The tiredness was already such that neither the hissing gale of the night nor the spartan comfort of the room, made us sleep.
From 22 pm to 4 am, even with the oxygen in the atmosphere reduced, we renew our energies for the extreme route that awaits us.
We woke up somewhat hesitantly. We repackaged our backpacks and made sure the porter, Don, woke up and got ready.
In these preparations, we arrived at five in the morning.
Using the light from the fronts, we moved from the bedroom wing to the main building of the High Camp, where the kitchen and the always-awaited breakfast are served.
When we entered, we ran into Josh, the hiking partner who had been left behind in Yak Karka, trying to understand whether or not the other members of the group would be able to proceed. Not everyone was.
We rejoice to see him again. He was one of the tour partners with whom we got along best, to the point where together we got into acclimatization walks and in trouble but we came out of them rejuvenated and even more united.
Josh also seemed happy for the reunion.
I didn't know anyone else on that walker's path. She had some typical headaches. mountain sickness. Being able to take on the dreaded Thorong La, in the company of friends, always softened the challenge.
Moments later, Sara and Manel join us. Sara “prescribes” a Diamox to Josh.
Aware of his weakness and that, for the usual, Don would only have to carry a fifth of the weight that native porters are used to, we gave him some items.
It was an added weight that wouldn't make a difference, but it might save Josh's crossing.
With the sun appearing above the horizon, the wind gave up. It left no trace of the cloudiness that, the night before, had generated a sudden blizzard.
Ascension from High Camp to Thorong La Gorge
We left High Camp just before six in the morning. Under a blessed and desired meteorology that contributed a lot to reassure us.
The weight of the atmosphere from 4880 meters from the High Camp upwards quickly began to wear us down. Almost all the way to the zenith of Thorong La proved to be uphill, in some parts, with a steep slope.
We took each new step, in the slow motion of a man on the moon.
All, without exception, required us to take deep breaths, with our lungs on the path of the rarefied oxygen around us, precious in the blood that kept us warm and moving.
Gradually, we ascend.
Unlike until then, we plowed through an entirely snowy landscape. We climbed a narrow path, often covered in hardened snow.
A good part of the trail cut through the almost top of slopes because, at the slightest carelessness, we would roll without knowing where we would end up, or where we would end up crashing.
At that time, we give thanks for the adjustable crampons to the boots that, at the last minute, we decided to buy.
We conquered a first panoramic high where we caught our breath for a longer time.
At the top, as we turned around, we realized that we had been among the first to leave High Camp.
Behind us, with the sun setting over the mountains at his back, the figures lining the trail swelled.
Next to the height where we could appreciate its evolution, they appeared in single file, walkers behind, held back by the slowness of those who followed in front, prevented from going around them outside the trail, due to the required acceleration, because the snow could hide holes and, not even if only that was the reason, for the mountain's precious common sense.
In the gathering caravan, a few horses followed.
Some carried the first dropouts of the day, those who tiredness and mountain sickness they had already defeated and whom the animal owners willingly charged $100 or more to carry them to the far side of the canyon.
Other equine owners, like Annapurnas' prey, followed along with the walkers who seemed to be more exhausted, trying to convince them to use their services.
From the first steps the Annapurna Circuit ran with us. Nor would it be there that we would founder.
Of course we felt breathless. With his heart wanting to go out of his mouth, his thighs burning, blinded by the intensity of the direct light at altitude and by its blinding reflection in the snow that not even sunglasses seemed to solve.
Slowly, slowly, melting, but recovering well whenever we stopped, we reached the flat lands of Thorong Gorge.
Conquest of Thorong La (5416 m) and Celebration to Match
At one point in its valley, a draped profusion of Buddhist prayer flags lungta broke the whiteness of the scene.
Some of them were tied to a stupa.
Others, stretched from a plaque commemorating the place and the respective conquest.
Gold letters on a black background read: “Thorang La Pass – 5416 mtr. Congratulation for the Success! Hope you enjoy the trek in Manang. Hope to see you again."
The message had errors which have since been fixed.
When we all got together there, with the sky still clear and the day sunny, we celebrated and photographed each other, as a couple or as a group.
Even Sara and Manel's guide, who, apparently, was also new to the circuit and the canyon, revealed an ecstasy that amused us.
We hugged, we shouted. We took pictures and hugged each other again, in a celebration that only the sight of the local tea house serving hot drinks had the power to abbreviate.
We move next to teahouse. Aware that we had conquered Thorong La in the allotted time, we sat down and chatted, drinking tea, devouring bars and chocolates.
We toast. We're back to celebrating.
To those who are now reading it, it may seem like too much partying. Bearing in mind the recent history of that same gorge, perhaps we should have celebrated double.
The Tragedy of October 2014
Let's go back to October 14, 2014. On that day, as we had done, dozens of hikers had left Thorong Pedi and High Camp, intent on crossing the Thorong La Gorge.
The time of year was one of the best for the crossing. However, the action of Cyclone Hudhud, which intensified above the Bay of Bengal and moved towards the heart of India, generated unexpected and overwhelming storms in the mountains of Nepal.
This morning, temperatures plummeted. Heavy blizzards and gales caught hikers on the cramped and unstable trail that runs from High Camp to Thorong Pedi.
Many managed to take refuge in that same teahouse where we bought the teas.
At one point, the tiny building collapsed.
Even there, the cold, impending hypothermia, and panic became such that the notion spread that if they stayed there, all the walkers would perish.
In this affliction, many bet on reaching the safety of the village of Muktinath, deep in the mountains north of the gorge.
Survivors reported that the Tea House owner charged money to guide the group that decided to leave the shelter. And that, soon after, disappeared.
Those who chose to stay snuggled as best they could and suffered in the more than 20 hours that the storm lashed the canyon.
At eight o'clock the next morning, the storm abated.
When sheltered hikers decided to seek help, they realized the trail had disappeared.
Shortly afterward, they began to find dozens of half-buried, frozen bodies of other hikers and guides.
In those two days, the storm claimed 43 fatalities in the region and many more with severe frostbite.
Most of the dead and wounded were found between High Camp and Muktinath, the stretch where we were already rejoicing, though we were only halfway through, or not even that.
Thorong La to Muktinath: Back on the Path
What was missing was the long descent to Muktinath.
Steep, starting just below tiny glaciers.
With more sections where the trail disappeared into the snow, at the top or in the middle of slopes where, if it weren't for the crampons, we once again risked falls to indefinite depths.
We left behind the area where the snow lingered. On an island of white, a large pink pebble served the propagandistic purposes of another of the Nepalese and Annapurnas resisters, between Manang and Muktinath:
"Long Live CPN (Maoist)” read the inscription, in red, the colors of the Communist Party of Nepal.
From there, down, the path snaked over increasingly stony ground, damaging to the knees.
It was with great relief that we saw the first tea houses and restaurants, still well above the 3800 meters at which Muktinath is located, an hour from the village.
The day was still bright and windless. It was almost summery heat that we hadn't felt in a long time.
We sat at a table outside.
We ordered fruit juices, Tibetan bread and rice with vegetables. We got rid of the oppressive synthetic clothing necessary to pass through Thorong La.
With bare or almost naked trunks, we let ourselves be stroked by the breeze, the sun's rays and the aura of conquest.
At around 15 pm, nine hours since the departure from High Camp, we check into the Bob Marley Hotel in Muktinath. Moments later, we feel hot water running over our bodies again.
We had passed through the heyday of the Annapurna Circuit. From there it was (almost) always going down.