Hille to Ghorepani: (9 hours, 1800 m total elevation gain)
There are moments as a parent when your child surprises you with such immense amounts of resilience and taps into depths of the human psyche that you can’t believe you’re speaking to a 6 year old.
Your precious offspring cries glitter tears and shits rainbows on an average day. However, there is nothing that can prepare you for the heart bursting amount of pride you feel when your child reaches into the strength of mind they usually reserve for mealtimes, and push themselves through exhaustion, through four hours of unrelenting stairs straight up a mountain, and keep themselves going through to the very end of a long hard day.
Its difficult to describe in a few words what exactly Austin accomplished today, but I’ll put it this way….three hours in, we had climbed over 9000 stone steps straight up a mountain, and still had 5 uphill hours of mountain left to go. He did it. Right alongside the adults, carrying his own pack.
Today, Austin was King of the Mountain.
The 9 hour / 12 mile long trek with a total elevation gain of nearly 5,000 feet was hard physical work, but we were all better settled in to our packs, and the rhythm of climbing those steps put us in forward motion that propelled us on and on, up and up. After the stone steps, we had our lunch break on a grassy terrace overlooking the mountains and the valleys below. The edge of the terrace was lined with marigolds and other brightly coloured flowers, and for half an hour, it was nirvana.
I had brought along a jar of peanut butter, which my Aussie husband and calico son won’t touch – so all to myself, I enjoyed PB and TB — fresh, hot Tibetan Bread, a high altitude flat bread that is lightly deep fried so that it is soft and airy in the middle, and crispy on the outside. Put some PB and honey with this, and that, my friends is the perfect fuel for (even more) climbing.
We passed so many small subsistence farms growing all manner of vegetables on their own little corner of the endless rice terraces up and down the mountain, and continued up the never ending steps until we reached a thick forest with big old gnarly, mossy rhodendron trees twisting upward and outward from the steep mountain side.
We followed a waterfall up, as it wound itself down the mountain, with some spectacular views over deep pools, dramatically crashing drops, and sweet little rippling waterfalls. We crossed it, walked up it, around it, over it, through it and alongside it, sharing its music with us all along the way.
The views out over the lush green mountains and down to their deep valleys were unbelieveable. These seemingly endless mountains, with deep green fields on terraces in impossible places, mists creeping over the tops, and the river in the valley below that became thinner and thinner the higher we climbed reminded us why we were putting ourselves through this. The elements of nature came together to create a peaceful and powerful scene – reminding me each time just where we were — trekking in the Annapurnas.
We knew there would be a final push up the mountain to Ghorepani after we reached the penultimate village, and had been told we had an hour and a half left to go. At our waning family-friendly pace, we estimated we had about 2 hours left of trekking — just the amount of daylight that was left in these protected parts.
The day was tough physically, and absolutely mentally gruelling – each step willed forward by the sheer toughness of the mind. Our little hero of the day talked himself up the last hour of the mountain by creating an “I can do it, I can do it, I can dooooo it” song that we all adopted to propel us in the final push.
We reached the colourful Welcome gate to Ghorepani about 45 minutes before we expected to, and not even the further 10 minute climb to Upper Ghorepani, the main part of the village could dampen our spirits. We might have been delirious, but we had made it!
I had stayed with Austin for the most of the day, helping him to stay focused and moving forward through whatever means necessary. We counted steps in English and then in Spanish, we talked about how each step he took meant he owned that stone, and how he has special gifts that run in his blood — namely, being tough and strong mentally and physically.
Among the many encouraging tactics I had used was the promise of the “trophy” of his choice when we got to Ghorepani for “winning” the mountain. He could pick out whatever he wished among the handicrafts that were offered on sale – provided it wasn’t too heavy to continue carrying! He managed to charm the vendors so successfully, that he was given two separate trinkets as a gift, free of charge. His tally stands at one little glass pot from Istanbul, a Mars Bar on the trek today, and not one, but three necklaces in Ghorepani. All without handing over a single Lira or Rupee. Our little businessman is doing well for himself, and we’ve learned to give him a ridiculously small sum of money to deal with, and let him unleash his charms to make up the difference. It works. Every. Time.
All day long, people we met along the trail couldn’t believe that this little six year old mop headed kid was carrying his pack and making this trek. They were intrigued by his very existence in these parts, and he stopped for dozens of photo ops with passing trekkers of every nationality. Not a one of them thought we’d make it to Ghorepani, and they all made a point to say it. Well you know what, we did. He did. Austin kicked that mountain’s ass, and proved to all of those adults just what this 6 year old is made of.
He got himself through a gruelling day mentally and physically, and came out victorious at the end. Most people I know don’t learn how to push themselves through like that until they’re teenagers, if not much later. He learned a life lesson this day that will carry him through many challenges in his life.
That evening, sat around the wood burning heater in our lodge – a big steel drum fitted with a smoke pipe and filled with wood – we made friends and exchanged stories. Trekkers, guides and porters alike warmed our feet by the fire, celebrating the accomplishment of travelling the hard, winding uphill road that had earned us a seat at this fire.
Austin made friends too, with the four resident children, bright with easy smiles and adorable beyond all imagination. Their polite greetings of “Namaste” endeared themselves to the guests, and Austin had an easy time fitting in to their little gang. They were around his age and a bit younger, and the five of them played hours of lego, and huddled in the lodge’s kitchen, playing in the warm little space reserved for the children. It’s as though they’ve been the best of friends for their whole lives. It’s as though they all speak the same language. Perhaps they do…the international langue of Lego.
Most definitely, today was Austin’s day.