For the last time for years we camped in a wood. The next night we marched up the valley and soon were far above the tree-line. We knew the mountain paths well from our excursions and our feeble lantern did its job. Still, occasionally we did get off the track. We had to be very careful in crossing the narrow wooden bridges over the river. They were glazed over with ice and we had to balance ourselves like tight-rope walkers. We made good progress, though each of us was carrying a weight of nearly 80 pounds. By day we always found good secluded spots to rest in, but camping in that temperature was too cold for pleasure.
One fine day we found we could not go on. In front of us was an unclimbable rockface. A path led up to it and lost itself in the wall. What were we to do? We could never get up it with heavy loads on our backs, so we decided to turn back and try to wade through the stream, which here divided into several branches. The cold was intense 15 degrees below zero. Earth and stones froze on to our feet when we took off our shoes and stockings to wade across, and it was a painful business pulling them off before putting on our shoes again. And then we were faced by fresh streams. There must have been an exit as the caravans passed that way, but we could not see where. So we decided to pass the night where we were, and next day to watch from our hiding place to see how the caravans dealt with the situation. Soon after dawn a caravan came along, stopped before the rockface, and then (we could hardly believe our eyes) the heavily laden coolies climbed swiftly up the rocky path like chamois one after the other - a lesson to us hardened mountaineers - while the yaks waded across the stream with their drivers on their backs.
Literally Lost 21
Last week, the extract came from 'Hong Kong: Epilogue to Empire', by Jan Morris. The action took place, naturally enough, in Hong Kong. The winner was L Andrew, Surrey.