For whom the bell tolls


We are four days into the eleven day wilderness Himalayan trek. We will see only one village which closes down for most of the year when the shepherds move on. Its hard . Every day out from Manali we climb 2-4000 feet, sometimes walking eight hours. Its OK I have done it before . In fact on four continents this is my sixteenth trek, I know what to expect and I know that the  body will acclimatise, find new gears, fitness and  determination.

But this time its different. Maybe its age, maybe  I’m unlucky, maybe I had it  coming. Whatever. Day four . We are climbing the first big pass around 16K. I am wheezing like an old accordion, I’m falling over, I’m walking like a drunk. The climb was meant to take  four hours with about the same the other side. After three hours I am finished. I am falling further and  further behind the party. I am taking baby steps. One foot after another, minimum energy, keeping the heel down. My one year old grand daughter Octavia can do better, perhaps she should give me lessons.

The party leader a very sophisticated secular Sikh  called Hashmet asks me if I want to take the emergency pony. The mark of failure. I say no, the flickering macho in me was here to take the pain, feel the gain, knock off the pass and the rest of the trek. Twenty minutes later without much progress being made he asks me again.  With 700 feet to go I am holding up the party.

Put like that. I am not  giving into my exhaustion, my inability to breath, my hopelessness. No, I  am  responding to team spirit, play up,play up, and taking the pony for the team. As I get on the pony the horseman asks me, if this is my first trek. I reply No, but it is my last.

Medical note. By the end of the trek I  am spending at least three quarters of the walking day on Reebo the mountain horse attended by Kissen the horseman and VJ the  number two guide.  My breathing  becomes so bad that in the high camps I can hardly make the latrine tent, my bronchial tubes get louder and I start spitting a bit of blood, I  also suffer from stomach cramps and on descent I have the  bizarre Kafka experience of my legs swelling up so much that they are no longer my own. Since I have returned I have lost a stone as the fluid  has drained off.

For most 70 is the age when they enter old age. For me  the bell for the last lap rang at 67.

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6 Responses to For whom the bell tolls

  1. Better you than me mate….You are my hero anyway,I gave all that up a million years ago. but trek again on a much less ridiculous route. you are there to enjoy the view,not spit blood and converse sweetly to a horse! Good on ya mate..I bet all the others were in their 20,s as well ..Now we are more equal!

  2. Nick Leslie says:

    I agree. Well done Hughie…look forward to seeing you again soon. Take it easy for goodness sake.

  3. Jane wynn says:

    Hi Hugh
    Sorry to hear about your bad health incident. It’s hard to let go of the things you love to do

  4. Caroline Yardley says:

    Just a small reminder that we are not invincible all of the time – so look after that ageing body. xx

  5. Howard says:

    What the hell…life begins at 70 and/or 67…

  6. charlotte good says:

    Hugh, how worried Viv must have been for you. We each of us must listen to our bodies and act appropriately (don’t think you have ever done that, tho’). We are blessed to be alive and standing … so am v pleased to hear this is your last trek. Some things are to have been done and you have. Enough. Amen …

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