Saturday, June 7, 2008

Tendi Saves a Porter

In Pheriche, our lodge- the White Yak- is the nicest lodge we have stayed at, both in and out of the Khumbu Valley. It's ridiculous. Willie met me at the entrance and as we checked in, he gave me the “Mount Everest” room. It's as close to a suite as you can imagine after a tent for two straight months. It's a corner room, and even has two windows!! And an actual bed! Talk about luxury. It's warm in here, too. Warm weather for the first time and the ability to look out over lush, green pastures from the second floor of a hotel in relative comfort.

When we all caught up, we ate like starving people. Almost 3,000 feet lower than Base Camp and 20 Kilometers in five hours, your appetite is definitely back. We all sat around a heater, talked, and laughed. Everyone was there- literally everyone. Jetta, Super Mila, G-Man, Tendi, you name it. It was awesome. Our team talked about our collective success, told stories, and then it was time for bed- in a real bed. I still can't get over that. A bed! I was out like a light in 3 seconds with the relished sound of rain gently tapping on the windows. A sound I hadn’t heard in months but appreciated and had missed.


"Willie! Willie!"
"It's Doug."

KNOCK KNOCK - across the hall, Willie is abruptly woken up. Lhakpa and Tendi are excitedly telling him that one of our porters- the last one (some took FOREVER to get to us tonight) has HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) and has just arrived in Pheriche, hanging on by a thread.

Whaaatttt... Seriously?? “Doug, let’s go!” Willie and I spring out of bed and find him, several buildings down the pitch black trail. It's definitely HAPE. When going to bed we had noticed one porter hadn’t arrived yet with his load, but assumed that he had stopped at a tea house somewhere enroute and was catching up with friends. It is not uncommon on the out trek for Sherpa or porters to pit-stop for glasses of Chang on their way home, or try to double-carry to make more money but slow way down as a result. The crappy thing about it for this stricken 14 year old kid is that he must have been passed by about 200 people without anyone helping him. I can't answer why that happened, but I do know that our team all had jets on and were moving incredibly fast. Everyone, save the other porters were about 10 miles ahead of him when he probably started having problems, so we never knew until we stopped in Pheriche for our overnight and he never arrived. We started asking and asking, but when he finally came stumbling into the town late at night, we were stunned. He was amazingly lucky.

We run back to the hotel and frantically dig through bags, looking for anything at all that we can find to help him. Bridie offers up some Diamox- used for avoiding Acute Mountain Sickness and helps with things like HAPE by countering the physiological effects of high altitude. We race back to where the porter is slumped over throwing up and coughing up foam at the feet of Lhakpa and Tendi. We give the pills to Tendi, administered one and forced the kid to swallow both even though he was totally out of it. Then all of a sudden, Tendi threw a burlap strap over his head and strapped the kid to his back. Then he grabbed a bottle of water, threw the pills into his pocket and took off down the trail for Dingboche and trees- maybe 1000' lower with the kid piggybacked. The amazing thing to me is that even after all we have been through that Tendi has the strength to essentially backpack a 140 lb human dead weight in the middle of the night, down narrow trails, up and down hilltops.

Man, I tell you what. Not a day goes by where I don't recognize what a great team we have and how well we work together. I also recognize that we aren't out of the woods yet, and we still have a long way to go before we don't have to worry about even things like HAPE. Even here, people are still falling victim if they aren't taking all the proper steps.

The next morning, we passed oodles of porters, but again almost all save our own were heading in the opposite direction. This is the danger that caught our porter last night. From a village in a lower valley, he raced up in two days to find work from the throngs of climbers needing to transport gear off of the Khumbu Glacier. As a well known and perennial cash cow, the Everest Base Camp trek route becomes a literal logistical resupply route that Nepalis from all over migrate to at the end of the season to make some good money. In early season, porters gently acclimatize with their western climbers. Taking time getting in to Base Camp, the porters take ten days to build up to the altitude. But when left to on their own, HAPE and HACE become threats to them and they don't even know it. Money becomes the driving factor but most are ok and continue down the trail, happy to have the work and carry enormous loads of our gear.

After several hours of up and down speed marching down the trail, passing through one small cluster of towns after another, Willie and I learn from passerby adjacent to a closed First Aid hut that Tendi made it as far as Tengbuche. Tengbuche! That's a four hour trek from Pheriche in the daytime, with day pack, and Tendi made it carrying a 140 lb kid. Willie and I get the news and turn on the jets, leaving the rest of the team strung along the trail to catch up. Up, down. Up, down. The trail snakes down through the valley, links up with the churning Dudh Kosi River and finally make contact with green Rhododendron trees in full bloom. If we weren't so interested in getting to Tendi, we would be at a light clip trying to enjoy ourselves and suck in the lush scenery. How long it has been since we saw trees! It truly is beautiful and makes you recognize what things one takes for granted. Trees and mild temperatures allowing misty clouds to gently shroud mountaintops scraping the sky all around us. So nice. There is one ridiculously steep hill between the river and Tengbuche that I remember thinking about on our way in something like “wow this is going to suck on the way out”. Now it’s here, we are moving up it, and it truly does suck. I hate it and am completely out of breath but push through, finally emerging at the monastery.

We find Tendi and the Porter over by an expeditionary helicopter pad at the end of town and hear a crazy tale of pitch black trails, drunken Sherpa and life saving that leave us in awe once again of Tendi's strength. Wearing no socks and borrowing a head lamp, Tendi used his burlap strap fashioned into a seat/head strap for the duration of his trek. He left Pheriche at 1am and walked the narrow path up and down with the immobile Porter throwing up and coughing up on him. Somewhere around 3:30, he reached Dingboche which is roughly 1,000' lower in vertical elevation. The porter hadn't shown any signs of improvement and the town medical clinic was closed. So on Tendi went, bumping into two drunken Sherpas who hassled him for money and were curious about why he was carrying this kid on his back. Tendi asked them for help, which they refused to do. So he continued on, following the trail up and up, finally emerging at Tengbuche where Tendi finally found help. A western climber who was on scene used a Dex injection to bring the Porter back from the brink and he immediately started to improve. Now close to daylight, Tendi was able to use his cell phone (yes, Nepalis have cell coverage as far as Tengbuche believe it or not) to call Kili back in Kathmandu. A decision was made to use a helicopter to get the porter down to a hospital in Kathmandu quickly.

While the porter continued to improve over the next few hours and actually looked fine by the time we arrived, Tendi's efforts to carry the porter on his back through the night had undoubtedly saved his life.

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