Larke Pass, Nepal. 17,000 feet elevation. Steve and Andrea Shriver and three friends are at the height of their five-day, 100-mile trek on Manaslu, the world’s eighth tallest mountain. And Steve is tending to everyone’s wounds.
“My first aid kit came in handy! I was taking care of blisters, giving out dexamethasone which is a steroid for altitude sickness, handing out ibuprofin for headaches, and making sure people were hydrated,” Steve said. “At some point or another we all had blisters or headaches or some form of altitude sickness, other than the Nepalese people, of course.”
Thanks to Steve’s extensive experience at high elevations -- he’s climbed two 22,000 feet mountains in Chile and Argentina, among many others -- he doesn’t get altitude sickness. So he helps take care of people along the way.
“That high – wounds don’t heal, you’re dehydrated, and you can barely eat enough to survive the amount of calories you’re burning,” Steve says. “And on top of it, you typically have a loss of appetite.”
“So it’s just this weird thing where you don’t eat enough, you don’t drink enough, you’ve got everything working against you, you may or may not have gastrointestinal disorder from the weird bacteria you might encounter. So, to actually succeed is pretty awesome.”
A wedding and COVID tests in Kathmandu
Steve’s been to Nepal four times, including an Everest Base Camp clean-up trek with others from CR and Iowa City, and then a trip to meet wintergreen farmers and source product for EcoLips. On that trip Steve met Kailash Dixit, who became a good friend. On Steve’s next trip he and Kailash did a motorcycle tour and a trek to Gosaikunda Lake. And finally, Kailash invited the Shrivers to Kathmandu for his daughter’s wedding in April ‘21. They planned the Manaslu trek as part of the wedding visit.
L to R: Kailasha, Eric, Steve, Andrea and Kailash, on one of many suspension bridges along the trek.
“The funniest thing was we had to get tested for COVID 72 hours before we left [for Nepal] and right when we got there to get our trekking permit, and then we had to get tested again before we flew hom,” Steve says. “They literally came to the restaurant we were eating at on the back of a motorcycle to give us this COVID test. And they wentway up there.”
Nepalese porter with gear.
Porters and Prayer Flags
The loop they chose for their trek would take them from the west side of Manaslu up to 17,000 feet at Larke Pass, and down the east side of the mountain, so they would see entirely new terrain on the way out. Along the way were many mountain villages, where they would spend the night in tea houses. Here, they would gather around a fire, eat, and rest.
The group resting by the fire in a tea house.
Nepalese porters carried a bulk of their belongings, and also woke up early and traveled ahead each morning to set up lunch, and find an open tea house for the night (many were closed due to current lack of tourism). “You can carry all your stuff no problem without porters, but the country of Nepal requires you to have a guide. For a couple reasons: so you’re safe, don’t get lost, and to stimulate the economy,” says Steve.
Andrea spinning prayers wheels upon arrival in a mountain village.
The higher they climbed, the more they could see the influence of Tibetan Buddhism. Larke Pass is a popular meeting point for commerce between two provinces of Nepal, and with Tibet, as the pass is close to the Chinese border.
“The people are part of the fascination of Nepal. The reason I’ve gone there four times is to be with the people,” Steve says.
“We did a 15-day trek in five days – 100 miles in five days, at altitude,” Steve explains. “It’s completely exhausting and terrible at the same time... ‘Extreme trekking’ you could call it. We would call it mountaineering in the US, they call it trekking.”
“This is the slog,” says Steve. “There’s this thing we do: the mountain rest step. Take a step, take a breath.”
Just to get to the starting elevation, they had to drive hours on a super bumpy road with steep drop-offs.. And it just got more perilous from there.
“It gets colder the higher you get. We’re crossing these suspension bridges left and right, and every time you turn a corner you’re either looking at a new mountain, or seeing a town in the distance. The scenery is just phenomenal.”
