It is Sunday, August 2, 2015, 2 a.m. A loud and urgent knock wakes me up. I am disoriented. There is hardly anyone staying here. Who could it be and have they got the wrong door? Ravi is fast asleep. I wake him up to go see who’s at the door. It is the grounds keeper. He is frantically waking every one up.
It’s been raining all night. Heavy rains are causing streams of water to come down the mountain around the house like a turbulent river. The lady owner is scared. I’m scared. Ravi takes our headlamps and goes with the grounds keeper to see what’s happening. There is nothing that can be done though, other than wait for the rain to subside. We go back to sleep, but I wonder what this will mean for our trek tomorrow.
Our breakfast is prepared by the young woman who served us last night. I have tea and fried bread with jam. We are ready at 7 a.m. as the pony man requested. He shows up at 8 a.m. and loads up the pony. We leave at approximately 8:30 a.m. This will be the longest day yet. We are at lower altitudes now, so it is not as much of a challenge as will be the river and the hot sun.
We are able to keep up with our pony man this morning. We trek together on and off with another group of porters and ponies and donkeys. Later on, the same group of younger porters will adopt us as our pony man doesn’t want much to do with us. We reach our first river crossing which will require us to take off our shoes. I take off my boots and socks and stand there not sure how to proceed. The river is about 100 meters wide here, not too deep, up to our knees.
We see a group crossing from the other side, and the guide from across the river noticing that we’re not sure which way to tackle this crossing, motions to us to move to another spot and start there. We go for it. The river is ice cold. The stones hurt my feet. We make it across, and put our shoes back on. We keep going.
The trail is flat and we are focused on pushing it to the next obstacle. We get to another river crossing, and this one can’t be figured out without guidance. It’s wide. It’s turbulent. Our pony man jumps on a donkey to cross the river. We are left behind. The group of young porters is also crossing, and they give us a hand. Literally, we all hold hands and make it across. The strength of the river just can’t be underestimated. One wrong move, and it will take you down and away.
We keep pushing on to get to Markha as quickly as possible. There is another huge river crossing we encounter. The group of young porters takes us on a shortcut over the mountain. Well, we don’t have to risk drowning, instead we will practice being mountain goats on a non-existent trail on the side of a steep sandy slope. One of the guides “wills” me through this hike. I just follow him, don’t think, and do what he says. Ravi is braving it on his own.
After this, I am pretty sure I have had enough and have earned a night of rest. But, we’re not finished yet. We are met with another river crossing. It is noon and the river is high. There is a group of high school girls lined up for crossing. There used to be a bridge here, but it’s gone. The group’s guide is taking two girls at a time to cross the river. It has worked with a few girls, but it’s getting harder as the river gets higher and he – tired. Before they reach the other side, one girl gets pulled in by the river. She gets pulled out to safety.
The guide returns to get two more girls, tries the same approach, and again, one girl gets pulled in by the river. And although she gets pulled out to safety, it is making the other girls scared. I feel like I’m watching a car wreck in slow motion. Things are getting tense. Ravi and I watch on. We still have to cross too. It is past noon and as the mountain glaciers melt in the sun, the river progressively increases in might and turbulence.
The young group of porters who helped us along the way is also here. They pitch in to help. They get some rope out and get it stretched across the river to assist in the crossing. The girls are here from a high school in the U.K. with a couple female teachers and one male guardian. The male is a mountain guide back home. He is also getting concerned about the safety of his group.
Ravi gets involved and suggests a way to cross the river by traversing it sideways. It works with some close calls. Some girls are crying. I am almost crying. I still have to cross. The local guide in charge of the crossing is bleeding from his knee now. He slipped in the river and cut it on a rock. He is resting near me and shivering badly.
All the men assisting with the crossing are thoroughly exhausted, but all the girls have crossed now. I am going next after the two lady teachers. They are walking sideways while holding onto the rope. We are spaced apart, and seeing them make it to the shore, I am confident I will be okay. My shoes are on. My day pack on my back. I start off slowly and carefully. There is a man in the middle holding the rope. As I try to pass him, I let go with one hand.
And before I have time to realize what just happened, I am turned around 180 degrees by the force of the river facing the direction she wants to go. The river is up to my thighs. Sandy and turbulent. Immediately, I am on my back, but holding on to the rope. The flow of the river is so strong, she almost pulls off my pants. I hear people talking, frantically trying to help me stand up, but I can’t. I am being pulled out by hands I have never met. I am in shock, but aware enough to be concerned about being naked from the waist down. Everything is happening so fast. But finally, I am on my feet on solid ground.
The girls are so nice, asking me if I need anything and offering me water. My crossing must have been the most dramatic, probably because it was the last, and everyone was watching my slow motion car wreck. The last to cross is one of the porters on a horse with our packs and duffel bag on it. The horse is moving erratically but the porter mounted on top of him gets them across safely. I take off my wet boots, wring out my socks and put it all back on. I will be trekking in my wet boots. But, it is hot, so it is not so awful. Also, I almost died. So, wet socks and shoes are nothing.
We trek along with the girls on a narrow and sandy path at a slow pace for a couple hours. The sun is shining on. The girls will rest in a small village now. Their teachers feel they have suffered enough. I agree. I was done a long time ago today, even before this near death experience. We are another 2-1/2 hours away from Skyu. We will keep going, mostly because we have a pony man who likely wouldn’t wait for us.
After a short break and goodbyes with the girls’ teachers and guides, we move toward Skyu. Unfortunately, we are not done with the river crossings. I just go in with my shoes now. I can’t think, so I don’t. Just keep moving. Up the rocks and down into the river. More rocks. More river. It’s so hot. I am so tired. Maybe even delirious. My body is still walking. We reach Skyu before sunset, ready to collapse.
Next: Skyu to Chilling.