As is often the case, the biggest day follows the most restless sleep of the trip. I give up and rouse myself at 3:30 am and fret for way too long about clothing. It's definitely colder now but not by Canadian standards. I jettison the down coat and thick gloves figuring movement will keep me warm til sunrise. I've agreed with Sofie and Alex that we'll wait for each other at the pass. Chhongnuri still needed to eat so I took off at 4:30 am to reclimb yesterday's hike. This time round was far from fun. I vowed to take at least an hour and had no problem there. It was much like ski touring with a nasty cold; just keep your head down and put one foot in front of the other. My clothing choice was working; I had everything on and only my hands were cold. I warmed up briefly at High Camp and pressed on figuring my friends would reel me in higher up. I felt pretty bad for two reasons; I wasn't drinking enough because of the cold and my pace was too fast. Our slogan had been "plus lentment mai jamais arret" but it clearly wasn't working now.
Day started to break and I forced myself to take a rest for water and a snack and, wouldn't you know, my world seemed a little brighter. It was still a grovel to the pass but such a marvelous feeling to arrive. Alex and Sofie showed up a while later, Alex, unbelievably, in his shorts and Sofie somewhat incoherent. Quite a few people were hurting, some scarily so. And at every switchback a Nepali stood ready with his horse to whisk you to the pass for a small fortune. After the obligatory pictures by the summit sign I headed off with Chhongnuri and Mingmar soon catching up. We were alone on our 1600 meter descent moving fast, with the beautiful Dhaulagiri coming into view. By 10:30 am we were in Muktinath and back to the heat, dust and blaring horns. We visited the renowned Muktinath Hindu temple and Buddhist Sarwa Gompa. The former was crowded with laughing faithful plunging themselves into the sacred, if freezing, waterfalls and pools. It was an especially social, playful and joyous gathering for such hallowed ground. Alex and Sofie caught up at that point and we continued into town for a final lunch. It was a happy/sad farewell with them just beginning their round the world odyssey. I'd spent much of the last six days with them and was thankful for their friendship, laughter and generosity.