How I Escaped Hypothermia On The Annapurna Base Camp Trek

I attempted the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek in Novemeber 2013. It was my first trek in the Himalayas.

I had absolutely no clue about high altitude trekking back then.  

I work for the Geological Survey of India. Many of my colleagues had done a few treks before and they insisted that I join their trek to ABC. After reading a few articles on the trek, I nodded.

Getting ready for my first Himalayan trek was easy. All I did was pack my rucksack. Wish I had known about Indiahikes and had seen Swathi’s video on backpacking.

And before I knew it, we were at Pokhara.

Our adventure at Pokhara 

We managed to get a guide at Pokhara. But he turned out to be less of a guide and more of a “high runner”. What I mean by high here is that he was constantly high on marijuana. The most he managed do as a guide was to book a room for us at a tea house.

We walked by ourselves through most part of the jungle trail, while our guide ran past the trails. We couldn’t catch up with him so he drew arrows for us to follow his path. When we reached Machapuchare Base Camp (MBC) he told us that he was coughing blood. I happened to be the temp doctor to treat him with some medicines.

After having our lunch at MBC we started our trek to ABC.

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The fishtail-like Machapuchare peak PC:

The plan was to come back to MBC before nightfall as all the rooms were booked at ABC.

We left for ABC at around 1 pm. The high altitude sun was shining so bright at this time that it almost felt two layers of my skin burning off. 

What I did wrong 

This is when I made the biggest mistake as a trekker. I did not wear my down jacket. I went all the way up to ABC wearing only my thermals and a basic jacket. I didn’t take my gloves either.

We reached ABC at about 3.30 pm and stayed there up to 4 pm. Our guide left us at 3:40 pm saying he wasn’t feeling well.

We had no inkling about how quickly the sun goes down and how quickly the temperature drops at high altitudes.

My knee started aching on the descent as I hadn’t taken my trekking pole. We also had to carry back all our backpacks, daypacks and our sleeping bags.

The weight had taken a toll on my knees. I was literally limping.

Unfortunately, when we started to descend, a bone-chilling cold wind started to blow out of nowhere.

I couldn’t walk faster like my friends and it was getting dark.

I did not have a headlamp or a torch.

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A grand view of the Annapurna peak PC: Abhisek Bandyopadhyay

I could see the small streams freezing. Even the dew on the yellow dry grass had turned frosty. The grass underneath my feet crackled with every step.

The temperature dropped to what felt like -5 to -6 degrees.  

I was going through hell. At that moment, it was truly my hell!

My heart started beating faster and faster. My whole body began to ache. I was shivering while coming down.

I couldn’t feel my hands, my nose and my cheeks. I was completely numb!

I couldn’t even speak as my tongue felt heavier. I was slurring.

It was becoming harder to breathe and I felt like I was going to fall down.

But I didn’t because I am a stubborn bull. I gathered all my strength and my willpower just to walk. I knew I was getting closer to MBC with every step I was taking.

My friend, Sounip, was with me the whole time.

Finally reached MBC 

When we were close to MBC I saw our guide and my two other friends, Niladri and Sudip, flashing their torches at us.

After reaching the tea house I wore the down jacket and went straight into the sleeping bag. But it did not comfort me at all. Every inch of my body shivered and rattled. 

I really felt like I was going to die.

I swallowed a paracetamol and drank some honey but that didn’t work either. Then a Nepali guide who can came along with a Spanish couple, staying just beside our room, came and inquired about me. He then rushed to the kitchen and made me some hot garlic pepper soup. He made it using lots of garlic and also added a little salt and butter to it.

I slowly sipped on my soup.

Much to my surprise, I felt better almost immediately!  

After finishing the bowl and resting for 15 mins I was on my feet again.

I couldn’t contain how grateful I was and hugged the guide tight. That man literally saved my life!  That place was so desolate that an evacuation was only possible by a helicopter. But we couldn’t have afforded the helicopter ride to Pokhara.

Although I managed to complete the trek without anymore trouble, the mountains taught me a lesson for life. A lesson to never be over-confident and to be prepared.

I was on the verge of hypothermia that day. I was lucky enough to escape death. It was a foolish incident borne out of half knowledge about trekking and the mountains.

There is no way to learn everything about the mountains. There is always a part of it that will remain unknown. We are truly always at their mercy.

Yet, if we respect them, they will reveal to us their beauty.

But if we stay stuck on our pride, we are sure to face their wrath.    

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Abhishek Bandyopadhyay

Abhishek Bandyopadhyay

Abhisek Bandyopadhyay lives in Kolkata and works at the Geological Survey of India. He loves trekking . He says that the mind plays an important role while trekking and that there is no such thing as an easy trek.Trekking, he feels, is all about discipline and love for nature.

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