p and dressed at six, stamping about in my boots to get the circulation going again. The monks are still sleeping. Again they have slept out in the open air but this time without a fire. They have piled themselves together into a heap like puppy dogs and lie completely covered by their red togas. However, it has snowed during the night so now they are half- hidden under a thin film of snow. It's hard to believe that they could survive under such conditions and, indeed, when they start to emerge, they look pretty rough. They hadn't expected this extra night on the bare mountain and their smiles are a little strained.
The blessed sun reaches us at seven and by eight we've joined the pilgrims who are already on the trail. The snow is crisp underfoot. Despite the stiff climb an overwhelming sense of happiness affects us all. Whatever our motives, every one of us climbing this staircase has had to work hard to get here. This is the culmination of days and weeks and even years. And now, for all the physical pain that we're still going through, we know we're going to make it. Our worries are behind us. I stop frequently to regain my breath, to ease the frantic pumping of my heart, and these moments are often shared with elderly Tibetans. We laugh at each other as we ease our loads off our backs. We mop our brows and shake our heads in shared discomfort. Then we pull on our loads, look up at the dazzling snow above us and push on. This is a shared communion, this last thousand feet.
About two-thirds of the way up the strangest thing happens. I've heard of climbers becoming aware of invisible companions at their side and now it happens to me. I have the strongest sense of someone at my left shoulder, just out of sight, walking slightly behind and above me, higher on the slope. I can even hear his boots crunching in the snow. Several times I stop and turn, expecting to see someone overhauling me on my left, but there's no one there. The conviction grows in me that it is my father. He and I had been planning a last great adventure in the mountains together shortly before his death.Reuse content