June 25. Ringmo to Phoksumdo Khola delta. 9km. 3.,5 hours. 600m up. 630m down. I had a great sleep at the Himalayan hotel and also managed to charge everything. The hostess was local and extremely helpful. Her husband was away and he was the elected headman of the village. I learnt from our host that Sitar’s wife, Lesung, had not in fact died but was away with her husband picking yarsagumba. I also learnt that it was his younger brother Urken who now stayed in the house. It was very confusing and all was made worse by translation. I checked the house again but it was still locked.

I wanted to visit the monastery, and Dawa and Santos wanted to come with me. We walked up to the outlet of the lake and crossed an old cantilever bridge over the large river. Then we wandered through pines along the edge of the lake past some chortens. We got frequent views of the monastery on the way, sitting on a small promontory above the turquoise waters in the sunny juniper and pine forest. It was the most serene setting for a monastery I have seen although the monastery was modest. The Lama, the spiritual leader, was there and he showed us around the main gomba. It was a brief tour and nothing like the extensive tour Sitar had given me 12 years ago. The Lama smelt of raksi and looked a bit scruffy and unshaven. Dawa, who was a Buddhist, thought he was a bit unprofessional. It was still a great visit and the Lama did redeem himself by showing us the prayer wheel he had made which stood two metres high. We ambled through the warm dusty pines back to the village enthralled by the monasteries location and the splendour of the whole area.

367. The outflow of Phoksumdo lake on the way to visit the Bonpo monastery on the edge of the lake about a km from the village.

368. The absolutely perfect setting for the Bonpo monastery on the edge of the turquoise waters of Phoksumdo lake.

369. Chatting with the Lama of the monastery beside Phoksumdo lake near the village of Ringmo

On the way back to the hotel I spied another tourist, camping at the side of the lake. He was a grizzly Australian called Brian. We got chatting and suddenly I realized he was on the World Expeditions Great Himalaya Trail trip. He started about two weeks before us and we had been slowly catching them. He started with two others but one pulled out before they started, increasing his fee, and the other after three weeks. Brian however had survived. The World Expeditions Trip is annual and costs about US$25000-30000. It is a slightly more cumbersome style of expedition with a mess tent, tables and chairs, even a toilet tent. There were anything between 12 and 17 porters so Brian was treated like a king. The porters looked a bit like refugees when I passed them sitting in a shelter playing cards and smoking cigarettes. His group had followed the whole Great Himalaya Trail thus far but now seemed to deviate and follow an easier route to Hilsa via Jumla. I could have chatted to Brian for days but I had to get back to Bharat and Ramesh for an early lunch.

After paying the local hostess for the hotel, and chatting again with Brian, who seemed equally hungry to speak fluent English to another tourist, we set off at 1330 for the other end of the lake. I was eager to do this walk made infamous by a film called Caravan by Eric Vialli. The path followed an airy route high above the lake with a few very exposed sections.

It was indeed as airy as the film. At one point wood had been driven into rock cracks and the path built on it. If you fell you might drop 40-50 metres straight into the lake, as the yak did in the film. Across the turquoisest of waters was the monastery on the other side and up the lake the mountains rose very steeply for a good thousand metres. The path eventually dropped to a bay where a stream descended a side valley filled with Bhutan Pines.

370. Bharat walking on a bit of the path leading north from Ringmo village. This bit of the path is on a sheer face and is spanned by logs. It is the pace where Thinley’s yak plunges into the water in the film caravan.

371. Looking back to the precarious bit of path along the edge of Phoksumdo where Thinley’s yak plunged into the water in the film Carvan by Eric Vialli

372. Ramesh doing his Malla King impersonation above Phoksumdo lake. At the far end of the lake is the village of Ringmo. The Bonpo Gompa is off to the distant left in a bay.

373. The rarely visited and pathless NE arm of Phoksumdo Lake. The Lake has three arms, hence the Tibetan name.

From here the path had to climb steeply over a spur. The climb was about 400 metres and took a good hour. En route we passed a few groups of yarsagumba pickers returning home. Most were disappointed with their haul and some had not even picked enough to cover the cost of their permit. A lot of them were from Jarjakot district and a few from Jumla. Some of the groups had three to five mules carrying all their gear.

As we climbed the views became sensational, especially south to the end of the lake where the village of Ringmo lay on a small rise. Without doubt this is one of the best views in Nepal. I was so glad I chose this route option through Dolpo as Dho Tarap and Ringmo with Phoksumdo Lake are surely the jewels and there is Shey Gomba on this route option to come also. The northern route through Saldang surely cannot match this. There were many photos taken on the way up and everybody was spellbound. Moral was very high and I was euphotic with the views, the alpines and pines, and also the company.

The descent from the high spur was quite airy and we got great views across the lake to the mountains we crossed over the previous two days. The north east fork of the lake was where the river which drained these mountains lay below us virtually inaccessible. It was covered in birch and pine. As we descended we went through bands of Bhutan Pine or Himalayan Birch with their large leaves and papery flaking white bark. The vegetation depended very much on the aspect of the slope with pines on the arid south faces and birch on the damper north faces. Down and down we came until we eventually reached the north west fork of the lake where we intended to camp.

374. Ramesh and Dawa in the makeshift kitchen with the drizzle pouring down. We cooked on kerosene and Ramesh could always be relied on to produce a great dalbhat.

We found an easy campsite where the Phoksudo Khola stream entered the lake in a wide flat valley. Horses grazed the flat pastures here and horsemen galloped across the meadow on easy ground. There was a single bhatti here and we camped nearby, and beside a spring which bubbled from the ground. As we put the tent up it started to rain so we also rigged up a shelter to cook under with a tarpaulin. Ramesh was protected from the rain under it and as usual made a great dalbhat for all of us. There were streams of yarsagumba pickers heading south past the tent all late afternoon, their season over and them no doubt happy to be going back to the comfort of their village. Their yarsagumba picking month would be the same as a bunch of Europeans going on a months adventure together with lots of stories to tell when home. The rain eventually eased as it got dark and we all piled into our large tent which was our home.

June 26. Phoksumdo Khola delta to Kangla High Camp. 14km. 5.5 hours. 940m up. 70m down. It was overcast when we woke naturally in the morning. Today it was Santos’s turn to do the breakfast and as I was contemplating getting out of my sleeping bag he suddenly appeared with a mug of coffee and a plate of instant noodles spiced up with cumin seeds. We took the tent down now like a well-oiled machine and set off at 0730.

It was an easy walk up the flat meadow for a couple of km with the river flowing strongly to our east. The meadow ended in a Bhutan pine forest which stretched across the kilometre wide valley and extended all the way up to the confluence of the two main streams. It was a beautiful walk and at times I could have imagined I was in North America. The mist obscured the views especially up to Kanjiroba whose glaciated ramparts disappeared into the clouds on our west. The summit was almost three vertical kilometres above us. The path passed through many areas of avalanche debris where smashed birch and bent willows were emerging from the packed snow. There must have been a tremendous flood here sometime because the river had deposited swathes of cobbles deep into the forest. We had to cross the main river once on a log as the cantilever bridge was destroyed by this flood. It was a raging torrent and would have swept anyone away had they lost their balance. Ramesh was very wary of water and was full on concentration when he crossed. On the east side the pines continued but it was really the realm of the birch. Some 7-8 kilometres from camp the valley narrowed and the flat open floodplain vanished as we entered a gorge. At the south end of this gorge was the confluence of the two streams and we left the larger north fork and headed up the east fork.

375. At the end of Phoksumdo Khola stream we had to follow a gorge with a stream for three hours. The stream had to be crossed frequently. Here is the athletic Santos leaping across with a good 30 kg on his head.

376. Looking back down the lower reaches of the gorge where a few other people can just be seen coming up and negotiating a crossing

The east fork tumbled down from high above in a deep rocky gorge whose bottom was clogged with cobbles, stones and the occasional boulder creating a 20 meter wide floor with the white frothing stream weaving a route through them. The very rough path went up the stones but frequently the torrent went right up to the gorge walls forcing one to cross it. Where it was braided it was just possible to hop across boulders but where it was a single torrent one had to wade it. There were a few makeshift bridges out of fallen birch trees and slippery logs and Ishunned these as I was already wet, and waded the torrent. A slip from a log would have meant a complete soaking rather than a wash from the knees down. We had to cross the stream about 10 times in all. As we climbed there were a lot of snow bridges where avalanches had crashed down in the spring and these bridges were still thick and strong.

There were a few horses coming down and one just behind me and the snow bridges were thick enough for them also. I chatted with the one who caught me up. The horseman was called OnJok and he was from Bhijer. He was a wild looking Tibetan who was a strong as his horse. He was leading his horse up the slope as it was laden with the baggage of a policeman who was going to Bhijer to take up a 6 or 12 month post. The young policeman spoke to me a few times but I found him obnoxious so let them get ahead. After a good hour, perhaps nearer 90 minutes the gorge finally opened out into a high stony valley.

377. Gonjok and his horse crossing a snow bridge in the gorge while carrying a policeman’s belongings to Biher. I was later to contact Gonjok in Biher and he helped us.

This U shaped valley was full of wild flowers and alpines. Many varieties of Saxifrage grew amongst the stones. Unfortunately it was misty and drizzling, so the steep mountains on each side were largely obscured, only revealing themselves momentarily when the mist weakened for a minute. There was a small cave beside the path and I waited in its mouth to avoid the drizzle while the others appeared. By now Onjok and the policeman were well ahead. When the others arrived they dumped their loads, put a cobble on a large boulder 30 metres away and we then all stood in the mount of the cave hurling stones at the cobble. The Nepalis were remarkable shots and Santos would make a great cricketer with powerful and accurate throws. It was inevitably his rock which dislodged the cobble after 15 minutes of hurling. By the time we were finished the rain was off and we were all in high spirits. From here it was just another 15 minutes up the shallow u shaped valley to the high camp.

It was a poor campsite but going on ran the risk of not having one at all. There was one space where the tent would fit and it was stony but softened with years of mule dung which had broken down into a peaty mix. With the rain returning we quickly put the tent up beside a stone shelter which had collapsed due to this springs snowfall on its once flat roof. With the tent up we made Ramesh a kitchen area using the remaining wall of the stone shelter and a tarpaulin, and in return he made us a kettle of tea. Once in the tent it was dry and cosy and the others soon followed suit for a relaxing afternoon of playing games while I wrote. Occasionally they would break into song with Dawa and Santos leading the folk songs. Despite the rain morale was high. There was just a glimpse or two of the pass we had to go over tomorrow which was about 800m above us at 5560m.

378. Approaching the top of the Kangla pass 5350m, between Phoksumdo and Shey Gompa. Here is the view SW to Kangiroba Himal, (the mountain not the range)

27 June. Kangla High Camp to Shey Gomba. 16km. 4.5 hours. 760m up. 1050m down. When I woke at 0300 the weather was disappointing as the mist had failed to clear overnight. However when Santos sprung up at 0530 it had cleared and there were even rumours of blue skies. When I got up at 0600 with the others there were indeed clear blue skies and down the valley we slogged up yesterday rose the magnificent Kangiroba Himal. It was just one peak around 6600m and rather confusingly the Kangiroba Himal range was some 20 km to the NW and slightly higher. As we had breakfast though some high cloud formed on the surrounding peaks and a bit of mist condensed in the valleys. My heart sank; here we go again I thought.

It was a short 15 minute hike up the valley to the start of a 200m climb. The spots I thought might be good for camping were hopeless and we were right to camp where we did. The 200m climb took us up to a new U shaped flat bottomed valley and it looked like the pass was straight ahead. However the map, Bharat and Santos pointed up a steep scree covered hillside which looked much more arduous. Santos and myself took the long way where the path made a gentle long zig-zag while the others took the short cut up the steep hillside. A good hour later Santos and myself reached the top first and had better views as the cloud was retreating and the mist vanished. There was a magnificent view at the top down the valley we were going to descend by. I could not see Shey Gompa but the adjacent Crystal Mountain was obvious.

379. Looking E from the top of the Kangla Pass to the Dansilla Lek range. Beyond these mountains is the Tarap valley from a week ago.

380. Looking back up to the Kangla pass from the north side, before starting the pastoral descent to Shey Gompa.

The descent was initially steep but then we traversed across easy small broken scree to drop down towards a large pasture. There were many wildflowers among the stones and they were getting nourished by small trickles from the melting snowfields. We passed a small azure silt laden lake beneath some magnificent geological folds before entering the pasture. I was on my own now as the others stopped for a break and I suddenly found myself amongst enormous yak, which must have all been male. They looked at me and then slowly shuffled out of the way to my relief. At the end of the long pasture the path followed a stony flat valley for a few km. A group of about 15 horsemen came towards me and were very warm in their greetings. It seems that Namaste had now been replaced with the Tibetan Tashi Dalek. The horsemen almost looked like they were on an official outing but they were all of Tibetan origin and were returning to Dunai, the district capital.

381. Grazing yak in the valley between the Kangla Pass and Shey Gompa. The pass itself is out of the picture to the left.

As I neared the area where I thought the monastery was mani walls became more prolific. Then I heard a tapping sound to see someone beside the river inscribing a rock with a hammer. The script he was inscribing on the boulders was in Tibetan and it looked like “Om Mani Padme”. I passed a line of clear springs bubbling up through the rock and then flowing across the path into the clear river. I stopped to drink at one spring and it was cold and refreshing. The weather was just getting better all the time; it was now still and calm, the sun was hot and the skies almost completely a deep blue velvet.

I reached another long mani wall, rounded a spur and there just a couple of kilometres away on a shelf above the river was the treasured Shey Gompa, the spiritual heart of Dolpo, which was a 1000 year old monastery. It was quite small and there looked like there was no monks’ accommodation, just the Lamas and the caretakers. Around it were a few small houses which looked like they belonged to ordinary herding families. Shey Gompa has long had a fascination with westerners who regard it as a mystical place. Beside it is the large mountain of Crystal Mountain, and some devotees take a day to circumnavigate the mountain, clockwise off course as it is a Nyingma monastery and not a Bonpo one. I was enthralled to be arriving at Shey Gompa after all these years of reading and hearing about it. It probably owes its importance also due to its location on the side of the side on a green grassy slope at the confluence of two streams, but more significantly it is central in Upper Dolpo and easily accessible from Bijar and Saldang and marginally accessible from Dho Tarap and Phoksumdo.

382. Shey Gompa from the river in from of it. To the left is the caretakers rooms and some storage rooms. To the right are some of the few houses in Shey Gompa.

I went down to the bridge over the river where there were a cluster of prayer wheels driven by water chutes and waited for Santos who was just behind me. He led me up the slope to the grassy field to the west of the monastery where there was an official campsite. It was a lovely place and the monastery and few adjoining houses were our neighbours. Down in valley just below on the other side of the bridge and water driven prayer wheels was a large flat area, which would once have been great pasture but now was a collection of tents, comprising the yarsagumba pickers who had not thrown in the towel yet, a few bhattis, and a few herders. I hope they do not despoil the area with glass as they often do, for this is a special place.

383. Shey Gompa. Perhaps the spiritual heart of Dolpo and certainly one of the best known monasteries in the area.

384. The large imposing chorten at Shey Gompa with the all seeing eyes. It was the first structure when one came up from the river.

We put the tent up near the room which was designated as a kitchen. Ramesh approved of it and he soon had it laid out as he wanted and started cooking us a dalbhat. After the meal I went over to look at the monastery. The Lama was away but there was a delightful old couple, he was a bit of a mischievous monk and she was kindly, who were the caretakers and they showed me round. It was not as impressive as I expected and it was essentially just one room with an altar, drums, an special chair for the Lama, many good condition paintings on the walls depicting Buddhist lore, a large collection of statues and a large collection of old holy scripts in their pigeon holes. However there was nowhere for more than three or four monks to sit and it seemed the monastery was almost dormant. Bharat explained that there is a huge fair here every August on the flat land across the bridge and I should imagine the place become very lively then. After the visit I went into the caretakers’ quarters where I had tea with the couple who Bharat later told me had lost two children in the last two years due to avalanches on the paths.

385. The caretaker at Shey Gompa. He looked after the place with his wife. They had just lost two children in different avalanches in the last years

386. Inside Shey Gompa with the unbound books, paintings and drums used during pujas. The lady is the caretakers’ wife and would walk round the whole compound many times a day.

387. The old unbound books used during the prayers. These are probably photocopies with the originals being too fragile and valuable to use.

I returned to the camp to discover the black hose providing a trickle of water flowed down the bare hillside for a while and it was warm when it left the hose. I stripped down to my shorts and had a makeshift hot shower at 4350 metres which was almost pleasant. I dried quickly in the hot sun under the still blue skies and then went down to the flat area across the bridge to take some photos of the monastery. The others also had a shower and then then all had a well-deserved snooze on the grass with the sun making them lethargic. They did all go and visit the monastery and the caretaker couple later. It was the type of afternoon we all dream of really; the simple pleasure of a warm water hose, soporific sun, a special Shangri-La type place and a 1000 year old monastery.

28 June. Shey Gomba to Biher. 27 km. 8 hours. 1320m up. 1820m down. Santos, who slept in the kitchen brought us all a cup of tea at 0500 and we drunk the first cup in our sleeping bags and the second cup milling around the green pasture where the tent was. It was overcast and the nice weather of yesterday seemed to be on the retreat. However when we set of at 0630 and headed straight up the hill more and more blue sky started to appear, and it seemed this charge of monsoon rain did not have the momentum to make it over all the Himalayas to the south and petered out around Phoksumdo.

The path did not follow the map but went straight up the hill above the monastery and then veered north for a km before heading east into a high valley where there was a summer pasture. It comprised of a large single storey stone shelter and four or five tents. There were sheep and goats just leaving the safety of their night compound to go a graze the hillsides while the chauri were wandering about being milked or waiting to be milked by the woman of the herding family. Across the main valley were many other pastures and I could just make out the cluster of tents in the pastures and the dark brown circles of the goat compounds which were bare earth and manure. From this kharka the path continued to climb up the spur on the north side of the side valley for another half hour or so until it reached an unmarked pass at around 4850m.

The weather was now great and I could look across the main valley to Crystal Mountain on the other side with its geological folds and small snowfields. The next stage of our day’s journey was laid out before us to the north and east. The path dropped down into side valley of the Den Khola curved around the bowl where there was a confluence of rivulets and then climbed up the spur on the north side to a distant saddle. The whole crossing of the Den Khola took about two hours and was made all the more interesting by two clusters of stone shelters in kharkas. I made a small detour into the heart of one of them just to see what was going on and ask some banal question to which I already knew the answer just to strike up some simple conservation like a mutual “where are you from; where are you going” type of thing. I was well ahead of the others and it empowered me a little that I could have a simple conservation in Nepali now, albeit at the level of a three year old.

I stopped at the bottom of the climb up the north spur of Den Khola side valley and the others caught up and we lazed in the morning sun on a path of grass. Large yak grazed nearby but they seemed wary of us and kept their distance. The climb up was a slog for a good hour but the plants, especially the alpines which were all in flower kept my interest. In the main valley the river, called the Tarting Khola was deep in an impenetrable canyon, perhaps a 600-800 metres deep and this is why the path had to follow the hillsides and side valleys far above it. As I made my way to the saddle I came across a group of Bijer horseman having a picnic. They were on their way to Dunai, the District headquarters of Dolpo. They offered me a tea and invited me to sit with them. Their English was great due to the French sponsored school in Bijer. We chatted for 20 minutes on the grass until the others arrived and the four horsemen packed to continue their journey.

At the saddle another side valley unfolded in front of us. It was steep and quite short but there was an excellent path which almost contoured perfectly round the loose small scree to the next spur. It only took half an hour to reach the prayer flags on the far side. En route there were some quite exposed sections but the horses had managed so I should also. From this spur the fourth and final side valley of the day lay before me and it looked easy and pleasant.

388. En route to Bhijer I came across the Lama of Shyamling Gompa, a Bonpo monastery off on a detour to the west of the path.

There was a small drop down to a large pastoral bowl. On my way down I passed near two men picking something. I assumed yarsagumba. They summoned me over and I was surprised to see he was a lama. He was picking the small yellow rhododendron flowers which he would use as incense in the monastery. He was the lama of the Shyamling Gompa near the village of Tata. It was a Bonpo Gompa as opposed to a Nyingma Buddhist Gompa. The Lama and his assistant, a young 15 year old had ridden up here on their horses. Both were enthusiastic talkers and both had good English. We chatted for a good 15 minutes and I found the Lama very warm hearted. His gomba was not on my route which was a shame as it must have had an excellent view over the Tarting Khola canyon. Just quarter of an hour later I met another horseman at a stream. He was tightening the saddle for the climb. He happened to be the Lama of Shey Gompa returning from a meeting in Bijer. Again I chatted with him for 10 minutes, and found him to be kindly also but his English was as bad as my Nepali.

In the middle of this pastoral bowl was a very well organized Kharka called Taro. It had about eight almost identical single store stone shelters in the middle of the main pasture. They were all empty bar one which had a very wild unkempt shepherd who refused a photo. He had about 200 goats and sheep on pasture. After a very brief chat with him I climbed to the top of the last spur and then began the long descent to Bijer which revealed itself quite soon down in the bottom of yet another side valley. The descent was not that steep but the vegetation was sparse with just thorny scrub and many types of alpines.

389. The green corn and barley fields of Bhijer in the sun. Bhijer was like an oasis in the dry scrub covered brown hills. It was green because of the irrigation.

390. Looking down on Bhijer from the ridge to the north of it while en route to Pho. The ridge opposite was the one we came over yesterday.

Arriving in Bijer was exciting. I could see it was a beautiful ancient village dating back hundreds if not thousands of years. It had a collection of perhaps 75 old stone houses. The top floors were open sided rooms used for storage and in front of them the flat roofs were good for drying crops and then processing them. The middle floor was living quarters and the ground floor was storage and perhaps some animals. All the floors were connected by simple loft ladders. There was not the same attention to store wood on the parapets as there was say in Chharka Bhot, but the houses looked just as imposing. There were some huge chortens at the top and bottom of the village and a Bonpo Gompa at the top end and a Nyingma Buddhst Gompa at the lower end.

I crossed the bridge, found Onjok’s house, which was locked, and then wondered up the village path where I saw a group of people. One was Onjok’s cousin and he confirmed the house and said the local shop was just up the path. He was a teacher at the French school and his English was great. I must say I have found the people of Dolpo, the Dolpapa, extremely helpful and friendly as a group. The local shop had most of the items we needed, rice, kerosene, noodles, powdered milk etc for the next seven days until Mugugoan. As we milled around the shop Onjok walked by, returning from the fields. I was pleased to see him as I had been hatching a plan. The next two days were very long and the porters with their large loads topped up by the local shop would probably not manage. So I wanted to hire Onjok and his horse for these two days to carry 50kg. Thereafter the three porters would manage. Onjok agreed and a price of 4500 rupees a day for him and horse was established. When I told Ramesh, Santos and Dawa they were surprised and delighted.

After this I went for a walk in the village which took nearly two hours. It was fascinating and perhaps even exceeded Ringmo as my favourite Dolpo village, or indeed village on this whole journey. The solid castille like houses were surrounded by bright green well irrigated fields of young corn and buckwheat. The irrigation looked very well organized and turned the whole village into an oasis in an otherwise parched arid landscape. As I wandered through the alleys and passages between houses people greeted me with enthusiasm. The Nyingma Monastery was quite large with monks’ quarters for perhaps 20 monks. The actual monastery looked very old and I guess it was over 500 years while the Bonpo one looked perhaps just 100 or so. I returned to the campsite full of awe and joy that such places still exist in today’s world. Bijer really was a Shangri-La and I was very much looking forward to travelling with Onjok for the next few days as he seemed one of the village’s respected elders.

29 June. Biher to Pho. 19 km. 7 hours. 1670m up. 1470m down. Konjok arrived at 0600 just to what was happening. Despite getting up at 0430 we were still packing and sorting out the gear to get 50 kg for the horse. Eventually we were packed and the horse was loaded just before 0700 and we set off as the sun warming the village and turning the wheat fields a bright green. We wove through the houses and then started a steep climb up the ridge on the north of the village. Unfortunately even at this early hour we were getting hit by the sun and everyone was down to one layer after a couple of hundred metres. I walked ahead of Gonjok and his horse who was slowly gaining on me. The others were already trailing despite their 15 kg loads. The path was of an even relentless gradient but it was well made and the gradient was just right to gain height without getting exhausted. It climbed for about 600-700m up the ridge with the view of Bijer getting ever more impressive. It was a lovely village here tucked away in a remote and arid corner of Dolpo, well off any trekking route or trading corridor.

From the top of the ridge I could see the path to the high point of the day, the Yumbar La pass, about 4800. The route to it was reasonably easy and I again walked with Gonjok and his horse as we contoured round the bowl of the Yumbar Khola. The bowl descended into a gorge then plunged down to the main valley where the Tarting Khola flowed in a deep canyon. Konjok pointed out a Gompa to me. I could barely see it at first as its ochre walls camouflaged it in the yellow and sienna rocks of the gorge. It was perched on a large shelf and was very remote. Gonjok said it was very old, perhaps 2800 years. This surprised me as that was some 300 years before Buddha, but perhaps there was a building here long before him and it was used for religious purposes, but the valley looked totally unsuitable for farming. At the end of the bowl we climbed steeply for half an hour up to the pass. Just before it we saw a herd of 50 blue sheep and Gonjok said there was snow leopard in the area.

391. Looking north from the Yambur La Pass, 4813m, between Bhijer to Pho to the Palchung Hamga Himal. The pointed mountain to the right is Damphesail, 6100, on the Tibet border.

I expected a view at the pass but the one which burst on me in the final steps was breathtaking. To the north were the Kanti and Palchung Humga Himals. They were not that high at around 6000m, but they were covered in glaciers and steep ridges of fluted snow. Below them were barren, parched mountain sides of a dull yellow and above them was the clear velvet blue sky. These mountains formed the border with Tibet, and the flat Tibetan plateau was on the other side. To the south where were had been was range after range. Unfortunately the highest of the all, the Kanjirobi Himal with its near 7000m peaks were partly obscured by cloud. Konjok was keen to descend to a meadow on the north side of the pass just five minutes away so we went down there and unloaded the horse so he could rest and graze.

392. Looking NW from the Yambur La Pass to the village of Pho. There is a deep canyon with the Dolpo Karnali in it between us and the village though. Tomorrows pass, the Nyingma Gyanzen La, 5563m, is actually one of the highest mountains on the right.

The others caught us up in the meadow and we all snacked and then snoozed for 15-20 minutes. We could see the path descend into a very deep valley before climbing up an arid bare rocky slope to the green oasis of Pho whose houses sat on the barren hillside above the striking green terraces fields. Gonjok started to get ready first and we loaded the horse and set off down the slope past the not very pastoral Pho Kharka and on down into the deep gorge. It was carved by the river which drained the north of Dolpo and it was locally called the Dolpo Karnali. It eventually joined the Mugu and then Humla Karnali to form a huge river. The descent was relentless and try as I might I could not keep up with Gonjok and his horse. They were 10% faster than me and I also stopped to take photos, which widened the gap. The others were far behind. We plunged down some 1400m from the pass with the landscape getting drier and drier. We passed more blue sheep but I could not see what they ate except the thorn bushes.

393. The deep canyon which contains the Dolpo Karnali. It was spanned by a single old rickety stone and log cantilever bridge which Gonjok remembers from hs childhood.

Gonjok stopped at the first and only small trickle we came to so the horse could drink and graze a bit and he could get a stick from one of the willow trees which formed a strip down the rivulet. He was 53 and his knee was sore. He told me his horse was 30, which surprised me. I caught him up here and we walked together for the rest of the descent to the Dolpo Karnali. It was a very deep gorge and the path was quite convoluted. At one corner the whole gorge suddenly opened up and I could see the infamous wobbly stone and log cantilever bridge over the dark deep river. It was perhaps the largest of these bridges I had seen and it was old. It was a remarkable construction and it kept the hamlet of Pho in contact with Bijer and then the rest of the world. I went first across the bridge so I could get some photos of Gonjok leading his horse across.

394. Gonjok leading his horse across the bridge over the Dolpo Karnali.

The bottom of the gorge was about 3400 metres and we now had a 650 metre climb up the west side of the gorge to Pho. It was a long hot dry climb and I regretted not drinking from the rivulet half an hour before the bridge. I put myself into low gear and just did the climb in one go with Gonjok and his very tired horse following. He said he liked the slow steady speed so I was not pressured into letting him past. The others were far behind and we were well up the west side of the gorge and onto the barren hillside, with just a few willow trees where some underground spring trickled under the boulders, when they reached the bridge.  It took well over an hour to finally reach the top of the steep, hot, dry and uninteresting climb and arrive at the lowest of the green fields in the oasis of Pho. The fields were quite extensive and were planted with young potatoes and wheat. In the middle of the fields was an old gomba which while in good repair looked like it was no longer used. We circled the north side of the fields slowly climbing towards the cluster of houses and chotens. At the lowest chorten Gonjok signalled that we should leave the path and head off to a terrace where there was the official campsite. Beside the campsite was a spring gushing out of the ground and down a chute. It was beautiful, sweet cold water and I drunk two litres. The spring was also the source of the oasis like green fields as it was sufficient to irrigate them all. There was a lush small meadow under the spring with 20 cm high grass and wild flowers. Once we unloaded the horse he made a beeline for it and starting gorging himself. Gonjok and I snoozed on the horse blankets waiting for the others to arrive an hour later. They were not too tired but were thirsty. Ramesh unpacked his basket into the three sided stone shelter which was the kitchen and made us tea and me noodles while we put the tent up on the flat terrace. The horse was still gorging himself without let up.

395. The green fields of Pho with the old monastery in the midst of them. The village of 10 or so houses lies at the top of the fields and above the beautiful spring, which allows the village to exist.

I went to explore the village before the sun went down. There were perhaps 10 houses in use and 10 in bad repair. Of the 10 in use nearly all were at some lake looking for yarsagumba and there were just two older ladies and some young children here. It was so far away from any beaten track even one old lady would have been enough to look after and guard the village. It perhaps ranks equal with Thudam as the most remote place on out walk so far. I should imagine in 20-30 years everyone here will have either immigrated to Bijer or died and the village will be abandoned. What happens in the rest of the world makes no difference here, not even a nuclear war. What matters here is what occurs in this small oasis, the bridge over the Karnali connecting Pho with the Bijer and the price of yarsagumba this year. It is a shame this village will be abandoned as it has probably been inhabited for many centuries and this heritage will go to waste. In the evening the two ladies visited and we bought potatoes and tsampa from them as the chura we bought in Bijer was riddled with weevils and mouse droppings and has to be thrown.

As night fell it became windstill and calm. The blue sky became colourless and then darkened as the stars got brighter. It was an incredibly peaceful place where each day is much the same as the next but with different subsistence chores in the fields. The simplicity of life here has long vanished from most other people’s lives.

30 June. Pho to Pung Charka. 24 km 8.5 hours. 1850m up. 1220m down. The alarm went at 0430 again. Gonjok was up like a shot to check on his horse. I got Santos up who was sleeping in the kitchen and he got started on the teas. By the time we were ready to go it was 0630. We wandered up through the village and one of the older ladies came out and gave Gonjok a thermos of Tibetan tea with some salt and butter in it and also a thick greenish roti bread made out of buckwheat flour. I had assumed now we were so far north in the Himalayas the weather would be similar to Tibet, but another monsoon rain was trying to get past the ranges to the south and the day at Pho was overcast with mist higher up.

We headed up the path behind the village at the start of 1500m climb. Gonjok insisted I go in front of him and the horse as my slow steady pace suited them. However I knew that team was slightly faster. The others were trailing up at their own speed probably quite relieved they had there minimum loads of 15-20kg with the horse taking 15kg each from them. I wanted to do the whole climb in one go, probably taking four hours, and this suited Gonjok, who was a strong man. We climbed up together for a good two hours to reach the top of a ridge at about 5000m, already an ascent of 900m. However the top of it was all in the mist and I knew I was missing some great views. At the top of this ridge we turned north and followed the ridge as it gently climbed up the crest for another hour. Again the mist obscured any view but occasionally it cleared for a few hundred metres and it could see the crest ahead. Gonjok and the horse now went ahead and there were some very atmospheric views of this hardy Dolpopa leading his horse along the crest of a 5000m plus ridge with snow fields each side in the mist. Eventually we got to a top and I thought that was it but no there was another. It deflated me and I felt sapped and was now struggling to keep up. I hoped Bharat and the others had taken the right route in the mist as they were perhaps half an hour behind.

396. Gonjok leading his horse along the ridge, well above 5000m, towards the Nyingma Gyanzen La Pass further up the ridge. He was very good to his horse.

We descended from the false top and Gonjok stopped for a rare pause. I caught up and then took it as a cue to pause for lunch as it was approaching 1000 and my tank was empty. Gonjok gave me some buckwheat bread to have with the potato curry Ramesh had made. The bread tasted like the houses smelt, smoky and a bit musty, but it was certainly filling. As we ate the mist cleared a bit and I could see the climb up to the final top. It looked quite steep and there was the odd snowfield. On starting up though the path was not as bad as it looked and the snowfields were soft and the horse skirted round the edge of them. At last after nearly four hours we reached the top with its modest collection of prayer flags. I don’t think many people come this way. It was not a pass as such but a mountain top and as path went over it, as the only alternative, it was called a pass; the Nyingma Gyanzen La, 5563m.

Just beyond the top was a deeper snowdrift across the path and Gonjok was worried about the horse but he just made it up. However not far beyond was a huge steep snowfield at about 35 degrees and 200-300 metres high and 100 metres wide with a steep exit on the far side. Gonjok said it was not possible for the horse to cross it and in the likely event of it slipping it would either die or have to be put down. He had had the horse for decades and it was part of his family and I could see he cared for it. There was no way round the snowfield so it seemed he would leave the bags here and turn back. Our conversation was a bit muted so we waited for the others to arrive. Dawa was first and as an experience mountaineer he went to have a look at the snowfield. He returned to say that even for the humans it was dangerous and a slip would result in crashing into stones at some speed far below. We found an alternative route along the sharp crest of the airy exposed ridge but there was no way a horse could manage that. The 50 kg of luggage the horse carried were distributed between Ramesh, Santos and Dawa. I felt their loads and they were huge, perhaps 35 kg, yet none complained. I paid Gonjok for the full three days which were agreed, two days carrying and a day to return even though he could not complete the two days load carrying. It was not his fault but I did wonder if he knew the route would be impossible for his horse before we started. He would return to Pho tonight and Bijer tomorrow. We all agreed he had no intention to cheat us and was in fact an honourable man. The losers were the three porters who would have to carry a huge load at the end of a long day. We all shook hands with Gonjok and wished him well for his return and then watched him lead his horse into the mist and back to Pho where the horse would enjoy the lush pasture again.

We continued north along the knife edge ridge for 200 metres. The rock was exceedingly sharp and a slip here would result in bad cuts. Santos, full of bravado as always, headed off first and lead the way. At the end of the ridge there was a route down a bouldery slope of the sharp stones until it met the path as it emerged from the snowfield. We followed the path down on the west side of the ridge for 15 minutes until we got to a saddle. Here there was a deep notch in the ridge, called Ridge Pass, and we slipped through it to the east side.

Initially on the east side the descent was very steep and Dawa said the horse would have had great difficulty here on the gravel covered rock. After 100m of descent an easier path formed and this led down to an open bowl where the side valley which came up from below fanned out into a crescent of snowfields leading up to a crescent of jagged ridges, with the notch in the middle. We had a second lunch here. It was a 1000m descent from the notch down the side valley into a deep canyon far below. We had just done 200m of this before our break so had another 800 to go. It was a knee jerker as the path was mostly composed of sharper stones loosely packed together in a shallow trench. It wove down between boulder fields and small crags and occasionally zig-zagged. It was certainly a seldom used path and at times difficult to see its course. A few hundred metres before the end it plunged more steeply into the gorge of the Swaksa Khola river. As I started down the final plunge I flushed a herd of some 50 blue sheep. They initially ran up the slope and then the lead male with huge horns lead the herd up some very steep crags. They bounded up from shelf to shelf nimbly and with such ease you felt a snow leopard would be hard pushed to follow them in this terrain.

397. On the descent from the Nyingma Gyanzen La Pass I flushed a herd of blue sheep who scampered off across the craggy buttress with ease.

398. After the decent from the Nyingma Gyanzen La Pass we reached the canyon of the Swaska Khola Valley which we had to follow for two hours up to the pastures of Pung Kharka.

At last I arrived at the Swaska Khola whose crystal clear waters flowed from the Tibet border. I waited for the others before we began our final push of the long day. It was basically a long gentle 4 km climb up the west side of the stream. The others were surprising fast with their loads as they followed the stony path. It took a good hour and a half to haul ourselves up. Far ahead I could see yak wandering about Pung Charka, unfortunately they looked tiny and I hoped they were goats, but they were yak. Slowly the valley opened out as we gently climbed up it. At the last bit there was a slog up a sandy embankment which the river had eroded to reach the large pastures. They were cut by a stream coming down from a side valley and all the yak were on the other side. I decided to camp on the south side of this stream away from the yak as some of them might bother us or as has happened before to me in Dolpo, chew on some of the guy ropes. The pasture was lumpy but we found a less lumpy sheltered bit and collapsed around it. The others soon recovered and we put the tent up while Ramesh made a kitchen in the late afternoon sun. The weather was certainly improving and I hope it is clear for our 21st 5000m pass tomorrow the Yala la.

399. The pastures of Pung Kharka and the kharka above were full of grazing yak who had been brought up here to graze on the rich summer grasses watered by glacial streams and the monsoon.

Pung Charka to Kaitpuchonam Khola. 18km. 8 hours. 910m up. 1520 m down. Despite the free rein regarding the alarm clock Santos was woken just after 0500 and hoped up to make the teas for the rest of us, which we had in bed as it was overcast and threatened to drizzle, as it had done in the night. We were away by 0700 and headed up across Pung Charka. It was a beautiful undulating pasture but the tufts of grass here were large and made camping difficult. We spotted a couple of sites on the north side of the side stream. It was a long pasture perhaps as much as 3 km and offered some great grazing for the yaks. The weather started to improve almost immediately and by the time we reached the end of the pasture in the U-shaped valley there were many blue patches of sky.

We now walked along beneath some impressive craggy mountains beside the lazy stream which was so clear. Along the bottom of the craggy mountain were vast slopes of scree and at the bottom of them were the valley floor started was a line of bubbling springs. Some were large enough we could not hop over and had to detour up the scree a bit to get round them. We then turned a corner and arrived at another charka with a large tent in the middle of the meadow. All the yaks I had seen yesterday were now gathered here with perhaps 100 grazing. There were also a few yarsagumba tents and there was a large group which seemed to be leaving with their rucksacks loaded high. The charka was quite idyllic with the stream meandering across the pastures and the yak either grazing or sitting on the grass in the sun chewing there cud. Many were huge with large ferocious horns curved back at the sharp tips. It seemed to be fashionable here to weave a segment of a prayer flag into the long hair on the yaks shoulders. We left this idyllic scene in this far flung corner of Dolpo and started up the steep slope to the Yala La pass. We pretty quickly caught up with the large group of yarsagumba hunters who were searching as we climbed. They found quite a few between them and I could see them occasionally digging with their narrow mattocks. I chatted with a few on the ascent and found out they were from near Jumla, one of my favourite places in Nepal.

We chatted as we climbed and they searched. All of a sudden I was beckoned over by two men who found one and asked me to photograph the harvest. It was almost invisible to me but to the trained eye the fungus protruding from the earth must be obvious. It was dug up and then proudly displayed. They reckoned this one would be about US$ 10, a day’s wages in Jumla, and I think he would get about 10 a day. They had been picking for about 30 days, with five days travel in addition at each end, and it represented a significant proportion of the years income for most families, even in this poor year where there were very little and the permit was about US$300. It was a steep climb for about 400m. At a small stream I passed by a very large blue sheep which must have died in an avalanche this winter.

400. At the end of his finger is the fungal stalk of the infected caterpillar which is now dead. It is this tiny sign which all yarsagumba collectors want to see for beneath lies about US$10.

401. The yarsagumba collector and his recently dug up bounty. This fat one is worth about US$13. It now needs to be cleaned with a toothbrush and dried, before being sold to a buyer who visit the collecting grounds frequently

At the top of the climb I could look down onto the meadow and see the yak slowly lumbering about in the sun as the stream meandered in its stone bed. At the north end of the meadow was a huge wall of snow and ice which was part of the Palchung Hamga Himal with its 6000m peaks. It formed the border with Tibet. Looking west from the steep climb I could now see the pass up a headwall beyond a great bowl of scree. The others were ahead and stopped by boulders near the small stream which drained the bowl. A few of the yarsagumba hunters were also gathering there and when I arrived there were about 20 people. We all left in groups to climb up the scree to the headwall. I chatted to a few but when I spoke to the younger women they just giggled. I felt tired after the last three longer days and was the last of our group up to the pass as I found the headwall taxing, even though the pass was just 5400m.

402. En route up to the Yala La Pass and just where the yarsagumba was found. Below is the kharka above Pung Kharka.

403. The steep descent to the west of the Yala La Pass, 5414. The yarsagumba collectors descended with ease in the crocs while we were much more cautious in our boots.

The descent was much more difficult than I had anticipated with large steep snowfields on the west side. They were about 35 degrees but as they were south facing they were generally soft. However where rocks protruded they were icy. I was thankful for the yarsagumba hunters who had come this way a month ago when it was all snow. They bounded across the slopes with great confidence and even the giggling girls caught me up and overtook me. Beneath the snowfields were slabs, covered in wet gravel and between the snowfields were slabs covered in dry gravel which had been levelled by 1000s of feet into a loose path, which I don’t think even an unladen horse would have managed. Santos took an unusual route and got into a bit of difficulty on the icy interface between slab and snowfield and even Dawa was very unhappy at a couple of sections as both had shoes with virtually no tread. I moved very gingerly until I was off the steep sections and onto a large shallower snowfield when I overtook the giggling girls.

404. At the bottom of the snowfields after Yala la Pass. The steeper snowfields cannot really be seen. The pass is centre right.

The path now had two more sections of steeper descents on zig-zags covered in dry gravel. Where this sat on bare rock everyone had to be quite cautious until at last we spilled out onto the valley floor. The yarsagumba hunters from Jumla now fanned out and dropped to their hand and knees and a few had a lot of luck and found a couple in half an hour. I left them and followed the path down the crest of a small moraine ridge for a good couple of km. The sun came and went and lit the grassy valley up when the occasional clouds did not obscure it. I noticed there were people on their knees everywhere in the valley, I spied perhaps 100 of them. After the moraine ridge ended the valley opened out even more into a huge grassy shelf between the high craggy mountains on each side and the burgeoning stream. After the Chyandi Khola entered the valley from the north where it rose at the bottom of a glacier beneath a large mountain covered in icefalls, the stream swelled and was now a raging torrent. There were some nice camp spots here, and I waited for the others at one and slumbered in the sun. The yarsagumba hunters all streamed passed and after half an hour Bharat and Co arrived. He wanted to forego these campspots in favour of the large cave down valley which the yarsagumba hunters were staying at and said had good campsites. I was sceptical and warned all that if the cave was unsuitable we would not stay but would push on. It was a gamble and a few were hesitant about continuing.

405. Yarsagumba collectors’ tents high up the Chayandi Khola valley at about 4800 metres. About 6-8 people will spend a month in these tents looking for yarsagumba all day, before packing up and returning to their villages hopefully with a few hundred pieces each.

The grassy shelf in the valley narrowed and started to slope a bit when we reached a large yarsagumba camp with about 30 conical tents. A few tents had already gone leaving a circle of yellow grass where the storm flaps covered the grass and an inner circle bare earth and detritus of plastic wrappers and bottles, some glass, where the inhabitants had stayed. When I saw this I was worried about the cave below where we were heading. As the valley narrowed more a gorge started to form and the path was forced down to the tumbling torrent. It followed a difficult line at the bottom of the eroded embankments for a good hour. At one stage it climbed over a very slippery steep buttress and I after watching the others struggle thought it was easier to wade the torrent to avoid it. I was lucky as there was a birch log bridge to recross 100m lower down.  As I finished shuffling over the bridge, shorts dripping wet, I found myself at the cave camp.

406. Santos descending a tricky bit in the lower part of the Chyandi Khola before it got too difficult to follow and a buttress force us up and over a high spur.

It was much worse than I feared. The cave was barely an overhang and it was full of old fire paces many of which the Jumla yarsagumba hunters were now using, there was no room for us under the overhang which would not have kept us dry in a rain shower if there was any southerly wind anyway. Beyond the overhang was a flatter area but about 15 tents had recently vacated the area and it was covered in rubbish and broken glass and what was natural was dense clumps of thorn bushes. I told Bharat the tent was not getting unpacked in this area. The three porters also thought it was grim. I used Bharat to quiz the friendliest of the Jumla hunters and he said there was another spot at the confluence of the 2 rivers half an hour downstream. I guessed the half an hour would be an hour but there was no option as I was not staying here.

We had a quick meal of noodles and I set of while the others packed. There was no bridge across the raging torrent below here so we had to stay on the north side of it, as crossing it now was dangerous. However the path was virtually non-existent or I lost it. I followed the torrent down beneath crumbling eroded banks, usually very steep. After half an hour when I was once forced into knee deep water but a buttress I arrived at an impasse. A buttress rose from the raging waters and it was impossible to climb round or wade round. The others arrived after 10 minutes and we had a conference. In the meantime Ramesh had a hunch the path was higher and went off to explore while Dawa, our climbing expert, had a go at the buttress. Dawa said it was too difficult with loads but Ramesh returned to say he found the path and it lead, very, very steeply over a spur.

The climb up to the path, which was barely visible, and then up the spur was indeed steep. I could hardly get traction on the sandy soil and the others were slipping under their loads. After 100 metres or so of this struggle up through the scrub and thorn bushes we crested the spur. The descent was just as steep but it was down through Himalayan Birch, with the woodland floor covered in blue geraniums. After slithering down the earth slope we arrived at the much smaller Kaitpuchonam Khola which looked wadeable. The spur we just climbed over was the spur between the two torrents, each in its own canyon.

We all waded the Kaitpuchonam Khola and to its west bank and there under some large birch trees was a lovely camping spot which we could just squeeze the large tent into. Everyone was delighted, especially the porters who had been carrying their very heavy, but diminishing daily, loads for well over eight hours. Ramesh set about making a kitchen, while Bharat and Dawa collected firewood to dry the shoes and socks. It was a nice peaceful end to another long day, with just the roar of the torrents audible. We were supposed to stop three hours upstream in the meadows but I am glad we have got the difficult section down the north side of the Chyandi Khola out of the way as it mean we can go for the high camp of the next 5000 metre pass tomorrow, which will make its crossing much easier.

June 02. Kaitpuchonam Khola to Chyargo La High Camp east. 12 km. 5 hours. 1130m up. 840m down.  After a nice night tucked away between the large birches beside the roaring river we woke to a foggy damp morning. As usual Santos was up first to make the team tea. We then got up, breakfasted, packed up and were off by 0700. The path had to climb some 450 metres over a spur between the Chyandi and the Takya Khola streams, both of them in gorges. Our first task was to climb west out of the gorge we camped in.

Dawa led the way up a steep and muddy path in the mist. There was very little to see except the scrubby bushes which were wet with dew and soaked our legs and feet. After 200 metres the others paused to rest but with my lighter load I wanted to carry on to the top. I climbed perhaps another 100 metres and seemed to break through the mist getting the occasional view down the Chyandi khola valley. I could see it remained in a gorge with steep sides and these were often covered in birch or a conifer, Bhutan pine I think. As I climbed further the gradient eased and the views improved with frequent sunny intervals. I could see all the way up the Chyandi Khola behind me to where the cave camp was, then the silvery ribbon of the torrent led up to the flatter grassy areas where the yarsagumba camp was and in the far distance I could see the pass we came over yesterday. Ahead the small faint path curved round the bowl as it slowly climbed up to the crest of the spur.

407. Looking east back up the Chyandi Khola from the spur between it and the Takla Khola. This descent down the north (left) side of the stream gave us problems yesterday.

408. Looking west from the spur between the Chanandi and Takla Khola streams up the Chhimaru Khola stream valley to our next campsite at the last green. The pass goes up left of the camp and small pointed peak.

