Michael Maine

“Hallelujah!” I hear Tom scream. “Come quick, Mike, it’s a miracle!”

I detect the faint sound of running water from the top floor of our rustic guesthouse. Nine days deep in the Himalaya - long enough to forget the existence of creature comforts.

Leaping off my bed with newfound agility, I scoop up my travel towel in the swift motion I’d practiced in my dreams; I have been waiting for this moment.

In a flurry of anticipation, I fail to dress. I bolt out the door faster than a dog at the races, running toward the staircase. I must get there before someone else does, I thought, feeling both entitled and selfish. The next few days depend on it.

Up the first staircase, then the second, then the third. I swing around the banisters with the grace of a streaker at a football match; the mercury says almost zero, but my determination knows no bounds.

“Mike! Are you coming?”

Steam pours out of the top floor cubicle where Tom stands. Early morning sun emerges through the 8,000-metre peaks behind us, decorating the exposed woodwork with delicate, dancing streaks of light.

I enter the other cubicle, frantically turning on the hot tap.At last. That indescribably invigorating feeling. Warm water rushing down my back, for what feels like the first time in years.

“I’m here,” I reply, “and boy does it feel good.”

And then we converge. Six previously disconnected young explorers, from far-flung areas of the globe, coming together through a beautiful twist of fate, circumstance and mutual affection. We scurry our way to the ground floor kitchen, where breakfast is being served.

“I can only stomach toast and jam at this time of morning,” Scott, from England, comments proudly.

“Yeah, but it’s 120 rupees,” says Tom. “For 150 you can get fruit, muesli, and yoghurt. You’re not gonna summit on tea and toast, Scott!”

We all laugh.The price of food and water has soared, mirroring the increase in altitude. But it’s no surprise; we’d passed yaks and buffaloes the day before, traversing the newly fallen snow, piled high with everything except the kitchen sink.

We sip the last of our coffee, and slip into our now routinely dank hiking attire, our 60-litre packs feeling lighter as heavier, warmer items are thrown on. The front door opens.

Before walking even two steps, our attention is diverted. A lean, relatively lanky, local man blocks our path. He’s wearing clothing fit for a light, autumn jog, adorned with sneakers and 90s-style sunglasses.

“I’m trying to summit on just crackers and chai. That is what the Gods would want.” He speaks softly as he catches his breath. “I’m also rarely sleeping.”

Our jaws drop.

He points at me. “You. Your shoes are not waterproof. They will not last.”

I look down at my rented footwear from Pokhara, plastic bags stuffed inside. Was he - in some pretzel logic - right? Perhaps I should’ve succumbed to the pressure and spent my life’s savings on Kathmandu-imitation garb, with solid shoes to boot. There’s no going back now.

And then we diverge. Six hours later, summit day, new-fallen snow and a blustering wind that only exists at 5,000 metres. The pin-width track is peppered with wide-eyed, weary trekkers; their stories vary. Couples on their second attempt, delayed by altitude sickness; a Chinese man who’d been jeeped up the circuit, with a flight out of Jomsom the next day; our ill-prepared, ever curious selves.

I follow Marc’s pace, a long-standing mountain runner from Barcelona. With 10 years' experience at the tender age of 20, he’s born for this terrain.

We track the snowy ravine, not knowing where to place the next footstep; one wrong move and our stories become history.

False summit after false summit. The group reconvenes in an abandoned shack.A combination of low altitude and physical exhaustion is playing tricks with my mind. Have we missed it? Maybe we should turn back.

Time stops; just the crunching of our boots gives us rhythm.

And there, out of the rock and sleet, Tibetan prayer flags greet us - entangled, vibrant, pure.

We cast our eyes to the mountaintops, and our hearts to the ancient earth.  


All story rights belong to Michael Maine.