By now, our ninth day walking the Annapurna Circuit, my apprehension and fear of altitude sickness was threatening to overcome the sheer joy I should have been feeling. I woke up, took a peak outside and saw bright, clear blue skies. I should have been ecstatic: not a cloud in the sky, surrounded by big, beautiful peaks and nothing to do but walk. Heaven, right? There seemed to be a dark, ominous cloud looming overhead, knowing that tomorrow would be the day we attempted to cross the pass.
These were the two days it was all about. We knew the stories. Too cold to sleep. Too high to eat. Air too thin to breathe. Death was knocking at the door. In twenty-four hours, we would (hopefully) be across the pass, on cloud nine, feeling supremely accomplished. Or we would be in serious trouble.
Today would be tough. Tomorrow would be tougher.
We started out early, 6:30 am to avoid our troubles finding a room the previous night. No, the distance wasn’t long, but we needed to move much more slowly, one cautious step at a time. We were to gain 300 meters and spend the night attempting to recharge at 4,540 meters.
We had been debating the issue of whether or not to stay at High Camp, 300 meters higher than the bigger and more comfortable Thorung Phedi. We had decided to be safe and stay at the lower of the two.
We began our relatively flat walk and could see the pass in the distance. Either side of the narrow walking path was flanked with horses and yaks a-plenty.
After 1 hour, we descended to cross a bridge. We had entered a serious landslide danger zone. To our left was a vertical wall made of loose rocks threatening to make a run down the valley at any moment. To our right was a steep plummet to certain death into rushing water below. Walking fast was out of the question, breathing was challenging enough as it was. Cassandra and I simply couldn’t keep up with Trevor’s feverish pace; he seemed to be experiencing zero symptoms from the altitude.
Arriving at Thorung Phedi prior to 9 am was disheartening. Yes, the views were amazing. Yes, we had a lot of time to relax. But, and this is a big but, it was cold, the threats of tomorrow loomed over us and we were staring up at a massive climb that we would have to tackle at 3am tomorrow morning if we wanted any chance of completing the pass.
We were torn. Trevor wanted to continue ascending to sleep at High Camp. I was scared of dying in my sleep. Cassandra was on the fence. We booked a room for three at Thorung Pedi. We ordered tea and continued to stare ominously up the steep slope above us. If we continued on to High Camp, we could tackle the climb at a turtle-esque pace with no rush. High Camp would be full soon. We needed to make a decision.
We decided to continue and Trevor swiftly continued up the mountain to secure us a room at the single accommodation offered above at High Camp.
Eventually, Cassandra and I headed up the trail. Baby steps. Lots of breaks and basking in the sun. Every step was arduous and difficult, not only because oxygen seemed to be nonexistent, but the steep grade was taxing on your entire body.
After taking 2 hours to hike a trivial distance, we arrived at High Camp. Many of our friends had already arrived and the atmosphere was surprisingly jovial. Everyone seemed excited to be there and we shared a common bond: we were badass enough to stay at High Camp! High altitude sickess ? Not a chance!
The guidebooks and blogs about the Annapurna Circuit are all fantastic and have great advice, most of which I strongly agree with. But no one, absolutely no one, tells you that the views from High Camp trump any other views of the Annapurnas along the trail and you have nearly a full free day to enjoy them. There is a viewpoint above High Camp, only a 5 minute walk up a hill behind the dining area. Luckily, there was no wind and the sun was shining brightly, so I spent quite a bit of time up there: soaking in the sun, basking in having made it this far and mentally preparing myself for not only crossing the path the next day, but the icy cold, sleepless night I was anticipating ahead.
We tucked in early, planning to get up at 4:45 am, a late start in comparison to others. Many people were beginning as early as 3am.
Tomorrow, we could die, so let us enjoy our last supper, friends.