The past is the past, there’s no going back. Not for the first time in this new existence called Fatherhood, I’ve had occasion to ponder that. Usually, it’s the middle of the night. It helps, for me at least, to understand things that way, the past as water under the bridge, its return impossible and therefore not to be yearned for.
But it turns out that this mental model works better for farewelling the past than fully embracing the present and the future. That takes a little extra help from a friend. By way of a thank you to the friend who helps me with that, and on this appropriate date, here then are some photos from that past. Let’s take it back almost to where it all began. Looking forward, too, may the Journeys, &c, continue. One day at a time.
After the jump: Our honeymoon, northern Vietnam, February 2004. Photographed with film (!)
There’s only so many Chinese New Years you want to spend in Beijing. Cold, fireworks so incessant it sounds like one of those week-long artillery barrages from some horrible war, and smog spikes from all that gunpowder smoke. Oh for somewhere a little warmer, clearer, and quieter. This year, having run out of entries on our China visas, we travelled “guo nei” and took the short hop down to Fujian Province’s Wuyi Mountains…
“To be tramping under the stars toward a great mountain is always an adventure; now we were adventuring for the first time in a new mountain country which still held in store for us all its surprises and almost all its beauties.”*
George Leigh-Mallory wrote that in 1922 after his first reconnaissance of Mt Everest. He would die on its high and unforgiving peak two years later, just below the summit, to lie there frozen and unfound until the famous expedition of 1999 discovered his corpse, pale as alabaster, somewhere below 8,200 meters.
I wasn’t thinking of this as we climbed the considerably lower rock slopes of Borneo’s Mount Kinabalu – I just happened on that passage reading Leigh-Mallory’s book on the plane to Kota Kinabalu. But his words describe perfectly the feeling we had that morning, at 3,900 meters and still short of the summit, with a big moon directly overhead and the Southern Cross low on our left side. Pale clouds filled the sky below us, surrounding our little rocky island in the night sky.
A hundred vertical meters beneath the summit of Stok Kangri. Would I make it?
Continued from Part One
Just past midnight. It’s Summit Day.
Someone bangs a saucepan and yells “Good Morning Base Camp!” I feel well rested. It’s not too cold, and I put on my clothes and go into the homestay tent. Thankfully it doesn’t smell too badly of cheap fuel. Breakfast is porridge and there’s honey and I drink some tea. We’re given a packed lunch, too, all wrapped in foil. The others seem tired and they reveal they didn’t get much sleep. Poor Tom is suffering from a churning belly. Of all the mornings!
I feel strong, and I think I might just make it.
Stok Kangri – lower base camp
I stand on top of the mountain, arms thrust high, holding my ice axe. All around me, far below, the world spreads out. Valleys, ridges, some of them obscured by cloud. I breathe the thin air as deep as I can.
And then I stop daydreaming, snap the laptop shut, and get ready for the office. All this visualising success, all this planning; I just want it to end so I can get to India and try to climb Stok Kangri.
Once, a mighty tiger roamed the mountains of ancient China. He ruled the steep cliffs with impunity. But along came a hunter, as mighty in the world as the tiger was in the wild. Slowly and carefully, quietly and expertly, the hunter stalked the tiger. Through forest and clearing, up mountains and down, until late one night, above the river, the tiger was cornered. A huge cliff behind him, and the powerful, deep, ice cold waters of the river below. The hunter drew his arrow, the bowstring stretched back ready for the killer shot. All was quiet. Savouring the moment, taking quiet satisfaction in his expertise, the hunter loosed the arrow.
Storm blows in towards Lake Son-kul
A breeze can turn to a blast in seconds. We lazed at the door of our yurt in the last light of day, and the wind did just that. “Ai!” yelled the matron of the camp, if that’s the way to describe a tough as nails Kyrgyz mother. Seeing her start tying down the other yurts, we clued in quickly and did the same to ours. Moments later the storm hit, sending dust flying and causing the horses to whinny in complaint, their high pitched wail rising high over the thumping flap of woolen yurt doors cutting loose from their ties. Rain splashed down, brief but hard, and then, almost before it had come, it was gone. The sun put in one last effort, the air was soft again, and the cold night fell.
Momentarily lost in the tiny village of Hemis Shupachan, I turned down a stone alley and bumped into an old local. He greeted me warmly and asked where I was from.
“Australia? Which city? Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra?”
“Wow, you know your cities. Have you been to Australia?”
“No! But Ricky Ponting is my friend!”
Tall green trees wave in the wind, blue sky behind them. The call to prayer rises, wafts in through the open window, alluring and mysterious. We lie on the bed, staring out that window, listening to the singing float on that cool wind. Later, as the sun sets over a huge white Buddhist stupa, we sip a fresh lime soda and stare at the Kangri Range. Stok Kangri’s summit, a grey wedge of rock streaked with snow, reaches up 6,137 meters above the range. It catches the last of the yellow evening light. We are in Leh, a mountain town in northern India, and after just one day we already love it. A happy, peaceful mix of local Ladakhis, Tibetan Buddhists, Kashmiri Muslims and a sprinkling Indians from down south, this place seems to us to show that people can just get along. It’s stark but beautiful, its people practical, hardy, but above all peaceful, friendly and refreshingly warm.