Trek to Everest

Stuart Baker-Brown.

At Base Camp.

My Trek to Everest was symbolic of my journey with schizophrenia. Everest became 'Mount Schizophrenia' and represented all I had been through. Below you can read an 'honest and open' example of 'journal entries' kept by myself whilst trekking to Everest BC in 2003.

I have always been 'visual' with my thinking and treat my sometimes strong 'visual experiences' as an expression of emotion and I believe, should not be seen as a symptom of illness. It is just me expressing myself to me!

The journal records both my emotional and physical experiences relating to my diagnosis. At the time I was prescribed 600mg Seroquel a day.

Excerpt-One of the other memorable moments for me was the experience I had with two Sherpa children 'en route' back to Lukla. As I was sitting in a lodge writing my diary, two young children watched as I wrote and then the boy came and sat next to me and took hold of my pen and started to draw. I joined in and we both 'sketched' the older girl then came and watched to see what we were doing. It was so nice; to be approached without any fear and stigma. I felt they were experiencing my true self, the self that is beyond my label of Schizophrenic. I was, for a rare moment in life, being treated for the person I am and was approached with confidence and comfort by these kids, who knew nothing about the labels forded upon me back in the UK.

It was just a nice happy and warm situation that I will remember. It was my moment, away from my past, away from my CPN and his shackles, away from the discrimination and the stigma and all the appalling attitudes I face with my diagnosis.

Introduction: The trek was very difficult, I was ill with Mountain Sickness and my size was working against me but I was very focused on reaching my goal. I kept on telling myself that the trek was symbolic of my life with Schizophrenia and that’s why it was so hard, it couldn’t be any different, it had to be that way! But, on 10th November 2003 I succeeded in reaching my goal of arriving at Base Camp, hoping this would be a turning point in my life.

Nepal is a lovely country. I felt at home there and safe amongst the mountains. The Buddhist attitude helped me to feel myself and un-judged by its society. I experienced hallucinations inNepal, stress related, but the images I saw were a lot calmer than the often unsettling images experienced in theUK. I felt unthreatened and managed to watch as Buddhist and Hindu images floated in my mind. This was both an internal and external experience.

I travelled with a Sherpa guide and porters from ‘Lukla’ at 2800m through to Namche’ at 3500m. We then trekked up towards ‘Thame’, visiting the Buddhist Monastery. The Monastery was established around 320 years ago. I was privileged to be able to sit amongst a Buddhist Meditation Ceremony. The chanting was wonderful as was the gentle beating of the drums. I cannot explain the honour felt by myself being able to witness this ceremony. It was as though I managed to feel a bit of the belief that these people have and the wisdom and depth of understanding of life and its meaning, as though I was allowed to touch it for a moment.

The whole event, my preparation in the UK to reaching Base Camp was extremely important to me. Finding a positive and worthwhile goal in my life and finding a positive structure, has helped my life immensely and helped me to feel that I have some worth in a society, who easily discriminates against a diagnosis of severe mental illness, especially that of Schizophrenia.

The opportunity that was given to me and the success of my trek has helped to change my life. I have a very positive achievement that I can now focus on to help me with further goals and challenges in the future. It’s very important for everyone who is diagnosed with a mental illness to find a positive structure and a goal in their life. We all need something to dream of and a reason to carry on.

Trek Journal

London to Kathmandu-Landed at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu 5.30pm local time. A good flight. It took forever to get through Passport control. The flight into Kathmandu was breathtaking. I felt excited and thrilled at my first sighting of the Himalayas. Even the Nepalese were thrilled at the site of the mountains. Awesome is a word too freely used nowadays but I think the word is used at its best, when I write, the first sight of the Himalayas was Awesome!

We flew along (I think) the Annapurna region. I have never seen such a magnificent sight. The colours of the sky, the magnificence and power of the mountains. No words can describe the beauty of the view. I myself am not strong enough to describe what was before me, the greatness and the magnitude of it all.

But one emotion that came over me was the realisation of my own insignificance as a human being. Nature was the God here, how it should be. There is and never will be a way man could create the sights I saw before me. Never will man be able to create such power and beauty. Seeing this power truly puts me in my place as a human being. If there is a God, then God is here, the power of all is here in the Himalayas.

24th October 2003. I visited the Mountain Club office in Thamel. They are acting on Footprint Adventures behalf whilst I am in Nepal. I met BN the Director of the Mountain Club. He spoke about the trek and confirmed the itinerary. I arranged to go sightseeing in Kathmandu today with Rohini who is a tour guide and arranged on our return on 20th November to visit Bhaktapur City, which is full of Newar architecture, again this will be with Rohini.

