The Everest Base Camp trekking trip my son and I plan to take is less than three weeks away. It is the culmination of over a year of planning and training. My excitement is mounting, tinged with fear.
Seeing Himalaya was imagined as a child, but not dreamt. In a ninth grade short story written for a magazine competition, I sent the terminally ill protagonist to the foothills of the Himalaya.
I became aware of Everest Base Camp trek only about fifteen years ago. I was fascinated. But most accounts about the trek are meant to scare the reader: the exhaustion, the knee pain, the squalor, diarrhea, thinning air, diamox, splitting headaches, and the specter of mountain sicknesses AMS and deadly HACE and HAPE. But there was the allure of Himalaya, which made people fall in love with the region. There were a few reassuring comments such as by a sixty-five-year old, not-so-fit who did multiple treks.
I had once given up on this idea, discouraged by the approaching age of sixty, the weakness in the leg induced by post-polio syndrome and lack of any prior trekking experience. The post-polio syndrome seemed to keep weakening my legs, lessening my ability to walk. But two summers ago my wife encouraged me to take hour-long walks around the Colesium in our town. That changed my perception. Perhaps post-polio syndrome did not deserve all the blame; may be some of the weakness was caused by my sitting behind a desk all day.
One day on TV I caught the glimpse of a group of young people sitting on a rock, resting while on an EBC trek. Something made me think that I should at least give it a try. Perhaps I should try long walks. If I could comfortably walk over ten miles, perhaps EBC trek is a possibility. If I couldn’t, at least my health improved in trying.
So in December 2014 I started trying out local trails, and settled on the gently climbing Deckers Creek Trail. I had thought that the walks will leave me exhausted, out of breath, heart pounding. But the problem actually started at the other extremity. My feet were the first to complain. Toward the end of the first long walks, it felt like hot water was poured on the toes and soles. Several blisters were revealed when the shoes and socks were removed. An unclipped toe nail, flexed during the walk and lead to sublingual hematoma. I learned to moisturize the feet, clip toe nails and wear toe socks.
I had expected knee problems to first appear in my right knee as the right leg is slight in comparison to the left, and I had developed a limp in that leg. But the left knee would not be taken for granted; it claimed that distinction. The trouble started in May when I first reached the twelve-mile mark. On my way back downhill, something started slipping in the left knee, like a belt slipping in an old machine. The feeling is more awful than painful. Stopping or slowing down helps. Folding the leg backwards resets the “belt”. But there is the nagging feeling whether the “belt” will slip again. Stepping the leg high, as if in a march, helps. This amused a little boy on a tricycle, who would overtake me and stop to watch me as I was taking a long walk around Central Park once. The pain comes afterwards and only while going downstairs, the left knee not being able to bear the weight. So all the weight-bearing going downstairs is to be managed by the right knee. Thankfully the injured knee would heal in two days. But unless this problem was overcome, there was no way I could go on the trek.
I tried different knee braces and learned techniques for massaging the knee. After three months of suffering from the knee problem, I got a break last September. One day I could do ten miles again without stopping or slowing down to reset the “belt”. So in October I decided to attempt the EBC trek.