It was a random day in January 2017 when I realised that I was bored, that I need more adventures. I googled, “best place to trek” and the top result was the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. All of a sudden, I know that I needed to go there. I checked the best times to go, how much the ticket would cost, what equipments to buy.
It was not just the thrill and adventure that I was looking for. I wanted to have an adventure with God. I needed to get out of my comfort zone because our need for God becomes very tangible when we are in discomfort. I have always believed that you could only grow outside of your comfort zone. I wanted to have an intimate, unique time with God. I wanted to be closer to Him, literally…5416m closer or 17,769 ft to be exact.
I know that when one is in the midst of nature, it is easier to talk to God, to meditate. I was looking forward to that. I was expecting God to talk to me very clearly, almost like how He did with Moses in the burning bush. Spoiler alert: No burning bush. I did not get what I expected but the lessons I learned on that trip was almost like Moses’ burning bush experience. Ok, I don’t know that but maybe, at least that was how it felt like.
One of the very common signs or posters all around Nepal is about the AMS or Acute/Altitude Mountain Sickness, there are different kinds but the symptoms are similar. The higher you go in altitude, the thinner the oxygen. Symptoms would be dizziness, headache, nausea, in extreme cases, vomiting.
Some could go to the Everest base camp at 5700m feeling fine but would have AMS when going through the Thorong La Pass in the Annapurna Circuit. There is no specific height wherein you could get Altitude sickness.
Have you tried going up a very high place? A tall building, for example. How do the objects look like when you are up there? Do you see people? Do you hear what they are talking about? When you are at a very high altitude, you feel like you are above everything, and rightly so.
There is a person in the Bible who experienced an Altitude Sickness, *Thin Air-ogance. He is at the peak of his success. Everything he did was successful. But one time, he is where he is not supposed to be (2Sam. 11: 1). We all know the story. He saw Bathsheba. Bathsheba was a woman, a wife, a person. David was so high up there, all he saw was something he wants to own. Uriah, the husband, the warrior, David’s faithful servant. David only saw an obstacle to his plan. He had him killed, just like that, to get his conquest, to remove the obstacle.
We may not be in the same height that David reached but we might be having the same sickness already. Do you feel like sometimes you are above other people? Do you not see the needs of others? Do you see people as tools to use for your convenience, for your own pleasure? Are you forgetting that they are humans too, they have their own needs and they can get hurt by your actions?
There is no cure for altitude sickness except going down to a comfortable level and acclimatising before going back up again. Are we showing symptoms? We might need to go back down from our mountains of power, mountains of pride, mountains of prejudice, mountains of ego.
On your pace
I did not have enough preparation climbing that level. Palau is at sea level so my body had a very difficult time adjusting to the height. My speed was average when I started the trek. When I got to Upper Pisang, I experienced symptoms of AMS so I had to stay put and acclimatise. That was already my second rest due to health condition. I realised that even if I can, I should not go fast. My body could not handle it.
Going to the Tilicho Lake, one of the world’s highest lakes, the trail was dangerous and hard. I was taking my time because I get tired too fast. While I was resting, a guy came up to me and stopped. Looked at me and asked, “Remember me?” It was my roommate in Kathmandu! He said he will catch up to me on the trail. And, wow, he actually did. I tried to keep up with his pace but it was really too fast for me, I feel like I am draining my energy faster than necessary so I told him to just go ahead because I’m really slow. I found him in the last hotel in the base camp, there are only 3 hotels there. Unfortunately, he would not be able to complete the trek because when he got to the base camp, he was already sick, most probably from exhaustion. I learned an important lesson that day. Go your own pace. Don’t mind other people. You may get to a point faster but might not be able to complete your purpose when you rush.
Everything happens for a reason.
I had symptoms of altitude sickness in Upper Pisang, right? There are two options, going to Manang, my next stop, through the Lower Pisang or Upper Pisang. In upper Pisang, you would go to a higher route with a more magnificent view of the peaks of the Annapurna mountain. (It is what I came for).