Sightseeing in Kathmandu. Whilst driving around Kathmandu the pollution from the cars caused me to be somewhat breathless and I ended up with a headache. The city is alive, full of colour and atmosphere. The day began by meeting Nuru. Nuru says that it was his cousin who climbed Everest this year in ten hours. My first impression of Nuru is that he is very polite and strong. I feel very comfortable with him straight away. Somehow he generates respect. Still can’t believe how comfortable I feel with everything. So many times when I am abroad I feel very uneasy with people that are new to me, but so far all seems calm. Again as though it’s fated.

Visited various Buddhist Monasteries and Hindu Temples, which were peaceful and wonderful. The most spectacular was the Great Stupa of Bodhnath. It was enormous, spectacular and a very powerful statement of Buddhism. The base of the Stupa is in the shape of a Buddhist Mandala and its terraces represent that of meditation. The dome is itself approx 122ft in diameter and represents the womb of emptiness where all things arise. At the top of the Stupa, on the dome, are the ‘all knowing, all seeing’ eyes of Buddha. There are thirteen steps of the spire, which represent ten levels of compassion and three levels of awareness. The base of the Stupa is surrounded by many Prayer wheels, which must be turned clockwise. Also visited Durbar Squareamongst other places. Durbar Square is full of wonderful carved Temples and monuments and is home to the Kumari (living Goddess). Durbar Square is a World Heritage Site and a must visit for all travellers to Nepal.

Monkeys roam the streets of Kathmandu. I saw one monkey attack a man and push him over because the man interfered with a fight between a group of Monkeys. Cows wander the streets.

Today is the day for the festival of dogs. It’s great to see them with flowers in their coats and red paint on their body and heads. Yesterday was the festival of the Crow and I think all week has had a different festival for a different animal each day. The whole day has been amazing. I feel very privileged to be here. One memory that will definitely stay within my mind is the sight I saw when we visited a cremation at the Bagmati Holy River, of a Nepalese soldier killed by the Maoists. The feeling was so deep and symbolic. One western tourist passed out. I was told that it will take between 2 to 4 hours for the body to burn.

My whole experience has been of fascination and intrigue rather than that of fear and worry. The air and atmosphere seems to be much more accepting of one another and much more understanding of each other’s ways, more so than that of the UK.

Flight to Lukla-Left for Tribhuvan Airport just after 7am. The flight to Lukla was due to leave at 8:00am but we had a long wait at Kathmandu airport. At the airport we were met by Chongba, a relative of Nuru who is training to be a Sherpa Guide. He will be trekking with us. The flight finally left at 11am. Nuru was not totally sure which flight we were on; we just knew that it was with Skyline Airways. But after a few hours wait our small plane arrived and by time we took off I was eager to start the walk at Lukla.

An amazing thing happened to me whilst flying into Lukla. As I was looking down onto the Mountains, I saw the distinct shape of the eye of the Buddha, which formed from the swirling shapes of the clouds. It was the same eye, more or less, as I had seen on the Buddhist Stupa at Bodhnath inKathmandu. It was reassuring for me to see such a shape. I often see shapes in clouds that have meaning to me. I have done so for most of my life. Whatever, this shape left me feeling very positive and relaxed with the flight into Lukla.

The landing into Lukla was incredible. I was sat at the front of the plane and had a frontal view through the cockpit. The runway was so short and almost vertical to look at. I had read that the take off and landing at Lukla can be scary and the most dangerous airport in the World but I just found it fascinating.

The scenery is spectacular here. We are currently at 2650m. Mentally I feel very comfortable and relaxed and am not experiencing the anxiety I normally feel when I am abroad. I believe that it is the peaceful nature of the people and the beauty of the land is having a good positive effect on me, away from the stresses of life in the UK. Just sitting in the lodge with the smell of the burning logs and the warm hospitality helps. There is no Television, no bad News, no sad soap opera’s, just friendly faces and the warmth of a fire and the talk of the days walking.

Toilets along the route are in huts with holes in the ground. After you have been to the toilet you then have to cover it up with shredded bark. Of course, ‘the stink is terrible’. Tomorrow we have a hard steep walk up to Namche, which is a 1000m ascent. I’m trying not to think about it. I just have to achieve it, there is nothing else to consider. What waits in front has to be dealt with.

26th October. Everest region. Seven hour walk today from Phakding to Namche through villages and Rhododendron forests and giant firs. This is also where we first entered into the Sagarmatha National Park (Everest region). The entrance is just beyond Monjo village 2840m. Sagarmatha National Park was established in 1976 to protect the area around Mount Everest. The park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979.

