Conversations with a mountain
One foot in front of the other, and breathe. That, is all the body can muster at nearly 18000ft. And after the feasting senses have gorged and began to burst at the seams, they too become numb. What remains, is the mantra, one foot in front of the other, and breathe.
The air is cold, and scant, but its noticeably fresh, with all the heaviness taken out of it. The lungs struggle with inhalation, taking in what it can to meet the desperate demands of slow-trundling feet. The struggle to breathe is evident in uncontrollable panting, which cools into a mist before the eyes. I hear myself, but I cannot help the exhaustive groans coming out of me.
This was the I-don’t-care-how-I-look, the I-don’t-give-a-rat’s-about-showing-the-pain-on-my-face phase. That moment, when all sense of self is abandoned, and self-importance gives way under the sheer weight of the task at hand.
There will not be a quick snap for Instagram – this instant will not be filtered through ‘the look how much fun I have in my life’ lens.
And though in this very moment, I might actually be doing so, the last thing on my mind is #livingmybestlife. The future exists no longer, and the past is forgotten amidst weakening strides.
And then the mountain spoke.
“If you have come in search of accolades, you are mistaken.”
“If you have come in the name of conquest, you are also mistaken.”
“So, what for, my booted friend? Why have you come?”
“Why have you suffered thin air, risked landslide and icy ledges?”
“Have you come for my wisdom?”
“Do you think me wise?“
The time of day is vague, but I know it’s some hours past the break of dawn. We set off in darkness, guided by a stream of head torches which bobbed in the night.
Thorong La pass, close to 18000ft above sea level, and tucked away in the Nepali Himalaya. Majestic mountains surround me on all sides, magnificent – royalty in stone. They stand in snowy regalia, revealed by the morning light as it slowly gives way to the coming of noon. Harsh December winds lash at the surrounding peaks, and howl its way across the narrow pass, taking with it snowflakes.
Gone are the turquoise rivers, which tumbled like jewels across the hillsides. Gone are the alpine trees and suspension bridges, which led the way into the quaint villages of Chame and Upper Pisang. Gone are the smiling mountain faces, who tolerated camera after camera pointed at them by this tourist train. There now remain only snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures.
I came on a whim – a drunken conversation with a friend. But in my state of exhaustion, having under estimated the task, some dormant ears within me are set free. A chance to listen, to meditate.
“If that time would wait for wisdom”, the mountain said.
“There would be no need for suffering” I responded, with heavy lids, as I began to fade into sleep.
Just at that moment, another voice calls out to me. Loud, alive and with zest. Its Jagan, my friend and mountain guide. He skips over with nimble feet like some enchanted Elf who has been raised by the mountain. A smile beamed on his face, as if the last 12 days of sheer agony hadn’t happened to him.
“You made it my friend! you are on the world’s highest mountain pass.”
“But my friend, I think the altitude is affecting you, so jam jam, let’s make it to Muktinath for rest. “And after rest, we celebrate, don’t forget its Christmas!”
The rest of my troop, who have been there all along, but lost to my sight, begin to slowly appear. Prayer flags around their necks like medals, some of them in tears, proud of what we have achieved. We head down the mountain pass to Muktinath for a well-earned Christmas meal.
Day 12 of 18 Annapurna circuit trek.
BIO: Kevin Koranteng Cheeseman is the author of two #1 Amazon best sellers. Monsoon Diaries, An African in India, and The Pocket Book of Little Big Things. You can read about the adventures of this young African as he traversed the Indian continent at: www.kevinkcheeseman.com/books. 30% of proceeds form his books funds The Pack Pack Society to encourage backpacking in communities underrepresented on the road.
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