We are in Pahare, now just a couple of miles away from Syaphrubesi – the beginning and end point of our winter expedition on the previously unclimbed Mount Ganchenpo.
‘Shall we stop for tea?’ Dorje, the expedition leader and my chief ‘baby-sitter’, asks, grinding to a halt by one of the village lodges.
‘Sure,’ I reply, out of breath after two weeks of ceaseless trekking and climbing.
Dorje, Pasang, who was responsible for the technical side of our mountaineering adventure, and I sit down at one of the tables. It is still early in the morning and our cups of steaming-hot black tea provide a pleasant contrast to the cold air. My boys continue their interrupted conversation in Sherpa language while I look around, letting my eyes rest on a stall which belongs to the lodge below the one where we are having tea: the stall is covered with woollen hats and scarves, khukri knives, bracelets and necklaces. A pale-skinned woman with a long ponytail of blond hair is standing over this colourful collection of things playing with a small dagger. She has an unhappy face: her lips are pressed tightly together, their corners curling downwards, and the expression in her eyes is this of hopelessness and impatience. Looking up to where I am seated, she appears not to see me, her gaze clouded with doubts. Suddenly, a voice calls her away and, putting the dagger back on the stall and her backpack – on her shoulders, she quickly walks past me on her way up towards Lama Hotel. She is me two weeks earlier, at the beginning of the expedition. I want to run after her and tell her to smile because she will succeed in getting to the top of the unclimbed Ganchenpo – but I can’t – it’s against the rules of the time game – and so she is gone, taking her burden of uncertainty with her.
‘Just another hour and we’re in Syaphrubesi, and tomorrow – Kathmandu.’ Dorje announces finishing his tea.
‘Excellent,’ I say, my eyes still following the shadow of my past up the trail. She has a long way to go before she knows what I already know; while my journey in Langtang is now over, hers is only just beginning.
I am going back home for Christmas, that is, to the mountains. In a few days I am leaving on an expedition to an unclimbed peak in the winter Himalaya. I say ‘unclimbed’ but, in fact, the mountain which has captured my imagination has been climbed on before – it simply has never been summited. Is it a bad idea? Most definitely. A first ascent of this technically difficult peak would have been challenge enough in and of itself; a winter ascent with the added problems it poses can prove too great a challenge for my two team mates and me to overcome. The names of the expedition members will be familiar to those of you who have been following my adventures in mountaineering: Dorje Sherpa, Pasang Wongchu Sherpa and yours truly. We intend to stay on the mountain for 14-20 days in the course of which I will not be able to update my readers on the expedition progress. I’m hoping to post a few blogs about the climb when I return to Kathmandu.
Since the nature of the climb sets the bar very high indeed for my ability as a mountaineer, I feel like the expedition will need a miracle to succeed. It’s a good thing, then, that we’re climbing during Christmas time – the time when there is hope for a miracle, even for those of us who already know the truth about Santa.
Before I leave, let me wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! May your homes be full of laughter of your loved ones; may your hearts be warm in spite of the cold outside; may all your wishes come true, even if it seems impossible!