The walk from Jorsale village to Namche was extremely hard. Must have been the hardest walk I have ever done in my life. For five hours from just beyond Jorsale the walk was steep to very steep and we ascended one thousand metres (approx 3000 ft plus). We left Phakding at 2600m and arrived in Namche 3500m. Dropped a hundred metres before we climbed 1000m. The Sherpa’s are so fit. Porters with heavy loads walk over rocks and rough terrain and sometimes without shoes!

I experienced lack of oxygen and the higher we got the tougher I found it to breathe. During the ascent I began to worry. If I was having problems this early into the trek, how would I cope further up with more difficult terrain and a greater lack of air?

For a long while I had to walk feeling exhausted. The last climb to Namche was extremely hard and I had to stop every fifty feet for two minutes of air. I cannot describe the breathlessness and lack of oxygen. It was at this point when I first thought ‘shit, am I mad, what am I doing?’

What kept me going were the words in my head telling me to carry on and succeed. I had to remind myself constantly that this was all symbolic of my fight with schizophrenia and that the climb to Namche was equivalent to the mental struggles I have had to overcome in the past. I told myself that every hard step taken now, represented every hard day that I have had to face over the years living with my diagnosis. And that every step meant I was closer and closer to my goal of succeeding in life physically and mentally.

I can’t believe how hard it was. Eventually reached Namche. My training at Lulworth paid off. My legs managed the hills fine; it was just the lack of oxygen. Although my training has paid off, nothing has prepared me for the physical effort and exhaustion felt today. I asked Nuru if the walk to Namche was one of the most difficult 'en route' to Everest. He raised his eyebrows and said to me ‘There is harder!’

27th October. Namche. Rest day. 10am. Have slept in today for a couple of hours. During the night I experienced symptoms of altitude sickness. Often when I would begin to fall to sleep, I felt the need to gasp for air, which caused me to panic and wake trying to catch my breath. I also experienced lots of muscle cramp and very lucid images in my mind. I did not eat last night; I seem to have lost my appetite, again, a symptom of altitude sickness. I have read much about the symptoms of AMS. It is vital to know about it up here. I have also forgotten to take my Seroquel.

12:40pm. I have had to go back to bed. Symptoms of altitude sickness. I got myself prepared to go out for a walk around Namche but within a minute of walking I felt so ill and like I was very drunk but without the symptoms of alcohol. I could not walk in a straight line nor lift my head to see where I was going. I was out of breath and wanted to fall over. I felt nauseated and my thoughts and bearings were very hazy to say the least. So I decided to rest and try and sleep so that I could cope with the walking tomorrow. I feel like shit.

I have had no breakfast and still do not feel like eating this lunchtime, just want to sleep. Nuru has tried to encourage me to drink some garlic soup and has brought me a flask of hot water whilst I lay in bed. I have asked if I could use the Lodge phone to contact Rebecca but have been told that the Maoist have cut off all phone communication. Because I feel so bad, it has been decided that we may stay another day here to help me acclimatise.

9pm. It is now 9pm and I am laying in bed writing. I have been in bed all afternoon. I have now taken my medication but have been without it for the longest time that I can remember. I am experiencing some hallucinations. One such hallucination is of a tree floating around my room with many beautiful lights. It’s quite fascinating to watch, as though, it is half physical and half hallucination but it seems so there. I just watch it float calmly by. Within my mind I am experiencing powerful images of historical sites visited in Kathmandu and the face of the Buddha. The shadows and lights on the walls are of figures and weird shapes, but nothing threatening. I let the experience happen without any concern.

Thinking about it, I would say that the hallucinations were somewhat calmer and safer because of the more understanding and spiritual way of life in Nepal. As someone with schizophrenia, I believe that my mind sometimes soaks up the surrounding atmosphere and takes things on board. I feel that I am very susceptible to the stress of modern living in the UK and can find modern/material living difficult to cope with. But here in Nepal my mind and its condition may be substituting my stress of the UK with the understanding and calmness that I have felt so far with my journey from Kathmandu to the Himalayas. It’s a possibility that my condition is somewhat different here, reacting differently and adjusting to current surroundings?

As I lay in bed writing, I can also hear the wonderful sounds of Namche, the bells of the Yaks and horses that carry the luggage along the streets and below my lodge room I can hear a group of children singing and dancing. It is wonderful. As for the walk towards Gokyo tomorrow, I have said to Nuru that it is best to wait and see how I feel in the morning.

