The trail demands my attention. It’s relatively thin, strewn with occasional rocks and runs along the tall mountain’s edge. Sufficiently wide enough to feel safe but it’s without much room for missteps. If I could, I’d walk the entirety of the trail with my eyes fixed on the majestic snow capped mountain of Annapurna II. She’s sprawled out now in picture perfect panorama just to my left. I’m feeling fortunate. There was a chance we’d wake this morning to find the view obscured by dense grey clouds as we had yesterday afternoon when we arrived in Upper Pisang. But, that is not the case. The early morning sun has managed to burn off a majority of the clouds to reveal the most breathtaking sight, her face illuminated against a bright blue sky.
I set my eyes back to the trail and fall into a methodic rhythm. My trekking polls and I have become inseparable. They are my extended appendages, bracing any unsteady steps, providing an extra umph up hills and mercifully taking some of the brunt off my knees when the path leads downward. I swing them out in front of me, walk beyond them and swing them out again. Clink, crunch, crunch, crunch, clink, crunch, crunch, crunch. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts here. Really it’s impossible not to. Today I watch my thoughts float by just like the clouds in the sky – effortlessly, beautifully. It’s taken me a week to earn this silence. In the first few days my thoughts were dense, sporadic and sticky, taking all my awareness with them wherever they went. The better part of one whole day I was filled with unexplainable sadness and on the verge of tears. It’s the gift and the curse of having so much quiet time to listen to my own thoughts – there is no where I can go to escape them. Whatever needs to come up will inevitably find it’s way to the surface. Eventually, when I’ve made enough room for it to all boil over, a stillness begins to set in.
I stop and glance back to my left as if to make sure she is still there. She is. And from this vantage point the entire village of Pisang is laid out beneath her. I’m compelled to take yet another photo. The day is young and I’ve already cautioned myself not to take a hundred photos of the same thing. But, of course, it is not the same thing. Every time I look, it’s new. As the sun continues its’ rise, the light shifts and the shadows change. The clouds reposition themselves as quickly as we do providing a view that is altogether fresh. I secure my walking poles in one hand and lift the camera from around my neck with the other. A click later I return to the trail to resume my methodic pace. Adrian walks several meters in front of me in a similar rhythmic fashion.
We are out here alone, the whole of nature all to ourselves.
I have no sense of time and no real need for it.
We stop as we approach the base of a hill where the trail appears to dead end into the valley in front of us but a sign to the left clearly indicates that it goes directly up the hill. That hill. I had read about this in the guide the night before and had been forewarned of the intense incline. It read, yes, you must climb to the very top where the electrical poles lead and yes, it will be worth it. It doesn’t really matter if it’s worth it or not, it’s the only way to go and so we’re going.
But first we take off our packs for a break and rest against the wall of prayer wheels. We sit, mostly in silence and pass handfuls of trail mix between us. I find a rock and prop up the camera for a shot, trip the self-timer and run back to my spot next to Adrian on the wall. Just us, caught forever in this space.
Once again we lift our packs up and onto our backs, secure the buckles around our waists and wiggle them into a comfortable position. Poles in hand, we take our first steps toward the top.
The path winds up in tight hairpin turns at a steady and unforgiving degree. The mid morning sun is strong and fixed upon us. Small beads of sweat slip down my chest and around the sides of my face, quickly dampening my hair and clothes. One. Step. At. A. Time. My breath is labored and I stop at every other turn so it will have a chance to catch me. I glance up to see that something has gotten into Adrian, his steps are hurried and driven. He’s in a zone or perhaps an unspoken competition with the mountain. He does this at times. With amusement I watch him go before offering a gentle suggestion that he not overdo himself and return to my slow, consistent pace.
When we reach the top the winds are brisk, sending chills throughout my well warmed body. We find our way to the Gompa that decorates the top of the mountain and has served as our beacon for the last hour. It’s a relief to once again remove ourselves of the extra weight we’ve been carrying and we each dig out our jackets to shield our damp bodies from the wind.
We take turns standing on the edge and posing for pictures against the scenic backdrop and I feel proud as I look out over the valley from which we’ve just come, the rushing river below no longer able to be heard from this height.
If I could give away anything, it would be this. I’d wrap this morning up in a colorful bright box and top it with a big fluffy bow and hand it over to you with pure delight. You could unwrap it any time you had the need and experience it all – the stillness, the beauty, the satisfaction – the sense that life is perfect exactly the way it is.
*To see more photos from our trek check out the Photo Journal.