Everyday we were hammered by the unrelenting afternoon winds that tore through the valleys and up through the passes, gaining strength the higher we climbed. The ragged 40 mph winds pushed us roughly from behind the first few days with blasts up to 70 mph. They pushed, but with an uneven hand, throwing us off the narrow trails every dozen yards. Picked up by the wicked winds, the sand and dust were joined by small stones as we neared the tops of many passes. More than once we had to hold onto each other to keep moving up the scree covered trail to the pass.
When it felt like I couldn’t take another step I wondered what would happen if I just stopped and curled up in a ball. With lungs near bursting, legs shaking and heart racing, I entertained the unthinkable. I knew there was no option but to take the next step, and the next and the next, but as we climbed a steep rocky incline nearing 14,000′, all I could say or do was, “Just keep moving!”
I thought, “This pain can’t last forever,” but forever came and went and I was in a twilight zone. There was no stopping, no rest. A gust of wind threw me off the trail and brought me to my knees. Mahesh grabbed my arm and we trudged upward with no pass in sight, only billowing dust and the trail. My survival mind reminded me,“Don’t look up. Walk!” The world was reduced to a circle of vision of loose rock perhaps three feet in diameter. Only twice on the trek I wondered about my ability to go. Both happened this day climbing up two back to back passes. Both times Mahesh’s strong grip gave me the steady assurance I needed, for it was only assurance. No one could take that next step for me.
On the leeward side of those passes, there was always a place to hide from the mad gusts of wind. I would cough and cough, rest a few minutes, and be ready to charge downhill, still watching every step for the stone that would twist my ankle or send me sliding off the edge to an early death. We were ALIVE! Adrenalin coursing through our bodies, we laughed at the pain and spread our wings as we ran down the mountain, only to climb again.