Iztaccihuatl, 5020m (knee) in Mexico was my first high altitude climb.
I remember being exited but also nervous as I had no idea how altitude would affect me. We got to the top with experienced guide within 3 days. I was short of breath, especially when the wind was becoming stronger and felt funny in my stomach for most of the time. Nowadays, I take more time to acclimatise, given I live at 0 altitude.
We reached the knee of Iztaccihuatl – the first peak, 5020m. The view was mesmerising and took my breath away. The feeling of excitement has mixed up with increasing feeling of what I now know are the symptoms of altitude sickness. I decided one 5000m peak is a great achievement for the first high altitude climb. I made a decision to go back down given I was not fully acclimatised.
We reached an emergency shelter at 4800m to take a break. My guide have made a sudden decision to stay in this shelter overnight and left for supplies and sleeping bags leaving me alone with just an emergency bag…
Tiredness, being in high altitude environment for the first time and alone started to take its toll on me. I realised I will be in the shelter for hours, given we camped 800m below. In addition to this, unpredicted storm has begun. The temperature dropped from 0 to -13. Strong winds were shaking the shelter and the door would not close bringing more and more snow inside.
I pulled myself together and explored the shelter. I found plastic bottle, which I used to get some snow for drinking. I found couple cans of corn and tuna left by mountaineers. I utilised all I could find in blocking the holes in the shelter and fixing the door, as it was getting increasingly cold and I was not dressed for -13. I also realised that my socks were wet and my feet were getting cold, so I filled emergency bag with some insulation I found in the shelter to keep my feet warmer, constantly moving them and jumping around in a funny dance for quite some time.
Midnight came very quickly and I was still alone. By this time, I was in a shelter around 10-12h. I was exhausted, altitude sick and cold. I tried to sleep, but was shivering for most of the time. I increasingly started to think of starting a small fire if I reach the point where I am too cold. I found a lighter when exploring the shelter and it was built out of wood from inside.
At 2am, very courageous friends of mine, who stayed at a base camp for the day and did not go up with us earlier in a day, reached me bringing sleeping bags and food. In the morning, the storm was still very strong, however, we pulled ourselves together and went down. Interestingly, once we crossed the ridge across to the other side, there was a beautiful sunny and quiet day with no signs of storm….
A lot of people would not go to the mountains again after such first experience, but in my mind I became confident that I would act to survive in any emergency, even if my judgement is affected by altitude sickness.