Today was the toughest day of the trek: Scaling and crossing the Rupin pass. Disclaimer: This post is longer because it was a day of intense experiences and I’m going to pen them all.
The first half an hour of the trek was petrifying. My chest and lungs heaved and complained. There was barely enough oxygen going in even though the oxymeter gave me an unbelievable reading of 95. The layers of clothing we wore to shield against the mind-numbing snow and winds were suffocating. I had a brief thought that I should hang up my boots- tell the trek leader that this was beyond me, beyond my endurance levels.
There were 3 kinds of ascents I discovered today and I’m going to describe all 3. The first, and how our trek began, is a moderately steep ascent (gradient 30 degrees). We were asked to bunch together as a team, and your speed is determined by the slowest members who lead. You walk the footsteps of the person in front, think like him, become him in a sense. Your speed is slow, breathing controlled. Although this bit came at a point today when we were just starting out and hence felt harder, I’ve realised this type of climbing is comparatively easy.
The second type of ascent is crossing gently upward sloping ridges. Up on the mountains, the fresh snow rises up in crests and troughs, like giant sand dunes. Walking through and climbing this was the hardest bit for me today since we broke form and were allowed to walk at our natural speeds. I would start off in natural enthusiasm and end up coming up for giant gasps of air, like filling up a balloon.
The third type was the steep slope, climbing up the pass (gradient 45). We had technical guides who would continuously make shelves in the ice which we could use as footholds. It felt very similar to rock climbing- your entire focus is on climbing each step, not look up or down, modulate breathing.
“Mountains have been seen around the world as thresholds between this world and the next, as places where the spirit world comes close.”
It does feel like you have crossed over a threshold atop. Scaling the pass felt like an emotional achievement for everyone- we had weathered, and overcome some kind of physical or emotional obstacle and ascended up to 15,000 feet. The Chinese phrase for going on a pilgrimage actually means “paying one’s respects to the mountain”. To me this is what scaling the pass feels like-I ascended like Moses and met my maker.
A brief detour here to talk about our guides. All across, we’ve been accompanied by Chacha, the senior, serious local expert, Prateek, our young, bohemian lead, Jaggu, a fun lad who brings up the rear and will shepherd us to ensure we’re on track and in time, and a host of other porters, and technical guides. They’ve all been so incredibly warm, helpful, jovial. One could argue it’s their job but making the journey more enjoyable and keeping a jolly demeanour in such trying natural conditions is the extra they bring to the table- something I’ve been grateful for each day.
After Rupin, we walked for 4 more hours. The first was walking through a snow desert-the sun beat down steadily upon our heads. We crossed several slopes sliding down- this is an intensely fun activity which involves you sliding down the icy side of a mountain, a natural roller coaster of sorts.
The rest of the walk was through bits of snow, melted streams and meadows. “In the experience of walking, each step is a thought. You can’t escape yourself.” Every long trail on the hike has made me feel reflective and meditative- perhaps this is what meditation is supposed to feel like. The natural rhythm of your body, feeling and being one with the landscape, and feeling completely at peace with the mind and world. The wish that this should never end.