It was a lovely traverse up, full of flowers and small shrubby bushes in bloom. However many were thorny and overhung the path and my bare legs were scratched. After nearly two hours I finally scrambled up the last band of rock to reach the three small chortens which marked the crest of the ridge. It was sunny and most of the mist had cleared but some lingered on distant ridges and gave the landscape a mysterious atmosphere. To the west the spur dropped away to Takya Khola deep in the valley some 700 metres below. It seemed remarkably close and I could easily make out individual trees on the valley floor. The Takya Khola stream seemed massive though and there was no way we could wade it so I prayed for a bridge. Beyond it was the gently sloping Chhimimau Khola valley which looked green and verdant with many copses of birch trees. Near the top of this valley was a meadow just at the foot of the Chyargo La Pass. It was here we intended to camp.

I could not see the others so I had my snack and was just about to snooze in the sun when they appeared at the top of the side ridge. We relaxed for 15 minutes before setting off. On the descent we passed through a vast patch of white flowers, which had geranium type leaves but were not geraniums. It was a spectacular and soothing sight. The path traversed down the hillside to a side spur and then crossed it to arrive at the top of a steep gully full of old venerable birch. The path now plummeted down through this verdant wood zig-zagging wildly. Occasionally I dislodged a stone and it just rolled down through the grass and geranium undergrowth so steep was the descent.

It took us down to the valley floor where the stream roared. On the other side at the confluence of two streams was a flatter area covered in large Bhutan pines and birch. One of the pines had been undercut by the torrent and had collapsed across the stream spanning it creating a natural bridge. I was ahead so crossed and then took up a viewing seat amongst the pines waiting to photo the others crossing. They all crossed with aplomb and confidence. There were some nice campsites here but it was just 1100. Instead we decided to have a full blown meal which took 40 minutes to cook and another 40 to eat and digest. It was a rare moment to relax in the middle of the day. While Ramesh cooked we tidied up the campsites and burnt some of the discarded plastic and clothing, left by hundreds of yarsagumba hunting groups. It was a lovely setting and I could easily have been in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California such was the temperature, the mix of trees and the roar of the streams.

409. Bharat crossing the Takya Khola on a fortuitous log which saved us wading the powerful and cold torrent.

After lunch we headed up the Chhimimau Khola side valley towards the 22nd 5000m pass, the Chyargo La, 5150m. This valley was a paradise. Huge Himalayan birches, many specimen trees, grew in copses of diminishing size as we ascended. Between the copses were masses of rose bushes all in flower, with either white or pink flowers. There were also some meadows where umbellifers thrived, especially Angelica and what looked like wild rhubarb. There were mauve geraniums everywhere especially under the birches and when we ascended more there were pink ones. The ferocious frothing tumbled down boulders and it was still frequently spanned by snow bridges of avalanche debris, now dirty as the embedded grit and stone was coming to the surface. It was so green and verdant I could easily have imagined I was in the mountains of west Norway.

410. The view up to the Charygo La Pass, 5150m, from near our campsite. The last section was quite steep.

411. The last section of climbing to reach the top of the Charygo La Pass. The top of the pass was covered in chortens and prayer flags.

As we ascended though the sun became more hesitant to show itself and the lush birch woods and verdant undergrowth vanished and the berberis, dwarf juniper and tussock grass took over. By the time we reached the green plateau I had seen a few hours ago rain threatened and the meadow surface was actually scrubby and lumpy. In addition there was a cold wind. However we found an exposed breezy site for the tent and had it up just as the rain arrived. We could not fashion a kitchen for Ramesh and he had to endure an hour and a half of miserable weather while he cooked the evening meal for us. He was wrapped up well but had water dripping off the end of his nose and fingers the whole time. He brought all the pots into the tent to serve up to the rest of us who were sheltering in the warmth.  Now we have left Dolpo and the protective ranges to the south of it I think we can expect wetter weather for the next fortnight.

412. The view east from the top of the Charygo La Pass. At the bottom is our campsite and in the distance the mountains around Yala La Pass from a couple of days ago.

3 July. Chyargo La High Camp east to Shilenchaura Charka. 22km.  8.5 hours. 810m up. 2240m down. The weather had completely changed by the morning and it had all the promise of a glorious day. Santos as usual made us all tea at 0530 and we were off by 0700. As we prepared to go a large team of some 30 yarsagumba collectors from Jumla went past. They were all of the Lama caste and were friendly and chatty. We walked past the enormous spring, crossed the tiny stream about the spring and started up the slope to the Chyargo La pass. It was a straight 700m climb up a mix of grassy sections and less frequent boulder sections. The Lama group were going the same way and we often walked together. With the sun out it became warm very quickly. Towards the top of the climb some great views opened up but cloud patches obscured some of the peaks. The Kanti Himal range to the north looked very impressive.

413. Looking north from the top of the Charygo La Pass to one of the mountains in the Kanti Himal on the Tibet border some 8 km away.

414. Looking west from the Chargyo La Pass down the Chham Khola valley where we are about to descend to Thajuchaur meadow and on to Shilenchaura Kharka to camp.

415. A group of yarsagumba collectors heading home to Jumla after a month in the mountains. This group were all lamas, an ethnic group in Nepal of Bhuddist folk you live in the higher hill regions.

Towards the top was a section where stones embedded in the snowfields above broke free and rolled down the slope. It happened about three times. There were shouts from the Lamas to warn everyone each time one came down. I passed the alley where the stones rolled down and then heard shouts. I looked up to see a stone rolling down to Ramesh and co who had stopped in the alley. I shouted “dunga” but I think they were already aware of it. It missed Dawa by about five metres. There were a few small snowfields to cross before the pass which was surprisingly steep for the last 20 or so metres. The pass itself was covered in stone chortens. There were about 30 of them, and all were connected by prayer flags. It was a very colourful pass. Half the lamas were here having a picnic. The views here were great and I took many photos. To the west lay the rest of the day which involved a long 2200m descent all the way down the valley to the Mugu Karnali. The mountains each side of this valley, The Chamm Khola, were relatively modest at under 6000m, but held a surprising amount of snow and ice and were very imposing.

416. The Lamas all heading down the west side of the Charygo La pass. They were heading home to Jumla some 3-4 days hard walking away.

The descent was down boulders, the remnants of snowfields, and the steep grass for about 500 metres. The Lama group just behind were singing and whooping as they slid down the snowfields on their bums. There was a festive mood with them now they were returning to their village after a month in a tent, grafting all day on their hands and knees. Some had collected as many as 700 yarsagumba which they would sell for about US$7 each.

After this steeper, taxing section the valley became a gentle grassy slope for the next hour all the way to the huge meadow of Thajuchaur. It was easy walking, the flowers were stunning, the scenery was breathtaking, and the weather was great. It is rare one gets such a gentle stroll in Nepal but this was certainly one. The white geranium type flower was everywhere and the whole meadow was covered in it. There were also copses of birch and amongst them were small tents of yarsagumba collectors. It seemed through there was an exodus from the hunting grounds back to the villages. At the end of Thajuchaur were a couple of seasonal tent bhattis selling provisions at inflated prices to the collectors and then the Babar Khola stream, which I could just cross by hopping across stones.

417. Approaching the large lush meadow at Thajuchaur. The meadow had some yarsagumba collectors’ camps, but no herders were based here.

After this the valley changed drastically as it became heavily wooded with birch and it also narrowed into a V shape with an ever increasing roaring torrent to the south of the path. Often the birch woods were a joy to walk through as it was cool, verdant and lush. The path crossed the torrent to the south side over a log bridge, then back to the north across a vast snow bridge, then back to the south side again over another snowbridge of avalanche debris and finally to the north side again over a log bridge, all in the space of 2 km. If the snow bridges were not there I am not sure where the path would go as each side had buttresses which the crossings avoided. The vegetation was lush and it smelt of full summer with the umbellifers pungent as they dominated where the trees were absent.

418. Some of the very fertile vegetation just below Thajuchaur meadow. The valley was warm, humid and everything was bursting into summer foliage.

About half way down on the south side was a vast bowl which rose up nearly 3 km to glaciated ramparts of a cirque of peaks. Huge avalanches must crash down this bowl each winter as the bottom of the bowl was bare, all vegetation devastated annually. On the north side of the torrent only willows and short lived plants could survive, at one stage there was a field of umbellifers nearly my height.

After this bowl the path entered fir forests, they were the western form of the Himalayan Silver Fir I think, although they were no bigger than the normal variety. They still had the same resinous smell.  The firs and birch grew together in a delightful forest with sparse undergrowth except in the glades where lush, verdant plants erupted. The path in some of these areas was also a delight as it was easy underfoot and near level due to the topography of the valley. However it was not to last.

419. As the path descended to Shilenchaur Kharka and the great Mugu Karnali river more and more conifers appeared and the path was a delight until the valley sides closed in and a gorge formed.

420. The gorge just before meeting the Mugu Karnali river was deep and the path steep. The sides of the gorge were lined with conifers were the rock allowed.

Soon the torrent started a ferocious descent towards the Mugu Karnali gorge a kilometre down over 3 kilometres distance. The path stayed on the north side dropping steeply but occasionally it had to climb over spurs, some with frightening exposed drops into the gorge. The trees now became very mixed with Bhutan Pine and West Himalayan Spruce and all manner of deciduous trees including poplars. All the conifers were heavy with cones forming, purple erect ones for the firs and drooping green ones for the pines and spruce. All the time the roar of the torrent, which was just short of a waterfall, was everywhere reverberating off the walls of the gorge. It took a good two hours from the bowl and four from Thajachaur meadow to descend roughly down to the level of the Mugu Karnali. Here the path could not really follow the north bank any more due to the bouldery terrain so it crossed over the Chhar Khola, which was now just a rushing torrent rather than a shade short of a waterfall, on a solid log bridge. The path on the south side undulated through the exclusively spruce forest now, with some huge trees, for a km until it came to a tent bhatti. There was another good bridge over to the north side and a flat sandy area at the bottom of the spur between the Chhar Khola and the Mugu Karnali. There was a sheltered area in the mixed woods here which was ideal for camping. I went on a bit to look at the bridge over the Mugu Karnali but could see there were a lot of bhattis on the other side and did not want to enter into that kind of commercial life just yet so retreated back to the clearing to camp. The others arrived after a few minutes.

We had set up the camp when suddenly the 30 or so Lamas arrived. They had five large conical tents and cut down five small trees as a centre pole. They then lit five fires. I was worried sparks might land on our tent but they kept the fires small. After nightfall the others went over to one of the tents where there was some singing and joined in. The women of that group were very melodic and kept a good harmony. I imagine that Santos and Dawa, both good singers, quickly found their voice.

421. The returning group of Lamas who were going to Jumla camped beside us. There were about 30 of them in all and they were delighted to be going home. They sang songs round their camp fire for a few hours and Bharat, Ramesh,Santos and Dawa joined them.

4 July. Shilenchaura Charka to Mugugoan. 9 km.  3.5 hours. 590m up. 150m down. There was a thunderstorm as it was getting light and the rain poured down on the tent. Santos did not spring up at 0530 but had to be encouraged at 0600 just as the rain was easing. The group of lamas in their five tents were already well on the way to dismantling their camp and setting off. We eventually set off around 0730. It was wet underfoot and all the branches we had to push through were dripping wet. I walked with four Jumla ladies who were returning from the yarsagumba and they showed me where the bridge was. It was a good km upstream from where we camped. En route up to it we walked beside the Mugu Karnali on the bank with branches dripping on us and slippery boulders underfoot.

I had expected the Mugu Karnali to be big, but it was huge and certainly in spate. This winter and spring’s heavy snowfall was leading to an increased melt and the water level was lapping at the trees and shrubs along the bank. The river itself was very powerful and very fast. I reckoned it was moving at over 15kmph, about as fast as I could run. It would have swept the biggest horse away and even an elephant would have to be extremely selective where it crossed. Me and the four Jumla ladies cross on a log bridge. Usually I was blasé about the log bridges but on this one I was very cautious as one slip into the river would be my last slip. On the other side the Jumla ladies lined up for a photo.

422. Crossing the Mugu Karnali on a log and stone cantilever bridge. One slip here on the wet logs and it was all over. These ladies crossing were also yarsagumba collectors on the way home.

423. The four ladies crossing the Mugu Karnali Bridge and now on their way home with their yarsagumba to sell. They were also going to Jumla.

On the map there was a road from here to Mugugoan, and indeed on to a 5000m pass on the Tibet border. However there was no road at all to Mugugaon, it was just a mule track with occasional rocky parts or stream crossings. You might be able to take a scrambler motorbike along most of it but that was all. Walking was easy and pleasant though as the gradient was shallow. I walked up the west bank now and was soon into spruce and pine forest. Poplars were also common, their leaves fluttering even though there was no wind. All the time the roar of the river was ever present and almost oppressive. Where the path was very close there was a spray in the air which occasionally formed small rainbows. Behind me the skies were clear now and I could see the snowy ridges of the mountains we walked beneath yesterday.

After two hours there was an old long bridge across the river where a gargantuan boulder overhung the track. It lead to a path on the other side which went up to Ura Gompa sited on a spruce clad spur on the other side. I could see the glistening stupas and the prayer flags fluttering. I did not visit as I had been before. A little after was a new suspension bridge to yet another monastery which looked new. The tall conifers now petered out and the small junipers took over the hillsides. Beneath they was a blaze of flowers especially the iris type plant and white geranium type flowers. I photographed many of them. Ahead I could see the river continue to rise up to a lip. I knew that beyond the lip was a beautiful meadow where the river was much lazier and braided. It was beside this meadow that the village of Mugugoan sat.

424. Looking down the torrent of the Mugu Karnali as it crashed down the valley towards our previous campsite at Shilenchaur Kharka. About six rivers this size join to form the Karnali, a major tributary of the Ganges.

425. The Mugu Karnali as it leaves the flat valley where Mugugaon village is. For the next 10 km the valley above Mugugaon is a pastoral Shangri-La.

At the lip I passed a variety of chortens and kami gates to enter the meadow. The village had a lot more tin roofs and had added many more buildings since I was last here. I crossed the small bridge over the slower deeper river as it meandered across the meadow and entered the village. Many of the older rickety stone buildings which seemed to have unique stick and mud walls seemed to have collapsed or fallen down. And newer stone built one with tin roofs built in their place. I met someone who had a tent bhatti and he said his uncle had a nice homestay. It was in one of the newer buildings. His English was remarkably good.  There was a great kitchen Ramesh could use and the four lads could comfortably sleep in it while I had a musty room beneath them with lots of wooden chest sealed with mud so mice could not get to the grains stored inside. It had a balcony with a great view over the meadow and he river, which formed a flat island. On the island was a statue of Buddha emerging from a lotus flower. I showed our host pictures from our last visit and they included the families’ prayer room of the homestay we used. It was the same family. They had knocked the previous house down and built this one on the same plot. The previous host was now in the monastery and his son had taken over.

426. One of the rickety houses in Mugugaon with its log ladders to go from one floor to the next. Since I was last here about half of these older houses had been pulled, or fallen, down. There were replaced with stone houses with tin roofs.

The village had a couple of provision suppliers, a small hydro plant, the monastery and a large presence of police due to its proximity with Tibet and the trading route over the nearby pass. The police were also here to monitor the yarsagumba collectors who might number a few thousand in the valleys around here. The only issue was there was no kerosene. We had three litres to get us from here to Simikot, about seven days away which was not nearly enough, but much of it was below the treeline so we could use wood. The host said he could also organize a horse for us to take us over the Takya Lek pass, about 5020m, about one and a half days march north of here. It is not a trekking pass at all but one which must be used by yarsagumba collectors and one which I went over 11 years ago when last here.

This resupply point at Mugu seemed the best place to end Section 12. Upper Dolpo, even though we left Dolpo three days ago at Yala La pass. Lower and Upper Dolpo, from Kagbeni to Mugugaon, had been the most fascinating sections so far and also one of the most challenging. The passes had not been that hard but there were eight of them over 5000 metres. I had expected a more rolling landscape but instead there were high mountains and massifs riven by huge impassable canyons and gorges. What added to the enjoyment of trekking through Dolpo was the culture, from the medieval villages like Chharka Bhot, Dho Tarap, Ringmo and Bijer to the mysterious gompas like Phoksumdo and Shey and the eclectic Buddhism they practiced. The people of Dolpo were also genuinely friendly and like no others in Nepal, except for Limi Valley. The people here are essentially Tibetan and by quirk of geography and politics remain part of the original Tibetan culture now being erased in Tibet by China. It has been my equal favourite section so far, along with the high passes between Makalu and Everest.  The Next one, Section 13. Mugu to Humla, is well off the beaten path and off piste.

Section 12. Upper Dolpo. 10 Days. 170 km. 62 hours. 10580m up. 11010m down.


16 June. Kagbeni to Bhina Lojun La. 15 km. 5.5 hours. 1640m up.  130m down. It took a while to get everything sorted out in the morning as we had to buy food for a good week. We bought it from the hotel who gave us a good price as they sourced it locally. By the time it had been divided up among Ramesh, Santos and Dawa and put into their loads they came to about 35kg, of which 12kg was supplies and the rest camping gear. We set off around 0900 and had to be a little surreptitious as we did not have a permit for Upper Mustang. We were just going along the border for two or three days and there was very little information on it. It was a grey area and we did not want to draw attention to ourselves. Not having a permit also saved me US$1000.

We sneaked past the Annapurna Conservation Area Office which was closed and padlocked. However someone shouted and I was sure it was for me. I ignored them and carried on into the warren of streets which led to the bridge. I was first then Santos and Bharat and the other two were a minute behind. Apparently it was a policeman shouting at me and Bharat said I was right to ignore it as they were powerless. I crossed the bridge and then went up the west side of the Kali Gandaki for half a km before I replaced my new shoes and got my walking poles out. Across the river the old and new monasteries of Kagbeni stood proud and they were surrounded by a cluster of old houses making the town look like an ancient outpost in Tibet or Central Asia.

330. The hamlet of Tirigaon just upstream from Kagbeni on the west side of the Kali Gangdaki River.

I walked another half km and then started to climb up a dry arid hillside covered in gravel. The small hamlet of Tirigaon unfolded below me on the banks of the river. It too had a small monastery on a hillock above the hamlet. It was a very rural, ancient looking community. The route now climbed quite quickly up the hillside weaving between thorny scrub bushes, which were probably the only thing which would tolerate the dryness. It climbed up for a good hour to a small lake, called Tiri Tal, above which were a cluster of single storey stone buildings used for herding. The shelters were large and stone built with a compound and a very large section under a flat earthen roof. The walls of the compound were topped with firewood and dry thorn scrub. It was as if all the animals were taken into the compound at night and some vulnerable ones even taken inside. This was an area where wolves roamed freely across the border with Tibet some 40 km to the north.

Above the herders’ large shelters and lake the path climber up to a small pass which was really a notch on the ridge at 3810m, a 1000 above Kagbeni. It was very windy now and a griffon vulture could not fly against the wind and wanted to head south through the pass. It swooped down on the north side, then skipped up on foot to the pass itself, unfurled its wings and rose into the air and slowly punched into the strong wind until it gained some distance from the wind funnel and speeded up. It knew what it was doing and was very skilful at reading the conditions.

From this small pass the path joined a track and traversed up the hillside going into a gully and then coming out to round a spur an hour from the pass. There were some huge views here. To the south I could look across the Kali Gandaki valley to the Annapurna Massif and I think I could see the main peak, Annapurna I, beyond the fluted ridges of Nilgiri. To the north was Upper Mustang, which was absolutely desolate without even scrub bushes. There were just a couple of villages near the river. They must have been located where groundwater seeped out of the rocky hillside to form a green oasis of willow trees around which the stone houses were built in their shade. There must have been enough water to irrigate a network of terraced fields which looked like they had ripening barley and potatoes growing in them. The villages were called Tangbe and Chhusang. Around them and up to the north was a rocky desert with no sign of and vegetation. It was a desolate scene and I wondered how the people of Upper Mustang survived other than by trading. Far to the east were large 6000 metre mountains, dry and brown except for their summits which were covered in white snow and glaciers. It was the very remote Damodar Himal and its melting snows where probably the only water source in that area which was too high for settlements as the surrounding land was about 4500m. There was a trek through the middle of this himal called the Saribung Trek and it goes over a crevassed 6000m pass.

It was to the west I was now heading up a very deep valley which was far below me. The track traversed high above the almost inaccessible valley floor deep in a gorge a good 1000 metres below me. I could see where the valley rose up to a pass to cross a watershed into Dolpo. It looked like it would take at least two days to reach the 5550 metre pass, called Jungben La. First we would have to traverse up the south flank of the valley to reach the remote village of Santa. It was hidden behind spurs and probably a good half days walk away.

From this spur I could see the track went into a side valley and then came out to go over another spur at a notch in the ridge called Bhima Lojun La, 4460m. It was still a good two hours to get there and the others with their heavy loads were far behind. Despite the track traversing the side valley under jagged 6000m peaks with huge snowfields on their north side there was no water as it all flowed under the settled moraine of a now vanished glacier. Occasionally the grass was green and yaks grazed on the pastures but generally it was brown and dry. Further down where the streams emerged from under the moraine it was much greener and the valley sides were covered in Himalayan birch. I had now choice but to head across these dry meadows, where there were some lovely campsites, to Bhima Lojun La and hope there was something on the other side. With tired legs I slogged up the last slope of shale to have a new vista suddenly unfold west in from of me.

I headed west along the track, flushing some very nervous blue deer, for about 10 minutes when I came across a trickle of ground water emerging from a cutting in the track. There was enough of a flow to fill bottles. Just beyond it there was a wider area in the seldom used track which was quite sandy. It was a tolerable campsite and had I passed it the next might be in an hour or three. Given it was 1600 and the others were far behind I decided to stop here and see if they liked it. They arrived an hour later and we decided it was fine so up went the large tent which had been in Kathmandu since Rolwaling. Ramesh cooked a great Dalbhat on the large stove and we piled into the tent at 2000. It was a tight squeeze with the five of us. It was like old times again camping after the luxury of three or four weeks’ worth of teahouses and lodges. The dust of Mustang and Dolpo was going to coat everything though.

June 17. Bhina Lojun La to Ghalden Ghuldun Khola. 18km. 6 hours. 860m up. 1150m down. The sun hit the tent at about 0530. It was easy to get up as it was warm, still and clear unlike the last times we were in the tent when it was freezing. We decided to skip breakfast and just have tea as the village of Santa was just two hours away and it had a rustic shop. I left first after packing up the dust covered tent and headed down the track. There were many kongma (snow grouse) chuckling away beside the track as I walked along it. They took off as I passed and glided down to lower slopes. To the south of me 6000m mountains rose up steeply there glaciers and snowfields melting into small streams which disappeared under masses of moraine debris to emerge well below the road again. The valley below was even more inhospitable than yesterday with a deep crumbling eroded gorge. Here and there were large herds of goats scouring the dry slopes for anything edible.  They had been doing this fore centuries and the whole hillside was covered in their small paths.

331. The village of Santagaon was the only village in the valley. In the winter the inhabitants moved to the slightly higher, but south facing, Ghok further up the valley.

I followed the track for an hour and a half when it went over a spur and started to drop steeply. I shortcutted the hairpins on the goat paths until suddenly below me were the green irrigated fields and the flat mud roof of Santagaon. It looked like it was still in the fifteenth century with the exception of the blue tin roof on the school. The tractor track we walked along was its only link with the outside world and this was new replacing the centuries old footpath. I went down to the village and asked for the local shop. Almost immediately a lady came running over. Yes she has a shop and she could cook for us. She escorted me down to her house through a warren of passages and led me into the ground floor which was full of hay and farming implements. From here there was a log stair to the first floor where the kitchen and “shop” was. It was mostly a storage room of rice sacks, mule saddles, ropes and more tools. In the open area on the first floor she had a fire under a raksi still and was distilling a pot of fermented corn. The still was simple and the evaporated alcohol condensed on a pot of cold water above and dripped into another pot to produce something around 20% by volume. She started cooking the dalbhat before the other arrived as it always take at least an hour. When Ramesh arrived he jumped into to kitchen to help.

As the meal was cooking I wandered from the village taking photos of the houses and fields. It was a busy village and the fields were lively with people cutting barley and weeding potatoes. One lady invited me into her home to take photos and then tried to sell me weavings and jewellery stones. They were an entrepreneurial village and must have been well organized as all the terraces were surrounded by one kilometre long stone wall to keep the goats and yaks out. The wall was in very good repair and seemed to do a great job as all the irrigated crops were thriving. Back at the house I had my dalbhat with the others and then we set off again. Our host pointed out where we were going by a village called Ghok on the other side of the main gorge. Ghok was higher than Santa by a couple of hundred metres but she explained that Ghok was the winter village of Santa and everyone mover here for a few months. It must be on account Santa was north facing and Ghok south facing.

We left and I went ahead, as the others sampled some of her raksi. The path was a tortuous one as it traversed down into a side valley crossed a suspension bridge and then climber some 400 metres up the ridge on the other side. Here there was a large pasture with one man looking after some 300-400 goats and 25 yak. The path then traversed the hillside for a couple of km passing Ghok on the other side. It really did look like it was from the fifteenth century with no track to it or tins roofs to spoil the flat stone roof harmony. Ghok looked empty at the moment and its fields were uncultivated. After passing Ghok the path dropped down steeply into the main valley and cross the dirty muddy torrent on another suspension bridge. From the bridge there was another steep 400 metre climb up to two huts. The path up was occasionally hazardous and a slip would have been fatal, however the mules managed it. I passed many old juniper trees, probably over 1000 years old on the climb. This was also the only route to Ghok the villagers of Santa on their yearly migration.

The two huts Ghalden Ghuldun Khola were more shelters. One was used by mule drivers and was unlocked but contained masses of sacks of rice and cement en route somewhere. The other hut was clean and empty, and we commandeered it, after sweeping it out with a juniper branch. A mule train arrived soon after and they went into the other shelter. They were also going over the Jungben La Pass, 5550m, tomorrow to trade with Dolpo. Once we crossed the pass we would be out of the restricted area of Upper Mustang and into Dolpo for which we had a permit and although no official would ever come to Santa let alone here it would be a relief.

June 18. Ghalden Ghuldun Khola to 7 km below Nalungsumda Kharka. 27 km. 8 hours. 1380m up. 860m down. I set my alarm for 0445 as we all wanted an early start. Ramesh and Santos as usual were up quickly and got the stove going while the rest of us packed. We had tea and instant noodle for breakfast and then Ramesh gave me cheese, biscuits and a snickers for packed lunch. It was going to be needed. We set of at 0600 and started up the steep slope behind the hut. It was misty which was a surprise in this area. We climbed up through the last of the junipers and berberis on the gravelly slope. The rock here was friable and readily broke into rectangular blocks. I think it was some sort of shale or mudstone and the whole hillside was covered in small fragments. We zig-zagged up it, flirting with the mist which came and went. I was soon ahead as I was not burdened with a 33 kg load, as set off to reach the top in one go while the others paused. Pigeons and kongma were prolific on the climb despite the barren hillside. On one occasion I flushed a mother kongma and she feigned injury to lure me away from her unseen and camouflaged brood. Slowly but surely I gained the pass which was steep at the top and adorned with prayer flags. It was not the real top but just an 800 metre warm up. I was up in two hours so had a snooze at the top while the others laboured up with their loads and arrived after three hours.

332. Crossing the Thasan Khola stream as it entered a gorge below our camp. We had to cross this stream a total of four times.

From this pass we could look west across a barren valley with a clear stream at the bottom and on to the real pass of Jungben La, 5550m. The valley was not very deep and the path traversed the hillside until the stream came up to meet it so we lost very little height. The stream disappeared from sight to the south were it eventually joined the stream we crossed yesterday in the canyon. I set off for the valley floor first across the hillside and disturbed a small herd of blue sheep. I could not imagine how they found enough vegetation to survive. The traverse to the stream was much quicker than I thought and I quickly reached the foot of the pass where there was a hut. The area around the hut was bustling with marmots which were rightfully very nervous of humans who ate them. We had lunch here looking at the 500 metre climb up to the snowy ridge.

The climb was not as bad as it looked and within an hour I was approaching the crest which was covered in a snowfield which was melting into spikes of snow resembling a stalagmite. Luckily there was a way through to reach the pass cairn wrapped in prayer flags. It was a high pass and there were great views in all directions except the south where the 8000 peak of Dhaulagiri was covered in cloud. To the north was the stream I crossed an hour earlier and it drained a barren basin of red, ochre and brown rocky mountains. The very distant ones were topped with glaciers and they must have been feeding the stream. To the east was the Damodar Himal, also just barren hillsides topped with a dollop glacier. To the south of them was Thurong La pass between Manang and Kagbeni which we came over four days ago.

It was to the west the view was most pertinent as this was the way we were heading. I was delighted to see a gently sloping valley covered in dry brown pastures which would no doubt green up when the sparse monsoon rains watered them. The path down from the pass and across the wide open pastures looked easy and fast to follow as it was nearly flat. I could see yak slowly moving about on the open expanses. The other joined me on the pass after about half an hour and they looked tired. We all decided to have a lie down in the shelter of the large cairn and enjoy the heat of the sun. We slept for half an hour by which time the porters were full of life again. We had a long photo session with various cameras and then prepared to go.

I was well rested so blasted down the path towards the arid pastures. The plants here were few and far between and the small grass clumps had been grazed right down to the roots. It was mostly alpines and cushion plants which thrived up here at nearly 5500m in this arid climate similar to the Tibetan plateau. I photographed many of the plants for later identification. As I dropped down to about 5200m I reached the pastures. Yak grazed everywhere or were sitting chewing cud in the sun. There were many calves here sticking very close to their mothers in this hostile environment. The yak had to share the meagre grass with many marmot who lived underground in burrows in the pastures. It was a delight to saunter down through this easy landscape amongst the yak, marmot and alpine flowers across the open wide valley.

The valley slowly started to narrow as dry stream beds formed and I descended into them. Soon water started to seep between the stones and a small stream formed. I followed it down for a few kilometres until the stream widened out at a confluence. There were greener pastures here but no animals. At the upper end of this pasture was a black tent made from woven yak hair. It resembled a nomadic tent from any Central Asian country, an iconic symbol of nomadic pastoralists. At the bottom of pasture were another five tents, some modern large canvas ones amongst them.

The lower end of the pasture was at the confluence of the Malung and Thasan streams according to the map. Some 4 km below this was Nulungsumda Kharka where I intended to camp. Unknown to me though it was wrongly placed on the map and I was already there, sitting in the sun waiting for the others. When they arrived we all agreed to carry on down to it hoping it would take an hour. When we reached the spot where it should be there was no pasture and no campsite, it was just barren rocky valley with a few hardy shrubs. Fortunately we met a herder going up to the kharka and he told us there was camping another hour down the valley beside a side stream.

The porters were tired as it had been a long day for them and I could see the disappointment in their faces. There was no option but to carry on for another hour down the narrowing rocky valley with no hope of camping. In the end we walked well over an hour before we came across a campsite near a sidestream. It was not as far as the man described but it would do us. We found a sheltered spot behind a gravel embankment to protect us from the stiff, cold breeze and put the tent up. While we put the tent up Ramesh made us all a cup of sweet, milky coffee. It was delicious. The tent was well pitched and the breeze barely ruffled it however Ramesh struggled to get the kerosene stove to work efficiently to cook the evening’s dalbhat and had to use sleeping mats as a windbreak. Inside the tent it was warm and cosy and as one of the porters said it was our home. It had been a long day and we all looked forward to a lie in tomorrow which I had promised.

June 19. 7 km below Nalungsumda to Charka Bhot. 16km. 6 hours. 290m up. 740m down. It snowed briefly in the night and Santos woke us all up shouting “Baloo, Baloo” as he had a nightmare with a bear. But the wind was negligible and we all slept well and had a lie in until 0630, by which tie the sun was already on the tent melting the snow. After noodles for breakfast we set off across the large pasture. The place was heaving with marmots which shuffled across the dry grass and dived into their burrows as soon as they saw us. I also saw a hare sprint across the grass and up a gravel gully. We made good time across the flat landscape for 2-3 km until the valley sides steepened and we went into a bit of a canyon.

Progress was slow now as the path was covered in stones which had fallen from the canyon sides. After a km we suddenly got to an impasse. There was no way we could go along the bank due to a buttress and the stream washed up against the base of the buttress. There was no alternative but to wade the stream to he west side. The rushing water was just knee deep but it was very very cold. I kept my shoes on and crossed first. The other all took their shoes off and came over bare feet with their loads. My feet would have been far too sensitive for this. We wandered down the rocky river bed on the west side until we were forced to wade the stream again. Twice more in the space of a km we had to wade again until at last the canyon opened up a bit and we could see the route. We stopped here to warm our feet. I changed my socks and the others put on their footwear having gone barefoot for the last half km.

It was a short walk out of the narrow gorge to where the Wari Yalkung khola steam came down out of a side valley carved into the ochre hills to the east. We stopped here on some grass beside its alluvial fan and had an early lunch. Luckily it was the end of the gorge section and all we had to do now was climb up the valley flank to gain a shelf high above the main stream which continued in a deep slot. The shelf was a delight to walk on as it slowly descended for well over an hour across the pastures of the arid hillside. Across the valley the river had cut away the rock to display some great folds in the rock strata, which must have taking gigantic forces. I cruised down across the sunny hillside alternating from dry pasture to slower stony sections. I noticed how many different alpines were growing here, with four different yellow ones alone. At the bottom of this section the path veered west and continued along a spur between the Thasen and Charka Khola streams until it could go no further and dropped down the steep bank to a bridge over the clear waters of the Thasen Khola, which we had already waded four times today.

The path now went along a shelf high above the combined streams for 3 km until it reached a bridge to the north side. After the shelf petered out and the path dropped down to the grassy river bank I came across many piles on mani stones. They were curious in that they were on top of a pile of stones a metre wide, a metre high and sometimes 50 metres long. The mani stones were small rounded river boulders which had a Tibetan script prayer carved on them and then stacked on the stones. The quality of the carving was not that good but I have never seen so many mani stones. I wondered if it was the work of one pious man. After crossing the river to the north bank we went past more mani stones in the same style until about a km later we reached Charka Bhot.

333. The village of Chharka Bhot was medieval and had probably not changed for centuries. Here is the nucleus of the old village situated on a knoll.

Charka Bhot was a special place out of another world. There were perhaps 50 houses here at 4300m in a very remote valley on an extension of the Tibetan Plateau beside the clear stream which was a river by now. It seemed a few of the houses catered for camping groups. I chose one which had a camping area in the compound other houses put their sheep and goats at night. It also had a small two storey building which had a room on the first floor we could use as a kitchen and a small two bed room above that. We took it as some could sleep in the kitchen and some upstairs above it and we need not bother setting up the tent in the compound. It also had a shed which was the toilet. They were containers to get water from the clear river and it seemed all households did this. Once we settled in I went for a wander.

334. Looking up the tributary which flowed into the Chharka Khola stream from the old village of Chharka Bhot on the knoll. The tributary was used to irrigate these fields, the mainstay of the agriculture in the area.

Charka Bhot was a marvel. Across the river were some three or four houses which were extremely old but now abandoned. However they still stood and were surrounded by a cluster of chortens. I wondered if it was an old monastery. The village was on the north side of the river where a side stream entered. This side stream cut the village in two. We were on the lower east side which was basically a long wide path with massive houses on each side. Each house had a large walled compound. The roofs of all the houses were covered in twigs and small branches which were collected from the river side. This fuel was seldom used and it was mostly yak dung which was burnt and the air was full of its sharp scent.

335. The houses in the old village were of a solid stone construction and looked like small castles. The walls were topped with scrub wood, much of it collected from the riverbanks.

336. Some of the houses in the old quarter of Chharka Bhot even had castellated towers. These houses were probably centuries old.

On the west side of the side stream was a higher knoll and there was a cluster of houses here. All seemed massive and looked like small citadels. There was a warren of alleyways between them and I entered them and explored the place. I met a few people up here and they were all perplexed what I was doing, which was just exploring and photographing the houses. The men were all fearsome with rugged complexions and long hair dressed in typical Dolpo cloths of sheep and yak hair. Sometimes they smiled, gold teeth flashing, and sometimes they frowned. The women just scurried past and seemed a bit uncomfortable with me being there. These houses also had compounds with many horses and mules in them.  It was the most fascinating village I had been to yet and this high knoll was the kernel of it.

337. Sheep and goats were also a mainstay in Chharka Bhot. Here is a returning flock being forced across the tributary towards the old village on the hill where they would be penned in a stone enclosure beside the owner’s house for the night for protection.

As I returned to our compound camp on the east side I noticed how extensive the fields were. They extended a good km up the side valley in neat terraces. They all seemed irrigated by a network of channels. At the moment all seemed to be planted in young barley which were barely seedlings. As I approached the bridge to the east side hundreds of sheep were streaming down the hillside into the village. There were five to seven people herding them and forcing them across the stream. Women were throwing the young goats into the stream if they were reluctant to wade. This herd of about 300 animals was then forced up the knoll to one of the houses and then they all went into a compound for the night. Then I saw another herd of 300 animals coming along the street in the lower east side and they too were forced across the stream and into a compound on the knoll. I took many photos but the light was poor. Back in the eastern half I encountered probably another five herds coming into the village for the night. One even went into the compound beside us and it was congested with about 300 animals. At last I could get some photos of people under the guise of taking photos of the herds of goats. There must have been about 3000-5000 beasts which were herded back to the village for the night from the surrounding hillsides. I assumed this was what Charka Bhot was founded on but there seemed there was also a history of trade. Indeed there must have been over 200 mules housed in other compounds around the village and I am sure many of these would try and trade with Tibet or other villages in Dolpo.

339. A flock of sheep and goats being herded through the street of Chharka Bhot to their stone enclosure for the night. Snow Leopard and wolf lived in thhe area and would take animal if not penned.

340. A lady from Chharka Bhot watches and herds sheep and goats as they return from the hillside to the stone enclosures for the night.

June 20. Charka Bot to Chap Chu. 14km 5.5 hours. 570m up. 540m down. It drizzled all night, without any thunder or wind. It was the type of rain which soaked into the soil and would green up the brown pastures quickly. We suspected it was the arrival of the monsoon and on the other side of the Himalayas it would be pouring in Pokhara and Kathmandu. We had a reasonably short day so we waited for the rain to ease and then stop and set off at 0900. It was clearing quickly and there were patches of blue sky appearing.

Bharat and myself went into the upper village again clustered around the knoll. It was a fascinating today as it was yesterday but was deserted. Everybody was out either in the irrigated terraced fields or were minding their herds of sheep and goats which seemed the mainstay of the village. After that we climbed past numerous chortons, mani walls and a couple of old kami gates in poor repair to leave the village. The path headed west along the hillside of a short hour until it split. This junction had cost me a lot of thought. Either I went north to for five or six days to Saldang and the Bijer through reasonably flat country, or I headed west over rough country to Phoksumdo Lake and Shey Gompa for 9 days to Bijer. The latter route was certainly longer and more challenging but it included the jewel of Dolpo which was Phoksumdo Lake. I felt the former route to Saldang was shirking a bit so at the junction took the left fork down the hill.

We passed a few herd of goats and sheep being looked after by younger girls. They all had baskets and a mattock type instrument for digging up the scrub so they could return home with a load of wood as well as their livestock. People in these communities on the edge of the modern world have responsibilities thrust upon them at an early age. The patches of blue sky now outnumbered the clouds and the ground was drying quickly as we descended to a large walled kharka where the muddy Chhuichen khola joined the main Charka khola. It was here the open valley narrowed veered south and headed into a gorge which we had to follow for about 6 km.

341. Crossing the Chharka Khola between Chharka Bhot and Chap Chu. This river also had to be crossed four times.

We hugged the west side walking on the gravel and boulders until the river squeezed up against a buttress and we had the choice of climbing high go over the buttress or wade across to the east side. We knew we had to cross the river a few times so all the others put on there wading shoes for the trip down the gorge and we plunged into the torrent which was bigger and faster than yesterday but considerably warmer. We followed the easy east bank down for a couple of km before a buttress on the east side forced us back to the west side again. The mule trains seemed to take this way when the river was low. Once back on the west side we met the tortuous path which took the high route when the river was in flood, which I am sure the mule trains could not manage.

342. Looking down the Chharka Khola river and the gorge it flowed into. The sheer walls of the gorge forced us to cross the river.

We followed the west side down alternating between sand, gravel, boulder and occasional landslide for another couple of km passing a lovely campsite where we had a short snooze in the sun. After this the river met another buttress and we were forced back to the east side after another wade. I though the others were following me but they were taking the other route over what looked like an impossible buttress, which the mule trains certainly would not manage. It was the flood route and looked formidable. I wondered what on earth they were doing. I rounded the buttress easily and saw the descent from the flood route the other were taking was equally impossible and very steep. It was a good 100m climb which was quite needless. I was way down the east bank and ready to cross to the west again when I looked back and saw the tiny figures coming down the near cliff face on a very steep path.

Back on the west side I followed the widening bank down until the valley floor opened up quickly and was nearly half a km wide with the braided river weaving across gravel banks.  On each side the ochre mountains rose up steeply from the pastures which lined the banks. High upon the mountains were vanished glaciers and extensive moraine fields. The path went over an easy grassy ridge which abutted the river and then down to a large pasture with more mani walls, some of which the river was eroding and undercutting. I found a nice sunny spot and waited for the others who arrived much sooner than I thought.

From this pasture we had to leave the main valley and climb up a side valley to the Chan La pass some 1200m above us at 5380m. On the map there was a campsite marked at Chap Chu, beside a small lake some 200m above us. It made sense to climb up to it today and camp beside the lake. We were all tired and the climb was taxing. I think the last two days were longer than expected. Eventually we reached the small lake by some beautiful pastures. There were already some seven or eight herders tents here but only two were occupied and the others where sealed up with blankets and tarpaulins. A large dog slept outside the occupied tents but the owner was away with his sheep and goats on the hillside and would return in the early evening.

343. Looking back to the kharka herding camp at Chap Chu looking east to the mountains south of Chharka Bhot in the background.

We found a nice sheltered place to camp where a spring came to the surface and put the tent up on the flat grass. It seemed to be in a marmot colony as there were burrows everywhere and a few of the grazing ones shot into their burrows when we approached. They would be confined to their burrows until darkness or until we left early tomorrow. Once the tent was up we had a nice lay around in the sun while Ramesh made us tea. He is the star of the show. I went into the tent and wrote the blog finishing while the sun was up, which was rare. As I finished a herd of goat and sheep piled over the ridge and down to us followed by the wild looking herder.

June 21. Chap Chu to Dho Tarap. 24 km. 8 hours. 1150m up. 1430m down. The alarm went at 0445 and we all got up quickly, especially Santos who went to fire up the kerosene stove. It was already light on this longest day of the year and it was relatively warm for 4300m so all our tasks were so much easier than a few months ago when it was well below zero at these altitudes. As we had breakfast the shepherd came over with his dog for a chat. He had a wife and three children in a monastic school but he himself was mostly nomadic with his 200 animals. It was touching to see how much his dog loved him as leader of the pack and he was affectionate to his dog even though his fur was matted.

We left at 0600 and headed up the valley dropping down from the lake to a confluence of three streams. I read the map wrongly and started heading up the wrong ridge while the others rested. After 10 minutes I heard a shout. Some locals had caught up with the others and told them I was wrong. I traversed across to the stream which all of them were now heading up. The locals were three women from Charka Bhot who were heading to Dunai. We all headed up the stream bed together with the others chatting to the women until their pace proved too much. With my lighter load I could just keep up as they powered up the stream bed past grazing yak, which I gave a wide berth to if they were on the path. After a good hour the women detoured up the hillside a bit to a grassy area and started scouring it. I twigged they were looking for yarsagumba hoping to earn something fro their trip. I carried on and then climbed up the steeper side wall to gain the grassy plateau. As I left I came across some remarkable flowers which I had not seen before. I photographed them for later identification.

Once up on the plateau I sauntered across it in the general direction of the pass. Up to this near level dry grassy area I came across loads of alpines and could leisurely photograph them as the others caught up. When I got to a sheltered sunny spot beside a clear stream I decided to have my packed lunch Ramesh had made up. The others and the women arrived after 15 minutes and joined me. The women had found a few yarsagumba and even Dawa, who was an old hand, found one and gave it to them. His was worth about US$8. After I had finished eating Dawa gave me some instructions on looking for them and I went off to a suitable patch, got down on my hands and knees, and started peering at the grass. After 20 minutes I found nothing and gave up when the others arrived.

344. One of the many alpines growing in the inhospitable scree fields od Dolpo. These plants had a great tap root anchoring them to the rocky soil and for storing water.

We now had a short hours climb to the pass. Again I was busy taking photos of all the alpines until bare light brown friable rock covered everything. Behind us was a great view down the valley but the trudge up to the pass was taxing even though it was just 5380m. There was none of the vigour I had on the previous three 5000m plus passes. At the last few steps a tremendous view to the west bust upon me quite suddenly. Their was a series of yellow, ochre, and brown ridges and valleys stretching off into the middle distance, and in one valley I could make out the irrigated fields of Dho Tarap and the villages above it. Beyond that were barren mountains with snowy caps and ridgelines, and the next two passes we had to cross lay therein. In the far distance was the Kanjiroba Himal with their near 7000m peaks. It was a glorious vista.

345. Looking NW from Chan La Pass, 5378m over the dry hills and passes to the east of Phoksumdo Lake and Shey Gompa.

All the other arrived soon afterwards but due to the cold wind and my shorts and shirt sleeves I headed off down the west side. It was a very fast descent on soft loose small fragments of rock and I could virtually run down it losing 400m in just 10 minutes to reach the bottom where a stream was forming. I followed the stream bed for five minutes then climbed over a spur and traversed across the hillside above the stream I had just followed to reach a saddle. Here a local man was on his hands and knees searching in the grass. He said he had no luck. I waited at the saddle for the others who were almost right behind me. We all sat down and then lay down. From the saddle the rest of the day was pretty much laid out before us to the NW at it involved a steeper descent down grass and gravel slopes to the infant Tarpi Khola stream at the bottom. Thereafter we just had to follow the stream for a good few hours to reach Dho Tarap. With the afternoons walk apparent we felt we could afford a snooze while the Charka Bhot women sat and chatted.

After half an hour sleeping on the sunny saddle we reluctantly got up and started down the slope. It was short, but the walk down the valley was much longer than expected. The Tarpi khola stream was a trickle so we could follow it at while crossing and recrossing when the path did. It took a good two hours to follow its curves to emerge beneath craggy rocks at the pastures of Maran. En route were more alpines including another purple flower which I could not even guess what genus it might be in. At Maran there was a constructed path and an irrigation channel. Santos had caught me up and we marched down the path chatting until a small hamlet surrounded by beautiful green irrigated fields appeared. The hamlet was called Dhoro.

346. The curious purple alpine found around 4000m. This one was near Maran on the way to Dho Tarap.

What really grabbed my attention was the settlement across the stream. It was called Sipchhog. It had about 15 large stone citadel type houses whose ramparts were covered in firewood and brushwood. In the middle was what I thought was a gompa and later found out was one of the most significant Bonpo Gompas in the area. To the west of the village were numerous chortens, probably about 20 and some were very hefty. This medieval village was surrounded by bright green fields with young irrigated barley against the backdrop of barren ochre hills under sapphire blue skies. It was the essence of Dolpo and could have graced the cover of any on the coffee table books on the area. I took photos and then carried on down to Dho Tarap some half hour later. The Bonpo religion is really a mix, a syncretisation, of the ancient shaman traditions of the area with Buddhism and many of the religious symbols and festivals feature animistic masks.

Arriving in Dho Tarap was a joy and I wandered through the fields and lanes looking for the only lodging in the village 12 years ago. All the houses were the traditional fortress type built of small stones and held together with mud. The walls were tapered for stability and covered with brush wood and logs. I wondered if the display of firewood in this way was also a sign of status because there was a lot of wealth in the firewood in this treeless area. I passed a simple hotel, but it was a new sterile building out of keeping with the area, so I ignored it on principle as I continued to search for the one I had stayed in before, and pretty soon I found it. It was exactly the same; a small cramped kitchen and dark cluttered storeroom downstairs and a large room upstairs full of Tibetan carpets, mattresses and blankets and the walls full of photos which the semi-professional owner had taken and had them framed, at great expense. The owner was not here but his English speaking daughter and a bright friend of hers who was also a teacher at the French sponsored school could accommodate and cater for us. I thought the four Nepalis would get on well with the teachers so agreed to stay. Pretty soon Santos arrived and the others half an hour later. It was soon obvious that the girls had very little idea about cooking so Ramesh gently commandeered the kitchen.

I wanted to visit the old monastery here so went up the hillside to it. It was closed but the entrance and stair to the roof was open so I explored. Just as I left a lady appeared and asked if I wanted to see inside. She unlocked it and we went in. It seemed many of the artefacts had been removed but the alter, drums, scrolls and things were still there. It looked like it needed to be restored and there was a fund to do this. I also had a look inside the large chorten which had another chorten inside it like a Russian doll. I bought a book from the lady written by the lama of this monastery and gave here some money for her troubles as she was old and partly disabled.

When I returned to the homestay I found the Santos, Dawa, Ramesh and Bharat getting on fantastically with the two hostesses and their male teacher friend. One of the hostesses said in perfect English it was like all seven were siblings. The four who were travelling with me would get on with anyone and were gentle yet witty and charming, so I was not surprised. When I went up to write I could hear the all singing and clapping to Nepali folk songs. I went down for the daily dalbhat at 7 to find that Ramesh had actually cooked a meal for all eight, us and the hosts. He was the most competent cook in the house by far so it made sense, but it also showed how easy they were to ingratiate themselves.

347. The village of Shipcho was just to the east of Dho Tarap. It had an important Bonpo Gompa. Around the village were perhaps some 25 chortens and kamis, some very large.

June 22.  Dho Tarap to Numala Phedi. 9 km. 3 hours. 430m up. 70m down. I had a great nights sleep in the large room which doubled as a defunct photo gallery with dated photos, some of which were excellent. The owner now was occupied with politics and was the Congress Party representative for Dolpo, a predominantly communist area so he was unlikely to get elected. The boys had had had a great night and came to bed around 2300 after a fair few drinks with the hosts. Indeed Santos never made it up the steep log ladder to the top floor and stayed in the kitchen. Ramesh, moderate as always, was up at 0700 and made us all tea which we sipped in our sleeping bags enjoying our lie in. Breakfast was eventually around 0800 and we set off around 1000. I felt a bit bitter at the bill because I was charged for the use of a kitchen, and the menu price for noodles rather than the shop price where we purchased them. They said transport costs despite quoting me a quarter of the cost last night when I asked. I fired a shot across everyone’s bows saying I would be angry if their drinks bill was hidden in my food and lodging bill. As it was US$10 I was not going to spoil the mood. The girls even gave us good travel scarves and walked with us up to the Crystal Mountain School, where they sometimes volunteered. It was a French supported private school for the people of the Tarap valley and it was nearing its silver jubilee. I found the girls of Tarap far more chatty and confident than say those of Charka Bhot.

348. Dho Tarap was a traditional village with flat roofed stone buildings in the manner of small castles. This was the eastern cluster of buildings which made up the village.

349. Our “hotel” in Dho Tarap. The kitchen was downstairs and cramped. Up the log ladder was the gallery which doubled as a bedroom and above that was another log ladder up to the roof used to dry cereals and store things.

We went through the huge kami chorten of Dho Tarap and reached the school, which was in mothballs for the month as most of the families were up in the mountains with their children looking for yarsagumba. Here we said good bye to the girls and carried on up the valley. On each side of the path women and girls were busy in the fields digging the soil with a type of mattock. It looked hard worked as the digging was done furiously to turn the field as any gentle action would be ineffective. The fields were quite large and I was surprised no Dhzo or even yak had been trained up as most other places with far smaller fields. Where the fields had been planted potato shoots and oat seedlings were just breaking the soil.

All the women of Dho Tarap had the same distinctive hairstyle with a straight fringe and the rest of their long hair in a decorative clasp behind their neck. With their leggings, dresses and Sherpa style apron and belt they looked confident and striking. The older men also had long hair in two braids which they wrapped around their heads with red cotton. They wore smocks with a decorative belt and a knife tucked into the belt. The younger men unfortunately were modelling themselves on Bruce Lee and were abandoning their cultural dress for jeans and leather jackets.

We walked through hamlet after hamlet of large imposing houses stone houses with small windows and even castellated corners. The firewood was stored on the parapets and sparrows found nests within the tangle which was seldom used as yak dung was the commonly used fuel. The open valley was irrigated for up to 30 metres above the river from take off channels upstream and this allowed virtually the whole of the valley floor to be green and lush. Although we did pass a large ceremony with prayer drums and a lama. When we asked we were told all the families of the area had contributed a little money to sponsor a puja to prayer for rain as the seedlings needed it. Occasionally among the hamlets was a monastery, usually painted in a faded red and in desperate need of repair, despite being centuries old. There seemed to be a restoration project for each one which was floundering due to lack of funds. The people of the Tarap valley seemed devout though. I am sure when Tarap gets the inevitable road it will flourish as the people were hard working and its geography will mean it will become the central point of Upper Dolpo.

350. The monastery on the hill above Dho Tarap. It has a large chorten beside it which in turn enclosed another chorten like a Russian Doll. The monastery was very old and in need of restoration.

351. The statue of Buddha in the monastery at Dho Tarap. It was a Nyingma monastery as opposed to a Bonpo. In other words it was more orthodox than the one at Shipcho which was Bonpo.

As we walked up the path connecting the hamlets scores of non-Dolpopa (the inhabitants of Dolpo) people streaming towards us. They were from the hill region, the pahar, of Nepal. They were grubby and had a large sack with their possessions carried on their back with a headstrap. These were the yarsagumba hunters starting their long journey home after a month or even six weeks in Dolpo on their hand and knees searching for the fungus infected caterpillars. They all looked weary and were no doubt looking forward to the familiarity of their villages and houses some four to six days march away from here. One hopes their pockets were full, but the lure of the fortunes to be found in yarsagumba hunting are fading with each year.

352. Looking north up the Tarap valley from the roof of our “hotel” in Dho Tarap. In the irrigated fields are Barley, Corn and Potato.

Once we left the last hamlet of Taksi I thought we would soon be at Numala Phedi, but I could not see the path up the hill I came down 12 years ago. We passed where I though it should have been but nothing the path continued along the valley floor. Santos had been here before too and he persuaded us it was much further up the valley. We passed a kharka which looked interesting and had a nyak with her afterbirth hanging out and a new born yak calf. Above the kharka was a large yarsagumba hunter’s camp beside the only stream. I drink all water in Nepal from high streams and village taps untreated but I would be reluctant to drink this water so was easily persuaded by Santos. However soon it was obvious to me that we had gone too far, and I insisted Bharat and I go and talk to the owners of the next Kharka we came to. Right enough we had come too far but instead of returning we could easily go up the north side of the ridge rather than the south side to gain the apex. The kharka seemed calm and pastoral, there was afresh spring nearby, there was a flat campspot, the skies were darkening as obviously the villagers’ puja this morning was working, and the occupants of the three tents were all from Dho Tarap and seemed familiar now so we decided to camp here.

353. A lady of the Tarap valley crossing the Tarap Khola on horseback. All the ladies had the same hairstyle with fringe.

As we put the tent up the five or six children from the kharka tents were enthralled and delighted. They ran round pushing each other over and had to be dealt a few gentle blows to stop them hitting their heads off the rock solid, sharp tent pegs or falling on the kerosene stove, their mother and grandmothers shouting approval at us. Eventually they settled down and hung around for a good few hours. More women arrived, carrying baskets of yak dung and a shepherd with 300 animals. Bharat and Dawa went to talk to them and borrow a mattock to dig a trench upslope of the tent in case of rain. They said the three tent owners all had the same grand father and they had 600 animals all together. They came up here each summer as they had done for generations. When they returned the mattock they came back to the tent with a litre of warm chauri milk. Bharat said it was best mixed with the dalbhat rice Ramesh had just finished and it was, just like rice pudding. After the meal the rain finally arrived and we all piled into the cosy tent for an early night. Tomorrow would be an early start as we had our seventeenth 5000m pass to cross called Numa La.

June 23. Numala Phedi to Danigar. 15 km. 5.5 hours. 1010m up. 970m down. Either the lama had significant divine powers or he had looked at the weather forecast and decided to hold the rain puja, because it rained all night. When the alarm went off at 0445 I snoozed it three times and we eventually got up at 0515 when there seemed a lull. Indeed the mist was clearing and there was even some promise of blue sky. At the kharka they were collecting the harder yak dung and putting it under a tarpaulin while a few of the women milked the chauri.

We set of around 0700 up the hillside to the SW to gain the ridge we should have gone up from the other side. We passed a few more kharka, the smoke from the portable yak dung stoves hanging in the air over the clusters of tents. Here too the women were walking calmly among the chauri milking them. It took half an hour to reach the ridge climbing up across pasture gnawed to the roots by livestock. At the top of the ridge we intercepted the path we should have been on from just above Taksi. How we missed it I don’t know it was a 10 metre wide eroded strip up the crest made by 1000’s of yak hooves. It was here I took probably my best ever photo of a caravan of yaks, laden with wood, descending these same eroded sandy slopes emerging from the dust storm they were creating. It was in November 2007 and it was a crystal clear day as most in November are.

We went up the ridge with the mist coming and going making some atmospheric landscapes and we followed the wide path, almost a track, up the ridge, round to the north to traverse into the valley coming up from the north side of the ridge, and then up another gravel ridge to the pass. It was almost too easy. At the top a group a large wild looking male yak were making their way across the small snowfield crossing from one set of pastures to another. They looked very dramatic on the skyline. Unfortunately the mist was returning now with a bit of drizzle and the spectacular views were totally obscured. On a clear day one could see both Dhaulagiri and Annapurna from here.  We did not pause but headed down the west side.

357. The yak caravan going over Numala La Pass. This is looking from the top of the pass to the east. In the distance behind the yak is the mountain of Dhaulagiri and to the left of it is the sharp ridge of Annapurna. (from 2007).

It was a long but easy descent for about 90 minutes. The trickle we were following slowly grew to a tumbling brook then a stream and finally a torrent. Something in the water stained the water course red. It was quite a sterile valley with little vegetation and hardly any alpines among the rocks. At one point we had to leave the valley and cross the torrent at a place where it braided into a few channels. The torrent carried on down the valley and eventually flowed into Phoksumdo Lake at its north east arm. Where we left the valley and torrent a path headed off to Numala Central Pass and then on to Shey Gompa and Saldang a few days away.

From the valley we climbed up over a misty spur covered in the purple flowers I saw a few days ago between 4500 and 5000 metres only. Rounding the spur we entered a new valley which was lush and green, but steep. Far below was the white tumbling stream. As we followed the path round the spur more and more of the valley ahead opened up but it was misty here too and most of the landscape above the snowfields was obscured. The lush pastures were full of grazing yak, most decorated with some red thread or even a prayer flag woven into its hairy shoulder hump. The path did not really descent to the stream as it came up to meet it at a place called Danigar where I had camped before on a level pasture. It was here one began the ascent up the next pass called Baga La and I could see the steep pass disappearing into the mist.

354. The herders camp at the bottom of the Numala La pass camp. The herders had both chauri cattle, which were milked twice a day, and sheep and goats.

Danigar however had become a popular place for the yarsagumba hunters and there were some 10 tents here crammed with people from the hill region. In addition there were a couple of tent bhattis and there was evidence there were three or four which had recently departed. Their pit toilets were now full of broken liquor bottles. The broken glass was scattered beyond them. Plastic bottles and wrappers littered the area round the departed tents. It was a great disappointment and a disgrace that the authorities did not police, after all they took about US$300 from each yarsagumba hunter for a months picking permit. Often Nepalis do not see litter the way Europe does as until quite recently all that was discarded naturally degraded.

We found a place away from the yarsagumba hunters’ tents and the real culprit the bhatti who brought the bottles here and sold them to the hunters. As soon as the tent was up and Ramesh had made us a tea the mist turned to drizzle then the drizzle turned to rain. We all retreated into the tent and then into our sleeping bags. We had a two or three hour siesta as the rain pelted the tent. It was a cosy luxury we could spend the afternoon in a warm slumber like a hibernating animal in its winter den. The rain continued all afternoon and into the evening. I was disappointed in the weather which must have been a particularly wet monsoon rain spell which had even penetrated the Dhaulagiri range which usually created a rain shadow in Dolpo. I was particularly disappointed for Ramesh, Bharat and Dawa who had not been here before. I had 12 years ago on a magical three day trek from Phoksumdo to Dho Tarap with 50 laden yak smuggling wood on a crisp clear November. We travelled with the yak caravan and slept in their camps. The photos I took during those three days adorn my wall back home and I will cherish those three days forever and they were the highlight of the 30 day trip I did from Jumla to Beni.

355. A yak caravan driver riding his horse down Numala pass while bringing his team of yak, loaded with wood, over to Tarap from Phoksumdo. (from 2007)

356. The yak caravan with about 100 beasts coming down the east side of Numala La Pass with loads of wood used for building in the treeless Tarap valley. (from 2007)

June 24. Danigar to Phoksumdo. 23km. 8 hours. 1070m up. 1930m down. It rained most of the night. Not a heavy downpour but a constant drizzle. The alarm went at 0500 but I ignored it as it was miserable and misty outside. At 0600 however Ramesh and Santos got up anyway to make us tea and start breakfast. We all followed suit and by this time not only had the rain stopped but there were the smallest patches of blue sky far to the north. By the time we wrapped up the soggy tent and set off the blue patches were definitely getting bigger

We crossed the river and then started a long series of zigzags up a ridge. About half way up Dawa stopped for a rest and noticed a yarsagumba at his feet. We were all summoned to witness him dig it up. I was surprised just how plain looking the fungal growth was from the unfortunate caterpillars head. The caterpillar itself was just below the surface where it burrowed down to spend the winter under the snowpack and before it got infected. We were all fascinated and people said it was worth 1500 rupees (12 US$). Dawa then gave it to me and said I should take it home as a souvenir.

At the top of the zig zags the wide path headed off to the west to the clearly visible saddle which was Baga La Pass. By now at least half the sky was blue and even more far to the north. At last the lads were able to appreciate this part of Dolpo where they had not been. I felt lethargic on the final slopes up to the pass as we curved up the bowl to the prayer flags. There was a great view both directions here but there was a bit of mist. The mountains to the north, between us and Shey Gompa/Saldang were the clearest with the sun shining on them. We could also see the other Numala passes; namely Central and North. We came over the southernmost one.

359. The yak caravan coming up Baga la pass carrying building wood destined for the Tarap valley which is treeless. The view is looking west down the valley towards Phoksumdo. (from 2007)

360. Approaching the top of the Baga La Pass from the east side and looking back down to Danigar. The mountains in the background are the Dansila Lek, about 5500m, beyond which is Shey Gompa and Saldang

361. Looking east back up the Muduwa Khola valley towards the slot where the Baga la Pass comes down to meet the valley. This pass comes down after the rock face and where the waterfall is.

The descent was quite easy we went down some snow fields and then steep rock for a good half hour to a grassy meadow in the valley which was reasonably flat and where I once camped before. The ground was damp and there were springs everywhere feeding the infant stream. After the high camp the side rivulets swelled the main infant stream so it became a tumbling torrent. The valley we were following dropped steeply down to the pastoral main valley with the Maduwa Khola stream meandering through its pastures the torrent cascaded over a series of waterfalls while the path beside dropped steeply down zig-zags. Path and torrent soon spilled onto the pastoral valley floor which was now sunny. Here there were 27 tents of yarsagumba hunters, housing probably at least 100 of them, all from the hill region. We passed the tents and walked through the pasture to a waterfall tumbling down the steep rock face to the north.

The pastures were full of marmots and as I approached they scurried off to their burrows. Occasionally there was a marmot sentry who sounded a shrill whistle. Wild flowers, especially alpines were everywhere and so were the uppermost of the juniper bushes. At the stream below the waterfall we stopped for a picnic and Ramesh fired up the primus stove so we could have a cup of tea. The sun beat down on us and expunged any lingering cold from the damp night and the cold wind of the pass. I left first and continued down the beautiful valley.

I soon got to the yak kharka where there were only a few yak as most were probably higher now. The long meadow on nearly 2 km was full of flowers and shrubs in flower. There were the small iris, millions of the purple succulents, the other prostrate purple flower, lots of bushes with yellow flowers and this was all surrounded by juniper bushes and small trees which encircled the pasture. The smell of juniper permeated the still warm air. At the lower end of the pasture were five or six old shelters where the herders once stayed. Only a few still looked in use. The lower floor of the hut would house the vulnerable at night like the yak calves while above the herder would stay under a wooden shingle plank room.

362. Irises in the Muduwa Khola valley. The Irises were prolific in the whole valley together with masses of other wild flowers.

After the yak kharka pasture the valley changed. On the south side forests of fir started to appear. I will wager these were the taller and larger Western Himalayan Silver Fir, Abies pindrow, as opposed to the Abies spectabillis we had seen since Kanchenjunga. The Abies Pindrow were slightly taller and more erect but it was difficult to tell without seeing the needles. On the north side of the valley the vegetation became much thornier and the land more arid. A few alpines persisted but ever the hard junipers were few here. As I went further west the path climbed over a spur and it was built up on a series ledges. Some were very exposed and a fall off the path would have been fatal. The yaks had to be especially well loaded so their side loads did not bump them over the edge. Far below on the south side was the hamlet of Muduwa with its cluster of 10 mud and stone, flat-roofed houses all surrounded by green fields of crops.

363. The village of Muduwa was situated across the valley on a shelf. It looked a very traditional village of flat earth roofed stone houses surrounded by its terraced fields.

364. At one stage the path in the Muduwa valley was very steep and had to be built up using stones and logs so yak could use it. (from 2007)

After the section built up on ledges the route veered north, and left the arid hillside and entered a Bhutan Pine forest. I could here the roar of the Suligad waterfall, one of the largest in Nepal as it crashed over two drops into the large Suligad Khola river. Santos was sitting here enjoying the view. We walked together through the pines passing some old chortens with occasional glimpses of the turquoise blue Phoksumdo Lake and the old village of Ringmo. I was excited to be back here. I came here first in 1992 when I tried to go over Baga La and Numa La passes with a timid and over cautious guide because the permits stated I must have a guide. We failed because the weather was poor in early April. There were no hotels then so we stayed with Sitar and Lesung on the roof of their imposing castille like house in a roof shed full of straw. Lesung fed me tsampa and salty Tibetan tea. I stayed again in 2007 when there were a few small bhattis style hotels and a local shop. As I emerged from the pines I could see Ringmo had changed and there was even a three storey hotel with a blue corrugated roof, the only one in the village. It was an eyesore.

356. The Phoksumdo waterfall below the village of Ringmo and the outflow of the lake was a magnificent sight as the river was swollen with this years’ large snowmelt and the first of the monsoon rains.

I crossed the bridge over the Suligad and went to Sitar’s house but it was locked and looked a bit unkempt. I met an old man spinning yak hair thread and he said Sitar was away picking yarsagumba and that his wife had died. It was sad news for me as I was looking forward to meet them. He was also a senior in the village and quite devout and had a key for the unique Bonpo Gompa here. If he was picking yarsagumba it would be unlikely I would meet him unless by chance. It was a shame as I cherished the 10 days I stayed on his roof after I stumbled into Ringmo wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.

366. The house of Sitar and Lesjung where I stayed in 1992 for 10 days when I first visited Phoksumdo and hoped to go over passes but was thwarted. Unfortunately they were both away collecting yarsagumba

I shunned the tin roofed hotel and even told the owner it was ugly when he started pestering me and went for an imposing old flat roofed house which had been turned into a lodge. It had character on the outside and comfortable room inside. One of the rooms had a solar charge point and I took it as it would probably be the last power until we reach Simikot in 20 odd days. It had a great view over the village with its large windowless houses and many chorten. Tomorrow I would visit the monastery hidden in the pines beside the lake.

Lower Dolpo had been quite magical. It was the third time I had been here, the first time in 1992 when I stayed 10 days in a house in Ringmo, and again in 2007. I had always wanted to walk from Jomson to Chharka Bhot and then on to Tarap, and at last I had the opportunity to do so, and I found Chharka Bhot and then Dho Tarap absolutely fascinating. The trekking was harder than I anticipated and far from the rolling hills and open valleys which I imagined. Instead it was large mountains riven by gorges and separated by deep canyons. What fascinated me most about Lower Dolpo was the centuries old lifestyle and subsistence of the mixed farming and herding. The people who lived here did so in much the same way their ancestors dis perhaps 20 generations ago, perhaps sometimes in the same houses.

Section 11. Lower Dolpo. 9 Days. 161 km. 55.5 hours. 8400m up. 7820m down.


June 10. Dharapani to Chame. 17km. 5 hours. 930m up. 260m down. It was a very easy stay at the Heaven Hotel. I had a hot shower, Santos washed my clothes, and I did all my digital duties in the comfortable room. We left quite late at around 0800 but it was a shortish day up to Chame. I expected much of the day to be on a dirt road and it was, but it was not nearly as bad as I feared as there was hardly any traffic.

For the first 6 km I felt fit and strode out ahead up the road. There were a few side trips to villages like Odar and Tache, and I am sure they would have been very nice but I don’t think they would have been much different to the villages of the Ganesh Himal or the upper Nubri Valley which we had just passed through, and they would have been very time consuming detours. The villages through which the track passed, like Bagarchap and Danakyu, were largely a collection of lodges and even the hamlets between them were solely orientated towards tourists with even the most meagre building advertising solar shower and “fresh fooding”. There seemed to be a great merit in claiming to be “organic” but I doubt the menu differed much from what I had seen since Langtang. Indeed I think most food in Nepal can have some claim to being organic, especially for vegetarians, maybe with the exception of eggs.

The string of villages and hamlets of lodges and teahouses continued to the Danakyu Khola stream which the track forded. I had not seen one tourist all morning for the 6 km and wondered how many hundred it would take to fill all the lodges I had passed. At the stream the path left the track and started a steeper 300-400m climb up steps through the forest to the village of Timang. It was hot and humid now and we stopped in Timang for tea. It had a marvellous view to the east of the Manaslu Massif and even the northern end of the Himalchuli Massif which rose to the south of Manaslu. Unfortunately it was right into the sun and the clouds were already building. The forest around Timang was sparse and there were many piles of well ordered firewood, one was even stacked in a manner which would have merited a mention in one of the in vogue wood-stacking books. The forest around Timang was mixed conifer with Bhutan Pine, Silver Fir, Spruce and Hemlock.

297. A great woodstack near Timang above Dharapani.

From Timang we were back on the road again as it levelled off and contoured round the hill to Thankchowk. This was a village which had avoided the trekking tourism altogether and it still looked quite humble. The fields were full of ripe barley and it was being harvested terrace by terrace by groups of families. Here and there were apple trees which were bearing some fruit but they looked unripe and bitter.

298. The village of Thanchowk was pretty much bypassed by the passing trekking trade and remained quite traditional with older houses and busy activity in the terraced fields.

After Thanchowk the valley sides got steeper and rockier and only the pines seemed to thrive on the arid, craggy slopes on the north of the river. To the south where the track went hemlocks, firs, pines and spruce all seemed to co-exist. It was not far down to Koto which was busy but quite scruffy.

Here there was an alternative trekking route called the Naar-Phu Trek. It would have added a good three to four days onto our trip and needed a special permit, so I had long decided not to do this. Naar was also infamous for a yarsagumba incident where eight yarsagumba hunters who did not have a licence from the town of Gorkha got into a quarrel with the locals at Naar, who considered they were raiding their heritage. It ended with all eight hunters dead at the bottom of a gorge. The locals claimed they slipped and fell, but the police believed they were pushed and many locals went to jail.

From Koto it was a quick hike up the track to Chame. I walked with Bharat and voiced my concerns about the lack of permits we needed in five days time. He assured me it would be OK. Chame itself was quite busy. It was the district capital of Manang District. There were plenty of tourist hotels and all were empty, it being off season. I was hoping for a nice pick however Bharat went for a very mediocre one, explaining it would be embarrassing for him not to use it as he always had and they had helped him out of some pickles in the past. All the hotels were the same price so I always wanted to go for the best. Bharat’s choice had tolerable WiFi so I could upload all the previous sections photos. There were just 35 but it still took an hour which was par for the course.

Today definitely had none of the sense of wonder or the mystery I felt when I walked up this quiet wooded valley nearly 30 years ago. Then the “Annapurna Circuit” as it was then known was thought to be the best trek in the world for ordinary mortals.  There is no denying the road has changed it but not as much as I thought. Even if the road had not been here the villages and hamlets would have changed to what they are now, as Manaslu is changing. Bharat assures me though that above Chame some of the charm of the old “Annapurna Circuit” remains and the jeep traffic is almost nil.

June 11. Chame to Ghyaru. 22km. 6 hours. 1180m up. 250m down. I had a quick breakfast at the dirty Manaslu View Hotel. Bharat might have had some loyalty here but I would not stay again. Indeed Chame had few charms. The best hotel seemed to be at the far end just to the right of the right of the footbridge as you left town. From here I followed the road through the pines for a good hour on the north side of the Marsyangdi Khola. It was a deep gorge with sparse pine forest clinging to the cliffs on the north side.  The south side was a bit lusher but there was no path.

After a good hour I came to an apple farm at Bhratang, where the floor of the gorge had a shelf. It seemed a well run operation with fields of trees and a large cool storage facility. There was also a very modern and almost luxurious lodge there. However the whole operation was on the floor of the gorge with a huge cliff just to the north of the trees. Perhaps the climate of the gorge suited the apples, but I am sure there were better places. I stopped at the cafe for a tea. The owner was there and I chatted with her. They had 60,000 trees in all and just three varieties: Gala, Fuji and one other. They bought the trees from Italy when they were two years old, planted them in the spring and were already harvesting from them that autumn. It was the biggest apple farm in Nepal, and so far Nepal was the sole market. Without the road it could not exist. It seemed to make something of the passing tourist trade with the lodge and the cafe.

Just after the farm the road went along a shelf, jackhammered and blasted from the vertical rock face. It was a narrow shelf just wide enough for a jeep or small lorry, and a driver with nerves of steel, as it was a fatal drop into the raging river far below. After this gorge the valley sides opened up with a forest on the west side and a huge 45 degree bare rock face of one huge curved slab. I remembered it from 27 years ago. The slab of rock, possibly granite, went from the river all the way up to the crest of the ridge some 1600 metres above the river. In Europe this slab would have been covered in climbers, but I don’t even know if there was a route here or not.

299. The road above the apple farm at Bhratang was hacked into the cliff with jackhammers and some dynamite to remove the stubborn rocks.

Below the slab the road crossed the river to the west side and then climbed up through the dry pine forest on a path shortcutting the road to Dhikur Pokhari. It was noticeable how dry it was here in the rain shadow of Annapurna 2, which towered with ridges covered in fluted snow and glaciers clinging to the steep side for some five vertical kilometres above me, to reach nearly 8000m. Before Dhikur Pokhari the path re-joined the road before entering the hamlet which was just a cluster of some 10 lodges along the road. I chose the nicest looking, as they were all the same price, and had fried momos for lunch. Just as I finished and was talking to an American couple at another cafe,  Bharat and the others appeared. Ramesh and Santos had already been up when I left the dirty Manaslu View but Bharat had still been in bed and he looked sheepish now. I explained I was going to Upper Pisang and then Ghyaru which involved a steep hot climb. I could see Bharat’s disappointment as he had probably hoped that we would take the easy, but tedious, road to Lower Pisang, and then again tomorrow to Manang.

300. The Manang valley above Dhikur Pokhari was full of pines. Upper Pisang is up to the right and Lower Pisang is up the road which is hidden in the trees on the left.

The route to Upper Pisang was short and easy. It crossed the Marsyangdi River on a suspension footbridge beside two well made traditional stone and log cantilever bridges, one of which could take motorbikes at least. From here I sauntered through the Bhutan pines along the valley floor on the north side of the river, climbing slightly. I passed a few grazing goats near a tarn and then walked up a gentle spur for 15 minutes to crest it and find myself in Upper Pisang which quickly unfolded in front of me. Across the river to the south was the road, Lower Pisang and then the massive bulk of Annapurna 2. Upper Pisang was a village of two halves. The east half had a nice collection of some 10 lodges which looked newish and clean and most had a fantastic view. The west half was local stone houses which resembled small fortresses. Most were three stories high, with no windows and a facade of wooden balconies and ladders from one floor to the next. Many were a bit dilapidated but I don’t know if that was attributable to the 2015 earthquake or poor maintenance.

301. One of the old fortress style houses in Upper Pisang. Typically they are built on three floors with the lowest floor being for livestock, the second floor is living quarters and storage. It has a solid earthen roof on which some stone or wooden sheds are built to form the top floor.

From Upper Pisang the path went through the large but tatty kami gate and then contoured round the hillside into a dry gully. After emerging from the gully it continued to contour across the pine clad hillside. The trees were small and sparse and it was easy to look through them to the increasingly spectacular views, especially of Annapurna 2, across the valley. Between the pines were clusters of wild rose shrubs, all of which were in bloom with delicate pale yellow flowers. The path eventually veered north into a side valley where there was a nice old mani wall full of carved stones all with prayers on in Tibetan script, and with a few chortens in the row of tablets.

302. A typical mani stone in a wall of mani stones. The stones are engraved with prayers usually in the Tibetan text. This mani wall was just below the climb up to Ghyaru.

Here the route started a long hot climb up the side valley. It was about 400 metres and took about an hour. Without any wind it was hot and I had to pace myself so I did not sweat. As a consolation the more I climbed the better the view got. With each zig-zag of the path the valley ahead up to Manang opened up and I could see it was flat and covered in small pines and junipers. But the main event was across the valley with Annapurna 2 and 4 dominating right across the valley and Annapurna 3 and Ganggapurna dominating across from Manang. All these mountains were just a bit under 8000m, so were extremely spectacular.

After an hour of climbing I reached Ghyaru arriving first at a large stupa. I was immediately taken with the village. There were a few lodges but they were all in keeping with the stone mini-fortress like houses. I spotted one lodge called Yakru, (Yak horns), but went for a wander through the narrow streets between the high stone walls of the houses. It was a fascinating village, and reminded me of my first visit to Manang or Dolpo 30 years ago. There was so much culture within these narrow passageways and in the houses. Everywhere were signs of farming which had not changed for centuries. Wooden implements and vessels were still used as everyday items. I passed four or five rustic lodges and got to the top of the village where there was a monastery. I went in to the compound and to the door of the Gomba, but there was a puja in progress and five or six pairs of shoes at the door. I peeked in and took a few photos but was self conscious. The Monastery looked a few centuries old.

303. The interior of the monastery at Ghyaru. It looked like there were about four monks associated with the monastery.

304. The upper houses in Ghyaru incorporated the monastery also. In the evening two of the monks appeared on the monastery balcony with horns and blew them in the still late afternoon air over the village

I had not seen any lodges which matched the Yakru, so returned to the bottom of the village and went in. It was a solid stone and wood house with a courtyard. The courtyard was covered over with old corrugated iron to give the impression one was in an old dilapidated hacienda. The old craggy Manangi lady who ran the place showed me a room on the upper floor off the courtyard which was accessed by a very rustic set of steps. The room was sunny and warm but out of the window I could see the whole of Annapurna 2. In fact I could see it from my bed. It was a great room in a great village and it made me feel much more enthralled about my Annapurna experience. I was here for almost three hours before the others arrived. Just behind them were the American couple and Chilean man I had spoken to at lunch time and I persuaded them to take a room, hoping for a chatty evening.

305. The view from my bed at the Yakru lodge was straight across the valley to the enormous, glacier covered bulk of Annapurna 7937m.

June 12. Ghyaru to Manang. 14 km. 4,5 hours. 420m up.  650m down. When I woke around 0530 I opened my eyes and looked straight out of the window towards the clear sunny covered towering Annapurna 2. It was one of the most impressive vistas to see out of the window and I did not even have to get out of bed. I had the usual 0630 breakfast and was ready to go by 0700. Our graceful older host, who would have been a distinguished lady had she had an education, came to say goodbye to us as we packed up. We wandered through the medieval village and its maze of lanes and passages under the solid walls of the mini fortress houses, past mani walls, and then went through the kami gate to exit the village and enter the bare rocky hillside.

306. Our graceful host at the Yakru lodge in Ghyaru village

307. A row of prayer wheels in Ghyaru village. Each time the wheels are turned a prayer is made. In the distance, beyond the stone house is the mountain of Ganggapurna, 7454m.

308. The western kami gate, or entrance chorten, to Ghyaru village. All villages in Manang have similar gates which are usually decorated with Buddhist painted panels on their ceilings.

It took about an hour to traverse the hillside round a spur on a newly built rough track. I walked with Adam and Emily from Arizona and Claudio from Chile and we chatted profusely as we sauntered along looking down on the valley far below and the Annapurnas beyond that. At one stage there a lammergeyer vulture swooped past us doing tight turns to catch the updraft from the warming hillside. Within a few minutes it was hundreds of metres above us.

309. Looking back to the village of Ghyaru from the west on the road to Ngawal. The whole village was built of solid stone 2-3 storey houses which resembled small citadels.

310. A griffon vulture cruising in the thermals between Ghyaru and Ngawal villages. In the background is the mountain of Annapurna III, which is 7555m.

After the spur we entered the high side valley on the west side of it where there is the village of Ngawal. It was like the twin of Ghyaru with some 40 old massive castile-like stone houses on three levels. Most had flat earthen roof supported by old smoke covered wooden beams. Separated by a field and a small stream was a cluster of tourist lodges, one of which looked very fancy and almost a resort. We wandered through the passages here exploring the houses and courtyards of this ancient village.

311. Some of the houses in Ngawal. They were all at least two storey but some were three. The bottom floor was animals and the second floor were living quarters, with storage and drying areas on the roof.

From here we had a dilemma; we could either follow a path which continued to traverse the dry barren hillside to the ancient village of Braga. This route took four hours. Alternatively we could follow the dusty road which dropped down to the valley and here we could follow a path on the valley floor on the north side of the river through the very sparse pine forest. The latter route took two hours to Braga, so we took it. The road section was very short and then the valley floor was much more pleasant than it looked. I recognised a few things here as it was the path I had taken 27 years ago, like a traditional cantilever bridge and a large chorten. We stopped at Munchi for a poor lunch. I was that unimpressed I just had tea.

After Munchi it was just a short hour to Manang. En route we passed the village of Braga. It was just as I remembered it, except electricity poles had been added. The houses here were the typical mini-fortress of the area with three floors; the animals below, humans in the middle and storage on the lean-tos and wooden sheds on the flat earthen roofs. All the houses had prayer poles with flags fluttering in the warm breeze. On the other side of the bowl in which Braga lay was a newer monastery and more of the fortress like houses. It had made a big impression on me when I passed last time and I felt the same this time, it being a village from another era.

312. The monastery at Braga was on the hill. Beneath it were living quarters for monks and some was still under construction. Below that were some of the village houses.

Just beyond the track rose up to Manang. It had many more new hotels on the east side some three or four stories high. All were the same price so we chose the Tilicho Hotel, which seemed to be the place. Many of its rivals were closed for the off season and were being renovated. We all piled in to the large courtyard and got rooms. There was a Swiss lady in the seated area and we started chatting. Her name was Maria. After a few sentences I realized she was the elusive person we had been chasing in the Ganesh Himal who was also doing the Great Himalaya Trail. She had started some 60 days ago with a crew, who turned out to be amateurs and she had to abandon her trip at Lumba Sumba Pass after some three weeks. She then went back to Kathmandu regrouped with a new crew and restarted her trip at Thame with the Tashi Labsta Pass. It was like meeting a long lost penpal and we chatted for a good few hours. We would have the same itinerary for the next few days to Kagbeni so there was plenty of time to chat. Her guide and Bharat also had a chat about sharing permits for the restricted areas, as we both had to buy two permits each with one being a “ghost” permit. If we could become each others ghost that would save us a lot of money for the expensive Mustang and Dolpo restricted areas.

June 13. Manang to Throng la Phedi. 21km. 6 hours. 1110m up. 250m down. I left the hotel and lodge areas in Manang and wandered through to the west part. It had not changed since I was last here nearly 30 years ago, except that there were electricity poles and lines now. There was still a warren of passages and alleyways between the massive and solid stone houses. I poked my nose into a few courtyards. They were all similar with paved areas stacked with firewood. There were small dark doors into areas on the ground floor where I assumed animals, probably yaks, were kept in the winter. They seemed empty now, as I assumed the animals had been turned out onto the mountainsides and were grazing high up. Log ladders went up to the first floor where there were the living quarters and more log ladders to the roof areas on which various flat roofed rooms and sheds had been built. It was a medieval scene which would not have changed for many centuries. Every nook and cranny held something interesting. It was as wonderful as I remembered the first time I saw it and it was refreshing to see how resistant the culture was despite the road

313. Manang from the village of Tengi to the west. Beyond Manang is the Marsyangdi Nadi River valley up which we walked.

314. The heavily decorated facade of the monastery at Tengi. The monastery looked quite new and it almost looked the decorators had tried too hard.

After I went through the kami gate on the west side of Manang I climbed up to the hamlet of Tengi where there were more citadel like houses and a well decorated monastery. From this hamlet there were fantastic views south across the valley and up to the hanging glaciers and narrow snow ridges on Ganggapurna and Annapurna 3. From Tengi the path traversed across the dry treeless valley with just some rose and juniper bushes growing out of the gravelly surface. Ahead the valley disappeared up to Thorung Phedi and it looked very arid, with vast brown bare hillsides covered in stones and scree. I met an American girl called Danika and we walked together from here to Yak Kharka chatting. The time passed quickly and three hours after leaving Manang we reached the hamlet consisting of just four or five lodges. We went into one for cups of tea as it was a warm and dry. After tea Danika headed off as she wanted to get to high camp, while I was just settling for the base of the pass.

315. Heading up the valley from Manang towards Thorung Phedi. The wild rose bushes were in bloom everywhere.

316. Heading up the valley near Yak Kharka towards Thorung Phedi and just passing one of the many chortens.

There were a lot of makeshift shelters up this part of the valley where yarsagumba hunters were camped. Manang was supposed to be one of the best places as the caterpillars here were larger than else where in Nepal except Dolpo, and fetched a higher price of nearer US$ 6-10 each. However the picking permit cost more here. I followed the path as it traversed across the valley sides looking up to the brown grasslands high above where hundreds of people were on their hand and knees looking for the yarsagumba. I passed through Ledar heading for a small tea house further up the valley on the other side of a bridge.

It was the Duerali Tea Shop and a couple of years ago I saw a video of the owner, a feisty Sherpa lady from Solu-Khumbu threatening and berating a posh spoilt English lady who had argued with her about the price of a dollar cup of tea. The English lady had a video camera on and recorded the whole incident and then sent the video to a sensationalizing British redtop newspaper. It transpired that the English lady and her son had flown first class to Nepal for the trek and here she was arguing about the price of a cup of tea. The video went viral as Crazy Nepali woman attacks British family on Annapurna Circuit, Nepal. It is here on YouTube: https://youtu.be/KA3zuFZ_dLk. The facts are blurred, but Gemma Wilson has a website called tinytrekkers, and travels with her family around the world, sometimes travelling first class. It serves her right for haggling about the price of a cup of tea. I went especially to the Duerali Tea Shop to congratulate the owner and offer her my best wishes as Gemma Wilson had tried to demonize her and make money out of exaggerating every aspect of the story.

317. “You people dog, you people donkey” The feisty Sherpa lady who owns the Duerali teahouse is not a lady to quibble about a cup of tea with.

From this tea shop I walked another hour up to Thorung La Phedi. There were three lodges here. I took the lowest as Ramesh’s friends worked here. It was the same one I stayed at 30 years ago when the father ran it. It had since burnt down and been rebuilt and is now run by the son. He was a cool dude and married to a South African. His English was perfect and he was well educated and we had a good two hour discussion on all things Nepali and Manangi. He was not so sympathetic to the Sherpa lady who ran the tea shop but I was giving her the benefit of the doubt. He explained why Manangis were one of the richest groups in Nepal – it was due to their trading history and tax breaks given by the previous king some 50-60 years ago. I enjoyed my stay here but the alarm was set for 0400!

June 14. Thorong la Phedi to Muktinath.  24km. 5 hours. 1090m up. 1970m down. The alarm went at 0400, breakfast at 0430 and we set off at 0500, with the South Americans. It was a great morning with a sliver of golden sun rays on the summit of Ganggapurna. The sliver grew quickly as we went up the first of the zig-zags, until it lit up the whole top of the mountain. It was cold but I was in shorts and shirtsleeves and I had to keep moving so as not to get too cold, and pretty soon I was a couple of bends ahead of everyone else except Ramesh who kept up. Halfway up to high camp we came across a herd of about 20 blue sheep. The lambs were leaping about on a very steep rock face with confidence; even chasing each other. It took just 40 minutes to climb the 350 metres up to the so called High Camp at 4850m. There was no sign of life here so I assumed everybody had already left at around 0500 also. The other three were out of sight behind me so I just carried on.

318. A blue sheep grazing on the shrubs near Thorung Phedi. Blue sheep were common in this area and almost fearless of humans.

319. Annapurna III, 7555m, (centre) and Ganggapurna, 7454m (right) about an hour after sunrise, seen from the climb up to Thorung La Pass.

The path climbed past the High Camp and then levelled out and went into a small side valley with a dirty torrent draining a glacial bowl. As I walked towards the torrent I could see the group of plump Nepali women struggling up on their horses which were being led by a handler on foot. I crossed the bridge over the torrent and then climbed steeply again. I felt very fit as I powered up the slope slowly catching the horses. Far below I could see Bharat, Ramesh and Santos, who must have stopped for a rest somewhere. About half an hour after the bridge over the torrent was a simple tea shop but it was closed as the owner was probably away picking yarsagumba.

Behind me the sun was just rising over Chulu West, an imposing trekking peak covered in a glacial cap. The Annapurna range was hidden by the flanks of the valley into which I was now climbing which had a couple of 6000m plus mountains on each side. The terrain was now mostly small rock, and the easy path was largely gravel having been pounded by thousands of feet and hooves each year. The rocks here seem to readily break into small scree. About here the sun finally cleared the surrounding mountains and started to shine on the path. It took the chill out of the air but a breeze started, almost at once, and this negated the warmth. I had just about caught up with the groups who stayed at the High Camp by now and first started overtaking the horses, then a game Kiwi who must have been nearly 80 and finally Maria and her guide. By the time I arrived at Thorung La Pass, 5416m, in just less than two hours, I was first and had a great view over the parched arid landscape in Mustang where we would be spending the next half week or so. Beyond this were some higher snow capped ridges and unseen on the other side was the mysterious and exotic Dolpo, where we would spend nearly three weeks.

320. The view west over the tangle of prayer flags from Thorung La Pass, 5416m at 0700 in the morning. In the distance are the mountains which separate the region of Mustang from Dolpo and we would be going over them, just to the right of the mountains in the centre.

321. Another view of the mountains we would be walking into after leaving Annapurna. The route we will follow is up the valley which rises from centre right towards the centre of the photo. It is a dry area which the imminent monsoon rains will hardly effect.

322. A view of the town of Muktinath from the east as I descended into it. The religious complex is in the bottom of the photo and largely obscured by trees. The peak in the background is Dhaulagiri, one of the world’s highest mountains at over 8000m.

I had time to reflect on the pass before one of the horse handlers arrived and then the Kiwi right afterwards. They took a couple of photos of me before the cold breeze forced me to set off down. There was a good path marked every 100m or so with a pole. It was easy to walk fast down it, stretching ones legs. Within half an hour I made it down to a porter shelter which looked like it had been recently erected. There was a tragedy on this pass some four years ago when an unseasonal storm and whiteout disorientated 100’s of tourists, guides and tourists. Many made it down but about 50 tourists and 100 Nepalis froze to death. Unfortunately tourists had been using the shelter as a toilet and it was full of crap and toilet paper (hence tourists), why they could not just crap in the scree I don’t know, but the shelter was already ruined.

I blasted on down and passed another two shelters, also unusable, when the terrain steepened. I heard something behind me and turned round to see Santos ahead of a cloud of dust he had kicked up. I don’t know how he had done it with his load and slippery soles, but Santos was the downhill master. We chatted a bit as he paused his descent to match mine and then after half an hour took off again to reach Thorung La Phedi West Side. Here there were about five lodges but they were all closed. Santos said they were probably looking for yarsagumba on the brown grassy slopes above. It was only an hour from here to Muktinath so I decided to carry on while Santos waited for the others.

It was a tired hot trudge down the shallower rocky slopes past shrubs which were being grazed by goats to a suspension bridge. Further down the valley I could see old traditional hamlets on the north side with small terraces. However I had to round a spur to reach Muktinath which I could not see. Once I rounded the spur I was a little shocked to see the village I once stayed at 30 years ago. It was now a town with plenty of five or six storey hotels spread out along the main street. Muktinath had always been a holy place, due to an eternal flame which burns from a gas seepage. This holy site had grown massively and was now visited by thousands of pilgrims a year, both Hindu and Buddhist, especially Indian Hindus. The hotels were predominantly for them, but also for the Annapurna Circuit trekkers.

I wandered down to the walled compound which housed the religious sites and a monastery. There were pious Hindus everywhere in typically Indian cloths and saffron robes. There all had large tikkas on their foreheads and were carrying small vessels with offerings and artefacts. I could have been in Varanasi. Many were on horseback as it was a bit of a climb from the town to the holy sites. Large plump Indian women in saris with their large bare midriffs wobbling with each stride of the horse and men with big moustaches and beards holding staffs streamed towards me as I headed into town. I walked through half of it and spied a hotel, then walked a bit further and realized the Bob Marley Hotel was probably the best. I went in and got two rooms. It was just 1000 in the morning but we had put in a good shift. The others arrived an hour later.

June 15.Muktinath to Kagbeni. 12km. 3 hours. 100m up.  920m down. There were quite a few trekkers staying at the Bob Marley Hotel. A few were barefoot and smoked joints all evening. They were still all in bed when we left at 0800 on a beautiful morning but they had all made it over the pass yesterday. We walked down through the town and then left on a small side track and then a path to reach Jharkot. It was one of the three or four old medieval villages which surrounded Muktinath up this side valley to the main Kali Gandaki valley below.

323. Looking up to the small town of Jharkot just below Muktinath. The red monastery is many centuries old and some suspect it is as much as 1000 years.

Jharkot was absolutely fascinating. It was composed of about 75 houses, all in the stone built mini fortress style of Manang. Between them was a warren of alleys and passages through which we wandered. Often a house would span an alley for 5-10 metres and the passage would be dark and the tremendous weight of stone and earth above would be supported by logs laid side by side. In the midst of the town was a much larger earth clad stone building which was perhaps four or five storeys high. I should imagine this was indeed a citadel where the village might store their produce or retreat to if 40 horseman came charging up the valley to loot and pillage. The citadel was now in ruins, its purpose defunct. At the end of the ridge the village was built on was a monastery. It was supposed to be nearly 1000 years old and was built at the same time as the one in Kagbeni and the one across the deep eroded valley in the village of Puthak. Through history all three of these monasteries have been aligned to each other and had communication systems to warn of danger. We went into the monastery compound but there was a festival going on and all the monks were chanting prayers so I did not go in to the actual monastery. However it was allowed to go onto the flat earthen roof where there was a fantastic view down the valley, across the eroded conglomerate gorge to Puthak and another two villages, and back across the rooftops of its own village. It was a great look out point for monk and tourist.

324. In the warren of streets in Jharkot on the way to visit the monastery. The houses were very similar to Manang and the other villages around here except they were painted white.

325. Looking back east to the village of jharkot, with its red monastery on the hill. Beyond is the almost hidden town of Muktinath. Between the snowy peaks is the Thorung La Pass which we came over yesterday.

After that the route followed the road for a few hundred metres and then headed off on a path to Khingar. We took the path which took us through irrigated orchards and meadows. There were a lot of poplar trees giving shade to the meadow which were green and damp due to leaks from the irrigation. At one point a meadow was covered in the iconic purple Himalayan primrose. We wandered through the medieval archaic streets of old Khingar which was very similar to Jharkot except the house were not painted white. Then we were forced by fences and topography away from the edge of the gorge and onto the road.

326. We managed to find a small path to Khingar and avoided the road. There were a lot of apricot orchards en route which were irrigated and in the damp meadows the Himalayan primroses flourished.

The last time I came here it was a path. The pilgrims visiting Muktinath then were a different class. They were then hardy saddhus with few possessions other than their robes, a small canister with holy artefacts, a large beard and moustache, and a swirl of dreadlocks bundled on their head. Then they all walked. Now they were plump middle class and middle aged Indians who mostly took a private jeep up the black top road. And this was the road we had to walk down for some 5-6 km. I hate road walking especially on reasonably busy roads as it is so humiliating with people whizzing past in vehicles.

