Langtang – the mountain, alpine, windy, raw Langtang – came at me through a throbbing haze. We had climbed all day – a full vertical mile from 2100 meters to 3700 meters – over a span of less than a mile, and I was done.

The path lead in though the thinning jungle; the steps crossed with roots and stumps. It’s impossible to keep your own pace on stuff like this; each step is knee-high; each inch forward means leg-pressing – on one leg – your own weight and what you carry. Small intervals where you can take baby steps and shuffle forward, are few and far between – a tease right before another set of knee raises. You hunch forward to keep the straps from cutting your shoulders, and the world cinches down to the three square feet right before you. Sweat drips down your nose, mixing with the snot you don’t have the strength to blow away. Each step is a breath, either in or out, and you stop and throw the bag forward off your shoulders every minute or so.

Five hours of this, and I was done. But it was enough; we had hit the first set of huts; the luminous smile of the woman hosting made up for some of the misery. A kilo of rice made up for the rest.

The next day epitomized “Nepali flat.” The course ran from 3700 to 3400 meters over five hours. My GPS logged another kilometer of ascent throughout – a plain thousand yards of vertical movement, to end the day with a 300 meter descent.

We greeted dawn on the trail the morning after. The schedule was to climb to the pass, at 4600 meters, and then descend to a series of lakes. We wanted dry snow and clear air to make the pass early, before the clouds rolled in. The climbing was deliberate, slow and satisfying – the occasional snowfield crunched invitingly, and the rising feeble sun did enough to cut the chill.

The back half of the pass iced the cake. A dozen lakes, each veiled with a sheet of fresh ice, shone like scattered dewdrops among the blinding snow. The ramshackle cabins, moles on the perfect face of the mountain, huddled against the wind. The tea was warm, and two Russian guides made for cheery and loud conversation.

Beauty has it’s cost. I came down with AMS that night, but didn’t care. A late start and steep descent cleared up the fatigue, and we were in shape to take the next bus out from Dunche the next day.

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