We made it over the pass today! It feels so nice to have it done, to have accomplished it! That, and it was also the part I was least looking forward to—the cold, altitude, getting wet from snow, and just a long day to get through it. We started walking just after 5am. It was still dark out, but the snow reflected enough light from our headlamp to show us the path. Some places it seemed really narrow, and I was thankful to not be able to see how far the slope went down before leveling off. Surprisingly, it wasn’t so bad. We walked really slowly because of shortness of breath from the thin air, stopping periodically to catch our breath and once to attempt to eat a frozen snickers bar.
It was really cold. But there’s not really anything to do but keep walking and make it over the top, so that kept me going. The sun rise was delicately beautiful as it slowly lit up the vast peaks and blanketed us in warmth and light. Even with little bit of warmth from the sun, the last bit to the top was still really cold. Last night Matt and I stayed warm by sleeping in our clothes with hot water bottles by our feet (not to mention the batteries and other items of clothing we put in the bag to keep them warm for the morning). But from the time I got out of bed my toes and fingers were numb until a little while after we started the descent. The moisture in my breath froze on my scarf which I had loosely wrapped around my face, and when I sniffled I could feel a crackle from the thin layer of snot that had frozen inside my nostrils. True mountain men, the Kiwis even had snotcicles dangling off their beards, looking like something out of National Geographic.
Thankfully the snow was really dry, so I didn’t get soaked like I was afraid of. And my fingers and toes started tingling again when we started going downhill. By that point the sun was fully up and we could move faster, getting the blood flowing again. Our little group all “summitted” at about the same time (around 8am) and we congratulated each other with hugs and smiles before taking a quick group victory picture and retreating inside the shack, er teahouse, at the top to try to warm up. It was awesome to be able to look down at the other side of the mountain.
Leading up to that point all we’d been doing was looking up. The descent was much easier on our hearts and lungs, but the constant downhill was hard on my knees (they feel a little stiff now that I’ve been resting for a while). It took more concentration than I thought as some parts were quite steep. The trail was either icy, gravelly, or snowy requiring a little thought and lots of balance as I carefully placed each step. Between the concentrating, my knees, hunger, and being tired from waking up at 4am, my pace at the end of the day seemed to be the slowest it’s been all trek. Our rest stop came just in time and after peeling off my socks and shoes I bravely ordered a bean and cheese burrito for lunch, which was more like a chimichanga, but thankfully turned out to be quite tasty. Our accommodation tonight is a step above the rest, and we finally have a room with an attached bath! After my bean burrito I had my first shower in 3 days (if there was a shower at the last couple places we stayed, I didn’t see it, and it was too cold to take one anyways). It was nice and hot—one of the best I’ve had in Nepal so far. Hot showers make me miss the developed world where hot water is more consistent and rooms usually come with a private bath…one that’s separated from the rest of the bathroom by a tub or shower stall. As much as I like traveling, nothing beats the comfort of home. It would be so nice right now to put on a fresh pair of sweats and t-shirt, pour myself a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats with cold soy milk and curl up on the sofa with a blanket and a good book. But here I am in Nepal. I’ve completed the hardest part of a trek I never really thought I was capable of doing, survived giant spiders, sub-zero temperatures, getting hit by a rock…I crossed the cold Thorung-La not in hiking boots, but in my trusty Nike trail runners and made it down the other side. Now I’m sitting by a sunny window enjoying being warm without wearing a ton of clothes and this is a pretty nice feeling too.
Today was a really long day. We woke up at 4am, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds- I think it was colder in Letdar. We ate a quick breakfast, geared up (put on every single piece of clothing we brought), and were walking by 5am. After a minute our two, I couldn’t feel my feet under several layers of socks or my fingers balled up in my gloves. The first hour was in the dark, which was probably good considering the path looked pretty sketch in some parts- all snow, narrow paths, steep dropoffs to the rightside. Luckily between the five of us, Binod and Joylani’s headlamps provided enough light. Looking above us, I could see the LED-glow of several groups that left before us, making their way towards the pass. They just looked liked bluish dots on the mountain. The best thing about the dark, was seeing the stars. The stars were so bright that despite it being a moonless night, I could see the snowy peaks all around us. It was the most stars I have ever seen in my entire life and definitely the brightest too. I never even realized a night’s sky could look like that. It was really stunning to learn something everyone grows up with their entire lives could be so new and intriguing.
After and hour, there was a stone hut selling tea. We stopped for a few minutes to warm our hand on hot cups of tea and (as Joylani mentioned) marvel at how our breathe had turned our scarves to ice. We set back out into the cold, still not able to feel our toes or fingers. The next two ours were entirely up. They weren’t incredibly steep, but they were a constant up. And our walking was incredibly slow. We only took half-steps the entire way up, but were still panting as if we had just run miles. Even taking baby steps and resting every minute or two was difficult. My legs felt okay, but I just couldn’t get enough air. Besides the short pause every few steps to catch my breath, I had to stop a few times for a minute or two. It was an extremely difficult and slow three hours. All I could see was snow, sky, and few other people. My camera wasn’t working as the batteries were too cold, but I wouldn’t have taken many photos anyways as my fingers didn’t work too well. Luckily Joylani’s camera was working okay, which I got a few good simple shots with. At the top, we took a couple photos, had a cup of tea, and started down. I still couldn’t feel my extremities, but at least I could breathe. Going down was so easy in that sense. On the other hand, it was really steep and hard on the knees. IT was another three and a half hours of really steep down, before we made it Muktinath. A long day and a hard day, but we did it.