Section 07. Langtang.
May 16. Last Resort to Bagam. 12 km. 6 hours. 1530m up. 120m down. There are many downsides of going down into the deep valleys which contain the large rivers which flow south out of Tibet, of which there are about 10 in Nepal. Firstly there is the Hoi Polloi and their commercial roadside bustle. Secondly there is the heat, dust and inevitable sore throat and cough; it really is low altitude sickness we are all suffering. Thirdly they involve a massive descent and huge ascent, involving a couple of thousand metres. We had done the descent yesterday and today was the ascent and I was braced for it. It was 1000 metres to Listi and then another 500 to Bagam from our starting point around 1200m down in the hot deep valley. We set off around 0800 to begin the slog, just as the sun was warming up.
The path went up the bowl to the north of the Last Resort for some 15 minutes until it reached a small hamlet. From the hamlet it left the track and began a relentless climb for the best part of three hours, generally following the spur of the ridge, as a deer track would. It was in the full glare of the sun and there was little respite save the odd Chautera where someone had planted a peepal tree, often in a spot which enjoyed a cool breeze under the shade of the boughs. But this respite was short lived as it was back to the inevitable climb before long. About half way up there was the village of Baldup but it was hot, dusty and it did not invite me to stop so I pushed on up the spur. The Bhote Koshi river was increasing below me heading south into Nepal’s hill region, or pahar. On each side of the river were the steep slopes of the gorge leading up to flatter slopes and shelves where the villages lay among huge terraces, descending 1000m from the bottom of the forests on the steeper ridgelines to the edge of the gorge.
After well over three hours I at last crested a rise and met the road which led past the corrugated sheds of the school to the bottom of Listi village which seemed to have two halves. With 30-40 houses in each half. The lower half was Newari and Hindu with a lovely two storey temple which looked similar in architecture to its larger relatives in any of the Newari Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley (Bhaktapur or Patan). The upper half of Listi had prayer flags on all the houses and a small gomba and was Buddhist populated by Sherpa. We found the local shop, or paasal, and they cooked us noodles while the afternoon thunderstorm passed through with great timing.
After lunch our climbing continued, but was much easier as the rain had knocked the heat out of the day. The sun was obscured by cumulus clouds which threatened another downpour which never materialized. It was also more pleasant because they path soon flirted with the conifers and here, and there were copses of the chir pines, beneath which chauri and goats grazed and kept the grass short and like a lawn. The path continued up the spur with the pines getting more plentiful and the mists swirling among them. Far below I could see the village of Listi where we had lunch laid out in a bowl surrounded by its small terraced fields. After about 400 metres of climbing we reached a shoulder in the ridge where the hemlocks made an appearance too.
From the shoulder, across a large shallow bowl with a couple of pastures on it, was the ridge top village of Bagam, our destination for the day. The ridge was covered in Hemlock and the mist hung in the trees and above the village. Above the village was a large, solid, squat, red-roofed monastery. The whole scene looked like if was off a postcard from Bhutan. It did not take long to saunter through the hemlocks, across the pastures and climb up to the village. It was not as picturesque at close quarters as it looked from a km away, but it was the nicest village we had been in in the last couple of days.
The first building we came to was a homestay, but it was a corrugated clad shed. Inside it there were a couple of rooms. One was the kitchen and store, and beyond was a typical Sherpa living room/bedroom with the family altar. We could all sleep in the bedroom with the host family. The only problem was the kitchen stank of rancid butter. I went to look for an alternative but all I could find was a small paasal, or local shop. It could cater for us but the sleeping accommodation was currently full of men playing cards and there was a raksi still functioning in the yard. It did not bode well so it would be the smell of rancid butter with the host family. The homestay actually turned out to be cosy, comfortable and offered a great insight into the Sherpa family.
May 17. Bagam to Kyangsin. 15 km. 7.5 hours. 1850m up. 1920m down. I did not sleep that well due to the disturbances in the night. The baby had to be attended to and the kettle was beside my bed. The plug was quite faulty and three people had a go at sorting it out with the lights on. Then a few hours later the son of the household, who was married to the other who did all the work started watching television at about 0400. He had not endeared himself to me because he wore a pretentious leather pork pie hat, but this was the final straw. The day started early as daylight broke around 0500 with the women of the house doing their early chores, while television boy had now exhausted himself and was back asleep. Breakfast was a slow affair and we did not get going until 0800, despite getting up at 0530. It has become a trend.
Bharat was chatting to a local for ages who accompanied us when we left. He showed us the way past the monastery and beyond. I was last, and I was not going to miss the monastery, so I skipped up to have a look. It was still being built. The Lama came out to see me and explained the history. He was born here but studied elsewhere and returned to build the monastery. The structure was built before the earthquake and it stood the test with very little damage. It did look a very solid construction. However it was difficult to find volunteers to finish the interior as everyone was busy repairing their own houses. There were some monks here but they were still living in rustic bamboo and tarpaulin shelters. It had a great view over the Gaurishankar range to the NE.
The others were waiting for me and we continued along a tiny path. Ramesh said it was a jungle path. The guy Bharat was talking to pointed and gave a few instructions and then returned leaving us on the small path. We wove through bushes and over stones, climbing very little for a good half hour. High above us on the hill, some 6-700m above us, I could see the seasonal Shotang Kharka where I thought we were heading. It was only after half an hour I discovered Bharat and the local guide who had showed us the way initially had decided that the best way to go was not the way marked on my map but a shortcut through the jungle. The man told Bharat not to go the apparently much longer Bhairab Kund path over Shotang Kharka but to go through the jungle; and the fool believed him. By this stage we were already committed, unless we slogged through pathless jungle to find the Bhairab Kund path. I think I was more pissed off about not being consulted than Bharat deviating from the path to take the lazier option. I was also quite relieved we did not have to make the 1200 metre climb to Shotang and then Chogomogor Kharkas, followed by a 1300m descent.
