Thoughts on trekking to altitude with kids

Obie and i just arrived back in utah. Someone suggested that i write my thoughts on trekking in Nepal and taking kids to altitude

Health and hygiene

Start with a good multi-vitamin before you leave. Preferably a tasty one.
I would have taken extra vitamin c for Obie.
He had the odd bout of mild diarrhea and I would empty half a probiotic pill into something yummy that he was eating.
Have lots of little hand sanitizer packets and get the kids used to them and accepting
Really emphasize no nose picking and eating (seriously) and to keep hands away from mouth unless eating with clean hands
Use a buff or similar that can be pulled over the kids mouth and nose on the dusty trails. The Khumbu cough starts below Namche where the track is most dusty and crowded.
Obie slept in his own sleeping bag in the Teahouses. Not only cozy but avoided any bugs, germs that may linger from other Trekkers
Keep kids heads warm as altitude increases. This helps them acclimatize apparently.
Obie never wore his gore-tex but I kept his hooded down jacket handy (great buys in both Namche and in Kathmandu) plus gloves and warm hat and sun hat.
I gave paracetamol in yummy liquid form for headaches. Obie used it twice but make sure you follow directions carefully.
Peak Promotion, our outfitters, sent us with a bottle of oxygen in case of any trouble. We never used it but reassuring to have (and heavy)
Have some kind of moisturizing oil like jojoba – Obie’s cheeks got quite chapped and he got some dry skin on his bum and upper thighs as well.
Wet wipes and toilet paper in the top of your pack.
Wet wipes for grimy faces and hands
Scott has a steri-pen for sterilizing but I mostly used a gravity filter. I would leave it to filter while at breakfast and it took about half an hour (depending on the grittiness of the water) to filter 3 liters. I would then pop an iodine tablet into each bottle just to be sure and would later use the neutralizer pills to take away the iodine taste. Obie carried a camel back and this was invaluable. Keep the nozzle tucked back inside the shoulder strap to keep it clean.
I took lots of nuts, bars, nori snacks and fruit leathers for the trail. There is plenty of food at the Teahouses so I reckon I overdid it. Last time I was here there were not so many snickers bars and kitkats!
Doctors – Namche, Kumjung and Pheriche
Get good rescue insurance for peace of mind that includes heli rescue. I used International Medical Group. Alpine clubs also offer good rescue insurance packages. You need to be a club member and you have to organize it in advance.

Altitude

Personally I have always gone a bit too fast and worked too hard while still low. I hoped that with Obie, I would acclimatize nice and slow. It seemed to work for him but I think I physiologically struggle to acclimatize to 18000. I just need to take a lot of panadol and/or excedrin (Scott’s recommendation that worked quite well).
So my advice if you decide to take kids up high above 14000 feet/4000m is to absolutely take all the advice for proper acclimatizing: go slow, take rest days where you hike around a wee bit, drink a lot of water and generally do the minimum climbing that you can each day. This is dictated by the position of the Teahouses. Pheriche to Lobuche is a 700m elevation gain (to 5000m) but Lobuche to Gorak Shep is only 300 m and Basecamp is only another 50m. Many go from Lobuche to BC but we stopped at Gorak Shep.
The goal of reaching BC was very loose. I was completely prepared to return to Pheriche if Obie’s pulse oxygen sat was still 60%. I always thought we would just make it to Pheriche or Dingboche. The Sherpas all thought that Pheriche would be the highest Obie would go. There were a lot of comments about how strong he was. I would honestly say that he was significantly better at altitude than me (granted I am susceptible to coughs in recent years, should probably get it checked out. My sinuses were very stuffed up which would not have helped my oxygen uptake). But even when I was 21 in the Indian Himalayas, I suffered going above 18000ft/5000m.
At Gorak Shep I felt like shit but Obie’s energy was great. Scott had to go to Basecamp anyway so why not go once my excedrin kicked in?

Stamina

The real secret weapon to Obie’s health and stamina was Khunga. He basically cruised with Obie all the time and would give him short rides put Obie down then piggy-back him again. I just ambled along with my own pack and the water and food. It was Khunga’s first time into the upper Khumbu so he had his fair share of headaches as well. I felt like it was well worth the money to have Khunga.

