[Editor’s note: Please note that in an effort to catch up, we have temporarily instituted “Two for Tuesdays” and this is the second post of the day.]
11/14/09: Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Day 11: Thorong Phedi to Muktinath (9 hours)
We woke up bright and early at 4:40am in order to get on the trail before 5:30am. As it turned out, we were the second to last group to leave our lodge this morning. For whatever reasons (a forecast of “snow,” to get to the Pass before 10am to avoid “the wind,” because they’re “cooler” than us – oh wait, I made that one up), everybody else decided to start out on the trail at 4am. Luckily, our Lonely Planet Nepal warned us that though many people would be starting out at 3 or 4am, there was no need to leave until 5 or 6am. Normally, we don’t religiously follow Lonely Planet and the trekking portion had actually been quite useless up until this point, but I pointed the warning out to Kevin anyway. “Look! Lonely Planet says you can get frostbite! We can’t leave until at least 5!” Of course I got my way.
It was still dark when we left, so we started our way up the icy and snowy trail with our headlamps on, looking like very lost spelunkers. After about an hour (and maybe a kilometer), the wind picked up a bit. And – it started to snow. I suppose those 4am people did know a little about what they were talking about. By then Kevin must have been feeling the altitude a bit, because it was at this point that he suggested we wait for better weather and continue the trail the next day. “We can build a snow pit! I saw it on Surivorman!” Luckily, before we could seriously ponder the probability of surviving in a poorly engineered snow pit built by two math majors, it stopped snowing and we continued on our way. My mental status at this point: hopeful.
After another hour of relatively easy trekking – some flat parts, followed by a non-steep uphill, we stopped for some water and to catch our breaths. Not being outfitted with altimeters like the cooler 4am crowd, we asked a local how much longer to get to the top. He replied, “an hour.” My mental status: expectant and happy.
After another hour of tedious trekking – lots of zigzags on little hills, we stopped again for some water and a little bit of a snack. Although we hadn’t reached the top, I was confident we couldn’t be that much further. Asking another local for the ETP (Estimated Time to the Pass – I guess making things into acronyms is a disease you can catch if you hang out with Kevin too much), he replied, “half an hour.” My mental status: weary, but resigned.
As the time started to slowly tick by and we kept hiking up and up and up, I became more and more despondent. We couldn’t see the Pass at all, and every time we turned a new corner, suddenly more snowy hills appeared. I started measuring our progress by the sticks they stuck at the end of each corner. I started playing mind games with myself, telling myself all we had to do was to get to the next stick. This system used to work really well when I used to jog outside, but I obviously hadn’t thought through the ramifications of using it out in the middle of the Himalayas, where you can’t just stop and go home or call someone to come pick you up (not that I’ve ever done that) if you get too tired and can’t keep jogging. So I really started to believe that each next stick would mark the beginning of the Pass and the end of our endless uphill climb. Mental status: a little bit delusional.
And then finally, about fifty minutes after “half an hour” from the top, I saw it – a stick with a prayer flag hanging off of it. “That’s it!” I said to Kevin. “That HAS to be it!” We made our way very slowly to the stick, and that was when I suddenly realized something. I realized that I must have done something horrible in a previous lifetime. Because it WASN’T THE END. And I couldn’t take it anymore. My mind just went totally blank and I turned to Kevin and sobbed out, “It’s not the end! It’s not the end!” Mental status: completely broken.
As it turns out, crying at an altitude of over 5,000 meters is a bad idea since it makes it really hard to breathe. Luckily, Kevin was there to remind me to keep breathing; I’m not sure what would have happened if he wasn’t. So with his encouragement, I managed to troop on, and less than 15 minutes later, we finally reached the top. And I have to tell you, when we got there, I know that I must have felt happier at other moments in my life, but at that time, I really couldn’t think of any.
Ohio Picture: Perhaps the highest O H I O in the world.
Picture of the Day: Having saved a hard-boiled egg from our breakfast that morning, Kevin pulls a Sanka at the top of the Pass.