The day starts at 4:15 a.m. Inside our room we still have temperatures (slightly) above 0°C. Opening the door, we stand in glistening snow and the water ton outside has turned into a giant ice cube.
After breakfast, we start slowly (“bistare, bistare”) on the steep, snowy path uphill. Ignoring the head lamps of my hiking companions, I soak in the atmosphere of white landscape, shimmering stars above and first rays of sunrise on the peaks. My camera decided to be out of order, so I am forced to enjoy more and photograph less.
I am hilariously happy to be here. To make it through the snow, follow our guide and set one foot after the other on our way to the pass. The thunderstorms of the recent night have left us with 50cm fresh snow, presenting so much of a high alpine scenery that it would suite even the Himalaya. Oh yes, in fact it is the Himalaya…!
The preparation of almost a year culminates into the trek of the day. Good mood and maximum strength are with me for the first hours. I am full of energy, make jokes and enjoy the hike like best holiday practice. We pass by the Thorong La High Camp, stop every so often for a sip of water from our bottles and continue our way up.
It is somewhere around 5.200m altitude when the strangest sensation hits me: Like walking through a curtain, my world (or myself) instantly changes: Within a second, I feel sick. I have a headache. I cannot keep up the group’s paste and need a halt every 10 steps.
Breathing feels normal while suddenly it is incredibly exertive to walk. Fortunately, the path is not very steep anymore, and I hear that “only 150m up” are in front of us until we are expected to reach the pass. At least that is what our guide claims…
Typical height symptoms, even the light version, indicate a recommended change of direction: down would be best now. I am more than willing to go down, right after the pass – sure enough, I will NOT turn back before! Hence, I clench my teeth and go on.
I think of absent friends and mentally borrow their forces: Visualizing the swimmer – huge and full of strength –, I borrow his muscles and gain some more metres. The dancer with the massive thighs: I make them mine for the time being and get somewhat further. The Northern guy from the sea, always so optimistic – I take over his optimism and continue my way. The bartender with his nonchalance – adopting it, I ignore any indisposition. And so it goes. All brightened up by the picture I had in mind throughout the entire trek, figuring Sabine and me on top of the pass.
Another girl of our group fights the same symptoms (started around the same height) and, conjoined in exertion, we struggle on and on. Even though it seems endless, about an hour after the start of the hardest part, we finally make it.
Welcome to the Thorong La Pass!
Sabine welcomes me and fortunately has no problem at all. She even jumps up and down for pictures and is all in a good mood. I find a low wall that I can lean upon for a minute and just hope that we will descend soon. I can’t remember having ever felt so exhausted in life – not even back in my triathlon era. Holy Moly, this is something!
At least, I am still standing.
I am here on 5.416m.
I have no severe problem and when a camera is looking my way, I am able to stand straight and even smile.
Having started at 5:00h a.m., it took us 1.000 altitude metres to get here. At this point, 1.700 m lay down at our feet. With the snow and aslope ways, it will take us hours and hours until we even reach our destination for late lunch.
Making a long story short, every metre of the -1.700 altitude difference is annoying and exhausting – no wonder after eight hours en route without restoring breaks or eating or other shallow needs. Eventually we reach Muktinath in the afternoon, a place of pilgrimage for Hindus with great significance in the South Asian subcontinent. The Hindu temple comes along with a small town and the “Hotel Grand” for tired tourists. Right after a short nap, I am fully restored for lovely dinner (Yak steak! Beer!) and for the acknowledgement of our success: We made it!
I would have preferred to pass the pass with no difficulty at all. Yet, struggling hard for a goal and finally succeeding has its own, delicate quality – it will take some time until I might be confronted with anything harder.
Whatever problem may occur in everyday life, it will hardly keep up with this particular personal experience.
Wanna annoy me? Nice try, but I have been on 5.416m and even the Yeti has been scared!