*1m=3.3ft

What did Obie think of the trip: he liked the yak and yeti hotel because of the kids and the pool.
What was most memorable for him:
The animals: yaks, pika, horses, danfe, eagles, dokyo, dogs and one very friendly cat!
Response to cold. Doesn’t bother him, was not very cold.
Sherpa attitudes – doubts, concerns, then impressed.
Attitudes from Trekkers – slight notoriety

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Making base camp

There was soul searching upon arriving at lobuche at 5000m. Obie ate some pizza and went to sleep for the rest of the day. His oxygen saturation was low at 60% and I told the Sherpas that I was thinking of descending. Karina said wait until morning. By then Obie was a perky 90% to my 75!

We headed to Gorak Shep, 300m higher. Obie said he had a headache but his spirits were fine and appetite good enough (for him). Wally Berg, an American climber who was with Scott in 2010, showed up and babysat while Scott and I hiked up to see base camp from Kala Pattar. By the time we got back, Obie had ditched Wally in favor of Lara, a 9 year old German girl.

April 12, Obie was emotional and once again I considered descending – but only after a few rounds of Go Fish. Obie came right and we headed to Base camp with Scott. I always feel weird upon arriving at 18000 feet and the whole place was surreal anyway. Hundreds of tents arranged around glacier features, rocks like mushrooms perched on narrow pillars of ice, yaks amongst the ice formations….Farewell time was difficult on the edge of the moraine overlooking the field of coloured dots. Glaciers hung above us in immense scale. Khunga and our porter, Kaji stood around awkwardly. The sadness of leaving was somewhat relieved by the sight of a pika/mountain mouse with no tail scurrying among the boulders. Obie was delighted and talked about it for days.

The next morning I awoke with a fearsome headache and the Khumbu cough. Combined with the distress of leaving scottie, i was not at my best. Obie was fine. Only the thought of thicker air got me going. At Pheriche I crashed out on some couches. Obie ate noodles with an American group and I could hear them urging him to eat up and him explaining how his mum had caught his headache and the Khumbu cough. He would occasionally pop over and pat me sympathetically. Finally awakening after two hours, we continued to Pangboche and the lovely lodge of my friend Yangzing. There we met three generations of the bishop family. Barry Bishop was one of the summiteers on the first American expedition to Mt Everest in 1963. His widow Iila, now in her mid 70’s, was a delight and we enjoyed spending time with the family and getting a perspective on the changes in the Khumbu region over the past 50 years. We even got to hike some of the way to Phortse (the surprisingly high route) with Ilana the next day.

From Pangboche, we took a direct line up hill with Guy Cotter, Suze Kelly and other members of the AC group headed for Lhotse. We were off to visit Lama Geshe (who blesses expeditions) then our parties would split. The Obie Simper party would take the long and high route to Kumjung. Long and high it was, the track climbed and descended and wound in and out of the folds of the mountain. We passed the Tengboche monastery so close but so far across the valley. Phortse was a gorgeous village, it’s organized terraces and rock walls contrasting the steep backdrop of mountains. Descending through almost blooming rhododendron forest to the river, we crossed the torrent then climbed again, up, up up to Mong-la and a diagonal descent to join the Kumjung junction and into Kumjung – a larger version of Phortse. Less terraced, Kumjung is cozily placed in a large notch with plenty of flat terrain. The center of much of Sir Ed Hillary’s philanthropic work after his Everest ascent, we looked forward to exploring the village the following day. Oh how things can change in the space of one night….

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Interruption to trip with death of great friend in Utah

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Our good friend Craig Patterson was killed in an avalanche in Utah last Thursday. Obie and I had left Scott in base camp two days before (Obie made it). We had arrived in Kumjung – the village above Namche Bazaar where Sir Ed Hillary did much of his philanthropic work with the Sherpas. I reluctantly (and must say nervously for some reason) decided I should check emails and got the devastating news. Craig and I worked together on avalanche classes heaps over the past 10 years, wrote the UMA manual together, had kids almost identical ages and we had been doing family holidays since the kids were babies. We love Craig, Renae and Kaya!
I spent the night talking to Scott on a surprisingly clear line and deciding what to do. The day dawned clear and fortuitous. It the day for Scott’s puja for luck and health on Everest and in Kumjung, it was a big day (actually week) of puja for the health of the village. Fifty Lamas were present chanting in the Gompa (monastery). We trekked up to see them and the Rinpoche (head Lama) looked at a picture of Craig on my iPad, got his name and Craig’s soul would be included in the puja. Scott asked the Lama of his puja to include Craig as well. We do what we can when we are faraway. This felt right.
The photo is of my guide, Chomba, showing Craig’s photo to the Rinpoche in the monastery.