I’m going to change things up and make this post a time-line.
April 4th: My wife and I leave for our planned vacation from our lives and work in urban India. Our friends from Kolkata have scheduled a trek through the Himalayas near Darjeeling.
April 5th: We arrive at the launching point, a little village at 8,300 feet elevation in the Himalayas. The hike starts the next morning, but I’m too anxious. Just before dusk, I go off on a 6.5 mile round-trip hike by myself, reaching 10,000 feet elevation before turning around. On the way back it is completely dark. I hear a barking deer and see two giant flying squirrels. As I move through the forest in silence, I have flashbacks to the Bangladeshi jungle and I think, “This is it, I’m in my element, I love this.” It felt so good. I was so excited to be there. And I felt like I was in really good shape.
April 6th: Short day, we hike 5 miles and sleep up at 10,100 feet. I get a lot of time practicing on griffons with my new camera, and found a few other birds as well. The hike is even easier than when I practically ran up the same stretch alone the night before, and I feel fine. I do realize it’s by far the highest elevation I’ve ever slept at. At night I have weird fever dreams, where the line between consciousness and unconsciousness was blurred. But that sometimes happens to me after a day’s hike (usually only a long day’s hike though, not a easy one like this), and the high elevation and cold probably are contributing too. Right?
I’m not the best at bird IDs, but I put my best guess out there. Any corrections are welcome.
April 7th: Nasty day, about 12 miles of hiking where we drop down to 8,200 feet and then climb back up to 10,300 feet. Did I mention that I’m carrying a 35-40 pound pack on this trip? I overpacked because I was sure I’d be a stronger hiker than everyone else, so I didn’t mind carrying extra weight. But man…I’m a lot tireder and more sore than I thought I’d be. At one point trying to get a photo I followed some birds off-trail and fell, barely saving my new camera in the process. It was caused by bad terrain and having a camera in one hand and a heavy pack on…but it still felt like a fall that shouldn’t have happened.
The tiny village we stop in at night is windswept and incredibly cold, and yaks live here. I have no appetite for dinner and have to force it down. At night my wife and I huddle together to sleep. I’m shaking a bit with the chills and feeling really warm alternatively…but it’s because it’s really cold and we have blankets packed around us and I’m next to my wife and it was a hard day’s hike, right?
April 8th: Easy day, just 3 miles (not counting a little 2-mile hike I do alone in the morning without a pack to look for birds), but we get up to 11,700 feet. Again, I’m pretty sore, guess I’m really just out of shape and carrying too much. On request I serenade my fellow hikers with random pop, hard rock, and rap songs to distract them during the steepest climbs. We arrive at the top quite early. Once again I have no appetite for food…maybe it’s because we’re eating so much rice and I’m not used to that? I force it down anyway. At night I’m weirdly warm under the blankets again. Beautiful views in the morning of 3 of the 5 tallest mountains in the world, including Everest.
April 9th: We hike 9 miles on a path that feels almost straight-down at times, dropping from 11,700 feet to just 6,200 feet. Really sore again. But we pass a beautiful stream on the way, the first nice stream I’ve seen the whole time, and I’m certain it must hold cascade frogs. Other than tadpoles I haven’t seen a single herp this whole trip, and am really eager to check out the stream at night. We end up camping beside a river a few miles further down.
Despite feeling quite a bit of fatigue, at dusk I begin the 5.5 mile round-trip hike to check out that stream. I rush through the first mile quickly and gain 800 feet in elevation, at which point I drop down exhausted and breathing heavily. “How am this tired?” I think to myself. I just seem too tired. I must really be out of shape? The rest of the way to the stream is fairly flat and I make it there. It’s a high-gradient, fast-flowing, heavy-current stream. I navigate rocks and boulders exploring it for frogs, and am well-rewarded as it is indeed full of cascade frogs – Mountain Cascade Frogs (Amolops monticola) to be exact.
But dang…I’m really not in a good way. My balance is far worse than usual. Fatigue is far higher. As I jump from rock to rock along the steam, navigating above the rushing current at night, I find that places in which I usually would focus about 40% of my attention on safety I’m instead forced to focus 95%, and still feel that I’m being a bit borderline. Why am I so woozy?
I make the hike back to our guesthouse, uncovering another giant flying squirrel species on the way, different than the one I started the trip with. When I get to the area of the guesthouse I go down to the river and creep along the edge, following it downstream for about a quarter mile, moving in and out of the water (the water is cold but the air is warm at this elevation), sometimes creeping around the edge of a boulder above a fast current. I misjudge the upcoming terrain and have to make a safe-but-very-difficult 40-foot climb to get back on the road and back to the guesthouse. In the process I am able to photograph a second new frog for me. I fall into bed completely wiped out. Fever dreams await.
April 10th: Today is a very easy 5-mile hike with little elevation change. It is the last hike. I’m doing okay…but feel like my fatigue is WAY out of proportion to the work I’ve done.
We reach the guesthouse. My lack of appetite has gotten out of control – I don’t want to eat anything. It’s hard to get food down, and I feel full immediately. I get back into the guesthouse, and start to nap…fever hits immediately. By evening the fever is raging. For the first time I admit to myself that something is really wrong – I’m seriously ill.
April 11th: We pack into our seats for the ride to Darjeeling. My fever had broken the night before (the first time a fever had noticeably broken the whole trip), but starts coming back during the ride. In Darjeeling I am in a bad way. We have a long, slow climb to our guesthouse near the highest point in the city. Then I climb back down to go to the hospital. I’m thinking maybe typhoid fever…my doctor friend on the phone thinks perhaps that, or perhaps malaria. Tests for both come back negative, but it’s early enough that they could be false negatives. The doctor at the hospital thinks possibly general gut infection. I start on antibiotics. I almost can’t eat. Food I do eat sits in my stomach for 6-8 hours. Fever comes back. I’m a wreck.
April 12th: While lying in bed in the guesthouse, a friend looks in my eyes and says, “Your eyes are yellow.” Oh, crap, so I have hepatitis. I struggle back down to a lab and get tested again. Whole day is awful and I can barely move.
April 13th: Get my tests. Positive for hepatitis and typhoid fever. Are you kidding me? The 4-hour ride to the train station, followed by a 30-hour train to get home, is miserable.
To cut off an already long-enough story, I switch to a typhoid-specific antibiotic (but the fever had already stopped). My first few days at home were horrible. My liver was showing numbers 50 times higher than the healthy maximums. I show up briefly at work to tell them what’s going on and then don’t go back again. After another week I begin to slowly get my appetite back. I note April 23rd as the first day I feel relatively normal, though even a short walk can still make me tired. On the 25th I start working again for the first time, and by the 1st I’m back full-time. It takes five months to regain my normal metabolism.
Listen to your body when it’s trying to tell you something.
But at least I got to photograph some beautiful frogs. 🙂