Altibajos …. or the ups and downs of the trek – and its exigencies

We have to accept ups and downs, so nicely captured in the Spanish word altibajos. But it is difficult not to resent losing the height one has gained. A particular example occurs up from Namche. After patiently climbing to the pass at Mong, the path descends all the way down to the river, yes the same Dudh Kosi … that now I see actually flows from the famous Gokyo Lakes where we are headed.

But first the trail is looking straight north-east, right up to the peak of Everest. And what is that village so perilously perched beneath the crags? Is it really secure or might  landslides open up on either side where the land falls steeply to the rivers below? It is Phortse, where will we stay on the return from Gokyo. Defiant, stoical people must live on that bleak ledge.

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But this is real walking, with some narrow corners, some exposed ledges.

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Do man´s visions last, Do man´s illusions? My illusion was that the trail would just continue nicely contouring up into the Gokyo valley, instead of plunging 400 metres down to the river. Here, approaching the village of Mong, the illusion was still intact. Take things as they come!

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But we can enact our daily homage to spontaneity, surely? Although we had planned to stay in Phortse Thanka, by the river, we found the lodge we anticipated staying in was closed. Nothing for it, but to continue up to Dhole then, a rise of some 500 metres. Any altitude risk?  … probably not. We passed through magical forests of pine and rhododendrons, skirting the frozen rivers, conscious of passing into a more hallowed land and rarer air, to the sacred lakes.

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And what about the ¨exigencies¨hinted at, and why the obscure vocabulary? Dear reader, I promise it is not to baffle nor to impress; these words simply pop up from the subconscious river of lexis. I check them for their suitability. Exigencies are the demands of the trek, what it requires, what is urgent and unavoidable.

It´s the cold that is unavoidable, now intensifying each night as we go above 4000m. Yes, yak dung is pressed into service in the stoves, and effective it is too, but there is nothing for it but to return to one´s frosty room at about 8.00 pm, and it´s a long night to 6.00 am. A long, sleepless night, since it is increasingly hard to conk out: one of the effects of altitude.

On top of this, in the small hours I begin to feel claustrophobic in the sleeping bag and fumble to release its constricting chords. Then reassess the irrationality, tighten up again. Repeat. All the time drifting in a half sleep, conscious, checking the watch. If one is lucky, one may have vivid, alarming, surreal dreams, but I have not been blessed so far. All symptoms a result of the thinner air and its effect on the vigilant brain.

Despite the cold, movement on the trail warms you, radiance of the sun splashes you benignly, and you have to take off an anorak and thus walk comfortably with three layers: thermal vest, shirt, fleece.

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Onward, upward, inward to the heart of the mountains and the lakes, the landscape becoming more extraordinary, wild. How satisfying to see the trail leaping ahead, with the Dudh Kosi river bed stretching into Gokyo, some water still flowing.

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