March 4 Day 4 Upper Pisang to Ngawal
In the middle of the night I heard a roar. My first thought was thunder, but the sky was clear. It was an avalanche in the glacier bowl on Annapurna II. It faces Upper Pisang across the river valley and so is a natural amplifier. I rolled over and slept until 6:00 when the whole crew started stomping around. Plain wood floors and walls make for noisy neighbors. Frost was on the deck on the way to the dining area. A pot of black tea and some oatmeal started the day and soon I was making my way down the trail. A cold morning– and they will become increasingly cold. A little concerned that my foul weather gear won’t be enough, but I’ll just put on everything I have when crossing Thorung La. No road walking today as the path is high above the river and the road is on the other side. It is a day to get serious about acclimatization, so on the steep grades I do a lot of short rest stops to get breath. Each day’s distance will be quite short until I get over the pass. There is a lot of anxiety amongst the trekkers here about altitude edema– pretty much a constant in conversation. All I can do is to inventory my physical state constantly, rest a lot, and be willing to turn back if necessary. Although much of Nepal is Buddhist, the deeper into the mountains I go, the more mani walls, shrines, stupas, and gompas I pass. Yesterday I saw trimmed ends of juniper drying on the hotel deck looking almost as if they were making wreaths. In the mornings they make a small fire on a pedestal, usually near a mani wall, with the smoky juniper twigs in order to wake up Buddha. Most of the morning was on a high path looking back at Annapurna II while looking toward Annapurna III. After crossing a long swinging bridge I began to make my way up a long incline, probably gaining about 400 meters of altitude in a short stretch. At about the third switchback I heard that same rumble and turned to see a wall of snow and ice crashing down the Annapurna glacier bowl. It turned into a cloud filling the whole area, then settled back down covering the rocks that had previously been exposed. The sun was shining brightly through it all– no words for that scene. Not long after I passed men driving two horses that were wearing brightly colored saddles, would love to have seen them riding across the countryside. The rest of the morning was a long climb involving a lot of stopping to breath. This is perhaps an obvious observation, but I understand better one of the reasons Buddhist meditation practices focus on the breath. Here where the religion began, focusing on your breathing is a away of life. Even the guides who walk these mountains constantly have to acclimatize. On the ascents, you can see their careful breathing patterns, something I’ve never been so aware of. Ngawal also is home to a large gompa though older than the one at Upper Pisang. The complex had several older buildings including one housing a large colorful prayer wheel, and a mani wall that had very old, cloth covered prayer wheels. You could see the handwritten script of the prayers on the tatters, beautiful. Later dined on yak Dal Bhat, then early to bed.
T. Hugh Crawford