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Reaching Pin Pass with willpower

Pin-Parvarti Pass Trek, Part 2:   Read about the start of this trek HERE

Pin-Parvati pass trek is an 8-day trek through the remote Parvati and Pin Valleys of the Indian Himalayas. Below is our stories from the second half of this incredible journey.

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The sun started to reach for the tips of the mighty peaks in the distance as Prakash came to our tent with morning tea.  I happily took my cup as I greeted him and laid in a daze, watching the spectacular view that was my reality.  I had a bit of a pain in my throat that seemed like the start of a cold but with the help of the tea, I was able to push that thought out of my mind.

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Justin and I, seasoned pros at setting up and taking down camp, often finished our chores within minutes and had lots of free time to explore. A herd of horses from a shepherd a couple miles up the hill came meandering through camp, picking any yummy grass they could find.  I sat with them quietly after packing and smiled as the little girl in me was jumping for joy to be around such beautiful animals.  

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The tough moment of saying goodbye to Kenji’s dog Hero was upon us, and as the universe provides, two hikers, headed in the opposite direction, came into sight as we were preparing for departure.  I caught one of the Kolkata Cat’s attention and asked him translate to them the situation.  They were happy to help get Hero back to the first campground where we tagged along and there were plenty of people and resources for him there.  I turned and started to walk up the trail with a heavy heart as Kenji said his difficult goodbyes to his new friend.

We were warned that we still had rock scrambling ahead of us and my anxiety was full throttle, prepping for yesterday’s extremes.  Yet, when we arrived, the famous “Rock bridge” was actually more brilliant and fascinating to experience than scary.  A MASSIVE boulder had fallen into the center of this powerful river, causing all water to flow UNDER it.  Shepherds had built a staircase out of stone on the steeper of the two sides to make the walk off of the boulder a breeze. That was a waste of morning anxiety.  😉

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When we arrived at camp in the afternoon, Justin pulled out our lacrosse ball (used like a foam roller to relieve muscles) and convinced our porters and fellow trekkers to start a game of Cricket.  Well, originally, he was thinking a game of softball, but one of the Kolkata Cats turned to him and said, “Softball?!  You are in India! Here we play Cricket!”

P1110804Point taken.  We used an ice axe, trekking poles, and our lacrosse ball to learn and play an exciting game of cricket with glaciers, waterfalls, and snow-covered peaks as our backdrop.  We had a few close calls of our ball almost flying into the roaring Parvati river, but fortunately it decided to stay with us.  I smiled, thinking of our British friends Sophie and Tom from our Alaska bicycling trip last year, and wishing so badly that they were here to share in this amazing scene with us.

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The next day was a calmer climb to the headwaters of the Parvati river, where it finally started to resemble a calmer stream found in the States.  As we walked on the heels of Sharma, chatting about other treks in the area, a shepherd greeted us (Yes, even this far up in a remote area, shepherds are found with their herds!!).  They talked in Hindi for a bit and then Sharma turned to us to ask if we had any medicine to help with muscle soreness/pain.  Fortunately, we were carrying two bottles of Ibuprofen and gave one bottle to the shepherd.  I told Sharma to translate, “2-3 at a time, make sure you have food in your belly, take with water.”

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When we reached Mantalai Lake, the source of the Parvati river, there was a shrine with flags and cairns surrounding these holy waters.  Our porters took off their shoes, washed their feet, and then threw water over their heads.  I looked at Justin and be both decided to follow suit.
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Sharma rang a bell and gave each of us a blessing for a safe crossing over the pass by marking our third eye with a red mark.

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We set up camp less than a quarter mile from the shrine and hunkered down during stronger evening winds.  Kenji joined us in our tent and we started talking about Japan and all the places we shall go there.  Kenji wrote out our names in Japanese characters and made us laugh with the translations: Justin – “He who loves ten devils (sins)” and Melissa “The one with true heart on the left.”  Not going to let that one go for a while. 😉P1110914

As we sat at breakfast the next morning, I pointed to a steep line in the mountain ahead that I believed to be our trail.  Justin laughed and doubted this could possibly be our path as it was too steep.  So, I bet him a sushi date on it… and I look forward to it with delight.

