Tag Archives: trek
November 26, 2013

Ascent through Darkness

Can your lungs catch frostbite? That was the question on my mind at 4:30am as Colleen, I and our Sherpa porter, Mingmar, made our ascent in the dark towards Thorong La pass. The air was very cold, well below freezing. This much was evident from my final visit to the outhouse at Thorong Phedi. The area around the squat toilet was slick from all the urine that had missed its mark, freezing and forming a dangerous ice rink that you did NOT want to slip on for at the center of its vortex was a hole full of poop.

Friends gathering before the ascent

Toby, Eva, Colleen, Mustafa, Caroline and Olga arriving at Tharong Phedi the day before

But freezing air is not so scary. It’s the combination of being above 5,000 meters where the oxygen is thin, and ascending a very steep slope where your legs beg for oxygen, that causes you to pant as if you were hyperventilating. Now combine that with freezing air and it feels like someone emptied a bag of ice into your chest. I imagined the alvioli in my lungs freezing and shattering into sharp, tiny ice fragments that punctured my lungs from the inside as they fell. I expected droplets of blood to spurt out with my breathing.

As it was, something else was sputtering forth with my breathing. My nose was freely running down my face, my frozen face bereft of any feeling, and forming a puddle between my neckwarmer and my inner jacket. I only realized this after we finished our ascent to high camp an hour later and stopped for tea and a brief rest. Yuck!

We had another tormentor that night, one especially suited to the dark, a black horse. It belonged to one if those entrepreneurs who on tough climbs coaxes you to throw in the towel, embrace failure and use one of his animals to reach the top in comfort. He and I had spoken earlier. I had said no. As we climbed a particularly vertical section to where he was sitting with two of his horses, he watched us like a vulture, the beam from his headlamp tracking us all the way, judging us as we navigated switchbacks in the dark, making us question our own mettle. Now one of his black horses had moved further up the mountain on his own, and was blocking our path up the trail. Every time we shooed him away, he blocked us again only a few meters further, and as he was hard to see in the darkness, I was afraid he’d kick or side swipe us off the mountain if we got too close without seeing him. Eventually our porter Mingmar swung a rock at his rear end and he finally left us alone, but he didn’t forget. When we later passed by him in early daylight near high camp, his ears folded back, a tell-tale of aggression in horses.

A dead horse after the ascent

Up here, a fall can be fatal, and that holds true even for the typically sure-footed

But by then we were in better spirits, having had hot tea and finally being able to see without our headlamps. The sun had ascended to where the tallest peaks on the other side of the valley were illuminated. The light from these allowed us to see that we were now passing by frozen waterfalls, a series of large white icicles, sometimes less than a dozen feet tall, other times close to fifty feet tall, but always perfectly still, not even a trickle escaping their bony fingertips.

Colleen has finished the ascent

Colleen on the rooftop of the world

Luckily the ascent to Tharong La was uphill almost the entire way. We only lost elevation at two points, one right after high camp, and the other right before the pass. We arrived at the pass shortly after 9:00am, a good time because the pass gets very windy closer to noon. After high fiving and snapping a few photos, we took a tea break to reward ourselves. At 17,769 feet, we were higher than Everest base camp, or any base camp for that matter. I tried to eat one of our Snickers bars but it was as hard as a block of wood. I had to dunk it for 20 seconds in my piping hot cup of tea just to be able to bite through it. During the pit stop, Colleen switched the lacing on her shoes to a special downhill configuration that is supposed to keep your feet from sliding forward in the shoe.

The ascent is complete.

Success!