The night that I had to rest, it snowed. It meant a possible slippery trail and the clouds would cover the peaks. The owner of the hostel where I stayed advised me to take the lower route instead. He said it would be faster and I would not be able to see the view anyway. I followed his advise.
While I was walking, I was complaining to God. Why did He make it snow? He knows that I probably would not be coming back to that place ever again and that is my only chance to see that view. I would never know now how that place looked like. I kept walking and after a while, wow, snow! I was able see real, actual snow for the first time in my life. After that, I felt better. However, the shorter distance was not so short after all. I reached a village and I thought it was my final stop. It wasn’t. I still had several kilometers to walk. When I reached the entrance of the real village I was going to, I decided to sit and take a rest. I saw a guy and a lady walking and the guy was looking at me like he recognized me. “Weren’t you the one in the restaurant the other day?” I remembered him. He was the guy who stopped by to drink and we had a little chat while I was just resting in the lodging house.
With him was a Japanese-Canadian lady who would save my life on the harder parts of the trek and who would push me to finish my trek on schedule despite my two days of delay. She taught me that I had to drink Diamox to prevent altitude sickness, when I told her that my ears hurt she told me that I have to cover my ears. She’s a real trekker so she walks a lot faster than I do so she was able to save me a room. If she was not with me, I would have to bargain to sleep in the dining area. God knows best. (Romans 8:28)
The Narrow Trail
The trail was very difficult. I was struggling. I was on my period, it was very windy, I was slow, I was tired. I was crying while I was walking. I prayed to God to make at least the wind to stop. He said no. I had to walk in a very dangerous trail while the wind was so strong. At first, I was ready to go back but I know that I would regret it if I do. I kept telling myself, “Ojhea, before this day ends, if you keep moving, you will be at the base camp.” “Of course there would be struggles, you won’t get to 4800m without a struggle. Do not expect a walk in the park.” “You chose to do this because you were dying of boredom and routine. Routine was easy, this is not a routine. This is something not everyone gets to do, not even those who go through this circuit.”
Also, the lady I was telling you about earlier was already far ahead. If I did not proceed, she would worry and wonder what happened to me. Pretty much like our Christian walk. It is not easy but the rewards are more than worth it. It is easy to go back to our old ways, easy to fall if you don’t hold fast to the truth. The wind could sweep you off your feet. The journey is long and tiring but God would not leave you without hope nor help. And someone is waiting for us at the end of the journey. (Matt. 7:13-14)
On my way back from the lake trip, I was the last on the trail. This time, there was not much wind. It was already past 3pm, and it was starting to get cold because the sun is already at the other side of the mountain. I was once again exhausted. I walk several meters and then rest. Just then, two locals were behind me. One was a guide, another a porter. A lot of people passed me already so I did not want to delay them. However, whenever I rest, they would pass me and then they would rest also. They would wait until I pass them before they start moving again. After about 30 mins of the same thing happening, I was thinking maybe they are just really tired. The guide is a bit advanced in age. Then I stopped walking, took another deep breath. The guide came close to me, probably seeing the exhaustion on my face. He just said, “Look! Bambi.” He pointed to a fawn on the mountains. They were playing, they were cute. I realized he was distracting me from my tiredness. I asked how far do we still have to go. He just kept saying, we’re close. I felt embarrassed because I was so slow. He kept assuring me that it was natural. Not everybody can cope easily with the altitude. Right then and there, I know that he was heaven sent. God may not have made the trail easier for me but he provided me with just enough that I would need. When I was last on the trail, he sent the guide to talk to me, to keep me company, to make me feel safe. Our treks, our adventures here on earth are not easy but God wants to push us higher, higher than the highest human thoughts could reach. He pushes us outside of our comfort zones because that is where the growth is. He puts us in situations that we don’t understand. We go through trails that are too narrow but even if it is so, we would be able to arrive to our destinations safely. He would give us just enough to keep us going. And He will be there, waiting for us and we would be glad that we took that journey with Him.
*from Max Lucado’s book, Facing Your Giants