Rash Lake Trek: The Highest We’ve Ever Been

trek_glacier.jpgNay, not the famed “Peshawar Original” hashish, smuggled to the Northern Areas from Peshawar’s main bazaar by many a young Japanese pot tourist. Why coat one’s lungs in black tar when one is surrounded by the most natural high of them all: Altitude!

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Yes, we are returned! Safe, sound, and triumphant from our five-day circuit, our loop trek complete with glacier crossings and a steep climb to Rash (pronounced “Rush”) Lake at 15,500 feet; there, on the shore of the half-frozen tear-drop lake, Tay rested with the porters and cook while I and our guide climbed even higher, to Rash Peak, a 16,500-foot dizzying pinnacle, surrounded on three sides by sheer cliffs, whose thin air and 360-degree vista gave me a lightness of mass and mind that floated my endorphin-soaked spirit all the way back down to camp that afternoon.

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The Himalayas, wrote E.M. Forster, “are like nothing else in the world, and a glimpse of them makes the breath catch. They rise abruptly, insanely, without the proportion that is kept by the wildest hills elsewhere, they bear no relation to anything dreamt or seen.”

This is the landscape through, over, and across which we have walked all week, so far from everything and everyone we’ve ever known. We felt the knocking and trembling of the forming land, heard the booming of distant avalanches and rockfalls — the making of mountains — the unimaginable creep of billions of tons of ice.

And there were our thoughts of Dr. Stewart, picking through these hills with his own team of porters, cooks, and guides, 80 years ago! Filling his journals with descriptions of leaves, petals, stamen, and stems while his wife sketched the flowers beside him. Where did he walk? What did he find? How intimate he must have become over the course of five decades (as opposed to our puny five days) of exploring these hills!

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On our last night, we stayed with shepherds of the Boroskuch Tribe; our guide, Rahmat Karim, and I chipped in to buy and slaughter a ram as payment for camping in their meadow, a medieval place that carried us back at least five centuries in time. Built on a tree-less mound of dung and rock walls, we sat high above the Miar Glacier, our bodies sore and minds soaring. For our generous gift, Karim and I were fed not the ram’s lowly meat, but the prized liver, first roasted, on a tin plate next to a small mountain of salt, then curried, with onions, gravy, potatoes; pinched between folds of hot chapattis with greasy fingers.

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The next morning, the elder of Hamdar Meadow, Agha Ismail, head of this summer encampment of shepherds (maybe a dozen boys and old men, plus three or four thousand sheep and goats) said this to me, as Karim translated:

“You make good baksheesh last night; may Allah grant you long life so that you return to visit us again.”

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The words were spoken as we crouched inside Ismail’s dark mud-and-stone hut, his wrinkled, wool-wrapped figure leaning over the tall wooden barrel where he had been churning lassi, a yogurt drink, from the same yak milk that supplied the butter we’d eaten that morning.

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Our hike out, through fog, drizzle, and mist, was more magic still, until finally, we re-crossed the Bultar Glacier, and climbed back to Hoper village, where we waited for our jeep-ride home, a harrowing, cliff-hugging experience in itself.

This is short, I know, there are thousands more words that need scribbling, but I am still reeling from the depth of travel from which we have only just returned, and in which we are still swimming. You see, there is no electricity in Karimabad, just the noise of scattered generators, and instead of the hot showers we thought we deserved last night, we settled for candle-lit, glacier-cold, bucket baths. Today, we’ll try to book passage back down the Karakorum Highway (20-hour bus ride), though we heard rumors of a 200-meter-wide landslide blocking the way. The trek continues and I am

spinning, my friends, spinning along…

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