However the jungle path was not a bed of roses. It was never flat, always rough and slow underfoot, muddy, covered in leeches and extremely slow. Three hours after leaving Bagam with endless ups and downs over rocky crests covered in hemlock and fir we eventually came across a good path perpendicular to the way we were heading. Initially I thought it was the path descending from Chogomogor to Kyangsin. However when I looked at the map, I was disappointed to see it was the path from Shotang to Pantang. In three hours we had come 4 km. The others were confused until a lady with some chauri came along. She showed us a tiny path which we could not have found ourselves – it was down into a long deep valley. We frequently questioned the route as we dropped down for 20-30 minutes until we got to a couple of crystal clear small streams tumbling over mossy rocks. There was a log bridge here and I thought it was a great place to sit and have lunch to avoid the leeches. After lunch it was more up and down, mostly up to a kharka. We decided to stop here for milk tea. A couple of chauri were summoned and came bounding out of the forest to the shelter. The lady tethered them and pulled about a litre out of each into a plastic tub. She then let them go and went inside to prepare the tea. I sat outside and noticed there were midges here, not as numerous as Scotland, but midges none the less. The tea when it came was creamy, sweet and a bit salty. I had two cups but the others were having warm milk also.
I left them to it and decided to get to Kyangsin ASAP. The route dropped into another deep valley and up to another kharka high on the ridge. There was no one here to ask directions and not even a dog to guard the 20 odd goats. I assumed the route just carried on down into another deep valley. Above me high on the ridge the rhododendrons looked magnificent but were too far away to photograph. I started down into the next valley with the usual routine, down 200 metres, cross a river and up 200 metres to another kharka. Down in the verdant depth of this valley I came across a troop of about 30 monkeys. They were quite large with black faces and a white head. I would hazard a guess they were Langurs.
At the kharka on what I hoped would be the last ridge I got rough instructions. However after just 200m the path split, and this was not in the instructions. I went left, realised my mistake after a few hundred metres when I saw Kyangcin far below, and cut through the jungle to the right path. This later confused the others who were following my pole marks. The path headed down the forested slope passing another kharka and then veered off the wrong way. I could see the road a couple of hundred metres below so decided just to crash through the Daphne and Pieris bushes until I got there. From here I just followed the road for a km to reach the village. Although the jungle route was technically shorter by the time my altimeter on my watch added in all the small up and downs it actually involved more ascent and descent than what I guessed the original route would have done.
There was no sign of the others so I went into the centre and asked for a homestay. One Sherpa family offered, and I was ushered in to their house and even a milk coffee. My Nepali was soon exhausted, and their English was almost nil, so before the awkward silence set in I started tying which enthralled the toddlers of the household. After some 90 minutes the others arrived having taken the wrong track after the kharka with the rough instructions. They quickly settled in to the house I found and all three of them started chatting to the hosts. There was plenty of laughter from all. The cottage where we stayed had a small balcony. I went out onto that around sundown and watched night settle. The fields went golden for a spell and then silence fell and the prayer flags became still in the warm evening air. It was a fabulous view across the valley.
May 18. Kyangsin to Dipu. 13km. 5.5 hours. 980m up. 1340m down. We left the homestay about 0800 and headed north along the road for a couple of km descending slightly. On our west was a huge gorge with rocky sides, which was totally inaccessible from either side and just possible to access up the deep riverbed. After a couple of km we got to a tiny hamlet of scruffy houses on a bend in the road. The path we were to take headed off down into the jungle from here into a deep valley, which was a tributary of the gorge on the east side.
We crashed down the leaf covered and barely visible track for some 700 metres into the depths of Hades in one relentless series of zig-zags on the faint path. It was a cruel realization that the more we descended the more we would have to ascend up the sun-baked path on the other side which we could clearly see. At the bottom of this deep hot valley was a suspension footbridge to the north side. Here someone was attempting to carve a road into the soft crumbling rock. It seemed a futile cause as the slope was by now a constant landslide. The road stopped after four or five hairpins but we could leave its dusty devastation after three hairpins on a well constructed path. It must have gone from the bridge to this hairpin but the excavator had obliterated it. Once on the path we had to climb up some 600 metres, until we were well above the gorge again on the steep grassy slopes on the east side. By now the sun had been obscured by clouds and rain looked likely. Indeed the snow speckled mountains up ahead where we were going were obscured with rain.
The path contoured along the very steep hillside, climbing over the odd spur and dipping into the occasional dry valley. The views north to the mountains were now completely obscured by rain and mist but occasionally I could see snowfields. After nearly four hours I reached the final stretch into Tembathang. It was a tall village and I chose to go for the top end where there was a yellow school and traditional looking house nearby which looked like it could be a local shop. The house had been rebuilt in the traditional style after the earthquake and it looked lovely with its large stone slab roof slates. It was a shop but unfortunately the owners were away at their summer pasture. Just then the rain started and we donned out waterproofs and headed down to the other shop in the middle of the village some 10 minutes away.
Here we bought some 20 packets of biscuits and 30 packets of noodles. Hopefully this would be enough to sustain us for two or three nights camping. I was sceptical and am sure we would be hungry. Stocked up we then headed up to Dipu. The rain had stopped but the mist lingered and it was greasy underfoot. Thankfully our path was an easy one as it stayed level through the rest of Tembathang, much of which was hidden behind a ridge and unseen until we left. The river pretty much came up to meet the path and we crossed it on a rickety wooden bridge, which looked strong enough to take a couple of chauri or even an ox.
