged at the white-capped peaks, outlining their harsh, jagged lines and setting light to the snow that lazed atop their granite bulks.
“Namgel,” I called ahead, finally sumitting to the inconsolable cries of my colon. “I need the toilet.” He stopped, and without disposing of any words, gestured with a sweep of his pole to go beside any rock of my choice. “No, Namgel..,” I had to add, “big toilet.” He chewed on this for a few moments – it didn’t seem like a familiar request.
He gestured to a rocky outcrop, five-or-so-metres away, with a gentle warning: “don’t go too far.”
So I trundled away from the pack, searching for shelter from the wind and any wandering headtorches. I sat on my haunches, positioned myself between two large rocks and uncorked. Out of the wind, it wasn’t all that bad.
I marvelled at our progress, now at about 5,600m, appreciating the opportunity to stop and watch as the sun began to spill into the valley, like burning oil released from the ramparts of a fort. This will probably be the most majestic poo of my life, I mused happily – if not, it will definitely be the highest.
I finished the last of my loo roll, fastened my belt and returned to the troop jubilantly; energised by the alliance reformed with my digestive system.
We reached the snowline, stopping only to put on crampons (boot spikes), helmets and harnesses. We exchanged our poles for ice-axes and continued on, now bound together by a 20 metre stretch of rope.
We ascended and abseiled Imja Tse’s snowy battlements, bridging crevasses with horizontal ladders and navigating hidden snow holes – it was like an incredibly authentic role-play: “Be a Mountaineer for a Day!”
Kicking into faces of ice with my front spikes was a new pleasure to be exploited – it felt like walking up a deep wall of blue glass – bringing the point of my ice-axe down periodically; sucking a great satisfaction from the dull thud and the splinterrings of ice that followed.
I was having the time of my life. All the hours thrown into shitty jobs and wading balls-deep through equipment reviews had paid off.
And just like that, I was bowing to the ice again. At around 6,100 metres, a fresh enthusiasm reanimated the cacophony contained within my gut, as new and exciting pains drummed into the fleshy auditorium of my belly.
I doubled over, clenching the straps on my gaiters until a particularly loud internal crescendo subsided. “NAMGEL!” I shouted from the back.
I was cut from my harness and again warned not to venture far. “Holes,” cautioned the guide, pointing to the ground. I edged uneasily across the snow as my brain delayed my gut, working to prevent a plunge into any hidden crevasses – the impatient rasp of the unmentionable knocking at my backdoor.
This time, I found no solace in the sheltering of two conveniently placed rocks – there were no rocks at all – just a clean expanse of snow; nothing but their restraint separating my companions from my shivering shape.
Release came at a dear price: the relinquishment of all my heat. It was about -25°, with wind chill taken into consideration, and my wet wipes were frozen solid.
In a desperate effort to defrost them, I stowed them under an armpit, as my dingleberries quickly froze to christingleberries.
And then, as if though my body was desperately exploring every last bodily function in order to fight the cold, I felt something entirely unexpected transpiring between my thighs – an inexplicable tickle of the crotch. Now, they do say they come at the worst of times, but this was really taking the piss; and I’m sure you can imagine my dismay, then, as I noticed Raoul’s forearms drawing out the unmistakable, smooth arc of a phone taking a panorama.
I wiped hastily with a quarter block of still frozen wetwipe, drawing up my trousers quickly, trying to conceal whatever remained of my dignity.
Moronically, I then applied some hand sanitiser – I should not have applied hand sanitiser. The solution froze instantly, pinnochio-ing my hands into lifeless lumps of dumb, dead mahagony. Shards of superheated glass remained embezzled in my fingers long after Namgel finished putting my gloves back on for me.
I had returned to the group and we pressed onwards. Turning occasionally, I looked back on that little offering I had made; I watched as it slowly receded into the white, consumed by the greatness of the mountain and lost to the world.
Later, as we headed down from the summit, Namgel told me of the meaning behind the mountain’s name,
“‘Imja Tse’, it means..,” his sentence interrupted by an uncharacteristic giggle, “it means, ‘Belly of the Mountain’.”