An hour after attempting to sleep I woke up freezing. I curled into a ball within two warming bag like sleep things. This did nothing. I pulled the sleeping bag over my head, tugging the draw string so that only my nose peeked out. Still, nothing. Grabbing my thermal shirt from my bag, I put it on, without ever leaving the comforting non-freezing cold of my sleeping bag and then attempted once more to sleep.
An hour later I woke up. Thermal on, check – only nose poking through, check. I grabbed my thermal pants and wrestled them on without leaving my bag of pretend warmth. I fell asleep.
An hour later I woke up. What more could I do? I grabbed a toque from my bag and pulled it over my head, under the sleeping bag, nose only poking through and fell asleep.
An hour later I woke up. Socks were applied. This is all I could do. And it seemed to work.
An hour later – someone knocked on my tent offering me warm tea. It was time to get up. Of course it was. My clothes were soaked with sweat and dew. It was gross, it was disgusting, I was not well rested. And if not for the tea hand delivered to my tent, I would have been a far grouchier human being.
I pulled on clothes, and headed out into the world. Breakfast was waiting. I talked to others who had rented sleeping bags. Their nights were just as pleasant as mine.
But then there was food – breakfast – you know, warm something, followed by more warm something, and tea. By the time we were finished the porters had broken down camp and already started trudging on to the next stop for our trek. And then we were told it was time to start out. After some complaining, this was agreed upon as the correct choice of action, as the end wasn't getting any nearer, and thus began the Day (day day) Of (of of) Hell (hell hell) and so on and so forth.
We had 900 vertical meters to climb, over six kilometers. And once more things started off relatively flat. This would not bode well for things to come. Before leaving camp I bought a brightly coloured toque to keep my ears warm. This would prove to be my bane; while my head was warm, my face was now targeted by the sun's burnings rays. And it was slightly unpleasant, shall we say. [note: my face is still peeling as I right, but only the right side. Joy.]
Once more, I knew I was surrounded by beauty, but I could take in very little of it. In fact all I could really appreciate were the few square meters surrounding my feet. As I hopped over rocks, and crossed rivers, trying ever so hard not to sink my foot into the chilling waters, I was overcome with a sense of pushing forward.
Now and then the group would stop to rest. Stopping to rest – this does nothing for me. I can not rest a moment, and then start off with a new found energy, and so while they stopped I pressed on. And then they would catch up, and pass me, only to pause again, while I went beyond them. And as such, it was through this leapfrogging motion that I made my way along the trail.
Twice in my solo travels did I need to pause and wait for others to catch up. Once was due to a horse which I was only slightly terrified of – never mind that – and the other was when I couldn't see the trail any longer. Two paths broke away, and being up in the hills, I decided it would be best not to just choose one and hope for the best.
It was during these solo treks that I finally started to feel at peace with the walking. Sure it was still hard, and my legs ached, and at times the ethereal voice of Katherine was joined by Matty P issuing words such as “Come on Mikey, you can do this, you got this!” as might be said when attempting something difficult or strenuous, such as preparing a sandwich, or searching to the back reaches of a cramped refrigerator. More often than not those words would be claimed as I approached a “Sick” score in Tony Hawk for PS2. Now, however, it was pushing me to the top of a god awful mountain.
When the two paths broke away, I climbed to a small peak where I could see the surrounding valley, take in the marshes, the llamas climbing through the hills, and the trees winding along the ridge line. My momentary encampment also offered me a view that would assure visibility of the group when they finally decided to press on. There was only one flaw to my plan. At 4300m up, with no defense from the wind, it was cold. Very, very cold.
Still – it was my place to stand alone, and survey all that had become my surroundings. For ten minutes I gazed out, and began to appreciate my location.
And then the correct path was pointed out by a passing guide. Up, up, to the mountain pass. The last one hundred meters were by far the steepest, and the hardest. Knowing that there in front of me was the highest point I'd ever need climb did nothing to help me press onward. I sloughed on, left foot, right foot, right foot – no! - the models doom.
In time, I ascended to the top, and was able to look down around me in all directions. And then, at that point, the walk became fun.
After one or two jumping pictures were taken, we began to hike downhill. The world became a bit more beautiful, the mountains sprung to life, everything was pleasant and ideal. Already the pain of the climb was starting to leave, and the thoughts of impossibility were removed from my mind. Obviously I could have accomplished this all along. There was never any doubt, yeah?
And down we made our way to a trout-filled take surrounded by small houses, homes for farmers working their fields and terraces. It was there that we stopped for lunch.
It should be noted that full on half the people on the trek were chomping down on imodium tablets with every meal, attempting to avoid the use of the bush toilet. I shook my head at their effort, but it was quite the impressive one. They tried hard.
Lunch was large and long. And starting off after again proved to be the most difficult part of the post-peak hike.
The trails continued along the ridges, passing idyllic scenery finally able to be appreciated. It crossed through towns celebrating Carnival, blasting the oddest music from homes equipped to do so; our guide was smacked in the face with coloured flour, being a tradition of this celebration, you see. We then peeked inside a local house. One room, fire always blazing, a few chairs a bed for the family, cups suspended from the ceiling. Llama skins over every rafter. Outside were freshly removed skins drying in the sun.
And then on we pushed through a town, past our original camp site for the night, and on one more hour. It was at this point that my knee blew. Much like 2008 it was nearly impossible to bend it, and for an hour still ahead of us, this was less than ideal. Though the rest of the walk was simply down a road, it became difficult for me to even keep up and keep the group in my sight as they carried on to the camp site.
There was some anger, some rage, some upset about the fact that we didn't stop where we should have. But silence kept, and on I pressed until I could see the red tents in front of us. These tents were ill equipped for the cold. They had arm holes where you could reach from the inside to the outside. In other words there were holes in the tents. While I'm sure they may have been wonderful for summer camping at sea level, this high up they did nothing for comfort or warmth.
When I reached camp, I was tossed a few advil for pain and swelling and downed them. Then promptly passed out in my tent. I awoke hours later for dinner, my knee feeling strangely better.
Over dinner people talked about their new found love of camping, commenting on how they might camp in the future. Once more I kept my mouth shut, but another, through rolled eyes, pointed out that real camping does not come with cooks, or people to carry your gear, set up camp, and break it down in the morning.
Silence as this new information was thought over.
Once more cards carried the night along, until it was time to put on thermals, jump into the tent, and attempt to sleep through one more night.