Project 314 Blog #6 – When is a pee-bottle not a pee-bottle?

May 11, 2023

Jake Meyer

Client Accounts' Director
Jake Meyer getting ready to hike into basecamp

Days 8, 9 and 10 – Tortong to Tseram to Ramche
Graphic showing the journey from Tortong to Ramche
Sunday 16th April – Day 8

A relatively short day of hiking today, which meant that there was no rush to leave, unlike the previous morning. A breakfast of omelettes and chapatis at 0830, once again washed down with copious cups of tea.

No more bottled water available, so all water we want to drink is boiled first (hence the propensity to drink a lot of tea in the camps). How this tends to work, is that you bring your water bottles to dinner, and after you’ve eaten, these are then filled with boiling water, which you then use as a hot water bottle, and it’s then cool and more palatable in the morning. It’s a simple process, and certainly as we get higher, and it gets colder at night, then having a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag is a real luxury.

We all tend to use ‘Nalgene’ bottles – 1 litre wide mouthed bottles made from near indestructible clear or coloured plastic. The old style ‘Sigg’ aluminium bottles are very rarely used in the mountains for a number of different reasons – such as when you fill it with boiling water it’s too hot to hold, and you always end up burning yourself trying to pour boiling water into the narrow neck.

Our Hungarian trekking comrades, through no fault of their own, didn’t really appreciate that there wouldn’t be bottled water available on the trek, and as such realised that their empty flimsy coke bottles would most likely melt if boiling water was poured into them. At this point, the rest of us stepped in to lend them any suitable spare bottles that we had. Whilst I’d packed 4 or 5 Nalgene bottles in total – I only had two with me in my trekking kit – my water bottle and my pee bottle.

They are exactly the same types of bottle, although the pee bottle is very clearly marked as such. For anyone who is furrowing their brow at what I mean by ‘pee bottle’ – it is exactly as I describe. When it’s cold at night, so that you don’t have to get out of your sleeping bag to answer the call of nature, you have a pee bottle in your sleeping bag (or at least very close at hand) which you can pee into. You obviously have to do this quite carefully, normally kneeling up – as trying to do it whilst lying on your side is ill-advised.

The first time you do it is a very strange sensation (as we’re taught from a very early age not to release our bladder whilst still ‘in bed’), and you’re also paranoid that you’d going to had such a big wee that it’ll overspill. I have it on good authority from a doctor friend of mine that there is no way your bladder holds a litre of urine, so there shouldn’t be any threat of ‘over-filling’ your pee bottle. It’s also important that once you’ve finished that you ensure that you do up the lid properly, as you’ve now got another hot water bottle in your sleeping bag, and you certainly don’t want this one spilling!

My pee bottle has been loyally by my side on expeditions for nearly 20 years and has seen ‘action’ all over the word. It should go without saying that I do wash it regularly on trips, and ensure that it’s fully sterilised when I get home – but even so, even when it’s fresh, the words ‘Jake’s pee bottle – do not drink’ on the lid carry a certain psychological weight. Back to helping our new team-mates…

I wasn’t going to subject them to having to drink from a bottle emblazoned with such a striking warning, so I gave them my actual water bottle to use, whilst I resolved to use my pee bottle as my drinking vessel for the day. Water never tasted soooo good!

The leisurely start to the day heralded an equally pleasant and enjoyable trek up the valley to our next camp. We handrailed the river for around 10km and 900m of ascent. It didn’t take long before we caught up with our yaks, who’d set off a little before us, and whilst a couple of the guys sought opportunities to overtake the yaks, I was very content to wander along behind them. Given the narrowness of the path at places, and the size and sharpness of their horns, there really isn’t any benefit to trying to outrun these beasts, and in reality, yak pace is rather nice and sedate.

We had about nine yaks, which were tended to by a father and son team, and another herder. The son, named ‘Ice Sherpa’ was 9 years old (but looked more like 6). He was in charge of two yaks at the back of the train, and it was fascinating to walk with him watching him encourage, cajole and scold his shaggy charges in their journey. Whilst he might have been fresh-faced in nature and small in stature, Ice was constantly whistling, shouting, flicking stones at the first yak and tapping the hind quarters of the second. Of course all they had to do was follow the yaks in front, but they seemed to get distracted as they came across tasty plants, refreshing streams or pause to contemplate how to get up a particularly steep section of the trail. This only infuriated Ice, who increased his barrage of pebbles and what I can only assume are fruity Nepalese words of encouragement.

