We start out early, the three of us, in the pre-dawn chill. We move fast, stomachs full of tsampa and the sun still out of our eyes. Resting up and acclimating overnight made a difference, and our feet fly along the pebbled track.
The climb is 450 meters to the pass, but it feels flat; the trail winds slowly among the hills. We watch the sun come up; the same shy yellows that crept up on me far below now come brazenly, and sweep away the mist.
The Lamjura La comes at us from the rising fog, standing stiff against the breeze. Hurdling it, the breeze whipping through us, we watched the clouds lift and the bright light paint the valley below. The descent is through a dense copse; the trail probes through the undergrowth as thick leaves draw fresh streaks of green on our boots. Roots hide shallow puddles amongst the rocks.
Ashley and Whitney stop at Junbesi. It’s another gem: blue and white houses, flagstone alleys, prayer flags all over. But I’m working; there’s distance to do, and the time I bank up may come in handy at the top. So I keep hammering on, into the gathering grey clouds.
There’s a climb, but the trail skirts around it – the afternoon passes quickly on the flat, with an expansive view over my right shoulder. In the evening, on descent to the river, the sun kisses the hills, and reminds me where I am. Clouds skirmish and blot it out, coalescing in a heavy sheet above my head and letting go the occasional droplet.
Dusk follows quickly; when it’s time to get the headlamp out, I’m still on the trail, within striking range of Ringmu. The final hour is in the dark, and painful. The bag’s been on my back for half a day, and the reality of the trail – day in and day out, step by step – sinks in. It’s work.
It’s work made better by some company. Twenty minutes out, I link up with a 15 year old Nepali girl. We stride together in silence though the dark, up the rain-slicked steps beyond the last bridge. She says nothing, because there is nothing to say; whenever she pulls ahead, she turns around and waits, with gentle eyes. I’m amongst the living dead after the last three days; and stumble forward slowly. My headlamp ekes out a tunnel in the darkness; I finish the day, under her practiced gaze.
The lodge is empty, except a burly weightlifter type from Santa Cruz (judging by the Banana Slugs sweatshirt) and his guide and porter. He’s speechless with fatigue, and they steam in silent frustration. It’s all the better; I don’t have the vitality to spare on bullshitting. My boots come off and sweat pours off my socks into the fire as I shovel down rice. The brothers running the place smile at me as the younger refills my plate.
The day ends at eight pm, two hours after sundown. It’s 25 kilometers in 8 hours on, with 3.5 hours of breaks. A paltry 998 meters of climbing – it’s not a proper day in Nepal, I’m coming to find, unless it’s a full kilometer of standing up to gravity.