Annapurna with G Adventures – through Thorong La

Posted: November 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: travel | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Day 9 – Yak Kharka (4000m) to Thorong Phedi (4450m)

Six kilometers. That’s all we had to walk today, six kilometers. Within that six kilometers we ascended nearly 500 meters in elevation. It took us four hours. That’s less than 2kph, we’re really taking “walk slowly, walk slowly” to heart. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t have done it quicker, the air is really thin and even the slightest exertion is enough to take your breath away.

Within that six kilometers was maybe 300 meters of a landslide area, again, and once more we needed to up the pace when crossing it. A few years ago I ran the Midsummer Night’s Run, a 15km run that takes place in Toronto in August, I think I was just as winded after today’s 300 meter dash as I was after that 15km run.

Apart from the physical exertion, we’ve finally reached the foot of the pass through to the other side of the mountain, and we’re preparing for tomorrows big hike through. The plan is to wake up at 3am, eat breakfast at 3:30, and be on the trail at 4am. We have 10 hours of hiking in front of us tomorrow, with 1000 meters of altitude to gain as we approach the pass and 1800 meters of altitude down on the other side as we head to Muktinath to likely collapse into our beds fully clothed.

Expected temperature as we set out tomorrow is around -10C and I’m finally going to wear the heavy woolen socks I’ve been carrying since I started my trip. I think I’m going to be ok, I don’t have a down jacket but I’ve got lots of layers and if all else fails I will put my rain coat on top to cut the wind and keep the heat in. I’m hoping the wind won’t be so bad, I think part of the reason we set out so early is to avoid high winds which can pick up in the pass as the day goes on.

Day 10 – Thorong Phedi (4450m) to Thorong La Pass (5416m) to Muktinath (3800m)

We started our day with a 2:45am wake up call, followed by breakfast at 3:30am, and by the time we set out it was 4:30am. It was cold and dark, and it was all uphill. I, of course, didn’t have a down jacket and was counting on layers to keep me warm. Unfortunately I planned for temperatures of -5C to -8C, but what we actually got was more like -12C to -15C, plus wind. It wasn’t so bad as long as I kept moving, but keeping moving meant a slow climb of 1000 meters up to the pass, with nothing for my lungs but cold, thin air. On top of it all, my headlamp battery was dying.

Thankfully around 6am it got light enough to see without the headlamp, and for a brief period after the sun rose, and before we crossed the 5000 meter mark, it was warm enough that my inadequate gear wasn’t a factor, so it was only really the highest part where I was uncomfortably cold. That last 500 meters of ascent was like nothing I have ever done before, a never ending sequence of left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, always hoping the ridge above you was the last.

It took 5 hours to reach Thorong La. We knew it had to be coming soon, but after 20 ridges that were simply followed by another higher ridge behind it I wasn’t particularly optimistic that we’d actually get there anytime soon. When I finally crossed a ridge, looked up and saw not yet another ridge but instead a prayer flag festooned ridge a short and relatively gentle way up, I didn’t really believe I was finally there. Of course our porters had made it there way before us and started yelling and cheering us on, so at that point it rung true. Everyone in the group made it up under their own power (entrepreneurial locals sit along the trail with saddled horses to pick up anyone who gives up before reaching the top) and hearty high-fives were exchanged by all. Several group photos next to the sign announcing the elevation and other particulars of the pass, some faffing about, and 30 minutes after arriving we were all aching to head to lower elevations, warmer weather, and thicker air.

In my mind, when Romesh was explaining our plan for the day, I hadn’t really paid much attention to the after the pass portion of the day. I knew it was going to take just as long to go down as up (since we were going nearly twice as far down as up), but I didn’t really think it was going to be a big deal. You can see where this is going. While going down was many times easier than going up was it wasn’t the cake walk I think I was expecting.

First off the terrain was extremely desolate, basically a mountainous desert. Where on the other side of the pass we were constantly passing glacier streams once over the pass the only moisture in evidence was the snow clinging to the sand, rocks, and gravel. Also, it was steep, and in many ways more treacherous as going down the risk of sliding increased. Finally, it just went on and on, and there was nothing at all in between the pass and Muktinath except for some tea houses about 45 minutes up from the town. That meant we had breakfast at 3am, and didn’t have lunch until after noon. And while I did have a snickers bar around 10am, I wasn’t exactly in top form for the last bit of descent before lunch.

In the end we all survived, and I am now safe and sound, if a bit chilly, in Muktinath. I just uploaded my last blog post and was going to post this one too, but alas I think I have used all my data from my NCELL sim card and will have to go in search of a store that sells reloads before I can post this. Pictures will have to wait until I can find a decent internet connection.  

Day 11 – Muktinath (3800m) to Jomson (2710m) to Kalapani (2530m)

How many jeeps do you think it would take to transport 26 people 30km over a very rough mountain road in Nepal? Think about that for a little while and I’ll tell you about my day.

Today was a non-hiking day, a simple transport day moving us from Muktinath to Kalapani. We started off by visiting the big temple in Muktinath, which confusingly contains a holy place for both Hindu’s and Buddhists, bright and early before breakfast. The temple is a walled complex just between the town and the trekking path back up to Thorong La, about a 20 minute walk from our tea house. Within the temple walls it’s like a little slice of Canada in the late autumn, but with poplar trees instead of maples and of course the ever present prayer flags tied to every conceivable place. The biggest draw of this temple, pulling pilgrims from all over the hindu world, is the 108 spouts of water which are arranged around a central temple. I wasn’t quite clear of the exact mythology of the spouts and the exact deities worshiped at the temple, and I have no access to wikipedia to check, but as far as our guide Romesh told us Hindu’s who shower in the 108 spouts of water fare better in the afterlife.

After watching Romesh and the porters brave the sub-zero temperatures and wash their faces in all 108 spouts of water (or collect water from all spouts into a single bottle to bring home to family) we moved onto the Buddhist shrine around the holy pale flame. Again I don’t really know the significance of this really, but basically it’s a flame from naturally occurring methane or something in the area which has had a shrine built over it for some hundreds of years. I really wish I had access to wikipedia as I was going through it, I’m sure there’s tons of detail about the temple available there.

Ok, back to the jeep question. There was no real trekking today, after our temple visit we took _two_ jeeps, yes two jeeps for 26 people (14 tourists, 10 Nepalese, and 2 drivers), from Muktinath to Jomsom where we stopped for lunch. What can I say about the jeep drive, it was both an experience I’m glad I had and one I don’t ever wish to repeat. On our last jeep drive I sat in the front passenger seat, but this time I was in the back bench. Every. Single. Bump. Imagine driving over a dry river bed of nothing but largish stones and that is literally the easiest part of the jeep drive we did today. Other highlights included dodgy wooden bridges, bathtub size holes in the gravel road, and the mandatory sheer cliff-sides as we moved down mountain sides.

After our lunch jeep adventure we took a bus from Jomsom to Kalapani. The only appreciable difference between the bus and the jeeps was size, the road was pretty much just as rough, although maybe less switch-backs to navigate. Anyways, we made it safely to Kalapani where there is spotty wifi and I’m hoping it will be on in the morning so I can upload this post. Fingers crossed.

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