Trekking Around Annapurna (2/3)
“Hold on!” I say, as I am unfolding one of my walking poles to give him. “Quick! I’m slipping!” he answers, worried. It is becoming urgent. I try not to give in to panic, hold him out the unfolded pole to pull him and give the other pole to hold on to. “You need to stand up in order for your feet to stabilize the ground!” I retort. Phew! He successfully finds his balance and walks on a solid ground again. Dan, having seen all of this is totally discomfited. “I don’t know if I will be able to pass” he says to me, “if I fail, I will die!”. A bit further, two local porters having enjoyed the show come to help us. They cross the path with an incredible ease, pack the remaining gravel and show to Dan that now he can pass without any risk. We are stunned. Suddenly one of them points out another man, running … in the landslide — are we dreaming?
More shaken than hurt, surrounded with the martial rhythm of rock avalanches, we continue the trek and quickly reach Tilicho base camp which cold welcome is only matched by this of the wind whipping our faces. Thanks to a whole day of raining we forge new friendships with people from all around the world and meet those which we will continue the adventure with: Nicolas, Roark, Matteo and Alvar. Together we decided to leave the camp tomorrow before sunrise.
Out of breath
I will remember this climb for a long time! At this altitude, breathing becomes more difficult because of the lack of air. That, the 15/20kg of my backpack and the week of trek behind me begin to have consequences on my stamina. By consequence it is not a surprise that I reach the summit with some difficulty, sweating and with a short breath. Surrounded by snowy mountains, enchanted by glaciers and ponds, it is a strange feeling to see such an intense blue sky as everything around gives me the impression that I am seeing the world in black and white. On the other side, the periodic sound of avalanches makes me quite uncomfortable. I decide nonetheless to get close to this beautiful little pond a bit further down. My feet sink deep in the fresh snow filling my drenched shoes and as I am slowly getting closer to my target, a strong noise surprises me. I stare at the mountain in front of me. It is moving. Fast! A titanic mass of white snow is collapsing at a stupefying speed, attracted by gravity — an avalanche! Am I far enough to survive it? I find it difficult to estimate distance here, everything seems so close. No time to think, my life is far more valuable than the mediocre photograph I was willing to take and I start running to a higher point, without any hope. After a few meters I fall to the ground, my heart pounding wildly, my lungs needing air. There is no chance I can go any further. Resigned, convincing myself of the low probability of being reached by the avalanche, I immortalize the moment. It is unfortunately a bit late for that as the avalanche just ‘broke’ on the first glacier. I eventually join my friends enjoying the gigantic mirror-looking lake covered in ice, safe and sound.
D-Day is coming
Next step: cross the 5416 m high Thorong-La pass. In order to do that, we planned to reach the 4850 m high camp for an altitude night we dread a little bit. “Will we have to go down in the middle of the night because of monstrous headaches and blood coughing?”. This is the kind of anxiety that will secretly be tormenting us for the next few days.
Landscapes are still breathtaking. Shapes and textures of surrounding mountains make me think about Iceland, even more impressive. We are surrounded by titans made of rock, mistreated by the elements they are ceaselessly fighting without any hope of victory. Little by little, the invincible giants disintegrate, confronting against the immeasurable strength of wind and ice covering them, breaking them. For us simple humans, walking — even moving! — is already a struggle. The simplest move requires twice as much the efforts we would need at sea level and every step asks for a considerable quantity of energy. This is however something we learn to manage with time by walking calmly and following our own rhythm. Body and soul in harmony, we walk slowly but surely towards the last target before D-Day.