28th October. 9am. I feel so rough this morning. Have not eaten. It has been decided that we should head back down and descend to Jorsale. This may help with my AMS symptoms. I am feeling very sick and can barely walk 10ft in a straight line. I feel shit and feel as though I am getting worse, so I have made the decision to go down whilst I think I still can. I have read that many who descend with AMS feel better quickly at a lower altitude. Means we have to do the 3000ft climb again. But if it helps me, then it is worth it. I have forgotten to mention the French doctor who visited me yesterday afternoon. She had heard that I had AMS and wanted to check my symptoms. She agreed that I did have AMS but also thinks that my heart is weak and says I should not go up any higher. She told Nuru that I was the wrong shape to be doing this type of thing. She may be right but that does not mean that I will fail.

I feel saddened that we have to go down but it is for my own safety. AMS can kill if not dealt with. Everything has to go back down with us, so I feel sorry for the poor porters. At this moment I feel as though the trek is in jeopardy. I just don’t feel as though I can carry on. I feel so ill and so unhappy and fear that I might fail so early on.

Out of the Kitchen

Feel better. Have eaten some Sherpa stew and scrambled eggs on toast. Whilst sitting around a small table in the kitchen of the lodge I spoke with Nuru about depression and mental illness. This was started because a Nepalese man committed suicide the night before by throwing himself off a nearby rope bridge into the River. I spoke with Nuru about how depression is handled inNepaland his reply was that when people are depressed they are ‘kept out of the kitchen’, the kitchen being the main point of family life in the mountains.

Déjà vu. Thinking about it. 9:30pm. The other night when I was lying in bed in Namche with mountain sickness, I began to cry to myself. I started to convince myself that I could go no further. This was aided by the words of the Doctor who said that my heart might not cope with the altitude because of my size. But when at my lowest, I found images and feelings appear within my mind, feelings that I had made it to Base Camp. I have in the past mentioned that I do try and send myself positive images from the future to my past. I think it started to work for me the other night, I am sure it did. As I write these words now, on the 28th, I can feel positive images of myself at Base Camp, the same feelings as the other night. I believe that I am and was, telling myself that I made it and there was a link between myself now, and future messages passed back to me, from myself at BC. As I write about this, I realise that from my first evening inKathmandu I have had the feeling that I have seen it and experienced it all before. These are very powerful feelings of déjà vu. I am now using these positive images and feelings of my success at Base Camp to focus my mind on the climb back up to Namche tomorrow. The feeling that all is fated is so strong.

29th October. Namche. 7;30pm. I felt well this morning. Well enough to make the climb back up. The 3000ft ascent was so hard. It made me feel ill again but I knew it was the right thing to do and after 4.5 hours I made it back up to Namche. Chongba did not think I was going to make it and suggested I should try again the following day but with a horse. I gave him a very dirty look and said “no way, I promise you I will make it”. Every 30 seconds I felt I had to stop for a minute, stop for air. But in my mind I treated it all as symbolic of my illness and this gave me the strength to succeed.

Now sitting in the warm lodge. I feel quite well just tired and extremely proud of myself for climbing such a steep ascent, not once but twice. I am still experiencing some hallucinations, I am out of sync with my medication, and can’t really remember when I’ve taken it or what. But what I do know is that the images I see in my head and the feelings I feel in my body are much calmer inNepalthan that of home. Everything seems to represent the Buddha and the Nepalese way of understanding, so much so that I can just lay and watch the images in my head without any threat. Something I have never managed to do in theUK. I think sometimes people with schizophrenia have a heightened awareness of their surroundings and are able to sometimes pick up the surrounding atmosphere and adapt quicker to those surroundings than normal people. So I believe I have adapted very quickly to my new surroundings and soaked up the gentle atmosphere and my mind is reflecting this within my condition now.

I have eaten some Sherpa stew with Tibetan bread and honey. I feel more positive now and much more focussed. I am trying not to think about the toughness of the walks. I just know that they have to be achieved, no matter the difficulty.

1st November. Shyangboche 3800m-Above Namche. Felt unwell today and a little depressed. 3 ½ hour walk from Thame to Shyangboche. Settled for the day at 3800m in lodge at highest part of Namche. I’m a little anxious about my heart. Every day when I start a walk I feel very ill and my breathing is poor and my chest is painful. Probably my bronchitis, but the Doctor has put my heart into my mind. I have no energy and it’s demoralising. It’s as though my heart is not beating properly to the exercise that I do. After a couple of hours of walking I seem to find my beat and acclimatize. It’s started to depress me a bit that all is so hard. The slightest hill, which I should be able to hop up, seems like a mountain. It’s just been a shit day today and it would be nice to feel good for a change.

