I’m trekking with Jake, six days out of Phokara, nearing
Annapurna Sanctuary. He tears up hillsides, skates down dusty
slopes, devours suspicious rice and lentils like a ravenous
bear. He looks like a bear, with his bushy, brown beard, his
burly shoulders and chest. As I follow behind, always behind, I
wonder when the bear will turn on me, engulf me.
We’ve come to a ravine, bottomless from the looks
of it, lined with jagged rock. Jake scampers across the
plank-and-rope bridge, turns and waits. The sun seems close
here, at over 10,000 feet, and although the air is cool, the
world glows too bright – the ice fields above, the terraced
valley in the distance – and I squint at the treacherous planks.
“Come on, Oliver,” Jake calls. Part challenge,
part impatience. We’ve been friends a long time. He drops his
pack, wipes the sweat from his dark brow.
I step onto the bridge, as boldly as I dare, but
I’m thinking of Jake, of close quarters in the huts we’ve
shared, occasionally a single bed, linked, always breathing his
scent. He must know how hard it is for me.
“Ollie,” he shouts. “Be careful!”
The span sways even as I take the first step.
There’s wind here, it roars in the crevasse, catches my pack
like a sail. I creep forward, gripping the slick rope.
Just a few feet remain. Jake is within reach,
hands outstretched, and it’s all I can do to keep myself from
jumping into his arms.