Was it such a good idea?

There are times when you wonder whether your adventurous wandering tendencies are purely self indulgent, and you’ve brought your family into your sticky web. This invariably happens when things get tough. Despite waking up to the excitement of “pass day”, something we’d been building towards for over two weeks the happiness soon waned in some quarters.

After a hurried breakfast of bland porridge at 0400, we all stayed huddled in the unseated room sheltering from the cold until everything was ready for pre dawn departure over the 5100m Larke Pass. Fortunately a starry sky greeted us after the snow of the previous evening, and everything crunched underfoot in the dark. A small conga line of trekkers’ head torches lead the way up a steep moraine wall above Dharmapala towards the Larke pass. We followed suit, the sharp climb a rude wake up call. As Orion shone overhead in the inky blackness (upside down for us) the gentle katabatic breeze, only a couple of knots strong, cut icy daggers into any exposed skin.

With no thermometer, we don’t know how cold it was, but it must have been below minus 10c, but not quite at my well calibrated “snot and mucus in nose freezing point” of minus 14c. The cold quickly sapped heat from boots and after a couple of kilometres everyone – except Ben and I had toes going numb.

By this point, dawn was in full swing and the glow behind us was getting brighter. The snow capped peaks glowed white against a light pink and purple sky. The distraction of the scenery did little to change the mood. Soon the sun hit the peaks, but the cold remained as we were still in shadow.

It is during times of stress that different personalities come out. Some just suck it up and get on with it quietly, others need help dealing with it, even if there’s not much that can be done. And frustrations abounded. It was helpful to have an impartial rational observer in our guide Chhewang to reinforce some tactics in dealing with the situation.

It was at this stage, in the cold, that I was regretting bringing everyone here. Maybe I should have just come to Nepal on my own.

As the shadows slowly receded, and we were bathed in our star’s weak glow we were suddenly hit a new lease of life. The warmth at this point in the mountains is as much physical as psychological and is overwhelming. The pace picked up, as much as it can at altitude, and the twin lines of 6000m peaks that frame the pass kept drawing our attention.

The track itself initially followed the edge of the glacier moraine, that huge pile of rock and dirt pushed up by the incredible force of the river of ice made from the tributaries of steep glaciers of the surrounding peaks. Soon, the track wound its way across the moraine, kilometre after kilometre of rock hopping. The thick layer of rocks and dirt masking the ice river beneath.

We were very slow across the moraine approaching the pass – even after most of the days 500 vertical metres of climbing was over – with Sarah having a sudden intense bout of gut pain with the altitude. She was doubled over with pain at times. Naturally she was not enjoying it, and at the same time one of the kids was struggling with energy, largely due to not slowing the pace down and going “bastari, bastari” or “slow, slow”.

Walking at altitude is about pace management. Walking slower gets you to the other end faster. After stopping, your energy returns and you feel good, but if you then walk normally your energy will disappear again faster than a Himalayan marmot down a mountain burrow. Management was now a mental game. Resilience and persistence. There was no one else to do the walking. Those energy reserves and willpower had to be found from within.

Neither this nor Sarah’s tummy pain were really from acclimatisation issues, we’d had a good slow schedule over the previous weeks. The situation was difficult to manage, but Chhewang was able to look after the other two kids as they wanted to scamper ahead like rabbits so I could look after the others. We were slow and there wasn’t a lot of enjoyment. There were tears, there was anger. All the while, the near midday sun was beating down hard, yet the light wind was cold.

Eventually one final rocky rise revealed the pass. The prayer flags fluttered away, mountains soared behind and three kids and Sarah whooped and hollered like it was the greatest thing ever. The look of accomplishment on the kids’ faces and the pride they felt – including from the one who struggled for energy the most during the morning was fantastic. Ear to ear smiles of happiness.

I was a proud dad and husband. With tears welling in my eyes I watched the family excitement, and could not imagine a better place to have brought the family.

3 responses to “Was it such a good idea?

  1. What an accomplishment! You got there. Well done guys!
    That sure was tough going for you but I’m still inspired to return to Nepal and take our kids this time around.
    Keep the blog entries coming and ‘Hi’ to all the family from Suzie, Chris, Rhys and Lachlan


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