Fat man trekking

Can bigger fellows handle the Himalayas?
Thomas Heaton
June 27, 2018
Thomas Heaton taking some much needed rest with a local dog, following a week's trekking to Mardi Himal and Annapurna Base Camp.

Clothes glued to my skin with sweat, I have no idea how I’m going to trek another four hours. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to finish the day’s trekking, let alone do 10 more days of it.

Soaked in sweat, awaiting my first mound of dal bhat, the more than 130kg of weight on my six-foot-two frame seems heavier than ever. Mardi Himal viewing point and Annapurna Base Camp are my group’s destinations, both ‘manageable’ treks I was told. Like my dal bhat, I took the advice with a grain of salt. 

This time last year I excused myself from the trails, claiming I would not be able to see the country by looking at my feet trekking uphill. But it’s time to atone for that idle sin. I also want to prove something to myself, and others: anyone can do it.

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One hour later, on our journey to Forest Camp from Dhampus via Pitam Deurali, both my guide Bikash Tamang and great friend Luke Burgess are having their doubts.

“Can you keep going? If we’re going to go back, we have to make our minds up now.”

While the bridge looks ready to collapse, it stayed strong for this journalist's scurried crossing. All photos: THOMAS HEATON

Beefy, stout, portly, porky — however you describe us large men, you don’t see our clothing sizes in Thamel for a reason. Most abdominous fellows don’t trek or, if they do, they walk up to Poon Hill to later claim Machupachare’s summit.

Sinewy characters, my two counterparts are concerned. I am too. I entertain the prospect of turning back –thoughts equally shameful and scary. I steel myself for the awaiting climes, a dose of sweets jammed down my throat (a lifetime first)and I slope uphill behind them. I have no understanding of my surroundings, or even the colour of the sky, I keep focus on my heavy feet. And we make it to my counterparts’ relief. My frame has made it up this hill, and I hope it’s gaining momentum.

The next day we surge ahead, buoyed by a rapid rise to Low Camp, and reach High Camp. My slow approach to the hills seem to keep us going, and see me named ‘The Yak’ and ‘Despacito’ (Spanish for slowly). My head lifts as we slowly mount the hill, and I start to absorb my surrounds.

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The third day was as hard as the first, squashing any sense of cockiness I might have gained the day before. Trekking at 4.30AM to catch the sunrise, still digesting last night’s dalbhat, I get used to the hurt. The elevation does nothing to me, but the trail does. All I feel is exhaustion, but the views from 4,250m are worth it. The final step onto the prayer flag adorned platform is my Neil Armstrong moment, without a giant leap for mankind– just tears. Weeping at such height is an interesting experience. A combination of hyperventilation, exhaustion and elation, it’s hard to describe.

The mountains stare down at us, like deities, but it’s hard to believe they’re real. Seemingly projected onto the horizon, I wonder how people explained such things before cameras. One thousand words would not explain their grandeur.

Not only was the ascent of Mardi Himal a triumph, but the clouds cleared for the perfect view of the Himalayas.

Now the prospect of reaching ABC seems feasible. From Naya Pul to Jhinu Danda, through Chomrong, to Bamboo, my left knee takes a beating. Nepal’s up-and-down terrain makes my suspension squeal. Pain, fear and vertigo be damned however, nothing is impossible if the desire is there, according to my guide. So, with a nifty new ‘natural’walking stick, I keep walking. A diet of dalbhat, spicy masala tea, instant coffee, and at least six litres of water each day is the perfect octane for this decrepit New Zealand-made Tata.

The final day of the ABC trek pales in comparison to Mardi, however the altitude is felt a little more by all. Walking in the clouds, with local mountain dogs guiding us along the way, the slow and steady climb from Machapuchre Base Camp seems light in comparison to the almost vertical Mardi.

Touching the welcoming sign released, once again, a stream of sweat from my tear ducts – this time I don’t care whether it is out of exhaustion and pride. I’ve proven my point.

Nobody in good health has an excuse not to trek in Nepal, and no one should pass on the opportunity as I once foolishly did. Until one has trekked this country they won’t understand why, however those that have do understand how spirit-affirming and life changing the experience is. It is something that brands itself in minds forever. Also, the point is proven: the corpulent comrade can trek, even if he is twice the weight of the average Nepali.

Thomas Heaton is a New Zealand journalist, food writer and enthusiastic traveller. 

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