The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen

Peter Matthiessen’s meditation on his 1973 trek though the Dolpo region of Nepal, to Shey Gompa and the Crystal Mountain, accompanying naturalist George Schaller on his expedition to track and observe the mating rituals of the Bharal, the famed blue sheep of the Himalaya.

Forty years on, you can follow in the footsteps of the two men and their local guides and porters, crossing the high passes and visiting the settlements and monasteries of this remote region, on the Upper Dolpo Trek to Shey Gompa section of The Great Himalayan Trail.

Read during our ten days at Corrie Craggie this May, it was Matthiessen’s descriptions of his own experiences during the trek that resonated with me, sufficiently so for me to make note of three:

“The emptiness and silence of snow mountains quickly bring about the states of consciousness that occur in the mind-emptying of meditation, and no doubt high altitude had an effect, for my eye perceives the world as fixed or fluid, as it wishes.” (p103)

“…. I have long since lost track of the day of the week, and the great events that must be taking place in the world we left behind are as illusory as events from a future century…..

… I long to let go, drift free of things, to accumulate less, to move more simply. Therefore I felt out of sorts after having bought a blanket – another thing, another burden to the spirit…” (p122)

“However, I am getting hardened: I walk lighter, stumble less, with more spring in leg and lung, keeping my centre of gravity deep in the belly, and letting that centre “see”. At these times, I am free from vertigo , even in the dangerous places; my feet move naturally to firm foot holds, and I flow. But sometimes for a day or more, I lose this feel if things, my breath is high up in my chest, and then I cling to the cliff edge ad to life itself. And of course it us this clinging, the tightness of panic, that gets people killed: “to clutch”, in ancient Egyptian, “to clutch the mountain”, in Assyrian, were euphemisms that signified “to die”.” (p124)

Publisher’s page: The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen