The Time Game

Mount Ganchenpo at Sunset

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.