Awe and anxiety at altitude

I just finished the Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal, or at least the hardest bit. I have recovered physically and am starting to recover mentally after a few good nights’ sleep and a couple of rest days. The highest point of the trek, at Thorong La Pass, reached 5415m above sea level: it was beautiful, wild, covered in snow, and absolutely freezing.

It has been a nice feeling to have a purpose: to do the trek, to get over Thorong La, to walk and walk and walk every day for nearly two weeks with all my stuff in a backpack, to fulfil a lifelong dream of trekking in the Himalayas, to see and experience some of the biggest mountains in the world. It’s also been challenging, both physically: hiking up to 15 miles in one day with rapidly decreasing temperatures and increasingly low levels of oxygen in the air; and mentally/emotionally: constantly meeting new people along the trek, negotiating hiking buddies and deciding who to walk with, accompanied by the familiar social anxiety that makes these things tricky for me.

I’m quite relieved to be back in (relatively) normal territory. Altitude is not for me. It’s cold, like, really really cold, and scary. Anxiety and my tendency towards hypochondria put a bit of a dampener on what might otherwise have been a couple of very spectacular days. Don’t get me wrong: the surroundings were incredible and I managed to appreciate it, but not without constantly monitoring my breathing, level of tiredness and headache severity to determine whether or not I was in danger of imminently dying due to altitude sickness. Note: I wasn’t, and I didn’t.

All that said, I have met some lovely people over the last two weeks and have had shared experiences that I’ll remember for a lifetime. Playing fun games of cards and Uno with Australian and English mates, comparing farts and digestive complaints with just about everyone, looking out for each other during the most dangerous parts of the trek, drinking endless cups of masala tea, chatting to friendly local people, exploring Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and seeing some of the most spectacular scenery that the world has to offer.

I am glad I did this trek, and it has inspired me to do more long distance adventure travel, but I think I’ll be sticking to lower altitudes in the future.


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