We are moving across ridges. Every time I crest a ridge I expect, I hope, and then I begin to pray, to see the prayer flags that will garland the pass. But it doesn't happen.
| Day 12 ... up, up from 4550m, over 5416m, down to 3800m for 12k
|| We'd said three thirty start time, up at three. At 2:55 I climb out of my warm coccoon to check the sky, to visit the toilet. It is still dark in the basin, in the room, which is part of a row of rooms. I rise, slip into my sandals and step outside. It is crisp. It is clear. I see the three-quarter moon overhead. That is the important sign. I notice that not too much snow has fallen since I went to bed ... say 5 hours ago. My first move is of the bowels. To my pleasant surprise the movement is of a solid nature. A loose evacuation would have been worrisome. I return to the room and pack. I'm ready to go pretty fast. A couple of candle stubs create the shadows that we peer into. My shoe! It is now rock solid ... the glue and the whole shoe! The kitchen is already the going concern. These Nepali men who work up here don't seem to sleep. Fresh breads and sticky buns are hot from the oven. Water is being haggled over. Parties are assembling. Carl has lost his hat. He is incredulous when I put on two pairs of pants and then the rain pants.
|| Magical! The moon is high overhead. The light it casts creates a moonscape. The snowy mountain we climb seems not to be of this earth. White and gray are the tones we're submerged in. We plod. A huge crew of porters left some hours ago ... breaking trail. The snow is drifting slightly. Having gone up a distance with Jans yesterday, I'm confident. One foot at a time. The trail here is quite steep and rarely does one look up. I watch the heels of the person in front of me. Where they step from, I step to. And on it goes.
|| When we do halt and gawk about, we are amazed. It is an evironment we're not to know. Snow and rock exclusively. A desert of white when the sun comes up. Dazzling. Sparkles emit from the new snow flakes. There are little human moments which punctuate the assent. Carl undoes his coat, but his fingers are too cold to do it back up. I zip it up quickly for him. My mitts are off for less than a minute ... they take an hour to feel OK again. As we pass the one dangerous avalanche shoot, we are passed by three happy Nepali. They are jogging ahead to set up the tea shop at the top. Wild! They move on breezily. I clod on breathlessly. A German girl is hopelessly underdressed. This is serious business. We are high. It is cold. Our bodies aren't working normally. They are reacting in ways most of us have never experienced before.
|| I see the sun touching peaks. then hills close by. I'm expecting, anticipating the warmth. Instead, wind! It remains cold. The walk up the mountain has become much more of a mental exercise than a physical one. I know I can make it to the top. I can keep putting my feet forward. Yet, it stretches on and on. We are moving across ridges. Every time I crest a ridge I expect, I hope, and then I begin to pray, to see the prayer flags that will garland the pass. But it doesn't happen. The hundred or two hundred yards to the next ridge stretch off forever.
|| It does come to pass though. I let out a yell with energy that isn't there. We have tea. We descend. Once I loose a hundred yards of elevation the oxygen abounds. I have energy to bound, to leap, to run. We drop down. Drop. When the porters ahead come to an unwalkable section, they sit down and slide a ways. You've got to use your feet to slow down. Having the rain pants is super good right here. Didn't really need them at any other time. There seems to be way more snow over here. We've caught up with the porters. The breaking of trail is serious business. Those whose specialty it is, run a ways, sinking into their hips every time. Now that takes energy. Me, I lay back and take a nap.
|| Leaving the snow above us, we sashay into Muktinath. The first guest house into town is where we all stop. There is definitely a feeling of accomplishment. We have just gone up 1000m and down 1600m. There is also a feeling of "what now?". The objective, which at times seemed elusive, has come to pass. What now?
|| While I'm waiting for a bowl of soup I hear a super story. My Aussie friends, who came over yesterday, are still here in the guest house. Their pass was tough. Fine weather in the morning, but a storm blew up in the afternoon. They couldn't see the trail, and might have wandered about the hills for an unpleasant while had there not been a dog along. This dog, the same dog who'd shadowed me for a couple of days, had joined them the day before, and yesterday it led them down the mountain.
Day 25 ... epilogue
| It ends perfect. Up on top of a pass. 2000m. I can see the lights of Pokhara. Every day has beauty and wonder. One just needs to see it, hold it close to the breast, then let it go. That is maybe the most important, and the hardest, part. Let it go. A week ago I needed a replacement for the pass. I needed a fire in my belly. I get up and leave. Nothing could have been easier. The big white mountains are not the magnet. What is then? It's the walking. The paths. The people whose lives I brush against.
|| I make my entrance to Pokhara in style. A bus rounds the bend and I'm poised. Just off the road, hand and maybe umbrella pointing down ... I want to learn the name of Thor's hammer and christen my trusty friend. The bus stops. It is super packed. They wave me to the back. The backdoor, where men usually get on ... well, it isn't there. I'm meant to climb up on the roof. I'm super happy doing so.
|| I go to the carpet co-op, even before I secure food. I have been thinking about this one carpet for three weeks. I'd decided long ago to acquire it. Mentally, I've showed it to many people, I've hung it, and flung it, many places. I've wondered if it'll be up at the cabin or if it stays with someone else. I go in. It's a large room. Space to fling out dozens and dozens of pieces. Light to see what we've got. Light and space to move around. And when the piece is silk, a silk carpet with 1600 or 1800 knots per square inch, then moving around is the key. The carpet changes colour and intensity as you walk around it. Silk is so so amazing that way.
|| The main fellow, he recognizes me. Wild. The other fellow is dispatched to make some tea. I'm in deep joy already. I take a chair in the middle of the floor and look at carpets. Navy blues, baby blues, earthy colours, and silvers. Symmetrical patterns of different orientation and complexity. I sip my tea with the cardamon pod floating in it. "Would I like to see some carpets?" "Please." I say. He reaches to the wall, where they are rolled up by the hundreds and unfurls the carpet ! After close to four weeks he's remembered the one I fancied most.|| To Nepal Pokhara One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Nine Eleven Twelve |