Annapurna Circuit, Part 3

April 25: Ian’s knee was feeling slightly better so we decided to move on to the next village, Yak Kharka (alternatively called Yak Crack or Yak Carcass). Hugo and Roberto had decided to go up to Tilicho Lake (supposedly the highest lake in the world) so they would be a day behind us at the pass. I didn’t cry when they left, as Roberto and I were barely speaking to each other by that time. Up to that point I hadn’t been sure how long I would continue with Ian, Robert and Indra, as I didn’t want to impose and I knew they were nice enough guys that they would never tell me to take a hike. But that day began the incessant giggling that would characterize the rest of the trip; it convinced me I was welcome to go over the Thorong La pass with them.

We had gone to a seminar on altitude sickness put on by the mountain rescue and Robert started to get worried about his breathing. Although Ian and I were sympathetic and watched him closely, we also thought it was hilarious that it was the Eastern European giant who was most affected. Leaving Manang Robert found a man who was willing to carry his pack to the top of the pass; none of us could remember his name so between us we called him what it most resembled: gangsta.

It was a short day as we didn’t want to gain too much altitude too quickly. That afternoon we took a walk to get another couple of hundred meters under our belts, then went back to sleep lower. We had all started on a regimen of Diamox, the medication that supposedly helps you acclimatize; what Diamox also does is make you pee ridiculously often and gives you on and off feelings of tingling all over your body.

April 26: Up to Thorong Phedi, the last camp before the pass. Robert had a headache and was having a lot of trouble breathing, so we weren’t sure whether we would attempt it the next morning. Wait and see. I felt great, though I was very sick of peeing.

April 27: Up at 3:45. Robert felt fine so it was a go. We were all in great moods, dancing around singing the Hot Chocolate classic ‘You Sexy Thing’ at the tops of our voices and generally annoying the other trekkers. We headed out at quarter to five, using our headlamps for the first twenty minutes until the sun began to come up, jagged cliffs dark against the clear lightening sky. After the first, steepest, part climbed in the dark, we kept going up through rust oxide sliding plates to dazzling white snow.
We reached the pass at 8:45. It was crazy cold at 5400 meters, but I felt thrilled to be there. There was a man in a little hut serving tea; I bought a handful of snickers bars which ended up coming in handy when lunch did not appear for five more hours. Continuing the feeling from the previous few nights there was a very fraternal feeling among the trekkers at the top. We all took the same obligatory photo with the sign saying it was the highest trekking pass in the world.

Going down the other side of the pass seemed in some ways harder. Ian’s knee bothered him much more going downhill than up, so we were slow. I got cranky because I was very hungry, but when Ian said the rest of us should go on ahead of him I was quickly ashamed. We came into Muktinath at around three and were instantly disappointed: there was a jeepable road all the way from Pokhara so the silence was disturbed by motorcycles and people hawking things. It felt like we had come from a Tibetan paradise back into the Indian hinterland. We had our first beers of the trip that night (having been in training for the pass for the previous two weeks) and quickly became, er, a bit silly.

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