I won’t even try to play it cool. I was terrified. I was paralyzed with fear, as I often am before a big hiking trip. Today had the potential to present the biggest physical challenge I had faced in my life. I needed to harden up to make it.
We began our ascent to the infamous Thorong La, elevation 5,416 meters, as the first signs of predawn light were just beginning to show themselves. There was no moon, but there was just enough light for us to be able to make out the path and put one foot in front of the other without utilizing a headlamp. Slow and steady, that was our motto for the day. The ascent was not too steep and there were many people on the trail to motivate you to persevere.
I felt great until we reached the teahouse at the 5,000 meter mark to take a break.
There’s no other way to put it: I began to totally lose my mind. Mountain Madness.
I’m not entirely certain of what happened, but I began to wilt into an emotional disaster. My CamelBak, my hydration system, had frozen and I couldn’t access any drinking water: tears. My huge yak’s wool mittens were much too large and I couldn’t put my hands through my trekking poles or hold onto them: tears. The tears began to flow over every trivial little thing. Every ounce of my body was screaming, “DO NOT CONTINUE! REPEAT IF YOU WANT TO LIVE, DO NOT CONTINUE!” Tingling sensations spread through my legs and arms. I was a being a wuss and I felt horrible. I did not want to continue, but I knew that curling up in a ball and crying was not an option.
We continued winding and winding up the trail slowly. Suddenly, I heard a guide say there was only 10 -15 more minutes until we would reach the pass. A huge smile spread across my face and then, inevitably, more tears. At this point, it wasn’t even just a tear or two trickling down, I was full-on bawling, making it even harder to breathe.
We rounded a corner and I saw the swaths of trekkers and thousands of prayer flags up ahead.
I was going to successfully cross Thorong La at 5,415 meters!
Upon making it to the pass, my petty, emotional hysteria continued. From the beginning of my Nepal experience, I didn’t think I would make it. I thought I would do part of the circuit and succumb to my ever-present back and knee issues. I certainly didn’t expect to have explosive diharrea or severe pain in my achilles. There were so many points where I thought I wouldn’t make it. It was a indescribable feeling making it to the top.
Many of the wonderful people whom we had met along the way were there to share the moment with us. A once in a lifetime experience, for sure.
It felt surreal to begin descending to Muktinath. I didn’t expect the views to be so dramatic after crossing The Pass, but the descent faced the beginning of the Mustang region beyond the Kaligandaki Valley and it was absolutely incredible. I had read that the descent was long and rough and had attempted to mentally prepared myself for a grueling afternoon. The first hour of descending was nothing but a tease. It wasn’t too steep at all!
This is going to be a piece of cake.
It got steeper and steeper and my left knee felt increasingly as if it was collapsing under my weight. I fell farther and farther behind Cassandra, who was literally flying down the mountain, and Trevor, despite his older age, didn’t seem to be struggling either.
Near the bottom of the massive descent from The Pass to Muktinath, we stopped for some tea. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel the relief I anticipated. We had done it! We had crossed THE PASS. Why didn’t I feel more amped?
Finally arriving in Muktinath did feel like a celebration. You could feel the self-satisfaction and pride thick in the air: we had all accomplished something amazing on this day and deserved to bask in our greatness. We lodged at the Bob Marley Hotel and it was fantastic! Our room was top-notch, the shower looked like something out of a five-star spa and there was free hot water. I treated myself to a bottle of shampoo and washed my hair for the first time in 12 days. I also had the luxury of cracking open a beer on the patio and enjoying a yak meat pizza.
Crossing The Pass successfully is one of those feelings you wish you could bottle up and have the pleasure of enjoying every day.