P1110935Surprisingly, the climb was easier than expected.  The trick?  Walking REALLY slowly.  At this point we were above the highest point in the Continental US (Mt. Whitney, 14,505 ft).  I relate walking at altitude to having an internal RPM gauge.  If you redline, you’ll burn out.  Instead, try to stay in between 2,000-3,000 rpms… I found myself passing many who would try to walk quickly and then collapse to the side of the trail needing a break.  I just embraced my inner tortoise and took it one very slow step at a time and life was good (breath-taking good).

Justin and I reached camp first with our amazing camp cook, Gevan, who has legs of steel and could jog these mountains.  Thrilled, we celebrated each porter as they arrived and then set-up camp. While I could definitely feel we were at 16,200 ft, it did not affect my breathing, and from the copious amounts of water I had been drinking, my head was absolutely fine.

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We went to eat an afternoon snack in the kitchen tent and I noticed that the food I ate did not seem to be getting taken in or digested by my belly.  It felt like it was just sitting in my esophagus.  I stopped eating and was curious what this feeling was…

Justin and I headed back to our tent to play cards, and it started… the intense cramping of my stomach in waves.  Up came the food I ate, and nothing, NOTHING, was going in my stomach for a while… I had Delhi belly again.  But this time, at 16,200ft, the exhaustion felt from the battle felt like I had a water suit on that was weighing me down.  

I lay in my sleeping bag, unable to move except to run back out of the tent when needed.  Dinner came, and the crew became concerned when Justin said I was unable to eat.  I attempted, and immediately, rejected tea.  

“Altitude sickness,” they said.

No… no no. Definitely can tell a difference between that and Delhi Belly.  My head was fine, there was no elephant on my chest.  I could take deep breaths without issue.  But my stomach was in a one-man circus trying to make origami shapes out of my intestines.

Justin checked in on me and I looked at him panicking – If I had eaten something to cause this, he very well probably ate it too!!  Last time, it took a few hours more before his started!  He looked at me calm and said he felt fine and not to worry.

2am arrived… and just like our last experience with this beast, Justin started to shiver in his bag and his fever flared up.  By dawn, he was vomiting and ghostly pale.  

Around 4am, I was able to start sipping water again without a revolt happening.  But food was the last thing on my mind.  I walked up to the kitchen tent to ask for help with Justin.  They were excited to see me moving and then immediately concerned, once again, to hear the news of Justin.

“Altitude sickness.”

I didn’t have the energy to explain…

Justin and I sat in the kitchen tent for breakfast, constantly being nagged by a guide to eat, but neither of us could.  I scooped one spoonful of dry corn flakes in and choked it down.  Justin just looked at his food before curling up and sleeping on my leg. We both fell asleep and the morning clean-up was a complete fog.  

We still had 1,400ft to climb, all in the snow, to reach the pass before being able to descend. At this point, I had not eaten for 20 hours and Justin lost all of his dinner.  Our dedicated porters, with their giant hearts, took on the task of carrying our packs to help us conquer this climb in our current state. <3

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Justin had the brunt of it.  Again, like our last episode, he was hiking during the worst of his sickness.  High fever and beyond weak, he put one step in front of the other in a state of delirium.  I have never been so close to hitting the rescue/emergency button on our GPS satellite tracker.

Slow and steady, with occasional sharp pains to the gut causing me to fall, I worked my way up the mountain. Gevan stayed with Justin and I, as even though we were both sick, we seemed to still keep a faster pace than our fellow trekkers (granted we didn’t have packs on).  Gevan made me smile, as he had filled his pockets with snacks, and every time we would break, he tried to hand me something to eat.  I finally gave in to a tiny candy bar, similar to a Twix.  Breakfast and recovery food of champs, right?

