Led by our guides Alan and Rigzin, we moved on to remote, higher and more challenging terrain. I'd never before seen a landscape this dramatic - wrought by the ferocity of nature into captivatingly beautiful patterns, and with hues of orange, yellow, rust, purple, green and blue. We'd all seen many places on our travels, but everyone was starting to understand that there is something very special here. We were loving this - and the conversation and the laughter was flowing!
Alan and Rigzin had come to Ladakh on a recce last February, but this part of the trail was inaccessible due to snow, so they had tried to estimate the distance, based roughly on the time it had taken previous groups to walk. They estimated 7.5km and we expected to arrive at the campsite at Sumdo by mid afternoon. We climbed ever higher, over the first of the high passes (Phoebe La at 3,600m). The camp came into view early to mid afternoon - but the route towards it was a series of switchback paths, that seemed to take us closer, and then further away, closer then further away……every time that happened, it sapped our energy; for me, the neuropathic pain kicked in and grew ever stronger; Greg's arms and shoulders were feeling the strain; and the group around us started to feel it emotionally as they witnessed Greg and me push on through what became a very gruelling first day. We eventually reached camp early evening, and Alan's GPS told us we had walked 9.5km: two more than expected, a lot at this very high altitude. Greg and I were drained and fatigued, but exhilarated - and buoyed by the energy of the very special friendships that had started to form.
I crashed on the ground sheet for Viv to start to work her therapy magic, and Greg dropped next to me for Ang to help stretch him out. That evening, I knew inside, for the first time, that I could do what we came here to do, that I could complete the trek.