18,655 feet. Crampons, ice axes, harnesses and rope. Glaciers. Remembering climbing knots. Crevasses. 2am start. Headlamps. Helmets. Headaches. Ice bridges. Panic attacks. Sunrise in the mountains. Finally eating that Milky Way that you had been saving for 2 months. Perfect weather, awesome pictures, and feeling like a total bad ass. The realization of, ‘Oh no, now we have to go all the way back down.’ Dehydration. Getting lost. Vomiting. Altitude is no joke. Just. Keep. Walking. Relief, smiles, and over exaggerated tales of epic accomplishment.
All in all, despite my dramatic above text, things really went very well. (please forgive me – I just finished watching touching the void and am feeling a little intense at the moment). The ascent was extremely non-technical – meaning that we essentially just had to walk up the mountain along a path marked out by other groups, and there were only 2 semi-sketchy sections. But at 5686 meters, and this being the first mountain of this magnitude that Belinda and Ally had ever done (and only our second), we all were pretty stoked.
We finally left high camp at 3:45am (it takes super long to suit up in all that gear), summited around 9:00, and were all back at high camp an hour before noon. All of us (except for Dan, the beast) felt rather like turds after the descent, and lay down to recoup. After drinking straight from the un-purified mountain stream, we somehow hefted our gear-loaded 60lb+ packs to hike the hour and a half back to the road. Dan and Belinda got lost going the ‘easy way’ (read: way that abruptly stops being a path) and had to backtrack, resulting in lots of un-sore muscles and enthusiastic smiles. Naturally. Ally and I stumbled down the ‘steep route’ feeling terrible, weak, and unable to stomach any food. I puked. Finally we all made it, were relieved and happy, and spent the next two days rehrydrating and helping our bodies recover from the shock that is altitude. The experience of summiting a beast like Vallunaraju on our own was incredible and left an irreplaceable feeling of accomplishment. Now get me out of elevation.