On the west side of the river we followed the river bed and bank through thickets of uttis, which is a colonizer tree much used for firewood and building. Indeed the logs of the bridge were uttis. It was the first tree to colonize landslides areas also. The path continued for a good hour until we came to a small hamlet. It was Dipu. There was a suspension footbridge here which it looked like we would take tomorrow to the west side again. At the first house we met a sweet, older, Sherpa lady and we started asking her questions. Yes there was a shop, but the owners were away at their pastures. There was apparently nothing beyond Dipu which could offer us accommodation. It took the locals seven hours to walk from here to Panch Pokhari. We absorbed all this and when she said we could stay at here it seemed a no-brainer.
She showed us into a large dark kitchen covered in bamboo mats and raw bamboo waiting to be made into mats. It was apparently for their kharka which they would be going to soon. There was a fire burning and a large pot of new potatoes on the simmer. It seemed warm and cosy, but dark and smoky. In the adjacent room were three large old dark beds covered in faded bedding. It seemed great and we accepted. We ate some of her potatoes and the rest she mashed with oil to make a kind of gnocchi which she put into a spicy vegetable Sherpa stew. As we relaxed inside beside the warm fire it lashed down outside with the rain pelting off the corrugated roof. It all added to the cosiness of the place.
May 19. Dipu to Panch Pokhari. 14km. 7 hours. 1990m up. 190m down. I did not sleep well. The bed was too short and very hard, with just a blanket covering rough planks. In addition I got the same headache as the host and we both thought it was from the smoky fire. She from cooking and me from sitting in an elevated position writing the blog. I got up at five with the hosts and Ramesh and Santos followed. They started making 40 rotis which would keep us through the next days. It took a good hour, and then they made the potato and mushroom curry which would accompany the rotis. It was all done by 0700, just as Bharat got up. We left soon after breakfast and again we were not following the GHT route up to Panch Pokhari. Apparently that trail had fallen into disuse and no one used it anymore. I was sceptical and got Bharat to question the host to within a whisker of Bharat’s patience. The host said everybody used the jungle route. The problem with the jungle route is that if you get lost or get to a junction you don’t have a clue which path to take as the local has already assumed you will take the right one. This one seemed quite straight forward and I agreed to skip the route up to Chedupa Kharka, which no one seemed to have heard of, and then up the ridge there for 1600 metres to the Ridge Top and then down 100 metres to the lakes.
The host showed us the path which headed up the hill just on the far side of the tiny hamlet of perhaps 10 houses. The path was tiny and I could see that no one walked it. The leaves completely covered it and they were unruffled by footstep. Still we persevered and slowly made ground up the ridge to the south of a deep side valley. After we had climbed a bit I could see up the main valley to where the GHT went and there was a Kharka there at the confluence of two streams as I could see the orange tarpaulin roof. We slogged up the hillside in the forest for a good three hours until we came to an abandoned kharka. The faint forest path continued out of the top of the kharka and into the fir and rhododendron forest which had replaced the deciduous jungle below. We found a small grassy knoll to have our roti and potato lunch on and then laid out on the grass in the sun for a half hour siesta.
It was over so soon and although we had climbed 1000m I estimated we had another 1000 to go. The valley we were following opened up into a fan of three tributaries. The path seemed to follow the southern of these into the rhododendron scrub. It was the wrong way, but without a path elsewhere we had no choice. The path climbed relentlessly through the scrub for at least two hours. I passed a large field of yellow primroses and huge drifts of rhododendron scrub flowers, which were very subtly purple against the snow covered hillside under the bushes. At last I got to the top and hoped to meet the main path coming from Herlambu to Panch Pokhari. But there was nothing except an empty bowl covered in snow and scrub. I could see what our mistake was and that to rectify it we would have to cross the bowl and head along the ridge until we got to the lakes.
The bowl took much longer than I thought as it was rough territory with juniper scrub and boulders. At the far end of it I crested the saddle I had been heading for for the last 45 minutes, hoping to see the lakes, only to find more ridges. This continued for at least another hour until I reached the ridge coming up the 1600m from Chedupa Kharka. The top of this ridge was festooned with prayer flags so obviously people did use it, and our alternative up the jungle path had been a bit of a red herring. When I met this ridge I could look down onto a huge grassy bowl which had the five lakes in it. The other were a good half hour behind following my footsteps and stick marks although there were also many snowfields I crossed leaving prints. Without the map and in poor visibility I would have been partially lost and the others more so.
I made it down to the lakes and followed the paths between them to what looked like a temple complex. When I got there I found that it was a collection of empty shelters and teahouses. There was someone at one, a guru dressed in orange, with a French and American disciple. They invited us in but I wanted to get up early and did not want the whole extended breakfast palaver so I found a small open shelter with a good roof and juniper twigs on the floor. We could camp in here easily and make a quick getaway in the morning. The others arrived and we settled in and made a pot of tea on the temperamental Primus multifuel which was not liking the dirty Nepali kerosene. As we settled in for the night, and had some dehydrated meals and more roti, the rain and hail pelted down on the rusty corrugated roof just above our heads. Our shelter was really more of a manger or goat shelter than a proper hut, but it beat a tent.
May 20. Panch Pokhari Sickness Day. 0km. 0 hours. 0m up. 0m down. When I woke I had a crushing headache. I did not know why but thought that yesterday’s ascent from 2000 metres to 4000 metres might have something to do with it. I had not slept well in the three sided stone shelter under the rusty corrugated roof laid out on the floor covered in juniper twigs. When the alarm went I ignored it and an hours or so later I told Bharat that I did not think I could walk today and told him about the headache. As I lay there I could hear the sound of a conch shell. It was Krishna, the self styled guru and his Californian disciple walking round the lakes blowing their shells every 15-30 seconds for 19 seconds or so. Krishna said he was a devotee of Shiva and the Panch Pokhari is a scared Hindu place.
