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17 September 2011 / leggypeggy

It takes my breath away

Poor John wonders how he got to this highly decorated Tibetan mountain pass at 4767 metres.

For most of the past two weeks, Poor John and I have suffered from altitude sickness. I was hit first and worst. It began in early September in Kyrgyzstan, when we camped at Lake Song-Köl in the Naryn Province. The altitude there was 3100 metres (just over 10,000 feet).

Mostly I felt weird—short of breath and headachy. Little did I, or many of us, realise the full array of symptoms to come. So far, many of us have experienced loss of appetite, general weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, insomnia, pins and needles, and shortness of breath. A few have had nausea, diarrhoea and nosebleeds. I’ve also had a fever and a dry cough. The full list of symptoms is much longer, but we have been spared some of the most severe.

Most of Colorado’s ski resorts are at 2400 metres at the most. Since early September, we’ve been travelling across western China and camping at 1600 metres, 3100 metres, 3700 metres, 4700 metres and 4800 metres (not necessarily in that order). We’ve also crossed numerous passes, some exceeding 5200 metres. Mountain climbers often spend months at a base camp, acclimatising to the local conditions, while we’ve been up and down like yo-yos.

My worst night was the first night we camped at 4800 metres (or almost 16,000 feet). Poor John and I struggled to put the tent up and within 10 minutes I realised I’d better lie down before I fell down. So I went to bed at 8pm, and although I thought I might read, all I could do was shut my eyes. I didn’t eat dinner that night or the next, and no breakfasts either. My head was spinning like I’d had too much to drink, but how can you put your foot out of bed and on to the floor when you’re already lying on the ground?

As an aside, it snowed that night and I awoke the next morning in a tent that looked more like an igloo. It was a ‘drunken’ wrestling match to pack it away. Then later that day, when we rolled the tent out to put it up again, several huge snowballs fell out.

Poor John reckons some of these peaks are at least 7000 metres.

That said, the scenery has been spectacular. Snow-capped mountains, rolling hills, picturesque gorges. I’ll post some more photos in another blog entry.

But back to the altitude. So you know—caffeine, alcohol and fizzy soft drinks are big no-nos at high altitudes, and because dehydration is inevitable, it is important to drink as much water as possible. It also means you’re up a lot a night for regular pees. Not much fun to drag your bum out of the tent when it’s below zero Centigrade.

Luckily, we’re in a hotel in Lhasa, Tibet now—staying at 3700 metres. We’re still feeling the effects of altitude sickness, and while the symptoms are frustrating (imagine getting puffed going up just a few steps), they are not too severe. And it’s a bonus to only have to go as far as a real bathroom to pee and not out into the freezing cold.

About two-thirds of our group have taken up the option to travel to Everest Base Camp at 5200 metres. It will be interesting to see how they fare over a few more days in those conditions.

NOTE: If you have access to Facebook, please feel free to share this post with others. I can’t get on Facebook in China, so it’s impossible for me to let people know I am adding to the blog now. Thanks.


Leave a Comment
  1. Louise M Oliver / Sep 17 2011 10:48 pm

    Hi Peggy,
    I’m so sorry that you, and to a lesser extent, Poor John are suffering from altitude sickness. How frustrating for you when there are so many interesting things to see and do. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that those who are going to the Everest base camp don’t get sick too. And of course I’ll say a prayer that you and John recover to your usual happy, chirpy selves in the shortest possible time. That picture of the peaks is beautiful. All of your pictures are interesting and/or beautiful but snow adds a nice touch. Take care until next time.

    Love and best wishes to both of you.


  2. leggypeggy / Sep 17 2011 11:28 pm

    I have to admit that the altitude sickness hasn’t really slowed us down much. We spent most of seven days riding in the truck, so there really wasn’t anything to do but sit and sleep. The three touristic places we’ve stopped have been lower (namely below 3700 metres) so we’ve been able to have a look around—even if we’ve had to move slowly.


  3. Sy S. NYC / Sep 18 2011 3:25 pm


    “For most of the past two weeks, Poor John and I have suffered from altitude sickness. I was hit first and worst. ”
    Wow, I never realized this could happen and be as bad as you describe… but you are in Tibet.
    Beautiful photo of the mountains and snow…. more pics please.

    Sy S.


  4. Troy / Aug 29 2012 1:22 am

    Aren’t you glad you took the time to snap a few pictures? Even if you couldn’t be bothered to eat at some of those altitudes. Beautiful!


    • leggypeggy / Aug 29 2012 2:22 am

      Hi Troy — I’m so glad I was up to taking pictures. The scenery is fabulous.



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