I love extreme altitude but I hate the cold. During the day, I don�t mind cold, but cold at night is different. You can�t escape it. I can�t sleep at night unless my feet are the same temperature as my entire body. Sometimes it takes me hours to warm my feet up. At home, I have a feather bed on my mattress and a down comforter on top of that. To top it all off, I turn my electric blanket on just enough to warm my feet up. Instantly, I fall asleep. Sleeping on the ground in a tent at altitude is completely different.
Being cold at night outside the sanctuary of our home is worrisome for many of us. Perhaps that�s why many people don�t like to camp or travel to extreme environments without a heated hotel room at their fingertips. Many of us forego the opportunity to explore other regions and cultures of the world because we end up being uncomfortable all night because of the cold.
All that changed for me when I became the lucky recipient of Marmot�s 8000 meter down pants and a Marmot down parka.
When I was asked to teach an Extreme Altitude Medical Course for 22 Sherpa Guides in the Khumbu Region of Nepal at 4000m in November 2005, I knew the giant air mass flowing off the frozen Tibetan plateau would be bone chilling cold. We would be sleeping on the ground on a pad inside my tent for at least 10 hours a night. I was afraid.
Psychologically, I knew if I wore those big puffy down pants from sun down to sun up I could survive my time in the Mt. Everest region. If I wore those pants with my big soft Marmot mountain parka and wore both of those items inside my Marmot down sleeping bag inside my Marmot tent I would be able to sleep all through the night. It would be just like home.
I was the only person in our six person group traveling in Nepal who had a pair of 8000 meter down pants. Everyone else traveled and slept in long underwear and synthetic pants. At first I was a little embarrassed to be seen in my puffy pants. Before I left Colorado I tried the pants of for my husband. You should have seen the look on his face when I came down the hall in those full figured puffy pants. All he could think about was Sue, 20 years from now with a double wide butt and a pear shaped body. �You look a little bit like your mother�, he said.
Typically the 8000 meter pants are for extreme mountaineers climbing extreme peaks. I beg to differ.
Here I was trekking between 3300m and 5500 meters and all I could think about was the moment I would put the pants on. I knew if I was going to sleep at night, all through the night, in a tent on the ground, I would have to sleep with the pants on.
I told myself I will wait until I reached and elevation of 5000 m to wear the pants so I would not look so ridiculous. Everyone else in my group wore thin shells, thin down, and pile coats. Their legs were not that well protected. They had long johns and synthetic stretch pants. They were down right shivering once the sun fell behind of towering Mt. Everest mountain range.
It was there in Targna, at 4000 meters, I finally had to pull out my pants and put them on. They had been stuff inside a little black stuff sack in the bottom of my back only weighing a pound or so. They had traveled 3 days by airplane from the United States to Nepal and 8 days by foot on the shoulders of a Nepalese porter. My porter wore ripped cotton pants, and a thin worn out green and black nylon shell. He wore sandals on his feet and at night I watched him put on a hat. His socks were cotton but new. His socks and nylon shell were issued to him when he took the job as a porter in the high country landing strip town of Lukla.
Targna, a village of 6 stone houses and heated by yak dung, lies along the Tibetan Trade route. While standing in front of our tents in the potato field of a subsistence farmer and in the shadows and down slope winds of the high Tibetan plateau I put on my 8000meter pants, my down coat, and had instant relief from the biting cold. I could stay outside and watch the Tibetan yak herders move their stock and goods down valley. One little Tibetan boy was riding on top of a yak strapped in at the pelvis by a rope and riding on top of a yak wool blanket. He only had a wool cap on and a light jacket. I wondered how many weeks they had been traveling like this. How do they endure the cold?
Tibetan Trade Route, Thame, Nepal
One of my travel companions, a 22 year old sex toy consultant and ex Mormon from Utah told me that evening, �I will kill you for those pant, I want them�. I could understand why. She sat in a chair outside her nylon tent in the rock garden of the potato farmer�s property with her legs improperly insulated from the cold. Her lips turned blue and she shivered violently. That night and the rest of the trip she worried about the long cold nights.
I didn't think at all about the cold. As a matter of fact all I thought about was how warm I was going to be all night while I slept in those pants.
After traveling in Nepal to teach our �Extreme Altitude Medical Course�, I had a new appreciation for the right gear and clothing one should bring to the high country. I could relax about my own needs of trying to stay warm in the high country and focus on the medical course I was about to teach.
Our first ever Extreme Altitude Medical Course was six days long. Twenty two Sherpa Guides from the surrounding villages attended, hand picked by Apa Sherpa. In class, I asked the Sherpa Guides to write down how many times they each had successfully summited the 8800 m peak of Mt. Everest . Guess what the total number was We calculated there were fifty successful summits. I felt a little choked up to think I was sitting in a room half way across the world with some of the best mountaineers in the world. It was not a room filled with egos and chiseled bodies but rather a group of curious and humble Sherpa�s eager to learn. They were interested in learning about the medical problems at extreme altitudes.
After I returned home I found myself wearing those 8000 meter down pants in Crested Butte, CO in Janurary. They came in handy several times when the thermometer read minus 20 and the wind blowing at 40mph. I call them my, �Extreme Dog Walking Pants�.
Sue, Apa and Dawa relaxing by the yak dung fire at 5000 meters.
I am returning again this November, 2006 to teach another �Extreme Altitude Medicine Course. Unfortunately, a few month after our first class finished and during the big Mt Everest climbing season, two of our students and our personal guide were killed in the Khumbe Ice Fall. This was devastating news. There was no first aid to be done on our Sherpa friends. They were crushed in an avalanche of ice blocks falling off the Khumbe Ice Fall. They have not been recovered.
Our goal in this project is to bring more education to the Sherpa people of the Khumbu (high country) region. Someday I hope other Sherpa guides will be able to teach the course and save some lives in the process.