I have read so many old texts and stories, but I only understood how it feels to be thrown around a carriage for twenty kilometres, since I drove from Pokhara to Phedi, unbelted and in the back seat, with an annoyed taxi driver. Memorable. When I get out, it takes me longer than usual to understand where I am in relation to my map. He had dropped me off on a new path not yet on my map. Since it's parallel to the older earthquake-damaged road, it doesn't matter. I allow two local ladies to guide me over the water and the hill, and find myself on the bottom of the stairs that will bring me to the desired village. A few small stalls are selling water and chips along this busy part of the street. Since I am well prepared, I refuse the offers and put my foot on the first step. With me, a group with twenty people arrived with a guide and several porters. Since, surely, they will go the same way, it's my firm desire to be well ahead of them. I throw myself into the inevitable without hesitating.
With only half the weight of my normal luggage on my back, I storm up the stairs. What, in the beginning, is a fiery and brisk climb, quickly turns into a red-faced and puffing crawl. The little luggage is no consolation, compared to the difficulties that the stairs caus me. In a short time, my first bottle of water is empty, and my knees tremble. Soon I take the first breaks. Quick ones at each turn, but soon they get longer, till I can hear the first hiker from the other group behind me. They walk up the mountain with next to no luggage. Of course they are German and, of course, they comment on my pace. I smile mildly and wait. We are not here for the same reasons. I sit at the edge of the stairs and wait until the crowd passes. One by one, they run past me. The retirees are all full of empathy and smile. Only the young people think they have to worry about why I am so "badly trained", even though "she looks quite normal". Wuzzzaaaaaaaa.
Once the Germans are gone, I resume my crawl, putting one foot in front of the other. Other wanderers come past, warn me not to be too fast, because of the pack of Germans, and I assure them, that this is not to be feared. I am told of the beautiful and magnificent views that await me. Only now, I understand (like REALLY understand deep down), that I am climbing a mountain. That sounds so banal, but I didn't quite realize that I would go uphill most of the time. The locals are friendly and smile sympathetically towards me. With regular breaks, I keep going. I will arrive somewhere someday.
After more than 3,000 steps, I reach Damphus, a small village at 1,500 meters altitude. Since there is a lower and an upper Damphus, I run to the middle and stay there. I sleep in a barren and cold chamber, get supper and breakfast but pay much more than in the coming nights. As always, I am learning anew where the money flows. In the beginning, I don't know that most of these teahouse owners are millionaires. Most of the tourism money flows into these regions. Every day a little more.
The next morning, the cold wakes me up, so I continue on my way quickly. It's uphill, again. Soon, I hear the Germans from afar. But I'm lucky. The big group doesn't want to climb to 4,500 meters but stays where it belongs. Our paths separate before I have to overtake them and soon the forest begins. An irregularly paved trail leads deeper and deeper into the green paradise. Soon it narrows I am alone in the shade of a thousand heavily overgrown trees. For two days I wander through the paradisiacal, fern-covered undergrowth. And then I arrive on the rim of the mountain, leading further up to the peak. Here it falls three hundred meters into the valley. There once was more of the mountain, but it looks like it has slipped. A constant reminder that nature is not mild and gentle, but abrupt and cruel. When something happens, death is near.
As I step out of the forest, above the treeline, the view opens onto the surrounding peaks. On one side the sun goes down, on the other a hail storm rages. It's a majestic moment. Although it's still relatively early, I decide to stay here at the newest hut. The carefully carved beams and the cheeky green iron roof seem friendly to me. I have a 360-degree view over the route travelled in the past few days. Here it's so beautiful that I swear, it can hardly get any better higher up. It remains a day's march until I'm at the top. I'm not in a hurry. I take my time. I go to sleep early and get up late, but in time for sunrise. When I finally move on after breakfast, my will leaves me after only two hours. I have a subtly buzzing headache, most likely due to altitude, and could use a rest day with a book in bed. But since I have brought only audiobooks and my player has no battery, this alternative is not available to me. When I arrive at High Camp at 10 o'clock, I decide to take a break, to eat and to find out what will await me up there. When I enter the common room, there are some hikers, and soon we start a relaxed conversation. They will go up today, but say it's an eight-hour hike up and down. I could imagine four hours, but eight? I feel the exhaustion in my bones and notice how displeasure rises. Since I don't have a tent with me, I have to go up and down in one day. There are no huts. At least not yet. I decide to stay where I am. When a couple of American women stumble into the teahouse in the afternoon, I immediately ask how it was. But the girls are too hungry and too exhausted to talk. Their answers are incoherent, and only one thing is clear, it was damn exhausting and quite dangerous.
I decide to spend the day in the hut. I am always a little cold because the sun is the only source of heat and they lit the fire only in the evenings. The mountain huts are not a place to linger. Up here you have to keep moving, which upsets my recovery strategy. When my headache has subsided, the sun is already setting. The spectacle at 3,600 meters is not half as beautiful as that at 3,200 meters. I spend the evening with the other hikers around the fire, and we decide to start at 4.30am to finish the last leg of this trail.