See You in Six Months: High Lonesome

Finding deep solitude in the Himalaya's busy Everest region, Ronald Kral discovers, is surprisingly easy.

Aug 1, 2001
Outside Magazine
Remote File: Asia

Continent Size
17,831,000 square miles

Population Density
206 people per square mile

Claim to Fame
World's highest point: Mount Everest (29,028 feet)

Most Remote Region Putorana Plateau, Siberia

Required Reading
Gobi, John Man
The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen
The Long Walk, Slavomir Rawicz
Off the Map, Mark Jenkins

A few steps off the trekking highway: a windswept view of 26,750-foot Cho Oyo.

TO: // FROM: [email protected] // SUBJECT: A Himalayan New Year's
SO THERE I WAS, CAMPED AT 18,000 FEET, up an unnamed peak way off the beaten base-camp paths here in the Himalayas. Was hoping to catch first light of the new year on Everest, which dominates the eastern skyline. Nice view: Everest in one direction, 26,750-foot Cho Oyu in the other. Shame about the blizzard.

Not that it was entirely unexpected. Yesterday morning I was sipping yak-butter tea at Gokyo Namaste Lodge, staring at the huge lenticular over Cho Oyu. "Don't worry," said the lodge owner. So out I set, backpack packed with tent, North Face expedition bag, Therm-a-Rest, food, med kit, etc., for a two-day trek to this perch: 360-degree views, unusually warm, skies afire, a high alpine lake—mostly frozen—all creaks and moans, air trapped under the ice.

During the night, snowstorm. Kept up for two days. Soon my tent was a snow cave, walls molded by my hands. Had to crawl in and out through a hole until the weather broke.

SUBJECT: How to disappear in the mountains
Oops. Sorry to leave you hanging. I'm writing from Kathmandu, an Internet cafe with power problems. Bear with.

Let me tell you about the trek: connecting moraines, scrambling, threading boulder-strewn hillsides. To my right, 700 feet straight down to the Ngozumba Glacier. To my left, landslides off the high ridgeline. I'm 200 miles from the nearest road. A trail not fit for goats; no one would even know where to start looking.

That's the thing about this place. Step just days away from the Himalayan highways, both literal and figurative, and you disappear. Start walking like I did, and pretty soon you're wrapped in the arms of pure solitude.

SUBJECT: What did you do today?
God, did I sleep well in my cozy little snow hole. No signs of AMS. Or frostbite. Finally, a sunrise; time to head down. Much snow, ice, I glissaded pell-mell to the shore of an alpine lake. Then up again over another ridge. Arduous, but not as bad as defrosting my shoelaces in the evening to get my boots off, then redefrosting them in the morning.

Day five. Provisions for four. I drank snowmelt, scavenged in my pack for ramen, seaweed, etc. Trashbags on my legs for warmth, repeatedly flexed my toes and fingers; it was way below zero. Reached a mantle high above the Ngozumba. A crack in the cliff, no end run possible. I had to make a leap of faith, edge to edge, a hundred feet of air beneath my feet—

SUBJECT: Survivor
Made it! (SORRY, damn outages.) More exposed scrambling. One slip up there and I'm paste. When I reached bare, flat ground at last, I knelt down and kissed it.

Day seven. Still had many ridges to cross; small, flat valleys. Food and fuel gone, but I hoped the lodge owner hadn't organized a rescue; I was only supposed to be out for four days, max. Pitched camp in a cave, moon floating over Cho Oyu. Would have been more fun if it wasn't minus 30. I burned almost everything—diary pages I started in Africa, two pairs of socks (they should have been burned!), a pair of pants. Next day, I came stumbling into the lodge, past gaping trekkers and a man on a cell phone saying, "Looks like he's alive."

I'm a fool, I know, but I love these solo Himalayan romps. Already logged more than 1,000 miles in Nepal, Pakistan, and India, mostly alone. Would I recommend it? Certainly, if you're into prolonged self-punishment. For me, heaven on earth.

I'm only passing through Kathmandu. Already I feel the crush of humanity; can't wait to get back out again. Maybe further north. I hear China's beautiful this time of year.

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