To pee or not to pee? – that is the question.

Clearly Tim has gone off his rocker I hear you say. But this is just one of the aspects of high altitude mountaineering that I thought I’d share with you.

Chris and I are off to Camp 1 tomorrow night and even though we’ve been getting to know each other for the past 4 weeks we are about to be thrust in to a new level of intimacy (perhaps thrust isn’t the best turn of phrase).

What generally happens on the hill is that after we’ve eaten we are tucked up in our down sleeping bags by around 8 because it is just too cold to be sitting around playing cards or standing outside staring at the stars.

So after a few minutes wrestling out of clothes and in to sleeping bags it’s time for a quick read and then slumber. And when sleep comes it can be really really deep. I generally have a fantasticly deep sleep and then wake up bursting for a wee (a side effect of being at altitude is that the body makes you pee more because of a pH imbalance that occurs).

But it’s cold out there and I’m all toasty in my bag. And, hey, I can hang on for a while until it’s time to be getting up. Or can I? I generally doze on and off for ages trying to get back to sleep but the feeling of discomfort is soooo overwhelming that returning to sleep is nigh on impossible. Best check the time to make sure I can make it until breakfast, and it’s then that I discover that it’s only around 11.30p.m. Aaarrrggghhh!

So clearly I’m not going to make it until getting up time, in which case it’s pee time. Now I used to always get up and go outside and admire the view of the stars whilst having a tinkle but that was on lower peaks where the temperature is generally a few degrees warmer. But since having been introduced to the ‘pee bottle’ I have been converted. I won’t go in to the gory details but basically you pee in to a bottle and do the top up. Depending on the time of night depends on whether you are advised to empty it straight away or not. If you empty it straight away then this tends to send a shower of frost crystals from the inside of the tent over your unfortunate tent partner as you open the tent zipper and discharge the contents at full arm stretch outside into the snow. But if you decide not to empty it then the risk is that it freezes, thereby rendering the bottle unusable again that night – which could be a BIG problem if you decided you desperately needed to go again. And when you sometimes have to go three, four or even five times a night this could suddenly become a BIG problem.

Anyway, enough of that, I’ve had a pee in a bottle and emptied it. Back to sleep? Er, no. What happens next can only be described at H.A.T.A.T. (High Altitude Tossing And Turning). You try for all your worth to sleep but it just doesn’t happen. Every time you turn over you get showered with ice crystals. Your tent partner does the pee bottle thing and showers ice over you. You get bouts of sleep apnoea and feel that you are suffocating. You breath freezes on to the inside of your sleeping bag and forms an icy crust around your head and shoulders. Your sleeping bag liner acts like a boa constrictor as it winds around you every time you move. And so it goes on. All the way through the night. Until about 5 in the morning when you eventually doze off only to be woken up at soon after 5 when the tent starts getting very light as the sun come sup. So another hour or so of tossing and turning until it’s time to get the stove on and start preparations for breakfast. And then the frost starts melting and dripping in your ear.

And that just about sums up the average night on the hill.

Now that we have been at Base Camp for a few nights we are generally getting some really deep long sleeps. Until tomorrow night, that is, when we are off to Camp 1 (6,000m) where we will start the whole ‘peeing at night’ process all over again.

It’s all part and parcel of ultra high altitude mountaineering. No one said it was going to be easy!

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Tim Mosedale

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