Where was I? Oh yes, halfway up a mountain…
So, the days after Manang were fairly hard going, mostly because all the air was gone and walking five paces left us out of breath. On the day before the Thorung La pass I got a slight headache and, in a fit of altitude sickness paranoia I took a diamox tablet, which helps you acclimatises to low oxygen. Unfortunately the side effect of Diamox is tingling. In Ben’s case it was in his hands and feet for 20 minutes. In my case it was 10 hours of head to toe pins and needles that centred largely on my face, leaving me completely zoned out for much of the afternoon and evening and praying the effects would wear off overnight.
Many people tried to convince us that crossing Thorung La requires starting at 3am in the morning, due to the winds that apparently kick up late morning and make crossing a bit of a bore. I argued that I’d rather walk in the wind than in the dark, but we conceded to leaving just before sunrise. I’ve still no idea whether this was the best plan or not, as the hardest part of that day’s climb was a steep 500m right at the start. On the one hand I was terrified to be walking in the dark without a head torch. On the other, I think if I’d seen what I was climbing I might have given up. Fortunately I fell in behind a nice Texan lady who was quite the experienced mountaineer, and walking behind her kept me at a reasonable pace, whilst she gave me advice on regulating my breathing and ‘rest-stepping’ (not the latest musical genre Ben was hoping for, but a way to shift your weight onto your back leg whilst climbing to rest your muscles). By the time we’d reached the top of the steep morning climb the sun was up, and we met Sophie in a guesthouse for a warming cuppa before tackling the pass.
Now having built the pass up in my mind to be the most daunting challenge of my life (sorry dissertation), I was quite pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the climb went, and also by the number of people telling us how surprised they were by its difficulty, but I guess we all had different expectations. The pass itself is a wide flat plateau, covered in prayer flags and signs congratulating you on your trek (as though it were finished!) Ben pulled out the can of Carlsberg he’d been lugging up the hill to celebrate with (his Thorung LAger, geddit?) but was slightly overshadowed by our new Australian friends, who pulled out a litre of Jaegermeister. They were however, pulling it from their porter’s backpack, so I think Ben’s achievement was a little more impressive myself.
Now getting down from Thorung La, that was the part that proved a little daunting. Remember how it snowed back in Manang? Well that snow was still on the ground on the other side of the pass, and in places it had melted and refrozen. I was doing fairly well for the first hour or so, but all of a sudden I slipped and landed squarely on my arse. Will the Aussie very kindly told me it was quite an elegant fall, but nonetheless it shook my confidence, and after that the difficulties started to pile up. My weak knee started to complain, his friend joined in, a passing mule clipped my backpack and nearly sent me flying, and one section of path was so iced over that I had to creep along it holding both my stick and Ben’s hand, hyperventilating all the way. Once the icy bits were out of the way, there was still 4 hours of constant downhill that left my knees shaking and miserable.
BUT, we made it down! And boy was that a cause for celebration. That night we met up with the Australians, the French and an English couple we’d met along the way to drink beers and listen to reggae around the fire in the Bob Marley guesthouse in Ranipauwa. We had made it, we were tired but happy and full of our accomplishment. Except of course there was still the pesky matter of another week’s worth of trekking to get back to Pokhara… We walked another two days and then spent two days in a little village called Marpha (Ben: one night in Rani, two nights in Marpha – get in!) Our guesthouse there came with excellent meals and a resident 10 year old girl, Sogun, who insisted in joining all our card games and pretending to whisper in our ears. Having had our day off, we set off for the next town with Sophie and Pierre, and another French couple they had met on the pass.
However, from first thing in the morning I had a pain in my thigh that I assumed was related to the damage I’d done to my knee. I also had a nasty rash on my ankle that was making walking uncomfortable. The nine hour walk that followed was therefore something of a trauma for me.
At this point I need to take you back a couple of weeks to before we left Pokhara for the trek. Thinking that a little practice hike would do us good and prepare us for the challenges ahead, Ben and I decided to climb to the Peace Pagoda that overlooks Pokhara and its lake, with stunning views of the Annapurna range in the distance. However, about 30 minutes into the forest path, we met two Spanish women in a state of great distress, who told us they’d just been robbed at knifepoint. As we had just been sorting out trekking permits and visa extensions, we were carrying passports and a fair amount of cash, so decided to scarper as fast as we could, avoiding the main path and descending as quickly as we could. Unfortunately this meant slipping about in the wet undergrowth and me falling over about 5 times before we cleared the forest. So scared and shaken was I that I didn’t notice the three leeches that managed to attach themselves to my ankles. This was no doubt a blessing as I’ve always been terrified of being bitten by a leech, a creature that combines the worst qualities of my two great nemeses, the slug and the mosquito. Nevertheless, after a couple of hours of bleeding, the bites scabbed over and were no longer a problem (I had golf ball sized mosquito bites that were starting to blister to worry about).
Fast forward two weeks and one of these leech bites that I’d thought were on the way out has developed a nasty red rash around it, presumably from dirt and sweat and rubbing socks. Thinking it was a chafing rash I put surgical tape over it, which just angered it and turned it into a square rash.
By the end of our nine hour walk I was hobbling, and the next morning it dawned on me that I could barely walk to the dining room for breakfast. And the pain in my thigh? Not just sore when I walked, but when I touched it too, like a bruise. Our guesthouse owner told us there was a health post 15 minutes’ walk down the road. 45 minutes of hobbling later, we found the doctor and explained my two unrelated leg problems. Except of course they weren’t unrelated. The rash was an infection in the leech bite, and the pain up my leg was the infection travelling north. He gave me a week’s worth of antibiotics (MEGAPEN), a week’s worth of double strength Ibuprofen, and a special drug to counteract the unpleasant side effects of MEGAPEN. Once I started taking the antibiotics, the infection up my leg actually revealed itself as a thin ribbon of inflamed red, running from my ankle to the top of my thigh.
Needless to say, we concluded that the trek was officially over, and hopped a bus back to Pokhara…