‘I remember…’

…the feeling of complete shame as if it was yesterday. My boyfriend Owen was attempting to climb Mt Everest and I was spending some time with him at Everest Base camp. It was midnight, absolutely freezing and I was busting to go to the toilet.

The blokes had it easy. They had two bottles in their tents – a water bottle and a “piss” bottle that was usually a different shape so that mistakes didn’t happen in the darkness. The women however had to use the makeshift loo. Some had tried bowls and funnels but this usually resulted in spills and an unholy mess to clean up.

I checked my watch a thousand times – hoping with each glance that several hours had gone by, it would soon be morning and warmer. Not so – the time was 12:05 and I couldn’t hang on any longer. I struggled out of my warm silk liner and expedition sleeping bag and unzipped the tent as quietly as possible so that I did not wake any of the sleeping climbers.

I followed the light of my torch down the small hill, past the other tents, mess tent and cook house to the toilet area. There are no proper toilets at Base Camp so our climbing team had built a latrine area that consisted of an upturned 44 gallon drum with a small hole cut out for one to do one’s business through. It wasn’t very flash but it was certainly more comfortable than the Tardis which was the nickname given to the toilet tent on the trek to Base Camp.

I reached the blue toilet drum, reluctantly pulled down my warm snow pants, two layers of thermal underwear and functional undies and sat down. It felt colder than I remembered and I didn’t realise until I went to stand that this toilet experience was going to be different to any other. I couldn’t stand up and I remember with dawning horror that I was completely stuck on the drum. My bottom on the freezing drum had produced the same effect as a tongue on ice – immediate suction.

Each time I tried to prize myself off the drum it caused immense pain and I knew that I was risking some serious damage if I continued to try – ripped flesh does not heal well at these altitudes.

I was starting to freeze and knew that I had to get help but the toilet area was some distance from the tents. I remember starting to cry out of sheer frustration and also for just feeling so stupid. A couple of minutes spent blubbering only resulted in a runny nose that I couldn’t wipe properly because of my thick gloves – a frozen bottom and frozen nose: how wonderful!

Eventually I started yelling for help, hoping that Owen would hear me. Of course that didn‘t happen and the one who did hear my cries was our head Sherpa, Zangbou. Unfortunately instead of just saving me himself he decided to wake up the Team Doctor, Team Leader and then Owen. In the commotion of people scrambling out of their tents to what they thought was a serious incident several more of the Australian Team were woken.

I remember the Doctor having a close look at my nether regions and being very diplomatic whilst doing so. He put a blanket around me whilst he, the Team Leader, Owen and what seemed like the entire population of Base Camp worked out what to do. Eventually it was decided that I had to thaw out a bit as pulling me off risked too much damage. Zangbou heated some water whilst Owen and one of the women climbers held some blankets up to protect whatever modesty I had left.

Zangbou drizzled the warm water around my buttocks whilst the Doctor gradually prized my stuck flesh off the drum using a spatula from the cook house. Soon I came unstuck. Owen said he had never seen my bottom look so strange and wished he had his camera. I remember wanting to hit him but was just so relieved to be free that I kissed him instead.

Everyone went back to their tents and the Doctor declared that my bottom would recover. I remember thinking that whilst my physical pain would eventually subside, my wounded pride would take a little longer.

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