Sunday, 27 January 2008

The ascent of Dead Woman's Pass

We awoke on day two to the amplified sound of light rain on the dome of the tent. The star filled evening had transformed into a dull grey blanket of cloud, delivering a constant stream of precipitation. We donned our waterproofs and devoured a breakfast, before starting the long climb to the pass at 4200m. After an hour of climbing the steep path in the warmth and humidity of the forest, we were as wet under our waterproofs as they were on the outside. Water was starting to pool on the inside of my Goretex mitts and my hood had become useless as the sweat streamed down my face.

Over the next two hours the paths became increasingly precipitous and the altitude began to take its toll. As we broached the first false summit, the size of the granite steps increased and we were reduced to a zig-zagging method to appease our oxygen starved lungs. By now, the porters were beginning to pass us with their onerous loads. Bent double under the hefty weight with plastic ponchos draped over their loads they seemed to glide up the hill, chatting or listening to their portable radios.

As we passed the second staging post the rain began to abate. The long, snaking trail of brightly coloured ponchos came into view and the final crux of the pass became clear. The next hour to the pass taxed our bodies. The steps seemed to get steeper and the intervals between stops increased. It seemed that no-one was spared the pain; even the porters appeared to be struggling for the first time. The final ridge of the pass brought into view a sweeping panorama down to the campsite in the far distance. The inevitable updraft reduced the temperature and chilled our hands and faces. A short stop for photographs and food was long enough to begin the shivers.

Within five minutes of the descent, Sarah's hands had gone numb to the point that they were causing real pain. We stopped a few minutes so that we could warm them and dig out some gloves.
The closer we got to the camp the warmer we got. The sun broke through the cloud to warm our backs and dry our sopping waterproofs. With twenty minutes of walking remaining, we were able to remove our waterproof shells and dry our sodden base layers. Tired and still damp, we traipsed into the campsite to the warm smiles of the porters, effervescent as ever.

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