Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ascending the Mountain Day One

Janice Held Video Blog

The flashing memories are winding back through my mind. (BTW – my brain is back!) In Kathmandu, where the streets, air and sidewalks were drab and somewhat filthy according to our western standards, the women wore bright colors daily. From my point of view their wrapped and flowing clothing was brilliant blues, pinks, orange and all in clothing that would be suitable for a fine spring or summer wedding.

By contrast, up in the Himalayan mountain region, the vividly splendid earthly colors of the sky, mountains, cottages, floral bloom and finely clean fine air the people wore drab clothing. That was partly due to the surroundings and mainly due to the constant and heavy work. During our climbing instructions there were few spoken words about the climb and the etiquette of the trail. The primary concern was that when you heard the clinging bells hanging around the necks of the pack animals – always stand to the high side of the trail as they passed. Standing on the cliff side was obviously a good position for a possible bad mishap.

As my journaling story took pause several days ago we had just secured our precious prayer flags to the highest wooden bridge. Paige took off with full ability at her own pace heading for our next declared stopping point. Lhakpa and I traveled at my normal fifty percent of Paige. I waved goodbye to her as she was rounding a corner several hundred feet above my slow and lower position. My right knee was still a problem and I was yet fully able to lift my body weight upon anything but my wounded left leg. Slow was just fine for me. Lhakpa’s left arm was my guardrail and he put a new real meaning into my mind about ‘a right-hand man.’

Just after getting to the downside of the bridge I again stopped to catch my breath, drink some water, from the backpack that Lhakpa was carrying along with his own pack, and to dry the tears still modestly streaming down my cheeks. At that breathing stop I began a conversation with a woman my age and her daughter. They were also descending and she carried herself with a broad smile and an abundance of spunk and spirit. The first question is always, “Where are you from?” and “Where are your travels taking you today?” She was one of fifty-some people who looked at my struggles and pace and applauded the efforts of just being there – ‘good girl.’

We all heading down the trail and this is a trail that you must not take you eyes off. No steps or well-trodden earthen paths, but boulders and steps down well over an 18-inch drop and the boulders weren’t always stable. Stopping to catch your breath was also the time to look up. The deep blue sky was the ever-awesome sight as that brought your eyes down to the snow capped towering mountains that formed the surroundings of the valley trails that we were winding among.

Waterfalls and gold painted cliffs adorned the walls of our canyon. The dwellings were either old worn wooden huts or brightly painted with colored tea houses supporting the brilliant flowers from the natural growth of the flat land or planted beauties that were potting in any possible container. Nothing was wasted in this high country.

The travelers, real and want-to-be trekkers, were a constant flow for both the ascending and descending mountaineers. Also on the trail were human porters carrying anywhere up to eighty pounds of goods in handmade wicker baskets designed for maximum weight and load balance. All of these porters leading up the hill were stooped over with a wide woven headband to support the bulk of the top weight of their load. In one hand was a short doubled headed walking stick that served both to help the up a step incline an also to be used as a slight stool to sit upon without having to remove their load. Our courteous position was to clear the path for them to proceed without having to stop their momentum. The reverse was also true for porters with an empty load to be running down the trail to get back to Lukla to pick up another load. These people were the equivalent of a one-man moving van. They were paid about 400 rp ( $1.35 USD) for their efforts up to Namche Bazaar.

Lhakpa and I wandered down to the Mount Kailash Lodge and Restaurant in Monzo. Paige was sitting beautifully tall, blonde and secure outside in the sun sipping a coke. She had already showered and had secured our rooms. She would have been one of the many who could have done my three-day trip in the one-day that most trekkers were assigned to traverse. I joined her in the sun and watched the constant stream of climbers, animals of burden and porters. We all looked like ants walking to and from our ant mound. Since none of us were ever able to veer off the trail we were very well contained.

That night we stayed in a little cottage with a bathroom and real toilet. Since I had been on “The Toilette Tour” all of the way down the mountain a real flushable sit-down potty was well worth the 30 USD per night charge. Wherever your travels are taking you in is real important to secure lodging before the sun sneaks behind the mountain to the west. As soon as the sun is off the trail darkness is soon to follow and the chill becomes a mighty cold.

Our dinner was anything white. Paige had a good plan all-along, I deviated from the white plan and paid the price. White meant pancakes, crepes, potatoes and pasta. Plain pancake, with sugar, was my dinner choice. Yak butter was ruled out from the first bite on the first day. Black hot tea was for warming the hands before warming my belly.

The dining rooms had benches around the walls with narrow high tables just in front of us with easy access for the servers. Talking to fellow travelers and sitting around the big potbelly stove was what you did while waiting the hour required to fill your order. Lhakpa was running back and forth to the kitchen making sure that our order was done properly. Rarely did he eat with us and never did so once he hired two porters to carry our load. When he had employees he took his full stance as guide and protector. As we finished dinner and talking and making calls outside with our satellite phone he would bring our nalgene trekking water bottles to our room full of boiling hot water. These bottles were real hot water bottles to heat our chest and our feet. We drifted off to sleep after going through our ABC verbal gratitude list. ‘L’ always stood for Lhakpa.

At first light we got up as we had probably gone to sleep around 8 P.M. and the dawn always meant get up, get packed and be ready to leave as soon as the sun as about to blaze the trail. We were once again ascending for another full day of trekking. Little did I know that before nightfall of that brilliant day I would have an intellectual gift at our next sleeping quarters. That story will follow.


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