4:37pm. I am now laying in bed. Earlier we heard a large avalanche nearby. Namche is a very damp place. At this moment it’s very misty outside, cannot see far at all. Tomorrow we will walk for 6 to 7 hours and head to Tengboche. This is the start of the push to Base Camp. I still overall feel very calm and unthreatened. I could almost call it home. It has that feeling.

Yesterday night I stopped my antibiotics and the Diamox. My chest infection is better now.

There was quite a tough climb for the last hour of our ascent to Namche from Thame. For a moment I imagined Ted Hughes’ Iron Giant helping me up but it was only for a moment. I could not hold the thought for some reason, maybe there are too many powerful images that surround me each day here, that possibly hold more power for me at this time and place in my life. I managed to take a good picture of three Sherpa children today, between Thame and Namche; I think that they were three brothers. They got much joy when seeing themselves on the display of my Digital Camera. And rightly so, they are a good-looking bunch of kids. The higher we get, the more Yaks we see. They are very strong and intelligent creatures. There seems to be something in their eye that shows that they are thinking, sussing things out. I made the mistake of asking for ‘Yaks cheese’, which caused Chongba to laugh aloud, its like asking for Bull’s cheese. A female Yak is a Nak. It has been said that they only appear on the menu when a Yak has fallen accidentally down a hill and killed itself. Hard luck for the Yak, tasty for me! The food is very suitable, mainly potatoes, rice, eggs and vegetables. I really like Dal Bhatt, which the porters seem to eat most nights.

2nd November. 4:26pm. Tengboche 3860m. Just arrived in Tengboche from Namche. Tengboche Gompa is situated under the Kangtaiga Mountains. The Gompa was established in 1916 and is the religious centre for all Sherpa people. The walk from Namche took 6 ½ hours with an extremely steep climb lasting 2 ½ hours up to Tengboche. Had my first sight of Everest this morning on a lovely clear blue day. It was breathtaking to finally see it. On route at Khumjung where Sir Edmund Hillary opened a school and where Nuru studied for a few years, we were very fortunate to stop at the Monastery and allowed to take photographs of a 300-year-old Yeti skull. What can I say? ‘It had the same hair colour as me, which was alarming! We are now opposite the Tengboche monastery in a room at the Himalayan View Lodge. Out of the window there is a view over and onto the summit of Everest.

A Nepalese man (Porter) was carried on stretcher to Namche this morning with Mountain Sickness. He was extremely unwell. Although I am unwell I am very pleased that I have got this far. On route to Tengboche we descended to about 3250m but climbed again to just over 3800m. I think my mental strength has been very much so aided by the friendship of Nuru and Chongba. This is a place of honour, strength and love, which I believe in, so much.

3rd November. 5.18am. I have been awoken by a clash of cymbals and the bang of a gong and a deep boom of horns. The sound of Tengboche monastery. It just really can’t get better than this as I look out of the window and see the stars, theHimalayas, the summit of Everest and listen to the Buddhist monks welcoming the new morning. It’s all very moving spiritual stuff. This is not for the benefit of humans but a communication between man and nature.

6.30am. Sitting here on a cold morning with my sleeping bag wrapped around me, watching Everest, as the clouds lift from her summit and the Yaks pass slowly under the window with their bells gently ringing. It will be a shame to leave this today as we head on to Dingboche.

Afternoon. 3860m to 4375m. Sonam Friendship lodge, Dingboche 14250ft. 6 hour walk from Tengboche to Dingboche. We visited Tengboche monastery first thing and again were lucky to sit amongst a meditation ceremony. It is believed that Buddhism was introduced into the region in the 17th century by Lama Sanje Dorje who flew over the Himalayas and landed at Tengboche predicting that one day a great monastery would be built there.

I’m getting very very frustrated and nearly annoyed with myself. Each morning when we set off I can’t cope with the easiest of hills, it’s the altitude and my heart. So much so, that in anger at my weakness, during the trek to Dingboche, I threw both my trekking poles down forcefully onto the ground and swore up into the sky. It shocked Chongba a little. It wasn’t right for me to act that way in front of the Sherpa’s, and I will not let myself act that way in the future. Today was the day I could have given up; it was just so bloody hard!

But again in the afternoon I improved dramatically. Coincidentally, I seem to improve around mid-day and mid-dayNepaltime is around the time I usually wake in theUK. So maybe my body clock is still functioning atUKtime. I also believe my medication, Seroquel, is working against me. I often feel sedated with Seroquel, and my body feels sedated whilst trekking. Maybe this is why my heart is beating so hard? It may be bringing on symptoms of AMS? I do not want to think about it.

