Thursday, 11 December 2008

Haba snow mountain

In the morning I set off from Haba village.
I found a trail that seemed to be going in the basic direction I needed to go. I weaved my way up slowly towards the patch of open ground high up on the mountain where the woman had described I should get to. Maybe two hours I walked past small settlements then into forest and a maze of local trails, doing my best to maintain my desired direction until I came across a major fork in the trail the left seemed to be going down to a big dry river bed the other straight up, normally I have some feelings of preference but this time I stopped could not feel which way I should be going, the feeling of getting lost came over me, doubt, hesitation I really did not want to lose time back tracking.
I looked around hoping to find a sign, some inspiration, then noticed an old man sitting on a rock perfectly in the fork of the road. I was sure he was not there before I would have noticed him! there was no house around and no reason for him to be there apart from waiting for me to arrive, I said, “nee how”....hello and pointed up to the mountain making a mountain shape with my hands and a walking motion with my fingers, he grinned wildly and replied ahhh good, good, yes, you go that way not this way no good, pointing to the left trail that went down to the river, right I guess this is where I should cross then. Again perfect timing I think I would have chosen the other way if forced to make a decision, which would have taken me well out of the way, lost a lot of time and energy. He had been waiting for my arrival and now happy to have served his purpose and therefore quaintly disappeared again.

I picked up a bigger trail on the other side of the river, well trodden, Yak hoof prints, chocolate wrappers, lazy chocolate eating tourists had marked the way for me, this must be it. I followed it up eventually reaching the area of cleared trees, lost the trail again then picked it up after a little scouting about, it continued steeply up now to the tree line and followed a ridge, I start to feel short of breath now, my altimeter reads 3800 meters, I slow down to pace myself I had been walking 4 hours now and feeling the weight of my rucksack, everything starting to feel heavier and harder. The fatigue got increasingly worse with the combination of altitude I was finding myself now having to stop every 12 paces gasping for air, my legs had power and wanted to go much quicker but I just could not regulate my breathing, my temples starting to pound now I forced myself to slow down even more placing one foot in front of the other methodically and slowly, strange feeling, dizzy, slightly drunk, off balance, now 4000 meters I had walked 1700 meters up, the tree line had thinned out now much ice was around in the shaded north faces, and the snowy peak majestically appeared as I came around the next corner, oh wow did it look so close, but still another 1400 meters away, straight up.....I stopped at a clearing to set up camp, just unpacking my sleeping bag felt such an effort to pull it out of its cover, I had to stop to catch my breath, this was going to be very hard and imagined what it would be like another 1400 meters higher?

My temples felt sore with a constant pressure inside of them not quite breaking out into a full blown headache but the potential was there. Already this was the highest I had ever been and the real climb had not begun yet. I scanned the peak I could see the top and I tried to pick out which way looked best, I was hoping to see some marks, some trails but it was all perfectly white from here. After setting up camp I followed the trail a little further up to see the way ahead for tomorrow and came upon a group of Chinese, they were heading up there early in the morning and had hired a guide, we got talking a little and told them I had hoped to find my own way up at which they offered for me to follow them up, perfect. I introduced myself to them all and the guides and spent the night around the warmth of their camp fire, we ate talked what we were able to and agreed a time to be ready.
I had very little sleep that night it was very cold and dropped down to -8 inside my tent but I was not cold just awake inside with the thought of the climb, the anticipation. I felt uncomfortable to breathe like I had to concentrate, sort of claustrophobic feeling.

In and out of sleep I finally sat up and switched off my alarm before it had gone off, 3.00am I was awake anyway and wanted to get going. I heard movement outside so quickly got dressed and outside, I was ready to go, come on guys where are you?.....I waited nearly 2 hours these guys had to have their full Chinese breakfast cooking noodles, chopping vegetables, then finally getting their gear together that they did not do the night before, OK I started to realize they have not done this before, confirmation of this as I look down at the skateboard knee pads they were! But they were happy enough.

We finally got going, still dark, still early enough and following a line of headlamps up into the crisp morning mountain air, under a bright moon and a canopy of unhindered light from the stars I could hear the crisp sounds of crampons, making almost a brittle, squeaking sound, eeek eeek eeek, unique, particular to cold spikes piercing super frozen brittle to my ears. It was a steep climb and never really gave out to anywhere flat, although now carrying no weight, it gradually got harder and harder, 4800 meters placing each foot in front of the other trying, concentrating hard not to exhert any unnecessary energy, 5000 meters the air was biting cold now I look down at my altimeter it read -20 and with the wind picking now was bringing the wind chill down further. My hands and feet were getting a bit numb but I was too focused on putting one foot ahead of the other, each stepwas that little bit closer.
The first signs of light appeared and I could see a well defined layer of cloud below us stretching out in a huge horizon of cloud this was going to look good from the top, yes just up there now another 400 meters. My temples had developed a steady beat now, my head spinning out every time as I got out of breath, with every 6 paces now I needed to stop to catch my breath, I tried to imagine how these early attempts on Everest must have been like, heavy, cold equipment, frostbite, storms, nearly another 4000 meters higher than this, just impossible to imagine. Already this felt like I had been walking constantly up for days all the previous day and now at least another 5 hours still going up.

The last 150 meters I could see clearly the way to the top, it looked very steep, here so near to the top, it was the last obstacle of ice, polished from the ripping wind, my calf muscles felt like they are going to pop, the incline is so steep I cannot get articulate my ankle anymore needing to dig in with my toes putting more strain on my calf muscles and very uncomfortable, I dig each foot into the ice and slowly ascend. Temples pounding, muscles bursting, I systematically place one foot in front of the other trying not to get in front of my limited breathing, then it flattens out as it reaches the last few paces and I stagger to the summit. I lose the rhythm with my breath with excitement, as the smallest emotional outburst caused me to gasp and pant for a few minutes, I see a 360 panorama of cloud sea, an illusion of tiny islands formed from huge lumps of mountain/rock penetrating through the layer below, stunning, exited, cold, tired I did not care how I felt, I was intoxicated with a sensory overload of relief, joy, amazement. The weather had been very kind and I was very lucky to have found these people to follow up and thankful to my own body for getting me to the top.

After descending back down to base camp I gathered my tent and equipment together, laid down and rested my temples a little, I was exhausted inside and out but my mind would not rest, it was over stimulated trying to recollect the events of the past day or two, I could not believe I stumbled upon this mountain and had climbed it, a big event for me so early on in my travels now I am already on bonus time.
I walked back down to the guest house, it was a long day, 9 hours this morning from the summit then another 5 hours to the village, a healthy 14 hour walk, my legs my body felt completely detached. I was completely done, finished, nothing left, what a great day.

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