psyched up, psyched out: a look ahead to Thorung La

I had appointments for 4pm yesterday to sell the couch—which I did—and some kitchen items—which I did.  I am salesman of the 2010-11 year here in the Busan Holmberg Family.  There are speculations on whether I should become a furniture salesman.  The speculations are not my own.  But I am good.

Let me try and sell you an idea: climbing to 5416m (x 3.3 feet=roughly 17,769 feet; 100 feet higher than Everest Base Camp) for a vacation.  With all puns intended, there is one part of the upcoming journey that both literally and figuratively looms above all others, and may indeed be the height of the three month experience.

This is not to belittle the beaches, jungles and forests of southeast Asia.  Certainly, the relaxation is needed in sand and surf; and additional training is needed in northwestern Thailand.  But what is it that possesses us to leave the relative comfort of any other place in the world below 3000m?  I imagine it has to do something with the five-mile-high snow-covered Annapurna massif around which we will be hiking.

We are voluntarily going to a place where air is sparse.  The five or six days before summiting Thorung La (la=Tibetan for mountain pass) are short but steep treks; one must allow time to acclimatize to the elevation lest edema strikes and kills you.  Yes, quite literally.  We have the luxury of time and astounding surroundings, so we will spend 3 nights near 3510m Manang, taking short day-hikes and resting.  The going is slow thereafter.  Manang to Letdar is only a 720m ascent, but a snail’s pace will be best since fatigue and sparse oxygen are a trekker’s worst enemy: injuries happen more easily.  After a couple more nights of acclimatizing in 4230m Letdar, we ascend only another 240m to Thorung Phedi (phedi=foot of a hill).

All this sounds fun, right?  Well, the push over Thorung La is supposed to be the most grueling.  Depending on your fitness—surely a question mark for me and my knees, Nic and her slight asthma—this is a six to twelve hour day on the trail, the longest day of the entire circuit.  The ascent is a whopping 1040m followed by a 1620m descent.

All of the above info was garnered from the Lonely Planet Nepal trekking book.  I read over and over some of these numbers and wonder, really wonder, if I am capable.  Even with the hikes Nic and I have been on in Korea, nothing will prepare us for the altitude.  For example, yesterday, we had a bit of an outing.  It was supposed to culminate with summiting the highest peak in Busan.  We did not make it.  Although time was an issue (the salesman had to work at 4pm and we got a late start), we cheated by taking a cable car up 400m or so before starting the hike.  Had we made it to Gumgeongsan, the summit is a mere 801m.  What good is this training going to do us in the Himalaya?

I’m not really selling this to you.  I’m hardly selling it to myself.  I have to believe that we are capable of more than we think we are.  I have to believe that the spectacular views will forever be burned into my mind from the Annapurna Circuit; these images and the experience in general will be worth the inherent challenges.  Now, I must spend the rest of the day trying to write a convincing letter to my family that going off the electronic and phone grid for three months is a good idea.  The hardest part for some of them will be when we are on the above-described section of the journey.

I have been doing my best to stay away from too many pictures from the trail where we’ll spend three and a half weeks.  However, for further reading, has some good articles that, in addition to the Lonely Planet book, have helped give me some perspective about the realities of this endeavor.

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