Based on yesterday’s previews, I think today was understated on the side of the tourist company and subsequently on the side of the leaders. However, I cannot stress enough that this is not in anyway their fault as they were working on the information provided by the guides and the tourist company.
Today was a day of trials, tears, occasional tirades and much stress. So, now I’ve set the mood, let’s go backwards.
After dinner last night, we were advised by our lead guide that the sunrise over the mountaintop would be very impressive the following morning. He was correct. Having woken up at 5:30 to catch the sun hit the Himalayas for the first time of the day, the scenery was spectacular and I was able to capture it in my photos. It was and I think still is, the highlight of the trip so far.
Then, the usual routine of packing, eating, bottle filling began before setting off.. And who knew that walking could pose such technical challenges?
As we descended into the valley, snow had completely covered the track and only footprints in the snow guided us westward. Such was the steepness of the paths, combined with the potentially dangerous mix of black ice, hail stones and snow, this led to much care and attention to our strides.
Put simply, when walking downhill on snow we would have to kick our feet into the ground to create footholds for our feet to be supported and not slide down into the abyss. This process was both tiring and slow, and made our journey a far longer one than any one could’ve imagined. The tourist information did not account for such unusual amounts of snow. In fact, in Nepal, April is usually one of the hottest months of the year and one of the leaders, JK, on a previous trip to Nepal, only saw one spot of snow when trekking this part of the route. We were therefore the victims of freakish weather and found ourselves far beyond anything we could’ve ever imagined in planning such a trip.
The morning was made more challenging further when another leader, Lucy tripped and landed on her back, bruising several muscles and putting her in immense pain. Credit to her and the other adult leaders around her who helped her to reach the lunch stop and then supported her throughout the afternoon and helped her reach the tea house tonight. Already struggling with the flu, Lucy’s rugged determination and perseverance best demonstrates the attitude that every individual in both Intrepid and Drake should aspire towards. Her courage remains admirable and hopefully she can sleep relatively pain-free tonight ahead of a big day tomorrow.
Anyway, after lunch, the snow sectors worsened as they began to cover rock falls in the open. This meant we soon found ourselves crossing these ‘gulleys’ in the elements where thawing rivers were flowing underneath us and avalanches had formed over the paths. We were frequently warned to not be blasé about such crossings considering the potentially lethal implications of any mistakes. Indeed most of us found ourselves slipping at some stage and many of us even fell altogether and were fortunate to not find ourselves sliding away from the group. Whilst ‘blasé’ was ringing around in our ears throughout the afternoon, the fact that no one was seriously injured, and that we are all safe and sound justifies such repetitive rhetoric. Monsieur Baynes therefore deserves credit for such care and interest in everyone’s welfare. Even if it meant that I got a rollicking on one such occasion.
In our minds, I feel as though we all have different understandings on how ‘undulating’ is defined. As such, many people expecting a flat route with perhaps an occasional rise were horribly disappointed and those expecting consistent ascents and descents were demoralised by the scale of such altitude changes. When we were told that the net gain in height would be only 100m, I think in hindsight that gave us the wrong mindset. Mind you, I should state that this wasn’t helped by the guide’s turn of phrase, for future reference, ‘around the corner’ means ‘about an hour away’, ‘Nepali flat’ means constantly undulating through ridges and valleys, and being given several packets of biscuits is code for trying to hide the fact that the finish is further away than thought. It’s irritating, but when you’re stuffing your face with several Nepali coconut biscuits, the irritation subsided quite quickly.
As I write this looking at other faces in the cramped but boiling tea house, I see, if I may quote William Blake, ‘marks of weakness, marks of woe’ in everyone. – myself included.
If not physically, then this has been the most mentally taxing day of hiking. This is for both it’s duration (nearly 10 hours over 3000m), and it’s stiff mental requirements and concentration through all the snowy passes
Whilst we are all tired and at 8:30pm, many of us are planning to go to bed, today for all its challenges, has also been utterly amazing. We have experienced environments and conditions we will never experience again and will look back on this day in years to come as the day where despite all the conditions and forces of nature against us, we came through. We just challenged ourselves in another unique environment. Unique say, to the footpaths of Cannock Chase, the streets of Paris, or in months to come, the fields of Virginia for the World Scout Jamboree. Tomorrow is set to see a net incline of 1000m to Gosainkunda, the day where altitude sickness is most common, the weather most unpredictable and any other unexpected thing might spring from these famous mountains in an attempt to derail us.
But as I think of what today has thrown up and how we have brushed today past us, I’m not worried. We are capable of achieving whatever we put our mind to and I’m confident that come tomorrow evening I’m writing this a happy man having reached Gosainkunda and stared into the lake’s spiritual beauty for personal strength. Because, we are not invincible, and far from infallible. But our greatest glory lies not in never having fallen but in rising when we fall, and tomorrow we will rise higher than we have ever risen before.