It was cold...Far too cold, and today was the day. I was snuggled down into my sleeping bag willing the night to last forever. Trying to sleep at an elevation of 4390m,I knew I was not prepared for what would occur; in a couple of hours my group of trekkers and I would be ascending a further 1026m.
Yesterday the rescue helicopters had flown in three times to take other trekkers suffering from acute mountain sickness (AMS) off the mountain. Thus far, thankfully, my group and I were doing reasonably well. My good friend Ben was, however, suffering with blisters; Andy, our foul mouthed Irishman. who had a porter to carry his pack was OK; and Marie, our resident Yankee, was as annoyingly enthusiastic as ever.
I was the most experienced trekker on the trip, but had felt AMS before when I scaled Kilimanjaro. This trip, however, I was struggling with both a permanent injury to my legs, as well as my breathing. Even the gradual slopes had me gasping for breath; this fact only increased my dread of our impending climb.
Secretly, I suspected I would fail, but I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind. I kept reminding myself that if I turned around now, I’d have an eight day walk back to civilization. I vowed I would make it “over the pass”...even if I had to crawl.
I had slept in my clothes to maintain body heat; so all I needed to do was throw on my down jacket and roll up my sleeping bag. We all ate a hurried breakfast of porridge and seabuckthorn juice, before switching on our headlamps and walking out into the darkness.
From a collection of wooden buildings which served as the final refuge before the climb the path snaked steeply upward and immediately began to switchback. My head-torch light was dying and my world was reduced to a couple of meters in each direction. We were climbing the path as a team but, in my mind, I was alone; it was just me and the mountain.