A peaceful night’s slumber after a relaxing night around the fire – what more could one ask for high in the mountains of the Himalayas? I’ll tell you what… How about not being woken up in the depth of the night dying for a piss… And the pisser being outside in the bollock freezing cold! I don’t think that’s asking too much.
Extricating myself from the sanctuary of my sleeping bag I stumble in darkness until my feet finally fumble into the even darker recesses of my boots. Stumbling to door and lock I open it wide to whiteness (not the blackness I had been expecting). It is three in the morning and every nook and cranny is covered in deep snow. It still falls. I return to bed trying not to ponder what this means for tomorrow and – more importantly – for our chances of crossing the 5416m pass.
In the morning. Where 6 inches of snow once say scant hours before. Over 1 foot now lay indignantly beneath my feet. And still it continued to fall.
We knew we were not going anywhere this day and so comforted ourselves with thoughts of playing cards, reading and relaxing; recharging ourselves for an inevitable long slog ahead.
As we formed the perfect creases for our backsides fellow Trekkers from the night before left into the storm. We lost sight of them but metres from the door. Whilst we wished them well we could not quite understand the logic of leaving in such a whiteout? (We later heard that they had returned to the town the same day unable to forge forward… Their dignity obviously didn’t allow them to return to us!)
And so the day rolled past us in monotone. The only break from the monotony of sitting in one room was to step outside and help the owners ensure their roof did not fall in on our heads. A task not to be taken lightly.
After that the fire roared…
As the sun begged for its daily rest the snow somehow in chorus ceased. We ventured out to see what hell we would be walking in tomorrow. Snow drifts had formed against firewood walls and stone walls. Where paths once lay snow banks now took their place…
Ice chunks floated in the moving freeze of the river…
So with chilling fingers – and chilling thoughts in our mind – we returned to the warmth-giving fire. A fire that in the minutes we had left it alone had decided to turn from friend to foe as in the room it now spewed forth smoke rather than warmth. We had a choice: freeze or choke? We went to bed to ponder the right choice.
The morning brought us clear skies – no more snow had fallen – and a beautiful golden sunrise.
It also brought damnable cold. The coldest break to any day so far. With snow still laying thick on the ground and with only a little over half the overall climb behind us… It wasn’t going to warm up any day soon.
As we donned our armour for the day ahead similarly bedecked Trekkers scurried through the snow lined streets beyond our windows. Faces we had known the day before hidden behind masks, goggles and glasses. We stepped out to join the fray.
The snow under our feet sank from our passing weight to the sound of *crunch* *crunch* *crunch*. A sound that would come to be very familiar in the coming days (… And may too become familiar in the coming paragraphs!). From an unimpeding ankle deep to a thigh burning depth the snow rose and fell and kept us trudging through the daylight hours. Mountains soared up across the valley, but all we saw was white-feet-white-feet-white-feet.
The days before fell away into another persons memory. The mountains were inextricably changed and showed a face – as yet – unseen. It was beauty covered in a white virgin cloth that stood before us, unsullied by man or beast.
How could we not venture higher to try and stand amongst those spiralling spiritual peaks?
As footfall after footfall continued through this powdered landscape figures in the distance came ever closer. At first a person here or there. Then groups. Then a caravan of people. All where descending the mountain at great pace. And all cried the same bleak message: ‘Turn back. The pass is closed’. Fishermen-like stories of the snow and its drifts reverberated off the mountains and our hearts ached a little at the missed opportunity that these snows had likely brought.
We still pushed on, even as a guide called out, ’Turn back. Your lives are more important’. How could we turn back when the peaks streamed out snow-like shawls for which we should try and grasp?
So the trudge and toil continued through an ever deepening bank of snow and amid an ever more spiritual landscape. Stupas rose to touch the sun…
… Prayer flags played their endless rustle of rhymes on wings of wind.
Yet despite the mesmerising landscape the day was demoralising as more and more people descended past us from the mountain. The story? Unchanged.
We wound our way uphill against this descending ’traffic’. Ridge after ridge went past us. Bend after bend was left behind. On and on we seemed to fight; our destination never closer. As the land ever rose we felt ever drained. The only time to truly enjoy the spectacle was to rest and let our eyes drift over the wonderland around our feet and high above our heads.
Finally, one more ridge behind us we cast our eyes upon Yak Kharka, a place to rest our heads. Unfortunately, our ears still rang with the simple two words, ’pass closed’.
Yet, as the night wore on stragglers such as ourselves made it into town. They were ascending. The pass would be taken. We were not alone and we would fight with them to take the pass.
Night had fallen on the valley. Our short-lived revelry – amongst the fire and thoughts that maybe, just maybe, we can climb this pass mid-winter – was broken by two late comers… Descending from the pass. They too had turned back. Our hearts sunk as yet another group had failed to climb the pass!
But we had not let them speak. When we did our eyes rang with joyful tones. They told us that a group that day had broken through the snow and breached the pass.
Two simple words now echoed off the cold – and ever chilling – stone walls. ‘Pass open’.
’No guide. No porter. Just Dal Baht Power. Twenty four hour.’
This part of the story covered the following:
Day 6: Lower Pisang
Trekking time: 0 hours
Altitude (Start / End / Difference): 3200m / 3200m / +0m
Day 7: Lower Pisang – Manang
Trekking time: 7.30 hours
Altitude (Start / End / Difference): 3200m / 3540m / +340m
Day 8: Manang – Yak Kharka
Trekking time: 6.10 hours
Altitude (Start / End / Difference): 3540m / 4050m / +510m