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October 11, 2006

Altitude Sickness

Click on image to play video (high speed connection advised).

LOCATION: Nyalam, Tibet
Longitude: N: 28.26°
Latitude: E: 086.02°
Miles from Singapore: 4758

The rims seem to be holding up fine. With only a relatively short distance now to the Nepalese border I feel like there's reason to believe I'll make it all the way to Kathmandu without further mechanical mishap. I just need to be careful coming down off the southern edge of the Himalayas - a mind blowing drop of 4,500 metres in just a hundred kilometres. And the road surface since the God forsaken town of Tingri has been in quite bad condition in places (dirt with corrugations and loose gravel), so I just need to curb the urge to go full tilt!

On a not so positive note a few nights ago I came down with moderate Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) after climbing to the top of Gyatso La pass (5200m). I suppose I'd become a little over confident having crossed more than ten 4500m passes since entering Tibet 6-weeks ago and assumed that I was fully acclimated to the altitude. But AMS can be quite arbitrary as to when it strikes, something I wasn't aware of then but certainly am now after learning a hard lesson.

I was delayed leaving the town of Lahtse dealing with the rims and sending off the previous vlog report, so I didn't even begin the 1,200m ascent (over 20km) until 2 p.m. Hampered by the absence of my 'granny gear' with the new rim configuration (this is the gear that allows one to climb really steep grades) I found myself having to walk the last 4kms, with the result that I didn't arrive at the pass until well after 7 p.m. with just an hour of daylight to descend to safer altitude (below 4500m) to make camp. I was also very tired and probably dehydrated - compounding factors that led to the onset of AMS. By the time I made camp in the dark, still well above 4500m (the gradient on the other side of the pass being quite slight), I was in bad shape; splitting headache, nausea to the point of wanting to vomit and extreme lethargy. It took nearly 45mins just to erect my tent, a task that normally takes 10-15mins max. My concern also, being on my own, was that if my condition deteriorated during the night with the need to immediately descend further I wouldn't be able to help myself, let alone break camp and pack everything onto the bike.

Luckily for me my condition did improve after forcing down some hot tea and lying still for 2-3 hours. I've learnt a valuable lesson not to take these mountain lightly, no matter how familiar they might have become. Not that I will find myself anywhere near such high peaks in the foreseeable future; it's all downhill from here to Greenwich! Plus when I think how cold it is at 5200m and then see mountains like Everest in the distance at over 8,000m, I cannot even begin to imagine how cold it is up there. And I can happily guarantee to myself that I will NEVER, but NEVER find myself climbing up any of them.


Posted on October 11, 2006 7:17 AM


Jason, you have a knack for finding your personal limits. Best to you on the ride to Kathmandu.

Posted by: tagami [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2006 9:20 AM