Eventually, we came to a small pasture where the yak train paused, and I had an opportunity to safely overtake. The trail was so obvious that there was no requirement to walk with any Sherpas, or even with any other team members, and for at least half of the walk I was very happily by myself, listening to a podcast on my headphones. Every so often I’d look at the map on my phone, which is  linked up to my GPS tracking unit, to check my progress. This wasn’t for navigation, but merely for personal satisfaction of height gained and distance left to cover. This tracking unit is also sending coordinates back to my website, which means that friends and family can see my location. For anyone bored enough to stay up all night on my summit push (normally restricted to my wife and my mother) it does provide a view of my progress in real-time.

Tseram (or Cheram) camp at 3900m was a lovely site to behold when it came into view. It’s situated in a wider section of the valley, and not so crowded with trees, which meant that it felt more like an alpine chalet (if you half-closed your eyes and squinted). There aren’t as many beds available here, so some of the teams are in tents. Semba and I are once again inside, but there are pros and cons of being inside or out. Our room was right next to the kitchen, which meant that trying to nap in the afternoon, or trying to get to sleep before around 11pm was almost impossible due to the crashing and banging and cacophony of voices only a few inches from our heads through a thin wooden wall.

Having said that, those who were initially excited at getting tents outside weren’t quite so pleased when the temperature dropped rapidly and it started to snow heavily in the late afternoon. They were kept perfectly dry, but as they were in big box tents (which you can stand up in), there wasn’t a lot of insulation. We on the other hand could feel the warmth of the fire from the kitchen – although that benefit did come with the unwanted bonus of added smoke.

After three evenings straight of traditional dhal bhat to eat, we were extremely relieved to get plates of spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and proper, freshly cooked chips. Smothered in salt, ketchup and green chilli sauce, it was utter luxury, and we wolfed it down in complete silence. Its amazing how the simple things can provide such a fine distraction from the privations of our surroundings.

Monday 17th April – Day 9

I didn’t sleep particular well last night. Not only was it very difficult to go to sleep with the sound of the kitchen next door, I couldn’t quite work out if I was too hot or too cold at different times throughout the night. I did however christen the pee bottle for this trip (I’d managed to get my water bottle back from the others) – which was very satisfying, as I wasn’t much looking forward to having to trek out through the snow to the outdoor privy.

I also had a head-ache in the form of an uncomfortable pressure behind my eyes – nothing to be concerned about, but a clear symptom of the altitude. It would normally take three or four nights before I can sleep comfortably at 4000m. It aligns to the general rule of thumb for acclimatisation, above 3000m, to ideally sleep around 300m higher each night, with an extra day/night of acclimatisation after every 3 days. This amounts to approximately 4 days for each 1000m ascended to feel well acclimatised. Thus 4 days for get used to 4000m, 8 days for 5000m etc. It’s not a hard and fast rule, and rarely are the camps a constant 300m above each other. This means that when you do a bigger jump in altitude, the first night can be a little uncomfortable. Obviously, if the symptoms become more significant than minor head aches or ailments, then it can be a sign of altitude sickness, and you should at least stop your ascent, and if it persist, serious consider heading lower. For me, I popped a couple of ibuprofen which did the trick and relieved the pressure behind my eyes.

I did go out for a little leg stretch at about 5am, and it was a beautiful winter wonderland. The snow had settled creating a white blanket throughout the valley, and the sky was clear – giving it a wonderful alpine feel. I took a couple of photos and soaked up the serenity of the landscape before snuggling back into my sleeping bag and finally drifting into a proper, contented deep-sleep. Unfortunately, about an hour later the kitchen staff came in to fire up the stove, and I was awoken not only by the noise by the sudden waft of wood-smoke filling our room. Mental note for tomorrow night – sleep with head at the door/window end of the room for a bit more fresh air, and pop some ear-plugs in.

The clear skies heralded a beautiful ‘blue-bird’ morning. If we’d have been in the Alps skiing, this would have been a doozie of a day. Even with the snow on the ground, the sun was so warm that we ate our breakfast al fresco wearing shorts and t-shirts. Brekkie consisted of rice pudding sweetened with jam, and boiled eggs, and of course all washed down with sweet milk tea.