When Krishna learnt of my plight he appeared with some wild honey and poured two spoons down my throat. He was a guru, a organic farmer and a bit of a healer. Sceptical as I was, the honey did seem to clear my nostrils, but the headache came and went. I stayed in my sleeping bag on the juniper twigs, and when I did stand up to go to the toilet the pain was all pervasive. It was at this stage I cleared my nose and noticed that the discharge was a green yellow colour, quite luminous especially as it lay there in the snow. We had some 40 packets of noodles but I could not stomach any and all I could have were cups of tea. The pain behind my eyes came and went but I could not fathom out why I had the headache and put it down to altitude, which was surprising as I was at 6200m just three or four weeks ago without problems.
By midday the weather had deteriorated hugely and it was completely misty and miserable. Soon there was a clap of thunder and then the hail started. It was enormous with each stone almost the size of a marble. The noise it made crashing on the corrugated sheets just above my head was deafening. Bharat and Ramesh were out checking out the route from here to Tin Pokhari. They returned at the end of the half storm absolutely soaked. In the afternoon the other three went to the only teahouse which was open to chat to the host who was the only one there. It was a very simple lodge. I lay in my bag feeling quite disabled with thoughts going round and round in my head. At altitude it is very easy for negative thoughts to creep in and take over. I could feel them coming and worked hard to keep them at bay by thinking about positive thoughts like my kind girlfriend Fiona in Scotland and the garden in Edinburgh. I tried to eat in the evening but could just not stomach anything. In knew that at nightfall I would not be able to sleep so I broke into the medical kit and had a diazepam tablet to help calm my brain. It helped but I woke at 0300.
May 21. Panch Pokhari to Intermediary Camp. 8km. 6 hours. 630m up. 620m down. The alarm went early and we were off by 0445. It seemed the weather pattern here was similar to Molan Pokhari four or five weeks ago before Makalu, and we had to get the day in before it clouded over by 1000 and then started to rain around 1400 in the afternoon. We did not have breakfast other than a cup of tea and I felt weak but without a headache. We headed up to the flags on the ridgetop on hard frozen hail which was very coarse underfoot.
The view from the flags was amazing and we could see north towards Tilman Pass, but could not make it out. Especially impressive was the view over the Jugal Himal to the NE with its ranks of near 7000m peaks standing proud of heavily fluted snow ridges. Here however we had a few confusing moments as Bharat could not work out the direction and I worked out the wrong direction from the map and my lack of clear thinking. It cost us an hour as we followed my route up to a high saddle above the lakes and then we found a faint path on from that saddle to the next where it all ended abruptly in a steep drop, and it was obvious we had taken a yarsagumba pickers path or an animal track. I apologised to the others and we retraced our steps to the top of the shortcut above the lakes.
From the top of the shortcut from the lakes we found a marker post in the bowl and it was now obvious we had to descend to it. The path then left the bowl by way of an east facing spur which we rounded. This started us off on a path which looked newly hacked from the side of the hill. It was quite tortuous as it contoured round every gully. Underfoot it was generally rhododendron roots and branches we constantly had to step over. As we crossed each spur which descended from the misty ridge above we found the north side of the spur covered in snow. Thankfully we had taken the microspikes with us, and they helped us across some of the icy gullies we encountered. After about three hours of this I felt we must be near the intermediary camp marked on the map but there was little sign of it. I was weak and slow and at one stop Bharat produced a Snickers bar that he had been keeping for about two weeks and handed it to me. I really needed the boost and it was generous of him to think of me.
At last we rounded a final spur and I saw what I thought was the intermediary camp. We still had a good hour of difficult rhododendron tangled hillside to traverse across but there was thankfully a simple path hacked through the scrub. Much of the scrub was in flower, and especially on the north facing slopes the pink flowers contrasted beautifully against the snowy backdrop. When we reached the meadow where it thought the intermediary camp would be the mist closed in and there was the odd patter of rain. It was a simple decision to camp, especially as there was a bit of firewood nearby. We set up the three man tent and I volunteered to sleep in the six foot long vestibule while the others got the six foot inner, which my legs just poked into by a foot.
After a lunch of noodles cooked on the camp fire, I relaxed in the tent with the sun occasionally warming it as it broke through the mist while the other decided to go and check out the route up the spur to the north of the camp. The mist returned with a vengeance and the afternoon drizzle set in so they could not get a view from the top of the 300m climb and orientate themselves, however they found a couple of the new marker posts. I slept in the late afternoon as I did not feel great, while the others gathered round the campfire. We had more noodles at sundown and then all crammed into the tent just after with the alarm set for 0400. It had been a hard day due to the early headaches and then the empty stomach which the noodles did little to alleviate. I thought of Tilman and his party who used to subsist on boiled eggs. On one occasion the four of them ate 160 in a day. I would have settled for a 10th, but could have managed Tilman’s share also!
May 22. Intermediary Camp to Valley below Tin Pokhari. 10km. 7 hours. 610m up. 740m down. We managed to get up a 0400 and after yet another small bowl of noodles we left at 0530. I felt very weak and had a strong headache. I could just not fathom out why, and I was curious about the copious amounts of yellow/green snot I seemed to produce. We climbed to the saddle which Bharat had done yesterday but at the top we were confused. It seemed we had to descend a long way on the other side to a kharka. Perhaps this was the intermediary camp? After much deliberation and with lack of any alternative from the map we decided to go down to the old collapsed stone shelters and take the path through them and their pastures to the spur on the far side.
