The night, the altitude and the anxiety. The anxiety, the altitude and the night, whatever the sequence, from a certain height on, the trio walked hand in hand.
Little used to 3500 meters and the strenuous incursions at 4500, during sleep, our bodies began to give signs.
In the last night's sleep in Manang, with the departure scheduled for 8:XNUMX am, the heartbeat felt strange: the apparent arrhythmias, the exacerbated pulsing, as if the heart were trying to escape through the mouth. And the unavoidable fear of any tantrum victimizing us.
Once again, the apprehension with the amount of water we had drunk and the last-minute reinforcement of the liquid that, afterwards, our revolting heart was not enough, forced us to go to the bathroom two, three, four additional times.
In this amalgamation of emotions and apprehensions, we sleep little or nothing.
We wake up at 6:30 am, just in time to pack our backpacks for the walk and then for breakfast and Manang's last shopping.
Final Preparations and an Inevitable Carrier
We leave the Himalayan Singi hotel at 8am. On the way out, we found the porter we had hired the morning before. In principle, we were against using a charger as a mere facilitation of the effort required by the Annapurna Circuit.
We should, however, take into account that the photographic equipment we carried alone had more than half of the eight or nine kilos considered recommended.
Aware of the tragedy that took place in October 2014 in the Thorong La canyon and which we will cover in the episode dedicated to its crossing, we were also equipped with the warmest, -20º (and heaviest) sleeping bags that we planned to use if we saw each other there. retained by some weather.
Far from being inveterate mountaineers, we walked with too much weight, that was the reality.
We didn't count on the charger to carry us all the load or for the entirety of the journey that was missing. The idea was that it would only help us with the excess weight and only from Manang to Muktinath, especially when crossing Thorong La.
We wanted, by all means, to avoid giving up due to any hernial collapse of the back. In fact, it took us a week to try to prevent him with long stretching sessions at the end of each walk, and whenever we remembered to reinforce them.
Accordingly, we had planned for the porter to take us a backpack with that extra weight. We would carry the photographic equipment and, each one, his backpack with the nine, wherever it was ten or eleven kilos, considered safe.
The day before, in order to hire the porter's services, we simply asked in a hotel opposite ours if they knew anyone. To which the man on duty replied: “Get here. I have one here.” We follow him until we pass through a side door. Outside, we see an extension work on the building where four or five men and women worked.
The boy called one of the workers. He spoke to him for a few moments and introduced him.
Don. From Construction Worker to Annapurnas Sherpa in Five Minutes
His name was Don. He was by far the smallest of the workers we saw there. It would, in fact, have to be one of the smallest, smallest adult residents – let's call it what we like – of the manang city.
As easy as it was, we didn't want to give in to the temptation to turn his stature into a prejudice or cause for disquiet.
Don turned to clumsy English. He confirmed his availability for the next three days, we assumed that, at the expense of the construction work, he would earn much less than what we would pay him. Even if, by way of commission, the hotel for which he worked took part in it.
Let's return to the morning of departure. We salute Don.
We inform you that, before leaving Manang, we would stop at one or two shops and stalls in order to buy some more chemical heaters, providential against chilblains and burns, should the temperature drop in Thorong La, or if we saw each other there. in worse trouble.
When we hand him the backpack he was supposed to carry, Don can barely hide his surprise. It was normal for backpackers to share the expense with porters and, as such, pass them enormous volumes, weighing twenty and even thirty kilos.
Confronted with a pack a little more crowded than ours, Don looks around for the whereabouts of the remaining cargo. In vain.
Farewell to Manang and the Tracking of the Group on the Front
We closed the purchases. The group we've been following since Brakka (Braga) he had been gone for some time as we pointed to the far west of Manang.
The farewell to the city moves us to take some last photos of its streets, its people. A few residents say goodbye.
When we passed the Buddhist-Tibetan portico that blesses the village, the vision of its earthen houses towering above the flow of the Marsyangdi River caught us above all. We photograph it from different perspectives.
Finally, Manang became a blurred vision.
A Rocky Potato and a Game of Chess in the Middle of the Walk
At one point, we passed a group of peasants squatting in a parched, rocky field. We were surprised to find that they had already filled two large traditional Nepalese baskets with harvested potatoes.
In the immediate vicinity, an old man dressed in modern feather costumes rotates a hands of prayer, sitting in the generous morning sun and watching the strangers walk towards Thorong La.
On the way out, the artefacts of the Buddhist-Tibetan faith of the Nepalese in these parts continued to abound: multicolored banners that waved in the wind, yak horns at the base of centuries-old stupas.
