I wrote this piece about a year ago but never ended up posting it for whatever reason. The intention was for Jeff and I to record all of our experiences while abroad in Asia, but this never came to pass. I hope to rekindle this intention over the coming years and write about our new life and how our past experiences have shaped our current choices and lifestyle. Stay tuned!
PUMA MAN March 2016
It’s almost been a year since I returned from a year away with my new husband. At the beginning of our trip, we were good about keeping up a written log of our experiences, in fact Jeff and I would argue about whose turn it was to write a piece for our blog. After about 6 months the excitement faded away, and much of our trip has been left as a distant memory. At the moment, I am flying home from a work trip, and can’t shake the memory of a dream I had last night about PUMA man. So, I’m sharing one last distant memory to try and clear my mind of this strange un-explainable ghost.
After weeks hiking up the Annapurna circuit in Nepal we finally reached the first of two base camps encountered before achieving the ultimate goal of Thorong La pass at 17,500 feet. Upon arrival, we were a bit shaken after having to step over a man who had just died from a heart attack and/or altitude sickness on the trail. Feeling disturbed, we were happy to arrive to the familiar faces of all the friends we had made along the way: our Canadian friends Jamie and Karen, an Aussie traveling with her crazy party animal Nepali trekking guide, the goofy Germans with their more hardened Nepali guides, and many more. Despite a cold and slightly snowy night, spirits were high, and we were all anxious to make it to the other side of the pass where a highly advertised Hotel Bob Marley awaited us with cold beers and rumored “western toilets”.
That particular night though, we befriended one more character whom we started referring to as PUMA Man. PUMA Man was a French man (or maybe he was German?) that worked for PUMA, and let me tell you, he drank that PUMA juice. He loved this company, and throughout the night had shared its entire history from founding to future, and every other fun fact whether you wanted to hear about it or not. I even for some reason distinctly remember him wearing a PUMA track suit. However, the logical part of my brain thinks in reality he was just wearing the traditional north face knock off trekking clothes from Kathmandu like the rest of us.
In addition to PUMA man being a great resource for knowledge about this ground breaking shoe manufacturer, having hiked the Annapurna Circuit before, he provided some seemingly good advice for our planned trek over Thorong La Pass the next day. Unlike the rest of the trekkers who were planning departure times at around 5:00am, he wasn’t going to leave base camp until about 6:30am. We were all much stronger hikers than our other mismatched trail companions, and we also thought a later start was a good idea to avoid slow traffic, and still summit at the same time as the pack. Plus, I was having stomach issues and needed any extra sleep I could get.
With this advice and my illness in mind, we, PUMA man, and Jamie and Karen were the last ones to leave the base camp with PUMA Man leading by about 15 - 30 minutes. When we finally got on the trail the snow that was supposed to slow down was getting worst. After seeing an avalanche break about 10 minutes out from the high camp, we decided that maybe the snow wouldn’t pass upon sunrise like we were told from the tea hut owners below. Upon consideration, we stayed put at high camp.
(me hiking in the blizzard on the way to high camp)
Over the next few days, snowed in and stuck in freezing temperatures at the 16,500ft camp, we learned that of the about 150 people that attempted Thorong La, almost a third didn’t make it and died from exposure and avalanche on the pass.
As for us, we were stuck for a week in a cold high altitude environment and frustrating circumstances every day wondering if we were going to be able to continue our journey up and over the pass like we came here to do, or have to go back down around the risky landslide zone which no longer even had an established trail due to all the avalanches. In the end, we were forced to hike back through the landslide zone. On the way, Jeff and I walked over a second dead man during our trek in Nepal, this individual frozen and preserved not far from where the first man died a week before.
(Jeff and I traversing back over the landslide zone right before encountering the second dead man)
Thinking back, it’s no wonder I remember the avalanches, or having to share a room with Jamie and Karen with the beds pushed together for extra warmth. What’s odd is the fact that I still haven’t shaken the memory of a man I barely even knew, PUMA man…
(Our shared accommodations for the week)
In reflection, I think the reason for my obsession with PUMA Man is because, in a way, he was our parallel universe. On that day, the only difference between us and him was his 15-30 minute head start which was enough for him to keep going, and for us to stop.
Whether or not he made it, would have been our fate as well.
My gut tells me he didn’t. I saw the conditions, it was bad, complete white out, severe winds, 6ft of snow over 12 hours bad… and he was hiking in the worst of it. But if he did, what a story and adventure.