Whilst we had planned to do an acclimatisation hike today, given the blanket of snow, we decided to stay put. There wasn’t much point in risking turning an ankle on the slippery rocks wearing our hiking trainers, and a relaxing rest day in the sun beckoned.

Tuesday 18th April – Day 10

Acclimatisation trek today. Having had a very lazy day yesterday, it was now time to do some work and aid our acclimatisation. Our target was a campsite called Ramche at just over 4500m, further up the valley. Ramche is the final formal campsite on the edge of the Yalung glacier. It has a couple of tea houses – although these are much simpler affairs than the ones at Tortong and Tseram – with most people camping in tents.

We had light packs, and this time were led by another Nima (Nima Mingma) and Tshering Sherpa. The route out of Tseram rose relatively steeply through the forest, before reaching a series of meadows marking the intersection between the steep mountainsides and the moraine of the glacier. Several of these meadows had herds of yak grazing absentmindedly as we wandered through. Whilst there were no herders to be seen, it’s likely that they weren’t far away, keeping an eye on their valuable herds. Other meadows contained large enclosures, perhaps 30m square surrounded by low stone walls. At first we thought that these might have been stockades for the yaks, but as we passed by we saw that the ground inside was cultivated. Apparently they were potato fields, and the walls were to keep the yaks and blue sheep out of them.

Arriving in Ramche, we’d caught up with the other teams: the mixed 8k/Satori treks team, and the Indian team. They were going to be staying up at Ramche in preparation for their push up to Kanch basecamp the following day. We’re still a few days out from our push up to BC, so it would only be a short visit for us.

Of course, no visit to a tea house is complete without a few cups of the obligatory tea – and we sat outside the stone hovel soaking up the glorious sunshine. With the towering peaks around us, it felt as though we should have been sitting on a terrace of an alpine bar with beers in hand and ski boots on feet. The only thing which brought us back to reality was the smell – due to the fact that as Ramche is well above the treeline, the fuel for the fire in the tea house was dried yak dung. Whilst this burns well, it does produce a thick acrid smell, making any visits into the building pretty fleeting!

We had hoped  that Ramche would give us a magnificent view of the sound face of Kanchenjunga, however we weren’t quite far enough up the valley to see it. Nevertheless, up ahead of us was the striking west face of Rathong (6600m+) and the impressive Kabru ridgeline, which contains 4 peaks over 7000m, and also demarcates the border between Nepal and Sikkim (India).

A few of us hiked around up onto the moraine overlooking the Yalung glacier. Moraine is essentially a giant pile of rock and boulders which has been scoured off the valley floor by the force of the glacier. It’s always impressive to see the scale of these natural geographical ‘sweepings’, and this moraine was probably 60m high, but runs 20kms along the side of the glacier. At the snout of the glacier is the terminal moraine, which inevitably is also the source of much of the water filling the river heading down (and contributing to the shape of) the valley.

After an hour or so, we headed back down the valley. I must admit that I could really feel the effect of the higher altitude, and my journey back was rather hazy, as if drifting on a buzz of several beers. Despite feeling as though my legs weren’t connected to my body, I floated back into Tseram 90 minutes later. We’d done a total of 15km round trip, with 600m of elevation gain – which would contribute to our acclimatisation and preparing our bodies for the lower oxygen levels at the higher elevations.

Being quite hot and sweaty on arrival at camp, I thought that I’d make the most of the opportunity to have a cold bucket shower. Strangely, the ‘shower’ space is also the squat toilet shed – although they do provide a wooden plank to put over the porcelain so that you don’t fall down into the depths of hell! Whist the toilet shed doesn’t smell quite as bad as one might think, I still wasn’t particularly taken with the idea of having to precariously balance on a thin plank whilst having a wash – so I took a bucket of cold water down to the ‘heli-terrace’ where there was the remains of an old stone walled building. This would give me a certain level of privacy, so that at least I could get properly naked and not have to worry too much about my modestly… although with the effects of extremely cold water there certainly wasn’t much to see anyway!

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IDG India
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+91 955 271 5800

IDG Middle East
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+44 (0) 1276 686644