I’m sitting in our tent at Camp Canada. The wind flaps and chops at the tent. Kavitha is eating lunch even though it is close to dinner time. The sun warms the tent but the breeze is very cool and I can feel the chill of the ground seeping through the floor into my right buttock which is hanging over the edge of the foam mattress. Even the ink in the pen is retarded and struggles to lay itself on the paper (I have a pencil back-up). Outside our front door the Portuguese speaking trekkers are in their usual animated conversation. We set up a little stone table at the front door of our tent and that has become the focal point for coffee, tea and conversation.
We are in good shape but are feeling whacked. We carried more gear up here today which made for hard work. But we were also in our double boots and for Kavitha this is the first time she has worn such. She loves how warm they are but the extra weight, but especially their size means you need to recalibrate how you walk. Learning to walk again on a hill like this can be a bit tricky. The porters take over tomorrow and relieve us of 20kg of gear. That should make a difference as we move to 5600m.
The ascent to Canada is marked by three breaks which come on us more quickly than expected, but are welcomed all the more for that. We have a couple of brief stops to adjust Kavitha’s boot fitting (the inner boot was a bit tight to start with, and slightly misaligned). It’s a steep walk up gravel (which is quite soft and safe) or on gravel over rock (which is quite gritty, slippery and unsafe. Treacherous even.) For the last leg into camp we counted off forty steps, took a break of six breaths, then repeated. One is challenged not by fatigue so much as oxygen, or rather the tough task of accessing it.
A nice welcome by Eduardo who hugged us both as we arrived in camp. He’s happy with our rate of effort and that is a good thing of course.
Porters have set up camp for us. Danilo came up earlier in the day to collection water from ice fed streams which run clear in the morning but are sediment laden later in the day when the sun has thawed out the ground a little. By the time we arrived Danilo has water boiling and we are soon enjoying a hot coffee, rummaging around for sweets and sitting as still as possible. The smallest task takes everything out of you so you carefully pace yourself – mainly by sitting still.
I can hear tins being tapped in Danilo’s tent – dinner is being prepped. The irony of gaining altitude is that your appetite falls away even as you need more and more energy to gain altitude.
The Poo Tent has been set up. A small canvas camp stool (I love the pun) has had a hole cut in its canvas seat. Insert a plastic ‘garbag’ issued by the National Park authority into the hole, do your business there, seal the bag and hand it back to the Parks people at the end of the trip to prove you have not soiled their mountain. In fact failure to hand back used and full bags invokes a fine – they not unreasonably assume you have crapped somewhere you should not have. Fair enough. Overall these people do a brilliant job of keeping their environment clean though there is evidence everywhere on the higher camps that people take shortcuts. By the way, Kavitha gets the gold medal for being the first to put the Poo Tent to the test. (We all agree it is a better latrine option than the longdrops at base camp which are nowhere near as well ventilated and require a strong stomach to manage the fragrance that wafts out of a months worth of trekkers sewage – and not every trekker gets away without “Delhi Belly”. You get the idea).
We take dinner outside for some reason. It’s a pressure cooker cooked meal of meat, mushrooms, garlic and fries and it’s outstanding. We wolf it down and the boys lined up for a second serving. Rarely do we finish a full plate of food at Plaza de Mulas but this meal vanished completely.
Danilo turns up to check O2. 88% for myself and 68% for Kavitha which is consistent for me but its unusually low for Kavitha who seems to maintain saturation around 90%! It’s not a matter of comparing each others readings but watching your own in relation to previous days readings and seeing what it does in reaction to the altitude you have gained. Doctors and guides alike are happy with the O2 saturation levels we are showing. Perhaps more to the point, they are happy with a suite of readings they take from us, O2 being just one of them.
The sun sets at 2015 and we are well ensconced in our tent by then – one needs to get out of that wind. Our EXPED goose down mattresses are a bonus right now. Keeping the chill from the ground cooling your torso is super critical to a good nights sleep.
There is no one else in camp, nor on the mountain. The guides murmur in Spanish and our chatterbox brothers from Brazil chirp away next door until I drift into vivid dreams that always seem to come with high altitude.