‘In your dreams. There’s no way I’m climbing in to mountains to party with your bearded women’ piped up Sam (Peter G). ‘Give me that magical lembas anytime. By the way, what are those local herbs that the elves have been adding to the recipe? Walking food that’.
‘You’re dissing our women? thundered Gimli. ‘What’s wrong with a matt of chest hair?’
‘Actually nothing’ muttered Pippin (Booze). He leaned over to Sam. “I’m an expert on hair you know. But I have an idea. If we go with Gimli we could make a lot of money. We would just need lots of Veet.’
Sam cocked an eyebrow and paused before responding. ‘Good ideas department in this group belongs… well, not with you. You been doing these save the world things for long?’
‘My ring’s on fire’ complained Frodo (Dylan) ‘Do we have to climb up there?’
‘Sure do’ snickered an orc (Chris G). ‘Follow me into the misty mountains’.
‘Hey, that’s my line..hang on, what are you doing here?’
“Frodo, your sword has a flat battery. Isn’t it supposed to glow when orcs are around?’
Aragorn (Peter I) swiftly lifted his glittering sword (a krooki), the cheap one he had bought in a souvenir store at the beginning of the quest. Sam stepped in. ‘Whoa, we need a trek master’.
‘Yeah, you’re right’ grumbled Aragorn. ‘I’ll just go and finish off everyone’s meals while you figure out what we are doing.’
‘My ring’s still on fire.’
‘Shut up Frodo’ (everyone)
‘Heehee. We are heading into the misty mountains. You do need to follow me.’ The orc sounded pleased. But then, they are creatures easily amused.
‘Alright, alright rumbled Gimli. At least it’s mountains. Soaring mountains. Waterfalls cascading from the sky. Hairy women. JD, poker, a hot meal, open ‘til late!. We are thinking of adding RSL to the Halls of Moria you know’.
‘Really Sexy Ladies. With lots of hair.’
‘Shut up Gimli!’ (everyone)
I woke from a mad night of dreams to the sound of rain on a tin roof at 3.30. By 5am the soft patter that had died away is now a pelting steady downpour. I climbed downstairs from the third floor (it is a precarious course) and topped up my water bottles and water bladder. I was convinced we would have a wet day and prepared for such but by the time we got walking at 7:40 the rain had stopped though the heavy fog remained. But it’s a fast shifting cloud and it swirls around us and is stirred by a breeze. Indeed, it had cleared off the top of our first snow covered peak which we were able to glimpse from our bedroom window. Sunlight bore down on us from snow slopes, penetrating our grey basement of a valley, and then was closed out as the cloud rolled in.
We get out to a level and steady start and the fog starts to lift, revealing silhouetted cypress trees, ghostly in the mist – and I think of the Misty Mountains and start an imaginary conversation between fellowship members. Another advantage of the solitude of walking up the back. Then suddenly we are climbing, a stiff effort through a mix of pine forest and rain forest. We are still making the transition into the alpine world. The mist swirls around us but cracks open every now and then to give us a glimpse down the valley we have hauled out of. At the top of this climb, having been overtaken by a couple of mule teams from behind, and disconcerted by a mule team descending – we press tightly into the wall of the track as they pass, since there is a sheer drop over the other side. We stop for morning tea – a serving of hot lemon tea. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of an 8000metre peak (one of only a handful in the world) but the mist closes out the view. After pushing on we find ourselves in steep country with loose rock which has us wary. But there is a lot of pine milling here, in saw pits with large cross cut saws. Just as we are admiring this industry and their capacity to cut great planks of timber without any saw marks Lila stops and points over our shoulders.
Rearing up over us Manaslu coyly lets slip its bodice of cloud and we stand in momentary silence, awed by the glory and majesty of something we could barely imagine. Intimidating. Overwhelming. Awesome. Then, as if insisting on the retrieval of its modesty the cloud wraps around again and she is gone. For the first time in my life I gain an insight into why people might worship these mountains, and attribute spirit possession. They loom over everything – all life and livelihoods.
