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They continue; I return:
About face, I left the Kiwis and caps ambling South West and headed straight back towards the pass over which I had only just staggered. To my surprise the valley had changed drastically from the day before, I had expected it to be full of Limians and their beasts but sneakily it now sloped against gravity rather than with it and had grown at least three times in length, furthermore the shoulders that had previously only had to support a packed lunch had come in for quite a shock … a week's supply of Sam's chapattis … when I combined the above conspiracy with the knowledge that my spacious dining tent, Ragu foot massage and milky tea would not be waiting for me on my arrival I wondered how long it would take to get to Halje …. 'those Kiwis might fall for the 'Storms over the pass' line' I pondered, but I had dug my own grave … all that talk of Cho Oyu and death zones … I'd never live it down, so with the thoughts of 10 days of ribbing at the hands of a dozen Kiwis, South to the pass it was.
I summoned the speed of Gina … OK OK, almost the speed of Gina, the load carrying capacity of Sherpa Grant and struck out to catch up the Nepali caravan that had passed us at dawn. Not having Pam to hang onto I opted for keeping my boots dry and checking out the bridge and by 4pm things were looking up. The cramps had stopped, the sand dunes surmounted and the valley head spied. The rivers seemed to be running deeper and faster, maybe due to the fact that it had been a long hot day, but they were no match for an adventurer armed with purple crocs and a Sandy-strapped left ankle, but as dusk and the barometer fell there was still no sign of my fellow travellers.
I had reached our campsite of the previous day and it was my last chance to pitch my tent without a head torch. The day had taken more out of me the I had imagined because in my delusional state I started to hear angels singing but before I could even think about "staying away from the light', from round the corner trotted 3 giggling girls (all in baseball caps and one even decked out in 'Chinese Disco' style as I was later informed … well Lhasa disco at least) who before you could say "Sally's your auntie" had taken down my take, shouldered my rucksack and dragged me the 50 yards round the corner to where they had set up shop. More giggling and a cup of hot salty tea thrust into my hands which not really surprisingly tasted exactly the same as the electrolytes Wanda had kindly donated that morning.
Sometimes there are tests in the mountains to see if you'll put 'your best foot forward' and I'm afraid and ashamed to say that this was not my finest hour … at this opening bid of exchanging food and drinks I saw and seized upon the opportunity to drastically increase my chances of making it over the pass … (I'm blushing as I recall the depths to which I'd sunk) yes, I off-loaded half a dozen of the cement chapattis to my hosts.
Toby Molins, cameraman
Our shelters were almost identical, single central pole beige tepee-like objects, the only small difference was that I was alone in mine while ten (plus a one month old) travellers made theirs a cosy affair. There might have been up to a dozen but it was hard to count with all the to-ing and thro-ing. A typical evening then ensued where I handed around the contents of my first aid kit (no doubt undoing the reputation and precedent set by Robin and Wanda) followed by much dancing and singing … and as soon as I bought out the camera I realized there'd be no stopping my new lead roles, I could tell they were ready, especially Lhasa disco queen, to boogie to the wee hours. But fortunately the heavens opened and granted me a much needed early retirement. Then the heavens stepped it up a notch, as if the Titans had once more taken up arms against the Gods; rain, snow, hail and wind bullied and beat up the tent, (for Sue) it reminded me a of a bally awful night at camp 2 on CHO OYU. I knew it had been a karmic error to give away those chapattis, which my companions had wisely used to secure the edges of their tent, while I was left in some Iyengar yoga position trying to prevent my canopy turning into a parachute. We woke the next morning to find ice on our tarps, snow on the ground and the hills hiding behind a thick cold damp blanket of cloud.
Old pops had consulted his beads and had come to the conclusion that it was not a good day for the pass…. Ahhh the wisdom of ancient and local ways that can pick up on the tiniest of signs and details… but as I dove back into my sleeping bag I realized the karmic chapattis haunted me once more ..( I can't say that I didn't deserve it) but by giving them away I had committed myself to getting over the pass today otherwise I wouldn't have had enough food to get me to Simikot, so with the wisdom of blind optimism, ("I'm sure it'll be clear when I get up there" …. And .. "I'm sure I can find those bearings I scribbled on my note pad," I started to ready myself for the pass.
I don't know if I had misunderstood Old Pops consultation with the Gods or if the gringo's movements has stimulated them into action but to my relief and joy the caravan was following suit and it looked as if I'd have company in my folly. Thus emboldened, as I laced up my Gore-tex, hyperspace, airsupermax, ironman boots (with grim determination) I bravely thought to myself, if Gran, Pops and the one month old can do this in their flimsy gym shoes then so can I. (To be honest I don't even think that the baby had booties.)
From Jang by horse
Kids in Simikot
At first I humbly followed these Himalayan folk, born of the very mountains themselves, but it soon dawned on me that although they knew where they were going they perhaps didn't know the best way of getting there. Deep snow could now not be avoided and I felt new empathy for the horses as we sunk to our bellies. At one point it took more than 10 minutes (I exaggerate not) to dig out the Lhasa disco queen, but fortunately unlike the horses she did not panic, only giggled throughout the whole ordeal. A mutual understanding then followed. Imperialist western climber thought he better take charge of route finding, and clever, born of the mountains folk thought let the crazy gringo do the work. Much zigzagging then ensued, in an attempt to avoid as much deep snow as possible but inevitable belly sinks continued. I'm not sure if the lyrics belong to Carol King, but the words "I'm not waving, I'm drowning, Oh won't you save me" seemed more than appropriate. I hate to say it but even the hyperspace Gore-Tex was no match for the slush puppy consistency of the snow so now, soaked through to the waist, I was finally understanding what it must be like to be a climbing sherpa.
We were now almost as blind as my optimism, since we were right amongst the clouds, but visibility was 50m rather than five which meant that at least we could see each other if not the way forward, and my adopted mantra of "Why didn't I steal Bo's GPS, why didn't I steal Bo's GPS," proved little comfort, but after a couple more hours of zagging, swimming and zigging, (I found the sidestroke to be the most effective) I caught a glimpse of the col through the clouds …. Quick dash now – thought I – and we'll be through, but what did I know, snack time is snack time, up went the umbrellas, (for it was still snowing hard) and wet arses got parked on wet rock. Not accustomed to sitting down in the middle of a storm while soaking I thought a gentle approach to our different ways was in order, "What the hell in Buddha's name …" then I remembered there was no hell in Buddhism, only rebirth, which in our current position was definitely the best option since the newborn was the only dry warm one amongst us and was at that very moment having a great feed sheltered from the wind and snow. With deep breaths I attempted to summon up the cool and calm of surfer dude Geoff, and with the philosophy of if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I dug up my last snacks that had been donated by Richard and Sue (thanks).
I soon caught up with the troop and although it was their intention to reach Simikot before nightfall I knew the trip had taken 3 1/2 days on the way out and wasn't sure if they'd make it, so I strode out ahead and alone … so that's where the tale ends … not a real story in a solitary march expect perhaps to mention that I loved it and to share a few memories. I ate half my take out at the col – where you can go North to Tibet, West to India or East to Nepal (How cool is that) and the other half by the waterfall by the steps cut away into the cliff above the roaring Karnali … and talk about a sting in the tail!! 800m up after 8 hours of solid tramping, in the blazing heat when you'd been freezing your butt off not 24 hours earlier … I found myself muttering and giggling deliriously to myself as I approached the col above Simikot …"Welcome to the Himalaya, Tobes."
TOBY AND WANDA