I’ve been reading with great interest the news coming from Nepal (Life and Death Choices in a Himalayan Blizzard) of a freak snowstorm hitting the highest pass of the Annapurna Circuit — a 21-day trek that’s quite popular among backpackers traveling in the region. The storm caught many unawares, and dozens of people were caught up in it as they climbed to a height of more than 17,300 feet and made their way down the other side to the town of Muktinath. The tales are harrowing, of snow so deep it took minutes to make one step; nearly 30 people are dead or missing. I read with great interest, because I have done the Circuit, and trekked up that mountain side and cannot imagine doing it in the storm that’s been described.
The trek — and walking over that pass — is one of the highlights of all of my travels.
In 1998, I chucked my junior executive career out the window and set out on a year-long journey with my erstwhile spouse Melissa. After spending a few months in Southeast Asia, we flew to Kathmandu and hired a porter to carry our pack. The altitude and long days of trekking would make it hard for us to carry it by ourselves. Our porter was named Khagendra — an aspiring lawyer working for the trekking company to save up money for school — and one of the sweetest people I’ve met.
I wrote several posts during our trek, on our pre-blog-era website. This is the entry from the day we made the journey over the pass.
Thorong-La Pass, Nepal
September 16, 1998
At 5:00 a.m., when we got up and ready to get breakfast before hitting the trail, the sky was brilliant with stars. The clouds in the lower valley had cleared and the snows on the hills shined in the celestial light. Breakfast is sticky, but hot, and in the dining hall it’s chilly and you can see your breath, especially after drinking hot tea. Everyone seems excited about making the pass. One Israeli man, who had a headache from the altitude yesterday, seems fine this morning and is ready to make the journey. In the darkness, we gather our gear and head up the trail. As it winds in switchbacks up a green hill, which turns into rock and scree, we see a dog, which had been resting at the check-in post. He follows along with us as we light the trail with our flashlights, and trudge up the hill. Khagendra is watching our steps, worried as usual about our welfare. Aside from Khagendra, along with us are the Israeli couple and their porter, Susan from Canada and her guide Robi, and Phil from Britain, who speeds ahead of all of us only minutes into the hike. As we go higher and higher up this hill, we can see the first dawn light hitting the white peaks of Annapurna II. It’s pink and inviting, and there are no clouds at all in the sky. Continue reading “Tragedy strikes the Thorong-La pass”