The first look out the ragged window, into the bleak dawn, shows a field full of mud. The soil, unwillingly bathed overnight, swells and wrinkles; the loam rises to a slick, doughy spackle covering the stony steps. We have to climb a mile though this crap today.
It’s two steps forward, one step back straight out of the gate. Ten minutes in, the mud cakes on my boots; the laces are gone under an inch of clay. The humidity is murder, and the temperature is screaming past the switchbacks while clouds of steam roll off us at every hairpin.
It’s north of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, sweaty and moist; the morning passes like walking up a set of stairs inside someone’s cervex, anchored to a full pack. An hour in, I fall back, drowning in my own sweat. Nicole ploughs ahead, far too graceful given where we are.
Four hours in, I break for lunch early. At a nameless, menu-less rest house, it’s two porters – tipsy on rice wine in time for brunch – a matronly grandmother, and two kids. I sit near the stove and dry off. The kids play with the firewood while I drink tea and shovel down potatoes. The house is cramped, but the six of us get on well; a young mother shows up with her toddler. For lunch, the three clumsy kids play with large platefuls of rice; most of it ends in their tummies, some of it ends up on my boots.
For 90 minutes, it’s bliss. Nothing is trying to kill me, nothing is trying to steal from me or bury me. There’s air to breathe and food to eat. There’s no rain, and not all that far to walk. I wrap lunch, lounge around another tea, and set off into the mist.
On ascent, the trail switches from heavy mud to deep puddles, the light mist switches to thick fog. The trail winds thought the monochrome blankness; the only respite is to think about the past few days. The humidity peaks, and sweat pools in my boots.
After nine hours of movement, I hit Kharikhola. Nicole’s already picked out a place; I throw my bag down and dress for dinner: nauseating week-old thermals. We do half-assed yoga in the common room while Daju cooks dinner. He tells us Salleri may be eight hours away – we exchange glances and wordlessly decide to hammer it home tomorrow.
We fall asleep to the sounds of the night’s hellish monsoon.