A quiet account of our climb to the highest point on the Annapurna Circuit, Throung-La.
After a time, we climb above the uncharacteristically stormy morning weather. The retreating wind carries away the cloud and snow, abandoning us to the inky black hours of the early morning. Cold, tired, and out of breath, we find ourselves in a world unlike any we have ever experienced. The ground is an empty ocean of grey rock. Each massive wave crests into a frothy white cap of snow, reaching for foreign stars that burn holes in the velvet fabric of the sky. The air is thin. Every ten steps forces us to a halt that calms our over-worked heart and lungs.
Uninterrupted by the ungainly clamour of our boots and hiking poles, or of our laboured breathing, the silence in this barren, unfamiliar expanse rings complete. The effect is at first hollow and unsettling, like we somehow snuck into a place that we aren't supposed to be, listening to secrets that we aren't supposed to know...
But as we walk alongside the great undulating silhouettes of mountain tops, below black skies alight with shooting stars, that same great silence becomes a vibrant presence all of its own. It starts to feel like we've stepped into the quiet before an echo, like we're floating on a puddle before the collision of the first rain drop, like we're suspended in the mighty void around the infinitesimal atom...
Our "great adventure" feels less of an arduous journey, and more like a comfortable home-coming.
The sky steadily shifts from navy to pale blue, the air progressively thins and drops in temperature. The urge to rest and close our eyes in our new-found home becomes overwhelming, like a mother lovingly tucking us into bed, coaxing us into sleep. We continue upwards with great effort, moving as if through the thick fog of a dream.
Moments from the highest point of the pass, the first rays of sun blaze through the lethargic spell of high altitude. The sudden lightness re-invigorates our bodies and we ecstatically sprint the final distance of our ascent. At 5416 m, completely cleansed by cold and exertion, by thin air, solitude and the wonder of new experience, the event of watching the sun rise feels wholly pure and unadulterated. Teeth chattering, toes and fingers numbing, mind spinning with vertigo and lack of oxygen we both start to cry. For a moment, we ring in time with the changing atmosphere and high mountain tops, and it feels like nothing could ever be the same. Not after this.