Monday, December 6, 2010

Week 2

Week 2 is when the magic really starts to happen. For starters we’re in Manang and the mountains are within touching distance. Our acclimatisation day is spent trekking up to the Ice Lake, a demanding 1,000m ascent to 4,500m - at that stage the highest I’d ever been. On our way we see some musk deer and Bhuwan constantly reminds me of the importance of trekking slowly at this altitude. On arrival the Ice Lake is nothing special but the views from its shore are easily the best of the trek. There’s a spastic beauty to the mountains from this vantage point, a sense that there’s a beauty overload and so what you’re looking at isn’t real at all. I’ve looked over some of my photos and this feeling remains - they somehow look like paintings to me, not at all of the physical world. It’s a special moment and a highlight of the trek. Of course a 1,000m ascent means a 1,000m descent and it’s a painfully boring slog alleviated only by the beauty in front of us. By the time we reach the base of the climb my eyes may love me but my knees despise me.
We overnight at Yak Kharka on our way to Thorung High Camp and we’re due to cross the Pass on Day 10. By now the Pass has become ‘THE PASS‘, and, collectively, it’s talked about with the same irrational fear as ancient sailors discussing possible encounters with monsters at the edge of the world. At Yak Kharka, whether it’s real or not, I develop a headache which disappears overnight, but I’d be lying if it didn’t leave me slightly paranoid especially with a night at High Camp to come. The perceived wisdom is that it’s better to overnight at Thorung Phedi rather than racing towards High Camp some 500m higher. Those who trek to High Camp for the night are looked upon with a mixture of sympathy and disdain. The trek to High Camp is laboriously slow but pretty easy, given the fact that we’re, quite literally, trekking at snail’s pace.
My night in High Camp is the longest of the entire trek. After an evening spent playing cards (very badly indeed) with Dave and Andrea - we retire to our 4 bed dorm which we share with Gyanendra, the friendly and flatulent sherpa who had been left without a room. From lights out at 9pm until our 4.30am start the next morning, I don’t sleep for a second and so I get to listen to every fart (of which there are many thanks to our sherpa friend), grunt, moan and groan. Trying to sleep is an exercise in futility and it’s a blessing when our flatulent friend turns the light on to begin the day of The Climb.
It’s ridiculously cold outside as we begin - but you’ll have that at 4,600m, right? - and the only thing on our minds for the first hour of the trek is the wait for the sun to rise. In spite of multiple layers, it’s painfully cold and progress is once again slooooowwwww……but when the sun eventually rises - the trekking equivalent of a 'watched pot' - and we see what’s in front of us the mood lightens (well mine does anyway). There are several false summits to cross before we finally reach our goal and, damn it, my arrival there is anti-climactic. I don’t feel any of the euphoria I’d expected, probably because I’m still too bloody cold and it’s way too fucking early to be that happy. The Pass itself is festooned with a multitude of prayer flags and there’s a sign congratulating you for reaching 5,416m. Remarkably there’s also a tea house which sells refreshments at prices that would make a Colombian coke baron blush and so I convince myself that I don’t need a milk tea in spite of the fact that all I want some 5,416m up is a milk tea. Bhuwan and I stand in beside the sign for the obligatory snapshots - just in case anyone ever doubts that I made it - and then we’re off again.
As we descend in the direction of Muktinath - a 1,600m descent - I’m suddenly struck by a headache of migraine intensity. Now whether it’s AMS or a result of the biting winds which greet us once we cross the Pass I don’t know but I accelerate my descent just in case. By the time we reach Muktinath it’s gone and so it’s forgotten about. After 10 days of trekking my lips feel as if I’ve been French-kissing a Brillo pad and so Muktinath is a welcome haven for our weary bodies and ultra-chapped lips.

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