Part 13 — Thorong La Pass — 17,769 feet. EBC is 17,900 feet — Just saying!
We were up at 1:30 am. The heavy silence of the night broken by the shuffling noises of trekkers preparing to court Throng -La pass. We had to put on extra layers of warm clothes. Headlamps packed all the way back in Kathmandu finally found their calling. For the first time in the trek, I felt a sense of fear settle in the pit of my stomach. Things could get really dangerous. Ram had specified that we were to follow a strict code of positions so that no one was left behind. The danger was real because we would be trekking on the side of the mountains, defiantly slippery with ice sheets.
So here’s the thing, I adore snow. As a kid, I always wanted to see, touch, and eat it. I had to wait 33 years to touch snow for the first time. No, didn’t get to eat it because it was dirty. That trip will be another post, but why I mention it here, is to emphasize how truly terrified I was feeling. The snow didn’t entice me and the dark sky with a thousand stars didn’t evoke the poetess within, because her teeth were chattering too loudly to compose verses. I tried to swallow the feelings of doubt and closed my eyes to pray once more, promising myself that I would think only about the next step whenever fear started to paralyze me.
I stepped out with the rest of the group and we made a small huddle at the start of the snowy path. The horizon was pitch black with just a hint of deep rose forming a line across the rugged peaks. As I stood there watching little headlamps bobbing in the darkness I felt more confident. We had come so far… and were now going to reach a height that was just a couple of hundred feet lower than Everest Base Camp! Who would have thought! I looked at my group, they had helped me and stood by me through the last 10 days. I had no doubt that this last trek day would be no different. With these guys I was safe.
We made a beeline for the path and our headlamps threw a warning glow a couple of feet ahead. Ram walked in the middle of our line so that he could keep an eye on everyone. The path was slanting and slippery. I kept looking up every few meters to make sure everyone was safe. The deep darkness on our right blew cold mist across our vision. There was one time when my bottle slipped from its holder and rattled down the side of the path. I let out a little scream. I don’t remember who exactly went down to the outcrop where it was stuck and got it back. I was yelping at everyone to just leave it there as there was a real danger of slipping off the cliff edge. Now when I look back, I think I was a proper scaredy-cat!
As we made our way, dawn started to break and it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Dark peaks wear wearing crowns of purple, pink, and gold, that slowly grew to engulf them in a warm delicious blanket of diffused light. Compared to the previous day, I found it easier to climb. The crisp air and beautiful visuals were helping of course.
By the time we reached the pass, the sun was warm and my watch smiled at 8:30 am. Though exhausted I was thrilled that we had made it! There are few experiences in life that make you believe in the power of human resolve. For me, this was one of them.
We gave ourselves 15 minutes to celebrate our success! Hemant had brought beer cans to pop (this was only for pictures and there was a strict no-drinking code to protect us from AMS). There were whoops and pictures all around as we played like a bunch of kids.
I had a warm cup of tea to prepare me for the descent. We would make a non-stop descent into Muktinath — one of the most sacred temples in the world and also one of the highest at 12467 Feet! I was invigorated with the thought that the climbs were over and descending would obviously be easier.
To be continued…
This is how I got to 17,700 feet