Ascending to the Summit
I’m struggling for air, awake in a cramped room at Upper Camp. Three beds, that’s all. The altitude’s to blame, my mind reasons, but my body’s in panic mode. “Breathe,” I tell myself, “deeply and slowly.” I lie on my back, avoiding my side or stomach.
Waiting is all I can do, not wanting to disturb Deena and Tomer, who are sound asleep nearby. What am I waiting for? The 4:15 alarm, or perhaps, better yet, for the sweet release of sleep to overtake me. And so the night drags on until 4:15 arrives.
The alarm goes off at 4:15. We spring out of our sleeping bags, hastily prepare ourselves and our belongings, and head to the packed dining room for black coffee and porridge. By 5:15, we are ready to depart.
A procession of roughly 30 to 40 hikers, porters, and guides from various groups, all sporting headlamps, embark into the darkness. There is no scenery to behold, only the sound of crampons crunching into snowy white powder and birds chirping.
At 6:30, the light starts to reveal the breathtaking white surroundings. We come across a tea house that offers hot, delicious lemon tea for the price of a meal. It’s hard to believe that someone actually lives and operates it.
The trail ascends 500 meters (1640 ft) in elevation, but the slope is moderate, not particularly difficult except for the cold and shortness of breath. I walk at a slow pace, passing some and being passed by others. Everyone is in their own zone of silence. I dare to stop and take off my gloves to snap some photos, thinking to myself, if not now, when?
Tomer patiently waits for me, and we continue in unison. I believe that he is accompanying me to ensure that I am safe and sound, although I have not explicitly asked him about his intentions. Nevertheless, I will stick to my story because I like it!
At around 8:30, we see Deena, who enthusiastically beckons to us whilst capturing footage. We have finally ascended to the pass, an elevation of 5416 meters (17770 ft). Embracing one another, as well as our porters, we revel in this momentous accomplishment.
I am overcome with jubilation, having envisioned and yearned for this moment for a long time. I am intoxicated by the ecstasy of being alive. Deena selects a tune, and Milan joins me in a dance.
After documenting our achievement and surveying our surroundings, we proceed towards the daunting descent – a staggering 1700 meters (5770 ft), treacherous and slick.
Deena, with her fitness and agility, resembled a true gazelle and stayed far ahead of Tomer and me, while our porters trailed in between. The sunny window we had enjoyed was now replaced by a steady shower of snowflakes that grew increasingly dense and intense as we descended further.
Unfortunately, our porters were struggling due to inadequate equipment; they were forced to share a single pair of crampons, as the other was useless. To make matters worse, they neglected to wear sunglasses, and the blinding snow glare made them dizzy. Deepak was particularly unstable, but they stuck together, relying on one another for support.
Despite their efforts, Deepak slid and fell, but Milan was quick to help him up. We pressed on; I worried about their safety as I struggled to manage my own screaming knees amidst the slippery and steep terrain and the relentless snowflakes. Tomer remained close by.
After a while, we stopped for lunch and relished a delicious bowl of vegetable noodle soup. Finally, by 2:00 pm, we reached Muktinath, where we are taking a rest for the day.