I kicked another step into the snow and raised my gaze to see how many more steps it would take to the top of the hill.
Putting one foot in front of the other is harder at 5ooo meters in elevation.
I had said goodbye to my two other trekking companions at two different points already. They had to turn back because of altitude sickness but miraculously I was still fine. Maybe it was because I drank two liters of water during the night or maybe it was the half a tablet of altitude sickness medication I took after waking up but whatever it was it still felt odd to continue walking alone in that barren landscape. The height of the pass was higher then all but two of the highest peaks in the US. Not just the passes and highlands but the actual tops of those two peaks were only between 100 and 500 meters higher then the pass I was walking towards.
I started thinking about how years before I was on a school trip to Utah and as we passed through some particularly high mountains around Salt Lake city one of the instructors asked me to guess how high the mountains were around us. I answered “13000 feet” I apparently was pretty close to right at the time. Now years later I realized that I was nearly a mile higher then the peaks of those mountains that I thought were so high.
It was odd to look out at the mountains surrounding me from that angle. I’m more used to looking at mountains from much further below them. It just looked like I was high, something in the way the sun shown or the blue of the sky made it feel high up.
I reached the top of the hill and saw another little sea of snow, it felt more like an ocean with how hard it was getting to keep my breathe. Every fifteen steps I had to pause and kept my breathe. When I first started trekking more than a week earlier at 800 meters walking was easy, I wasn’t sore yet and the air had plenty of air in it. I remember running up a couple of the hills, I wasn’t in terrific trekking shape but still a step was just a step. Now a step was heavier. It all became a metaphor for the way I’ve been learning to judge myself by a self-centric standard. If one step is as difficult as ten steps then I want to be as proud of walking one mile as I would otherwise be of walking ten. Its not easy for me to judge myself gently, its generally a mind flip flop kind of experience. My first thought might be negative but I correct it with a more compassionate way of looking at myself. The first thought isn’t always the most helpful so sometimes its exhausting to remind myself how I want to be.
The top of the pass was 5416 meters or 17769 feet. I enjoyed the journey more than the destination, this time I suspected that the goal of reaching the pass would fall short. Its not also the case for me, usually the goal is very important to me but this time I started my trekking with the idea that each step would be enjoyed or not enjoyed and that was the point. I didn’t want to need a grand goal to enjoy the rocks under my feet or the wind in my hair. I have always had a weird experience with hiking, I love almost every aspect of it. Still I usually haven’t enjoyed hiking, I get so caught up in getting there that I walk faster than is comfortable and I ignore the beauty that is along the journey. I wanted this trek to be about enjoying the whole path. Its been interesting to me lately how I don’t understand something until I do, no matter how many times I hear it or are taught it. I have heard all the quotes about enjoying the moment and living for the journey not the destination. I have told many people to enjoy the moment and many times I think that I understand exactly what that means. I’m sure I have understood these quotes in certain circumstances but not totally. I still fixate on the destination in almost every aspect of my life. I still miss the point as if I’m blindfolded.
The pass was beautiful, some beautiful things can’t be captured. I couldn’t use words or pictures to explain why, I don’t even know why. I’ve heard things like “it was the quality of the light” but most of the vague poetic expressions of beauty seem to be intentionally vague so that the readers will be reminded of their memories. The last couple weeks I’ve struggled to want to take any pictures because of the feeling that seeing something with your own eyes is what matters. I think there are many mysteries that only exist in a singular experience, no one ever speaks of them, no one remembers them. They happen almost without a trace but are still fully and intensely experienced in the moment they exist. The only trace they might leave is a kind of feeling that you forgot something, the way it feels when you walk into a room and you know at some point you chose to be there but you’re not sure what your purpose was.