On the Eve of Crossing the Thorong La Pass

December 7, 2009
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November 16th 2009: Day 11 of Circuit

The past few days have been real grim. It’s been so miserably cold for so long, I can’t even remember what it feels like to be comfortable. And with the thin air has come a persistent sharp headache. My head is dizzy, my eyes burn, and I feel like I have a bad hangover pretty much all day long. Due to the non-existence of hot water it’s been over a week since I’ve last showered. I wear all of my warmest clothes all the time–none of which has been washed in over two weeks, but that hardly seems to matter these days. Given the austerity of our situation, it feels like we’re in survival mode.

Our concrete rooms are so despicably cold, we all congregate in the dining room. If we’re lucky, the guesthouse manager will set aflame a small chunk of wood and we’ll all gather around with outstretched hands. Tonight, however, the dining room in all its fluorescent glory is just too depressing for me right now. I can’t hang out there.

So I take a walk around the village to check out the scene at the other guesthouses. Sure enough, I knew I’d found my place when I came upon a Nepali dude playing slide-guitar. I hung out to listen for a while. We got talking and before long he busted out a second guitar and we began jamming together. Quite a crowd gathered quickly– people of every country sat around with smiles observing the peculiar sight of this Nepali mountain man and an American eskimo playing Muddy Waters tunes.

Today marks the 13th day of the journey. The first half of the Circuit has your mind fixed on achieving Thorung La Pass. Few of us know what really lies ahead. At 5416m, Thorong La is the world’s highest pass. We know that it’s a challenging ascent and is fraught with risk, but few of us really know what tomorrow will be like. There is danger in the air and there’s anxiety too.

We are all here with singular purpose and the big question on everyone’s mind and lips is, “what time are you heading up tomorrow?” Some are planning on departing camp as early as 3 am. This seems insanely early to me. That will be three hours of hiking in pitch black up seriously steep, icy trails in subzero conditions. People speak of the mad winds that brew up around mid-morning, so some believe if you start early you have a better chance of avoiding the nasty weather. The guidebooks say frostbite is a serious risk if you go before 5 or 6– but again, no one really knows and we’re all just going on anxious energy.

I finished Shantaram yesterday. For the past two weeks this book has been another world that I go to. A truly amazing book, Shantaram has occupied many of my thoughts and has been a great way to pass these cold nights that seem like they’ll never end. It’s the only book I brought with me and now I’m really wishing I had another, fearing the vaccuum.

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