This morning bed tea was delayed until 6:30 am to give all of us, crew, guides, and clients extra rest. As usual I was awake at 5 am. It was light and I was ready to play.
We started the day with a visit to a 700 year old village monastery with only one small meditation room, men only. The vibration was old, deep and sweet. We just wanted to sit for hours and soak it in, but being on a remote, long distance trek allows for little flexibility. Even the camping spot is set months ahead, each one dependent on the previous day throughout the trek.
We did spend an hour with a monk going through the Monastery’s treasures, from ancient sky metal (meteorite) magical swords to a human hand, complete with a gold ring and wrist bones sticking through very old, dark brown skin. The story is that the hand’s removal from the living person some 500 years ago, was punishment handed down from the Gods for some nasty deed.
Hiking again, our trail climbed for 1 ½ hours to a 12,800′ pass. Not a bad uphill, though I panted the entire time. The body is always hungry for more oxygen at these altitudes. We were blown through the pass by howling winds which we’d battled constantly all morning.
Lunch was in a village almost entirely constructed of 12”-18” diameter round stones. Beautiful, light yellow walls defined all properties and were dry-laid or mud mortared. Our kitchen crew, as usual, passed us on the trial, having cleaned up breakfast and run ahead to cook our lunch of four hot dishes and a salad as well as their own lunch of local dishes.
The days highlight was the final pass of 13,700′. It was a hard, two hour uphill climb on loose rock and dust, never flattening for a minute’s respite. It was relentlessly painful. I measured each step to balance the strain on heart, lungs, and muscles, but always pushing the edge of their performance. The wind was a non-stop 50-60 mph, often at our backs, but switching directions suddenly and often. With every step I was accompanied by three rotating thoughts. The first was the Buddhist chant, “Om Mani Padme Om.” The second was, “I have no choice, I must go on.” The third, “There has to be a pass somewhere,” I never really questioned being on the trek. The choice to come was one of my best choices ever. I worried when my heart was racing, madly pumping oxygen throughout my body, I couldn’t gasp enough of that all-too-thin air, or my legs got wobbly from fear or tiredness. Every step was one of either safe or a misstep, possibly resulting in injury or worse. To look up, one had to stop. Much of the time you couldn’t walk safely and even glance at the scenery.
The wind picked up another 20-30 mph. Sand and dust pelted us constantly. Much of the last hundred yards before the pass we had to hold on to each other to keep from being blown too far off the trail. Life was about staying on our feet and praying to find shelter soon. Small pebbles were now picked up with the sand and dust as we were beaten from behind. Still locked together, arm in arm, we went through the narrow pass, barely able to see path. Once through the pass, the wind was suddenly straight into our faces, rushing up toward the pass from the other side. By then we were headed downhill, half running, half walking, toward home-for-the-night, with only an hour to go, if we were lucky. Starting at lunch, we were keeping an eye on a storm that was following and steadily gaining on us. Not wanting to feel like wet dogs tonight and tomorrow, the impending storm’s driving rain and cold winds were enough to make us run downhill the last hour to the warmth and protection of camp.