On the Pass

We've come up 400m in about an hour and a half.
There is only half the oxygen to which we are accustomed.
We turn, we drop down fast.

Day 11 ... 8k from Yak Kharka at 4150m to Thorung Phedi at 4550m
I walk to Thorung Phedi, 1000m below Thorung La Pass. The snow is very light and at times the blue sky peaks through. Two friends, the Aussie couple, would be going over. It should be a good ascent for them. I arrive at the only hostel ... a large rambling stone cluster of buildings, many of them burmed up with snow. As promised, inside the eating and socializing zone is cold. Anyone here is questioned about why they did not cross the pass.
Hanging out in Thorung Phedi is expensive, cold, and boring. To pass the time, and keep warm, Jans and I go for a walk. We walk up, and we do so incredibly slowly. Thorung Phedi is not really at the bottom of the pass. There is a bit of a valley floor maybe 100m below with a closed lodge. With the unseasonable weather many lodges and tea houses are closed. It is snowing lightly, and with the wind the snow falls horizontally, but really it does not matter. I'm focused on the ground. I place my foot where Jans has removed his. Then I lift the next foot. We move up. It is warm enough that the snow melts upon hitting the path. There are organized switchbacks, banked up with stones on the downhill side. Through the snow I can see the shear wall on the other side of the valley. We are well above the treeline now. Snow, rock, and ice. The visible rock of the mountain is an ochre colour. But I'm focused on my feet.
After maybe 300m the clear path becomes snow. We can easily see where people passed this morning. We continue up. We come to a place where we are in a sort of chute ... the wind is fierce as it is funneled through here. Visibility is decreasing ... under 10 meters. I'd not want to be up here seriously. Then the visibility opens such that we can see a couple of marker stones and the trail flattening out. We've come up 400m in about an hour and a half. We are at almost 5000m ... where there is only half the oxygen to which we are accustomed. We turn, we drop down fast. Oxygen no longer seems to be lacking. The snow is falling steadier, the flakes have become big and fluffy. It is a Christmas card snow fall ... the kind that means there will be snow to shovel.
We are both really elated. Easily we've done a big section of the climb. I now know that the pass can be passed. We reach the lodge. It is filling up. The kitchen churns out an international array of food ... burritos, baked pasta, pizza, fried spuds, and loads of tea and hot lemon. It is the most industrial kitchen I've seen yet. Here there is no hangin' round the fire with the folks. The excitement is palatable (sic). I feel like I used to the day before a ski race ... people coming in covered in white flakes. The cool of the lodge adds to the atmosphere. We are all looking out the window at the snow, discussing how much can fall before it is a no-go. And it is really falling now. "Hope those (ski trail) groomers get out nice and early."
People eat, play cards, I play game after game of backgammon. We set start times, talk to other people, change the times, talk to the porters, change the times again. Its fun. Everyone is excited except for the Nepalis. The staff is efficient but distant, while the porters are doing their best just to keep warm. They huddle around the bake oven. The bread, buns, and cinnamon rolls are being created. We all buy some for the mountain. Many of us have piled our shoes, precariously, around the oven in hopes of them drying. We do not see the sticks being added, or reorganized, to generate the heat. We do no see their embers fly out and land around the oven. I'm super high with the group in the other room. Then! Then I go to check on my shoes.
I can't find them. Has someone taken them? Everything has been shuffled. I'm in hell. There is no light but what comes from the bake oven. I'm in panic mode. I'm aware of some hard faces watching me in amusement. The boots are all jumbled together. I find one, and "Holy Fuck!" there is a huge hole in the shoe. The body and the sole have separated. Not a heavenly sight. I'm crazed. This shoe is not mine. It looks like mine, but the hole. I storm the eating room. I borrow a flashlight and descend once again into hades. I find my other shoe, cheap gaiter still frozen on, and the one that isn't mine, is. It fits, it matches the other. Just it has a big problem. A big hole. And I'm planning on going out into foot deep powder tomorrow. The specter of going back down this side flashes before me. What else can I do?
Others are calmer than me. Of course they are, they don't have a big fucking hole in their boot. An Israeli gives me some superglue and I'm back in hell trying to dry the boot, at least where the glue must go. The previously perceived "hard faces", aren't. They offer advice and condolences. One particularly pleasant porter tells me to wear a plastic bag inside the boot, and that the boot can be fixed once over the pass. Of course, most of them have footwear way worse than mine.
With the shoe saturated in glue, and compressed under one leg of my bed, I turn in. And then I turn over, and lay on my tummy, and turn over, and check my watch, and worry about the stomach pains and farts. I'm really too excited to get a good sleep. Most of us are. I'm thinking, "shits going over the pass would be awful". I fear what a trip to the toilet would reveal. I toss and turn, trying not to make too much noise and wake my friends in the room ... my friends who are also awake, also tossing and turning.
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