Monday, October 29, 2007

Trekking a la Tea House

"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.
I stared at the face of Annapurna I in awe, trying to comprehend how the peak that looked close enough to touch was in reality 4 kms above me. 4000 vertical metres of solid rock. 4 kms and a 50% chance of dying. I searched the SW face for what seemed like ages, looking for a route up the near-vertical wall of exposed stone and ice, struggling to understand how a man could look at this same view and see a challenge instead of death. Anatoli Boukreev and a teammate died right in front of me, exactly where I was now looking, swept to their deaths by an ice avalanche cascading down the scoured rock. Somewhere below me, in the jumbled, groaning river of ice their bodies were being slowly ground back into the earth from which they came. OF COURSE they died - how could they not?

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.


Paul Sawtell said...

Glad to hear that you guys are enjoying Nepal. It was the highlight of our trip after 7 months through Asia. After 4 of the worst travel days in our lives, we left Delhi, had our 12 hour train turn to 22, boarded an overnight suicide express to Pokhara only to have the clouds part and the angels sing when we arrived.

Enjoy the rest of your trip. We are going to your brother's place in a week to catch up. Perhaps we will meet you guys on your way back through Toronto.

Take care and enjoy Everest if you decide to go. I say do it.


Anonymous said...

Sounds wonderful and Steve, I'll give up sending e-mails extolling the wonders of Jaipur and Udipur and all of Rajastan and Arangabad and Kovalum and .....You are true trekkers and I have to say, it sounds terrific (puff, puff). Have fun, be happy and see you back here with stories and pictures.