“The morning we left for the pass, it was literally 5 degrees (it was 80 the day we left). This was definitely the hardest day,” Steve says. “We're 50 miles away from civilization at Larke Pass, and there is no way out. Maybe a helicopter rescue.”
“You’re giving it up to the gods, man. You’re just like, okay, at this point, we are nature and nature is us.”
The morning the group left for Larke Pass, lighting the way with a headlamp. It was 5 degrees.
“You want to be meditative, to tell yourself ‘this is all I need to worry about and do, this basic human function of walking uphill,’ but the flip side is you have to be a cheerleader for yourself inside your head,” Steve says.
“You think, ‘how much longer is this going to go on, am I going to have any more problems, oh man I’m out of water, does anyone have any more peanut M&Ms because those tasted good and I’m out of food. So much of mountaineering is a mind game.”
Big Risks, Big Reward
The challenges are immense, but Steve has been in these situations enough to learn some important lessons. “I perform pretty well at altitude, because I stay hydrated, I make myself eat, and I take ibuprofen and dexamethasone preemptively,” he says.
Eric shows some of the effects of extreme elevation: puffy face, red eyes.
“Most people wait too long before they address it. I am proactive. We know it’s going to be hard on our bodies so let’s prepare. Hydrate or die. Take a drink of water even if you aren’t thirsty!”
On a different mountaineering trip, at 19,000 feet, Steve took his buddy Ben’s pulse ox (blood oxygen level) and at it was 68 – normal is in the high 90s.
“There’s not much you can do about it. Your heart rate, your blood oxygen level, your nutrition is down, your body is beaten and battered, you probably have some blisters on your feet… It’s hard to decide to go on. When turning around is an option, you have moments of – why am I doing this, this is not safe, this is not good for me, I want to cry, I want to lay down and die and give up. Literally, these are all things you think,” he says.
Steve and Andrea on Larke Pass, at 16,800 feet.
With so much uncertainty, and flat-out misery, what makes it worth it?
“For one, it is the journey,” says Steve. “Every time you lift your head or look up, it’s just like, ‘oh my god, this is a view that not many people get to see,’ whether it’s a view of this beautiful village or this mountain range. It’s in those special moments that you reflect and you’re like wow, I am in this amazing place. And they don’t come easy! If they came easy, and you could drive there, everyone would do it, and it would be cool but it would be less rewarding.”
He continues, “When you have to work that hard to get to your goal, it just makes it that much more rewarding. Then when you go down and start feeling better, you’re like, ‘I f***ing did it!’ You’re proud of yourself, proud of your team that you went with. It’s this comradery. It’s this major major accomplishment.”
STEVE’S NEPAL TREK GEAR LIST:
- SPF 30 Lip Balm
- SPF 50 Sunscreen
- Buff/Neck Gaiter
- Stocking Cap
- Sun Hat
- Base Layer Top/Bottom
- Mid Layer Top/Bottom
- Fleece Jacket
- Trekking Pants & Shorts
- Down Jacket
- Gloves (Liners and Insulated)
- Socks with liner socks
- Waterproof jacket and pants
- Waterproof hiking shoes/boots
- Two water bottles or bladders
- Sleeping Bag
- Trekking Poles
- Day Pack (Small backpack)
- Spikes/Yak Tracks
- Portable power bank
- Water purifier
- Iodine tablets (as back up)
- Toiletries: Deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, biodegradable soap
- Trail Snacks: Peanut M&M's, Skittles, Protein Bars, Trail Mix, etc.
- Toilet Kit: Hand Sanitizer, Toilet Paper
- First Aid Kit:Blister Repair Kit, Ibuprofin, Duct Tape, Prescription: Dexamethasone for altitude illness, Anti-diarrhea
- Coffee:If you are a coffee drinker, bring your own instant coffee or device to make coffee. Hot water is readily available at most tea houses.
- Fun Stuff: Deck of cards, small game.
- A magic trick or polaroid camera to share with people you meet.