At night here a new wonder was found. So far away from electric light, with the air thinner than I had ever experienced before, the night time sky was exposed so exquisitely beautifully. I had seen the stars, atop mountains in the Greek isles, secluded in the Rajastan desert, but these paled in comparison to this. The Milky Way hung like a smoky haze above; the stars so densely packed it appeared as if they were a multicoloured cloud strewn across the night time sky. With the air so clear they felt so close as if I could actually reach up and scoop up a handful and sprinkle them between my fingers like fairy dust in the night. I could see the spiral arm of our Galaxy reaching out across the heavens, an image I will never forget.
But there was more to do, and the following morning we left to continue the climb up to the pass. The following days were harder, the climb steeper, with deeper snow and a footpath less easy to decipher. In places the snow from the slopes above had removed the paths altogether with nothing but the remnants of a landslide remaining, so these stretches were navigated slowly, carefully, step by step feeling our way across the steep hillsides, searching for some solidity underfoot as we inched closer to our destination for each day.
The weather held out though, and there were no significant further snow falls, the days largely clear although at times the clouds would descend filling up the very air we were walking in. We were walking in the sky.
We passed a small river, the snow having completely covered its surface, the almost freezing water cutting a tunnel underneath. In parts the water was exposed through perfectly carved arches of perfect blue ice. Against the constant white background the scene was striking.
Up here we were alone, we passed one man, alone herding Yaks down the valley, but otherwise there were only the lonely souls waiting in the villages, guarding the homes of the now departed residents. Here we sought solace for the night, feeding in front of the sole kitchen stove, small hearths in the ground burning tiny pieces of wood carefully and slowly. Wet boots were left open mouthed around these overnight, never drying fully, but at least warm to the touch in the morning cold. The nights were bitterly cold and we slept fully clothed beneath piles of quilts sourced from any room left open. We borrowed what they could find, this is called survival and the rules change. As long as we stayed beneath these piles we could maintain our own body heat, so toilet breaks became a challenge worked up to slowly and often restraint would be shown until the morning forced us from our beds once again.
Finally we arrived at the foot of the pass. Here the guesthouse was manned by three young men, who ridiculed us on our insane need to even be there at this time of year. They could provide food though, and a place to stay, a room that had been swallowed in a previous avalanche and was only exposed on one side only to the elements. Here with some careful positioning of quilts and baggage in the door and window frames, the cold could be blocked out a little more, which was perfect as we stayed indoors for two nights and a day. We had to acclimatise again before the push to the summit and that final climb to the pass.
Standing in the morning sun, looking out across the jagged summit of the world, the rising sun brought a renewed hope and energy, the fear of the night, as we had sheltered in our makeshift hideaway, was now dissipating rapidly, and as Boz finally announced he could see the path on an adjacent ridge, our adventure was fully back on.
It was cold, colder than ever before, the air so thin that every footstep caused our bodies to ache, but the sun was out and the summit was within reach, now it was just a case of patience and resolve. We set out, following our chosen route, step by step, gradually moving forward all the time, but silent in the need to conserve the thin oxygen in our lungs. The pain coursed through our bodies, but the sheer beauty of the washed out landscape filled them with hope. It was if I was walking in a dream, the physical strain mixed with the beauty and isolation leaving me with a feeling beyond compare. I this isolation, we were truly in a world of our own.
Finally we reached the pass, the high point nestling at 18,000 feet in the sky was marked with nothing more than a tin roofed shelter. But that did not matter, we had made it! So we rested a while, took photos and breathed in the achievement of what we had done. Despite the odds, despite the ridicule we had experienced, we were here and I felt truly great. The sun was shining, the world was glorious and from here, physically and spiritually, it was all downhill.
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