We were on our way to one of the holiest sites in the world the "Dolma La" pass at 18678 ft. The trail from camp started off with a gentle rise and within 10 minutes people who were hurting started falling behind. The day went on like this with part of our group 20 to 30 minutes in front of a second slower group. Everyone was excited. For a guide there is a fine line between being excited for everyone and getting everyone over and out of altitude before someone grinds to a halt. On this day, as time passed and the air grew thinner with every step, I was a little worried that we were losing our team and becoming a broken group of individuals, a behavior that is common at altitude. I have seen it before where the higher one goes the focus becomes self centered.
As we went higher I could see my friend was having a harder time controlling her feet. Her coordination slipping. I decided to hang back to keep an eye on the group from the rear to watch for anomalies. As my friend started to slow so did her cognition. I would ask her questions and sometimes it would take her 30 to 40 seconds to answer. As her situation became worse a beautiful thing happened. Three other pilgrims began to help. It took some of the stress of my job off my back and felt a bit better about the situation. I could now watch the groups progress and still keep a tight focus on a deteriorating pilgrim.
About 2 hours from the pass I asked to carry my friends pack. I waited as long as possible because I knew it would be a big psychological support to have that pack off her back. "There is the pass, you can see it, you can make it". Shouldering her pack I could see she was happy and gained a burst of energy. The pass did not look far but according to my watch we still had 1800 feet to gain. Here balance waning and breaks every 10 steps, part of me grappled with the turn around point. The point where it is to late to turn back or to early to stop. It is the hardest part of a guides job because you want the client to be successful but not at the cost of life.