The sugar was immediately taken in by my body and gave me the extra push I needed.  I could see the summit and kept on my slow but steady train to the top.  I was honored when Sharma came up to me and said, “Melissa, you are strong.”  

I replied, “Not today, I’m not.  The porters, they are strong!”

He smiled and said, “You ARE strong, you have the most amazing willpower.”

I was truly touched.  I looked up.  Thirty more steps and I would be there.  You can do this.

When I reached the top, Sharma shouted, “Strong woman Melissa from U-S-A.”

I high-fived our Ironmen porters and proceeded to collapse while waiting for the rest of the paying trekkers.

Justin came up a little bit later and while pale as could be, I knew we were almost out of our misery.  He sat down next to me and reflected on how this was one of the hardest moments he has had to push through in his life.  I smiled and told him how we had beautiful, oxygen-increasing downhill coming up next.

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And boy did we, 3,000ft of sheer descent within a couple miles to be exact.  That evening we found ourselves back at 14,500 ft for camp, which felt like beach front property, elevation-wise.

The last day of trekking had us explore the rain shadow side of the Himalayas, completely dry landscape with gorgeous strands of colors weaving through the mountains.  While it was the longest day of walking, about 16 miles, it was all a steady downhill roll bringing us to the gorgeous, peaceful town of Mud (pronounced Mood).  Justin and I practically skipped together, reflecting on our adventure and happy to feel alive again.

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We arrived about 3 hours ahead of our fellow trekkers (our PCT fast-legs seemed to have made a comeback) and spent the afternoon exploring town.  The traditional Himalayan homes were made of mud bricks and hay that are well insulated and beautiful.  The town stood out for its bright green fields, surrounded by dry desert, where villagers grew peas, onions, and wheat for their staple winter foods.  The children were curious about Justin and I, playing with our trekking poles and wanting to see what our tent looked like.  We laughed and played with them, happy to feel welcomed and not threatened for being different.

P1120260We had entered Tibetan Buddhist territory, as the Pin valley rolled into the Spiti which was only miles from Tibet.  The feeling amongst the people was calm and serene.

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We sat with our porters and chatted for our last night before going to sleep with heavy hearts under the vast blanket of stars.

In the morning, we walked the couple 100 ft to the other side of town where a state bus departed at 6am for its rounds in the valley.  The boys were all taking this ride to the main town of Kaza where they would then catch a 16 hour bus back to Manali on the other side of the mountains.  We planned, with information given to us by Sharma, to solo trek through the Spiti valley, visiting remote villages along the way.  This meant switching buses mid-way in the morning to go the opposite direction of Kaza to the town of Tabo in the Spiti valley (The valley only has one main road).  

We bumped along the dirt roads, flying every which way, and more and more people piled into the bus at each stop.  We were shocked when an old lady got on and just sat on one of our porters laps without warning!  Ha!

As we reached the intersection of the pin and spiti valley, our timing could not have been better. The bus to the town of Tabo rolled up as well and stopped for any transfers.  Getting out of our bus was a feat in itself, as it was a literal sea of smashed human bodies and at one point I seemed to be floating in mid-air attempting to reach the door.  Once outside, two of our porters, who had magically gotten off and up to the storage on top of the bus, were pulling down our packs for us.  Overwhelmed, I gave one of our porters, Tika Ram, a huge hug, and then Sharma a hug, before running for the other bus.  P1120289

As we border the bus, only the back seat was available, and we slid in with our packs.  I turned back to see our porters heads out the window of the other bus, waving and smiling.  I reached my head out the window next to mw and waved back as our buses started to move in opposite directions.  I then pulled myself back in and felt the tears rush to my eyes as I proceeded to sob uncontrollably.  Justin, too, started to drip tears from his eyes and we held each other quietly as the bus danced wildly along the rocky, dusty roads.  It felt as though I was leaving family with uncertainty of knowing if our paths would ever cross again. 

To say this trek was life-changing was an understatement.  The love and connection created and the positive atmosphere shared was simply beautiful.  

I am forever grateful.  <3

Up next, trekking to villages in the remote Spiti Valley.

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