We have settled in Dingboche for the night and we have magnificent views of Lotse from our windows. I think we are 2 days away from BC. We are currently at 4375m and all seems well. I am losing much weight and have had to make extra holes in my belt, so that’s a good sign. May stay in Dingboche tomorrow and acclimatise. Steak and chips tonight, again, but its nice.

6:20pm. A little worried. I am feeling dizzy and disorientated. The scenery is, for me, indescribable. Mount Ama Dablam is fantastic, so different to the others. This scenery has to be experienced first hand to truly understand the power of the Mountains and their beauty.

I am making sure that I drink lots of purified water and whenever we stop at a teahouse I drink plenty of lemon tea and bottled water. It’s important to keep fluid intake to a max and never exhaust yourself. Take it easy and keep mountain sickness away. Weather has been very clear all through the trek, quite warm during the day, cold at night.

5thNovember. I am starting to feel somewhat anxious and down about the task ahead. My legs are okay. It’s my size and my weight. I am struggling at the moment so much. I am finding it hard just to carry my day bag. It feels such a weight and I am embarrassed that Chongba has to sometimes carry it for me. Home is constantly on my mind now. Two weeks has now passed since I have been away and I am starting to feel that it would be good to get home. I feel that I may be starting to resent this trek. I am now taking my medication at the right time.

Feel quite sick and giddy. Must be altitude, again. We are just preparing for a 4-hour walk to Loboche. I really don’t want to do it but again I see images in my head of myself at Base Camp. I must hold on to these positive thoughts and feelings. Its what’s pulling me through. Sometimes the thought of giving up is so tempting. Going to a lower altitude and breathing well, sleeping well, feeling warm is desirable at times.

3:30pm. Above The Clouds Lodge, Loboche. 5000m. Just made walk from Dingoche to Loboche. On route we ascended up to the Chukpilhara Memorial, which is a place, dedicated to the memory of 6 Sherpa’s killed on Everest in 1970. There are many other stone monuments for climbers and other Sherpa’s that have died on Everest. I found the place haunting and at the same time, spectacular.

We then followed the valley along towards Loboche. These, for me, were the first real steps to BC. The land was suddenly more rugged and barren, bleak and eerie in places. The air became even thinner and the cold somehow took more of a grip. Loboche is close to the Italian Pyramid. A project founded in 1987 by geologists to measure the exact heights of Everest andK2 and is known as the Pyramid because of its glass shaped structure.

Tomorrow we will stay at Loboche to acclimatise. The walk today was gruelling for me and took 5 hours. There is no oxygen. Something is driving me forward; although I want to give up I have found heart and the drive to succeed, where so much of me just wants to curl up. The walks are gruelling at this altitude and every hill is like climbing a hard Mountain. Nuru, boosted my confidence, as he shook my hand when we reached the lodge at Loboche. I felt that he knew what a struggle it was for me. Next stop will be Gorak Shep and then Base Camp. I have been told that getting to Base Camp is one of the most gruelling walks and takes some hours walking along and over the Khumbu glacier.

As I climbed to Loboche I kept on passing images back to myself in the past showing myself that I was achieving steep hard walks at altitude. Not so much words but images and feelings that surrounded me at the time. And as I climbed to Loboche I knew that I could succeed. Déjà vu is all around me, many people I see, I seem to recognise, everything from the Lodges to the terrain. I find myself staring at people in the lodge trying to work out how I may know them. It’s strange and interesting but does not worry me. These may be images from the future, which I have sent back to myself in the past. Whatever, true or not, its all helped me to believe that somewhere in time I have succeeded, but if it is all crap, so what, it’s helping me at this time and harming no one else.

I can’t believe I’m nearly at Base Camp. We can see Mount Nuptse 8501m clearly. It is huge and feels as though you could reach out and touch it.

7th November. 6am. Elizabeth, an American Nurse came to the lodge last night. She had a blood oxygen level and heart monitor equipment, which checks the amount of oxygen in the blood and gives warning of AMS. I was okay but she recommended that I started to take Diamox again to help my breathing at altitude and to help me sleep. So last night I took her advice and took the Diamox before we went to bed. I will take a tablet every 8 hours. I noticed the change during the night when I went to the toilet; I managed to walk up the hill to the toilet and didn’t get too much out of breath. The change was very noticeable. I managed to sleep a bit too!