After the spur my headache became unbearable. The others were far ahead and I longed for them to stop so Ramesh could massage my neck. It was as if someone had inserted a mix master into my medulla and was scrambling the lower part of my brain and eye sockets. After half an hour of this pain and the others rounding another ridge I could stand it no longer and had to lie down on a small patch of grass in a snowfield. It was partial relief and I even managed to doze in the warm morning sun. After an hour or so I think Bharat and Ramesh returned and I explained my pain. I tried to walk with them but after five minutes had to lie down again on a new patch of grass, expelling jets of green/yellow out of my nose. The others returned up the spur to collect the baggage and all three returned to me. Bharat rummaged through his first aid kit and found some 500mg paracetamol pills. I don’t think I have ever taken a paracetamol so initially scoffed at the idea, but then I would do anything to get rid of the pain so took one with a vegetable soup they prepared. I fell asleep again and when I woke an hour later the pain had gone. If only I had tried the paracetamols when I first had the headache in the stone shelter at Panch Pokhari.
By mid-morning I was ready to go and I followed the others back up the snowy spur to a saddle. Here the mist enveloped us, but the others suggested we wait as the wind would clear it a bit, and right enough 10 minutes later it cleared to reveal a large snowy corrie with a steep snow slope on the far side leading up to a saddle, and on top of the saddle was a cairn. On the floor of the corrie there were three small ice covered tarns which were just discernible in the almost 100% snow covered floor and sides. We thought they must be the Tin Pokhari we were so desperate to come across to pinpoint our position on the map. We dismissed the notion as they were too indistinct. The route past them and up to the saddle was obvious though and we set off.
At the top of this snowy saddle the mist completely obscured everything and we had no choice but to wait again for about 10 minutes. And then as if by miracle it cleared slowly to reveal where we were, the Tin Pokhari were below us to the north, the glaciers coming down from the near 7000m peaks of the Jugal Himal were beyond them, and to the NNW was the glacier leading up to Tilman’s Pass squeezed between the jagged spires of Ganchenpo and Urkinmang, both around 6500m. From a map reading and topographic perspective it was right up there with St Paul’s epiphany on the road to Damascus.
It was a steep descent down to the Tin Pokhari (Three Lakes) which were unmistakable now. There was nowhere to camp round them as they were surrounded by snowfields and boulders. However another 145 minutes beyond them I spotted a small meadow between the lateral moraine of the glacier coming down from Tilman’s Pass and the mountainside. A quick descent on the shallow firm snow took us to it. It was just 1400 but we had been going eight or nine hours and although my headache had passed I felt weak. I felt the others wanted to carry on to the high camp supposedly four hours away. With perfect divine intervention there was a huge thunderclap from the mist and darkening skies and we knew it would rain soon. The campsite was lovely and flat I the tent was up and I was snoozing in my bag within 20 minutes. The others collected firewood from the dead juniper scrub. While it never rained until later there was a tremendous thunderstorm with most of the lightening being cloud to cloud rather than cloud to earth or vice versa. It had been a very hard day and I was glad to sleep the afternoon and evening away with the newly discovered aiid of paracetamol.
May 23. Valley below Tin Pokhari to Tilman’s Pass High Camp South. 8km. 6 hours. 1010m up. 110m down. I let the others decide what time to get up and at the appointed hour of 0500 they were all up like a shot. Even Bharat leapt up to start the fire. It was a glorious morning as expected but there was the odd puff of mist on the peaks, something unusual. We followed the valley between the lateral moraine and the mountain for a km to reach a remarkable pillar of rock which had withstood glaciation. Here the valley veered to the NW and started to climb up a steeper slope to the east of the pillar for almost 20 minutes until we gained another valley between the lateral moraine and the mountain. This small valley was full of compact snow, so it was easy to walk the good km up it until it veered to the west and the route, still marked by sporadic posts, headed up the moraine to a large cairn.
I had already had one 500mg paracetamol tablet at 0400 but already by 0900 my headache was returning and my eyes feeling they were being pushed out of their sockets. If I blew my nose some yellow snot poured out as if there was something septic up there. I took another paracetamol despite the consequences. It worked after half an hour and I felt great up the glacier, but still producing litres of yellow/green snot
At the cairn on the moraine crest we got a view of what we hoped was not the pass, but it did in fact turn out to be the pass. Far from the smooth sunny glacier pass we had hoped for, we had instead a steep 200-300 snow slopes under a small icefall above some very steep outcrops. A slip while traversing any of the snow fields would be fatal. If we had ropes, crampons and ice axes it would have been quite simple, but we just had microspikes. We were all looking for alternative routes and checking the map but there was no getting away from it.
To make it worse the intervening 2km between us and the bottom of the pass was all unchartered rock covered glacier. It started with a very steep and short descent down the loose glacier side of the lateral moraine, a place of constant erosion and rockfall, with boulders embedded in gravel and sand. We cautiously made out way down this for a few minutes and then followed our way across the glacier. There were enough snowfields to link up to make light of our task and it only took about an hour to do the 2km. We found a place to camp on the snow near the bottom of the pass, put the tent up, had a tea and then debated what to do about the pass.
Bharat gallantly volunteered to go and check it out with Ramesh and commandeered Santos to go along to look for rock or ice fall. I was offered to join but declined as my headache was still nagging and I needed a rest. It was very timid of me and heroic of them. I settled into the tent and started to catch up on the much neglected blog since I had been sick. Every now and again I peered out to check their progress which was sometimes visible and sometimes obscured by the mist. Little by little they climbed and seemed to manage one banana skin after the other. I was in awe of their slow but steady progress. If they turned back it meant it was too steep or dangerous and I was running all the options. The retreat to Helambu and over Gosainkund seemed quite whimpish and would take perhaps two weeks to Syabru Besi. The best alternative would be to go back to Panch Pokhari and phone Kathmandu for a climbing Sherpa with 100 metres of rope and half a dozen snow stakes to belay us up but this would cost US$2000 and about 8-9 days.