In its successive meanders on the half-slope, the Annapurna Parikrama Padmarga trail leads us to the second tea house on that stretch, already with a Chullu West Hotel in sight.
Right there, on a table placed on a propped extension of the path, a blond couple, looking from somewhere in northern Europe, played a game of chess, accompanied by the fetish drink of the Annapurna Circuit: ginger tea with honey.
We welcome you. We continued to recover from the lag we were having in relation to the group. And gaining a head start on Don who had stopped to greet a family on a previous deal, with the promise that he would soon catch up with us.
Finally, Group Joining and the Remaining Walk to Yak Kharka
We joined the group at the Chullu West Hotel in Gunsang village. We enjoyed part of your break, still with enough vigor to need to extend ours.
From then on, we were integrated into the platoon. Packed with delicious cavaqueira in English and Portuguese, the languages most used by the two Brazilians, three Germans, one Turkish, one Spanish and one Italian, the members of the group.
We crossed the first suspension bridge of the day, for a change no longer over the Marsyangdi River which, after more than a week of keeping us company, faithful to its course, left us.
On the other side of the bridge, a black writing on a polished stone proclaimed in English: “Buddha was born in Nepal, not in India!".
Minutes later, another one, this one, more signaling than claiming, indicated the way to the Tilicho Lake.
The Emblematic Passage through the Detour to Lake Tilicho
This lake located to the west of Manang, at almost 5.000 meters of altitude, is another of the magical places that usually uneasy walkers of the Annapurna Circuit.
It emerged more than once in the group's conversations, as a more remote and extreme acclimatization alternative than the Ice Lake and Milarepa Cave to which we all ascend from Brakka and Manang.
On each of these occasions, the incursion to Tilicho Lake was put aside. It was March.
Nepal's winter just faded away. The lake remained semi-frozen, surrounded by snowy slopes that the gradual rise in temperature made prone to avalanches that not even the native yaks would survive.
However, in that wide valley we were entering, between the bases of the great Annapurna III (7555m) and the Chullu East mountain (6584m) we could see almost nothing but snow on the far ridges to the south and north.
We continued towards our final destination, along a tributary of the Marsyangdi and up to Yak Kharka (4018m), without any problems.
Josh and Bruno, one of the Germans and one of the Brazilians in the group, had gone ahead and completed the 10km stretch half an hour earlier.
Entry into Yak Kharka and the Traditional Hotel that Welcoming Us
At around one in the afternoon, when we entered the village, the duo had already decided on the choice of rooms, so we limited ourselves to installing one of the humble rooms at the Thorong Peak Hotel.
With the stay resolved, we indulge in a pleasant and invigorating lunch. Belly full, sleepy, the group disperses. Some just sunbathe on the benches in front of the hotel.
We complete part of the almost obligatory stretching session and organize the clothes and photographic equipment for the missing route.
At the end of the afternoon, we all get together again for an acclimatization tour in the direction of Ledar, a village at 4219m. There were always two hundred extra meters above the 4.000m that, after the Ice Lake and Milarepa Cave, we were getting used to the organism again.
By this time, Tatiana, one of the two German girls of Russian descent in the group, was beginning to complain of headaches and other still contained but classic symptoms of the group. mountain sickness. In her case, it was urgent to confirm that she was recovering for the next morning.
Until then, we were still immune to altitude but not the fear that it might hit us without warning.
An Extension Almost Just Because Yes to neighboring Ledar
Thus, we walk towards Ledar, again with Annapurna III insinuating itself above two other vertices of lower slopes.
We pass by Himalayan View, a hotel removed from the strategic center of Yak Kharka that the sign at the entrance located in Upper Koche, in addition to enticing the most fatigued hikers to complete the horse route, in smudged English: “You can get horse to ride from hear to Leader Base Camp & Throng Top."
The sun soon left the valley. In the shade, beaten by an increasingly icy wind that made our faces ache, we anticipated the return to Yak Kharka's hotel.
As was the case every night, we sat around the salamander in the dining room, sharing the usual Nepalese snacks.
In the meantime, Don had reappeared. He lived with the Nepalese employees of the hotel. We realized he was drunk. Fully aware of how much alcohol generated and aggravated Altitude sickness, then yes, we feared for what this might represent in his ability to ascend and cross the Thorong La Gorge.
In his benefit, he had the benefit of having lived in the 3500 meters of Manang for a long time and, certainly being more than used to travel at higher altitudes, we supposed that, in a good part of them, with alcohol in the mix.
We didn't understand a word of the ethylic English that Don babbled to us.
To compensate, our hearts seemed to have always been right.
We felt fit enough to face the Yak Kharka – Thorong Pedi course that followed, as well as the supreme ascent to Thorong La.