Rise and shine in the dark - it's 0350. Pack up last few items; having slept in my clothes there's not too much to stuff in. Apparel du jour - long johns, 2 x socks, trek pants, wool singlet, wool long sleeve thermal, wool 360 degree Kathmandu top, down jacket, fleece hat, scarf, gloves, headlamp (all matching- gotta think of the photos!). Nervous but excited, choke down some breaky and off we go. It is so
exciting heading up the hill in the dark, the headlight beams criss cross the path ahead and behind me. I am concentrating on the boots in front of me illuminated by torchlight. The wind is up and it is really cold (but exciting). Trudging forward we stop intermittently for everyone to catch up, the sky changes and that pre-dawn colour leaches through the night. The stars disappear. As the sun peeks through the peaks I feel - what? - it's hard to explain, but it is a wondrous feeling. OK, back to the grind... we keep trudging and it's still cold, I almost wish it was still dark because then you can't see how far uphill you still have to go. It is quite a
slog. We spot high camp at the hour mark, some of the lights in the buildings are on, it's really quiet. Some yaks are hanging around outside (obviously) and then we have passed it by. The terrain has been dry to this point.
On leaving high camp we encounter the first bit of snow on the ground, it is easy to walk on though, it is crisp, no ice. We slowly ascend via switch backs and there are maybe 20 trekkers in sight at various points of this leg of the journey. Mostly they are overtaking us, a few lag behind. The guy in the green jacket looks like he is going to expire - he says he's OK. There are patches of snow interspersed with patches of dry ground and the sun is up now (0615). The sky is that intense clear blue and it is dazzling! We have been sooooo lucky with the weather (the next day is cloudy- glad we went over a day earlier than originally planned). We have lots of breathers but maintain a steady pace. I think at this point I know that I am absolutely going to make it and the nervousness
is completely gone- onward, one foot in front of the other and take it all in. It is still utterly freezing and really windy. We reach the teahouse at the hour and and a half mark. There are yaks parked outside. It is a welcoming sight, our water is freezing in our bottles. Chocolate, cup of tea, onward....
It takes us nearly 2 1/2 hours between the teahouse and the Thorung La Pass (5416m). It is really hard work! The fact that I don't have a single photo between 0715 and 0940 confirms it- it was too hard to get the camera out! We pass by depth markers and prayer flags that Lonely Planet say are 15 mins from the pass, I'm sure I saw more much further away than those ones- someones cruel joke perhaps ?????!!!! Dhana and I wait for Mary, I really want us to get there together. It's a weird feeling reaching that point. There are a dozen or so people at the top, it's very cool to witness the emotions- loud excitement through to very quiet contemplation. We all gather in the teaouse for the best cup of the day, actually probably the entire
Warmed up, we take our turn to take photos. Mary and I tie our prayer scarves (the ones that Surya Kumari from Puma Village gave us on our very first night) onto the other hundreds of flags and scarves. My last rock is deposited. I feel utterly elated, utterly moved, utterly overwhelmed.
We spend 48 minutes in total at the Pass. Such a fleeting amount of time.
The plan for descent is to find a sheltered spot and have a picnic not far over the pass, 40 mins later we have a spot in the sun and are eating bread rolls, pastries, biscuits and boiled eggs (complete with salt that Dhana has wrapped in a napkin from last night). Sitting there together was wonderful.
We begin the trek down again. Sanam Singh, from Spirit of The Himalayas, wrote in our trek quote that on this day "our knees would be crying", I was actually pretty comfortable with the descent, it was long and steep but not so bad. It is barren, there is ice and snow early on -the wind has whipped the snow up into little waves for part of the way. Some parts
are harder to navigate than others due to the snow and there are lots of potential tracks to take to avoid the ice - I usually take the footsteps that end in a kind of ice skating manoeuvre. But then it's just dirt and stone and low scrubby bush. At one point I am utterly alone, I can't see a single person in front or behind me, it feels great.
Dhana and Mary catch up with me at a big boulder overlooking the valley. We make our way down, down, down and eventually reach 3 teashops. Luxuriate in the presence of a toilet (although a seriously awful one) and sink a thermos of tea in about 5 minutes. Onward, over another suspension bridge, the town is in sight. We pass the hillside strewn with prayer flags. Dhana tells us that this is where the bodies are cut up and cremated (I think there was a National Geo show about this). We arrive into Muktinath around 3.30. It is very wild west, very busy, lots of motor bikes and the streets are wide. The town is lined with shops and stalls- socks, hats, jewellery, mitts, fossils, etc, etc, etc. We
go through the checkpoint. Stephane and Santos are waiting for us, we are sleeping at "The North Pole". It is good to see them, we have room 102 with a stellar view of the washing line and the shower. SHOWER?!! I am there!
Wash some clothes at the communal tap and peg them on the communal line out in the weak sunshine. The entire staff seem to be out there watching and seem very amused ???? (Could it be the large sensible underwear?) It is so nice to be clean and the endorphins are still running very high. We spend the next few hours in the dining room and reunite with Danni, Michael and Kushang Sherpa. They are staying at another place but we plan to meet them the next night. Dinner is a celebration. The hotel is full, Dhana ends up sharing Stephane's room, Santos sleeps on the floor somewhere with the rest of the porters. We go to bed, I can't sleep.... Awesome day.
Highlights of the day-
1. Navigating by head torch
2. The feel of the snow crunching under my boots
3. Snickers stop
4. Summit elation (not elevation- elation)
5. Picnic-ing together
6. The solitude of my descent
PS- Thankyou Mary
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