Getting stuck in traffic and moving 300 meters an hour is a sign we finally landed in Nepal, a place to practice inner serenity and tolerance.

Not as much hardcore as India in terms of being late, but well ahead of our standards, we end up wasting a few extra days just on travel and bureaucracy. After all, is said and done, fine-tuning our nerves to the haggling and barging in everyday situations, we set a course for the majestic prominence of Annapurna range, where our acclimatization session is destined to take place.

Himalaya 2017 – Extreme Altitude Freedive Project
Himalaya 2017 – Extreme Altitude Freedive Project

The change of climate, vegetation, and the terrain is breathtaking, but so is the altitude, so we endure the symptoms of AMS, luckily without sustaining any serious damage. Occasional colds and a sprained tendon are the only souvenirs we are bringing back to Pokhara from the Annapurna base camp. The trek up to the heart of the mountain is definitely recommended to all, and having porters and extra days will be well worth your budget. If you’re more on the dark side with masochistic ambitions like us in this case, be sure to take a lot of photos so you can enjoy the scenery after its all over.

This brings us to the next phase of the trip, the marrow of the project – getting to the lake. Meaning walking and taking the gear with us. I hate the unsupported part of the mental agreement we do with ourselves sometimes. This means we are completely on our own and can plan and execute the thing with flexibility and all the time on our hands. This also means it’s much more dangerous because the last attempt was stopped because of too low saturation and the risk of blacking out, which is a bit discomposing if you know that getting back to the living world is very hard with 10% O2  atmosphere. Oh yes, and the wind from the glacier is horrendous, the temperature of the water is 2 C and the air is… hopefully warmer than -10 C. It’s not really fine print that hypothermia is a guaranteed bonus. Well, although this might seem a bit stretched, we are confident that things will go in our favor. But first things first, in order to start the hike up to the lake, we need to get to Manang.

Himalaya 2017 – Extreme Altitude Freedive Project
Himalaya 2017 – Extreme Altitude Freedive Project

Easier said than done, arriving at Manang made us feel lucky to be alive. Calling the way “road” would be definitely overusing the term, as this would much closer be described as UIAA class II route. We had a good vehicle, and after roughly 9 hours of bruising and motion sickness, we first busted a cooler pipe, which we managed to patch ourselves since the driver had no clue what to do(we hired a “very experienced” driver, who confessed to being here only second time). Then, we ran out of water and oil. Quite handy to have along on a 12-hour off-road trip. This glues “un” to our drivers experience for good. So we hitched a ride in a Mahindra Bolero death trap to the local village, had a sleepover in a haunted mansion and found a young dealer prodigy to finally take us to Manang.

All things considered, we are happy to have only lost a day in this mess. But this brings up the question of how to arrange our plans with a day lost in the start. The trip left a trace on the team, and the general fatigue and lack of time made us go for plan B instead of Lake Tilicho, which was around 5k meters high and has a 10 hour light walkup. Instead of that, we went to the Ice lake system. It’s accessible within a day, although its one hell of a climb with more than a 1000m vertical gain.

Walkup to the lake is roughly 5 hours on strenuous terrain up to around 4720 meters. Just something you need before the dive.  We are lucky that we have quite an extensive mountain experience, and we deal with altitude quite well, but still, apnea after getting so tired, on super thin air in freezing conditions is an extreme endeavor. All things considered, we did the initial training and were somewhere between worried and happy to finally be here and get the chance to actually go for it.

The Himalayan outback with enchanting villages and paths between them is magical. It’s obvious why this is one of the world’s most famous trampling destinations visited by thousands of hikers, followed by thousands of porters and guides. Hopefully, our fresh marketing will help this pinnacle of Nepal industry, because not having agency and local staff support almost makes you feel guilty. In the whole package, Manang region is a pearl for itself. Geographically, culturally, politically separated from the rest of Nepal and joined to the Tibetan plateau, it is something worth the trip and coming back, regardless of the record.

Himalaya 2017 – Extreme Altitude Freedive Project
Himalaya 2017 – Extreme Altitude Freedive Project

The record day came fast. We got some wind on our back. Meaning it was colder. A bit worried about reports we had seen, we decided in cooperation with the doc to limit our apnea to around 3min. We prepared outside after probably breaking the speed record for getting into the suit and “jumped” in to do the static on the first go. With a good suit, the cold actually doesn’t penetrate to the skin and you’re just fine even though its 2 degrees water and there is ice floating around. We used 3mm Subcraft custom suits. And we did it! Our goal was to set the female x-altitude record STA dive, and Lidija made 2min 21sec on her first hold. Vitomir was aiming for 2min – the time was done by the Austrian diver previously claiming the record at around 5000m – we decided this is approximately similar O2/air condition, but in any case, on his first hold Vitomir surpassed this target and went for 3min 28sec. Taking in further would definitely bring better times, but getting colder and wasting limited daylight was more important to us. We had a few more test holds with saturation measurement and the results were surprisingly high. We adapted perfectly to the thin air and even after dry apnea over 4min our saturation jumped right back to normal. We are not sure why the Austrian team had such problems, we were a bit careful, but after all, it turned out to be a very normal STA experience. This opens up a field for our imagination to ponder on what elevation or time would be the limiting factor in this extreme discipline. We shall see. The gauntlet is thrown down. 

Himalaya 2017 – Extreme Altitude Freedive Project
Himalaya 2017 – Extreme Altitude Freedive Project

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Vitomir Maricic
Originating from the Adriatic islands I'm connected and lured to the Sea from early age. One of my favorite pastime activities was spending time beneath the surface and finding ways to do so more. Many new interests took me to new experiences through numerous sports, mountains, world round travels, education and work, but somehow it all funneled back to being in the blue, as a competitive freediver, instructor, and coach.

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