6.45am. –10.5 degrees. Shit its cold! As soon as the sun comes up it gets quite warm. Although I am sleeping under a 4-season sleeping bag with layers of clothing, I still am feeling very cold during the night. It would be good to experience a comfortable bed and a soft pillow. I’m just moaning, because I don’t feel too brilliant. I realise its all part of the experience and like I have said before, we are not here for the luxury. We should be going to Gorak Shep today. I feel that I am fighting a little bit with depression. I am quite eager to get going and want to reach my goal, but I feel somewhat depressed because I know how tough it will be. If only I could lose that feeling. I know that feeling positive makes things more positive.

12:30pm. Gorak Shep. 5170m/17000ft. Just made it to Gorak Shep. I am sitting at a table outside with a lemon tea. Very hard walk along rocks and very rough paths. Along the route we could see Everest Base Camp for the first time. It lies at the edge of the Khumbu glacier. I had no real feelings when I saw BC for the first time, no excitement; it was just there in the distance, my goal. Again we are staying in the Himalayan Lodge but this time at Gorak Shep. Kala Patar is on one side, it looks nothing compared to the mountains around it, but it is still 5,500m high. The summit of Everest can be seen on the other side. I will climb Kala Pattar to get a better view of Everest, maybe tomorrow.

As I think of Base Camp and know that my goal is so near, I find it strange that I am not excited. Like I have said, because of the toughness, I think that I may be resenting all this. I know it is wrong, so wrong. I always knew that it would be so hard. Maybe it’s not the trek I am resenting but myself and my obesity and weakness. As I think about it, it is me that I am resenting. It has to be. Nobody can resent all this that I have before me, the Mountains, the clear sky and the power.

2pm. I cannot believe that I am so close to my goal, as I sit here now, in Gorak Shep drinking lemon tea, looking at the summit of Everest. I feel more positive now. I have relaxed for a while. Watching the summit of Everest reminds me of the reason I am here and reminds me that I am near to my own summit. And in all honesty, thinking about it, if things were not so hard for me here, then all the mental and physical preparation would not be worth it and the trek itself would not hold the value for me that it does. Everyone with a diagnosis of mental illness should experience this. Everyone should have the opportunity I have before me.

The Walk.

Walked from Loboche along the side of the Khumbu glacier towards Gorak Shep, which in itself is spectacular and amazing. As expected the land is very empty and barren, just rocks, rocks and bloody big rocks. I questioned myself whether my condition will be left at BC; I’m talking about my schizophrenia and the past I want to leave behind. Time will tell. The Diamox seems to have helped. There was one particular steep climb, which I feel I maybe managed with a bit more ease than I could have, without the Diamox. To be honest, I think my body gave up way back; it is my new strength of mind that seems to be seeing me through and holding things together. Maybe it’s the mountains and all they offer that’s seeing me through!

2:32pm. Have had tomato soup for lunch, and yet again I don’t feel well. I have a tingling sensation all round my face and a headache. The tingling could be symptoms of Diamox, but the headache could be altitude sickness. It runs too similar with previous symptoms of AMS. One good thing is that the toilets seem fresher up here, probably because it is colder and because everything freezes.

On the lodge walls hang some calendars. One is the Sherpa calendar and the year is 2130, another is a Nepalese calendar and that says the year is 2060.

8th November. 2:35pm. Have been very ill with diarrhoea and vomiting during the night and it hasn’t been any better today. I was supposed to climb Kala Pattar today but I stayed in bed. I feel cold and ill and again shit all round. I have to move very slowly because my head spins. I have to sit up very slowly otherwise I just shit myself. I very much doubt if I will get to Base Camp tomorrow but if I don’t I will try the day after and if not then, then the day after that. I have not eaten anything and won’t, I don’t think that I can keep it down.

9th November. 8:42am. Because of the food poisoning I cannot do anything today. So we will try for Base Camp tomorrow. I cannot eat anything. Again, Nuru is providing me with plenty of hot water. I am feeling very weak. When I think about it, this trek is symbolic of my Schizophrenia, the struggles I have had to face in the past, and so it’s probably only right that I should feel so shit so near to my goal. Have taken Imodium extra. Lets hope it helps!

11:18am. I am feeling weak still but the Imodium seems to be helping my stomach. I may force myself to try and climb Kala Pattar this afternoon. Because of illness we are starting to be pushed for time and I need to go up Kala Pattar to get the best photos of Everest. I can’t say it’s been an easy trip; my size has caused me much trouble with the altitude but there still have been many amazing and enjoyable times. Such as last night. When I went out to the toilet at midnight I managed to listen for a couple of minutes as Wolves or Dholes barked and howled. It was an amazing experience. I’ve always wanted to hear Wolves in the wild. It was such a crisp night with beautiful stars, with the Summit of Everest and Wolves howling. It was a magical situation amongst a shit time. Nuru has told me that we must, if at all possible, push for Base Camp tomorrow. That means that my only chance to climb Kala Pattar will be today. I must do it, it’s something worth doing and something I’ve wanted to do since I first booked the trek with Footprint. I will try and eat something, maybe some toast and honey.

