Matching outfits. It was inevitable.
At home in Toronto, we’re pretty good about checking we’re not leaving the house looking like we’re in the same theater group. To date, we’ve averted more than a few versions of our own acts of terror where, both arriving at the door to leave for a dinner party in blue, black or red, one of us grudgingly accepts it’s their turn to change, and runs upstairs to reassert his/her own identity to avoid showing up, smiling, wearing the same colours, like two lunatics: “Do you want some wine, Marc?”, our host would ask. “I’ll have whatever Rose has. We drink whatever the other one drinks.”, I reply smiling, with eyes a little too wide.
And, truth be told, we maintained pretty good standards while backpacking – even though we only had five different shirts to help differentiate ourselves. On the mountain, however, the higher we climbed the lower our standards fell. Until, after missing laundry for a day, in a bid to smell okay enough to invite someone into conversation, (which in and of itself is a delusion, since we had all reached a smell where I’m sure, at a distance, a blind person could easily confuse us as a mountain goat) I threw on this shirt in the photo, and didn’t care if people thought we were lunatics – because, really, we were unseasoned trekkers, never having walked up anything much higher than stairs to an airplane, and were convinced we could do this hike? The truth was: we kind of were crazy.
Leaving as twins from Manang, Rose and I soon separated, because with all of the other trekkers hanging around at Manang – there was a risk that we wouldn’t be able to find a room in the next village, Yak Kharka. So, our plan was that when we reached Yak Kharka, Rose would rest with Michaela and Shari and Thakur and I would push ahead to the next village, Ledar, which was only 150 metres higher in elevation. Not only might this improve our shot at rooms, but shave off some climbing for the following day.
Off we race walked. Thakur, the seasoned veteran, marching ahead with the lightness of a crane, sweeping his feet along the ground as if in a ballet- while I pulled up the rear huffing and smacking the ground heavily like a pregnant yak. We stopped halfway through for a quick drink of water and noticed a couple of trekkers pulling ahead, on their way to the next guesthouse. Thankfully, we got it in our sights, and tied up rooms for everyone:
We settled into a Nepalese card game called Dhumpal (DUMB-ULL) – whose rules I won’t explain, because I’ll end up sounding Dhumpal, and ate the last edible momos for a few days. After chatting a bit, Michaela said she had a bad headache – which, of course, is not a good sign. She and Shari went to bed early, hoping it would help and they wouldn’t have to turn back. Rose and I packed it in shortly after, now not matching in the slightest. Because of the cold at night, we put on all the clothes we had, including two jackets, and slept in our sleeping bags. What we did have in common was trying to will our bladders to stay in check through the night to save us from having to unwrap from our only source of heat.
I lost and was promptly molested by the cold. Rose, however, stayed snug and warm, snoring away. Whoop-dee-doo. (Yeah, I was jealous)
Day 10 – Thorung High Camp
Morning time there was good news. Michaela felt better, and would carry on – and that led to the bad news. We would be carrying on up the steepest pitch we’d faced since well before Manang. That on its own would be difficult, but it was only half the problem. The other half was that we’d be doing it 1000+ meters higher at 4300meters where the air was a lot thinner and might take a little longer.
We didn’t disappoint. Rose, feeling worn out and tired, had now instituted her own rigid methodology to ensure, in her head, that she was making progress. 10 steps. Stop. Wait. 10 steps. Stop. Wait.
I’m not sure what steps she’s on here (the one in the red), maybe 2, since she seems on a tear:
I was closer to a 20 step ratio. Also exhausted. This didn’t help our situation, since we were in a scrum of trekkers who were all competing for rooms at the top of this incline. If we didn’t speed up, we’d risk having to sleep on the ground, huddled next to each other in the overpacked lodge (probably not entirely bad for the extra body heat – but would be a pain in the ass, sorting out our gear). Thakur, seeing we were minutes away from crawling, saved the day and bounded up the pitch, trying to secure us all rooms. This may have inspired us to stay on our feet, though it didn’t get us to move any faster. Time stretched. We’d been walking straight up for an hour – and were only three quarters of the way there.
Then a beam of hope. Thakur came rushing back down the mountain to tell us he’d got us all rooms. While this could have been a motivation to spur us on – what really did it, was that Thakur insisted on taking my daypack, which probably weighed 8kilos, but at this point felt like I was carrying a car. We eventually gasped our way up to the top – stopping at various points on the walk to commiserate with other trekkers panting, communicating with them through eye contact by saying: “This is ridiculous” to which they’d reply with their eyes: “I’m going to kill someone when I have energy”.
We finally made it, the last stop before the pivotal climb the next day- Thorung High Camp:
Inside that place behind the horses was the restaurant where I snacked on a plate of boiled potatoes while listening to Thakur suggest we walk up a ridge behind this spot that reaches 5000metres. This, he reasoned, would help us acclimatize to the even higher altitude the following day. Rose laughed. She wasn’t moving. Nor was Michaela.
I still felt like I could do it. I don’t know why – well, I do know why: anxiety. I’d listened to the doctor’s explain the symptoms of altitude sickness, and paid special attention to the moment when they talked about a swollen brain, and all kinds of horrific talk about internal bleeding. The visual was enough motivation for me.
So, I climbed with Shari. And, the view was really amazing:
And, the other way: that little path in the distance is where the trek started the next day. But first, we’d have a largely sleepless night where I wasn’t sure if I’d be headed in that direction or the way we just came from.