“About 10 days to get used to the trail”, Thakur tells us over breakfast. Feeling a muscle pulsing just to the right of my kneecap, something I’ve never felt before, I suggest a lower number, as a bid to make myself feel better: “Maybe three days?”, I say mock confidently. Thakur laughs, and in his straight to the jugular fashion replies: “10 days”.
I was hoping for a better compromise. Today we’re ascending 1000 meters (3,200 feet) to finish at 2,750 meters in the village of Timang. The definition of high altitude differs. Some consider it above 3,000 meters, others 3,500 meters, while still others say it can start as early as 2,400 metres.
For us this means, according to one group, we’ll pass the threshold of easy-going, little consequence hiking into the possibility of getting sick.
Of course, this is only a possibility. It can be hard to predict who might suffer from altitude sickness, though there are some tests, like an oxygen saturation monitor that measures how much oxygen your body is absorbing (a test we’d take in Manang coming up) – but otherwise, you are on your own – no amount of general fitness is a proven safeguard.
I think about this, as I’m puffing away, climbing one stair after another through a forest, and then look down at the village of Tal, where we came from that morning (the image above) – and realize, had I really let this sink in beforehand, that all bodies are equal (minus a smoker’s habit), I would have ordered pancakes for breakfasts.
As it stands, if we had any fitness to show off, right now it’s in hiding. We’re moving in slow motion repeating the following manoeuvres: walking stick down, leg up, foot down, 2nd leg up, 2nd foot down – STOP – wipe sweat of face. START all over again.
The rate of evolution is a runaway train in comparison to us. We’re moving about as quickly as a sleeping mime.
Eventually we crack the stairs, and find a plateau for a rest. Gazing upwards we see we’re headed towards a zig-zagging route through more forest. Getting on with it, we reach the top to see Timang lying just ahead of us, now level with cloud cover swirling around us as Makala and Saree inch up hill: Also hundreds of black mountain crows fly overhead, between the clouds that are now dropping bits of rain. It feels like Halloween as the mist passes in front of us, and we listen to crows cawing above. As a diversion to the Edgar Allen Poe setting, I spotted a familiar looking plant off to our right: At that second, a hiker pulled up beside me, who struck me as a weed aficionado – and I pointed out the find. “It’s amazing”, he laughs. “We’ve already got a stash we’ve dried out and have been enjoying along the way”. He points out his travelling crew behind him, all big smiles with barely open eyes.
Rose, Makala, Saree, another guy we met en route – Til – and myself, chatted with them all inside our guesthouse. Altitude sickness was a footnote: they were worried where they’d find the next batch.
We listened to their stories about the weed they’d picked off the trail, smoked along the way, and how their goal was to smoke a bowl at the top of Thorong La pass, the highest point on the journey. “You should get in touch with High Times magazine.”, I suggested. “Call the article, “Higher Ground”. They laughed, and thought it was a great idea – though I’m pretty sure they didn’t take it up.
I thought they were hilarious, especially after the early morning, sobering news about altitude sickness – it was nice to hear a different approach. As they left into the rain, still with 3.5hrs walking ahead of them, our group labelled them “The Dudes”.
We’d run into them again on the trail, and they’d remain a constant source of hope and storytelling between us: ex “Do ya think they made it up there?”.
However, that day, we were far less ambitious than them, and called it a night at some ridiculous early hour: 730, I think, which would become the norm for bedtime. Of course, this also meant we’d invariably be up at dawn. On this particular morning, the clouds had pushed off, leaving views of what we couldn’t see the night before: And a little further to the right, the big highlight: Next stop, a walk to Chame for a day’s rest. Talk soon