5:50pm. I took the chance to climb Kala Pattar. It was my only chance. It was very cold up there. As I waited until the sunset I listened to the cracking and breaking of ice on the Khumbu glazier. I am feeling better but still weak. I walked back down to Gorak Shep from Kala Pattar in the dark and was met halfway by Chongba with a flask of lemon tea. Both Chongba and Nuru and the porters have been very loyal to us. Hope I took some amazing shots of Everest at sunset? Everest was on Fire!

I have agreed that we will attempt Base Camp tomorrow. I know it will be hard. We did have the option to camp at Base Camp but only if we made the trip today. It is safety in numbers and a small group of people that we were going to join with, were planning to camp at Base Camp tonight. Because I could not make it we cannot camp now because tomorrow we will be the only ones there and Nuru has advised me that it is not good for us to camp there, because I am feeling ill with diarrhoea and altitude sickness. I feel saddened by this, because from the start when I envisioned the trek, I always wanted to camp at Base Camp for the experience but I have to listen to Nuru; he is my Sherpa guide and a good one at that. So the plan is to have a meal there, then come back to Gorak Shep.

Déjà vu. Déjà vu and déjà vu.

As I sat up on Kala Pattar there was a very rusty old can by my feet. I recognised it and felt I was in the right place at the right time.

10th November 9.21am. Today we are going to Base Camp and although I have tried to change Nuru’s mind it has been strongly advised that we do not camp. I must respect Nuru’s wishes. The climbing season has come to an end and will start up again in April. If we camped at base camp we would be the only ones there and Nuru is worried about the dangers of the weather and myself feeling unwell. But although we can’t camp, Nuru and Chongba will cook lunch there and then we will make our way back to Gorak Shep later in the afternoon.

6.12pm. Just finished. Have got back to Gorak Shep from Base Camp. It was a gruelling tough walk for me and on more than one occasion I so much wanted to give up. I felt sick and unwell and could not breathe. The walk was up and down at every turn but I got there after 4 ½ hours from Gorak Shep. The place was lonely and desolate and felt like the end of the earth. We had BC to ourselves apart from a crashed Russian helicopter, which ended up wrecked after trying to mount a rescue recently at Base Camp. Nuru cooked lunch, soup and rice. I was trying to pick up images along the way of myself at Base Camp but I had no positive feelings. I honestly did not think that I would make it. At one point Nuru suggested that I should turn back but I quickly snapped at him “no way”. His suggestion seemed to drive me on further.

My backpack seemed so heavy. Nuru asked if he could carry it for me but I would not let him. I felt that I had to carry it because I treated it as part of my life’s baggage. It was as though it represented my Schizophrenia and its past. It was symbolic stuff and I did carry it all the way to Base Camp. On route I tried looking for the Iron Giant or any other support I could focus on to get me over the rocks and the glacier. Eventually I managed to envisage the Iron Giant but he himself was just sitting on the glacier unable to move. I was alone. It was so hard. At times I just sat on a rock, with my head down, looking towards my feet thinking that there was no way that I was going to succeed. But somehow I managed.

We eventually got back to Gorak Shep in the dark. After nearly a 4-hour walk back from BC. Chongba went ahead and with about an hour of the walk left Pembay the porter met us on route with a flask of hot lemon tea. One of my worries about walking to Base Camp, was the concern that I would not have the energy to return to Gorak Shep. But all went well.

8pm. I have had dinner and am now laying in bed writing by torchlight. I am trying to write about my thoughts and about how I felt when I reached Base camp, but in all honesty, I don’t seem to be able to feel much about it. I just seem blank and unemotional, which is a surprise, because deep down I thought that I might have felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Somehow, I thought, that by reaching my goal would state to myself that I had conquered control of my diagnosis, but it hasn’t happened, it hasn’t happened and I am left feeling empty.

I’m not sad; I just thought that I would feel different, maybe lighter in some way, again, as though a weight had been lifted. I don’t really know what else to say about it. I have completed my task and reached my goal…but nothing, no emotion, I’m just blank. Maybe after a nights sleep and a bit of time for things to sink in, I may feel different?

Tomorrow we will head down to Pheriche.