It wouldn't have been so bad except that we started around 10,000 ft. Then it rained and forced us to take shelter in a shepherd's lodge, under a rock, and under a piece of plastic. We took care to provide some exhaust outlet for the stove while trying to warm ourselves up during the rain. I fell in the river -- one of those, "God, I might be swept out of sight" falls. Bicky grabbed me, I slipped and went in again. The boots I took off in order to remain dry filled with liters of water. Too bad the boots weren't meant to retain water because they did a great job of that for four days. Then we began camping on ice. We made a flattish site from hacking ice with our mountaineering axes. My Therm-a-rest is too old, it's flat within hours and ice cold temperatures attack my hips. The moraine slipped and slid under our feet as we walked. "Why like this?" In what felt like a God forsaken moment (we huddled under a plastic tarp for two hours, sitting on ice while Tim's feet began to go numb), we prayed for sun. We made a mad dash to set up camp, again on ice, in the rain. We got sun the next morning. Around 2pm, Bicky sank into snow up to his thighs. "Why like this?" We pitched camp, within 200 m of Kang La ("la" means pass). Tim suffered AMS but the swiftest way down was over the pass and not back over the miles (?) of moraine. We slept a bit, avalanches crashing around the valley. I awoke at 3:38 am to "What the f*&%?" from Tim. Apparently the ice was cracking directly beneath him -- he got to feel the tremors first hand. Bicky inspected the camp -- all seemed fine. But there was no way were falling back to sleep. We packed up our ice laden tent & hit the pass by sunrise!
Triumph? Exhaustion? Humility? Yep, they were all present and accounted for. Never have I been so butt kicked in my life. 18,000 ft has a way of taking it out of you. Tim and I laughed when Bicky was explaining how we'll get used to it -- umm, we're not professionals, but thanks for the encouragement, Bhai! Even Bicky Bhai was exhausted but, then again, he picked up our slack by cooking, carrying, pitching, leading, breaking, and preparing endless cups of black coffee. Wow, won't be doing this again for awhile. Good, though ;)
Down the other side of the pass, nine hours later was too early to stop. We kept walking, and walking, and walking -- there was no water on this side of the river far below. "Why like this?" 14 hours later, we wandered into a guest house in Padum, beyond exhaustion. Tim's eyes were closing before his chow mein. My momos were barely making it to my mouth. Somehow, before 8am the next morning, Bicky already had a plan to get to Leh. We left after a satisfying breakfast and ended up camped on the near side of a river crossing with a taxi with a bum wheel (& that was the spare!). "Why like this?" The driver arranged for another taxi to Kargil where we switched taxis, after a taxi driver scuffle, and we arrived in Leh at 9pm. Out at midnight the following night from Leh to Manali and we got stuck in a 2 hour jam at the Rohtang Pass. Wanting to stretch our legs the next day, it began raining just as we headed out to climb. "Why like this?"
But, you know what? We DID get to climb. We DID get back safely. We DIDN'T get kidnapped by terrorists. We DID get the greatest workout of our lives. We DID see places few will ever glimpse. We DID listen to God's still, small voice telling us to persevere and that He IS with us, though we feel forsaken. We DID learn how the best can be yet to come. We DID discuss the metaphor of such journeys applied to relationships where you know the end but can't see the path sometimes -- you just have to trust and obey. We DID make some awesome memories. Yeah, you know what? It was an AWESOME trip!