We stop for a pleasant lunch at Tanchok. We are now on fluid diets where we can – soups and so on. Keeping fluids up will be an important variable in how we handle altitude sickness. Tanchok sits in the middle of a large amphitheater with massive and sheer rock walls that encompass it about. These lift straight up, perhaps 2000 feet, perhaps more. It’s an awe inspiring sight. But the amphitheater is a garden too. We walk past roses, wild and cultivated. Through little stone villages where people play dice, women wash clothes and impish children clasp their hands under the chins and squawk ‘namaste’. One little girl out side of one of these places stops, offers ‘namaste” then asks “pen?’ How can I resist that? She is all of six or seven. I rummage around and uncover a new company pen. She is delighted and says thankyou. I can resist a request for money or chocolate from these kids but how can you resist a request for a pen. Back to lunch – its drawn from the gardens around about. Corn, Spinach. Potatoes. Okay, add some macaroni. And a tasty loaf of Tibetan bread, not unlike a sweet damper.
We walk into Chame at 4.15. A good effort. And we are now at 8’700 feet.
Chame is the district headquarters for Manang. We walk up the main street and make it to the edge of the river. Snow fed, it is very cold. And as violent and seething as any we have seen or crossed. We have enough time to explore around, and to do that without the pressing weight of a pack is a joy. Chris gets his hair cut finished. Two days ago I started by cutting a strip up the middle, left the scissors behind and he had to wait until we found a store that stocked scissors. Chame is the place.
It’s Dylan’s birthday. The host here has been completely perplexed by the notion of a cake so is going to make chocolate pudding for everyone instead. I have come armed with candles so we will make it a special evening ( We did sing happy birthday at breakfast.). In the end it was candles in unset chocolate mousse. The porters loved that we shared that with them. ‘Thankyou Mr Dylan for being a happy birthday’ says one of them over his little bowl of mousse. I was very touched.
I leave them to the party and the card game that follows. I need some time alone and so pick my way through the dark up the main street. The power went off a short time ago so the cards are being played in candlelight. Fortunately there is enough moon filtering through cloud for me to avoid twisting an ankle on the large cobble stones or embracing an unsteady local as he totters home from whatever basement bar he has been drinking in. I cut into a dark lane to to see where it takes me and find myself in the local sawmill on the banks of the river. The scent of freshly cut cedar fills the air and I park on some of the new lumber after first checking there was no sap to arrest me. The river thunders and roars below but its restlessness soon fades into the background and I have the quiet I need. My eyes adjust to the night and I can see across the river to the far track and to our course in a few hours time. I lean back and reflect on the day. And life in general, that it should have brought me here with these folk. My reverie is broken by a shadow that appears from around the corner then stops abruptly, then slowly starts to circle me. I know what its thinking as it tries to decipher the odd shape that I present on the lumber. It is clearly startled but I leave it go for five seconds or so to see what it does. In the end I stop toying with it and whisper ‘namaste’. The shadow laughs in relief, bellows out a ‘namaste’ and bolts into action and vanishes into the sawmill. Clearly this route is a well trodden one for a few minutes later a woman, with keener eyesight than her predecessor also walks past but jumps in fright when she sees me. I climb away form there into a building construction site instead. The unfinished building gives me a great view up the valley and I am not going to frighten any more locals by sitting up here.
My shoulders are bruised and my lower back has lost some skin to the pack. I did have the disconcerting experience of passing out on a couple of occasions today when I unhitched the waist band of my pack. I put that down to a ‘reverse G-suit’ affect. Disconcerting but amusing in its own way – on each occasion I woke up lying beside my pack but in the company of other trekkers, none of whom noticed. But I feel great. I have found my trekking legs and the lungs and head are all up to it. But I have to confess that some of Gimli’s mead would stand me in good stead right now.