Thursday, April 23, 2009

CC: In the Jungle

I’ve been picking up skills in the jungle that I’d never even thought about learning.

For instance, we’ve all heard of how incredibly quiet and stealthy elves can be. I had a bit of a crash course in stealthy movement the other day actually with perhaps the best teacher that one can have - a wild rhinoceros. When you’re less than ten meters away, on foot, in the middle of nowhere, from a two ton animal that can run at 50km/hour and regularly attacks visitors to the area, you find that you’ve suddenly become a very stealthy person indeed. Your breathing slows down; each foot is softly and deliberately place on a spot on the ground carefully preselected for its absence of dried leaves or twigs; and all the while you’re intensely aware of the smallest movement or sound anywhere around you. Luckily the rhino saw and heard a lot less of us than we did of him. And my guide graciously decided to tell me all the terrible stories about people he knew who had been irreparably damaged in rhino attacks.

Not quite the rhino in question. I saw this one from safely atop an elephant - the last thing we needed at that time was the whirring of a comera turning on.

I also took a bit of time off to practice for my next battle with a war oliphant, although in a much more relaxed setting. I think I may just be the only with ‘elephant climbing’ on the skills section of my resume when I go for the part of an elf. Legolas would be proud.

Climbing onto an elephant via its trunk.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

CC: Yak Attack!

Got charged by a wild yak today up on a steep path off the main track.

Too bad old four legs couldn’t scramble down to a lower platform like I could (and oh how I scrambled).

Standing in the middle of the path in front of me before it happened

Makes a much better story than an experience. Not fun.


Most people complain about the road on the other side of the pass, and quickly express their disapproval of roads being built along treks by paying a large amount of money to take a jeep along it and proving the profitability of its existence.

I personally found the road to be an excellent excuse for some of my better adventures that came about looking for ways to avoid walking along it.

For instance, how often has an opportunity come up in your life to ride a rockslide down a steep slope into a river valley? After following a smaller path several hundred meters down, I found that it had come to and end leaving me with two options: to scramble up hundreds of meters over loose rocky ground to the road high above me or to sit down, slide the couple hundred meters down into the valley and then follow the river to the next town. One option struck me as being considerably more entertaining.

Looking up the slope I went down to the top of the valley where the road was. Me and the road met up later a few hours down the line.

Even walking at the bottom of the valley was an exciting experience – looking for safe spots to ford the stream, finding massive fossils the size of my face lying around the ground, and just getting an opportunity to explore the landscape along a route that no one else had taken.

Sure it took me twice as long to reach the next villiage, but it was definitely worth the extra effort. All in all, a quite successful detour.

My next attempt to avoid the road ended up with me falling into a river though. Maybe it’s not entirely the worst idea to just follow the road…

CC: Refuge

Coming down on the other side of the pass, one thought was constantly present on my mind. If I see another identical trekking lodge or have another inane conversation with another boring trekker, I think I’m going to be sick. If you can only walk for two hours in a day because of the altitude gain, you don’t need to start packing up to leave before the crack of dawn. Sure, they’re all seeing the mountains as they walk and have their guide and porter to talk to, but they’re living in a trekker bubble not Nepal. The identical lodges that they prefer and identical people they talk to really have nothing to offer after a couple of days. It’s like walking through a mountain valley and never taking your eyes off the path under your feet to see the views. I really miss backpackers – trekkers make a very poor replacement.

I walk an extra half hour past the lodge resort at the far side of the pass to a small town that the main road misses (the hardest half hour I’ve ever made myself walk after that two kilometer descent). Within two hours I’m chatting happily with my new unofficially adopted Nepali family in Jharkot who make it their mission to keep me company for the rest of my stay. In the next few days I hear my fill of all the local gossip, get taken out on a day trip by the hotel owner’s niece to visit all her friends and relatives in the valley, roam the city with all the boys on vacation from school, and even get an archery lesson. (Although I couldn’t quite hit an orc right between the eyes from a hundred meters away, my skills are now developed to a point where I’d be quite useful at, say, Helm’s Deep). I was really too happy to even begin to try expressing anything about the experience properly.

It’s amazing how an extra week to take your time on the trek and the motivation to walk just a few meters of the beaten track can add such an immeasurable level of depth to the experience. My trip in the mountains was instantly transformed from a mildly tedious experience to the best part of my trip.

CC: The Thorung La

Your legs feel a bit like you’re trying to walk along the bottom of a swimming pool. You feel as though like walking on the moon. Cue the Police song getting stuck in my head.

I’d spent the last twelve nights’ sleep at carefully selected altitudes to acclimatize well enough to make it comfortably over the five and a half kilometer high pass. You could tell who hadn’t. All the super fit groups of trekkers who figured they could make it in less than the recommended time were already back home days ago. As were all of those who didn’t schedule a few contingency days for sickness and snowstorms. The woman nearby that’s losing the power of speech mid sentence only tried to rush things by a day or two. Same with the one slumped over a horse being led up by a porter.

Basically the higher you go, the less oxygen you get with each breath. By the top of the pass you’re getting about half as much in each breath as you’re used to. Apparently at the summit of Everest it’s down to about a third. If you decide to sleep too much higher than the previous night on any given day, you’ll know that you have soon enough. The headache you start feeling is from the fluids leaking in your skull creating too much pressure. It’s best not to find out the next symptoms.

My mind slips back into focus on the task at hand: moving my right leg to a position slightly higher and further along the pass than my left leg and pulling my body forward. The landscape is barren and grim. Gone are the towering mountains over the valley – here the peaks rise only nominally above the ridge that I’m climbing.

As I finally reach the highest point, I’m feeling pretty good. Especially after watching the other less acclimatized trekkers struggling with the altitude. Looking back behind me to appreciate the mountain landscape, one thing catches my attention. I haven’t left any footprints in the deep snow. Looks like my elven training has been paying off after all. The layer of ice frozen over the snow had nothing to do with it.

CC: The Ice Lake

The first time you make it up over the snow line feels as though you’re walking into another world. It’s an incredible, gorgeous, surreal place to be. It’s also a place that really doesn’t want you to be there and makes a point of making that clear. The mountains don’t make you feel small quite to the extent that they make you feel fragile.

CC: 5416m

As I dragged myself to the top of the ridge, wet and exhausted, I took a moment to catch my breath and see how far I’d come. Watching the eagles soaring by below me in the valley and looking up at the insane mountain views, I started to feel pretty pleased with myself. It felt like I was on top of the world. It had taken me an hour of steep uphill climbing from the base of the hill, but I’d made it! I decided to look at my map to see how far I’d come. I was up to 1300 meters - 500 meters higher than the start of the Annapurna Circuit - the trek that I’d started yesterday.

I think my heart broke just a little bit at that moment. I was set to be ascending to 5416 meters. My triumphant climb – not to mention two days of a steady uphill slope had taken me just 10% of the way to my final altitude

It was that moment that I realized what I’d gotten myself into. The Himalaya jumped into their proper perspective: a half hour run, but vertically toward the sky instead of along the ground; 10 CN Towers stacked on top of each other; the summit of the highest mountain in the Rockies plus an extra vertical kilometer; just a bit more of an ascent than from Everest’s base camp to its summit – and that was just as high as I was climbing, that height came no where close to the height of most of the mountains in the area.

Nothing to do but put your head down and keep walking.