The surface of the snow was firm, and a dusting of hoar frost made for good walking, but by 7:30 a.m. the temperature was ris- ing and the crust was fracturing with each step. It was heavy work, and every fifteen minutes I stopped to catch my breath. Once again I found myself following the tracks of a yak. My oxygen-starved mind became absorbed in the trail of prints. I began to interpret the mechanics of its motion. Each hoof-mark lay almost exactly the same distance apart; its gait was slow and methodical. The hoofs were lifted with precision, dragged through the snow and placed, slightly angled backwards, with metronomic consistency. The stride length varied little and the depth of the impression related more to the amount of snow than the angle of slope. The yak had created an imprint that stood uncannily at ninety degrees from the vertical and I used the tracks as a single-laned stairway.
Morning wore on. I moved, literally, at a yak’s pace. It felt natural; the yak is probably the mammal most adapted to that landscape. As the steps wore on the economical, unhurried disposition of the yak permeated me. I realized the only rhythm that agrees with high altitude is slow and contemplative. I was drifting into the true nature of walking: the absolute focus on each step, a subconscious awareness of my physiology. The physical mantra of walking was evolving in the steps of the yak.
Crossing the Kunzum-La – from my new book – Into the Heart of the Himalayas, 2014