There was an alternative to the road but it was much longer and it also went into Upper Mustang and as such it was in a restricted area. That alternative was to leave Muktinath and cross the deeply eroded gorge to the villages of Chongar and Puthak. From there a track crossed the arid hillside for 7-8 km, down to the lip of an escarpment, and then down to Kagbeni. Although it went along the north side of the eroded side valley just inside the restricted area there would be no checks, and if there was, one could talk a way out of it by saying you were disorientated. As we slogged down the black top road with buses, jeeps and motorbikes frequently passing, I looked longingly across the valley at the peaceful track.

327. Looking down onto the town of Kagbeni. It is the ancient gateway to the Kingdom of Mustang to the north. It shared many medieval architects with Jharkot and the monasteries were built at the same time many centuries ago.

Eventually the road made a series of steep zig-zags down to Kagbeni on the banks of the large muddy Kali Gandaki river. We shortcutted the bends on a gravelly path which was very sketchy when we had to drop down the steep embankment to the asphalt road. After some two and a half hours we eventually reached the small town of Kagbeni. On the south side of the town was an area with tourist type hotels, which we headed into and checked into a very clean New Annapurna Hotel.

328. Barley drying in a yard in Kagbeni. The other side of the yard was a very squat kami gate whose ceiling was richly decorated with Buddhist motifs.

The hotels were not near the heart of the old village so I went for a wander in it. There was a big monastery complex with the old monastery, which was associated with the other two at Jharkot and Puthak. There was a notice outside saying it was built in 1429, so the claims of the others being 1000 years old seem slightly exaggerated. This one still had its original statues and artefacts from its inception. The entrance fee was just 200 rupees but I had left my wallet in the hotel. Beside this simple rustic red monastery was a new larger monastery which seemed very busy and was teeming with monks young and old. There was also an accommodation complex for some 50-75 monks on the same courtyard as the monasteries.  Kagbeni also had the same warren of alleys and passageways. I explored many of them, trying to get a photo of the derelict citadel, but it was too congested. Many of the alleys ended in a locked doorway. Amongst them was a large old house which had been converted into what passes for a boutique hotel. It was called The Redhouse and it had a gallery and museum but they also charged entry and I had no money. I would maybe stay here next time. I walked back to the hotel through the newer streets which were wider but still lined with old houses.

329. The old monastery at Kagbeni was almost preserved as a museum. A new monastery had been built beside it and there were living quarters for at least 50 monks. The whole complex filled the centre of Kagbeni and it looked a thriving monastery.

By now the Kali Gandaki wind was blowing strongly. As the air in Upper Mustang and Tibet heated up it rose and new air to replace it rushed up the valley getting squeezed between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. It was essentially the deepest valley in the world. Dust filled the air and crops swayed in the gusts, some of which were about force 8 or 9.

Bharat, Ramesh and Santos were concerned about my plans to continue with the same team through Dolpo and Mugu, with the same small tent, my small fickle stove and instant noodles for food. They suggested we upgrade to the bigger tent, the large kerosene stove and their beloved dalbhat. I hadresisted the idea for two or three weeks but eventually gave in. The thought of leeches in the imminent monsoon creeping under the flysheet into the vestibule where I slept and me waking up with ten on my face did not appeal, nor meals of dry noodles because the stove did not work. But in upgrading the equipment we also needed another porter and this was the main reason for my resistance as it might upset our team’s harmony. However it was suggested that our climbing Sherpa, Dawa, be given first refusal even though he was a guide. To everyone’s delight he said yes. It meant he had to take three buses for 24 hours from his home to Kathmandu, pick up the gear we needed and the restricted area permits, and then take another three buses from Kathmandu to Jomson for another 24 hours. He is just about to arrive in Jomson as I write, and the owner of the hotel will go and pick him up on his motorbike with all his bags and the kerosene for the leg to Phoksumdo, quite how they will balance it all I don’t know. On the previous occasion Dawa was with us he was the social glue who held us all in such good spirits so I am greatly looking forward to him arriving.

The Annapurna Section was better than I thought. The road was not that bad except for the last day, and if I did it again I would take the track on the north of the gorge through the restricted area to Kagbeni. On the rest of the circuit where the road has replaced the path I walked on 30 years ago there is often an alternative, like up through the traditional villages of Ghayru and Ngawal. The lodges are now modern and clean as opposed to the old stone houses I stayed in before. I could have found bhattis and small homestays in these older houses, but a bit of comfort was nice. On the next leg, Section 11. Dolpo, there will be plenty of old houses to stay in and on both my previous visits to Dolpo my sleeping bag got infested with fleas.

The next leg will probably take about 20 days and then the leg after, Section 12. Mugu, will probably take about 10 days and be affected by monsoon rains. It is unlikely I will find any internet to upload the blog and photos until they are completed, and we arrive in Simikot in roughly 30 days time. After that we only have one more leg to complete our journey and that is Section 13. Limi, before we arrive in Hilsa and that is likely to also be about 10 days as we will linger in Limi Valley. So the next update will be around 15th July – but the tracker map will keep updating on the website to show my current location.

Section 10. Annapurna. 6 Days. 110km. 29.5 hours. 4839m up. 4300m down.


June 04. Khorlabeshi to Philim. 22 km. 8.5 hours. 1150m up. 530m down.  We got a reasonably early start at 0730. It was easy to get up at 0600 as it was already bright. As we left the village we got mixed up in a few mule trains each with about ten animals carrying up to 100kg. Indeed many seemed to be carrying two bags of cement. We followed them along the track for an hour to Tatopani where the track ended. There were some hot springs here and they had been channelled into a few faucets which poured out of carved serpents’ heads. There was a pool nearby in which it had once been possible to bathe, but now it was empty and dirty. There would have been a constant procession of mule drivers and pedestrians right beside the pool anyway.

Just after Tatopani, which at a push could almost be described as quaint there was a major construction project under way and it would threaten the village’s future. The track we had been walking on, although closed to traffic because of a lack of bridges, was in fact part of a very ambitious project to build a road up the whole gorge and then up Tsum valley and into China. Indeed the Tsum Valley part of the road had already been built. Off course it would change the character of the whole valley forever and it would lose its innocence, especially the beautiful and remote Tsum Valley. However it would also mean that all the villages high up on the mountain sides would probably have tracks to them and they would be connected to the outside world. There would be jeep services, health clinics, schools, local shops selling nails, concrete, rice and cheap sugary calories. People might decry the building of roads but they will be tourists from countries covered in asphalt. The locals will not complain.

What I found horrifying and fascinating though was the construction process. I have never seen such a dangerous job. Just after Tatopani for example was a rock buttress. The engineers must have decided to cut a shelf into it for its entire length of perhaps 300m. To this end some five air compressors were positioned at the start and end of the buttress with ten hoses supplying compressed air to jack hammers. Ten teams were at each jack hammer breaking up the rock and drilling holes in it for future blasting while three or four other people shovelled the broken rock over the side.  Slowly but surely these ten teams worked down from a line prising the rock off the cliff face onto the riverbank below. As they descended the shelf they stood on slowly got wider but in some places they would have to remove 50 metres of rock before the shelf was wide enough for a road. Stubborn bits of rock were blasted out with dynamite, and as the army is the only authority in Nepal with access to dynamite, they were occasionally on hand.

262. A road building team prising rock of a steep rock buttress and shovelling it into the river just north of Tatopani. Some of this team were in flip flops.

This probably sounds quite archaic but the real horror was the working conditions. Each team was about four or five people. None had harnesses, safety helmets, or even proper shoes – most being in flip-flops or sandals. There was often a woman in the team, shovelling the debris over the abyss. Rocks from higher up on the area already worked could easily detach from the shattered rockface and fall on the team, or the rocks they were standing on jackhammering could easily fall off, taking people with it. It would also have been very easy to slip and fall over the side.

263. Another two road building teams were working towards each other on this cliff face near Yaruphant. All each team was working with was jack hammers powered by compressed air. They crept along the shelf they had already excavated and would meet in a couple of weeks.

You hear of Nepalis working in horrendous conditions building the football stadiums in Qatar, something which Amnesty International has championed as a cause. Yet here it was happening in Nepal’s own backyard. As the day unfolded I saw perhaps 100 teams of five working on ten different cuttings on cliff faces. That is 500 people working in such conditions, and there must be at least one death a month, or perhaps a death per kilometre of completed road. Bharat said those on the jackhamers and drills were probably on 17 dollars a day and the debris shovellers on about 12.

After a couple of hours we passed through Dobhan but it was too early to stop so we pushed on to Yaruphant. The temperature in the bottom of the gorge was terrific it was still and windless. Even Ramesh had resorted to shorts. We were all dripping in sweat and my newly washed shirt was already wet. It was only when we crossed the river before Dobhan and then followed it on a sandbank that there was a cool breeze, caused by the rushing torrent of glacial water. We continued to overtake and undertake many mule trains that would walk just a bit quicker than us but then stop for a nibble of weeds beside the path. Just before we stopped at Yaruphant we passed Thulo Dunga where there were a couple of bhattis favoured by the mule drivers. They left their mules to graze the sparse vegetation here while they ate. There must have been 200 mules milling about and the smell was overpowering.

At Yaruphant we had lunch and then continued north. The river here brushed up against the bottom of the cliffs and a pathway was bolted onto the side of the cliff for about 400 metres. It was quite a feat and must have been strong, as there were up to 100 mules along its length at one stage. At the end of the walkway the path crossed the river again to the west side. At the bridge the army stopped us and told us to wait with the 100 mules. Then there were two huge explosions, and on the second one I saw rocks flying down a cliff face and into the river. We were then allowed to pass and had to clamber over the new debris from the blast between the bottom of the cliff and the raging torrent of the river. From here we soon reached the quaint and picturesque settlement of Jagat. It was nestled deep in the gorge beside a flood plain caused by the river further down near Yaruphant being clogged by huge boulders. Jagat was as far as the road teams had got and it was also the start of the Manaslu Conservation Area. As such it had both a police and Conservation Area checkpoint. Both were unmanned when we got there. Bharat told me to walk on while he hunted down the officials and got the permits stamped.

264. The walkway just after Yaruphant was bolted onto the rock and extended for a good few hundred metres above the river.

I kept on up the gorge passing a beautiful waterfall of crystal clear water which was soon to be wasted as it joined the muddy Budhi Gandaki. I passed through the hamlet of Salleri stopping at a tap to guzzle a litre. Here many of the mule trains caught me up and I was trapped in a long line of perhaps 100 beasts. It was easiest to step aside and let them past rather than rush with them breathing down your neck. Just before I reached the scruffy settlement of Sirdibas, with its hundreds of Muscovy Ducks wandering across the paths the others caught me up.

We now just had another huge suspension bridge to cross, which I reckoned to be 200m long over the Budhi Gandaki to the east side and then a sustained 150m climb up the hillside for half an hour to reach the large village of Phidim. I remembered it as an interesting place from my last visit, when we stopped for lunch here five years ago. It was a thriving place with mules wandering the streets, volleyball matches, a busy hotel with hot water and many officials gathering for a meeting tomorrow on Conservation Projects. All the discussions of the Conservationists would really be quite futile in light of the road which would change the conditions of the valley hugely. I settled in and had a really hot gas shower, my first warm shower in 80 days. There were no other tourists in the village as the spring trekking season seemed to be over as the monsoon approaches in three or four weeks.

June 05. Philim to Ghapsya. 22km. 8.5hours. 1250m up. 670m down. I managed to get my phone to connect to the hotels erratic WiFi over breakfast and managed to send off the previous Section; Ganesh Himal Foothills to Pete to upload onto the website and Facebook as there is no way I could do it locally. Pleased it worked, we set off at 0730 before the heat started to build. Indeed because of the deep gorge and the fact the path was on the east flank, we were in the shade for a good while. We already had some height above the river when we left Philim and we kept this height as the river emerged from a sheer gorge below us. Small wispy waterfalls plunged from the steep grassy slopes above the gorge over the lip. On the other side was the remote village of Bhangsing, perched on a shelf above the gorge on the west side. Since I was last here an enormous suspension foot bridge had been built well above the top of the gorge From Ekle Bhatti to just below Bhangsing. It must have been 300m above the river and 300m long and the biggest of its type I have ever seen. It was built by the Kadores; Ex UK army Ghurka Association, who do a lot of projects in Nepal. It certainly made life easier for the people of Bhangsing, and we could see groups of children coming across to go to school in Philim. This was now just a half hour walk instead of an hour and a half. After Ekle Bhatti we dropped into the gorge to the bridge over the river just below the confluence of the two main rivers, the muddy Budhi Gandaki emerging from the Nubri Valley and the clear Siyar Khola emerging from the Tsum Valley. Where the rivers met was a large forested area of Chir Pines which clung onto the steep grassy slopes which were now spring green with the recent rains.

265. The huge 300 metre long and 300 metre high suspension bride linking the village of Bhangsing with the rest of the world. Previously the villagers had to descend a good hour to another village before reaching the path.

Just after the bridge was a motley gathering of bhattis for the mule drivers, and by one of them I met Margot, a French volunteer who was going up the Nubri Valley to identify needs for the locals her charity could provide. I suggested stove pipes and large heavy batteries for the plentiful Chinese solar chargers. We walked together for half an hour, crossing and recrossing the river in a sheer sided gorge until we reached Pewa. She was the first non Nepali I had seen for ten days and her English was flawless.  Although shaded by jungle and the side of the gorge it was roasting in the bottom. We could barely hear each other due to the crashing torrent and the sounds of hundreds of crickets and cicadas. We stopped at Pewa, us for tea and her for lunch.

We left Margot in Pewa, a claustrophobic place hemmed in by rock, and continued another hour to Deng which was much nicer and more open, being sited where a side valley joined the main Nubri Valley. There was a teahouse here which was open and they cooked up a meal. Most of the tea houses had shut for the season. After Deng the path, which was still overrun with mules, crossed to the east side of the river on a wire footbridge and then undulated up a down the side of the valley for a good couple of hours passing through hamlets and villages. The gorge still continued below us with the ferocious river tumbling down over boulders carving an ever deeper slot, but we were on the steep often terraced or clad in pines above the gorge. It was overcast and windy which made it much easier to walk. The pines here were now the five needled Bhutan Pines with their delicate papery cones. The change from Chir to Bhutan Pine seemed to occur around 2000 metres.

266. The Budhi Gandaki gorge about its confluence with the Siyar Khola which flowed out of Tsum Valley. This was just downstream from Pewa.

Eventually we reached the Serang Khola stream, crossed it on a wire bridge and then continued to traverse the steep valley side for half an hour until the valley really opened out. It reminded me of a Swiss Valley like Grindalwald. Waterfalls plunged down from the misty heights some two kilometres above us and then tumbled through the pines to reach the flat wide valley floor on which the nice village of Ghap sat. The last half hour into Ghap was easy as the path was flat and wide enough for us and the mules. However most of the lodges were shut and the one we liked was closed because the owners had gone to the meeting in Philim we left this morning. We had to carry on up the valley for another km to the hamlet of Ghapsya until we found a lodge. It was pretty rustic but at least it did not have strings of mules tethered outside it and the uncouth mule drivers inside. As the evening went on the lodge grew on me, especially when a wild looking ascetic monk arrived and everyone paid homage to him. Rather than the plump monastery monk this one looked like he had just emerged from five years meditation in a spartan cave.

267. The village of Ghap lay on a shelf in the valley between the gorge and the steep mountainside. It looked like somewhere out of the Alps. Ghapsya was beyond the far end of the shelf.

June 06. Ghapsya to Lho. 16 km. 6 hours. 1410m up. 490m down. I slept well at the hotel, which only in the morning I noticed was sited under a buttress of conglomerate rock. However it was plagued with flies and I had to eat my breakfast outside to avoid the worst of them. After we left we walked just 20 minutes through the forest on an easy path to reach Jungle Lodge, a much nicer place to stay than last nights’ emergency stop. It was sited just at the bridge where the path crossed from the south to the north side crossing a deep ravine where the muddy waters of the river crashed down through chutes. It was just here that I came across the first of the West Himalayan Spruces, Picea smithiania. They had large boles of around 1.5m and were tall at 40m with huge drooping branches almost covered in tassels of 3 cm long needles. It was the first dendrological sign we had made it to the west of Nepal.  We crossed the bridge and continued up through thick jungle, the lower half of which was covered in white clematis in bloom. There were also the same white flowering trees as in my neighbours garden. It was a marvellously fertile good km or so until we reached another bridge to take us back over to the south bank again, about an hour after leaving Ghapsya.

The path now climbed and fell up the drier hillside, passing a few hamlets on each side of the river, which had they not had tin roofs could have been from a medieval era. All had stone walls with wooden layers between to hold it all together and then many had shingle plank roofs. The front of the houses were large, also wooden, with animals below and humans and storage above. The path went through them with more and more mani walls and small chortens appearing as we headed into more Buddhist areas of the Lama caste and left the Gurungs behind. There were wispy waterfalls on both sides of the valley some plummeting from huge heights from the tops of cloud enshrouded mountains in tiers of many hundreds of metres each.

We got to Namrung quite early after just 2.5 hours just after 10. I remembered it as a nice place but the lodge I previously stayed at was closed, as 90% of them were. However there was a nice new place, the first one we came to, which described itself as a resort and it was open. It was very fancy with some US$30 rooms, but the food prices were the same as all the other lodges in Namrung due to Manaslu Hotel Association rules. Despite the early hour we ate here and relaxed under the shady trees until midday when enough of a breeze started to make the afternoon walk more tolerable.

Indeed after Namrung the character of the valley changed and the gorge became smaller and less significant, and above it were large open shelves with extensive fields of barley ripening on them. In one of the medieval hamlets, Banjam, there was one huge field some 200m wide and 500-600m long. There was no division in it and it looked like it was owned by one family. It must have been the biggest field in Nepal’s Himal region. There was a large waterfall here which cascaded some 200-300 metres down a bare slab. As it came down it opened up into a wispy fan. Not long after the path descended into a smaller side valley and then climbed up to the very Buddhist village of Lihi around 3000m, with its new and old monasteries, kami gates, large chortens, mani walls and a large fluttering of prayer flags. The walking was some much easier here now also as the path contoured across the south side of the valley.

268. The large field at Banjam was about 300m times 700m and was remarkable in that it was so flat and uniform. It was the largest field I had seen in the Himal or Pahar regions of Nepal. It was full of ripening barley.

After Lihi the path descended into a side valley where the Hinang Khola tumbled down in a muddy torrent. It was the culprit which muddied all the waters downstream. It flowed out of the Hinang Glacier upstream which collected all the snows from the north side of the huge Himal Chulli mountain, a near 8000m mountain south of Manaslu. There must have been a moraine collapse to muddy the waters to this extent. It was a short climb out of this valley to the thriving village of Sho. It had the same medieval character and was very Bhuddist. Indeed as we went along its stone houses there was a puja ceremony in a tent with about 20 chanting worshipers and much drum beating. I wanted to stop and take a photo but it would have been rude. I remember the last time I came through Sho there was a large and lively wedding and on this occasion I did get a lot of photos.

269. The Kami gate or entrance/exit to the village at Lihi. Inside the roof is hollow and like most kami is was decorated with Buddhist murals on wooden panels.

270. Approaching the village of Sho. The path gently weaved through fields of ripening barley. Last time I came here there was a large and boisterous wedding at the houses in the distant right.

271. Approaching the village of Lho with its stone houses in the foreground. Beyond on the hill is the Ribung Monastery and beyond that the twin peaks of the 8000m high Manaslu.

After I left Sho I could see the Ribung Gompa on the hill in the middle of the valley some 2 km ahead. This was a large prestigious monastery, the main one in the Nubri Valley, and it sat on the hill above Lho overlooking it. Behind it was the magnificent Manaslu, but right now it was hidden by cloud and I would have to wait until tomorrow morning to catch it in its sunrise glory. The two km to Lho was relatively easy as I sauntered along the forested hillside to the edge of the village. There was a lot of building work going on, enlarging guest houses now it was low season. I remembered a large hotel with a single roof top room where I had the most stunning view of Manaslu from my bed. However it was closed so I settled for the one next door. There was a Dutch family here and a group of four Slovakians, who all lived in Bruntsfield in Edinburgh and studied at the university there. The Slovakians were very switched on and loved every bit of their first trip to Nepal and were lapping it up and doing lots of side trips. The Dutch were in the middle of a classic insurance fraud. Their guide had convinced the man he had altitude sickness, which at 3100, was a tall order. He said a helicopter evacuation was necessary and his insurance would cover it. The helicopter company would charge $6000-8000 instead of the normal $2500-3000 and the guide, the trekking company and the helicopter company would share the profit. It was becoming rife in Nepal, sometimes guides would even contaminate clients food to emulate food poisoning (for example with baking soda). The Dutch family’s guide had also persuaded them the pass was near impossible and to cancel the trip now was the best option, and they fell for it. It was shameful of the guide and weak of the Dutch. Some trekking companies even sell trips they cannot hope to make a profit on purely on the basis they can conjure up a problem which requires the clients insurance to pay for a helicopter rescue. Ironically the helicopter was postponed for a day as the weather in Kathmandu was poor and he was acclimatizing well!

272. The Ribung Monastery was once the seat of Buddhist learning in the Nubri Valley but has lost some of its prestige and population in the last years.

June 07. Lho to Samdo. 16km. 5.5 hour. 1190m up. 580m down. It was misty when I went to bed, but I was hopeful for a view in the morning and set my alarm for 0445. However that was dashed by torrential rain early in the morning which was soon accompanied by thunder and lightning. When the alarm went I just heard the rain pelting onto the corrugated tin roof and did not even get out of bed. However a breakfast around 0700 the rain eased and there was the increasing flash of blue sky. The helicopter to “rescue” the Dutch seemed not to have been approved by the authorities so they had a five day walk back to the bus. It was a shame as had they just taken three more days they could have had an easy three hour walk to Samagaon, the cultural jewel in the valley, and then another three hour walk the next day to Samdo, in spectacular mountain scenery. Their greedy guide had ruined this for them by putting the fear of God in them about difficult conditions in the hope he would get a cut of the helicopter fraud. I wanted to explain all this to the Dutch but they thought their guide was fantastic and it was not really my business.

I headed up the path towards the monastery with Manaslu behind it but the cloud quickly enveloped it. The facade of the monastery was impressive but that was all it was and there was little substance behind it. I went to the south of the monastery on a new path in the thick conifer woods of larch and silver fir before dropping down to a clear stream in the wooded valley. Here I met the other path which went round the north side of the monastery.  The merged path now headed up a tranquil wooded valley, thick with conifers with the small clear stream tumbling down it. Occasionally part of the stream was diverted into a channel which went down a chute to turn a prayer wheel. It was a gentle scene. About half way up there was a sign to Hongsangbu monastery and as I climbed further towards Shyala I could see its red roofs appearing in the firs.

Shyala itself was a cluster of lodges laid out along one street. It had a big school at the west end which looked Buddhist inspired. It had a great view west towards the Manaslu Massif which was now lost in cloud but its near 8000m southern neighbour, Nadi Chuli, stood proud. I walked through the village and out through the kami gate on the west side and back into the conifers. There was a short drop now to a suspension footbridge over a small stream and then a climb up to another large bridge over the muddy Numla Khola torrent which emerged from the Punggen glacier. This glacier drained the SE quadrant of Mount Manaslu. At the end of this second bridge the valley opened up even more, and there were two large fertile plains each side of the main river. At the end of the plains, some 2 km away across flat grassy pasture was the large village of Samagaon. It was the main settlement in the valley, and its traditional stone slab and new blue tin roofs covered quite an area. Alter the far end of the village on a wooded ridge was a cluster of red roofs – these were the three monasteries. One was damaged by the earthquake, one burnt down a couple of years ago but the third was OK, but apparently it was locked. Santos had caught me up as we walked together across the flat grassy meadows with mules and dhzo grazing on them homing in on Samagaon.

273. Entering the village of Samagaon with its rustic, simple houses lining a couple of paved paths through the village.

Once we passed through the old three storey kami gate, with its Buddhist murals inside, we descended down to a huge pile of mani stones arranged behind a perimeter wall  of small brass sheet prayer wheels. In the middle of this pile were two or three large chortens with the all-seeing eyes painted on them. It was quite an impressive sight and left one in no doubt Samagaon was a pious place. Passing this we followed the path past rows of poor medieval houses. Each had a compound in front which was generally paved with stone slabs, upon which firewood, piles of pine needles and piles of manure could be stacked. The simple wooden fronted houses had an opening off the yard to the lower floor and it looked like animals were kept in here, certainly in the drier brown months, if not all year. Above this were rustic balconies, and behind were the kitchen and living space of the family. The roofs were a mixture of stone slabs and tin, with the occasional shingle planks. Smoke leaked from the roof from the dingy interiors. It could have been like this 500 years ago.  At the upper end of the village were a cluster of lodges and hotels. We dropped into Hotel Manaslu, where I stayed previously, for lunch which the battleaxe of a Gurung host cooked for us with good cheer. As we finished the Slovakians arrived at an adjacent hotel. Bharat had to go and get the permits checked by the police and Conservation Area officials.

274. At the southern entrance to Samagaon was a huge pile of carved mani stones overseen but a couple of large chortens with the all seeing eyes.

275. One of the typical simple, almost medieval, houses in Samagaon. It had a paved stone yard with piles of firewood. Below was a barn for the animals, certainly during the winter time. Above were the very simple living quarters of the family, All under a stone slate roof with a aperture for a chimney.

276. A devout older villager of Samagaon sitting in his yard with a prayer wheel. As we past he was muttering a prayer as he span the wheel, itself a prayer.

After lunch I headed off on my own up the U shaped wide open valley. It was covered in various types of berberis plants, most of which were in yellow or orange bloom. Between them were small juniper trees. Up the sides of the valley were Himalayan birch and in some place they went up to nearly 4000m. Above the birch were the mountains, many with glaciers and piles of moraine. As I went up I had to cross a crystal clear stream. It emerged from Birendra Tal lake just a bit higher up – this was essentially the base camp for Manaslu climbers. At the far end of the lake the vast Manaslu glacier ground to a halt on the slabs above the lake. Even in the four years since I was last here I could see the glacier had retreated. Previously the collapsing seracs tumbled down the slabs to the lake’s edge but now they did not even make the slabs.

It was a lovely easy walk up the gentle valley for two hours passing grazing animals and mani walls, one about 300m long. Women were returning from the birch woods with baskets heaped high with firewood. As I approached the traditional Himalayan cantilever bridge made from logs and rocks over the violent muddy waters of the youthful Budhi Gandaki I came across some 50 temporary shelters of rock walls covered with a tarpaulin. Initially I thought they were pastoralists as the area around the shelters seemed to be sparsely covered in grazing yak and mule. However it was only later when Bharat explained to me they were seasonal yarsagumba hunters. I crossed the bridge, climbed a steep moraine ridge and then arrived at the slightly scruffy hamlet of Samdo. There was only one hotel open and it was reasonably clean. I checked in here and the others arrived about half an hour later.

277. Two women returning to Samagaon with basket of firewood from the birch forest. They are walking beside the 300m long mani wall made from carved stone tablets of prayers.

Yarsagumba hunters are a phenomena all over Nepal’s Himal region in the spring. It is a major source of income for thousands of families who either live in the Himal or migrate from the Hill region, the Pahar, each spring to live in the simple shelters I had seen earlier. They spend their days high up from 4000-5000 metres in the high grasslands which are emerging from the snow on their hands and knees searching for yarsagumba. A yarsagumba is the pupae of a moth which overwinters just below the surface of the ground under a snowfield. Unfortunately for the pupae it is very susceptible to being infected by a fungus which grows a shoot some 5 cm out of the top of the pupae. As the pupae wriggles in its death throes the shoot moves and it is this that the yarsagumba hunters are looking for. They then dig it up and carefully bag the pupae and attached fungus shoot, the whole thing being about 10 cm. On a good day a yarsagumba hunter might find 20 specimens, as they might sell each one for US$5 this is a small fortune. It is not without its risks however, and each year some hunters die when avalanches hit them, others are killed in fights and many are conned out of their bounty by unscrupulous traders. You are probably wondering why a moth pupae infected with a fungus can be worth US$5?  Somehow these infected moth pupae have become part of traditional Chinese medicine and they are used to promote virility, a kind of Himalayan viagra. The infected pupae can sell for up to US$100 to the businessmen of Beijing who feel they are lacking in the virility department.

278. Yarsagumba. These caterpillars of a moth live under the snow for the winter but get infected by a fungus which eventually kills them. As the snow clears around 4500m in the spring they are still just alive. They are collected by perhaps half a million Nepalis in the spring and can be worth US$2-5 each. They are sold as an aphrodisiac to the Chinese.

June 08. Samdo to Bimthang. 30 km.9 hours. 1460m up. 1710m down. We had a big day in front of us so we had breakfast at 0430 and left at 0520 after it had got light. We were all in good shape and up for the long day. None of us had any acclimatization issues at all and this was a relatively low pass at 5100m. My sinusitis had gone and I no longer had to take paracetamol for any headaches. We were all fighting fit as we powered up the path in the shade of the mountains behind us. We passed Larkya Bazar where there used to be an annual market, mostly of Tibetan/Chinese goods which came across the border just to the north. This border is now closed and the market defunct. As we climbed the sun lit up the tops of the peaks and then slowly worked its way down. The yarsagumba hunters would already have made it up to their picking grounds by now.

We hiked up the north side of the valley looking down on the infant Budhi Gandaki to our south and Syacha Glacier from which the muddy torrent emerged from the moraine covered ice. This glacier drained the north side of Manaslu. At a certain position on the path we could see right up the glacier to the base of Manaslu and then all the way up the north face to the north col and finally up the slopes to the summit with it’s twin peaks. The route did not look very difficult from our viewpoint but I am sure it is. Yaks grazed in the pastures around us, their black shapes always moving while they grazed.

279. Looking up the Syacha Glacier to the north side of Mount Manaslu from near Dharamsla. The twin peaks are clearly visible.

After the view of the north side of Manaslu the path reached Dharamsala where there was once a dirty, cold teahouse. However in the intervening four years since my last visit it had closed and two new ones had been built. They looked much more appealing to stay at for those who wanted a shorter day. They were both closed however as it was off-season now. Just beyond these lodges the path met the terminal moraine of the Larkya glacier. It did not go onto the moraine but followed the snout round to the north side and then followed the grassy hillside along the edge of the lateral moraine. There were plenty of marmots here. They seemed bigger than their European or North American cousins and unlike them did not post a sentry to sound a shrill whistle if danger appeared. As I approached they shuffled off to their burrows in the rocks under the grassy surface. There were many yaks grazing here but most seemed to be female, called a nyak. After the Thudam incident I still gave them a wide berth. Behind me the view down to Samdo village and the huge Samdo mountains, with its high cliffs and snow fields, was impressive, while ahead Larke Peak dominated the south side of the valley and blocked the views of Manaslu.

281. Dharamsala used to consist of a single filthy lodge, however in the last years two new lodges have appeared and the old lodge closed down, making it a much more appealing place to stay.

282. Going up the moraine on the north side of the Larkya Glacier past marmot burrows towards the Larkya La Pass. The beast is a female yak, called a nyak.

283. Looking down the moraine of the Larkya Glacier to the path I had just come up. In the distance is the mountain of Samdo which is beyond the village of Samdo we stayed at.

After 4 km from Dharamsala the path left the grassy mountainside and went onto the moraine of the glacier for another 4 km to the pass. The path on the moraine was marked by poles, well beaten and easy to follow. At a small snowfield I saw a fresh footprint and knowing the others were well behind had a Man-Friday moment as there was someone just half an hour ahead or so. I also saw lots of old mule or yak prints on the softer sections. The flowers here were in their prime and the yellow and the purple rhododendrons were in flower. The former was the one Dawa plucked a few leaves from to take home for incense. The latter were very small and prostrate but seemed to have more than 7 stamen in the flowers. Someone learned once told me that Rhododendron have 7 or more and azaleas 6 or less, but to the common man the purple plants looked like azaleas. As I approached the pass the terrain became a bit sandier, and there were silty streams and small turquoise tarns on the flat moraine.

280. The high altitude rhododendron shrub exits from 4500 to 5000 metres. It produces beautiful pompom like flowers and when burnt the leaves give off a much cherished incense smell.

284. A small rhododendron shrub at around 5000m on the Larkya La Pass. Apparently if there are 7 or more stamen in the flower it is a rhododendron and 6 or less it is an azalea. These flowers had more than 7.

285. Just to the south of Larkya La Pass was the 6000m mountain of Larkya. Its north side was heavily glaciated.

286. Looking back down the Larkya Glacier from near the pass. In the foreground it the sandy moraine and a couple of shallow tarns and in the distance is Samdo Peak. We slept at the foot of Samdo Peak.

287. Bharat, Santos and Ramesh on Larkya la Pass. They had now got special T shirts made to celebrate our journey.

288. Me on Larkya la Pass with the mountains to the north on the Tibetan border in the background.

The pass was quite shallow and as usual marked by tangled strings of prayer flags. The others were well behind having stopped for a bite so I found a sheltered spot and lay down on the gravel for a snooze. I must have slept for half an hour and was woken by the sound of bells, the same bells as the mule trains use. I looked up and there were two mule trains approaching with about 20 unladen beasts. I thought the west side of the pass was far too steep for them but apparently not. Just after them Bharat, Santos and Ramesh arrived and we had the usual high fiving and photo session. I wanted to get on a get some photos of the impressive 7000m peaks and the glacial landscape on the west side of the pass before the rapidly building clouds obscured it.

As I set off a huge Lammergeyer vulture cruised past very close to me, unusually close, then I saw another and another on the ground. I went over to have a look and there was a dead mule lying in the rocks. It must have died yesterday. The vultures had just started pecking at it and had opened a few holes. However all four flew off when I approached, re-landed nearby to check me out and then flew off and spiralled up. They were huge birds with a graceful flight but all that was wasted because off their haggard, ugly faces. There was not the eagle like features or panache with these large birds with their turkey like faces.

289. One of the lammergeyer vultures who I disturbed feeding on the carcass of a dead mule almost at the pass. These ugly, turkey-headed birds looked graceful in flight with their near three metre wingspan.

290. A team of mule coming up the west side of Larkya La pass on the vastly improved track. It was a lot quicker to come this way to Samagaon than up the path we came in the Budhi Gandaki valley.

291. Looking down the west side of the Larkya La pass to the confluence of the three glaciers. Despite the upheaval the lateral moraines are well defined and even harbour a couple of lakes between their ridges.

Just beyond the dead mule I remembered the path descending steep loose ground for a good hour. However it seemed a new path had been made and it appeared to be very easy. Just to emphasise this I spotted about five mule trains coming up it. When they approached I saw they were all carrying two bags of cement. I asked the drivers where they were going and they all said Samagaon. It seemed it was at least a day shorter to come this way than up the way we came from the roadhead at Machhakhola. With this new path which zig-zagged all the way down to the valley below it meant this once tricky pass was now easy and even the most timid trekkers would find it possible. I thought of the Dutch and how well they would have managed, had they not been frightened by their guide who was purely after the insurance fraud money.

The views down the path were huge but quickly becoming obscured by cloud. There were huge glaciated 7000m peaks all around with flutes of snow clinging to their ridges. But between them were three large glaciers which flowed down from these peaks for 7-12km until they met just below me in a well-defined array of moraine ridges. Between four of these moraine ridges were two deep blue lakes of clean unsilty water. One of them, Ponkar Tal, even had a trekking path to it. I quickly descended down the path to the edge of the first moraine and then followed it down to a new bhatti to cater for the mule drivers. We stopped here for a cup of tea before following the valley between the moraine and hillside down to Bimtang, which took a good hour. The hillside was covered in Himalayan birch which went up a couple of hundred metres to the rocky crags where only shrubs could exist. Bimtang was a tranquil hamlet of lodges, most of which had a central dining room and kitchen and then a cluster of simple wooden cottages for the clients to sleep in. It was spread out across a large meadow between moraine and hillside and full of grazing mules. Most of the lodges seemed closed and were being renovated but we found one with four empty cottages and occupied two. It was a nice end to a long day which I expected to be longer and harder, but the new path had helped shave at least a tortuous hour off it. Indeed with this new path I would reckon the Manaslu Circuit with the Tsum valley side trip to now be the best teahouse trek (non camping) in Nepal taking 20-25 days in all.

June 09. Bimtang to Dharipani. 29km. 8hours. 320m up.  2100m down. As usual I went for breakfast at 0630 but there was no sign of life, neither from my team nor from the lodge. The dining room was locked. I looked at my watch again to confirm and yes it was 0630. I banged on the kitchen door and the bleary eyed hostess appeared. I thought by the time the stove gets going I will have to wait half an hour for a tea so I just asked for the bill and left before anyone appeared, taking my breakfast money with me. It was a beautiful morning but likely to cloud over fast and I wanted some photos.

292. The Silver Fir forests below Bimtang hosted some specimen trees some 45-50 metres high with 2 metre boles.

It was a beautiful pastoral valley for the first ten minutes or so until the path rounded a spur clad in Himalayan birch and a vast vista of long vanished glaciers and moraine ridges opened up to my east. Above them was the Manaslu massif with the summit visible. It was a much steeper proposition from the west side. I took quite a few photos and continued down the same moraine ridge which I followed yesterday until the path veered to the west, crested the moraine and crossed it. The ice had recently vanished from under the stones, which had now settled and allowed some colonizer shrubs to take hold. I crossed the silty glacial torrent on a traditional cantilever bridge of logs and stones and then climbed the steep west side lateral moraine. Given the harsh stony half kilometre of glacial debris I had just crossed I was surprised that at the moraine crest I entered a beautiful mature Silver fir forest, rich in resinous smells. The route descended a bit to the valley between moraine and mountain where some of the trees were specimen firs with 2 metre boles and dripping moss from their huge boughs.

293. The west side of Manaslu from the Dudh Khola valley near Yak Kharka. This side was much steeper and more imposing than the east side which is the usual climbers’ route.

Occasionally there were impressive views to Manaslu through the trees. One glacier descending from Manaslu had completely disappeared, and what had been moraine and glacier was now all covered in mature deciduous trees giving the whole landscape the feel that it had been draped in green velvet. As I followed the path down a large tumbling dirty khaki torrent emerged from the vast bowl to the west of Manaslu and started to flow beneath the path. It continued below the path for another few km until I reached Yak Kharka where there were two lodges sitting in a meadow surrounded by a fringe of lime green deciduous trees, beyond which were the dark silver firs.  I had been walking for over two hours so was ready for breakfast, and chose the upper lodge where a lone lady was watering her young vegetables.

294. The lead mule of a mule train coming down through the silver fir forest just above Yak Kharka. The lead mules are often looked after better and decorated by their owners as they are a valuable asset and keep some stability in the team.

After my late breakfast I continued down through the woods. The firs had largely been replaced by hemlocks and something which looked like short squat hemlocks which I though must be a type of yew. After an easy shaded couple of km I came across another meadow, covered in white geraniums and other flowers and teeming with butterflies. By now the mountain views had largely been smothered by the clouds and obscured by the steep valley sides. At this point there was a seam of particularly resistant rock which had formed a buttress and forced the river to make a U bend round it. The path climbed the hump of the buttress which was covered in Hemlock and Bhutan pine. Occasionally I could see down the side of the buttress into a very deep gorge, so deep the river was lost in the slot. At the top of the buttress I could see the hamlet of Gho, with its blue tin roofs some half an hour below me. As I dropped down to Gho the woods became warm and deciduous and full of birdsong. These woods then gave way to small fields of wheat, corn and in a few places apple orchards, where the young trees were heavily barricaded against marauding herbivores like the mules. I stopped here for a few cups of tea in a lodge and realized I had stayed at it four years ago.

295. The meadow of white geraniums below Yak Kharka were full of butterflies on this warm day.

The path from here continued for just a few km through the woods until it met a track which had been bulldozed but never used other than by pedestrians and mules. It replaced the old track which I remember being hard work. This by contrast was a breeze and I could saunter along it easily. There were some large stacks of wood beside where axemen had made it their profession to cut and sell wood. Often you would see an empty mule train loading up with wood to deliver down the trail when they were returning to inevitably pick up more cement from the road head.

The track led me right through the village of Tilije which was full of guesthouses and lodges. It looked quite quaint but I wanted to get to Dharapani, which I remember as being far from quaint but convenient. After Tilije the track crossed the raging torrent on a ford which only a large excavator could manage. Pedestrians and mules used a suspension footbridge and picked up the track on the south side of the valley and followed it down through scrubbier hillside for a few km until it reached another footbridge over the torrent far below, back to the north side again. Here was the small village of Thoche with a few lodges. I walked through it as just beyond was the Marsyangdi Khola and the town of Dharapani. Crossing the bridge over the Marsyangdi Khola for me was effectively finishing the Manaslu section and starting the Annapurna section. Just on the west side of the bridge was a smart, tidy peaceful looking hotel. I checked in to it before I got to the road above. The others arrived a few hours later.

296. Approaching Dharapani at the end of another long day. Dharapani marked the end of the Manaslu circuit and the start of the Annapurna Circuit, the next Section.

The Manaslu Section had been one of the easiest. The first days up the Budhi Gandaki gorge were hot and humid but full of interest, not least the simple road building techniques. Past our night in Ghapsya though the local culture really started to shine through and by the time we reached Samagaon it was splendid. If this was not enough the mountain scenery also started to excel after Ghapsya and it never left us until the last few hours before Dharapani. The path over the pass was much easier than we feared as it had been upgraded for mules, and we were largely blessed with good weather. Furthermore I was over my sinusitis and certainly had my hiker legs on now and could walk all day. I am not looking forward to the next Section 10. Annapurna. Hugely, as I have done it before in 1992 and since then it has become much busier and there is a track up most of it, except the infamous Thorong La Pass, which I am looking forward to.

Section 09. Manaslu. 135km. 45,5hours. 6780m up. 6080m down.           


28 May. Syabru Besi sickness day. 0 km. 0 hours. 0m up. 0m down. I felt mostly better but I still had a lot of blog/pictures and emails to attend to. I reckoned it would take six hours, so despite an early start we would probably not get a substantial walk in. It was a tedious morning attending to it all but it was done by about 1400. I then struggled to upload it, and in the end had to go to the best hotel in Syabru Besi to upload it on their WiFi. The lady receptionist at Hotel Sky was so helpful she even gave me a coffee while it was all uploading.

In the afternoon I also went to the chemist to get a nasal steroid. While I was there a couple of very bright Americans from Montana helped me as she was a critical care nurse. There was not much to do later and I wandered the town, discovered an ATM and plundered it and bought some fruit. I also brought some brinjals and gave them to Ramesh to cook for supper. He had now completely ensconced himself in our hotel’s (YalaPeak) kitchen and was the source of all banter in there. He cooked me and the Montana couple who were also staying at the Yala peak the most amazing Dhalbhat with local black dhal, amaranth leaves and a potato and brinjal curry. There seems little that Ramesh cannot do.

29 May. Syabru Besi to Parbati Kund. 13 km. 4.5 hours. 1190m up. 180m down. I was feeling much better after a day a Syabru Besi which I had to take to catch up with all my digital duties anyway. We knew we had a big climb in the full glare of the sun, so we set off a bit earlier at around 0730 – although for it to have made much difference we should have set off at 0430 as the sun had already warmed the slope. We followed the road up to the school finding quite a few shortcuts on the five or six hairpin bends through small terraced fields and houses. It took us a short half hour to climb the 200m to the school.

From the school the path followed a steeper slope up across the wooded hillside. It wove its way up small spurs and small bowls covered in the long three needled chir pines which covered the hillside. The forest floor was covered in pine needles, and in more rural places it was the job of the children to go and collect baskets of these needles for animal bedding. This bedding would then be spread on the fields with the manure. However it looked like this area was now too urban for this practice. On and on the path went for some 700m in one hot climb. I felt good and pushed it all the way to the top where the road joined the path as the pass after it had climbed many hairpin bends to match the path’s rocky steps. There were a couple of bhattis at the pass, called Rongga Bhjangyang on the map, and we stopped at one for a milky tea. All of this area was now Tamang and there was a network of trails here called the Tamang Heritage Trail. The fabulous costumes and hats of the ladies were very distinctive.

From the pass we could look down onto the very extensive village of Goljung with its vast terraced fields spread out around it. It had an innovative hydropower plant where the valley’s stream fed a large pond. The outflow from the pond went through the mountain down towards Syabru Besi and discharged into the Trusilli River. Bharat explained that it was an all Nepali venture. We did not have to go down to Goljung however and instead now followed the quiet, but dusty road, for some five or six km as it contoured around the forested hillside to the west. The road was being improved at many places by small gangs who were placing rocks on edge across the surface to make it more monsoon proof. The road looked a good 10 years old and the initial scars created during its building were greening over.

The road wove round spurs and snuck into side valleys as it made its way through the now mixed chir and bhutan pine forest towards Gatling. Three or four vehicles passed me as I walked along it for the two hours. Just before Gatling a moped stopped for a chat. He explained the route to me. He said if I was going to Sondang tomorrow I would be best to take the upper fork at an imminent junction and head up the hill to the lower edge of the extensive forests on the hillside leading up to the pass I would cross tomorrow. He said it would be a longer day if I went down to Gatling and climbed the pass from there. He said I should go up to Parvati Kund, where there was a holy lake and beside it a rustic homestay. I waited for the others, and they had just received the same info from a very swarthy older Tamang man in very tradition dress.

We took the upper junction and then made a few shortcuts across potato terraced to enter a pine and hemlock forest which the path threaded a route through. After a short hour it emerged beside an area covered in prayer flags, small chortens and a few small temples. It was the Parvati Kund lake. It was about two hectares and seemed to be fed by ground water and tiny streams. The whole pond was clogged with weed, but a squad of about 20 Nepalis were clearing the weed and carrying it to the side. They were even digging up the roots, from homemade rafts of tractor tyres.

245. Our host at Parbati Kund homestay. He was a Tamang and a Lama for the village. Here he is wearing his traditional Tamang jacket made from sheep wool.

246. Our host and his wife in traditional Tamang outfit at Parbati Kund.

Beside the lake was a simple house with various crops drying on tarpaulins beside it. Of particular interest to me were the piles of lentil bushes with the local black lentils, which could just be shaken off the 30-40 cm high bushes. Around the house were some richly dressed women with the same colourful hats and dresses of the Tamang and men in rustic coarse jackets held together with a cloth belt, into which a huge khukri knife was tucked into in its wooden sheath. This was the homestay and they showed us the room and made a cup of refreshing milky tea. Ramesh almost immediately made himself at home in the kitchen and helped the hostess make lunch. After lunch we all slept, having been coshed by the heat of the climb this morning and the large meal. Not even the boisterous 20 or so hens outside who spend most of the time chasing each other and vying for dominance could disturb us. In the late afternoon our hosts returned from the fields with more baskets full of lentil bushes which were laid out on more tarpaulins on the grassy compound. As night fell these were wrapped up, before the silence of the evening enveloped up. Here and there you could make out people walking with torches from house to house.

247. The black lentils bushes laid out to dry on a tarpaulin in our hosts yard at Parbhati Kund. The black lentils are the prized lentil for making Dalbhat.

31 May. Parbati Kund to Somdang. 12km. 5 hours.  1140m up.  460m down. We all slept well and were late in starting. There was no hurry as it was either five hours to Somdang or eleven to Tipling and we had already chosen the former. The only advantage of going early was to get better views before the mists obscured most by midmorning. In the end we left at 0800 and followed the road up past the prayer flags, chortens, and temple of this Hindu holy lake with Buddhist trappings. After a few minutes we reached a hamlet with a couple of homestays. I think the settlement was Gothen. It was on the so called “Rubi Valley Trek” which vaguely goes from Syabru Besi to Arughat, and we would be following this route. After Gothen, 2550m, the path left the track and entered the woods.

It was a well-made track and marked by yellow painted circles. We followed its steps up and up through deciduous woods full of cuckoo song, which I hear almost daily below 3000m, and then into the hemlock and firs. There were small streams here and there crossing the path, and the tree canopy gave us shade from the warming sun. Up ahead I heard the dull clunk of large cow bells and soon came across a herder taking his 20 odd chauri cow/yak crosses and 15 goats up to his kharka. There were about 10 calves, some of which looked very bewildered to be in the forest. They all arrived at the kharka the same time as I did. There were already five or six families there. He went to his seasonal simple herders shed where he would spend the summer.

248. Arriving at the kharka for the summer with his animals. A man reaches his summer’s destination with his chauri. He will spend the summer in the seasonal cottage and spend the summer making dairy products.

I passed through the grazing animals, barking dogs and friendly herders who were spread across the meadow and then entered a fire burnt area beyond it. I guess it was about 100 acres of dead burnt silver firs, some of which had been very old with two metre boles. I would like to be charitable and blame it on lightning, but I suspect some 10 years ago these herders set fire to the forest to increase the grazing area. Above the kharka the path pretty much merged with the road for a good few km as it climbed through the burnt area. It then reached a defunct and abandoned kharka with collapsed shelters and here the path continued NW with the road veered SW at a hairpin.

For the next hour the path followed a line of electricity poles as it climbed more steeply up through pristine Silver fir forest with a rich understorey of rhododendrons, many of which were still in bloom with paler shades of purple. Towards the end it climbed more steeply and crossed a few gullies still full of snow. At last I saw a chorten and many prayer flags and knew I was approaching Khurpudada Pass, which the map had at 3710, but I made it 80m less. There was a small cosy porter’s shelter here.

249. Some of the magnificent Himalayan Silver Firs in the forest between Parbati Kund and Somdang. Many of these trees were well over 200 years old.

The descent was virtually all in mist. The path continued to roughly follow the electricity poles as it cut across the zig-zags of the track, often steeply. The forest of Silver Firs looked like it had been mostly cut as the trees were sporadic, but maybe the mists were obscuring them. As we descended the path stopped shortcutting the zig-zags on the road which pretty much ceased, and followed the road NW as it descended into the forest of larger firs. The road traversed down the steep hillside into which it was cut and I could hear a stream far below which we were descending to meet. It was the Mailung Khola, and it drained the eastern lower peaks of the Ganesh Himal. Eventfully through the forest I saw a small hamlet of some 15 houses and guessed it was Somdang. It was a very sleepy place lost in the woods beside the Mailung khola stream. Virtually all the houses were made of wood and had wooden planks on the roof. These would inevitably have been roughly hewn from the surrounding firs. The place almost had a fairytale vibe about it.

250. A mauve rhododendron on the misty pass between Parbati Kund and Somdang. On the north facing slopes the bushes were still in full bloom.

There were two teahouses here with little to choose between them, both were single storey with plank roofs. We took the first and soon were enjoying a cup of milky tea. We had walked for five hours non-stop and were ready for lunch. I had noodles with fried vegetables through them, cooked by Ramesh, and the others had dalbhat. The three others were soon laughing and joking with the owner, who you could see would trust them to come and go in the kitchen to make cups of tea and the evening meal. I wrote the blog outside with the atmospheric mists swirling through the trees on the ridges, while the others gathered round the stove in the rustic dining room for an afternoon siesta. It is a bit unfortunate the villages and hamlets are five hours apart here as we could easily do more, but perhaps not as much as ten hours.

251. Our lodge in the sleepy forest hamlet of Somdang. In the background are some of the lower eastern mountains of the Ganesh Himal. The roof of the lodge is made from shingle planks of the Silver Fir. The planks last for 15 years.

June 1. Somdang to Borang. 27km. 10 hours. 1140m up. 2850m down. We got an early start by 07 as I wanted to get some sort of view at Pansan Pass which we should take two hours to reach. We wandered through the sleepy hamlet in the forest and started up the track. Almost immediately we found the old walking track and followed this up, shortcutting all the hairpin bends and climbing up, sometimes steeply, as we made our way up through the forest of silver firs. It took us two hours to climb but at the top where the trees thinned and grassy slopes took over the mist swept in and enveloped us. The visibility was sometimes as little as 20 metres. The others were ahead and I just followed their footsteps along the new track which seemed to contour up slowly on the south facing slopes. At one point the mist cleared slightly and a view of a small kharka with about three shelters opened up. It looked a bleak spot to spend the summer tending animals. Just beyond the kharka was a large chorten and a cluster of prayer poles and flags. It must have been the Pansan Pass at 3830m, but it too was lost in the mist as the warm moist air from the hill district, pahar, drifted up into the foothills of the Ganesh Himal and condensed.

I braced myself for the near 2000m descent which I knew followed the pass. We again picked up the yellow paint of the Ruby Valley Trek on some rocks and these led us past a number of zig-zags on road as it descended from the pass. Then it seemed to part from the road and lead its own peaceful route down through the silver firs and rhododendrons. It was a magnificent forest with many huge trees with two metre boles. Beneath them was an understorey of in-bloom mauve and pale purple rhododendron bushes which were at their peak. The mist came and went as we descended until it eventually petered out. We came across a few kharka higher up but none were in use. Then as we got down to about 3400m we came across the uppermost of the pastures with animals. There were a few chauri and other cattle but most of the animals seemed to be sheep and goats. I don’t think they were milked, but were just up here to enjoy the lush grass and to fatten up on it. As we descended we passed a few more pastures with their small shingle roofed cabins made from planks of silver fir.

The path continued to drop relentlessly. At about 3000m the silver firs gave way to hemlocks and various deciduous trees. Some of the hemlocks were huge, and I saw one with a three metre bole. The hemlocks occupied just a couple of hundred metres before they were replaced entirely by the deciduous trees. Here and there I managed to catch glimpses of villages below and realized it must be Tipling. In fact there were two villages, Lawadung was the first we reached. There were homestays here but the owners were out in their fields and the houses empty. So instead we carried on down to the more compact Tipling where we found a pasal, or local shop, and they made us tea and noodles. As we left Tipling, which seemed a predominantly Gurung village we passed a couple of small local hotels. We had already walked some seven hours but wanted to go on a bit more to make tomorrow easier.

Initially I had wanted to go the extra hour to Sertun, but people suggested going the extra three to Borang, which lay beyond Sertun. It meant dropping down into a deep side valley, losing about 300-400m in height before climbing back up, regaining all the height again. As we started down the rain began. I had hoped it was a passing shower but it became more determined and soon the track was awash. It eased as we crossed the bridge over the side stream and started up past hundreds of terraced fields all planted with maize. When we reached Sertun however the rain and thunder returned with a vengeance. It poured down and the track was a good 10 cm deep stream. People were sheltering everywhere and when we passed a local shop with a porch people beckoned us under and we joined them for 20 minutes. It was an impressive rain shower.

Once the shower had passed everybody emerged from their shelters and continued with their business. We passed a couple of ladies who were planting rice under bamboo umbrellas and they had kept going through the entire shower. The path continued up past the upper houses of Serun and then traversed across a slope to reach a ridge covered in chortens, prayer flags and a kami gate. I looked back here and at last saw some of the Ganesh Himal peaks in the clearing cloud. They did not look like their 7000m, so perhaps I just saw the smaller peaks on their ridges.

From the chortens we descended very steeply to a large hamlet called Awalgoan. It was busy with people coming back from the woods with baskets of fodder for the tethered animals like goats and buffalo which could not wander free with so many fields growing maize. Someone here pointed out the path which continued to traverse gently down across the hillside through many fields of maize until it crossed another ridge. Borang was apparently on the other side of that ridge. Far below to our NW was the Ankhu Khola. We would have to cross it tomorrow, dropping down to its depths before climbing up for some 1700-1800m to a pass.

252. Some of the maize fields below Borang where about to start producing cobs. There were hundreds of terraces on top of the other for many hundreds of metres in altitude

In the evening light I looked back to the village of Awalgoan as I headed down the side of the hill away from it. The snowy peaks were breaking through the cloud again and the field were a green gold in the late sun. There were a few hamlets and people were heading back to their houses on various small paths in the surrounding fields with baskets full of produce or fodder. Soon they would be lighting their fires and cooking their dalbhat for the evening meal.

When I got to the ridge I could see Borang laid out below me. It still took half an hour to descend the steep greasy stones of the path to reach it. It reminded me of Gurung villages south of Annapurna like Bujung, Tanting and Siklis, but the houses in Borang had tin roofs rather than the large slate slabs of the Gurung villages. But the architecture of the houses was the same three storeys with large eaves. It turned out the village was predominantly Tamang. We wove through the streets and found one of the three hotels in a very traditional looking house. I liked it at once. It was owned by the headman of the village, but he was absent. His niece opened up the place for us and showed us a couple of rooms. Upstairs was his office, where all the village matters were sorted out by the local committee which met here. Ramesh wasted no time in acquainting himself with the kitchen and made us all a great dalbhat. It was quite a late night by the time I finished writing and it did not get to bed until 2130.

June 02. Borang to Nauban Kharka. 19km. 8.5 hours. 1890m up. 850m down. We had another 0700 start from the rustic hotel as we had a huge climb. However firstly we had to descend some 400m through the village, then extensive terraces of maize some of which was now bearing fruit. We passed a few hamlets lower down at the bottom fields before the path descended into the jungle for the final 50 metres before reaching the Ankhu Khola in the bottom of its gorge. There was a new suspension bridge here crossing the clear cascading river, and the old dilapidated one hanging forlorn and forgotten over the river with bits hanging off it. The bottom of the gorge was about 1250m.

From here we started the climb. Initially it was on a very well made path clinging to the south side of side valley with the Lapa Khola river tumbling over boulders in the bottom of the gorge. The path was all stepped and there was often a parapet, especially at the steeper bits where the path was hacked into the rock face. We passed about 10 mule caravans coming down which seemed a lot for one village, Lapagoan higher up. I stood between the mules and rock face, as it would be easy for one to get excited and knock me over the parapet into the abyss. The path was quite steep for a good hour until it relented. As it eased I came across the first signs of a village, the heavily coppiced and cropped sal trees whose leaves are cut for fodder and some terraced fields. Soon came some small chortens and children coming up some paths to head for the school. One boy proudly showed me his pet baby bird. He fed it berries and it perched quite happily on his head. It looked like a baby Jay and could not yet fly. He treasured it, but I hope the others at his primary school did.

253. A boy going to school with his pet unfledged bird he found in the village of Lapagaon.

Eventually we reached the village proper. It was Tamang. The paths through the village were all well paves and the frequent bridges made of huge stone slabs, some of which must have weighed many hundred kilos. There were streams all over the place and a few grain mills beside them. Marsh marigolds fill the areas to the sides of the stream. I thought this village was Lapagoan but Bharat arrived and said he heard it was just over the ridge. We followed the paved path up past clusters of houses and terraces fields until we crested the ridge and entered Lapagoan. It was a big village with perhaps 300 houses and a busy thriving secondary school. It even had a church, a carpentry workshop, and about 10 shops. I could now understand why there were so many mule trains.  There was yet another smaller village called Kalding further up the valley but we would bypass it. We stopped by a local shop near the school and they cooked us some chowmein with vegetables and four omelettes. It all cost US$7.

After lunch we started the main climb. The 600m from the Ankhu Khola to Lapagoan was just the warm up. We still had 1100m to climb under the warm afternoon sun. The trail was on the Ruby Valley Trek and the path was constructed by TAAN four years ago. It was stepped by already falling to bits as the drainage was poor and monsoon rivulets had played havoc with it. We followed it up above the village of Khalding across some hillsides and up some steep ridges. It was mostly through jungle for the first two hours until we climbed above 2400m and then a few hemlocks stated to take over. The climb was relentless except for the occasional pasture, only one of which was being grazed when we passed. The final hour was all through the hemlocks until suddenly we burst through and were on top of a ridge, the Mangro Bhjanyang. It was supposed to be 2900m but my watch showed 2700m.

254. All the Hemlocks on the way up to Myangal Bhanjyang Pass, 2975m, were covered in mosses and epiphytes.

This was not the real pass of the day but one which meant we had left the Lapa Khola watershed and entered the fan of another high forested valley. We now had to traverse round the fan for a good 90 minutes to reach the slightly higher ridge on the other side. Initially the path dropped into the thick hemlocks in the top of the fan, descending some 100m to a small cool stream. It then contoured round some three or four other lush streams, lined with hemlocks dripping in moss and covered in epiphytes. We passed a pasture here before the path started its final ascent up to Myangal Bhjangyang. The final slopes were covered with a busy pasture with about four families herding here. The height of this pass on the map was 2975 and it seemed right. Up at this altitude all the conifers were now huge silver fir. We passed through a concrete kami gate and started the descent.

It took us 20 minutes to reach a pasture with plenty of cows and sheep but no shelters. We were a little bit confused with the path but found it easily at the bottom of the pasture and continued our descent for another 20 minutes accompanied by some 50 sheep and goats who must have been heading to to Nauban Kharka for the night, their grazing done for the day. At Nunban Kharka there were some five or six families tending livestock, a mixture of sheep/goats and cows. The sheep and goats were already heading into their tarpaulin covered shelters for the night. These were lined with planks and had log floors so the droppings would fall through. At one end of the shelters was a small area cordoned off where the family could stay. It had a fire pit and log seating round this which would double up as a bed come nightfall.

255. Our shelter for the night at Nauban Kharka was one of the empty shelters where a family would stay. The brother of the owner of this one from the Gurung village of Yarsa let us use it for the night.

I was worried about camping here as the leeches might be prolific and they would just march under the flysheet towards me sleeping in the porch. However one of the families said that a shelter was empty and we could use it. It was about six by three metres and had rustic plank walls and floor and a tarpaulin roof. There had been no goats in it this year and the floor was clean. It was slightly elevated on stilts so the leeches would have an obstacle to get up. We thanked the brother of the owner and moved in.

256. Santos making a fire in the fire pit of the shelter at Nauban Kharka we were allowed to use.

Ramesh went off to see if anyone could spare some rice and dahl. One of the older ladies with a great golden star on one nostril had some to sell us. Bharat and Ramesh borrowed some cooking utensils and cooked the meal in her place while she was out tending to her animals. However all they did here was grow the animals, they did not milk them and there were no dairy tasks. We went up to her shelter to eat. Most of the sheep and goats were in the larger part of the shelter with about 40 animals rammed in chewing cud. A few of the goats huddled round the fire and watched us eat the dlabhat Ramesh had cooked. As we ate the rain started and was soon pouring off the tarpaulin. However we were warm and cosy in her living area and the sheep and goats through the wooden slat partition looked content. After the meal we returned to our cosy shelter as the rain eased and darkness fell. It was an interesting evening we spent in the pasture in the rustic shelters shared with the sheep and goats. The lady whose shelter we ate in did not return until much later. She had been looking for a few stray animals. When she returned she told the others that she had lost five animals to bear last year as the goats were very vulnerable outside the shelter at night. The dogs warned if bear approached, and they could tell the difference in the tone of a dog’s bark if it was human or bear.

257. Bharat in the old ladies shelter cooking the dalbhat while she was out rounding up some missing sheep. Behind Bharat is the partition to keep the goats and sheep safe at night. A few escaped to huddle round the fire.

258. Ramesh in the older ladies shelter cooking the meal while she was out rounding up missing animals.

259. The brother of the absent shelter owner who shelter we were allowed to use. Although this man was Gurung from the village of Yarsa he still had the tradition Tamang jacket made from sheep wool. He was making a basket from bamboo when we left.

June 03. Nauban Kharka to Khorlabeshi. 27km. 9 hours. 910m up. 2750m down. It drizzled all night so we were very thankful for the shelter. There were also no leeches in the shelter which was another reason for me to be grateful as I would have slept under the flysheet only. It seemed all the families at Nauban Kharka were from the village of Yarsa some three or four hours away and were in fact Gurung. I gave the brother of our shelters owner 500 rupees and then ran to catch up with the others who were already on the path to Yarsa. Just some two or three minutes after Nauban Kharka we entered another small pasture with no shelters. Here the path split and we took the right hand fork which headed straight down the hill.

It was quite a descent. 1200m in one go from the wet misty grass of Nauban Kharka through the dripping jungle mostly of moss covered deciduous trees. It was dripping wet and even the leaves covering the track, which were usually dry and crunchy, were soggy. We plunged down on a greasy slippery path of rocks and earth for a good two hours until we entered into the bamboo zone. I noticed we passed through a zone covered in blue hydrangeas. Eventually we spilled out of the jungle onto a road and a dam construction project in the bottom of the gorge at around 1550m. There was a bhatti here and as we had not had breakfast we stopped here for noodles and tea. The medium sized hydropower construction on the Richet Khola was an all Nepali project, and the quality of the concrete showed!

260. The very steep and relentless jungle track from Nauban kharka led down some 1200m down to the Richet Khola stream far below.

Just at the construction site was a suspension footbridge across the stream and from here we started a hot slog up the south facing steep rocky hillside to the village of Yarsa. It was an unrelenting 300 metre climb without shelter. We were joined by the two dogs who were based at the bhatti in the gorge and they followed us all the way to Yarsa. It is not unusual for dogs to latch onto a trekking group for a free walk. Indeed I recently heard of one who latched on to a climbing party and made it to the top of Baruntse, a 7000m peak.

Yarsa was a busy village with a lively full school, a homestay and a health clinic under construction funded by CAN, Doug Scott’s Nepal Charity. We could have easily spent the night here had we walked another four hours yesterday, but I did not have the energy to do so, I don’t think the others had, and we did not have the daylight.

From this thriving Gurung village we could follow a road as it contoured round the ridge which separated the Richet Khola with the main river of this area the Budhi Gandaki. It was a muddy colour far below us once we passed the spur and started heading north. Down the river we could just make out the town of Arughat and upstream we could see the valley on the other side, Machha khola, where we were heading for the night at its confluence with the Budhi Gandaki. There were many villages across the Budhi Gandaki gorge at about our level of around 2000m. It seemed to be the best height as far as topography went to site a village, well above the dangers of a gorge or the steep land above the gorge. Here on the ridge tops and plateaus around 2000m was where most of the villages here were sited, surrounded by huge terraces. Across the Budhi Gandaki here I could see Laprak and Barpak, two villages around 2000m which were at the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake.

261. Looking back to the village of Yarsa from the spur and we veered north into the Budhi Gandaki river valley. In the far distance near the mists is Nauban Kharka where we spent the night in the herder’s shelter.

As we followed the road north it came to the Gurung village of Kashigaon, as around 1900m. It must have been a beautiful village with stone houses with big eaves under a slate roof. However the earthquake had damaged the houses so extensively they had to be rebuilt and now most of them had tin roofs and many even tin walls. The priority had been to build a shelter again and not necessarily aesthetically. The lanes and passages between the houses still held intrigue, and here and there one could look into a courtyard to see corn and barley drying. In one lane I saw a dead weasel, obviously killed after predating on chickens. We did not stop in Kashigaon as I was keen to get our second 1200m descend of the day over and done with.  It was all the way down to the muddy Budhi Gandaki far below us. It took us a good two hours to descend through the few hundred metres of maize terraces of Kashigaon. Women worked as teams on various terraces sharing labour and singing and joking as they weeded each other’s fields. Below the terraces were poor pastoralists clinging to the pine clad mountainside, living in bamboo shelters with their motley collection of small thin cattle. After this the well-made path then descended steeply through arid scrub as it plummeted down to the river at around 800m. It was scorching hot down here and even in descent we were all sweating when we reached the long suspension bridge over the Budhi Gandaki river.

We climbed up the other side to a road and came across a bhatti. Here we had boiled eggs and numerous cups of extremely refreshing and slightly salty tea. There was apparently a path on the east side of the river away from this road. But it looked very hard work with frequent landslides to cross so we opted for the road, which was not busy or dusty. It took us just half an hour to reach Machhakhola where we intended to stop.

Machhakhola however was not the end of the road and it was a busy town. The hotels looked very comfortable and large but it was just too busy and a far cry from our shelter at Nauban Kharka. We decided to go on for another hour to Khorlabeshi, where I and Bharat had stayed once before. As we got to the northern side of Machhakhola we could see and smell the thriving roadhead. There must have been 200-300 donkeys and mules wandering about beside the river. These were used to take goods from here to villages up the Budhi Gandaki, where we were going, and up all the side streams to all the ridge top villages, like Barpak. Even as we crossed the Machhakhola more and more mule teams were arriving. The smell of this mule park was rich and pungent as months of digested grass and urine permeated the ground waiting for the monsoon to rinse it.

It took just an hour to march up the track on a second wind. The track was constructed but no vehicles could use it due to a lack of bridge at Machhakhola. The construction of the track was quite an engineering feat, with some cuttings 50 metres high into the side of the gorge. The excavator driver must have had nerves of steel, as rocks could have rained down on his cabin at any moment, or the road he was on could have collapsed into the river. Anyway he made it as far as Khorlabeshi and that would do us for the day. Khorlabeshi was a small hamlet beside the river composed of some local houses, a few shops and a few rustic hotels for tourists and some even more rustic hotels for the mule handlers. We found a lodge with cabins scattered around a shaded compound and some nice shaded areas to sit. It was warm enough here at 900m to have a cold shower. Ramesh washed my clothes which after just five days were so salty they were always damp.

The Ganesh Himal Foothills had been a bit frustrating due to the weather and the mists obscuring the views. However it scored well as a cultural experience, starting off with the Tamang heritage areas for the first couple of days until we got to Tipling when the Gurung villages started to proliferate. To pass through these villages and see their daily activities, which no doubt change through the seasons, was as rewarding as going over a high pass. Seeing the carrying of fodder for tethered livestock, the bundles of firewood being carried by older ladies, the harvesting and drying of subsistence crops and cereals, the squads of women weeding the terraces and the pastoral families raising their sheep and goats and protecting them from bears was as pleasing to the soul as crossing high glaciers. These simple rural tasks were until quite recently part of our culture until most of us sold our birthright and became disenfranchised workers in the industrial and commercial eras, with their banal, titillating, status-orientated rewards.

Section 08. Ganesh Himal Foothills. 98km. 37 hours. 6270m up. 7080m down


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.

207. Heading towards the Bagam in the afternoon mist after climbing up some 1500m from the heat of the Last Resort. The monastery above the village looked like I could have been in Bhutan.

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.

208. Walking from Bagam to Kyangin we were advised to take the forest route rather than go over the hills via summer pastures. The forest route was slow but the firs and hemlocks magnificent.

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.

209. At one stage in the forest between Bagam and Kyangin I came across a troop of some 40 monkeys. I think 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.

210. Climbing up from Dipu to Panch Pokhari we got some great views of the Jugal Himal before the afternoon mists enveloped us. It was a 2000m climb from Dipu to Panch Pokhari.

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.

211. Panch Pokhari (Five Lakes) in the morning light.

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.

212. Our manger style shelter at Panch Pokhari. It was better than the small tent but very noisy during the hail storms.

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.

213. Having left Panch Pokhari very early in the morning we climbing up onto the ridge top to pick up the indistinct path to Tin Pokhari (Three Lakes) and eventually Tilman’s Pass.

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.

214. Looking east from the ridge top above Panch Pokhari towards the adjacent Jugal and distant Gaurishankar ranges around Rolwaling to the east of the Last Resort. The snowy ridge descending is the original one up from Dipu via Chedupa Kharka far below at the valleys confluence.

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.

215. Looking south from above our Intermediary camp to the rhododendron clad hillside and ridges we traversed across yesterday. The campsite is in the shade below.

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.

216. The snow covered pastures, kharka, after our intermediary camp in the morning looking east to the Jugal and Gaurishankar Himals.

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.

217. Descending after during a gap in the afternoon mists from the snowy col to the south of Tin Pokhari to the Three Lakes themselves. We camped beside the moraines below them before a thunderstorm arrived.

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

218. The three others walking along the top of a moraine with Tilman’s Pass in the distance. We had to cross the moraine heaps in the middle distance for 2 hours to get to the foot of the pass where we camped on the snow.

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.

219. Ramesh relaxing in the three man tent after the three others successfully scouted a route from our camp to the top of the steep Tilman’s Pass.

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.

220. Setting off to climb over Tilman’s Pass. The route went up under the couloir under the icefall, then up to the right (east) on the steeper slopes above the crags before heading left above the icefall to reach the flatter glacier.

221. The others starting up the couloir under the icefall which was stable at this time in the morning.

222. The other three heading up above the crags to gain the flatter glacier above the icefall.

223. Me bringing up the rear on the final slopes above the crags towards the flatter glacier above the icefall.

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.

224. Three chirpy fellows on top on Tilman’s Pass, 5309m, with the mountains of the upper Langtang valley in the distance. The descent was not as straightforward as we had hoped.

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.

225. The other three heading down the slightly crevassed upper section of the glacier on the north side of Tilman’s Pass.

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.

226. The others far ahead on the uncrevassed lower section of the glacier on the northern side of Tilman’s Pass. At the end of the glacier the easier terrain ended abruptly in steep cliffs on the east side and tolerable snowfields and crags on the west side. We had to take the west side.

227. Looking back up to the descent route from the lake in the older moraine beneath it. The descent route comes the centre left above the cliffs then threads a route on the 35 degree snowfields through the crags to reach the top of the moraine on the right which it descends to the lake.

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.

228. The reason no one does Tilman’s Pass. About an hour after the lake the lateral moraines of the Langshisa Glacier are unavoidable and have to be descended down this loose gully. This difficult and potentially dangerous passage lasts for a good hour.

229. Having descended the gully in western lateral moraine of the Langshisa Glacier the unmarked ever-changing route traverses across the moraine under huge boulders embedded in the debris above and above a few ice-cliffs in the decaying Langshisa Glacier below.

230. At last the route finishes it hour long traverse down the gully, under the vast boulders embedded in the glacial debris and above the last of the ice-cliffs of the static glacier to reach the more stable and slightly safer valley floor.

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.

231. After a good hour of following the rocky bed of the stream which emerges from the Langshisa Glacier, and then some bush whacking the route reaches the Langtang Khola river. There is no bridge and the cold river has to be waded at Langshisa kkarka, where it is heavily braided.

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.

232. Looking down the upper Langtang valley from just below Langshisa Kharka. The rockfalls visible are due to the 2015 earthquake.

233. The small irises cover large patches in all the meadows (kharka) I came across.

234. Looking back up the Langtang valley en route to Kyangin Gomba from around Jatang Kharka. The valley we emerged from is the far one above the yak on the very left.

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.

235. Looking back up to the Langtang valley from the incongruous rooftops of Kyangin Gompa. I had not expected such a town in such a remote and pristine valley.

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.

236. Having developed sinusitis in the last week, probably due to a poor diet, dust and smoky kitchens, Bharat and the others looked after me well. Here they are forcing me to have a steam inhalation of an oily herb mix to clear the nasal passages.

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.

237. The basis of my daily inhalation was Sancho. A mixture of herbs. It is now the only product produced by the Nepali government who previously produced a spectrum of products from lorry tyres to corrugated sheets.

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.

238. A Langtang larch just below Kyangjin Gompa. It is a unique subspecies of the normal Sikkim larch.

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.

239. The cliff the millions of tons of glacial ice and moraine piled over during an huge aftershock the day after the 2015 earthquake. The avalanche buried the town of Langtang.

240. The moraine debris covering the old town of Langtang. The town is now being rebuilt above this devastation which obliterated all the 50 or so houses bar one.

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.

241. The Hemlock and Oak forests filled the bottom of the Langtang gorge from Ghoratabela down to Lama Hotel. The raging Langtang Khola river continues to carve a slot.

242. The other three as we approach Lama Hotel. From the front Bharat, Santos and Ramesh. We have the bare minimum of camping gear now.

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.

243. The bottom of the Langtang gorge around Lama Hotel.

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.

244. The dry conditions at the bottom of the Langtang gorge as it approaches Syabru Besi and the slightly larger Trusili River. The town is just visible in the middle.

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.


May 05. Thame to Parchemuche. 9 km. 5 hours. 1190m up. 150m down. After a great nights sleep in the oxygen rich air of Thame I opened the curtain to see the mist gone and clear skies. It was around 0600 and the sun was not up yet, but today showed great promise, and it was nice to see Thame at last. I got up had breakfast, packed and set off just as the others were arriving to pack the baggage which was all stored at the hotel.

I climbed up the old moraine ridge to the west of the village and gained height over the rooftops quickly. Thame was soon spread out below me and it looked the nicest village I had seen so far. The lodges and teahouses were spread out below me and they mingled with the village houses. Around all the houses and guest houses were well ordered fields with neat stone walls. The fields were all potato fields and the walls kept the yak out. The higher I climbed the more orderly and neat Thame appeared. Across the valley I could see the small dam and the take off for the hydro power which snaked off in a channel across the fields to a large pond from where it descended down the hill in a pipe.

The real beauty of Thame was not its orderly layout, its spectacular setting, or today the bright warm sunshine, but it was the monastery on the hillside above Thame which stole the show. It was a large monastery which must have catered for the schooling of monks from both yesterday’s valley and also Thame itself. As I climbed up the hill towards it I came across numerous chortens and mani walls (prayer walls). The small scrub rhododendrons were in flower with delicate white flowers and they grew among the bright white chortens. Soon I got to the Kami, or gate, shaped like a hollow chorten, and passed under its brightly decorated roof. I went into the grounds of the monastery but did not go into the buildings. I noticed it had a lodge for tourists and this would be a marvellous place to stay, with a fantastic view over Thame and the mountains.

153. Looking down on Thame from near the monastery.

154. The Kami, or entrance gate, to the monastery complex

155. Thame Monastery is tucked into the cliff facing south above the orderly town of Thame

I carried on up the valley, through the juniper trees, and noticed some blue dwarf irises. I had not seen them before so doubted they were indigenous. As the path slowly climbed into the gentle valley the juniper became less scarce but the rhododendron scrub proliferated and much of it was either in white flower or heavy with bud. Huge mountains rose up each side of the valley, their tops lost in the clouds which occasionally parted to reveal snowy fluted ridges. The scrub got less and less and there was more and more grassland appearing especially on the valley floor. On a few occasions I passed pastoral sheds where families would come and tend their yak. Around each shed was a network of small walled fields, or pens, where yaks, especially calves could be kept secure.

156. The small fields in the hamlet of Thyangbo were used for potatoes and hay. The walls were designed to keep the yak out.

The valley opened out and saw the tiny herding hamlet of Thyangbo at the end of a large pasture. Thyangbo was supposed to have a rustic teahouse which I was hoping to get the guys dalbhat in, but it was closed. However among the small fields and herding houses there were a few people wondering about doing subsistence herding work and there were many many yak on the pasture, some looking quite ferocious. One of the people was an old lady. I asked her about dalbhat, and she said she could cook some for 7. Her simple home was right beside the closed lodge so it was convenient.

157. The small simple herders’ cottage belonging to the elderly siblings who cooked us Dalbhat.

I went into her house which she immediately apologised about and started cleaning up the sacks of potatoes on the floor. It was a very simple house with the rustic kitchen, by Sherpa standards, at one end, storage in the middle, and a big pile of grass at the far end for fodder. I noticed through cracks in the floor there was an underfloor where small yaks could shelter. It was a simple, rustic but orderly set up. The lady must have been 75-80, but soon her sister showed up who must have been 80-90. She was dressed in a woven yak hair skirt, large trainers, thick woolly socks, and numerous jumpers. She had lost her teeth and her lips were barely controllable and were shiny with saliva. For nearly a century she had tended her yak in these pastures and now in her twilight years her younger sister looked after her as she sat on a sack and sipped tea. She was adorable but I felt sorry for her.  I learnt the pair of them had never been married and had lived here and in Thame their whole lives tending their yak. They eventually put the rice on a yak dung fire as the others appeared on the pasture below. It took about half and hour for them to eventually arrive.

158. The two elderly Sherpa sisters. One brother who was monk at Thame monastery also visited to bring salt for the yak.

Dawa arrived first with Ramesh and Santos in tow. He could speak the Sherpa dialect the ladies spoke. He soon switched on the charm and respect, which the two ladies deserved, calling them Ani. They were enchanted. It turned out they had cooked too little rice for seven and it was not long before Ramesh brought in the kerosene stove and started to cook more while Santos made potato curry. Soon her kitchen was a hive of activity and laughter. Bharat arrived soon after with a monk from the monastery. He was the ladies brother and had arrived with salt for the yaks. Apparently there were four brothers and three sisters and they all remained single or were monks. Certainly in the house there were many prayer wheels and frequent mumblings of scared verses. It took a good two hours for the meal to be ready but it was worth the wait to soak up the culture.

I was sad to leave the ladies but we still had about three hours to go until we reached a porter shelter at Parchemuche. The valley up to it was initially pasture land but soon degenerated into boulders. I could see a network of moraines ahead which the glaciers now clinging to the mountainsides had left before they retreated. As I approached them the weather became overcast and there was the odd flutter of snow. I could see difficult terrain ahead up by the pass with glaciers covered in rubble and steep ice. I approached the moraines and climbed the first, passing a lake. At the top of the first moraine was a corrie with a small stone hut in it. This was the porter shelter for which we were heading. The last 10 minutes to the stone hut were in a heavy snow shower but I got there just in time. From a distance it looked cute like a Scottish bothy and I was excited. There was great disappointment when I arrived however.

The door had blown in and snow had come through here and through the eaves. It had melted on the floor which was covered in 5cm of ice with rubbish embedded in it. The troops arrived after half an hour, and within another half hour all the ice and rubbish had been broken up and ejected. A bit later plastic was on the floor, foam mattresses were on that and the cards were out. Ramesh in the meantime set up the kitchen and was busy for hours cooking outr supper and teas. There was also of singing and morale was high but I doubt the very draughty place will ever get cosy or the floor dry out, and if the snow returns it will pour through the cracks onto us.

159. The porters shelter at Parchemuche. My heart sank when I went inside as I had built my hopes up and did not expect it have the broken door left open and it full of ice.

160. When the others arrived we quickly smashed all the ice and the rubbish embedded in it and scooped it out of the door.

161. An hour later in the shelter the floor was clean and drying out and we were getting settled in.

May 06. Parchemuche Shelter to Drolambau Glacier (Jabou). 7 km. 8 hours. 1190m up. 740m down. The shelter kept the wind off us during the night, and we were all thankful for it when the icy downdrafts from the lofty peaks which surrounded us unleashed their cold air. By the morning the floor had also pretty much dried out. I got up at 0430 and Ramesh immediately sprung into life and lit the stove. It was easy to pack in the shelter and we were ready to go by 0600.

It was bitterly cold up here at around 4900 when we set off up one of the moraines which surrounded us. We followed a course of moraine which had not been disturbed as it had good lichen growth on the stones and tufts of grass between the stones. We climbed about 200m and got some great views to the lakes below, which were trapped by the moraines, and the fantastic ridges each side of the valley. At the top of this moraine we crossed over to a much newer moraine with fresh stones which were not embedded and liable to topple. It was much slower on this and I in the lead sought out patches of bare rock or sandy areas to climb as it was easier.

162. Our first view of the pass at the top of the first moraine of the day. We all thought the route went up the rock slabs to the right of glacier on the centre left of the photo It actually went up the snow gully in the centre of the photo and then veered left on a shelf system to gain the glacier.

On the newer moraine we could see the glacier below the pass we were heading. On the left of the glacier there was a bare rocky section and it looked like we would have to climb up the slabs of this tricky section. The only problem was the massive mountain above, with steep rocky sides which glaciers and huge icicles were clinging to. It rose a good 1000m above the area we had to traverse to get to bare rocky section. It was renowned as a dangerous section due to rockfall and today icefall too. The only way to mitigate the danger was to go as early as possible, and certainly well before midday – hence the 0600 start.

163. Heading up the moraine and rock slabs to the boulder fields which led up to the pass

Myself and Dawa picked our way through the moraine to the bottom of the dangerous traverse and surveyed the route. It looked quite straightforward to get to the tricky rocky section but that looked the crux. Dawa suggested he and Pinzo would go and have a look, and if necessary fix a rope for the other five of us to use. We rested here out of the rockfall area for a good half hour while the slower porters caught up. Dawa and Pinzo had just gone five minutes when they shouted for us to follow as it was a lot better than they anticipated and there was a rudimentary path.

164. Pinzo heading up the boulder fields to the bottom of the trickier sections of the Tashi Labsta pass. Down the valley is Thyangbo and eventually Thame.

However the tricky looking rock section to the north of the glacier proved to be a false lead – it was the old route which was now defunct. We were caught like rabbits in the headlights in a rockfall area. We retraced our steps for 200m to an overhang where it looked like the new route went. We all sheltered under the overhang while Dawa and Pinzo explored the new route. Dawa set off with his technical ice tools, crampons and a rope up the edge of a steepish snow gully. He was gone for about half an hour. During the interlude we stayed under the overhang while shards of icicles cascaded past, they having broken off in the strong sun.

When Dawa returned he had the glint of victory in his eye. This was the new route and he had fixed a rope up the gully for us to use. I set off first with crampons on, but no harness. I just gripped the rope to aid me ascend the 50-60 vertical metres of 35-40 degree snow. It was hot exhausting work. At the top the rope ended in two snow anchors beside a shelf. This shelf was actually the top of the buttress we had been sheltering under. The new route followed the shelf and then a couple of other shelves, some with considerable exposure, until it traversed across the mountainside above the previously mentioned tricky rocky section to reach the glacier. If this shelf had been in the Dolomites it would probably have been protected by cables, certainly in a few sections.

165. Dawa heading off up to the trickier section of the pass and the rockfall area. We still thought the route was on the left hand side rather than up the gully on the right and then across shelves.

166. After Dawa set up the fixed rope in the snow gully Chering, Dawas 16 year old brother, and myself were the first up. The photo looks across the shelves to the glacier and eventually the Tashi Labsta Pass.

I went on along the shelf first, and when I reached the glacier only Santos was nearby. I decided to continue up the 35 degree ice of the glacier, traversing above the tricky rocky section, and make for the smooth clean glacier further up. The end of the shelf system was not a place to linger, with large icicles above me and potential rockfall. It took me 20 minutes to clear any danger and I looked back to see the other starting to follow my footsteps. However they then stopped for lunch in an area I sped through.

167. Ramesh at the top of the fixed rope in the snow gully. You can just see the snow stake anchors. From here Ramesh had to climb up the rock to me to gain the shelf system.

I decided I would continue up the glacier to Trashi Labsta Pass itself before the midday mist descended, as it was threatening. The ascent up the glacier was easy and I was at the pass in another 20 minutes. I could now see the descent route before the mist obscured it and it looked OK. It was a long winding route down a glacier with few crevasses. There was a bitter wind up here at 5755m but there were a few sheltered spots in the sun. I sat in one and lapped up the view in both directions. The guys were slowly coming up the glacier, taking long stops to rest on their feet and catch their breath. Santos and Ramesh had huge loads. I estimated Santos’s to be 32-33 kg. They had already had a mighty hard day and this was really testing them. They were phenomenal porters and if they were resting they really needed it. Below them I could see the shelves we had negotiated, and well below them the tops of icefalls and glaciers we had climbed past. Above them were the impossibly high peaks flirting with the clouds.

168. Looking back to the partially hidden snow gully (centre right) we went up to gain the shelf system heading left, which looks like it was largely covered in snow fields but was mostly stoney ground.

169. At the end of the shelf system it was a short climb up onto the glacier proper above the trickier rock section mentioned in the blog text.

170. The rest of the team leaving the shelf system and climbing up the snowfield to gain the stone covered area of the glacier.

Dawa arrived first and he suggested the route I also thought good. We also thought we saw old footsteps on it. It involved climbing up for two to three minutes on blueish ice to go round some crevasses, and then just following the natural valley of the glacier down to the valley below. We could not see the whole route but hoped it would be straightforward down to the Drolambau Glacier. We waited for everyone and took in the view ahead of us which was as spectacular as the one we were leaving. The Drolambau Glacier seemed to drain a huge very remote basin surrounded by near 7000m peaks, nearly all of which were clear and bright in the sun. The glacier was still active, unlike the two dormant glaciers of the Khumbu we crossed last week.

171. Heading up the glacier towards the Tashi Labsta Pass at about 5755m.

172. Ramesh about to arrive at the pass after a very hard day for the porters.

173. Dawa and Pinzo considering using the rope for the descent of this section of the glacier. In the end we did not set it up here. Down the slope to the right is the large Drolambau Glacier where we spent the night.

174. The Tashi Labsta pass was in the deep saddle between the glaciated Parchomo and the craggy spires of Angole, the near 7000m peak seen in this picture.

When the others arrived I set off down the glacier into Rowaling, an area of Nepal I had not visited before. The glacier was easy to descend, and within half an hour I had lost a few hundred metres. I managed to follow the old footprints, which brought some comfort as I neared some mildly crevassed areas. As I descended in the sun more and more rocks started to appear on the surface until it was difficult to find snow. Eventually the rocks covered the entire glacier but there was ice underneath them. It was awkward to walk with crampons. I could see the slope was convex and expected some problem and it came soon enough. The glacier I had been following ended with a 40 degree slope for 100 metres. This slope was ice covered in gravel. I could have front-pointed down in my crampons but the porters would need the rope. So I found a rock and waited for Dawa and the team.

175. The team coming down the small glacier from Tashi Labsta pass on the west side of the pass.

They arrived quite soon but the porters looked shattered. I even saw Ramesh slip and he is a sure footed as a mountain goat. Dawa set up the rope and went down himself first. We all followed just twisting the rope round our shoulders rather than put on harnesses as it was not too steep. From the bottom the terrain was just scree slopes covered in deep firm snow and we quickly blasted down to the lateral moraine of the Drolambau Glacier. We had already decided to call it a day at the first campsite on the descent and we found a sunny flat patch of snow on top of the moraine, which was safe from any rock and icefall. It was called Jabou on the map.

176. At the bottom of the glacier on the west side of Tashi Labsta there was a steep section to abseil down before we could get to the main valley where the enormous Drolambau Glacier lay.

177. The enormous Drolambau glacier drained a remote basin surrounded by near 7000m peaks. We slept on it lateral moraine. The next day we followed it down until it ended in under the clouds in a line of 200m high crags across the valley.

The tents were up quickly and with the afternoon sun they got quite warm. Damp clothes were soon crispy dry. Ramesh recovered to make us all tea and soon we were relaxing in the sun. It was a glorious afternoon at around 5400m and we rejoiced that we had done our last difficult high pass. There are still a few banana skins over the next couple of days as we follow the glacier down to Na but the main crest of the pass has been crossed and the dangerous rockfall area navigated without incident. In the evening the temperature plummeted and I fully expect it to be -20 tonight.

178. The campsite on the Drolambau Glacier at sunset before a very cold night.

179. Santos firing up the kerosene stove to cook the nights meal on.

May 07.  Drolambau Glacier (Jabou) to Kabug. 12 km. 9 hours. 450m up. 1090m down. It only got down to about half the minus centigrade I expected in the night, but it was bitterly cold in the morning as if all the cold air from further up the valley was flowing down to us. I was slow in the morning as all my tent pegs were buried in ice and had to be dug out with the ice axe. Eventually we set off about 0730 and headed down the frozen valley between the glacier and the mountains to the east. It was mostly frozen snow but occasionally we had to hop across moraine boulders. After some three or four km the valley, and indeed the Drolambau Glacier beside it, came to an abrupt end with a steep 200m drop across the whole width of the valley between the mountains of Parchomo and Noisy Knob.

The route down this steep drop was on the east side, which thankfully now was in the sun and warming rapidly. Initially we dropped down slabs for 20 metres which took us to the top of a sloping gully. The gully descended west for 40 metres and it usually would have been very easy to follow the well contained bottom which had a high lip protecting one from the high exposure drop on the north side. However the bottom of the gully was full of weaker ice and virtually impossible to follow, so we had to descend down the crest of the lip on the outside of the gully above the terrific exposure. The others sauntered down with their loads with ease stepping from ledge to ledge. However I was overly cautious and cumbersome and faced the rock and down climbed. I was so slow Dawa felt the need to come up and monitor me as I shuffled down like a frightened old lady. The others watched, probably amazed at the turn of fortune from the bravado shown yesterday. Eventually I got to them and we then followed a ledge which sloped down westwards for a good 50-60 metres to a knoll which had numerous gravel campsites on its small flat surface. It would have been a terrific place to camp perched on the knoll with an accessible stream emerging from the end of the glacier nearby. We had to push on and followed the path down the southside of the knoll until it got quite steep. An Italian team however had put in the most superb cable with great anchors down this section of the knoll, and we could hang onto the cables to descend the last 40 metres to reach the moraine covered Trakarding Glacier.

180. Having walked down some 3-4 km of the Drolambau Glacier we find the whole body of ice ended on top of a line of crags which stretched across the whole valley. At the bottom of the crags was a huge trench occupied by another glacier, the Trakarding Glacier, which was covered in moraine and ended by calving into Tsho Rolpo lake.

181. The descent down the crags from the end of the Drolambau Glacierto the side of the Trakarding glacier involved some 200m of descent, often steep and some even protected with cables.

Just as the first of us went down a large serac, a tower of ice, broke off the mountain on the other side of the glacier across the valley. It immediately broke into small chunks as it crashed into the mountainside and these chunks pulverized as they crashed down so the whole thing became a cloud of ice dust which grew to be half a km wide. We all watched in awe as this cloud charged down the mountain hoping it would dissipate rather than cross the valley and engulf us. It did but about two or three minutes later the air was full of ice crystals which settled on everything.

182. As we were about to start descend the cables a huge serac broke off on the mountainside across the valley and cascaded down the mountainside pulverizing into ice powder.

Once down on the Trakarding Glacier we spotted a campsite far down the valley, about 4-5 km away, high up on the moraine on the southside. It looked like a sandy platform in a hanging valley to the side. We assumed it would take a couple of hours to get there and then we could spend the afternoon relaxing in the sun after the last two hard days. However, we totally misjudged both the distance, it was about 8km, and the ease of the terrain we had to cover. We set off down the glacier and soon discovered at the most we could do about a km an hour across the rubble. I should imagine it is like trying to walk across a huge pile of bricks in stiletto heels.

We made very slow progress, and the sandy platform hardly seemed any closer three hours later when we paused for lunch. In the meantime I had managed to lose the barely visible track marked by a twisted series of small cairns. I am sure many of the cairns toppled over as the ice under the moraine shifted. I eventually caught the others up as they waited but my route took me into very rough terrain of boulders and ice cliffs which took a while to navigate.

Half way down we got to a muddy stream coming down from the south side under towering pillars of moraine which the wind was whistling through, peeling off clouds of sand and dust. Beneath this was a brown lake into which the stream flowed. There was no easy safe way round the lake. On the north side were ramparts of ice cliffs which would have been very laborious to navigate, and on the south side we had to run the gauntlet under the moraine pillars where the wind eroded sand and  dust was loosening cobbles and small boulders which were rolling down the slope producing puffs of dust when they struck the slope. It seemed they were all landing on a ledge above which gave us some comfort unless a big boulder loosened. The gauntlet down the side of the lake was about half a km. Ramesh went first, then Santos and so on, each 20 metres apart and each keeping an eye of for stones for the one in front. Only once did I hear the cry “dunga” (stones). At the far end of the lake the path became more distinct as it followed small moraine ridges.

At last, only after some four hours on the moraine covered glacier, did the path leave it and start up an old lateral moraine which was decades old – dust and soil had settled between the stones and vegetation had taken hold. It was a delight to walk on without worrying whether the boulder you were about to step on would topple or not. It seemed the path would gradually climb up to the sandy platform we had seen hours ago and looked so close then. It was tangible now at last, but there was still a good hour to go.

183. Once we reached the Trakarding Glacier we had the daunting prospect of walking down its difficult surface for the rest of the morning and all the afternoon. We were aiming for the small flat light patch centre left and misjudged the time it would take.

184. After hours on the surface of the glacier the route we were following at last veered to the south side of the glacier where there was a rustic path on older established moraines held in place by soil and vegetation.

We traversed slowly up the moraine with the glacial lake of Tsho Rolpo unfolding beneath us. After half an hour we were well above it and could see the steep moraine each side of it – and that it would be impossible to follow its shoreline. We could also see up the glacier to the paltry distance we had covered since descending from one glacier to the other. About half an hour before the sandy area we reached a flatter area on the moraine where people had previously camped. The sites were both small and rocky and there was no water nearby. The others wanted to camp here but I was fearful for the tent groundsheets on the sharp gravel. After a small discussion, well short of a stand off, I managed to convince the tired ensemble to continue for another half hour to the promised land of the sandy shelf.

It did in fact take another half hour until we crested a lip and were on the most extraordinary place. The winds had deposited huge amounts of sand and dust in this hanging side valley. Where the valley was above the side moraine above the Tsho Rolpo lake they frequently collapsed forming a sandy cliff, but deeper in the side valley they formed a nice level grassy area about the size of two or three football pitches. The sides of this valley were also old grassy and scrub vegetation. There were old stone walls here forming the base of small huts which would have been covered in seasonal tarpaulins until about ten years ago when the place was used as a summer pasture for sheep, goats and yak. Furthermore there was a small stream under some boulders and it was easy to get water. I felt vindicated. It seemed we had reached a place on the map called Kabug.

185. In the late afternoon we eventually reached the promised land of the flat sandy plateau in a hanging valley above the Tsho Rolpo lake. This sandy area was called Kabug.

The tents were up quickly, Ramesh made a kitchen in the pile of stones of an old shelter and we could look up the valley in the evening sun to where we had come from. If we went towards the edge of the sandy cliffs you could look down on the glacial lake far below and the massive south face of Chobuja on the other side, whose grassy ledges looked perfect for blue sheep. We had hopefully completed all the obstacles of the Trashi Labsta Pass, but we were still in a very convoluted and loose moraine landscape so who knows what tomorrow might bring. I put it to the guys that if we made Bedding tomorrow we could have a chicken and raksi party, and then a day off, to celebrate the last of the four difficult passes.

186. Looking back at our sandy campsite from the top of the moraine to the west of it. The Trakarding Glacier occupies the trench on the left and calves into the Tsho Rolpo lake on the far left.

May 08. Kabug to Bedding. 21km. 7 hours. 270m up. 1270m down. The tent pegs came out easily in the sandy soil and we were off by 0700. The porters stormed up the hill, eager to reach Bedding. We had to climb some 100 vertical metres up the easy vegetated side of the hanging valley which had a good path. Half way up we reached the sun and paused to take out jackets off. At the top of the valley side was the remnants of a moraine we had to cross to a ridge on the far side. It was just 3-400m and took just ten minutes. From recent experience it could have been so much worse.

Once on the west ridge of the moraine I could see out troubles were over. All we had to do was descend the stable vegetated ridge on a good path for perhaps half an hour to reach the pastoral valley between the mountainside, and the lateral moraine of what was once the Trakarding Glacier but now was the dam of the Tsho Rolpo Lake. Even from this viewpoint I could see that this small valley was green and pleasant with a clear stream meandering through it.  The banana skins of Trashi Lapsta were over.

187. Having descended from Kabug to just above the lateral moraine hemming the waters of Tsho Rolpo lake in one can see how catastropic a breach of this moraine would be.

What I could also see was the unique Tsho Rolpo lake. Where a glacier exists it deposits stones carried on it and embedded in the ice along its sides (lateral moraine) and at its end (terminal moraine). When the glacier becomes dormant and then retreats these ridges remain and the vanished ice leaves a hollow. In most cases the stream which forms erodes a gap in the terminal moraine and flows through it, leaving the moraines like a giant curled up tongue. However in this case the stream failed to do that and the moraines hemmed the water in. As the glacier continued to retreat a pond formed, which became a tarn, which became a small lake and is now a large four km lake growing at 20 metres a year. From this viewpoint you could see just how fragile the moraine dams of Tsho Rolpo are. If one of them is breached it will unleash a catastrophic disaster of Biblical proportions.

188. Walking down the peaceful areas between the mountainside and the lateral moraine beside the clear stream. I always find this landscape feature an easy, warm, still and enchanting area.

189. Looking up Tsho Rolpo lake from the terminal moraine where the natural dam was at its lowest and the water flowed out. On each side of the lake the lateral moraines hem in the water until the mountainsides take over half way up the lake.

I walked with Bharat and Dawa down the grass and dwarf rhododendron covered moraine to the secluded valley below. Dawa picked the dwarf rhododendron to take home for incense. Once in the valley I fell behind and sauntered down, enjoying the lush pasture and clear stream for a couple of km. I kept looking at the lateral moraine on my right hand side, and it was hard to imagine that there was a lake on the other side and the surface of that lake was well above me. The valley soon dropped off at the end of the moraine which the path climbed to reach what would have been the snout of the glacier just 60-70 years ago but was now the end of the lake.

190. Looking down the upper Rolwaling valley from the bottom of the moraines hemming in Tsho Rolpo lake. The village of Na is where the valley opens out some 3 km downstream from here.

It was an awesome sight looking up the brown silty waters of the lake which almost lapped at the top of the moraines which were effectively a dam. The lake stretched away to the SE until it was no longer hemmed in by the lateral moraines by huge towering mountains. Some organisation had made some effort to reduce the potential catastrophe by strengthening the outflow of the lake by lining the stream bed with gabions (wire baskets full of stones). However it just needed a landslide or avalanche from one of the towering mountains to produce a wave which would easily top or breach the moraines and then the vast lake would empty. Everyone living down this watershed for  hundreds of miles essentially had the Sword of Damocles hanging over them.

191. The village of Na is essentially the summer residence for the herders of Bedding who move up here to take advantage of the summer pastures. It has a couple of teahouses and monastery and a very old small monastery hidden on the hillside above.

I could easily see Na from the end of the lake. It was some 4 km away down the moraine and then across wide open pastures on the floor of the valley. It seems the Swiss government had provided money for a fantastic path which made light work of the distance. Before long I was on the valley floor which was remarkably green and full of grazing yak. Na was much bigger than I had expected with some 30 houses and a few teahouses. I later found out Na was essentially the summer residence for the people of Bedding who used to come up here with their yaks and then retreat down again in the winter. Ramesh was already cooking a meal for the others in the kitchen of a teahouse, while I was ushered into the dining room and given a menu.

192. Looking back up the upper Rolwaling valley from just below Na. There were many Buddhist icons, flags and rock paintings here among the yak pastures.

Some 18 years ago, when I was climbing all the 2000 metre mountains in Scandinavia I was staying at Trutagro Hotel in West Norway. There I met a Nepali who was a guest of the owner, Ola. He was guiding up one mountain, Store Ringstind. I had already climbed it but needed to climb the adjacent one – Midtre Ringstind. The trouble was there was a crevassed glacier to cross to get to the base of it. Ola told me to ask the Nepali if I could join his roped up group across this glacier as he was going that way. I could then climb the peak, descend and he could then pick me up again on the way down from Store Ringstind in a couple of hours. It worked out perfectly. I remembered the charismatic Nepali’s name as he was a renowned climber with many 8000m peaks under his belt. His name was Dawa Chirri Sherpa and he was from Rolwaling.

I mentioned this to the host at Na. He said Dawa Chirri was his father and he was in Bedding at his lodge. What a happy coincidence. After my meal I carried on down through Na. It seemed a very devout place with flags around many of the rocks which had Buddhist inscriptions on them. Above a huge colour mural of Guru Rinpoche on one rock was a small monastery perched on a rock like a smaller version of the Tigers Nest in Bhutan. Apparently Guru Rinpoche was one of many notable historical Buddhist figures associated with the rich religious history of Rowaling.

As I carried on down the valley the path went through the Kami (entrance chorten) to Na and then the valley narrowed, but the path remained fantastic. It was easy and fast, going through yak pastures and around buttresses. Many women were coming up the path carrying huge heavy bundles of firewood. The juniper and larger rhododendrons became more frequent but what really stole the show were the huge number of purple Himalayan primroses which were everywhere. Sometimes they formed carpets of mauve and purple beside the path. Waterfalls tumbled down from each side, with many on the south side still frozen.  This was apparently the training ground of the aspirant climbing Sherpas of the Rolwaling, whose tiny population of 359-400 men, women and children boasts some 13 international climbing guides.

193. The Himalayan Primroses were prolific in the pastures and under the scrub on the way down from Na to Bedding.

Eventually, just as the firs started to appear on the south side at around 3900m I rounded a corner and saw the blue and red roofs of Bedding down the valley. It was much smaller than I thought. I passed a lot of porters taking wood up to Na monastery which was being restored, and there were many workers building gabions in the river to divert water away from the north side of the valley where the village was. These defences were just for regular rain and would do nothing if the Tsho Rolpo lake moraines broke. I found the Tseringma Guesthouse at the upstream end of the village and found Dawa Chirri Sherpa holding court round a table.

I recognized him only because I knew it was him. 18 years ago he had moved with the grace of a lean leopard with a concave stomach, and now he had filled out into a solid middle age. He was now very confident, with a constant smile. He enthralled the other six when they arrived. He spread out a tarpaulin in the sun for them, covered it in matrasses, and told them all to relax while he continued to hold court with humour and authority. I asked him if we could have a chicken and raksi party tonight. He was enthusiastic but said that there would be no chicken as the people of Bedding had, in line with Buddhist practice, decided there would be no killing in the valley. However he had some dried buffalo sakuti from Kathmandu.

We all chilled out in the sun for a couple of hours while another two tourists arrived – two girls from Netherlands and Romania. I got a room, unpacked, wrote a bit and then went into the kitchen. The others got a big room with a sleeping platform and started to cook their meal. When it got dark we all collected in the kitchen and I got them a litre of raksi and many small bottles of local rum. Santos and Pinzo became the DJ’s and connected their phone to the speaker and started an endless stream of Nepali songs. Dawa and Ramesh were dancing from the off, even singing songs while the DJ’s faffed on their phones for the next one. Their enthusiasm was infectious and the momentum was building with every sip. Soon Bharat was up and then I was hauled up. Compared to the very fluid and almost professional Dawa and Ramesh I must have looked like Dad dancing. After an hour everybody was up including Dawa Chirri Sherpa and the cook and also the Romanian and Dutch  girls. It was a very, easy, happy joyful evening. Bharat and the others thanked me for all and got me a couple of beers, while I thanked them for all and got them more rum. Dawa Chirri Sherpa clapped and danced, the girls were great dancers but none could match Ramesh and Dawa for their free spirited moves, or indeed Dawas voice, except maybe for Santos who shy at first rivalled Dawa in the end. I went to bed about 2200 and the others apparently stayed up until about 2300. It was a great evening and a fitting end to the four difficult passes – and a goodbye to Dawa, Pinzo and Cherring in a couple of days when we cross a road to Kathmandu.

194. After four hard passes around 6000m, with considerable hardship and a bit of danger it was time to party as the hardest sections of the GHT were over. In two days we would lose the Sherpa team of Dawa, Pinzo and Chering. Here Ramesh, Santos and Dawa dance to Nepali folk songs.

May 09. Bedding Rest Day. 0 km. 0 hours. 0m up. 0m down. Everyone was a little slow in the morning. There was no need to hurry as it was a day off and everyone just enjoyed lolling around in their sleeping bags, chatting until about 0800. No one seemed to have a hangover and everyone was quite chirpy. Moral was high. After breakfast the others took their matrasses outside and lay down on the tarpaulin Dawa provided to enjoy the sun.

195. 18 years after helping me climb a mountain in Norway I finally meet Dawa Cherri Sherpa at his home in Rolwaling. Dawa was one of the best climbers from this renowned valley and has most 8000m mountains under his belt. We stayed at his lodge.

I went with the girls to look at the monastery which was open for half an hour. It was a classic small monastery. Sleeping quarters for the 20 or so monks was in a room which looked like the dining room of a teahouse. Beside it was the kitchen with an enormous wood burning cooking stove which looked like it could boil vats of food. The gomba itself was beside the living quarters and was recently restored. Every surface was painted with Buddhist murals including the roof. There were many puja drums and a wall of pigeon holes where the manuscripts were kept. The bench was arranged in a U shape and there were some 20 purple robes, which looked thick and warm, arranged on the benches ready for the monks to wrap up in for their pujs. Unfortunately I could not take photos.

On the way back to Dawa’s I had a good look at something he had pointed out yesterday. High above the village on a barely accessible cliff some 2-300 metres above the river was a small house built in a cleft in the rockface. It was surrounded by prayer flags attached to points on the cliff around it. Dawa said it was a meditation place. I can imagine Taoist or Zen Masters meditating in such locations in the so called Celestial Mountains in a mythical time centuries ago. I wanted to go up and have a look but the path was very steep in places and it took an hour to get up. I did not go and I regret it.

Instead I did some blog work by selecting photos and putting captions to them. A poor alternative to visiting the most magical meditation cave perched high on a cliff in the Rolwaling valley. Occasionally I looked outside at the others who were either playing cards in the sun and chatting and laughing or when Dawa Chirri was there listening to his tales from a wide spectrum of experience. Bharat and Dawa seemed enthralled.

Eventually Dawa Chirri had to leave to go up to Na. I went out to say goodbye. It seemed he `had really enjoyed our stay and the party the previous night. He said we were a fun group and he liked our style. We gave each other a hug and I promised to look in on him in Norway if I was there from June to September as he works the summer at Juvvasshytta in the Jotunheimen guiding people.

Once Dawa Chirri had gone I returned inside to carry on with the blog which took me til after nightfall. It was a tedious task but it had to be done. As the sun went down Dawa Chirri’s son arrived from Na, they having swapped places. He also worked at Juvvasshytta and spoke great English so when my mind wandered from the blog and picture captions which I was doing in the kitchen I could chat to him about Norway.

May 10. Bedding to Simigoan. 22 km. 7 hours. 500m up. 2120m down. After relaxing day in Bedding I was ready to move on again. I was quite excited about the chance today would bring. We would be going down to 2000m and staying low for a while. Having not seen a tree since Dawa joined us three weeks ago I was looking forward to smell and hear the forest after three weeks of rock ice and the odd tuft of grass. The path dropped quickly from Bedding and past a small school which looked like it was Buddhist.

196. Heading down the forested Rolwaling valley with the silt laden turquoise stream cutting a path initially through the conifers and rhododendron forest and then through the decidious forest.

After that the path dived into the forest which was mostly Silver Fir and with the scrubby rhododendron as an understory. These rhododendron were in flower and produced great pompoms of white flower with various shades of pink through them. Occasionally there were copses of the bushes in flower and it was a magnificent sight. As the valley descended it became steeper and narrower. The roar of the stream was constant as the milky blue waters wriggled between large boulders and plunged over submerged rocks. White throated dippers were constantly working the torrent, usually in pairs. They seldom sat still for long, hopping from rock to rock or plunging into the current looking for larvae.

As the valley floor reached about 3200m the Silver Firs gave way to the wispy hemlocks, none of which had been allowed to grow big. The rhododendrons continued with larger trees now producing pink varieties and occasionally the classic red one. The red ones were usually over, with spent withered flowers, often wilting on the forest floor. Eventually after a couple of hours the path crossed the river and then arrived at the riverside meadow at Dokhang where there was a well appointed teahouse. We all stopped here for lunch which took about two hours in all. As we were eating the midday temperature was slowly rising outside as we were now at 2800m.

I set off before the others after lunch for the longish stretch to Simigoan which would take about four hours. To my surprise the path climbed almost at once as it had to go over a steep buttress. It then undulated across the hillside, keeping so high above the river I could not hear it far below in a deep slot. I noticed now that the conifers had now all but disappeared, save for the most inhospitable places like the ridges and on top of rocky knolls. Instead leafy trees had taken over and the path was a carpet of dry leaves which felt dry and crispy. In glades the forest floor was covered in white anemones. Through all this the excellent path continued like a yellow brick road on the south side of the valley. The steep hillsides were silent except for birdsong however when I dropped to about 2300m the sound of crickets started and they overpowered the birds.

Eventually the path dropped quite steeply down to the river and there was a bridge over the torrent to the hamlet of Riku perched on a shelf on the north side. The main trail did not cross here but continued on the south side climbing over another spur for a testing 100m. It was hot now as I climbed the well constructed steps but half an hour later I burst through the woods at the top of the crest and there was the village of Simigoan just 15 minutes away. Beyond it the path dropped quickly to the main Tama Koshi Nadi River into which the Rowaling Khola flowed as a tributary. Simigoan was essentially the end of the Rolwaling valley.

I descended slightly as I contoured around the terraced fields, all full of ripening corn, and made for the collection of houses on a slight saddle. One was a teahouse and due to the slightly cool wind and the view, allbeit a bit hazy, it looked perfect. It had a nice kitchen for the porters and a nice cool room for me. I settled in and an hour later the others arrived. Apparently the kitchen was superfluous as Dalbhat was much cheaper now. I heard the frantic clucking of a cockerel and saw Ramesh and Santos disappear with one in their hands. I suppose I still owed them one, as the Buddhist regulations of Rolwaling had prevented the killing of a chicken at the promised Chicken and Raksi party  in Bedding. As night fell I sat on a balcony barefoot and just in a shirt and wrote the blog as a cacophony of insects in the surrounding trees burst into life. The lights of Simigoan, with its 100 or so houses, flickered across the hillside. It seemed to be a mixed village of Sherpa and Tamang, and even the teahouse seemed mixed. As I settled in for the night after my nettle soup and chowmien I thought life at 2000m was remarkably easy after weeks of living at 4500-6000m.

May 11. Simigoan to Kurtang. 20 km. 7.5 hours. 1390m up. 1390m down. It was a great sleep in the oxygen rich air of Simigoan. We had a slow start and lolled about drinking tea until 0830. Dawa said he had low altitude sickness! Our first mission was to descend some 700m to Chhetchhet on the side of the Tama Koshi Nadi deep in a gorge. The relentless descent was broken by the charm of the rural life in the village of Simigoan which extended some 300 metres down the mountain. As we descended the crops changed from wheat to barley but generally the lower barley had already been harvested and was now replaced by maize with an understorey of potatoes, whose shoots already had some flowers. I got the impression that the upper half of Simigoan was Sherpa and the lower half Tamang. Both were Buddhist so the prayer flags and post were no indication. Bharat expalained the chortens were different with the Sherpa having a lotus flower shape.

After the bottom of the village the path crashed down through the steep leafy forest on an endless procession of steps. It was exceptionally steep but the constructed path made light of the terrain. I wondered how on earth the old path managed before this Swiss sponsored path which must have kept an army busy for a year constructing it. At last the steps reached the river where there were some rough camping opportunities, crossed a bridge and them climbed slightly to the charmless hamlet of Chhetchhet, where there looked to be one or two rough hotels or bhattis. It was the end of the road and the beginning of the path to Rolwaling so it was a dusty commercial hamlet. We were told Gonggar and hour down the track was much nicer.

An hour down the industrial track, lined with construction depots and huge depots for hydroelectric pipes for a Chinese led consortium to build a hydropower project on the Tama Koshi Nadi river, we arrived at Gonggar. It was a hideous place with an industrial quarry, tin shacks and the dirty squalor of a low quality gold-rush. We found the only acceptable hotel and even then felt quite guilty leaving Dawa, Pinzo and Chering there in a dark room. We spent about two hours sorting all the kit out and packed everything we did not need, or could do without, into bags and holdalls so the three Sherpas could take it on the bus to Kathmandu tomorrow. This left me and Bharat with about 10 kg and Ramesh and Santos with about 18kg, a reduction of about 30-40% each. We just had my small three man tent for the four of us and my lightweight multi fuel stove.

After a meal and tips we said goodbye to Dawa, Pinzo and Chering who had been our companions for the last three weeks. They were a great bunch and the two teams had formed some great friendships. I will certainly miss Dawa’s wit, charm and his very hard work ethic. After a group photo we were off down the dusty industrial road to Jagat with the soon to be imprisoned river tumbling over boulders beside us. It took an hour to reach the equally charmless village of Jagat where the road crossed to the east side of the river and we could at last leave it and climb a path up the west side of the gorge. We braced ourselves for the near 1000m climb in the heat of the day.

197. The High Passes team at Gonggar where we said goodbye to the 3 Sherpas. From the left; Chiring Sherpa, Santos, James, Bharat, Ramesh, Dawa Sherpa and Pinzo Sherpa.

The climb was initially a tedious slog for an hour until we climbed out of the gorge. The river and the last four hours of dusty, industrial squalor faded fast, especially when a cool breeze blew. Out of the gorge and onto the hillside, we soon came across the first of the terraces. For the next two hours we slowly climbed through a rural idyll. Terraced fields rose one above the other, each one belonging to a small simple homestead, usually comprising of the mainhouse and a storage house. Beside them somewhere in the compound was a shelter for a couple of tethered oxen and perhaps six goats who were generally brought fodder to save them wandering across the terraces destroying crops. The barely and the wheat were being harvested by plucking the heads from the stalks which were left in the fields. The heads were taken by basket to the homestead where they were dried in the sun and then dehusked and winnowed. Virtually every homestead was involved in one part of the process.

We stopped at the occasional water tap to drink and chat. Lower down the villagers and farmers seemed to be Chetri but as we climbed there were more and more Buddhist flags which I assumed belonged to Tamang. Occasionally we left the terraces where there was a ravine or forest to cross and then young boys looked after goats and older ladies looked after small cows and oxen as they foraged in the understory. The path climbed relentlessly but the slog was greatly alleviated but the rural activity and character of the villages we passed which virtually merged into each other.

198. A Tamang lady plucking the ears off her corn in the evening en route between Jagat and Orangdanda.

Some three or four hours after leaving the horrors of the valley at Jagat the path crossed to deeper larger ravines and then reached a track which contoured round the hillside to Orangdnada. From a distance it looked like any of the other charming rural hamlets we passed through, but as we arrived at the ridgetop hamlet with all the herders who were driving their cows and goats along the road to their homesteads for the night, its charm vanished. It was the end of the road and busy with petty commerce and it had no older houses, just modern ones and a bhatti which was full of men drinking rtaksi. The whole place looked most uninviting. We found out there was a rustic hotel just 15 minutes down the road and I insisted on heading for that. It was in fact just 10 minutes, in the village of Kurtang in a roadside location. It had a few rooms upstairs and a simple kitchen and sitting area downstairs. It was purely designed for Nepalis and was very rustic but it served our purposes well. It was getting dark as we settled in. Bharat and Ramesh made themselves at home in the kitchen with the hosts while I wrote. It turned out to be much better than out first impressions. Later that evening it rained a little which will hopefully keep the dust down tomorrow as we follow the track.

12 May. Kurtang to Loting. 18 km. 7.5 hours. 1170m up. 1330m down. We left Kurtang quite late. We had been promised an easy six hour day on the level. As always we listened to what we wanted to hear and we in for a surprise. The track was easy to walk on and undulated across the ridge from village to village. It was mostly a Tamang area and it was easy to see how hard working people were here. There were many new houses nearing completion after the earthquake some five years ago. They were well constructed using steel rods and concrete but remained in the traditional style with their large eaves. It seemed one village merged into another and most of the housing was near the road. The road was very recent addition and was constructed near the houses, usually cutting a swathe across two terraces and throwing debris onto many more.

After the larger village of Khadkatol the path left the road and cut over a spur by the school for half an hour to rejoin the road again. From here it was very quiet all the way to Laduk. During this spell it travelled through pine forest with a mixture of the three needled Chir Pine, and the five needled Bhutan Pine. It was cool in the pine forest but outside it the heat of the day was starting to build. When we arrived in Laduk on the spur of the ridge leading down to Singati Bajar we were ready for a break. Unfortunately we did not find anywhere until the end of the village and it was not nice, so we decided to continue for the 45 minutes to the next paasal, or local shop.

It took us two hours to get to it, much of it on the shadeless, dusty road. At least the road was level and fast to walk on, but it was energy sapping in the sun. Occasionally a path joined two segments of road and led us through some shady glades above and below hamlets. There was rural activity everywhere in the hamlets mostly due to the gathering in of the corn and the barley. We did eventually see the hamlet of Chilingkha but it was almost an hour away, albeit along a road. It seemed to be marked in the wrong place on the map. When we reached the Tamang hamlet the shop was tiny but it did have noodles and she cooked us a huge lunch with Ramesh’s help.

199. Ramesh cooking lunch in the ladies kitchen where we stopped for lunch a couple of hours before Loting.

After lunch I set off on a mission for Loting. I peered over the edge of the road occasionally to see where I had walked along three valley bottom some six or seven years ago when I did the Lower GHT. I remember it being like a furnace down there and that was in December. It would be horrendous now. The road skirted over some large cliffs and steep slopes. The excavator operators carving these roads must have had nerves of steel and I am sure a few were pushed off by landslide or the road they were carving collapsing under them. Many might say the roads are spoiling the Himalayas and they should be kept pristine. This is not a local opinion, and the roads greatly ease and enhance otherwise very difficult lives.  They allow the villagers access to markets, hospitals, schools and everything we in the West take for granted with our motorways. The roads in the Himalayas are built in stages. First an excavator carves the track and then over the course of the next decade the problem areas, like landslides and river crossings are fixed with gabions (wire baskets filed with stones) until the road functions for tough Tata buses and jeeps.

I pushed on to Loting which was on a shelf. The hotel was apparently beside the school. My Nepali was good enough to ask for simple directions and I used the school in the question. At last I was pushing myself up the last slope into Loting. I remember looking up at it six or seven years ago thinking that it was a nice location and how I had made a mistake by going on the west side of the Singati Khola and spending the night at Sarwa in a local house. The hotel at Loting was a disappointment as it was a corrugated walled two storey shed. I waited for the others and we established it was the only option. Once we had settled in the wind suddenly increased tremendously and blew dust all over the shed. It even blew a tree over. The rain then started to lash down which settled the dust. The small storm lasted for about two hours and then suddenly abated around nightfall.

May 13. Loting to Bigu Gompa. 8 km. 3.5 hours. 1000m up. 290m down. It turned out the family we stayed with were extremely nice and helpful. They were Newari, a caste I always associated with the Kathmandu valley rather than in a predominantly Tamang village miles away. We had an early breakfast cooked by Ramesh on the families gas stove, consisting of noodles and dried peas, and left just after 0730 as I was keen to do the climb before the heat of the day built.

I set off with Santos up the track but was worried it was climbing too much, until one local lady shouted from her house as we passed a footpath and told us to take it. It contoured through the village passing terraced fields ripe with corn. The corn was densely planted and it looked a good harvest. Women were plucking it with two batons held together which removed about 10 ears at a time and then emptied these into the basket. I should think it would take a good hour to fill a basket. The baskets would then be taken to the homestead where they were dried before being winnowed and stored ready for milling. The stalks were left in the field either to be harvested with a sickle for thatching or used for fodder. Occasionally I saw goats or cattle staked out in the fields eating the stalks.

200. Leaving Loting and following the path through the terraces of corn on the way to Bigu Gompa, which is located under the saddle of the hill in the distance.

As I we got to the edge of the village the corn looked terrible. It was small, full of weeds and uncared for. The animals staked out here on small terraces also looked thin and shamefully neglected. It was as if there owners only collected the bare minimum of fodder to give them. I mentioned the contrast it to Bharat and he said these fields were probably farmed by the Dalit families of the community. Although caste is officially dissolved in Nepal, the assumptions live on.

The path now contoured across the steep hillside and I looked down to see if I could see the house in the tiny hamlet of Sangba, where I stayed seven years ago while doing the Lower GHT. The earthquake had changed the layout of the villages with many nice old houses falling down and new ones replacing them, so I could not spot it. The path now started to descend to a series of small hamlets until it reached the confluence of the two streams under the village of Alampu. We walked up the east fork for about a km until there was an old suspension bridge over the torrent. We took in and then started the long climb. Initially we went through terraces climbing slightly. As we climber more and more villages in this heavily populated area came into view.

After 20 minutes the path suddenly disgorged me into the centre of a busy village. There were a cluster of small shops and a road. It was Alampu village. The path now went straight up the village for a good hour passing a good hundred houses. Some were Tamang, some were Brahmin, and I am sure a few other castes like Chettri and Magar were here too. While the track zig-zagged up through across the ridge the path went straight up. Nepali villages are often built on ridge tops in the hill district and on the spurs of ridges in steeper areas to minimize the risk of landslide. There were a lot of building and rebuilding works going on in Alampu due to the recent earthquake. At last I made it to the two stupas on the hill above the village, which marked the top of Alampu.

201. Looking SE down the Singati Khola Valley from Bigu Gompa. Loting is on a shelf on the left. At the end of the valley, lost in the haze is the dusty town of Singati Bajar.

From here the path skirted west under a forest and continued to climb traversing up more fields of the next village. The road in the meantime headed off west to Rakham under me. The next village was either Magar or Sherpa, or a mixture. It was on a small hidden shelf with a stream running across it. Its position was quite idyllic as the stream kept the secret bowl verdant. There were about 50 modest newer houses here, obviously built to replace the olders ones which were destroyed in the earthquake. From here I could see Bigu Gompa so I just threaded a path through the terraces to get to it. As I arrived I could see some newer buildings but I could not see the Gompa or the Gaurishankar Conservation Area lodge I had stayed at before. In my confusion I wondered into the Nunnery, as Bigu Gompa was for females only, and at their new hotel some short haired maroon robes ladies pointed out the lodge I was at before. I did not recognize it.

Last time I was here I had a dreadful cough, born I think from the dust road of the previous day. It completely incapacitated me and I had to spent two days lying in bed or on the grass. The host of the lodge looked after me, brought me food, and made me inhale some minty vapours. She was a Magar lady and I have always been fond of Magar ever since her kindness. She was still here and remembered me. She said the guesthouse was destroyed in the earthquake and she had just built the kitchen in which she sat in a hurry a few years ago. The Conservation Area had just finished a new one just up the hill and it was open. She took me up and showed me just as the others arrived. We all settled in with Bharat translating some of the memories we both had from my coughing fit seven years ago.

202. The kind Magar lady who runs the official guesthouse at Bigu Gompa. She looked after me for a couple of days when I passed through here 7 years ago and was ill.

After some tea and dalbhat I went over to the monastery to have a look. It was completely destroyed and the main building had been flattened. Now foundations were going in for a new two to three storey building. In the middle of the construction site sat two huge prayer wheels wrapped in tarpaulins which had been salvaged and would obviously be incorporated into the new Gompa. The rows and rows of the nuns’ accommodation seemed to be restored or were unscathed and I should imagine housed up to 200 nuns. Even the row of eight chortens leading to the old gompa were badly shaken and all were lopsided with bits missing. However during my walk around I noticed there was a lot of reconstruction about to get underway with a welding workshop, large carpentry  shed full of new beams and logs, and a masons yard. There was a notice saying the whole project would cost nearly a million dollars.

In the evening we went down to the kind Magar ladies kitchen. She had also lost her house in the earthquake plus all the belongings she had in the previous guesthouse as she had the concession to run it. Since then business has been very quiet as the main attraction of the area, Bigu Gompa, has temporarily disappeared. I hope the construction worker for the new monastery will bring some business but I don’t think it will be the type of customer she needs. It is difficult to see how she can return to the business she had, but she still has the happy kind smile.

May 14. Bigu Gompa  to Palati Jyandan. 15 km  7.5 hours. 1550m up. 900m down. I slept really well in the new Guarishankar Conservation house and my cough and cold was virtually gone by the morning. We went down for breakfast and the Magar lady had everything ready including our packed lunch by 0630. This was despite being overrun by visiting officials who had come to open a new mani wall at the monastery. After breakfast she was very sweet to me and said how nice it was to see me again (kushi lago). We had a photo taken and then a big hug before her daughter showed us the new way as the old way I knew suffered a landslide during the earthquake. She took us down above Rackham village and almost to the small hydrostation where we met the road. From here we started the steep climb.

We followed the road for less than half an hour up through the hot deciduous jungle until we found the shortcut on the northside. It climbed steeply across the bare hillside in scorching heat for a good couple of hundred metres until it gained the deciduous forest and the relative cool. Around 2800 metres we reached the first of the hemlocks as the road started many zig-zags. There was a short cut across each zig-zag, often steep and we followed them for a good hour climbing steeply as the hemlocks gave way to Silver firs. Most of the conifers were huge with a bole of at least a meter. It was almost a forest of venerable specimen trees. After four hours we at last reached a more level area around 3200m. Here there was a Kharka or a seasonal pasture with about five families.

We asked for milk at one shelter and they bade us in. We each had two cups of delicious hot milk sweetened with a bit of sugar. The hosts were Sherpa from the Bigu Gompa area. They made blocks of churpi, blocks of dried milk, which they sold directly to a merchant in Kathmandu. They also picked Lokti, Daphne bhunia, leaves and twigs which they also sold to a natural paper manufacturer. It was an entrepreneurial family and they looked well on it. They gave us some directions for the next leg to Sano Jyandan.

It only took an hour to walk up through the rest of the forest, which did not look so healthy here, possibly due to fires, to reach the Tinsang La pass. We passed a series of meadows but most of the Kharka on them were not occupied. The rhododendrons through this sparse forest were absolutely stunning. They were not the classic red, essentially white with shades of mauve, purple, pink and even a light blue. The bushes were plastered in flowers which were just beginning to go over. The ridge we had to climb after from the Tinsang La pass was speckled white with bushes in flowers. Just before the pass, at the last meadow was a mani wall, we were told to take a right here.

203. Some of the Rhododendrons around Tilsang La Pass were the most spectacular I had ever seen. The hillsides were speckled white with them.

The path led us to the top of an escarpment in a few minutes. Far below us were villages like Dolangsa where I stayed last time before heading down to Barhabise in the Bhote Khosi Valley, some two vertical km below us and lost in the haze. We stopped here for our lunch of chapattis and boiled eggs the Magar lady had prepared and then had a snooze in the vanishing sun. Our route now followed the edge of the escarpment north, climbing through the rhododendron forest in full flower. As it neared the top the path veered onto the steep slope of the escarpment and contoured round under the peak to gain the west ridge of the peak. Below us, on the steep side of the escarpment the rhododendron was especially spectacular with the whole slope speckled white and pink. As we reached the west ridge it started to rain and hail, at times quite heavily.

The path now was quite easy as it pretty much followed the ridge top for three km through an avenue of stunning rhododendron. Even in the pouring rain it raised the spirits. I have never seen anything like it before in Nepal. It was like a well fertilized botanic garden. After an hour, which the rain stopped, we spilled out of the flower filled forest onto a meadow on the top of the ridge. It had about four shelters with goats and chauri (half yak-half cow cross and female-as opposed to the male dhzo). Here we were told there was another Kharka in about an hour at Palati Jyandan but none at Sano Jyandan where we heading and hoped to camp.

As we left the heavens opened and there was a continual roar of thunder for about an hour. It would be miserable camping in this in the small tent. Bharat shared my thoughts and we desperately hoped we would be able to spend the night in a shelter at Palati Jyandan. The next hours walk was miserable with water pouring down as if it were the monsoon. The flash of lightning was also quite disconcerting. We all just plodded on through the stunning rhododendron forest which was the best yet with the path forming a grassy avenue through the flower filled bushes. As we reached Palati Jyandan the thunderstorm eased. There were a few shelters and Bharat asked at the one which looked most watertight. They said we could stay the night and they would cook, obviously for a cost.

Out host were a Sherpa family of mother, father and big strong teenage son. They had come up from their main house near Dolangsa for the summer with their 25 odd Chauri yak cow cross. We were ushered in to a long cabin covered in tarpaulin. It was about five metres by 20. In the middle was a fire and it warmed the place. Around the fire were bamboo mats for sitting on. There was space for about 10 to sleep on the floor. At the far end were stacks of churpi they were making and selling directly to a merchant, all the dairy equipment and churpi press. By the door was a large stack of firewood completely filling the gable end and then a pile of grass. There were three tiny calves tethered inside by the door and they fed on the grass. I understood their only use was to encourage their mothers to produce milk and after that a Tamang would come and buy them cheaply for meat as Sherpas could not do the deed.

205. Our hosts son milking on of the 25 Chauri. A female yak/cow cross. The 60-100 litres of milk they would get each day would be made into churpi, a very mild cheese type product.

As Bharat, Ramesh and Santos charmed the hosts, the father who had once been involved in the trekking industry, the mother and son went about their pastoral chores of milking and dealing with the milk. This way of life once so predominant across the globe say 2000 years ago is now only practiced in a few places as people flock to cities. I had seen it before in Kurdistan, Nepal and even to an extent in Norway or the Alps, but it was a tremendous privilege to witness it again. It is part of out cultural DNA and it is great to see people who still refuse to swarm to the cities to join the urban rabble, who are oh-so-sophisticated with their Italian suits and designer coffee.

May 15. Palati Jyandan to Last Resort. 20km. 7 hours. 440m up. 2450m down. As I feel asleep in the Sherpa’s pastoral shelter I could here the gentle patter of rain on the tarpaulin and it lulled me to sleep and I slept extremely well. After nine hours I woke naturally with the family getting up to start their dairy chores. I got up also and caught the early morning sun on the Langtang range to the north. It was where we were going next but I could not see Tilman Pass which we had to cross to enter the Langtang valley. The mother and the son were busy milking the 25 Chauri. Back inside Bharat, Ramesh and Santos were just stirring. Breakfast was a slow affair as it could not really start until the mother, also the matriarch of most Sherpa households, had finished her milking chores. Eventually we set off at 0730.

204. The east Langtang range where we are going next and over the Tilman Pass from Palati Jyandan in the early morning.

Our route took us along the edge of the escarpment for almost two hours. We passed a few other pastures where the ridge flattened out and decades of pastoralists had cleared the rhododendrons. To the south the escarpment dropped away steeply down to a plateau where it seemed many of the pastoralists we met lived during the winter. It was quite difficult to keep to the track as there were a few options but we just seemed to keep to the top of the escarpment or slightly on the south side of it when the terrain allowed.

The rock was quite greasy after all yesterdays’ rain and on one occasion my foot slipped and I was suddenly horizontal on a steep rocky bit. I landed on the rocky shoulder first but bounced off and fell another metre crashing down chest first. I cut a finger as I put my hand out and was worried about my camera, but I was lucky I did not hit my head or face. Ramesh who was behind me seemed to appear in front of me before I even stopped bouncing, so quick were his reactions. My finger and pride were the only casualties. After this I was much more cautious on the damp rocky sections.

Finger washed and plastered we carried on along the crest up to one final notch passing through to the north side where there was a meadow. From here we started the descent, and it was a huge descent. Firstly there was about 1000m through mostly deciduous jungle. The path just went down and down through small forest and scrub. As we descended it got hotter and hotter. After about three hours from Patati Jyandan we were still coming down through the jungle hoping we were on the right track. After another half hour we at last reached a clearing where there was a view and could orientate ourselves. It seemed we were near Yarsa village, which had a red roofed complex – apparently a monastery.

From near Yarsa we went on the west side of a long ridge with a few knolls and dropped down to Mandre, a hillside village with surprisingly many large new houses. We were still a good 1000 metres above the Bhote Koshi river and we knew there would be more descent. It came quickly with a very step path from Mandre down to Cati which was 500 metres of steps. Cati was also in the process of rebuilding after the earthquake with a lot of activity going on. We pondered stopping here but decided to head north along the track to the village of Tyanthali. It too was being rebuilt. We stopped in a trackside bhatti for a cup of tea each to be told the Last Resort, where we were heading was only 10-15 minutes away. I thought it was a good hour so this was welcome news which seldom happens with time left.

After just 10 minutes down a path from near our teahouse we came to the road. Here there was a suspension foot bridge spanning the Bhote Koshi River and the deep gorge it was in. It was an extremely high bridge and some entrepreneur, called Pat, established a bungee jump from it. It was reputed to be the second highest in the world. Pat had also created the Last Resort on the west side of the river at the other side of the footbridge. Bharat suggested I check it out and perhaps stay.

The Last Resort however had nothing I needed, it had no wifi, no charging points. It was full of middle class Nepali tourists, it had a meaty buffet and was culturally quite bankrupt. In addition I would have to sleep in a dark safari type tent. I returned to Bharat and the others and said it was not for me and I wanted something local. The lady who owned the bhatti where they were eating had a homestay on the north of the river near the Last Restort. We went to check it out. It was perfect, with a large four bedded room with six plugs and great phone reception. We all piled into the room as the rain started outside. I spent the afternoon and evening doing the blog as is now my duty whenever we have some time off.

206. The others still in bed in the early morning in our hosts cabin at Palati Jyandan. Up at the far end of the cabin the hosts had slept and it was the dairy products end also. The calves were behind me.

This was really the end of the Gaurishankar Section. The first half was the epic crossing of the Tashi Labsta Pass and the journey down the Rolwaling valley. The second half had been more of a transit between the Rolwaling and the Langtang. It had some great cultural landscapes and farming views but it was far too populated and busy for my liking and it was also riddled with roads. It usually takes groups about 60 days to get here and although still quite far to the east can almost be considered a half way point in terms of effort. It had taken us 61 days, despite the time spent in the first two sections with their snowy passes; so we are almost on schedule.

Section 06. Gaurishankar. 152km. 69 hours. 9150m up. 11730m down.


April 29. Chhukhung to Lobuche. 12km  6.5 hours. 1100m up. 988m down. I wanted to get an early start today to go over Kongma La Pass. Most groups leave at 0600. However the team was also splitting up for a week with Bharat taking all four porters down too Namche Bazar and then on to Thame where he would wait for about three or four days for Dawa and myself who were going over The Three Passes of Everest, Namely Kongma La, Cho La and Renjo La, before meeting the others at Thame after our six to seven day excursion. It is not really clear if Dawa’s and my route over the Three Passes is part of the GHT or not but in the spirit of the GHT to go the highest route possible they should be and as such I am including them.

Bharat and the four porters are taking virtually everything, leaving Dawa and myself with the luxury of 8-10 kg rucksacks. We hope to travel fast and light. I decided to give the others an allowance of 1000 rupees a day to buy food and cook it. So I had to count out 30,000 rupees for them. Plus give Ramesh another 15,000 to buy food for the Tashi Labsta Pass after Thame. Plus give Ramesh another 5,000 to fix the stove, buy a holdall kit bag and some factor 100 sun cream for my fried lips. Then I had to pay my bill at Sunrise lodge plus the Nepali food bill for their stay in Chhukhung which together came to 22,000. So all in all it was an expensive morning with about US$700 shed. Once all this was done it was about 0930, and Dawa and myself eventually set off at 1000.

It was a fantastic morning as we started up the hillside with our backs to the very fluted ridges and vertical faces of Ama Dablam. Ahead of us was the south face of Lohtse, one of the most formidable faces in the Himalayas. We chatted a bit but I soon realised I needed my breath for the climb and had none to spare for chat. We climbed quite quickly through dwarf juniper scrub and steep yak pasture. Here people were collecting the dung to sell to the lodges. At one point Dawa got a phone signal, so held back to chat to his family whom he had not spoken to for about three weeks.

125. Climbing up to the Kongma La Pass gives a great view down the Lower Khumbu Valley past Dingboche and on to around Namche Bazar.

I felt great as long as I kept a steady pace. I was well acclimatized, my pack was half its weight and the sun was out and the streams crystal clear. I passed through the yak pastures and got a good view up the valley to the large and dangerous glacial lake Imja Tsho and down the valley to the roof tops of Dingboche. I then entered a cirque, formed by a long gone glacier, which was sunny, moist and verdant. There was a steep climb out of the cirque to the west and this took us up onto a platform where there were a number of small lakes, all of which were still frozen over. There was very little snow here around the lakes and spring was making ground. Indeed it was amazing we were 1000m higher that this time two weeks ago when we were thigh deep in soft wet snow. Just after the lakes there was a steeper climb up a craggy hillside to the pass. Just to the south of the pass was a trekking peak called Pokalde.

Dawa and myself arrived at roughly the same time as he steamed up the slope behind me. We sat at the top and had a snack and enjoyed the view. Lobuchewas clearly visible down the other side but it was a long way away. We had taken just three hours to get up to this 5535m pass, climbing 800m from Chhukhung. The light rucksack and my fitness were paying off. The usual midday mist was somewhat delayed today and the peaks across the Kumbu glacier were barely affected. After our break, during which we were surrounded by sparrow type birds hoping for crumbs, we started the descent.

126. Looking west from the top of Kongma La pass down to the near stagnant and moraine covered Khumbu glacier and the hamlet of lodges at Lobuche on the other side.

Initially the rough path went to the north of the descent to avoid crags. The path then started quite a steep descent down small zig-zags on the north side still as it descended rapidly. There was no snow at all and the path was well established. Indeed we caught up with two other groups who were doing the now popular Three Passes. The path then moved to the centre of the valley as it descended quickly to the Shangri-La at the bottom of the valley. This Shangri La was the sandy established grove which ran between the devastation of the Khumbu Glacier and the mountainside, hemmed in between moraine wall and rock. It looked like there had been no upheaval here for a few hundred years and the terrain was of sandy pasture. It was warm and sunny with great views to Pumori. In the summer this area is teeming with yaks grazing.

127. Looking back to the Knogma La Pass from the devastation of the Khumbu Glacier. The descent route is on the scree to the centre left of the picture.

However we still had to cross the Khumbu glacier to get to Lobuche. It was a km of geological chaos on a biblical scale. A vast river of ice which once moved and was replenished with fresh ice had now become stationary as it sat in its trench. The dormant beast was now slowly dying but it would take many decades for all the ice in the trench to melt. Most of it was covered in metres of stone and boulders which insulated it, but it still was melting under this coating. As it melted the rock coating moved and collapsed and lakes formed, so the path was a temporary ever changing route. As we followed it we strayed once to find ourselves on top of huge boulders which were actually precariously perched on top of an overhang of ice some 30 metres high. It was a very dangerous area and we retreated quickly to find the path again. Eventually after a short hour we climbed up the moraine on the west side and left the glacier behind. In 50 years the terrain we had crossed could be 100 m lower as the ice vanishes.

Lobuche lies in the Shangri La between the glacier and the mountains on the west side on a high pasture. It is not a pretty place and has grown rapidly since was here some 12 years ago. I did not recognise the place I stayed at last time – every small teahouse from that time had grown into a two storey charmless hotel, and they were crammed together. Dawa tried Oxygen but it was full so we got some characterless rooms in the hotel beside it. Tomorrow we would just do a day trip up to Kala Pattar to get a good view of Everest and then return to Lobuche again.

April 30. Lobuche to Kala Pattar and return.  18km. 7 hours. 940m up 940m down. Dawa and myself arranged a breakfast at 0530, but when we got down discovered the cook was still asleep. He got him up and we had breakfast at 0600 and left by 0630. There was a bit of cloud about, and I was concerned the overcast afternoon was going to arrive early. There must have been at least 200 people leaving Lobuche at this time. All the tourists, including me, had trekking poles, all the guides had their hands in their pockets and a scarf over much of their head and all the porters had about two large holdalls strapped together and hanging on a headband. The tourists were by far the more cumbersome and awkward in their gait. Dawa and myself were hardly taking anything as we were returning to Lobuche so we had a fast pace and soon overtook the majority.

The path went up the sheltered grassy valley between the lateral moraine and the mountainside for a good 3km before it climbed up onto the apex of the moraine ridge and followed this. To the east we could look down onto the Khumbu Glacier which was largely covered in rocks, except in places where there were steep walls of ice. It did not take long to negotiate this braided path as it continued its gentle climb to Gorak Shep. Ahead rose the steep, bulbous south side of Pumori, a 7000m neighbour of Everest, which was still hidden by its other neighbours. The crowds were left behind but there was a background buzz of helicopters, and we were now meeting the crowds who were leaving Gorak Shep that morning, along with a couple of stray dogs who were following them down.

After an hour and a half we crested a rise in the moraine, and there was Gorak Shep below us. It had grown considerably since I was last here in 2007 when there were perhaps three or four single story lodges. Now there were five or six three storey lodges. They were all clustered together on a moraine mound, while beside them was a flat sandy area about twice the size of a football pitch. It did not look a very homely place and with the odd cloud still hanging around we decided to carry on up to Kala Pattar and stop here on the way back.

128. Sitting on the prayerflag festooned rock at Kala Pattar with the 7000m of Pumori in the background.

129. Mount Everest, 8848m, on the left and Nuptse, 7861m, on the right, as seen from Kala Pattar. Between them is the Western Cwm leading up to the South Col.

The climb up to Kala Pattar also took about an hour and a half. There were lots of people coming down who must have all gone up for the sunrise thing. About one third of the way up there was a landing place for helicopters doing expensive mountain flights. They were a nuisance and an intrusion and I lament the fact they are allowed inside a National Park. As we climbed towards the south ridge of the now looming Pumori, more and more of Everest started to appear behind Nuptse and its formidable West Face. About half way up and well above the helicopters I looked down onto the Khumbu glacier just below the infamous Khumbu Icefall and was astonished to see the whole of the west side of the Glacier was covered in about 1000 yellow, orange and red tents. It looked like a music festival. Dawa told me there were perhaps 5000 people down there with massive amounts of kitchen tents and sleeping tents for the thousands of Sherpas. He had relatives who had worked here. It was a bit of a horrifying sight and confirmed rumours I had heard about the whole ascent of Everest being something of a circus. Last time I was here 12 years ago it was November and I suppose all the tents had gone for the season.

130. The South West Face of Everest as seen from Kala Pattar. The South Col is just visible on the right hand side.

I did my best to ignore the distant sight and carried on up the easy path and reached the top some three hours after leaving Lobuche. Having no rucksack and being well acclimatized was a huge advantage. It was a great sight; almost hair raising to look across the valley into the heart of the Kumbuu Icefall and then follow it up to the Western Cwm all the way to the South Col. You could even make out what might be a few features like the Hillary Step. The North Ridge which rose up from Tibet was also clearly visible, and this looked to be a much easier way to ascend. It was an immense mountain vista, perhaps one of the most spectacular an ordinary mortal can see without venturing up on of these giants. Dawa and I chilled out on the rocks taking it in for a good half hour, fortunate that the clouds which had threatened three hours earlier had vanished.