After some three hours, during which I briefly saw them at the top during a clear spell they returned. They confirmed it was steep but OK. I was delighted with them. This was our last difficult pass and the stress had being concerning me for a while. I had read somewhere that the north side was shallower that the south, and the almost worthless 1:125,000 showed this too. We ate some ready meals we had been carrying from the start as our food situation was getting critical, and I am sure the instant noodles diet had greatly contributed to my illness.
May 24. Tilman’s Pass High Camp South to Kyangjin Gomba. 29km. 12 hours. 670m up. 1720m down. I endured a bad night with the force 5-6 wind blowing snow under the flysheet and onto me sleeping in the outer tent, with the other three in the inner. I managed to get a sheet of plastic from under them and stuffed this round the gap at the bottom of the fly and it sorted out the drifting snow. By the morning though I had not slept well and had to take a paracetamol at 0400 just before the alarm. By the time we set off at 0600 that paracetamol had not worked and I had to take another to minimize my headache which was so bad I could hardly pack. Indeed Ramesh had to stuff the sleeping bag into the stuff sack as my headache pain incapacitated me. I did had the presence of mind to give Santos one of my Bridgedale summit socks so he could put it over his shoe and use it as an emergency microspike as he had dropped one of his into a crevasse yesterday. The rough sock would grip on the morning’s icy snow.
I lagged behind right from the start and toiled to keep up. I was like an automaton, just putting one foot in front of the other following their footprints. As we reached the bottom of the climb I realized it was not as steep as I originally feared, and it was perhaps only 35-40 degrees. I followed them up that slope below the icefall for 15 minutes and then up the slope to the east of it above the rocky outcrops for another 15 minutes, which again were not as dangerous as I initially feared. Even though I was following in their footsteps I struggled to keep up and when the slope eased off and veered above the icefall they strode off onto the glacier between the gagged peak of Ganchenpo on the west side and Urkinmang on the east, both well over 6000m. I plodded on in the freezing morning air hoping the sun would soon come down the mountain side but it remained high on Ganchenpo’s slopes. It took me a good half hour, forcing myself forwards to reach the small notch where the pass was and where the others were waiting. I felt dreadful at the top with my headaches and cold exacerbated by the altitude of 5308m. There were muted celebrations and a couple of photos before the descent down the north side and at last into the sun.
The descent was initially easy with a few crevasses to avoid by going on the east side. This lulled us into a false sense we had conquered the pass. My strength was returning in the heat of the sun and with every 100 metres of descent. However after about half an hour the previously gentle valley dropped off steeply down to a lake far below. We had to tackle this descent on the west side of the valley as the east side ended in crags and an icefall. However on the west side it was not that easy either with some steep snowfields to traverse all of which seemed to have crags beneath them. Santos managed to find a route down a long snowfield without any obstacles on it which was quite safe, and this led us down to the extensive moraines at the end of the glacier. In the middle of these moraines was a frozen lake with a string on tarns leading down from the outflow. Even from high above the tarns looked like they were in a tranquil valley which as slowly getting grassy. It did not take long to descent the older stable moraines to reach the frozen lake and then we sauntered along the valley floor beside the tarns making good time.
I was feeling much better now with the headaches diminished, the sun hot, spectacular 6000m mountains with hanging glaciers and snow flutes on the steep ridges. The small path could only get bigger as we continued down into the Langshisa Valley which had the remnants of a large glacier in it. I thought we would follow the valley between the lateral moraine and the mountain and this would guide us easily down to the main Langtang valley in a hour or so. However this was not to be the case as the Langshisa Glacier had scoured away the lateral moraine right to the mountainside.
As a consequence we had to descent the lateral moraine where a side stream tumbled down it. For the next hour we slithered and tumbled down steep scree and traversed across moraine above the ice cliffs of the Langshisa glacier until at last we reached the valley floor downstream of the ice cliff and the end of the glacier. This hour was the reason no one does the Tilman Pass. It was an unpleasant, dangerous and difficult passage, with the crumbling moraines and boulders – some as big as houses, poised precariously above embedded in the earth and mud of the moraine. A small earth tremor or monsoon rain and large portions could come crashing down. Everywhere we walked as we traversed under the boulders we could see fragments of stone where boulders had recently crashed down and smashed into splinters. It felt quite stable that morning but this was not place to linger and this hour’s passage is probably what makes Tilman’s Pass so rarely crossed.
At last we reached the sandy flatter valley floor just below the last of the ice cliffs and could follow it down to the man Langtang valley. However there was a pathless stretch of about 2km where we just had to push through willow scrub and thorny bushes until we at last reached the larger Langtan Khola stream. To our dismay there was no bridge so we had to wade across the river which was quite braided at this point and split into four channels. I waded across first with my shoes, socks and trousers still on. The water was too cold with small stones rolling down the stream bed to go across barefoot. The others came over right after linking arms in a very professional manner. Once on the other side we wrung out our socks and took stock. It was only 1400 and we were now on a large path just 15km from Kyangjin Gomba. I was feeling spent but we had Tilman’s Pass under our belt now and I was sure I could plod on down the valley for four hours if it meant I could spend a day recovering and a few square meals. The others were easily up for it.
We set off and I was delighted how easy the path was and easy on the eye the pastoral valley was. It was wide and flat bottomed with frequent pastures full of grazing yak. I had hoped that one or two of the pastures would have some seasonal herders where we could get a tea or snack but all the seasonal houses were empty and in disrepair. I had had a packet of biscuits and the last three slices of cheese only today so was starving. The others were much faster but waited for me every hour or so while I plodded on at my own speed. My arms were too weak to use the walking poles so I collapsed them and put them on my rucksack and sauntered down with my hands in my pockets hoping I would not twist an ankle, (which the poles would prevent). The meadows linked up with just the odd rockfall between them. They were green with the recent rains and full of flowers most strikingly the small purple irises which I had last seen outside the monastery in Thame and suspected them to be imports. But their abundance here showed they were indigenous. The mountains on each side of the valley were obscured by mist but I was sure I would see them tomorrow.
