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  • Clouds form around us like fog but not fog. Clouds. We're just up that high. High enough for clouds filled with thunder, rain, and hail and the hail bounces off the corrugated metal roof as we play gin, rummy, as Megan sleeps and smoke fills the dining hall.

    My altitude sickness seems to have passed in a day spent at my pace, slowly, slowly, which isn't really slowly at all. The last to leave Ghorepani, I was the second to reach Tadapani. Second. The logic escapes me but it doesn't matter. I am here, now, in the clouds. Rain. Hail.

    I am somewhat freezing. My legs ache, too, but I made it. We all made it. What I lack in strength and lung and knee power, I seem to make up in stamina. Conviction. I just keep going.

    Now, of course, I just want to sleep.

    Megan's asleep in her room beside ours, ignoring the clouds, rain and hail, ignoring the tea, ignoring the smoke. With only two sleeping bag liners for warmth, with the blankets, she woke freezing – I blame the clouds, the damp in the air – and I gave her my sleeping bag as a layer. The blankets, well worn and unwashed but heavy and warm, will come later.

    Earlier, when Shree asked if she wanted anything to eat, she said pizza. Pizza and fries. He made her order soup.

    "She wanted soup?" Stacy asked in surprise. "Soup?"

    Megan would never order soup.

    The Wee Man tried to deliver a bowl several times over. The first went to Brendan who took and ate it. The second and third went to Kate's room and ours, padlocked shut. The fourth went to Megan, who just didn’t want it. Not only did she not like soup, the broth smelled like chicken, which she didn't eat.

    In the end, Megan got pizza.

    The day included the steep up and down of Poon Hill, the steep up to Less Poon Hill, down to lunch, down even more to the river and a steep up to tea house #3: Panorama Point.

    "Panorama means up," I swore to myself even as I continued down and back up again. Up, up, up. A "chocolate cake" of up. Tomorrow would bring "Snickers" and the day after "candy." I didn't quite understand Shree's descriptions of the climbs. Chocolate cake, Snickers and Candy all sounded good, like something we wanted, and the climbs were just plain painful.

    The clouds ebb and flow. Occasionally, Annapurna South peeks out even as rain, then hail and then rain fall. The panorama - if this clears by morning - should be spectacular, though not "magnificent" because that is another tea house, a new one, Magnificent View.

    I might borrow the word to describe the day, though. Magnificent. I trekked much of it alone, which was both lonely and great. I didn't feel pushed or pulled. I just kept going. And going. And going. With mountains, rhododendrons and waterfalls. Sunshine. Happiness. I could breathe. I couldn't have asked for more.

    The same people passed me, over and over and over again, appearing rather perturbed to constantly find me before them. Perturbed. Irritated. I was slow on the up and slow on the down and frequently stopped with my giant, heavy camera to take pictures but there I was, in the way again, in front again. Some laughed as they passed but others growled.

    The last bit, the chocolate cake climb, nobody passed, and it was pretty great to get to the top. The porter found me then, in the last little bit, and took me the wrong way before finding the right. I paid 100 rupees, the best 100 rupees I'd ever paid, for a hot shower, and watched the clouds form around me.

    Tonight, I will sleep in the sky. Tomorrow, we go down - down, down, down - to our final tea house for one last night on the trail.
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