After that, we started the mile plus descent. This was Colleen’s least favorite part as she is better at climbing, whereas I’m better at descending. The journey down was brutal on the knees and Colleen’s feet collected more and more blisters by the hour. When we finally reached our destination of Muktinath at 3:00pm, 10.5 hours after setting out from Tharong Phedi, Colleen took off her socks to survey the damage. In addition to the blisters, several toes on both feet were blue under the toenails from bruising caused by the steep downhill. Maybe the downhill lacing helped, but the hiking shoes she picked up in Kathmandu were just too crappy in the end. My feet, on the other hand, while still definitely tired, were otherwise in decent shape, just a little peeled skin behind the heels, that’s all. The second hand Meindls I bought in North Pakistan for $19 served me well in both the Karakoram and the Himalayas, the two highest mountain ranges in the world. On top of that, I was able to get back most of what I paid for them when I sold them to a trekking store in Kathmandu on our way out of Nepal. In order to give Colleen’s feet some rest, we decided to break from our plan and added an unscheduled rest day in Muktinath. I used this day to chill with some Buddhist nuns and Hindu Sadhus at Muktinath temple, a complex consisting of three Hindu and Buddhist shrines.

After the ascent and descent, at Muktinath Temple

Nunnery at Muktinath Temple

November 22, 2013

Our Terrifying Yeti (Abominable Snowman) Encounter!

The Yeti or the Abominable Snowman is one of the most famous creatures of cryptozoology, kind of like the Bigfoot of Asia. It is said to inhabit the high Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet, but just like with Bigfoot, most people remain unconvinced of its existence, regarding Yeti stories as simple-minded folklore. A near death encounter with one of these monsters, and a hastily snapped photo of it glaring at us, has led us to conclude otherwise. I imagine this will shake the scientific community to its core!

A photo of us from 10 minutes before the harrowing encounter, back when we were happy campers

A photo of us from 10 minutes before the harrowing encounter, back when we were happy campers

It was day three of our trek of Nepal’s famous Annapurna Circuit. After an hour’s hike out of Pisang and within a hundred meters of the hilltop of Ghyaru (12,100 ft), it happened.

I glanced to my left and was about to turn back when I did a double take. standing fewer than 40 feet away, slightly downhill, and framed in the grandeur of Annapurna 2 (16th tallest mountain in the world at 26,040 ft) was the most fearsome creature I had ever laid eyes on. It stood on two legs like a human and was hunched behind tall grass. I estimated it would be 10-11 feet tall standing fully upright. On its crown it had two thick, curved horns, each about two feet in length. Its finger-length fur was a kind of light brown where it’s hard to know if it was not actually a dirty white. From its massive shoulders I could tell that this predator had the strength to tear a man limb from limb. So far so good. Here’s where it gets weird.

The monster exuded an aura of intense sexuality, and when I saw him cast a lusty gaze towards an unsuspecting Colleen, my instinctive reaction was to step in the way to protect her. But I was so taken aback by the powerful magnetic field of randiness emanating from the beast that I stopped. What if the Yeti swung both ways? Just the thought made me shudder!

After staring down each other for a few seconds, his eyes narrowed on Colleen. He hunched over on all fours, the muscles on his back rippling in preparation for a launch in our direction. I raised my trekking pole for battle – if I was going to die today, I was at the very least taking out one of his eyes with me.  Luckily for us, and not a moment too soon, a herd of two dozen yaks came charging down the path we were on, followed by two shepherds. The beast and I simultaneously looked in their direction and then simultaneously resumed eye contact. Reclusive by nature, he had made up his mind. This hunt would have to be abandoned, or at the very least postponed. He turned ninety degrees to our right and took off with the explosive acceleration of a springbok, effortlessly bounding over boulders and bushes until he was gone, but by then I had been able to snap this picture!

The magnificent beast! (framed in the grandeur of Annapurna II)

The magnificent beast! (framed in the grandeur of Annapurna II)

Here it is! Conclusive proof that the Yeti is real! This will off course not settle the debate on whether it is a ferocious monster or a gentle giant, but one thing is clear – a more handsome creature does not exist on God’s green earth!

Expressing gratitude for making it out alive at stupa in Ghyaru

Expressing gratitude for making it out alive at stupa in Ghyaru