"The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambitions to achieve. They are my cathedrals, the houses of my religion. Their presence is grand and pure. I go to them as all humans go to worship. I attempt to understand my life, to purify myself of earthly vanity, greed and fear. On their altar I strive to perfect myself physically and spiritually. From their vantage point, I view my past, dream of the future, and with unusual acuteness experience the present. My ascents renew my strength and clear my vision. They are how I practice my religion. In the mountains I celebrate creation; on each journey I am reborn."
~Anatoli Boukreev, accomplished mountaineer who died on the SW face of Annapurna I.
29 October, 2007:
Yesterday I watched the mountains. I climbed up a ridge and sat, alone, as the clouds eased like silent ghosts up-valley, following the deep cut carved by the glacier spilling down the mountainside. Up, up, they rose, over the moraine, over the ridge, up to the peaks. Wave after wave would envelop me, then pass, and through the gaps the mountains would once again appear, immense and imposing, white and grey sentinels standing guard above the sanctuary.
We just got back from 17 days of trekking around the Annapurna massif, in central Nepal. It's a massive massif, a hulk of rock, hulks of mountains, soaring to more than 8000 metres. They're stunning. The country of Nepal slopes gradually upwards from the plains of India, a cantilevered kingdom slowly transforming from lush, verdant jungles to the towering, snowbound peaks of the high Himalaya. You can see the tallest mountains from India, white giants floating above a hazy fog of oppresive humidity: Dhauligiri, Annapurna, Macchupucchre, Manaslu. From Pokhara, the trailhead tourist town where treks start and end, the skyline is impossible. Or at least, it is in all the pictures. We spent 5 days here before our trek, trying to recover from a nasty virus we picked up near the Indian border, and not once did we get a glimpse of the surreal world above us. Instead, we watched the clouds build every day, then ran for cover when they opened each afternoon and rinsed the town clean. Wasn't the monsoon supposed to end in September? Regardless, we set off on our trek once we felt strong, expecting soggy slogs through leech-infested forests. We were wrongIt was amazing! It was unbelievable! The views were mind boggling! My eyes were sore every night from trying to look at everything, all the time, all at once! It was very, very good.
For 17 days we walked through a wonderland of huge snowcapped mountains rising to the sky above us. We slept in soft, warm beds at night. We ate hot, home-cooked meals in cozy lodges. We gave each other daily massages to soothe our aching necks from the constant craning. We met interesting people from around the world, and shared unforgettable vistas with new friends. One morning we awoke to a coat of fresh snow covering the entire valley; winter's pristine blanket obscuring the other seasons. This was not our normal trekking style, but the light packs, comfortable tea houses and social interactions brought a whole new perspective to to walking all day in the mountains. I won't say it's better than backpacking through the wilderness, but I will say it's pretty damn nice.
We arrived back in town last night, excited to rest our feet, eager to indulge in a new menu, but sad to know that the mountains were behind us - perhaps until Alaska? Or perhaps not. We met a man at breakfast this morning, who told us about some trekking peaks he'd climbed near Everest. We've still got 6 weeks, and besides, the beach is overrated, right? Abby's never seen Everest, and I would certainly have no objections to a return visit...
We have some decisions to make.