On and on I plodded, wondering just where Kyangjin Gomba was after I was sure I had done 15km. The others had gone on ahead and I told them just to continue. I rounded on corner expecting to see an old monastery and four or five quaint teahouses, but instead there was just a mist covered valley with a huge alluvial fan of white grave across it. It was a crushing blow as it meant I had perhaps another hour to go. I crossed the gravel and then in the distance spotted some prayer flags. I knew I was closing in. Then after another rise I saw Bharat, Ramesh and Santos patiently waiting for me in the light rain and mist. Just beyond them was Kyangjin Gomba. I was shocked at what I saw. Far from being a quaint collection of teahouses in a pastoral valley it was large cluster of 20-30 buildings, each three to five storeys high and all painted in garish colours crowded together on a grassy slope. They were all made of reinforced concrete frames with brick infills. It was as if a town from the Terai and been transported up here and it was most incongruous. I suspect that like much of Langtang it was devastated in the earthquake and was rebuilt in this utilitarian style with little regard for aesthetics. We picked a place that Santos had been to before, and I soon had a room with double bed and attached bathroom for US$5. It was a far cry from the near 5000m spindrift filled tent of last night. I was completely shattered after a week of sickness, poor sleep, and little food and after a large meal fell asleep hoping I would recover in the morning.
May 25. Kyangjin Gomba Sickness Day. 0 km. 0 hours. 0m up. 0m down. While I slept well I woke in the morning with another incapacitating headache. I had a hunch that I had some sort of infection in a cavity in the head, and I thought it might be the sinuses. However not being a medical man and not having had such a problem before I thought it could be meningitis, or an inflammation of the eye sockets, adenoids or something. I was also unsure if it was viral or bacterial. I had some antibiotics and wondered if they would be of use. I emailed five GP friends with all the symptoms, the location of the pain, the green/yellow snot and the possibly causes like smoky kitchens at homestays, dusty roads etc. With a couple of hours, two of the most esteemed had got back to me saying it was sinusitis – take the ciproflaxin but it might not help if the infection was viral, and some other advice including take it easy for a couple of days and eat well. It was a relief to know what was wrong and that there was a reason. In the afternoon I felt feverish and slept. Ramesh came down with an extra blanket and placed it on me like a nurse.
By the evening I had a few more paracetamol and got on top of the sickness in time to have a large supper. I must have lost 3-4 kg in the last week so needed to gorge myself a bit to build up the nutrients again. One of the other guides had a spare apple and pomegranate his clients did not need and donated it to my dessert. They were delicious and the first fruit for weeks. Just before bed I had an inhalation with a Nepali product called Sancho; an oily mix of herbs with much menthol etc. We just put 4-5 drops into boiling water and then I put a towel over my head and inhaled. It was very powerful stuff and my nose and mouth were streaming mucus as I struggled to breathe. It must be like waterboarding. I could only keep it up for three or four minutes and then had to stop by which time my nostrils had by and large emptied into the bowl of boiling water and my eyes were smarting with the vapours. It certainly cleared things out but I am not sure if it reached my sinuses. I slept well at last but woke with another splitting headache as I had been lax on my paracetamol intake.
May 26. Kyangjin Gomba Sickness Day. 0 km. 0 hours. 0m up. 0m down. The first thing I did when I woke was to have a paracetamol around 0500 when I woke. It knocked me back to sleep again and when I woke at 0800 it had worn off, the headache had returned so I took another paracetamol which soon kicked in but it knocked me back to sleep until 1000. I got up went upstairs, had a simple breakfast but could just not concentrate enough to write any blog. All my lazy brain could do was get spoon fed snippits of information from the BBC websites and Facebook. It was a complete waste of time but each time I tried to do something productive my brain just wondered off on a tangent.
I did feel much better and could eat well and was glad I had received the emails on starting the ciproflaxin. I was now on my second day. I had to take another paracetamol in the afternoon to reduce a headache and just fell asleep in the dining room with the sun beating down on me like a cat. When I woke I have been joined by an Austrian family and a friendly Australian and his Cambodian girlfriend. As the evening went on she dominated all conversation until she could have talked a glass-eye to sleep. I had long given up on trying to write at all that day and decided to go to bed early instead. Bharat, Ramesh and Santos prepared another hot water and “Sancho” inhalation of the blend of oily herbs and this time I managed to clear both nostrils with the powerful vapour. As soon as the towels were removed I crashed out and at last slept through the night in one go.
May 27. Kyangin Gomba to Lama Hotel. 19 km. 6 hours. 320m up. 1730m down. With three emails from three esteemed retired, very outdoorsy doctors I felt I had some understanding of my headaches, the green-yellow snot, the antibiotics and my general condition. I also felt much stronger after the couple of days rest and good food and was ready to continue. The next two days were generally downhill all the way to Syabru Besi, which lay some 2300m below us at 1500m in the jungle. We set off at 0800 and I realised that I had not been out of the hotel for the last two days. We wandered through the alleys of the town, past the under construction government cheese factory and then past the micro hydrostation and onto the meadows which extended west from the garish houses.
The trees and scrub started pretty soon. They were mostly large varieties of thorny Berberis with various orange or yellow flowers but pretty soon I spotted a larch. For dendrologists (probably only) the larch here are exciting. They are not the Sikkim larch but a rare variation called the Langtang larch only found in this valley, the nearby Tsum valley and just over the border in Tibet in a neighbouring valley. They seemed much stockier and more branched, but that could be grazing by yak. There were also many Himalayan birch trees which were still in bud. The path carved a wide route through these small trees for a good hour passing the hamlet of Sundum until it got to the tragic village of Langtang.
