(almost landed this chapter on 100… so close…)
I awoke shivering in my thin sleeping bag at Annapurna Base Camp. My sleep had been shaky, at best. This was probably the twelfth time I had awoken in the middle of the night, but this time, the room was ever-so-slightly lighter. I looked at my phone. 5:30 a.m. Good enough.
I clearly wasn’t going to be getting any more sleep.
Sunrise over Annapurna. This was what we’d come for.
I put on every piece of clothing I had with me, including everything I’d purchased in Thamel. On top of those low-quality pieces, I added my scarf, my fuzzy mittens, and Holly’s hat. With my alpine rain shell over the top of it all, I looked a little like a puffy, fuzzy snowman. And somehow, I was still cold.
Again, I felt relieved I hadn’t had the will to go to Everest Base Camp.
Annapurna was good, for this visit.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the pre-dawn chill, there was quite a bit of activity at the lodge. Guides were knocking on doors and shaking sleepy clients awake, while parents quietly reassured bleary-eyed children that the sun would be up soon. I even had to wait for the bathroom.
I walked around the lodges a little bit, trying to warm up while I waited for the light. Someone had built a small snowman on one of the picnic tables. He stood maybe a meter high; to me, he seemed to be in good spirits. A little lost for things to do, I took a selfie or two with him.
The predawn light was building fast. Unfortunately, Annapurna was wreathed in clouds, which didn’t look like they’d be leaving any time soon. More and more people were joining me outside, swarming uphill towards Annapurna.
A cold wind blew down from heaven. Hundred-meter long strings of prayer flags fluttered in the wind.
The sun was slowly rising behind Fishtail mountain. If we’d been lucky, it would have struck Annapurna with the rose-gold light of a fresh alpine morning. We weren’t so lucky, as the clouds lingered. Annapurna never showed its face that morning for more than a minute or two.
I didn’t mind though. I hadn’t come here to see Annapurna. I’d come to Annapurna to come to Annapurna. I’d come for the week of walking — the three weeks of struggle, alone, in a foreign country, and the time to think. Here, at Annapurna, it was too cold to think.
I stood on the ridge above the lodges and looked out across the Glacier, towards Annapurna II. The sun was now firmly risen, shining on the slopes across the valley. A loud CRACK erupted across the void, and we watched a sizable avalanche break out on the lower face of Annapurna II. Snow rolled down the steep slope and off a cliff at the bottom, misting up in an ethereal cloud. “Avalanche,” said one of the guides, pointing.
A conspicuous number of people looked nervously up at the slopes above us, and then headed back to the lodges for breakfast.
I lingered on top of the snow-covered hill. There was a rather steep drop-off to one side: aa thousand feet down to where the glacier was slowly carving out the valley floor. Anker walked by and told me he was going in for breakfast. “Careful,” was all he pressed on me about the edge.
I took a step back form the edge. I didn’t want to go back. When I stepped off this hill, that would be the start of my journey home. I would walk back to the lodge, where I would have breakfast and pack my things. In an hour or so, Saffron, Ankit, and all the rest of my friends would walk out that door, take one last look up at the mountain, and then we’d start down. Eager to get going home, no one would want to walk back to this hill. This was the farthest I would go.
I looked around.
Annapurna in front of me, Fishtail behind me. Prayer flags fluttering at my side. Friends back in the lodge, waiting for me to share a smile and a coffee.
Beyond Nepal though, this insignificant little hill, dwarfed by the mountains around it, was the terminus of my travels. Six months, seven countries, one failing relationship… when I turned around it was the beginning of the end.
But it was cold here. And I wasn’t ready to climb those mountains. Not yet.
I waved a goodbye, ran my hand along the prayer flags, and turned back, towards home.
HOW DID WE GET HERE? Well, there are 97 chapters to read before this one, if you have a lot of free time. You should check ’em out, here 🙂