Wednesday 1 Nov
Annapurna Trek, Nepal
The day of the Thorung La Pass
We'd been used to the familiar routine of waking in the morning to bright blue skies, then in the afternoons the clouds would roll in like an old friend and by night time clear again revealing a blanket of stars. The night before we were due to go over The Pass it snowed for the first time all season. Huddled in the kitchen area we all joked it'd be fine and clear up by the morning, but the snow kept coming. The owners lit buckets of coal under the tables and we had dinner, but it was freezing and we were all in bed by 7pm. I buried my face in my sleeping bag to warm my breath but this gave me a feeling of claustrophobia and every so often I'd have to jerk it open gasping for air. You don't really sleep at altitude but we woke to about 5 inches of snow outside.
Every morning we'd been in a rush to beat the groups but this morning we were happy to leave later and let the groups with all their guides and porters break trail in the fresh snow. We watched a steady stream of headlamps go past in the dark as we ate a leisurely breakfast of porridge, and set off at 6.30am. The snow was beautiful but I couldn't help feeling nervous as we picked our way over the frighteningly icy path. One point was particularly dicey and Cyril helped me across as I fearfully edged my way over the ice and stones trying not to look down at the drop below. I was going slowly and Cyril kindly offered to switch bags as his was lighter. Rob was already carrying more than his fair share. It was a big help and I quickly fell in to step behind him, my breathing matching the pace of his footsteps. We plodded on walking in dazzling sunlight, all around the air and ground glistened with crystals of snowflakes. It takes a strange amount of effort placing one foot in front of the other at altitude, but when I was unsure if my will power was strong enough, I just needed to take in the view and any doubt faded away.
We'd been warned by other hikers about the seemingly endless false summits before reaching the top of the The Pass. Lost in methodical plodding behind Cyril I'd reached an almost meditative state, so when the summit and its prayer flags did arrive it was a shock to see it so soon. At the top we all congratulated each other and posed for group photographs. It was a real team effort. The way down wasn't half as bad as I'd expected, less icy than the route up and we reached the bottom by 3pm. Lawry had run on ahead to Muktinath to book rooms. A fine choice of hostel with a steaming hot shower and good food. We celebrated the day's achievements with a couple of cold beers.