The day after the main 2015 earthquake, there was a massive aftershock. Many people had gathered in Langtang town after the previous day’s tremor as it was the main town in the valley. This aftershock caused a huge section of glacier hanging in a valley to the north of the town broke off and it started hurtling down towards the moraines. It crashed into the moraines and formed a kind of lahar, or muddy slurry, and this all then careered over a cliff above the town before raining down on it completely removing any trace of the town’s 50 houses and lodges. Some 350-500 people disappeared, about half of which were tourists. Only one house built under an overhang survived. Now the town is being rebuilt quickly above and to an extent below the scare of moraine rubble. It was a mournful and sobering walk across the near km of rock where houses and people still lie buried. Now just four or five years later colonizer plants were establishing themselves on this debris.
After the scar of Langtang the path descended past a couple of hamlets into more established fir and hemlock forest to the hamlet of lodges at Ghoratebela. We stopped here for lunch in one of the new lodges. The whole hamlet had been moved and rebuilt after the earthquake from half a km downstream. There was a lively group of Singaporean Chinese at the lodge and a number of other tourists. Indeed there were some many tourists now that they seldom greeted each other. It was not like Kanchenjunga or Rolwaling where meeting a tourist would warrant a three to five minute chat.
After Ghoratebela the path descended into a very wooded gorge. The trees were mostly oak, khasru, or hemlock, thingure salla. Some of the trees were very venerable and ancient, especially the hemlocks. For the first time for ages we walked as a team with me being able to keep up with the other three. However I was pushing myself a bit and there was no need to rush so I slowed down to enjoy the forest. I took a few photographs and a paracetamol and the others were gone in a flash. The gorge got deeper and steeper, and higher up was quite barren but down in the depths it was verdant. Occasionally it opened up into a glade and on one of them there was a rustic hotel called Riverside. I knew it was just half an hour from here to the next glade at a bend in the river where there was a hamlet of lodges at a place called Lama Hotel, after the original single hotel.
The others were waiting here and suggested I stay at one hotel. The Singaporeans had already taken most of it over and so I decided to join them. I still had a lot of the blog to catch up on and it had comfortable bench and table to write at. The room was a simple plank bed with an old thin kapok mattress with a clean, but torn, sheet draped over it, but it sure beat a tent. I found a corner to write and was there until my supper by which time it was already dark and the Singaporeans had gone to bed.
May 28. Lama Hotel to Syabru Besi. 15km. 5 hours. 250m up. 950m down. I did not sleep too well in hot Lama Hotel hamlet but when 0700 came I did not feel too bad given I had a paracetamol previously. After breakfast we set off at 0800 and traversed along the forests of the NW bank for about 30 minutes until we got to Rimche, which was a small hamlet of two or three lodges perched on a spur with a much better view and clearer air than Lama hotel. We did not stop but started a long descent back to the roaring river and crossed it on a suspension bridge beside a small business selling soda cooled in buckets of cool water and some Tibetan trinkets. On the south side of the river the trail continued to undulate along the side of the gorge which was mostly deciduous now. Even with the roaring river crashing down between the enormous boulders chocking the bottom of the gorge there were occasional spells where the crickets or cicadas managed to drown the sound out such was their din beside the leafy path.
We descended through various hamlets of teahouses and lodges in established clearings. Some hamlets had exotic names like Bamboo Lodge where the original lodge had been joined by three or four others but the hamlet had taken the name of the original. The next Hotspring Hotel had about three or four lodges but we chose to bypass this one also and continue down to Domen. There were two lodges here and by the time I realized how run down and dirty they were we had already ordered. Santos had a headache but chose to run his head under the cold water hosepipe in the yard rather than resort to paracetamol. After the meal of greasy chowmien I felt a bit unsettled but we apparently only had 90 minutes to walk.
The wire suspension bridge leading down from Domen had been almost destroyed by a couple of huge boulders which ripped out the top handrail wires, leaving just an exposed platform to walk on. A mule train went over just before us and they seemed to cope so we did. Near the downstream end of the bridge it seemed a road had been carved up the bottom of the gorge. We followed it down into a forest of chir pines and then crossed the river to the north side. The final 2km into Syabru Besi were along a dry arid path where even the chir pines seemed to struggle to survive. It was cactus which thrived here and many were in bloom with a magnificent display of yellow flowers.
The path led us in to the old town with was a collection of quaint houses and lodges, and an old monastery on the spur between the Langtang Khola river and the bigger, muddier Trusili Nadi River which flowed out of Tibet. We walked through this, which would have probably been the best place to stay, and crossed the Trusili River to reach the Kathmandu to Tibet road. A modern town had sprung up beside this road with a number of hotels, shops, bhattis, bus ticket offices, a bakery and even a hairdresser. We found an unremarkable hotel and went to the bakery. I had some sickly sweet lassi/milkshakes which added to my nausea after the greasy lunch and then got my hair cut. I had been lax on my paracetamols and my headache returned so I slept in the late afternoon. I had fallen behind on my office duties and had hoped to do them all today but would need another day in the heat of this town. Hopefully we could change hotels as the one we chose seemed to be run by spoilt children.
It was the end on the Langtang Section. It was my least favourite so far. The first four or five days from the last Resort to Panch Pokhari had been quite unremarkable. The next section from Panch Pokhari along the east side of the spine of mountains leading to Tilman’s Pass and over to Langtang would have been stupendous were it not for my illness and the wet and often tempestuous afternoon weather. The third section down the Langtang Valley was really a bit of an anticlimax. The mystery, charm and culture of the similar valley of the Rolwaling had been entirely replaced with tourism, which as a tourist I cannot criticize as I am part of it. I fear my lack of wonder at this section my have dulled my writing as it was difficult to find passion over the three parts of the section.
Section 07. Langtang. 142 Km. 68 Hours. 9840m up. 9440m down.