Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Manaslu Part 20

The rugged individual is a myth reserved for Chuck Norris and Mel Gibson movies. Adventurers know that the individual can only thrive in a benign environment, and the go it alone guy is revered only by those who live in a guardrail society. Unfortunately our everyday world has become so tame that true, “my life is in your hands,” friendships are no longer needed. Most of us drift through life establishing no real connections because we simply don’t have to. Only by getting out of the benign Disneyland in which most of us live can we realize the full asset or liability of those with whom we chose to share our lives. When your continued existence truly and immediately depends on the competency and courage of your cohort(s) there exists the potential for sublime friendships and fire in your heart contempt. I spent seven weeks within fifty feet of Brian Sato and have no complaints.

“Feeling good, taking it slow. Trying to find a rhythm out here. I think it’s important to find some kind of peace in order to reach the summit. If you come here to fight count on losing.”
- Diary entry April 11, 2002

All who have been to Nepal know the greeting namaste. Literally translated as “I salute the God in you,” Namaste serves as both hello and goodbye, it is often said with both hands clasped together in what a Westerner would consider a prayer posture, and if you are lucky it will come in the form namaste bai or namaste di di – hello brother, hello sister. As I walked the trail in Nepal absorbed in my own feelings of doubt and homesickness I would often meet a young girl or an old man and invariably we would exchange this sincere greeting. As a matter of fact you say namaste so often that it comes as natural as blinking and if you’re not careful you will shorten the hand gesture to a single-handed kind of vertical salute, or worse yet a karate chop.

The trail is an equalizer. It gives two people, no matter how diverse their backgrounds, common footing. Aside from basic physiology, I had nothing in common with the locals I met on the trail: we didn’t speak the same language, we didn’t know the same songs, we had no shared experiences, yet many would stop stand clasp their hands together look me in the eye and say “hello brother.” It was a greeting from a fellow traveler, someone else trying to live life as best he can.

The third night of the trek was spent in the village of Dobhan, a three building settlement next to a cold mountain stream where we Americans washed off three days of dust and salty sweat. Our Garung porters were extremely modest and in an effort to be mindful and courteous we were very careful to find a secluded spot in which to strip down and wash up. Unlike the Tibetan people we were soon to meet higher in the Nubri Valley the Garungs were extraordinarily clean and every night the women would wash their feet and hair at the village tap. Every village that we saw had an identical water supply: someone had obtained a fifty foot section of plastic tubing, one end of which was run uphill and inserted into a stream while the other end was attached to a spigot embedded in a concrete block. Occasionally a friendly male versus female water fight would break out as the two genders competed for the faucet.

The Garung men wore what appeared to be discarded Western clothes – old sweat pants and out of fashion tee shirts – while the women wore colorful ankle-length patterned skirts cotton blouses and wool cardigan sweaters. Despite the heat, the dust and the fact that their skirts nearly brushed the ground the clothing of the Garung women remained spotless for the entire eight days of our trek. Several of our female porters also wore a sort of head wrap made from a single piece of brightly colored cotton cloth. The men wore no jewelry, while the women wore large golden hoops in their ears and at least one, possibly two ruby-studded rosettes in their noses. Some women had pierced the section of skin between their nostrils and through this hole they would place an ornate golden ring.

All of our porters either went barefoot or wore flimsy rubber shower sandals. A completely worn through sandal lying beside the trail was a common sight and once while following a group of porters I saw a man simply kick off a ruined sandal in mid-stride and continue barefoot. When I returned home I told a friend this story, she replied at how sad it was that our porters didn’t even have shoes. I think, however, it was the porters who saw us as the pitiful ones. If someone had stolen our boots we would have been hobbled, they, however, had no such weakness – weakness is the appropriate term.

Despite our need for sturdy and expensive boots the trail was gradually hardening our soft civilized bodies. We’d all arrived in Kathmandu in excellent shape, but unless you work as a farmer or a longshoreman it’s practically impossible to hold down a job and completely prepare yourself for the day in day out rigors of an extended mountaineering expedition. Fortunately our bodies are master adapters and my favorite time of any expedition is the beginning because that’s when you can physically feel yourself getting calloused and hard. After the first day you forget about the comb, after the second you stop dreaming of a hot shower and after the third you no longer care that you haven’t changed your underwear in three days. It’s actually quite liberating to take off your shoes, crawl into your bag fully clothed, sleep the night and then wakeup and only have to pull on your shoes in order to start the day. Four days on the trail will tear up your soft muscles and replace them with taut wire and will peel away your smooth skin and cover the wounds with impenetrable calluses – it’s a wonderful feeling.

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