We are hiking up a steep slippery path in early morning darkness when George slips, rolls over and pukes three times. With the light of my torch I see how pale and sick he is. George has been struggling with altitude sickness for the past few days and it is clear that this is as far as he can go. With the high camp near I go to find a porter to help him back down. When I return I see again how flushed and shaken George is. I feel terrible to leave him but there is little choice. I need to do the pass now. We say a hasty goodbye and George turns back, visibly relieved his trauma is over.
I go on hoping to catch up to the other trekkers but am well behind them. We have taken two hours to do a climb the others did in one. As the morning sky slowly illuminates the surrounding mountains I try to catch up. At an altitude of five thousand metres it is difficult to rush as any exertion means I am panting, reeling with my hands on my knees, leaning on my stick. I shuffle up sluggishly barely moving my feet with every step but am still forced to take regular breaks. Gasping desperately for air, my hard breathing scorches my throat.
Ten days ago we started the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and every day we steadily moved higher, every day edging closer to the mountains we had come to find, each day better than the last. We followed a valley often wedged between a cliff and a drop to the river. We went through villages with groups of shy children acting as toll merchants demanding sweets, chocolates, school pens or balloons. We crossed suspension bridges every day, always swaying and bouncing and unnerving. We kept going, pushing on and upwards getting glimpses of looming snow-covered mountains in the far-off distance.
George, my hiking partner, and every other trekker shared in the growing excitement. We would discuss our wonder at night around the fires in the teahouses. We made friends easily, the joy of the journey easily breaking down any barriers.
Half-way to the pass we climbed through small forests with the red colours of rhododendron bushes bursting through the green. The air was particularly colder than the previous days and soon the forest thinned out, the terrain became barren and we entered the larger mountains. The changes were an encouraging sign of progress. The conversations also turned from excitement to philosophy. Traveling through its calm solitudes, so far removed from the tensions of civilization, clarity and hopefulness pervaded our thinking. We all seemed to be overwhelmed with grandiose ideas for the future. Our thoughts seemed to reflect the magnificent mountains we were passing through.
We walked alone or with others, talking a little but simply content to be moving and making our way. We ambled up and up. The only thing we needed to do was to keep moving, not necessarily at a fast pace but always to just keep moving. Then we neared the pass and a completely new challenge.
After three hours of solo toil I come upon other hikers who have been feeling very sick and nauseous and moving very slowly, even slower than me. With their spirits faltering the news of George seems to only add to their struggle. While resting we remark on the view and our inability to appreciate it in our fatigued states. We start off again, the angle of the climb is less severe than before but nevertheless we walk at a crawling pace for the next few hours up and over small hills. We keep encouraging each other and eventually after a period of quiet desperation we reach the Thorung La Pass at 5416m.
As we are taking photos clouds envelop us and the view disappears. Almost immediately it starts snowing spurring us to start our descent. We clamber down jubilantly, joyous with our achievement and that the hardest slog is over. At the steeper parts we slide down on our bums in the snow and pause at intervals to stare out into the whiteness and catch snowflakes on our tongues.
It is understandable why there is so much said of the mysticism and spiritualism of these mountains. There is a definite power to rejuvenate and invigorate, to encourage us to take on whatever the future may hold. This strength that it passes on to the trekkers is almost tangible. We are delighted with the achievement, a monumental challenge that will end up taking almost three weeks but there is something deeper we take with us too. The personal revelations, the contentment and profound feelings we have on the way.
It is easy to be inspired in these glorious mountains but the trick is to store that wisdom and then be able to call on it in times of need. The task is to retain the harmony and use its strength in the future, to carry the serenity of the Himalayas always within us.
About the Author: Matt is a drifter under the guise of going home when he finally decides what he wants to do with the rest of his life. He happily ignores the topic and keeps on drifting.