Four o'clock wake up knock, quick pack and then into breakfast. The large French party we were sharing the tea house with were just about to leave and other smaller groups had already gone, Jungba was clearly confident that we could get over the top quickly.
The first bit of news was that Paul had decided that he didn't want to travel. Nima, the No 2 guide would be coming with us to the High Camp Hostel, about 400 metres up, and then return to take Paul down the valley.
We set off at about 5, it was very cold and, apart from the trickle of head torches climbing their way up the hill, it was pitch black. The snow on the ground, which was fresh from the previous evening, made walking up the steep slope a lot harder than the day before.
|Setting off in the dark
Nima was in front and set a really good pace, not too fast but just right to keep the whole group together. It was cold and everyone wanted to keep going. After about 40 minutes we caught up with the French group who were going very slowly but seemed in great spirits. About 40 minutes later we were approaching the High Camp Hostal. Looking back we could clearly see Annapurna II which was covered in the pale pink of the early morning sunlight.
Stopping for a break revealed a few problems; the altitude and cold were getting to some people and both Carol and Tanya had headaches. Water bottles had frozen and at the top it was really windy. Christine was going OK but miserable, she had not been able to get her mittens back on after a toilet break and her hands, protected only by fleece liners were cold.
Jungba spotted some Yaks, realised they were on their way down and decided to have another go at getting Paul up the mountain. This meant Jungba going back down again leaving us with Nima and Himelta.
It was now light but although the climb was not as steep it was in places a lot more difficult. Shortly after leaving High Camp the trail climbs up along the side of a ravine, a walk which without snow would have been easy, but in these conditions was difficult. A number of people, Phil, Noel and Chris in particular were really struggling and without Jungba you could sense both a collective and individual loss of confidence.
|A little tea hut half way between High Camp and the Pass
A climb like this is tough for everyone but I think it's much worse at the back. It's much more difficult to get into a pace you're comfortable with because you're always comparing yourself with those at the front. Meanwhile those at the front, who might be finding the going tough, are gaining just a bit of momentum by comparing themselves to those at the back. Strictly speaking the guides should hold the group together, making the ones at front wait for the ones at the back, but in my experience of trips like this rarely happens.
|The group starts to spread out
After leaving a wind riddled tea hut half way between high camp and the pass, with Himelta now leading, the group split up between the faster walkers: Christine, myself, Nick, Helen, Tanya, and Carol; and the slower walkers, Noel, Phil and Chris. Within twenty minutes the front group was 150 metres ahead of the group at the back and Noel and Chris were constantly falling. Nick decided to go back and see if he could help in any way, to lend Chris his stick, and the rest of group waited and watched. We saw Nick join the three at the back and at one point there were two walkers sat on the ground trying to get their breath back.
Eventually they waved their sticks and told us to press on and we were soon in the miserable little hovel at the pass sheltering from a bitter wind. About 15 minutes later the rest of the party arrives with Noel literally collapsing at the entrance to the hut. The hovel is too small to accommodate the whole party and other walkers so the earlier walkers clambered out over the late arrivals. By the time Carol and I got out Himelta, the number 2 guide, was about 150 metres down the mountain with Christine, Tanya and Helen. Carol wanted to get after them and I didn't disagree.
To be honest I was enjoying rushing going downhill in the snow, I was in my element. The three women in front were perhaps the strongest personalities in the group and Himelta, supposed to be leading, was in reality following. We had gone several hundred metres before we got together and all of us apart from Carol were enjoying ourselves. I don't think it was a co-incidence but everyone, apart from Carol, were skiers and, in the fresh show, piling down the mountain, it was like skiing but without the skis. We pressed on and Himelta did nothing to pull the lead party together. There were lots of other people on the mountain, the visibility was good, but I didn't feel good as I on with Tanya, Christine and Helen and left Carol behind.
After descending about 1200 metres we stopped at a hut and waited. About 90 minutes later a very fed up Carol arrived, followed in short order by Noel, Nick, Nima, Paul (who had come up very quickly on the Yak) followed by Jungba, Phil and Chris.
I don't think anyone thought that Jungba would succeed in getting Paul up the mountain but he did and the whole group was together again. Noel, Chris and Carol seemed a little despondent, feeling perhaps that they hadn't done as well as they had hoped. In reality everyone had done well, got to the noodle soup hut ahead of schedule, and come over the pass far faster than the French party who arrived safe and sound a couple of hours later. They had been walking for nearly 13 hours.