The room in Thame is narrower than it is tall; it barely fits a half-width bed and my bag. It’s finished in slatted wood; in the pre-dawn hours, the general feeling is of opening your eyes in your own coffin. I wake up slow and stiff and reluctant to move; a coffin may be a coffin, but I know this could be the last bed I see for a while.
My boots are dry, and I treat myself to fresh socks. Amma-ji is quick with the tsampa, and I’m on my way out the door at 6:30, at first light. It’s cold; I can feel it coming though two fleece jackets. As soon as the first light hits me, all that drops away. The day starts out clear, and at 4000 meters, the light is as immediate a presence as the rocks underfoot: I can feel the heat cook one shoulder, then the other, as the path twists and turns. Glacier glasses come out. They won’t go away until I fall below Namche in ten days.
The terrain is more to my liking. The jungles and rainforests have fallen back behind their eternal circumvallation; the peaks stand defiant, still a few miles away. I’m in no-man’s-land – the forests have not subsumed this earth, and the glaciers have not scraped it clean. Life clings on – the heather is purple-gray underfoot, and each stone is encrusted in jewel-like droplets dangling on the moss, oblivious to the encroaching furnace overhead. Another few hours, and I know the last of the moss will be gone as well.
By mid-morning, I’m at Marlung, an ancillary village below Lumde. Another hour, and I’m at Lumde itself, the last point I’ll see on the well-trod path. There’s two lodges, both alike in dignity, and one having the claim of being a bit farther up. I’m still fresh; the higher one for lunch it is.
Lunch drags out, and a light rain rolls in with the afternoon clouds: a thin sheet that lies mere meters off the ground. I leave late, but it’s no matter: Arye, and my acclimatization stop for the day, is less than an hour away. I pack up and step out into the fog, fueled and relaxed.
And just as well I have this strength, as the best-laid plans of mice and men do what they are wont to. Arye comes out to me from the fog: two lodges – each an imposing lock on the door – and three dug-in houses, each a dark cave two feet or so into the sandy soil. Three people as well, each with a large bag of yak shit on their shoulder – the fresh, wet stuff – each spreading it on small fields separated by walls of piled rock.
No luck with a homestay; not sure I even could convey the idea in full, smiles notwithstanding. I’ve been off the well-traveled trails for an hour, and it’s another world. Displacement isn’t work anymore; every move is now something to think about, every decision something to weigh. I’m a stone’s throw from the helicopter extraction ceiling; no tourists and no caravans will move along this trail for weeks at a time, and I’m alone.
It’s a re-birth of sorts. The world pulls a sharper focus. I scrawl “Adventure begins here.” (complete with ponderous period and not a flippant exclamation point) into my logbook and set off upriver.
The water gushes and boils around the stones; it’s a chalky brown as it pulls the fine clay off the glacier ahead. An hour up, I hurdle a low wall on the left, and come face-to-face with a yak herd. Two women and an adorable kid stare at me. This time, one smile dissolves the tension; Amma-ji motions for me to put my bag down and step into the dugout.
It’s dark inside, and my eyes take a moment to adjust. We huddle around the chimneyless stove; she hands me a cup of tea. Moments later, her husband comes in with a porter-sized load of firewood; his smile lights up the room as he steps around the calf nestled in the doorway. Over dinner, I find he’s a local boy done good over the last 75 years: his three sons are an Everest guide, a doctor, and a monk; the man himself still carries more then I do, at three times my age. I spread my bag out in the corner; the last thing I remember is smelling the sweat and fire and animals, and it churning my stomach full of rice.
The day closes with 18.6 kilometers done in 5 hours, with 4 hours 15 minutes of rest. I sleep at 4463 meters, having climbed 984 and fallen 269.