131. Recreating a photo I took 12 years ago from Kala Pattar, looking over to Everest and Nuptse.

132. At the bottom of the Khumbu Icefall in the Western Cwm and on this side of the glacier is Everest Base Camp. If you look carefully you can see perhaps 1000 tents on the moraine with at least 5000 cooks, Sherpas, porters, climbers and logistics personal. It is a popular trekking destination but this circus of egos is probably best avoided as there is no view, in favour of a trip up Kala Pattar where there is a great view.

133. Looking SW from Kala Pattar across the glacier to the Lobuche peaks which are popular trekking peaks. The other side of that range are the lodges at Dzongla.

134. Looking south from Kala Pattar down the devastation of the Khumbu Glacier. This vast stream of ice is now near stationary and the surface moraine is covering probably 100m of ice which will melt over the next 50 years.

We quickly descended back to Gorak Shep and went for a meal. In the lodge were two English ladies I had met the night before. They were spending the night here. I joined them for lunch before they left to go to Everest Base Camp. I told them about the tents. Dawa and I then sauntered back down the valley to Lobuche, hands in pockets as we skipped from stone to stone chatting. Dawa told me about his family which had endured a bit of turmoil over the years. He as the oldest brother was essentially head of the family now since his father was killed in an accident a decade ago.

135. Heading down the Khumbu Glacier towards the west turn off to the hamlet of Dzongla it is usual to meet Yak caravans heading up with supplies. Pumori is the mountain in the background.

I did harbour thoughts about continuing on to Dzongla, something I could see Dawa was uncomfortable with as he had already booked a place at Oxygen Altitude Home, the place to be in Lobuche. By the time we reached Lobuche it had completely clouded over and the thought of another three hours in drab grey overcast conditions with the possibility of mist or even snow was not inspiring, so I decided to stay at Oxygen. The room was nice but it was the dining hall which clinched it. I immediately bumped into an Irishman who was witty and chatty. In fact the whole place was vibrant with chat and I knew II would enjoy the night here. Tomorrow would be a short three to four hour day to Dzongla where I had stayed 12 years ago, but by now it had probably morphed into a hamlet rather than the cosy lodge I remembered.1 May. Lobuche to Dzongla. 8 km. 2.5 hours. 180 up. 260m down. Today was going to be an easy day so I lingered in bed and did not get up until 0730.  I packed and then went down to the dining hall for breakfast. The place was deserted with everyone having already departed, most for Gorak Shep. I had ordered macaroni for breakfast and when it came I regretted having done so, especially as it was in a water tomato sauce. By the time I paid the bill and we set off, hands in pockets, it was 0830. It felt we were the last to leave town. The sun was out and it was a glorious day as we sauntered down the path chatting. Hardly anyone came towards us, and we passed no one as we cruised down the small valley between the mountainside on the right and the huge glacier on the left for about half an hour until we got to the junction. Ama Dablam and Thamserku dominated the landscape down the valley beyond the small village to Periche, which was huddled in against a large moraine wall.

136. Looking down the upper Khumbu Valley from near Dzongla to the two giants of the eastwern flank namely Ama Dablam, left, and Thamserku, right.

137. Ama Dablam, 6856m, is rightly one of the most famous and photographed mountains in the world. This impressive view does not show of her best features.

138. Thamserku, 6608m, is the other spectacular giant on the east side of the Khumbu Valley.

We now started to traverse across the west side of the valley which it dropped away beneath us. The more we traversed, the higher above the Khumbu valley we climbed on the smooth hillside in the sunlight. After a good km the path crossed a parched spur and then started heading up a side valley, possibly called the Cho Khola. The path continued to traverse up the new valley high above the valley floor which was covered by a lake, caused by the damming of the valley floor by a huge alluvial fan which seemed to have material added to it by frequent rockfalls. The lake looked shallow but a larger rockfall might block the valley further, causing the lake to grow to a depth of over 20-30 metres and then it would be a real danger to Pheriche hamlet if it burst.

To the south and north the Cho Khola was flanked by very impressive mountains. Lobuche East and West to the north were trekking peaks and Dawa could make out a party climbing the former but I could not see them. On the south of the valley, the other side of the lake was Tabouche, which Dawa explained meant Saddle in the Sherpa language. At the head of the valley was the glacier which led up to Cho La Pass, 5420m, some 600 metres above us. As we chatted we rounded a spur and there across the valley on a small spur was a collection of teahouses which formed the hamlet of Dzongla. We descended into the yak pastures, which were currently brown and parched, and then climbed to the collection of green corrugated roofed buildings which were much more modest and cosy compared to their Lobuche counterparts. The yak pastures were brown and empty because it was the dry season, but come the monsoon in eight weeks they would be green and bustling with yak.

Dawa chose a lodge and I checked out the dining room before committing to a room. The dining room is where all the guests would gather in the late afternoon and evening to eat their meal and then chat. This one looked cosy and it had a stove. In the hall there was a huge pile of dried yak dung which would produce a lot of heat. Indeed some 30 dried yak pancakes would heat the whole place for five hours. It looked promising so I took the room. In the afternoon I wandered about the hamlet, which was quite dull as it was just a collection of lodges rather than an organic community, enjoying the sun as the overcast afternoon was late in arriving today.

Other hikers arrived in dribs and drabs. First two who I had met on Kala Pattar yesterday and then two enlightened Americans who I had met in Chhukhung. Then a larger group of younger and socially divergent Americans arrived, some of whom seemed up for a conversation while others retreated onto their phones. Apart from them it had all the promise of a sociable evening. Dawa suggested we get up at 0500 for an early start, and this was exactly what I had been thinking. Tomorrow we would have a long eight hour day and today almost felt like a rest day in preparation for it.

May 02. Dzongla to Gokyo. 15km. 7 hours. 1110m up. 1180m down. We had aimed to set off as early as possible but Dawa and myself had a slow breakfast at 0600 and did not set off until 0700, by which time everyone else from all the lodges at Dzongla had already gone. It was a beautiful day when we set off and I was starting to take it for granted. There was just the off whiff of high cloud in an otherwise blue sky. Arakan Tse, a massively steep mountain rising just south of the lodges at Dzongla, dominated the view but there were mountains in all directions as we set off. We crested a rise and there before us was a high, flat, pastoral valley with a river running down the middle of its meadows. I told Dawa it reminded me of the myth of Shangri la. It was still too early for the yaks to be driven up here, as the grass was parched and dormant, but when it greens in the monsoon this pasture would support a 100 or so yaks and be ringing with the melodic deep chime of the heavy brass yak bells.

139. The Shangri-La like valley beyond the lodges of Dzongla was calm and idyllic and just waiting for the arrival of hundreds of yak which would fatten up on the green monsoon grasses.

Even as we crossed the idyllic meadow towards the glacier we started to catch the slower, cumbersome groups up. At the end of this tranquil meadow the sun started to warm and we took our jackets and fleeces off for the steep climb at the end of the meadow which would take us up onto the glacier. The climb was steep but short, essentially up a shallow gully which was choked with boulders which were stable, dry, and wedged in place. I was gasping for breath as I went up with a spurt of enthusiasm but after 15 minutes I was on the smooth glacier which led up to the pass. Walking on the glacier was easy as the snow was frozen with a crunchy layer on top to grip the soles of my shoes. Dawa and myself sauntered up expanse of snow in beside the frozen footsteps of those who had gone before until the pass suddenly revealed itself just ahead, festooned with prayer flags.

140. Dawa on the glacier just leading up to the Cho La Pass, 5420m.

I had been over this pass before 12 years ago and was surprised to see how much the glacier landscape had changed. Previously there had been a small lake at the pass hemmed in by mountain on the pass side and ice on the glacier side. The glacier had melted sufficiently that the ice dam had vanished and the lake with it. There were some 10 people on the Pass, half tourists and half Nepalis. Dawa knew one of the Nepalis, which is hardly surprising as guides and porters often have worked together previously and then bump into each other on the trail. As they were chatting I went to have a look at the descent as I had heard rumours it was icy and microspikes were essential.

141. Me in sight of the Cho La Pass. There was a small glacial lake here 12 years ago but it has vanished. You can just make out some prayer flags at the pass beyond.

We were one of the first down. Dawa was confident on the snow as it was still frozen and crunchy and the tread on the shoes bit into the surface. However I was a bit more cautious especially as there was some blue ice about. It took some 29 minutes to negotiate the 100 metres or so of snowfield, which was only around 25-30 degrees until we reached the boulderfields. Here we met three or four groups coming up, comprising some 100 people. I was glad we got down through the snowfield before this army polished the icy footsteps. A few people in this parade already looked the worse for the climb and were labouring to make headway. It was going to be a busy and patient day for the guides.

142. Looking east down the valley towards the lodges at Dzongla from Cho La Pass. The glacier in the middle is the one we just came up.

143. Looking back to the Cho La Pass from the west side. After the steep snowfields there were large boulderfields which ended in a huge Yak Pasture which could easily tolerate 1000 grazing yak in the green monsoon.

The boulderfield was extensive and after a good half hour tentatively stepping from boulder to boulder we reached the valley floor. This valley was a huge pasture and Dawa estimated that perhaps a thousand yaks could graze here during the monsoon season getting fat on the lush green grass. At the head of the valley was a smooth glacier which looked like it could lead to a pass over to the Lobuche area. However I had never heard of such a pass so it must be a difficult and barely chartered crossing. We climbed up the gentle slopes on the north side of the valley to gain another smaller valley which took us down to Dragnag. It was a delightful descent on easy terrain. As we approached Dragnag beside the glacier we walked into the middle of a herd of about 50 Blue Sheep. I was astonished by the lack of caution they showed for us. We could virtually saunter through the herd and they just shuffled out of the way allowing us to take photos at will. Previously I have only seen blue sheep at a distance and even then they turned and fled. I suppose the advantage this time is that we were in a national park and they took a lack of human aggression for granted.

144. On the way down to Dragnag we came across a herd of about 50 blue sheep. It was by far the tamest herd I have ever come across, probably due to lack of hunting in a National Park.

145. A mother and lamb look at me with curiosity and no fear as I approach.

146. The lamb feeding from the mother as I walked by.

We arrived in the unremarkable hamlet of Dragnag and picked a corrugated lodge at random for lunch. It was cheaper here than the Khumbu Valley and we gorged ourselves on Momos, a small vegetable filled pastry, either fried or steamed. After lunch we had to cross the Ngozumbo Glacier, similar to the Khumbu Glacier a couple of days earlier, but even bigger and more desolate. The path I previously took was now advised against, and indeed had probably vanished as the ice beneath the surface moraine melted and caused the stones to realign themselves. The path now went up north for a good km and then cut across the vast wasteland of stone debris. Beneath us were probably some 5-10 metres of stone and then 100-200 metres of ice. This ice had by and large stopped moving and the glacier was in decline. Over the next 50 years all the ice would melt and the boulders would settle into the vacated trench. Now as we walked we could see the hideous decline of this beast as it died. Ponds, tarns and small lakes formed all over the place as the melt water was trapped, then these would vanish as a crevasse opened up or boulders rolled into them and filled them up. It would be a constantly changing landscape for the next half century.

147. Me looking across the huge almost static Ngozumba Glacier at the carnage. This glacier is in retreat but vast amounts of ice under the moraine cover have yet to melt and this will take decades.

148. Dawa looking across the Ngozumba Glacier. As the ice under the moraine melts over decades the lip on which Dawa is standing will collapse into the vacated trench, which might be 1-200metres deep.

149. The “Third Lake” at Gokyo was still frozen when we arrived. It lies at around 4730m. Beyond is the Renjo La Pass, 5360m, the penultimate of our 7 Makalu/Everest Passes.

We finally managed to escape its clutches and climb up the crumbling lateral moraine wall. On the other side of this wall, beside the so called “Third Lake”, an azul, and serene lake formed when the lateral moraine of the Ngozumbo Glacier dammed the side valley in which the Third Lake sits. We sauntered down to the village, which was largely composed of lodges, but also included a bakery. We were bewildered as to where to stay, but settled on one I had stayed at 12 years ago. It had greatly expanded, but the sunny dining room with its large stove had stayed the same. Dawa approved as there were some guides already there he knew and I liked it because I heard a number of groups speaking English. We checked in and I got a simple rustic but large and sunny room.

May 03. Goyko Rest Day. 0km. 0 hours. 0m up. 0m down. The cheese rich pizza I at ate the previous evening sat in my stomach and eventually woke me up at about midnight. It felt like a hot coal sitting there burning the lining of my stomach producing the odd eruption of caustic air like a small fumarole. It did not feel right but I tolerated it for four or five hours as it gnawed away and kept me awake. Eventually, as it was getting light around 0500, the eruptions were combined with nausea and the Pizza made an exit out of my stomach through the window and onto the ground outside. The whole episode had weakened me sufficiently that when I went down for me prearranged breakfast at 0600 I could just look at it. I told Dawa I was feeling weak and feeble and wanted another couple of hours in bed before I decided what to do.

The couple of hours was six hours when I felt quite feverish. I eventually got up at midday but I felt quite bewildered. I did not feel sick or have an upset digestive system but I felt quite weak and had no appetite. Eventually at around dinner time I managed to eat a cake but that was it for the day. I went to bed as early as I dared around 7 and to my surprise managed to sleep until 0500 in the morning. When I got up I felt great, a bit thirsty perhaps, but considering yesterday I felt I had recovered.

May 04. Goyko to Thame. 21 km. 9  hours. 830m up. 1810m down. I ate my breakfast enthusiastically and was ready to go by 0700. The only problem was cyclone FANI. It was dumping vast amounts of water on the East coast of India and also Bangladesh, and Nepal was just catching the very edge of this weather system. There were none of the strong winds which the areas around eye of the cyclone were experiencing. Indeed the smoke from the chimneys of the other lodges were going straight up and hanging in the misty air. The only thing Gokyo was experiencing was a light snowfall, which had deposited some 5 cm through the night, and mist with visibility just 200 metres. I felt I could not delay again as each day was costing me well over US$200 in wages for the six Nepalis.

We set off at 0700 and were pretty much the last to leave Goyko for Renjo La Pass. We could enjoy pretty much a clear path which had already seen 50 pairs of feet stamp the warm snow to slush. We passed the inflow to the “Third Lake” where there was a Brahmin Duck feeding in the shallows there which were not frozen. From there the path climbed steadily in the mist and pretty soon we started to catch people up. First was a group of Koreans who were stumbling and sliding in the snow. Their porters however were storming ahead with huge loads. Then we caught up with a large Polish group and realized that we had better slow down otherwise we would be making the tracks in the snow ourselves, which by now was about 10cm and often lying on older soft snow which we were punching through. So we selfishly had a break to let the 10 Poles take the lead again and prepare the track for us.

150. Looking East from Renjo La Pass towards Everest on the left, Lhotse on the right, and Nuptse slightly lower between them.

It took about three hours to reach Renjo La Pass in all but all of it was in reasonably poor visibility in light snow. We could have been peeved by being denied the views but I was conscious of the fact that millions of people were under threat of losing their homes and livestock and some even their lives by cyclone FANI, so by having a hampered view means we go off very lightly. Besides I had already been over the pass some 12 years previously in glorious November clarity and had even seen Makalu from here, which is reckoned to be one of the best viewpoints in the Everest Region for trekkers. The photos in the blog are from this November in 2007.

151. A close up of Mount Everest as seen from Renjo La Pass. The South Ridge in Nepal is on the right and the North Ridge on the left is in Tibet.

After a rest at the top we started down the other side on a fantastic well-constructed path. It was quite slippery in places where other trekkers had been and polished the snow but we were soon first and our shoes bit into the snow as we came down the endless steps. There must have been a forceful group to promote the building of this path (which I also remember from 2007) as there was a huge amount of work and expense in its construction. I imagine the people of Thame and Lumde pushed for it, as without the constructed path the route up to Renjo La Pass from the west would be very difficult across this rough bouldery terrain, and the Three Passes trekking route might just have been the Two Passes. Apparently the path is good enough to take laden yaks over from Lumde to Goyko.

152. A zoom of Makalu from Renjo La Pass. It is perhaps some 70 km away. The current climbing route is up to Makalu 1 on the left from the valley below then down to the saddle and up the ridge.

The beautifully crafted path eventually zig-zagged down to a frozen lake in the corrie on the west side of the pass. As we neared the lake the snow faded and we were able to walk with less caution. From this lake the path then changed character and became more level and with a sandy base. We sauntered down it chatting and quickly walked out of the snow altogether. Indeed flashes of blue sky appeared but were quickly snuffed out again. We passed another lake and continued to descend dropping out of the mist for half an hour as we approached Lumde. This hamlet looked like it was still very much involved in yak herding, and the sheds and teahouses were surrounded by a network of stone walls. Some to keep yaks in and some, like the potato fields, to keep the yaks out. We wandered into the community and could hear the clunking of yak bells all over the place.

We went to a teahouse Dawa remembered and had lunch among the sedentary guests who were waiting until tomorrow when the mists cleared to go over the pass. After lunch the mist returned with a vengeance and visibility was down to 50 metres at the most. It was a great shame as the 7ish km to Thame was rich with a local herding and potato landscape of which we saw virtually nothing. Instead we walked on a fantastically easy sandy path which gently flowed down through hamlets like Marlung and Tarringa with their stone houses and patchwork of fields surrounded by more stones. There was the constant roar of the seldom seen Bhote Koshi Nadi river which we had to cross once to the west side. After some two hours the many walls of prayer stones, chortens and Tibetan inscriptions on rocks got more frequent and we knew we were approaching Thame.

Suddenly there were rooftops below us and the path descended into the midst of them. Dawa told me we had arrived. He found a cosy hotel and went to find the others. They were nearby, having rented a room they could cook and sleep in. They all came down to the hotel to dump their baggage and say hello. It was great to see them again. They are what the US through hikers call a trail family and I was reunited with mine. The next section would really start from here and it would take us over the Tashi Labsta Pass into the Rolwaling Valley and then through more rural terrain to the Bhote Kosi River. I will call this Section Section 06. Rolwaling.

Section 05. Everest Region had been relatively easy. It basically comprised of three 5500 metre passes and a visit to Kala Pattar for a glorious view of Everest. I was spoilt by the luxury of the teahouses and lodges with their soft mattresses and extensive menus. It was also nice to meet so many people from different countries and speak English fluently without measuring my words. However these comforts also had their disadvantages, as the whole area was overrun with tourists and devoid of any meaningful local culture. The next stage, starting tomorrow morning will rectify that!

Section 05. Everest Region. 74km. 32hours. 4160m up. 4790m down.


April 19. Yangri Kharka Rest Day. 0 km. 0hours. 0m up. 0m down. When we arrived in Yangri Kharka yesterday we were all tried, filthy, and wet and so was most of our equipment, especially the sleeping bags. So today was only going to be a day of rest and drying things out. Ramesh and Santos had the tent up and the sleeping bags out to dry before breakfast in the sunshine in front of the teahouse without being asked. The reliability of those two never ceases to impress.

I had a simple breakfast in the freezing cold dining room of the lodge and then set about getting the emails ready to update the website on Section 03. Arun Nadi River. Selecting the 37 photos from my camera and Bharat’s camera and putting captions to them alone took about seven hours. I just prepared the emails, like those from Section 02. Kanchenjunga which I prepared two weeks ago, when I eventually get online they can just fly out of the outbox.

In the afternoon I thought it best to practice a little with the harness, ropes, jumar ascender, and the figure of eight descender. Bharat and Santos were not that familiar with the gear and Dawa’s small brother did also not seem too acquainted with it. Dawa took everyone over to a small crag to practice. Dawa himself is a climbing guide and a Makalu Sherpa and I was immediately impressed with his competence and his emphasis on safety. He had all the harnesses set and instructed everyone with calm confidence. We played around on the crag for about two hours before heading back across the meadows to the lodge.

There were the odd snow flurries during the day but it was nothing like the last week. Indeed much of the day seemed to be in sunshine. The meadow was set under impressive snow covered mountains rising some 2-3 km above us. There were no yak in the pasture yet as the snows were just clearing. Around the meadow were Silver Firs rising up the flanks of the mountains for a few hundred metres until the rock and snowfields took over. On the meadow itself there were about 4-5 herding huts and also a small monastery. Running through the meadow was the Barun Nadi river which was now just a stream.

In the evening, a family of Bavarians arrived at the lodge, and I spent the evening chatting with them. They were the first real bit of non Nepali conversation I had had since leaving the Ghunsa some three weeks ago and I lapped up the conversation.

April 20. Yangri Kharka to Langmale Kharka. 9 km. 4 hours. 790m up 20m down. Today was our first day as a team of seven now, and reality first hit when I paid the bill at Yangri Kharka and it was over US$200. This did include some 30 meals though. We spent a while sorting out the gear and distributing it among the porters. It seemed Dawa’s 16 year old brother got a light load compared to Ramesh and Santos.  I set off before the others and sauntered up the meadow past the tiny monastery and into the forest with its birdsong and resinous smells. There were hardly any other people on the trail and it was pleasant sauntering through the forest. The path continued along the valley floor for about 3-4 km beneath vast rock walls before it headed north up a side stream.

085. Heading up the Barun Nadi Valley from Yangri Kharka to Langmale Kharka en route to Makalu Base Camp.

It climbed steadily through the forest for almost an hour beside a clear tumbling stream until it emerged on a meadow with a small stone shack. Again there were no yak here despite it being clear of snow. Ramesh and Santos caught me up here and we had a small chat before I headed off and they waited for the others to have a lunch of pre-boiled potatoes.

It was a further easy km to another meadow, Marek Kharka, through the last of the pines. At Marek there was a very small and rustic lodge, which would be more of a bhatti really. Ahead of me the valley was scared by a recent event of Biblical proportions. I learnt that part of a mountain, Peak 5, just up ahead on the north side had had a landslip into a lake. This had caused a wave which swept over the moraine walls and surged down the stream bed ahead. It picked up boulders much larger than houses, and swept down the valley obliterating everything in a swathe which initially was 200m wide and then only 100m wide. It was about 10-15 metres deep. It was responsible for all the carnage we had seen in the last two days as we walked up the Barun Nadi river. Apparently a couple of hundred yaks perished as this muddy, bouldery torrent swept down the valley and across the pastures.

There was a new path through the devastation marked by yellow paint, and it led to a area of undisturbed pasture above the Biblical carnage. This pasture was called Langmale Kharka and there was a lodge here run by a Sherpa family, who had a distinguished mountaineering pedigree, with two of the uncles being the first siblings each to complete all 14 of the 8000m mountains, and father who owned the lodge had done about eight of them. The parents who ran the lodge had left their 19 year old daughter to run the place, as it was quiet, while they went up to Makalu base camp to run another lodge their which was busy.

I was here for a good two hours before any of the others arrived after their extended lunch. But in that time the mist and snow showers had arrived. I got a freezing room, and hired a kitchen – meaning that Ramesh and Santos could cook for all, and we did not have to buy meals. It was only about US$6 to rent the kitchen, and we had to buy the raw food on top of that. The six guys could also sleep in the kitchen at night.

The lady put the stove on around 1600, earlier than usual, and filled it with yak dung and juniper scrub so it gave off its distinctive incense like smell. The stove quickly became the focus and everyone crowded round it. We were joined by a young Austrian couple.

April 21. Langmale Kharka to Makalu Base Camp. 8 km. 3 hours. 490m up. 120m down.  I had to go out in the night and it was a glorious night. It was slightly below freezing with a full moon. With all the snow about reflecting the moonlight it was bright enough to cast shadows. All the mountains in the area were crystal clear. By morning however, my hopes of a full moon bringing a change in the weather were dashed as the valley was full of fog and freezing cold. To everyone’s delight however the sun soon started to burn it off and by 0800 it was gone.

In one corner of the meadow at 4400 was a small walled off area where the teahouse owner’s family grew potatoes. At the moment there were none, but there was a cluster of Kongma, or Himalayan Snow Partridge who were leking, or courting, and the dozen or so birds were chasing each other in pairs. The returning sun raised the spirits of my team and everyone moved outside to finish their breakfast tea. I paid the bill and noticed that the hiring of the kitchen was an enormous saving, with our total bill only coming to US$50 for the seven of us, with me accounting for half.

I left with the others around 0900 but soon overtook them as they were laden. It was a very easy walk up the north side of the Burun Nadi which was a mere stream now. To the south, Peak 6 dominated, with its ramparts of fluted snow and its hanging glaciers perched on shelves high up on the mountain side. I walked up on the north side of the terminal snout of a glacier and could not look over the moraine wall, but according to the map there was a glacial lake hemmed in by the moraine walls at the end of the glacier. I was surrounded by near 7000 metre mountains, in glorious sunshine with very little snow around, on a near level path in a great mood when I stepped onto the meadow at Shershong. It was something of a Shangri-La in the warm sunshine, with more clusters of Kongma playing on the dried grasses between boulders.

Dawa’s brother, Chirring, caught up here and I chatted with him as we walked. He was just 16, had recently left a monastery in Boudha, Kathmandu and this was his first trek. I was quite surprised Dawa had brought him. If I wanted a thanka painted he would have been the man to ask, but to go over Sherpani Col as a porter on your first trek was something else. However I later found out a number of porters had let Dawa down, and as a last resort he turned to his brother, who was in for a baptism of fire.

We chatted as we sauntered across the meadow and I found his monastery education had been quite thorough, and included English which he was quite good at. I had previously noted how dapper and well dressed he was compared to the others. Whether he will be after the high passes remains to be seen. He stopped for a break and I carried on across the meadow, turned north, and started a gentle climb up grassy ridges to Makalu Base Camp.

According to the map Makalu was ahead of me in all its glory, including the summit, but the clouds had returned and the whole spectacle was lost. Slightly to the east though, the cloud was more patchy and out of the top of it poke the summit of the enormous Sherson NW which was approaching 7000m. I strode towards it on the easy path, then crested a rise and saw a floodplain below me, with the buildings of Makalu base camp at the far end surrounded by a sea of yellow tents.

I made my way down across the moraine to the warm dry floodplain, crossed the Barun nadii on stepping stones and then climbed the sandy bank and reached the rustic hotels. The yak hotel was the best and run by the same family as Langmale. It was at nearly 5000m but what struck me most was the lack of snow and warm temperatures. Just a few days ago we were only 30-40 km to the east and up to our thighs in rotten snow formed from a metre of recent hail and sleet from thunderstorms. I think the valley we are in is in some sort of rain shadow caused by the large mountains to the south. All the bare brown earth absorbed the sun to create the warm air. There were no yaks here as they were all waiting around Tashiigoan waiting for the snow to clear a bit more before a few hundred of them were driven over the Khongma La pass to the pastures along the Barun Nadi river.

Most of the yellow tents seemed to belong to people who intended to climb Mount Makalu. They came in and out of the dining hall, but few looked like they had any chance of reaching the summit. They seemed to be clients of Seven Summits Expeditions. I got a rustic room in a corrugated iron annexe to the building with Bharat, Dawa and four porters rented the kitchen again. It was a large bare room with a gravel floor. It looked bleak but they all insisted it was great. They bought some kerosene, rice and other foods and cooked a meal. In the evening they said they would put the tarpaulin down and then the thin foam mattresses on top of that. I wrote in the dining room mid afternoon which was largely deserted.

April 22. Makalu Base Camp to Swiss Base Camp. 7 km. 3 hours.470m up. 120m down. I did not sleep well at Makalu Base Camp. I had to get up on the hour every hour to go to the toilet because I had drunk too many teas to try and keep hydrated. It was perhaps also the body coping with the higher altitude and shedding water. I vowed not to bother with hydration and not to drink anything after 1800 after my disturbed sleep. However on the positive side, during one of the visits the sky was crystal clear and there was almost a full moon. The brightness illuminated the whole of the south side of Makalu to the extent I could easily see all the flutes of snow and even the seracs. The mountain virtually started to rise from where I stood at the base of it. It rose almost four vertical kilometres over me.

We had a lazy start as it was just a short day and Ramesh had a lot of supplies to organize. We went through the small shop to see what he needed, like rice, dahl, noodles, spices, cooking oil, biscuits, and seven litres of kerosene. The whole bill came to over US$150 but that was enough for the seven of us for six or seven days until we reached the luxury of Khumbu, or the Everest Region.

I was quite glad to be leaving Makalu Base Camp. The teahouse hosts were very nice, but the place was overrun by expeditions to climb the mountain. There were self-important men with walkie talkies strutting about the place overwhelming any conversations, there were climbers with big egos laying down tales for others to match, and there was general business with dozens of aloof Sherpas and busy porters making up loads to carry up to Advanced Base Camp. When we had all eaten, it was a delight to leave the turmoil of the place to start heading up the valley, now with the infant Barun Nadi river flowing through a series of glacial lakes surrounded by the rubble of moraine.  As we left a helicopter arrived to drop off another batch of climbers and supplies.

Initially the path kept on top of the moraine ridge which was left by the now retreated Barun Glacier and we could look down and see lakes in the trench of rubble. They were still frozen. Across the valley was the opposing lateral moraine, and then Makalu rose relentlessly, displaying its awesome south face right to the lofty summit where a plume of snow was blowing off it in the jet stream. The path was pleasant for a good 3 km with the off snippet of meadow between the boulders, and it was easy to follow.

However after a good hour the path ran into a hillside full of rubble and boulders. It disappeared but its route was marked out by a series of cairns. Some of the boulders were car sized and one had to be very careful when weaving a path amongst them. Our speed slowed right down to about a km per hour as we hoped from the top of one boulder to another. There was plenty of opportunity to twist and ankle or bash a shin. We picked our way through these boulders for a good hour and a half, and at some point passed the junction to Makalu Advanced Base Camp where everyone else was going. Their path crossed the bouldery glacial trench while ours continued to traverse the west side passing two small side valleys which once housed the glaciers which had deposited the stones on which we were now gingerly picking our way forward.

By now the clouds were covering the tops and the mist was building in the valley. Indeed there was the odd snowflake. Unusually it was coming down the valley from the north rather that the prevailing south. We reached what we thought was Swiss Base Camp – a sandy, small side valley, strewn with enough boulders to make pitching the tent difficult. Some wanted to camp here but I pointed out tomorrow was a huge day and the more of it we did today the easier it would be. Ramesh and Dawa agreed so we pushed on. However after just a short km we reached another side valley with a glacier in it higher up. It had a sandy floor with plenty of campsites. It led up to East Col, a seldom used alternative to Sherpani Col. However the path which Ramesh and Dawa remembered had changed dramatically and it now climbed a rocky spur from here to enter the next valley. The old path seemed to have vanished in a landslide of the moraine wall.

086. The valley of stones and boulders from Swiss Base Camp to Sherpani Col Base Camp

With it now snowing more constantly we decided to put the tents up here for fear of climbing and not finding anything for hours. We put both tents up, the six Nepalis in the big tent the four of us had exclusively used, while I christened the lightweight three man tent nearby. Once we had tea I withdrew to my tent to write while four of the others took a load of equipment up the steep climb and beyond perhaps even to Sherpani Col Base Camp at around 5700m which was estimated to be three hours away. The snow stopped soon after they left as we suspected it might, but the sun never really returned to warm the afternoon. What really shocked and delighted the four of us who endured such misery in the deep snow last week was just how little there was here. We were obviously in a rain shadow because at 5150m there was no snow at all bar the 5cm which fell this afternoon, and that was melting fast now.

April 23. Swiss Base Camp to Sherpani Col Base Camp. 9 km. 4 hours. 540m up. 80m down. Dawa wanted not only to get to Sherpani Col Base Camp today, but to go up to Sherpani Col itself to set the ropes up. He intended a very early start tomorrow and wanted to do both Sherpani Col and West Col in one day, which is normal practice. Due to this we needed an early start and I pushed for up at 0300 and away by 0500, knowing it would get negotiated to 0400 and away by 0600. The main consideration was how cold it would be for Santos and Ramesh to make breakfast for all at that time.

We got up at 0400, and it was a glorious end to the night with the large moon shining on the whole of Makalu. But it was very cold. I eventually packed my tent at 0600 and we all set off pretty much together. It was to be a very stony day. The first path was a steep climb up moraine to get out of the valley where Swiss camp was, and round the spur.  We got great views over to Makalu and up the Barun valley to the glacier to the mountains on the Tibetan border. There also seemed quite a good route up the valley Swiss Camp was in up to East Col, but we could not see East Col itself. According to Ramesh who had been here before, this was a new route, the old route dropped to the glacier before climbing up the valley where Sherpani Col Base Camp was, and this climb went through a deep valley with rockfall on each side.

Once we gained the spur there was a traverse round it into the valley above the rockfall areas Ramesh mentioned. However it was all moraine, initially stable for the first km or two and then newly exposed or a fresh landslide which was much less stable. Much of our path was covered in a couple of cm of new snow. It was very slow going, and every step had to be taken with care. There was no scope to nonchalantly saunter along with your hands in your pockets. As the path met the moraine covered valley floor we reached the stash of ropes and kerosene the four dropped off.

Above us now, the glacier coming down the valley forced up to the north side, and we started a rising traverse up moraine for a good hour. We were all tired and breathing heavily on this stretch due to the altitude. The weather was still fantastic and Makalu loomed beside us, even its summit crystal clear. Eventually we could spy a cluster of cairns on the ridge and knew the end was near. On reaching them the ground levelled off, and we could walk across easy sandy soil to a sandy basin at the bottom of a steep bit of stationary ice in the glacier which was now melting as it was not being replenished. At the bottom of this ice was Sherpani Col base camp which could take 10-15 tents.

088. Ramesh in his kitchen made out of wire crates and old tarpaulins left at the campsite. The homemade windbreak made the kerosene stove more efficient.

We had the place to ourselves and put the tents up and made a wind proof kitchen from the debris and detritus of other groups. Ramesh then cooked a meal. After the meal Dawa, Ramesh, Pinzu and Bharat when up to the col to fix the ropes as the weather clouded over.  I had a snooze and Santos kept the eagle eyed chuffs away who were scavenging for an unattended bag of food. Dawa and crowd returned around 1800. However it seemed the landscape had changed in the last seven years since Dawa was last here. The snow fields on each side of the pass had retreated and there was more climbing and abseiling involved for all seven of us and the seven loads. Secondly the glacier between Sherpani Col and West Col was now riddled with crevasses and it would take more time. As a consequence Dawa did not think it possible to do both cols in one day, and we would have to camp at 6000m. It meant the early start was postponed from 0100 to 0300.

April 24. Sherpani Col Base Camp to Baruntse Advanced Base Camp. 9 km. 7 hours. 590m up. 200m down. Today was the big day where we hoped to do at least one 6000m pass. The alarms were set for 0300 and as usual Santos and Ramesh were up soon after in the bitter cold making breakfast for everyone else who were still in bed. It had all the promise of a beautiful morning when we set off at 0530, having had to abandon a few tent pegs in the frozen soil. Our first task was to gain the smooth glacier above the camp and we did this as the sun lit up the first peaks in front of us. The huge bulk of Makalu just behind us blotted the sun for a while, but eventually we were in the bright sunlight with steep snowy mountains on each side. The temperature rose quickly and I had to stop to remove all my thermals.

The route up the glacier was a very simple one, and in the bright morning light it was all laid out in front of us. However we were all feeling the effects of the altitude as were approached 6000m, and I was gasping for breath. We slowly plodded up the glacier in a large crescent as it curved for the best part of two hours until we reached the foot of the rocky col which was called Sherpani Col and supposed to be 6180 metres. Dawa had already been here last night and rigged up a fixed rope up the rocky climb. The first half was a steep snow field at just 40 degrees, and the second half went up the rocky slope also at about 40 degrees. The fixed rope was a bit unnecessary especially as there were some wire cables in place – like a via ferratta but thinner. The porters ignored Dawa’s fixed rope and used the cable instead. I used Dawa’s fixed rope out of obligation.

089. Looking up the glacier to Sherpani Col which is just right of centre. The height of Sherpani col given as 6180m on the map.

Curiously there was a single Russian camper here, thin and wiry and 57 years old. He had an enormous Tatonka rucksack, perhaps 130 litres, and it was full. He had camped here for a couple of days. The porters reckoned his rucksack was 40kg. He was obviously hanging out waiting for a group to come along and help him over the col. We felt a kind of duty to help him. He had met Dawa last night and had been ferrying loads up the col before we arrived in anticipation. I thought it was a bit irresponsible of him.

090. Looking back down the glacier to our campsite. The mountain dominating the background is Makalu, the 5th highest in the world at 8468m.

The view from the top of the col was fantastic. Down the valley we’d come up was Makalu, beneath a clear blue sky. On the other side of the col was a fantastic vista over to the gentle pyramid of Baruntse. At 7152m it is one of the easier 7000m peaks and it had a nice symmetry. However what really astonished me was a vast bowl of ice perhaps 2km wide and 5km long into which all the surrounding mountains’ glaciers flowed. It was a kind of Himalayan Konkordia Plass as in the Bernese Overland. The glacier which collected from all the mountains and filled the bowl was called the Lower Barun Glacier. Its smooth surface stretched 2km to the west to West Col – our next 6000m pass. It looked a relatively easy crossing without much height loss or gain. The only problem is we had to get down from Sherpani Col and onto the glacier.

091.Going up the steeper snow slopes to gain the rocky ridge on the right which leads to Sherpani Col. The route up the ridge is secured with old rusty cables like a poor man’s via ferrata.

092. Santos, ever the joker, rejoices after hauling his enormous load to the top of Sherpani Col.

093. Looking across the Lower Barun Glacier from Sherpani Col to the slightly higher West Col at 6190m. The distance is about 2 km.

The descent was not easy. It was perhaps 70 metres in all to the bottom of the steep rocky 45 degree slope. The slope was made of fragmented rock which had been recently exposed by the diminishing Lower Barun Glacier. To make it worse, the bottom of the slope was a deep ice trench with a few crevasses in it, and we had to cross this too before reaching the smooth glacier beyond. Dawa abseiled first on the rope he set up and checked for loose rock and ice, then he climbed back up.

I volunteered to go next, hoping to show off some of my 15 years as an industrial abseiler and using a figure of eight. Dawa however wanted to lower us all using a stich plate. I bowed to his diligence and he started lowering me. I used the existing cable to clip into as a back up. Ofter Dawa would lower me past the point where I could unclip from the via ferratta, so I would have to haul myself up to unclip. Eventually we got the communication sorted and with five minutes I had slithered and crashed down to the bottom of the trench in an inelegant fashion. I sent my harness back up for the next, found a way across the crevasses to the main glacier out of danger of rock fall and watched the others and baggage descent for the next two hours.

096. Me descending the 80-90m steep slope from the crest of Sherpani Col to the Lower Barun glacier which was heavily crevassed at the bottom of the slope.

It was quite frustrating watching the others come down in the same bouncing manner. Santos managed well, Bharat was cautious and then positioned himself midway to direct the loads. The loads were simply pushed off the top, with at least two tied together. This was recipe for disaster as there were so many rocks for them to get caught in. The rope was at least 130 metres, and it would have been easy to clip the loads onto the tail and then Santos and Pinzu, who was also down, could have pulled the tail and helped bunch the load in a poor mans Tyrolean. In retrospect on the rise the other side of the crevassed trench we could have used four snow anchors, a jumar and a couple of carabiners to set up a perfect Tyrolean, and Dawa could have lowered the loads one at a time very quickly. It was the loads which took the time, with Bharat moving gingerly from rock to rock  to give each load a boot when it got wedged. I shouted some advice but it was too far to be understood, so I lay on the glacier and watched.

The most spectacular incident was when my yellow bag, containing my sleeping bag, became detached from a load and slid and bounced down the rocks, destined for a crevasse. Santos, who was clipped into the cables, ran across the slope and launched himself like  a goalkeeper and just grasped the bag. It was like a penalty save. Eventually all and everything was down, including the enormous Russian rucksack which was particularly stubborn. I vowed I would be involved in the next lowering of baggage as it was lucky no one was hurt or baggage lost.

094. Bharat on Sherpani Col with the Lower Barun Glacier in the background.

We regrouped on the glacier in the sun as some clouds were building. We were all tired, especially Dawa. We decided we would just walk the 2km to the top of the next descent, West Col, 6190m and camp there and then descent tomorrow. It was an arduous 2km walk across the glacier which was largely crevasse free. But in the early afternoon the snow was soft. We look it in turns to make footsteps with Bharat gallantly doing the lions share. The tents were up by 1500 and everyone withdrew into them. I had heard this was a particularly cold place to camp so I put on all my clothes and I was still in exile in the single tent.

097. Pinzo at the bottom of the descent west of Sherpani Col waiting for the first packages to come down to hopefully divert them away from the crevasses where they might become stuck.

098. After the descent from Sherpani Col we walked across the Lower Barun Glacier to West Col. It was only 2 km but the altitude and deep snow made it hard work. Here we are having a rest.

099. The large tent which the 6 Nepalis occupied under the glacier covered pyramid of Barruntse at night. This camp was at about 6150 on West Col.

25 April. West Col Camp to Seko Pokhari. 19km. 10 hours. 230m up. 1200m down. It was a bitterly cold night. Inside the tent I measured -17 and in the vestibule it was -22. It was a completely still and starry night without the slightest wind to take my vapours away so they all condensed on the inner tent in a cm thick layer. I had all my clothes on including my Gore-Tex jacket and balaclava, and it just kept the cold at bay and I slept well. It was way too cold for us to start early and even the kerosene stove was partly frozen. I think we all wanted to stay in our sleeping bags until the sun rose and where we were camped it should be early around 0600.

100. The large 6 man tent on West Col during the day. The large glacier covered pyramid in the background is Baruntse.

The Russian who was camped nearby came over and passed us and went to the old descent route. He was dwarfed by his enormous rucksack and looked quite frail. He spent a good half hour looking at his options and they must have all horrified him as he offered Ramesh 1000 rupees to help him. It was Dawa who would eventually be the helper and he scoffed at this. I suggested US$100 and this seemed to be accepted grudgingly by Dawa who would essentially be rescuing the guy. I felt we were partially to blame by helping him over Sherpani Col yesterday and essentially trapping him between two very difficult and potentially dangerous cols. He was essentially way out of his depth. It was agreed.

102. Our campsite on West Col after the very cold night which got down to minus 26 outside the tents and not much less inside. The pass centre left is called East Col, 6146m.

We packed up the tent in the sun with Baruntse and Makalu dominating the large array of mountains. Then we all made our way up to the new descent point. The problem was the glacier on the west side of the descent had shrunk sufficiently that the abseil was longer, more stones and rocks were exposed and there were crevasses at the bottom of the abseil which was about 160 metres now. Climate change is making these cols more difficult. We had to negotiate a couple of crevasses on the top of the ridge as we made our way to the new anchors of the new abseil point.

I thought the whole abseil was down a 60 degree snowfield. However the abseil went down a rocky ridge beside a snowfield which had quite a few rocks in, and a couple of small crags at the bottom. Rinzo and Santos went first and I went third, without my rucksack, which I thought would just be lowered down the snowfield. This time I used my figure of eight for abseiling but the rope was a second hand fixed rope from a previous expedition. It had frequent anchor points and I could not get a good rhythm. I dislodged a stone which built up speed as it tumbled down building up speed. It missed Santos by about 10 metres! The ridge was full of loose rock which was all covered in 5cm of new snow.

With the three of us down the Russian started. He was very cautious and took ages. Santos, Rinzo and Myself each took 10 minutes but he took well over half an hour. And we had to wait for him to finish before we could start lowering the loads. Ramesh impatiently got one ready and lowered it 10 metres in anticipation but inadvertently released a small avalanche of the new powder snow which mush have been 15-20 cm thick by the time it hit the Russian, but it was light and fluffy and swept round him. He eventually got to the bottom and joined us.

The first baggage was my big red bag containing all the sleeping bags and two holdalls of climbing gear. Its descent was smooth until it reached the crags at the bottom. Here it failed to divert down a small gully and arrive at our feet and instead carried on down through a small crack and went into a lateral crevasse at the side of the glacier. Santos reacted quickly and took my harness to climb up to the top of the junction between the gully and small crack but he could not manhaul the bags himself, and Dawa had to down climb some 150 metres, rig up ropes and haul the baggage out.

105. Santos on the ridge just above the abseil point down the west side of West Col, 6190m. The old abseil point is a few hundred metres to the north but is not considered safe anymore.

While he was down Ramesh sent his treasured basket with the camp kitchen. About half way down it got stuck and turned upside down. I saw a huge rock hurtling towards us and expected it to break up into 20 pieces the next time it hit a crag. To my relief I realized it was the sack containing all the dinner plates. It missed a crevasse and came to rest on the snow. Then I saw the pressure cooker spinning high in the air. It landed at out feet slightly dented.

109. Dawa keeping a watchful eye on me while I start the 160m abseil down the west side of West Col. The route goes down a ridge with lots of fractured rock beside a long snowfield.

Santos stayed put at the top of the gully dodging kitchen gear as it came down while Dawa climbed up again to lower the final load. It went smoothly until it got to Santos who spent a lot of effort guiding it into the right gully. However there was a bit of miscommunication and Dawa suddenly let out two metres of rope and the three packages slipped into the crack above the crevasse. I could see Santos’s frustration as he had done everything to prevent it and could do nothing now. Dawa had to climb down for the final time taking the ropes, while Ramesh climbed down with my rucksack.  Soon all the baggage was assembled, the Russian presented with his rucksack and the group could move on.

The weather changed very quickly from a beautiful blue sky to snow showers as we made our way down the glacier towards Baruntse Base Camp where we assumed there would be food and lodging. It was a taxing descent with soggy moraine and deep wet snow. It took a good two hours to weave out way down. At the base camp we were disappointed to see it was just a lot of empty tents and no one was there. Between us and Amph Labsta base camp where we hope to be tomorrow was the vast trench of a glacier with a crumbling moraine wall on each side. The latter made it impossible to cross.

107. Our climbing guide to help us across these 4 high difficult passes was Dawa Sherpa. Here in his element on West Col.

We would either have to go above it across some very looking terrain of boulders and crevasses which looked unchartered even though the map showed the GHT went this way. Alternatively we would have to walk some 8-9 km south down the moraine wall to a lodge which Dawa and Ramesh had been to at Seto Pokhari at the end of the moraine. We chose the latter. The walk was frustratingly long as we would have to come up the other side tomorrow. However the walk was in the valley between the moraine wall and the original mountain. It is a place of stable rock and vegetation and was pleasant to come down. It was tired as my breakfast muesli had long been burnt. All the guys were tired, even the indomitable Ramesh and Santos.

104. The route west across the Honku Basin to Amphu Labsta Base Camp is much shorter than the previous picture but involves a heaving crevassed glacier and sections of loose moraine and is somewhat risky now.

We eventually got to the lodge as it was getting dark at 1900. It was a long stone shelter some 40 metre by 10 metres. At one end was a kitchen with kerosene stoves and at the other as a large U shaped sleeping platform made of stone and turf onto which mattresses were placed. It was actually very characterful and cosy. It was very expensive with Dalbhat at 1000 rupees however they let us cook ourselves. The guys bought some dried meat to replenish their bodies, and Ramnesh cooked it. He also made me a great garlic pasta. His day had started in the freezing cold of our West Col camp before 0600, and here he was at 2100 still going. If we are a car, Ramesh and Santos are the engine. I wrote the blog while the others played cards and joked with the owners who were not Sherpa, but Rai from Gudel, who were running this tea house at about 5100m.

112. From the bottom of West Col we decided to take the longer, safer route involving a long detour to the teahouse at Seko Pokhari, which was like a small stone barn.

April 26. Seko Pokhari to Amphu Labsta Base Camp. 8 km. 4 hours. 490m up. 70m down. I went to bed at one end of the main hall on a soft mattress. Ramesh was not far behind and grabbed a mattress nearby on the sleeping platform. The others seemed to be playing cards and digesting some of the 5kg of pork Dawa had bought for them. I was out like a light. In the morning I woke early after a great nights sleep and Ramesh promptly got up and made a tea for all. It seemed all but Ramesh and the young Cherring, Dawa’s young 16 year old brother on his first trek after leaving a monastery, were the only ones who did join in the drinking session last night. It seemed the two passes we did were a major cause to celebrate as there are something like only four or five trips a season over these cols.

In the morning Ramesh made everybody breakfast, very much at home in the kitchen he was borrowing. Dawa and Bharat played music and the whole group suddenly erupted into dance with Ramesh sometimes joining in with frying pan in hand. Everyone was relieved and delighted to have got over these two cols without incident. It seems the next two big cols Amphu Labsta and then Trashi Labsta are not so challenging or dangerous. Morale was very high in the team. Ramesh made me a huge pasta for breakfast and then boiled a vat of rice to have with the other half of the pork. Breakfast was a slow affair and Santos especially was the worst for wear. After breakfast I set off before the others as I wanted to get up to Amphu Labsta Base Camp before the weather closed in as it did most afternoons.

