Day 8: Tibetan Snowcock Serenade Across The Ngozumpa Glacier

November 11, 2022
Start: Goyko 4790m (15,711ft)
Stop: Thagnak 4686m (15,370ft)
Distance: 4km (2.5 miles)

I awake for an early morning trip to the bathroom. I feel so rested and energized but my right thumb is slightly frozen in place. I wrench it back and forth and get it moving again. Our toilet suffers from the same frozen pipe situation as last night so luckily I only have to pee. I’ve got the added fun of my period starting about a week early. I can always count on my body to bleed at the most inopportune times. I crawl back into bed and wait as long as possible before having to get ready for the day. Because we have a short day we get to sleep in for an extra hour.

I can’t see out the window because of the frozen condensation but I can tell that the sun is seeping into the valley. My morning feelings of invigoration quickly disappear as I change from my sleeping clothes to my hiking clothes. I like to put my bra and shirt between my sleeping bag and the mattress so that they are warmish when I put them on. I feel like there is tingling in my face and lips, which fluctuates between intense and dull. I have been taking Diamox, which can cause tingling, in an effort to ward off any altitude symptoms. I take it just as a precaution but don’t really know if it helps me with altitude symptoms. Through all my Pacific Crest Trail hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains and summiting of Mt. Whitney, I have never experienced adverse symptoms at altitude. The first time I ever took Diamox was on Mt. Kilimanjaro and experienced no serious side effects. I’ve definitely been feeling tingling in my feet which is most likely caused by the Diamox but this tingling in my face reminds me of the times that I have experienced hypocalcemia.

Breakfast of french toast is edible but I’m definitely getting tired of all the bread. My digestive track complains constantly from the carb overload. I can’t remember what it’s called but there’s a name for when you tap in front of your ear and muscles twitch somewhere else on your face. I know it’s like a Russian name but without wifi and the internet, I’m clueless. I ask Sophie but she doesn’t know about it. Caspar watches to see if this is happening on my face but the results are inconclusive. [I have since looked it up and it’s called Chvostek sign. The Chvostek sign is a clinical sign that someone has low blood calcium. The sign is named after Frantisek Chvostek, who was actually Austrian-born but lived in the Czech Republic.]

Hiking out of Gokyo leads us immediately up the flanks of the Ngozumpa Glacier. The group races ahead as Caspar and I hang back with Tiger and Bikram. As the sun reflects off the ripples of Gokyo Tso (Lake 3), I can hear a distinct bird calling loudly. I scan the horizon but I can’t see it anywhere. And then perched on top of a rock is my new friend, the Tibetan Snowcock. They are perfectly camouflaged with the rocky environment as I start to realize they surround us. There’s something special about this bird. I don’t know if it’s their call or their mannerisms but I feel like these birds are kindred spirits. They uplift my mood and put a smile on my face. Watch these sweet Tibetan snowcocks!

Yesterday, from the top of Gokyo Ri it was easy to imagine that the traverse of the Ngozumpa Glacier would be relatively flat and easy. That naive thought is quickly banished after climbing up its lateral moraine and looking at the rolling terrain ahead of us. Silly me. What goes up must go down. Over and over. I see two tiny figures below us as we start to descend into the glacier. Two older women climb toward us with heavy loads. As we meet each other, they sit down on rocks for a well deserved break. They say something in their native language and laugh hysterically. Their laughs are infectious and I can’t help but laugh along with them.

I drag my no energy, ill-feeling body along as we meander past mounds of rock and pools of water. We pass a couple with a young child and they are throwing rocks onto an icy surface of a small lake. Sometimes we are on trail and sometimes we are not. Sometimes it’s more scramble than trail. Tiger points across an expanse to where the trail used to be just last month and I can see the now abandoned trail tailing away from us. Bottom line, this glacier which is the largest in all of the Himalaya, is constantly in motion and changing. I can hear water running. I can hear miniature rock slides. I can feel the wind in my face as the rocks crush beneath my feet. There are little water falls trickling into pools of water around every corner.

As we approach Thaknag, the water melting from and moving through the Ngozumpa Glacier has become a creek. In Thaknag, water is being warmed on parabolic cookers. We arrive about 12pm and I have french toast for lunch. Our rooms at the Tashi Friendship Lodge are located below the main floor with the dining room where I crawl into my sleeping bag to warm up. I think I fall asleep briefly. Eventually Caspar and I return to the dining room and we talk through how poorly I feel. He uses Clearance’s wifi connection to check about my symptoms. I’m confident that I’m experiencing low calcium levels most likely from the diuretic effect of the Diamox. I take nearly 1600mg of calcium per day and I’ve just been peeing it all out. After eight days, my calcium levels are starting to reach a critically low level. I started the day with my thumb frozen in place and the tingling in my face has persisted and intensified. Back in 2006, I was hospitalized for a week after my thyroidectomy due to hypocalcemia so I know what this feels like. You can read my story HERE. I just feel like curling into a ball. Bikram brings my dinner of french toast and tea to my room where I am huddled in my bed. Caspar and I make the decision that I will stop taking Diamox and I will ramp up my calcium intake as much as possible. I can only absorb about 500mg of calcium every four hours which I also have to space around my levothyroxine in the morning.