I'd been writing a massive detailed account of our recent Sikkim trek, when the freaking power went out here in this two-bit cybercafe where I'm writing. I'd been trying to convey that when the oxygen gets thin, little things begin to mean a lot. The smell of butterscotch on the breeze, for instance. Or tiny blue flowers sparkling on the trail's edge like pale, displaced stars. The bells of the yaks coming downhill warning you to get out of the way.

And so forth....

Did I say yaks? Actually, the preferred pack animals in Sikkim, a former Buddhist kingdom opposite our Indian home state of Uttaranchal on the eastern border of Nepal, are cow-yak crossbreeds called dzo (pronounced "joe"). These thick horned critters carry about 100-pounds a piece, and allowed me and the missus to backpack without much on our backs except small daypacks. The dzos are soft-furred, cleft-footed ungulates, which have the advantage of not keeling over when you reach lower, humid altitudes. Yaks, I now know, are strictly for the heights.

But don't get the impression this was a simple walk in the park. On the first day, we gained about 4,000 feet over 6 miles, to enter the alpine zone, spending our first night at 10,000 feet in a Tibetan refugee settlement called Tsoka. We soon found that full-service trekking comes with a routine; it's kind of like car camping, but instead of a car, you've got a staff. Bed tea comes to the tent at 6:30 AM, followed by washing water, generally just this side of tepid, followed by breakfast in the mountain resthouses served at seven. Most days we hit the trail by eight.

And to what purpose, you ask?

Well, we were headed for the flanks of Mount Kanchenzunga, a peak over 28,000 feet, second in height only to Everest and K2. We weren't planning an assault on the big hill, just to take a gander from Goecha La. The pass is at around 15,000 feet, and taller than most mountains in the Lower 48. The trail was not a brutal one, but it did take a lot of heart and hard work to keep on trekking as we spent the better part of the past 10 days above 12,000 feet. Fortunately, we were blessed with pretty good weather, the clouds generally holding off to late afternoon, allowing us to walk in the sunshine and get good views of the jagged glaciers on a couple of early morning efforts.

In addition to our own porters, our Nepali guide Amar, and the orange-panted yak man in charge of our livestock, there were plenty of other folks on the mountain. It was my first time to see such swarms of touristic humanity in a natural setting. We traded leads with a group of crazy Swiss hikers, a pair of American girls, a French couple, and about 15 obnoxious Germans, who I dubbed (in a fit of something other than generosity) 'the Kraut dickheads.'

Maybe it was the altitude, or the fact that I had envisioned fewer people on a trek to a land few people are familiar with, but I finally got over my reservations (except for hating the K-d's) and sort of even enjoyed the social aspects of this hard walk in the Himalayas. I even mustered energy to play soccer at 12,500 feet with the Swiss, who even with my dubious skills, could not handle the crew of Sherpas and assorted schleppers on high.

Of course, ask me now, and I'll tell you it was all worth it.

However, during the climb to Goecha La pass, I thought I would die. C was in the lead, with one of our kitchen crew making sure she didn't take a spill off the ridgeline. I was breathing hard, bringing up the rear and wondering whatever possessed me to think I was a mountain man. We crossed amazing moon-like glacial moraine, and faced into a cool wind for 6 hours to find ourselves amid Buddhist prayer flags and small white cairns, the massif of Kanchenzunga slipping in and out of the cloud-scape before us. Of course it was worth it.

Coming down, we took our time, but it's tough to find the words to describe the experience all over again. Perhaps I'll find a bit of inspiration later. Surely, I will find sparks in recollecting the amazing road I've traveled.


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