We got up at 2am to continue the hike to the Summit. While we only had 2.7 kilometers left to the top, it would be in the dark, so our guide wanted to give us plenty of time. In the dining hall, we ate what had been termed “supper” before setting off.
The first part of the trail was essentially a long staircase, winding its way up a steep slope. We went in a single file line and I was grateful for the slow pace of those in front of me, allowing me to catch my breath. After about a kilometer, the trail shifted to “the rope” and we began pulling ourselves up along a smooth rock face, using a thick line to guide our path and to balance our steps. At a few steep points, Rick and I were concerned about his ability to make it back on the same path. He has a touch of vertigo when it comes to heights and the darkness made the trail look menacing.
Although I generally gravitate toward solo wilderness experiences, there was something nice about hiking up in the dark with dozens of strangers, all bent on the same destination. In a time when we frequently lament the lack of human communion with nature, it is nice to be reminded that there are others who want to be outside. The trail eventually flattened out and we began the race to the top, trying to make it to Low’s Peak (4,095 meters) before the dawn. We could see faint lights on the summit, the headlamps of those who had dashed ahead to the peak, undaunted by the irregular trail and high altitude headiness. The sky began to lighten just as we made the final scramble. I pulled myself up a little farther and was able to see down into the valley. The sky was clear and the valley below was filled with clouds in shades of magenta, blue, and gold. Around me, I heard the other hikers murmuring their amazement in their respective languages – from French to Japanese to Russian – I understood what they were saying by the tone of their voices.
What followed was one of the most spectacular lightshows I have ever witnessed.
The 8.5 kilometer return hike was considerably less romantic. After the high of summiting wore off, exhaustion began to take over. We made our way down slowly, stopping for a second breakfast at the lodge. By kilometer six, I was focused on putting one foot in front of the other and was largely unaware of my surroundings. Despite spending hours outside each day since arriving in Southeast Asia, my fitness was still challenged by the arduous downhill climb.
We arrived at the bottom at around 3pm, filled with a sense of relief and a sense of accomplishment. I ate the largest plate of spaghetti I have ever consumed and collapsed onto my bed, spent and smiling.
What a beautiful world we live in.