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  • Writer's pictureHiker Tom

Sunrise Hits the Annapurnas

Thorong High Camp, Annapurna Conservation Area, Nepal

Wednesday 08th May 2019, 02:00am

We’re woken by three heavy bangs against the door. I use the term “woken” lightly, because I’m not sure that either of us have actually slept. Between the effects of altitude and the excitement for the day ahead, I’ve spent most of the night tossing and turning, ensnared by the thralls of a state that is neither asleep nor awake. The banging on the door is followed by a call to get ready, and I lurch up slowly.

“How did you sleep?” my dad asks. I reply that I didn’t, before stuffing away my sleeping bag and pulling on a pair of fleece-lined trousers.

When I step outside of the small cabin, the sky is a sight to behold. We’re at 4400m and, in the absence of light pollution, I find myself standing beneath a canopy of stars. Thousands of glitters spread in all directions from horizon to horizon, obstructed only by the silhouette of Himalayan peaks that rise deep into the night. I stand still for a moment, craning my neck to take in the view. The only sound is that of my own breathing which, burdened by the altitude, disperses plumes of steam into the brisk mountain air. Not knowing which part of the vast expanse to focus on, I allow my gaze to relax and my eyes to wander – taking in the spectacle in no particular order. Savouring the moment.

A short while later, my dad and I are with the rest of the group, ready to set off. I’ve forced down a bowl of banana porridge accompanied by some ginger tea. I wasn’t particularly hungry and even felt a little nauseous, but I know that on today of all days I’m going to need the calories. The journey ahead is what we have all been building up to since our arrival in Nepal, and before then too. The Thorong-La Pass sits at 5416m above sea-level and we plan to cross it today; that’s a climb of 1000m to the top, followed by a descent of 1700m to our tea-house on the other side – thirteen hours of trekking.

“Remember, guys. It’s not the altitude, it’s the attitude!” remarks Dan, a group member from New Zealand, and he rouses an appreciative chuckle from everybody else. We first used the Scott Fischer quote from Into Thin Air ironically, but with each day of trekking that’s passed it has taken on more significance; it now serves as a reminder of the camaraderie that has formed between us all.

And so we set off in the middle of the night, following our trusted guide Hem Raj, towards our final goal. We trundle steadily towards the pass, each one of us clad in thermal layers, down jackets, hats and gloves. Under the night sky the path is illuminated by our head-torches; I imagine us creating a line of intermittent white dots that can be seen from afar – insignificantly small against the Himalayan backdrop.

Over the past ten days we have paid close attention to our acclimatisation, yet even so, each step begins to feel laborious as we gain height. By now the air contains almost 50% less oxygen, and each member of the group is ravaged by different effects – I’m combating periods of lightheadedness and a mild headache, usual symptoms but uncomfortable, nevertheless. It’s cold too, and every breath is bracing inside my lungs as I breathe harder and harder in search for oxygen. Paradoxically, however, the discomfort forms part of my enjoyment as I edge ever close to my goal. There is a satisfaction to be found in the knowledge that I am pushing myself beyond my boundaries.

The flow of time appears to speed up as we hike through the darkness. As it passes, so do the stars drift over our heads. After two strenuous hours we roll into Thorong High Camp and a small celebration ensues. The high camp marks the end of the steepest section of the climb – there is still a long way to go, but a sense of belief permeates through us that we can all make the pass! Overhead, the sky has taken on a twilight hue, and as I turn around I see the formidable Annapurna range bathed in morning light.


🌏Where can I find: Thorong High Camp 🌏


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