114. Spirits were very high in the team having crossed Sherpani and West Cols; two cols Nepalis find formidable. There were frequent impromptu dances and backslapping during breakfast at the relief of having crossed them.

This time I went up the west side of the piles of moraine in the valley. It was a very pleasant walk for about 3km as the path followed the stream across the alluvial plain below the large glacial lake, then meandered across the valley floor from small frozen lake to small frozen lake across a series of braided gravel channels. Ahead of me the glacial valley was starting to open up and I could see our route from yesterday. At the km long frozen lake, at the end of the rubble at the glacier’s snout, the path started to climb up the crest of the lateral moraine, slowly gaining height above the lake. I could see where Baruntse Base Camp was, where we were disappointed there was no one yesterday. However I could also see there was no way across the glacial trench between it and where I stood now, less than a km away.

115. Walking up the west side of the Honku glacier en route from Seko Pokhari teahouse to Amphu Labsta Base Camp which took about 4 hours.

The only way across this glacier, probably called the Honggu Glacier, was either up at the top where it was crevassed and covered in boulders, or below the long lake, though not necessarily all the way to the Seko Pokhari teahouse. However the extra 60-90 minutes last night and again this morning were probably worth it for the comfort and luxury after three nights in a tent over 5000m. The kitchen charge was 4000 rupees, and this meant Ramesh and Santos could cook for us and save me a fortune as a Dalbhat here was nearly 1000 and I would have needed to buy 14 for us in all.

The more I climbed the more I saw just how tricky it would have been to go round the top of the glacier and the small steep rocky ridges. This way would have taken 4-5 hours anyway not much shorter than the extra time we used. As the path climbed, more and more of the route yesterday was revealed until it was possible to see the whole of the West Col descent. It did look formidable from here. The gently climbing path now climbed more steeply for a bit and delivered me to the edge of a crescent shaped lake.

116. Looking across the moraine trench of the Honku Glacier to the alternative route from West Col to Amphu Labsta. on the right is West Col and the steep descent, then the crevassed glacier, then the moraine piles and small glaciers. We deemed this route unsafe.

There were huge 6000m mountains on all sides all with hanging glaciers clinging to the sides which were covered in fluted snowfields. Beneath them was this crescent shaped lake which was one of five on this plateau. At the end of the lake, which was still frozen, I could see the curious ice steps, which must have been the remnants of a glacier. I recognized them on photos I had seen of the Amphu Labstsa pass. The path went round the north side of the lake climbing above the snow onto a hillside of old stones embedded in soil. The stone were all covered in the yellow geographicum lichen which grows at a millimetre a year and some of the patches here were 250mm meaning it was a while since the glaciers and ice exposed these rocks.

I at last arrived at the tea house. It was four stone walls with a tarpaulin roof and two rooms – in all about 30 metres by 6-7 metres. It was run by a single Rai man who was also a guide. He looked quite rough and practical. His tea house had none of the charm or tidiness of Seko Pokhari. Around it was the debris of building materials and plastic. However it was in a very remote place and even now at the end of April it was surrounded by snow so it was difficult to manage, especially as it probably only got one group of visitors a week.

I ordered a tea, established the price for Ramesh doing the cooking which was 2000 rupees and another 2000 for the seven of us to sleep here. 4000 seemed a good deal not to puts the tents up as we needed an early start tomorrow. I wrote the blog for a good hour until the ever reliable Ramesh arrived and started cooking. The others arrived through the rest of the afternoon.

April 27. Amphu Labsta Base Camp to Chhukhung. 18km. 9 hours. 560m up. 1260m down. It was quite cold in the stone shed with the tarpaulin roof, perhaps just marginally warmed than outside. What really set the place apart was the dirt, detritus and filth of the cooking area. It was lucky Ramesh was cooking, as the host looked as filthy as his shed. The alarm went at 0400 and I got Ramesh up to get the stove going. The others barely stirred despite saying then wanted to set off at 0500. Even when I gave them a cup of tea at 0430 everyone sat in bed like dazed children as Ramesh prepared breakfast which was spaghetti soup for them and hot muesli for me. We eventually left approaching 0600.

It was a short walk over to the start of the climb which went up a vague ridge towards some curious ice formations. You had to take your hands out of your pockets towards the top of the ridge which alarmingly seemed to be squeezed between nearly sheer buttress and the ice formations. In the end there seemed to be no way through, and indeed there wasn’t, as I spotted a cable going up onto an ice shelf. The ice shelves were like terraces but each one was 10 metres high with vertical sides covered in icicles. There was no way up the sides! The tops were nearly flat with a rim round the edge, like a terrace. Occasionally a bank of snow had connected the top on one with a higher adjacent on and it was up these ramps the path went. I can only conclude the flat tops melted during the day and froze at night keeping them flat while excess water in the day dripped down from the edge to form the vertical icicles of the sides to perpetuate the structure.

117. Ramesh on one of the curious ice shelves, almost like terraces, on the way up to Amphu Labsta pass.

118. Bharat strolling along the top of one of the ice shelves near the top of Amphu Labsta pass.

We pulled ourselves up the first one with cables to gain the flat top, and then wove our way up the rest using snow banks. In all we had to climb some 100 vertical metres to reach the uppermost one in the vicinity of the pass, although they carried on up the mountainside to the west of the pass. Dawa and Pinzo went storming up the terraces while the rest of us plodded up in the near 6000 metre altitude, and I for one was gasping with the effort in the early morning sun. Suddenly the cables led to a rocky ridge a few metres away and soon after I was peering over the south side of the pass and looking at Island Peak across the valley in the eye. It was a magnificent view in all directions, especially in both directions along the crest of the ridge we were on. Bharat and I high-fived but looking at the challenge of the descent I thought it was a bit premature.

119. Santos just approaching the top of Amphu Labsta pass with his huge load.

120. Bharat tying his ‘good travels’ scarf to the top of Amphu Labsta pass and adding to the colourful tangle of prayer flags and previous scarfs.

121. The view from the top of Amphu Labsta Pass, 5845m, northwards to Island Peak, 6189m. Island Peak is a meter shorter than West Col.

Dawa was nowhere to be seen, after we descended to an eyrie platform a bit lower down we could see Dawa a bit further on preparing ropes for us and the baggage. It seemed although the descent was much higher than the previous cols, the rope part of the descent was only about 50 metres, and that was right at the top. The first man down was Ramesh who had already done this twice and was confident. He abseiled down diagonally to the bottom of a buttress where there was a wider snow ledge. He would stay here and receive the baggage. From here the baggage would be carried by the relevant porters along the snow shelf at the bottom of the buttress and then down a series of straight steep descents and exposed traverses across open convex slopes above further buttresses. Most of the dangerous sections were protected but it was with old rope, which apparently was from this year!

122. Dawa just checking out the harness and equipment for Ramesh before he make the relatively short 40-50m abseil down the steepest top section on the north side of Amphu Labsta Pass.

I followed Ramesh down the abseil, (which was on our new rope) just as he received the big red bag Santos carried. He secured this and I went past him to put my crampons on as they had been unnecessary up to now. From here I followed the snow ledge under the buttress for some 50 metres hardly losing height until there was a fixed rope going down for 50 metres. The anchor looked good, but it was an older rope; a bit frayed, the colours were a bit faded and it looked only 8 or 9mm and not the satisfying 11mm we had. I used it to abseil with my figure of eight but was careful not to shock it. From here the route continued down through a series of steep traverses. My crampons were very aggressive so I was slow and cautious. There were also a few stones coming through the snow which were easy to catch. It was roasting hot now, so I stopped on a more level bit to take off my harness, helmet, jacket and crampons. As I did, the others caught me up and carried on down. After about an hour since I first reached the pass I finally got to the rock where everybody was gathered.

123. Amphu Labsta Pass seen from the bottom. Our tracks can be seen coming down the centre, then skirting right under the rocks, before descending straight down again before veering right.

Again spirits were very high and everyone was a bit emotional. I thanked Dawa for getting us all over the last three passes safely and was almost overwhelmed. Bharat also admitted his emotions were overpowering. There was lots of cheering and celebrations as people ate the packed lunch Ramesh had made late last night. Most people had their boots off and looked settled in for a long and well deserved rest. The only casualties were Dawa’s sandals, which slipped off his rucksack and into the abyss as his rucksack was being lowered. It was a very happy content team at the foot of the pass in the sun filled valley. Our only task now was to walk down it for about 4-5 hours until we reached Chhukhung, where I had decreed a day off.

124. A happy team at the bottom of Amphu Labsta pass in the sunshine. It was only about 10 in the morning and we had an easy 4-5 hour descent to Chhukhung ahead of us to reach the luxuries of the Everest Region.

The four porters were eager to head off and they all crouched down and put on their head bands where they lifted their loads. They set off first, me second, and Dawa and Bharat ambled down after me chatting. It was a beautiful moraine top walk with the moraine covered glacier on one side and a quiet valley with old vegetation on the other before the hillside rose up into mountains. Island Peak was soon consumed by mist but the huge glacial devastation continued to make me feel insignificant. Especially powerful was the glacial lake of Imja Tsho which was about 2km long and hemmed in on all side by a moraine wall. I had heard about the lake before, as it was a danger for those living down the valley when the moraine wall collapses.

I entered a small quiet sandy side valley and saw all the porters flaked out on the soft vegetation out of the wind. They were just waking from a snooze. They told me how comfortable it was but I knew it was like the sirens and once I lay down I would be seduced by the comfort. Within five minutes I was asleep, only to be disturbed ten minutes later by Dawa and Bharat falling for the charms of the warm hollow. I think we all slept on the earth for a good hour. I was reluctant to get up and move off but the others were abandoning me having rested their fill.

The remaining 5-6 km to Chhukhung was a bit of a trudge. I just wanted to get there. I overtook the other while they had a biscuit break and plodded on down the dull valley. The only redeeming feature was the ramparts and misty ridges of Ama Dablam which completely dominated the south side. Its fluted ridges heavy with snow were playing with the winds up there and causing spirals and jets of mist and the moist air was forced into streams of condensation.

I reached Chhuckhung and went to the Sunrise Lodge as I think I had stayed there 12 years earlier and liked it, and Bharat and Dawa mentioned it.  It was easy to find and still looked cosy compared to the larger resorts which had been built at the bottom of the village, one of which looked like a prison.  I went for a meal while the others arrived. When they did they confirmed I should stay here and told me they had found a bhatti to hire. It was simple but it would do them for two nights. I went for a sleep in the afternoon at the end of which all six of the team piled into my room for a chat.  It seemed Dawa wanted to come with me round the Three Passes of Everest route I wanted to do next week while the others wanted to go to Namche Bazar and Thame and wait the three or so days for us to turn up. In the evening I managed to log in and delete most of the 500 or so emails waiting for me after 43 days. I managed a few more office chores, uploaded photos and went to bed dirty. It had been over a month since I last had a wash and that would be tomorrow’s luxury. I also managed to speak to Fiona on WhatsApp who had been worried about me wandering in the terrain which Google Maps showed from my tracker.

28 April. Chhukhung Rest Day. 0km. 0hours. 0m up. 0m down. Today was purely a day to recharge and catch up. Ramesh as always did my laundry, the sleeping bags were dried off, the tents where put up to dry and I spent 10 hours on my phone typing in the warm dining room of the lodge with the sun flooding onto my back. I also had the long awaited shower and managed to hack five weeks of growth from my chin. It was all done by 1900 after which I could relax and repack for the next section, Section 05. Everest Region, with Dawa with a lightweight rucksack and comfortable teahouses.

Section 04. Makalu. had been absolutely stunning and the highlight so far. I was expecting the worst with deep snow and foul weather except in the early morning but we must have moved into a different weather region as there was hardly any snow lying below 5000m and at last the long awaited stable Spring weather seemed to have arrived. The thunderstorms and thigh deep snow of Section 03. Arun Nadi Valley were long forgotten. However along with the stunning scenery, challenging passes around 6000m, and good weather, what really made this section stand out was the team. Bharat has pooled together some of the nicest, toughest characters Nepal has to offer and his quiet charm has not only kept the ship afloat but absolutely buoyant. Without them I am nothing.

Section 04. Makalu.  87Km. 44 hours.  4160m up.  3070m down.     


07 April. Sumba Lumba East Pass to Sumba Lumba West Pass.  2 km. 4 hours. 150m up. 100m down. After a night of heavy snow with nearly 25cm falling we were surprised to open the tent at 0600 to find a beautiful dawn. Ramesh was the first up as usual, and went outside to fire up the primus stove to melt snow and boil water for teas, breakfast and for the day. We all followed, with Dale and me being the last. They all had Tsampa for breakfast but I have never been able to like it so had a couple of packets of noodles. It was now obvious where the East Pass was, and it was just some 5-600 metres away and up slightly. We packed up slowly and did not set off until 0900, by which time clouds were beginning to obscure all the peaks in the Kanchenjunga massif, and indeed all those intervening ones, and mist was forming on the peaks around us.

048. Leaving our camp before West Pass Lumba Sumba and climbing to the pass with Kanchenjunga in the distance.

We set off through the deep new snow with Bharat in the front ploughing like a Canadian train. It only took some 20 minutes to reach the East Pass and Dale found the prayer flags buried under snow. By this time the weather had deteriorated sufficiently to obscure all the surrounding peaks and there were some snowflakes in the air. There was a brief discussion and Dale said he had to return from here as he had a long way to go back alone and was worried about conditions. He gave good instructions to the others in Nepali and I understood some, most through the gestures. He said we should reach the slightly higher West Pass in a hour at the most. I paid him and gave him a small tip. He then said his goodbyes to all and said he had really enjoyed the last three days company. Dale had had a very hard life in Olangchun Gola, including the suicide of his mother and a violent, now-estranged father, and although 23, was guided by Nima Chettin of Lhonak’s big hearted sister and husband Tashi.

We set off and went about half a km when the snow started falling heavily and the mist enveloped us. We pushed on gingerly as it was on a steeper slope we were traversing. At one point Bharat and Ramesh went on ahead to check out a rocky slope we had to pass. They were gone 29 minutes and Santos and I were getting cold and decided to follow them as we could see them. At that point the skies cleared for five minutes and Santos and I could see the West Pass but due to the spur Bharat and Ramesh could not. I made new steps to reach them with my rucksack and told them I had seen the pass and was going on. They returned to get their packs, and by the time they had reached the spur I had already reached the last section and could see the pass. I waited a good 20 minutes for them to arrive and was cold.

While they rested I set off to where I had seen the West Pass. First down a moraine ridge and then across and up a small valley to a large cairn. By now it was snowing very heavily, the wind was getting up and it was a near white out. I could not see them following me so returned on my steps and found them slowly following and sheltering behind a boulder. I explained where I had been and we returned across the small valley to the cairn. The wind in the small valley was much milder than elsewhere. When we got to the cairn we could not work anything out in the blizzard and whiteout. I saw a cornice nearby and threw a snowball to work out the slope. There was a two metre drop. We all had a quick discussion and thought it was best to return to the small valley two minutes back and set up the tent. As it was just midday we could see if it cleared.

We had the tent up in 10 minutes and all the foam mats laid out inside. It did not relent outside and it was pointless to leave the tent. To make matters more difficult the sun was warming the tent through the mist which must have been quite thin. By mid-afternoon we decided to abandon the chance of going over the East Pass and decided to stay put, firm up the tent pegs, and melt water. Inside the tent it was well above freezing but that soon changed after 1700, and by 1900 it was perhaps minus 10. We all got into our sleeping bags hoping the snow would ease so we did not have to clear the tent and hoping that the wind would not increase to gale or storm force. It was a cold night and I did not sleep so well but the others did.

08 April. Sumba Lumba West Pass to Thudam. 19 km. 6 hours. 60m up. 1570m down. I got up at about 0300 to go to the toilet and noticed how bitterly cold it was in the wind but also how I could see the stars. By 0600 I looked again and it was a perfect day. I mentioned it to Ramesh who was beside me, and he jumped up and got into gear getting the stove going. The others followed quickly. Everything was frozen solid and even the boot laces took some working to lace up on the boots, which were all frozen solid. We had quick tea and biscuits and then then packed up just as the sun hit the campsite. It did not help and was still minus 10 at least. It took 10 minutes to set off, plough down the easy cornice, which was more of a drift in the clear weather and reach the West Pass at 5160m. The wind was bitterly cold so there was just time for a few photos, hugs, then a quick descent down the west side.

049. On top of West Pass Lumba Sumba, about 5200m, with the valley down to Thudam behind. From left Ramesh, Bharat and Santos.

As soon as we were off the crest the wind eased and after just 10 minutes ploughing down through soft fresh snow on a firm base we were in a partial suntrap. We could not relax and admire the surroundings which were huge, with 6000m mountains surrounding us. Dale’s instructions for the descent were perfect, and we followed a series of small moraine ridges down for an hour until we reached a snow covered meadow or Kharka. My gaiters had long given up and I was dreading cold feet, but Santos fitted me out with a couple of plastic bags to put round my socks and inside my shoes and my feet were perfect, warm and dry. It was a very photogenic descent and I fell behind the others taking photos. We met at the Kharka for a bar of chocolate each and decided to carry on down through the soft dry snow on the hard base while the going was good. Memories of wading down through soft sugar snow in Nanga La just a week ago were still fresh.

050. Descending West Pass Lumba Sumba towards Thudam with Santos with his huge red bag at the rear.

We went on down in the sunshine across boulder fields, rhododendron groves and occasional meadows for another good hour all on firm snow until we reached another meadow at the confluence of two valleys just at the top of the juniper trees. It was at a place called Samne. The others had already started a fire and were starting to cook spaghetti. It was a lovely meadow, and at the lower end of it I could hear yak bells clunking as they munched on the emerging grass.  Despite the huge effort Ramesh and Santos had already put in they were busy washing dishes, making tea, collecting firewood and cooking. It is quite remarkable how strong these two are. I noticed a couple of eagles, probably Golden Eagles, flying up and down the valley.

After lunch I set off first for the final 3-4 km descent to Thudam. I passed the herds of grazing yaks cautiously at the bottom of the meadow. There must have been about 50 of them and a very hardy looking Sherpa herdsman. After that I plunged into the flavoursome forest, full of smells and sounds. The river tumbled down beside me and the smell of resin from the various conifers filled the air.  I passed a few more pastures as continued the descent on a now good path. After four nights camping on the snow, often in bitterly cold conditions above 4500m, it was a delight to be coming home to the forest again. Eventually I rounded ridge and far below lay some large pastures which I guessed were the pastures around Thudham.

051. Approaching Thudam which lies in a mountain meadow after 1700 metres descent.

About half an hour later I reached the remote Shangri-La of Thudam. It was more of a hamlet with about 30 houses than a village. I spoke to a few elderly people outside some of the first houses I came to, but realized they probably did not speak Nepali, but a Sherpa of Bhote language. The houses were much smaller than the large timber edifices of Ghunsa or Olangchun Gola but of a similar style, and they all had shingles for roofs. It was as if I had walked into a medieval hamlet. I noticed that nearly everybody here was also above 50. All the young must have emigrated to find work in the lowlands, Kathmandu or the Middle East.

Thudam seemed to centre around Yak herding.  Its 15 odd houses were all built on the north side of the large meadow at the confluence of two valleys. A stream from each valley merged to form a small river which flowed through the centre of the meadow. There were a couple of traditional stone and log cantilever bridges spanning the river, but the 200 or so yaks grazing just waded the river if they though the grass was greener on the other side. I gleaned that there were about six families who herded yaks here. After we washed clothes, thawed and dried the tent I had a snooze outside our homestay. I noticed then that a lot of yaks were being driven into groups by some of the residents. They were then all forced from the south pasture over to the north for the night. The bells, some brass, and it seemed some wooden, made quite a din as they all processed past me. Most seemed to be females, called nyaks, or calves.

052. The tiny and very very remote hamlet of Thudam consists of about 12 houses or families of which 5 earn their living from yak herding.

I went into the homestay when the sun lost its heating effect around 1600. It was just one room with a Sherpa lady running it with her four year old granddaughter. She had a rustic shop full of Chinese food. Indeed everything in Thudam was Chinese as the border was much easier to get to that the road end at Num in Nepal some five days away. Santos bought, killed, prepared, and cooked a chicken for the others who had worked hard for the last five days. I slept on the only bed while everyone else, including the host, slept around the fire in the Sherpa kitchen part of the room.

April 09. Thudam to Arun River. 22km 10hours. 850m up 2480m down. We were all surprised when we woke up to see Thudam covered in 5cm of snow. All the imperfections had been covered up and what showed were the rustic houses, the strings of prayer flays covering them and the yaks starting to cross the river. Smoke hung over the houses where it leaked out of their roofs from the dark kitchens inside. After breakfast we set off about 0800 by which time some of the snow was melting. We wove through the houses and the groups of small nyaks and yaks gathered around them, passively looking at us, and headed up the track. The boys were slightly ahead of me as I lingered to take photos.

054. Overnight there was about 5cm snow at Thudam. The yaks stayed close to or under the houses at night.

After about five minutes, as the track was passing through thorny scrub, I noticed a yak up ahead on the trail round a corner. A few seconds later it was round the corner, head down, charging towards me. It was a huge angry bull and while its half ton would have sent me flying, it was the horns which loomed large. If they touched me they would have punctured me, piercing a lung or disembowelling me. I instinctively leapt off the trail, down a 45 degree slope into the thorns, and landed on some stones losing my footing and crashing to the ground cutting my knee. As I lay there I heard the hooves of the beast thundering past on the rocky path as it headed down. It was a lucky escape. It took me a good 30 seconds to make sure the beast was gone and haul myself back onto the track, scratched and muddy. Bharat and Ramesh were rushing down the track to see my fate. The beast had come out of the scrub behind them but had charged at Santos who was coming up the track. He managed to evade it by leaping onto a rock like a matador as it charged past him to spot me. We were all a bit shaken.

055. A hillside of Himalayan Primroses which thrive around the 3000m mark.

After that incident all I could think about was the yak attack as we wondered down through mossy woods into a deepening valley for a good hour. The rhododendrons were now coming into full flower and I noticed that there were a lot of pink ones also on the trees, with larger leaves and a brown underside. There were also areas where the whole green mossy forest floor was covered in the purple primroses. It was drizzling a bit now which took the beauty off the place. After about 90 minutes we reached a junction and realized the lower track was just a herding track and we had to take the upper track to escape the upcoming gorge into which the tumbling stream was about to enter. It was a steep climb up the side of the valley for half an hour until we got to another junction. The upper way looked well used, but we concluded it went over to Tibet and all the litter seemed to indicate that. The lower path seemed to be the path we had to take according to the map, but it was small and barely used. We took the chance and followed it.

For the next two hours we followed this small precipitous path through a Tolkienesque landscape of rock towers, jagged ridges, deep gullies and huge buttresses through which the path wove. It could have been the home of a Taoist Monk in ancient China. I was enthralled by the landscape but the others found the convoluted ups and downs tiresome. Eventually after some two hours I at last spotted some prayer flags between two rock towers and knew we were soon at the top. When I reached it I saw a totally different landscape on the other side. It was more grazed and covered in bamboos and the primeval rhododendron and conifer forest was gone. You could even see villages the other side of where I assumed the Arun River to be. I waited for the others.

056. The mountainsides between Thudam and the Kharka reminded me of a Chinese watercolour of the mystical Celestial Mountains.

There was a Yak Kharka after the pass but it took a good two hours to get there as the path wove all over the hillside. Frequently we thought we were on the wrong path as it descended down to the gorge. After having us puzzled, it at last started heading west contouring across the hillside. There were frequent rivulets to cross and at each on the path dropped into the ravine and then climbed out of the ravine on the other side to reach the ridge to start the whole process again. The ravines were lush and verdant and fill with mossy hemlocks and bamboos. It was perfect Red Panda territory but we did not see any signs, just a large Yak who was reluctant to move off the steep trail. Given this morning’s incident we were reluctant to approach, and threw stones and shouted from a distance until it shuffled off into the undergrowth.

At last, after six hours without a break, we reached the Yak Kharka. It was a very simple bamboo shelter with a family staying there. They had about 50 yak/cow crosses called dhzo. There were young calves everywhere, and even as we chatted the son arrived carrying a new born with a concerned cow in hot pursuit. We went into their shelter for a much needed meal. I had noodles while the others had tsampa and hot fresh milk. I had a glass of milk too which was hot and sweet. We could have lingered here but we still had three hours to walk to the bhatti at the Arun river and it was already 1530. So we bought some dried milk products called Churpi, which a hard dry product about the size of a large ivory dice. When put in your mouth it takes a good five minutes to soften slightly and then becomes chewable for half an hour before finally becoming digestible.

057. After a quick break at this Kharka which herded dhzo, (half yak half cow) we continued our journey to the Arun Nadi River.

The final stage was long. We descended from the Yak Kharka to another unused one. On the way through the forest were passed groups of magnolia trees. High above the forest canopy these trees shone. On the forest floor large white petals rested on the mounds of green mossy. It was quite a sight, but the trees were difficult to photograph against the cloudy sky. In this area the Rhododendrons were also in flower giving the forest an enchanted atmosphere above the ever present bamboos. There was a 2-300 metre climb over the last ridge after the second and disused Yak Charka before we reached a crest and could begin the descent.

And what a descent it was. On top of the previous 1500m descent we had done we not started a straight 1000m steep descent all the way down to the Arun river. Initially I felt sprightly but as the zig-zags continued my legs started to feel wooden and I lost all interest in my surroundings or sounds of birds as they prepared for the night. Dusk was coming as we reached the final bends to the very long foot suspension bridge over the raging Arun River, which flows into Nepal from Tibet. Just after the bridge was a small bhatti where someone in the Yak Charka had phoned to say we were en route and to await us.

058. The huge Arun Nadi River rises in Tibet and flows south through the Himalayas in a deep valley.

I arrived at last light and was delighted with the place. Bharat and Ramesh were already there. It reminded me of some long gone jungle shanty from a colonial era. It was a spacious woven bamboo shelter with a plank floor and a fire in the corner. It was new as the fire had not blackened any of the roof yet. It was run by a 54 year old Sherpa lady and her somewhat vain spoilt son. She was a delight with an infectious smile and laugh. We were all tired and I could not write the blog. Instead I got two beers for everyone while Ramesh and Santos took over the kitchen and made the meal. The two beers each turned into four. We all then unrolled out bedding in a corner of the place next to the bamboo walls. We had now come down to 1900m and it felt warm down here, especially after our near 10 days in the snows. The one thing I thought as I fell asleep was just how remote Thudam was, as we had walked 10 hours and still not reached the next village.

059. The tiny bamboo “hotel” in a clearing just above the Arun Nadi river was run by this charming Sherpa lady. Ramesh has already taken over her kitchen!

10 April. Arun Nadi River to Hongon. 17km  7 hours. 1200m up. 730m down. I was far too tired to do any writing yesterday, so I got up at 0630 to write and then have breakfast. The guys were quite thankful of the slow morning and used the back hosepipe which ran down the sunny hillside to wash in warmish water. We eventually set off at about 0930 after saying goodbyes to the gentle happy Sherpa lady who hosted us.

Initially it was a steep climb up the hillside for 3-400 meters to reach the village of Chyamtang. As I climbed I noticed more and more of the Bhutan Pine was dominating the trees at this altitude. The village of Chyamtang did not enchant me, and it seemed everything here was perfunctory and nothing was in good repair. The main path through the village was soggy as a black plastic water pipe had ruptured and no one had repaired it. The school, sponsored by Austria, looked like it was permanently closed save for the volleyball pitch. I was ahead of the others so I made my own way through the village and up to a defunct road which was came down from China to reach out to these border villages. The road was blocked as various places by landslides.

060. The village of Chyamtang is the nearest neighbour to Thudam but is some 10 hours walk away. It has a character more familiar with the Hill Region, or Pahad.

As I walked the breeze got up and I could hear it flowing through the pines gently swishing like a Basho poem. I passed a couple of mani walls and small chortens and then followed the pines down to the village of Lingham. I cared for it less than Chyamtang which at least had a rural feel. Lingham on the other hand was something of a commercial hub with a couple of rustic hotels and a few shops selling simple wares. There were a lot of single men hanging around these shops and hotels and even at midday some were drinking. I saw one man, all his front teeth missing and one hand in a filthy bandage,  staggering up the path already drunk on Raksi.

We had a meal here and then I escaped down the track to the nearly adjacent village of Chepwa. Chepwa was surrounded by green verdant fields of corn and potatoes. It looked like it had some rural charm but the fields were deserted and most houses were quiet. I did not go down into the centre but skirted round the top of it heading for a cluster of mani stones and chortens on the ridge. At the uppermost one the path split. With a smaller path heading up to pastures and just used by animals while the lower path seemed to be the main path to Hongon. I took it rounded a corner and got a sensational view of my route.

061. The path between Chyamtang and Hongon went along the north wall of the Arun Nadi gorge but about 500m above the river. You can just make the path out contouring across the very steep hillside.

It seemed to cling to the hillside and contour round a near vertical mountain for about 3-4 km. Far below was the roaring torrent of the Arun Nadi river in a very deep gorge. On the east side was an isolated village surrounded by valley after valley of near inaccessible prime jungle, where there were no paths and no one could venture. I started on the path across the very steep hillside. Although the Arun Nadi river was some 5-600 metres below me I felt if I threw a rock it might land in the river. I gingerly made my way down some very steep slopes until the path started to soften. At times there were even some trees between me and the precipitous slope. This made me more confident and I could walk with more abandon. These comfortable sections would be interspersed with more exposed sections where in Europe they would be secured with cables. It was a great walk with sensational views over the Arun Nadi valley towards the village of Hattiya.

At the end of this section was the small, desperately poor hamlet of Gimbar. Here it seemed a small herding community was just trying to establish itself on poor pastures on an isolated ridge. There were perhaps three or four families here on the margins of society. Perhaps these families were from Hongon and this was a summer pasture, if not it was a very poor community. I passed through and then started a long descent through forest and jungle to the river. This forest was full of birdsong and was a natural oasis in an otherwise pastoral world.

At the river there was a small wooden bridge before the long 300 metre climb up to Hongon which I had seen for the last two hours as I came along the sensational airy path. The climb was steep initially but as it climbed out of the forest and entered the first fields it eased. The fields below the village were alive with activity in the late afternoon. People were carrying baskets of organic fertilizer, carrying firewood, tilling fields with mattocks, or looking after small cattle. It was in total contrast to the commercial sloth of Lingham four hours earlier. As I approached the village hordes of lively confident children ran down to meet me without the usual request for sweets or pens. Even before I got to the village I liked it. Then suddenly I climbed a small knoll and it was there before me. Solid stone houses, most with corrugated iron roofs were spread out across a shelf. The houses were close together but were not crammed together and there were spacious lanes between them.

062. A warm welcome to the very friendly village of Hongon by some of the children. This large, charming, village had about 100 houses or families.

I was told Tengba Sherpa did homestays and asked for his place. When I arrived I found it was a simple rustic hotel with a shop underneath. It was called the Yangma Hotel. I was shown a simple room with old sheets and it suited me perfectly. They had a room for the others also. The host and his wife were very jolly and seemed to be having fun with Ramesh, Bharat and Santos who were a very sociable and easy going trio who put everyone at ease. The host was also the local teacher and in the other room were a couple of French volunteers who were working at the school for two weeks. We all gathered in the kitchen for the evening and it was an informative and social evening. There was also electricity here and so it was the last chance to top up the batteries before reaching the Everest region in about two weeks.

April 11. Hongon to Bakim Kharka. 8 km. 4 hours. 790m up. 90m down. After a superb stay at the Temba Sherpa’s lodge, where he and his wife entertained us with their wit and charm it was time to head on up. We just had a short day so we decided on a later start after eating the 1000am dalbhat. Nepalis generally just have a mug of tea for breakfast and then two Dalbhats a day – one around 1000 and one at 1900 in the evening. It is a simple healthy diet and a much revered national dish. We eventually left at 1100 in the hot sunshine. Again I noticed how busy everybody in Hongon was. School was off, so all the children were dispatched to collect pre-cut firewood in their baskets. They did this with good cheer despite it being almost an hour’s walk. In the fields everybody was busy weeding and repairing walls and fences. I walked with a couple of teenagers who wanted to practice their English on their way to get wood. When I asked them their caste, expecting them to say Sherpa they said Bhote. This surprised me as Bhote is also Tibetan type, but it is also used as an insult against the more Tibetan peoples who live in the mountains like the Sherpa.

We followed the very well-constructed pipeline taking water down to the small hydroplant which supplied the village with modest power. At the top the path headed off into the thick forest on a small and at times barely discernible path. It dropped down to a stream and crossed it before reaching another stream which it by and large followed for the next three hours. It went through dense moist forest with many rhododendrons, most in flower now, and also a band of magnolia trees around 2600m, which were all in full blossom in magnificent displays. The forest was really dominated though by some huge Hemlocks. These towered some 40 metres and a few had a bole diameter of more than two metres with at least one at three metres. I estimated this venerable old conifer to be at least 400 years old.

It was hard to follow the path in places, but it generally kept to the east bank of the stream as it slowly clawed its way up the green moist moss clad valley. There were mostly red rhododendrons in flower, the Laligras, or national flower, but there were also some pink ones with big leaves and rouge on the underside and another I had not seen before which were deep purple flowers and small almost round leaves. We reached a meadow with a great campspot but we knew there were three meadows and wanted the highest one. At the second one a group of porters came down the valley. Then even more, a couple of cooks, and finally a guide and four Belgians.

They had wanted to go to Molan Pokari but had been thwarted by the snow. This was not good news as there were 16 Nepalis and four Belgians and if the 20 of them could not force a path I thought what hope have we got. They blamed it on the thunderstorms 10 days ago and said many of the mountain areas of Nepal were badly affected, with the Government ordering people to come down. It all sounded a bit melodramatic and I hoped they were exaggerating. After all we had been coming over the Nanga La and Lumba Sumba passes during this time. The guide seemed to suggest we should turn back, but Bharat also seemed to think they had failed and so thought it was impossible for anyone else to succeed.

Just beyond our meeting with this group we came to the top meadow. It was small and riddled with boulders across its top half. None the less we managed to find a camp spot for the large tent. Bharat went off to start a campfire with we put the tent up and had it finished as Baharat’s fire got going. It did cloud over, but in the late afternoon it cleared up a bit and I could see the tracks of the Belgians and their entourage across a snowfield high up the valley side. It would be useful tomorrow but it only went half way.

Ramesh made a great dalbhat on then campfire as I retreated inside the tent to write. I am a little worried about the snow tomorrow as we must climb 1200 metres and descent 600 metres. It is my bad luck this had been such a snowy year and in my bid to beat most of the monsoon I started perhaps a month earlier than I should have done. But we have made it this far and the team is getting stronger.

063. The meadow in which we camped with rhododendron and Bhunia daphne. Beyond in the steep snowfield we had to climb to reach Molan Pokhari.

April 12. Bakim Kharka to Molan Pokari Pass. 8 km. 10 hours. 1170m up. 100m down. It was a great morning in the meadow, and the rhododendrons seemed to have blossomed more during the night. More importantly though the weather was good and I was keen to get going, so at 0530 I gave Ramesh as nudge. He was really my right hand-man; very dependable, always cheerful and a leader yet to find a role. We had breakfast and had the tent packed by 0700 and set off. I was keen to use the early morning firmness of the snow to follow the Belgian team’s footprints up the hillside as far as possible.

I set a good pace and the others were soon behind. The snow was firm and I was able to take steps with the nervous worry I would plunge through to my thigh. I followed their tracks up through the last of the forest at around 3400 and then onto a huge snowfield on the east side of the valley on a west facing ridge. Being west facing it did not get the early sun and I was delighted when their footprints stayed firm. I could see the others far below me but I was on a mission to reach the end of their footprints before the sun made them soft. The snowfield was quite steep in places and had the snow outside of the footprints been as hard as them then a slip without ice axe would have been serious as one would have crashed into rhododendron trees far below. At one stage their footprints crossed a shallow couloir which ended far down in the valley. I was slightly nervous crossing it and even more nervous for Santos who was far behind. If he lost his load it would slide and cartwheel into the depths of the valley we were climbing out of.

064. Ramesh climbing the steep snowfield with about 35kg in his basket. An awesome guy.

At about 3600m the inevitable happened and the footsteps stopped, as I knew they turned back. It was a shame for them as they had done the bulk of the climb and from here things eased off. I don’t think I would have been able to make it this far on my own without their footsteps. I now had to climb another 150 metres in the sugary snow on my own and it was very taxing. At last I reached a lip and the ground levelled off and I found a rock with some dryish vegetation on it and waited for the others. The great weather had gone and bands of mist swept up the valley obscuring nearly everything and then there was an interval when the sun returned and warmed my cold feet. After a good half hour the others arrived and we all agreed that was as steep as we would like it.

From my rock we all went up the final 100m to Molan Pokari lake. It was completely frozen over and the whole basin was covered in deep snow. It was a bit of a waste for us to see it in this winter state and I am sure in the summer it would be serene. There was a small slither of water where the stream left the lake and before it plunged over a waterfall into the valley we had just climbed out of, and there was a duck already there laying claim to its summer territory. I think it was a Brahmin Duck. We gingerly crossed a frozen part of the outflow and had another rest. The weather seemed stable despite clouds below us in the valleys to the south. I pointed out the pass only some 250 metres above us and we all decided to go for it and continue down the other side to Tin Pokari lakes.

065. The fabled lake at Molan Pokhari was completely lost in the winter landscape and frozen over. In the distance at the mountains on the Nepal-Tibet border.

Those 250 vertical metres across the snowy mountainside were very taxing. Again I led slowly, postholing my way up the snowfields of deep sugary snow which had been warmed by the sun. My progress was very slow and it was very laborious, but when I looked behind at Santos and Ramesh my heart bled for them as they struggled with their huge loads. They were so stoic in their determination to reach the pass. It took me about two hours to break a trail up the 250 meters over a long kilometre but at last having been up to my waist many times and up to my neck once I made the pass. When the other arrived I felt I had to apologise to them for putting them through this.

We descended some 50 metres on the other side and after 10 hours on the move I thought we had to camp. The descent from this pass involved just one more small climb before we could make the long descent past Tin Pokari lake, which would also be completely frozen, and then on down to Dhungee Kharka. It was after 1700 and it would soon be getting cold. There were some great views down the valley but we were too focused on getting the tent up to bother with them. While I crawled into my sleeping bag to write and warm up, Ramesh and Santos merely changed socks and then set about melting snow for tea and to cook the evening Dalbaht.  There was no rest for them and without them I would have no hope of having completed what we had done. They were the real heroes of this trip.

April 13. Molan Pokari Pass to Dhungee Khola camp. 15 km. 7.5 hours. 160m up. 1190m down. The first thing we had to do today was climb a slight ridge to gain the valley with the Tin Pokari lakes. The weather was on our side although there had been thunderstorms nearby during the night and we had had about 5cm of new wet snow. Bharat led the small traverse and climb across and over the ridge and then seemed to hesitate on the huge downhill section coming up so I took over.I tried to keep to the slopes where I thought the sun would have least effect but it was impossible to link them all up and occasionally I was up to my waist. I thought of the poor porters. Despite the magnificent surroundings I was angry with this year’s snowfall and despondent about the task ahead even for the next four to five days to Yangri Kharka where we would meet Dawa. We just seemed to be wading or ploughing huge amounts of snow where there should be the odd snowfield and otherwise small paths. I was not enjoying it, and there just seemed to be no end in sight.

The descent down to Tin Pokhari was ok as I seemed to hit a seam where I only went in to my ankles as I ploughed down. The others seemed reluctant to follow, and I suspect Bharat was waiting to see how I got on. When I reached the lakes I did not stop but continued down the north side of the river on a ridge of firmer snow. As I reached the valley I veered away from and bushes or boulders which might mean softer snow. Before me was the large meadow of Dhungee Kharka, which was completely covered in snow. My descent fortuitously led to two simple log bridge over the infant Dhungee Khola stream. I continued down the snow covered meadow occasionally looking round to see the other following perhaps a km behind. At the bottom of the meadow were some grassy hummocks partially in the sun when it broke through the mist. I waited here for the others who arrived remarkably quickly.

066. Coming down from the highpoint near Molan Pokhari to Dhungee Kharka.

Below the snow covered meadows the route descended to the west of the stream. However it was all covered in snow as it weaved its way through rhododendrons and bamboo thickets. Somehow I managed to pick up the hidden path and followed it down for a good hour until the snow finally disappeared at around 3200m. Occasionally I took a wrong turn and had to back track just as the others reached the same fictitious junction. Because the path was so elevated in the snow the porters had real difficulty negotiating the tangle of boughs and branches which would otherwise be a metre or so above them. Once the snow had gone we picked up speed and enjoyed the utter wilderness of the valley into which very few venture.

I rounded a corner and started heading up the Kholakharka Khola on the rocky path. After half an hour I thought something was wrong as we were climbing. I though this tiny obscure rough path is leading us up the valley to a pass into Tibet. The others agreed and then Bharat and Ramesh volunteered to go on without the baggage to check it out. They came back 20 minutes later to say it was heading up the valley and not down to the stream. We must have missed the path down to the bridge on the map. Bugger! We had to back track for a good 20-30 minutes to where we assumed the other faint path might branch off.

After five minutes we all thought it might be just as easy to bushwhack down the steep hillside to the confluence of the Dhungee and Kholakharka streams, and hopefully we would intercept the path we missed. The bushwhack was arduous for me, and to make matters worse it was raining now. The hillside was steep, slippery and covered in a creeping weed which obscured boulders. I often used bamboos or rhododendron branches to stop myself falling. It was very difficult for me but poor Santos frequently got ensnared in the weed or slipped on the steep muddy slope and fell a total of five times. Even Ramesh was struggling, especially in the thickets where his basket frequently got caught. I made it to the confluence of the streams first and found no other path we missed. To my horror there was also no bridge over the stream. It would have been easy enough to wade but it would have been thigh deep and white water. I wandered upstream a bit and found a simple log someone had placed. Eventually the others followed me up and we all crossed.

067. Ramesh crossing the tiny bridge over the very remote Saldim Khola before we headed up the south side.

From the log we had to bushwhack again through wet rhododendrons hoping to find the path. It was already 1630 and we were all concerned we might not find a camp spot. At last I spotted a path coming down the valley and pushed through the scrub to it. We all let out yelps of delight when we came upon it. Following it down for about 15 minutes we emerged from the silver fir and scrub forest onto a small meadow which had a great campspot. As usual now Ramesh and I put the tent up while Bharat and Santos went off to start a campfire to dry some clothes on and cook on. We were all wet, muddy and miserable but somehow the porters kept up their good spirits. Tomorrow should be a short day to a cave camp but after that we have another three difficult snowy days around the 4000m mark. It is imperative we do this otherwise we might be trapped as I don’t think it is possible to follow the river down and the only other way out is back the way we came via Molan Pokhari. I told Ramesh the cook and quarter master we might need another five days of food and he looked concerned! This section is turning out to be an extreme boot camp.

068. Whenever we camp in the woods we make a camp fire to cook on and to dry out some clothing.

April 14. Dhungee Khola Camp to Sedim Khola Cave Camp  5km. 4 hours. 400m up. 300m down. It seemed another nice morning but we only had some 5km to go until we reached the the so called cave camp in Sedim Khola at the bottom of a 1100m couloir. The guys lit the fire again at the bottom of the meadow to make breakfast. The whole meadow seemed to have been ravaged by wild pigs. This was an extremely remote area and I am sure they seldom had to worry about humans. We set off about 0800 and followed the small path down the west side of the Dhungee Khola stream.

After about a km we suddenly reached a large and quite new bridge crossing to the east side. It was not marked on the map. I was quite sure we should not cross it but Bharat and Ramesh went off to investigate and returned saying there was a small path. In the meantime I investigated the path heading south down the west side, as the map indicted and it seemed to be ok. There was a bit of a discussion about which path to take, but as I was the only one who understood the map I prevailed. It was a total mystery where the other path went as this whole area on the map was pathless. I concluded it must go over the mountain to Hattiya, a two day (or in these snowy conditions a four day) walk away. It was possibly our escape route if the Pass from Sedim Khola was too steep or dangerous.

We continued down the Dhungee Khola for another 2km, climbing slightly through the fir, hemlock and rhododendron and then descending steeply to Sedim Khola. There was the remains of an old meadow here but it seemed the jungle was taking over again. I wondered just where people came from to bring their animals here for the summer as I cannot stress how remote it was. Just below this meadow the path met the Sedim Khola stream and crossed it on the smallest most rickety bridge which would take 100kg, which was perhaps built by the seasonal herder for his goats.

We stopped here and again Bharat and Ramesh went off to explore the path even after I told them it was in the opposite direction and we needed to go upstream. I am sure this path would have been summer herding track as the map indicated that the Sedim Khola descended into a deep gorge for some 30 km until it joined the Barun Nadi river which was also in a gorge. If in the remarkable circumstance there was a bridge over the Barun Nadi river we might be OK, otherwise we would be would be trapped after our arduous two to three day bushwhack. Our only way out was over a pass which started 2km upstream and which I had seen yesterday. From the foreshortened view it looked steep and covered in snow and I was full of dread.

We found the path up the south side of the Sedim Khola as it emerged from avalanche debris and followed its faint route up. After a km we lost it as it was frequently buried by snow. I could see the chute at the bottom of the pass about a km ahead and it was completely filled with avalanche debris. There must have been multiple avalanches down here over the last two to three months and it spilled out into a huge fan almost a km across. I was keen to look up the chute so we climbed up the hard compacted snow of the east side of the fan for at least half a km until we could look up. It was not as steep as I feared and I reckoned we could do it in a morning as long as the weather was OK. It was a 1159m climb in all.

However there was nowhere to camp here and the small cave could only sleep two in discomfort. Ramesh wanted to continue up and get to the top and camp at Kalo Pokhari but I thought it was far too late in the day. I spotted a small meadow just 100 vertical meters below on the edge of the avalanche debris and we set off for that. It only took ten minutes to get there on the hard snow which flowed right across the Sedim Khola. The meadow was a bit damp but we had no choice. The tent was up quickly and Bharat got a camp fire going.

Just as we got settled round the fire it started to rain and soon it was bucketing down. This was not the sun filled afternoon to dry the tent and make our damp claggy sleeping bags crisp which I had been hoping for. I was beginning to hate this section. I slept while the rain poured. The other played cards in the tent and told me there were frequent avalanches in the valley during the rain shower. It was a very deep valley with large 4-5000 metre mountains on each side so I could easily imagine snow avalanching from high peaks and descending on the clogged avalanche routes. It was imperative for us to have good weather for us to ascend the pass to Kalo Pokhari. From there it would be at least another night in the snow at 4200-4500 metres. It would be a difficult three days. I also felt some sort of responsibility for the others as I had led them into this predicament, which I am not sure if they fully grasp.

April 15. Sedim Khola Cave Camp to Top of Chute. 5 km. 4.5 hours. 880m up. 20m down. It was imperative we got an early start so I set my alarm for 0300. Bharat got up and got the fire going and the ever reliable Ramesh and Santos followed leaving me to empty the tent while they cooked what has become known as Sherpa stew; namely rice, lentils and anything else, in this case chunks of ginger and the last potato. We ate round the roaring fire in the dark under the stars until the first light erased all but the brightest. It was light enough to walk by 0500 but we did not set off until 0530.

Our task was not an enviable one. We had to ascend some 1200m without respite, mostly up a steep couloir. We were blessed with good crisp weather and a slight frost. We had two pairs of microspikes, and I suggested Ramesh and Santos put them on as the first 500 metres of the chute was compacted avalanche debris and very firm and with the frost it was hard. They immediately felt comfortable and left Bharat and myself behind struggling for grip. I found it easiest to follow Ramesh as he disturbed the glassy surface. Eventually the surface softened slightly and Bharat and myself could take the lead and kick steps for the porters. It took nearly two hours to climb the first 500 metres and reach the top of the chute clogged with avalanche debris. We then had to climb a small steep section to gain the upper part of the chute which was not so ravaged by avalanches coming down from steep gullies to our west.

069. Heading up the huge gully to the east end of Furling Danda ridge. The gully was clogged with avalanche debris making for a firm surface which was easy to climb.

The upper chute was basked in sunshine which was a blessing to be in, but a curse as it was softening the snow. It was always ankle deep now and sometimes even knee deep. I led the way which was hot and exhausting while the others held back. I could forgive the porters with their heaving loads but Bharat was asked to take over for a while, which became the rest of the climb as I could just not keep breaking trail. The upper chute had another climb in it and then opened up in an almost flat fan perhaps a km across and covered in blue sheep tracks I think. The views to the north were stunning and we could see right up to Dhungee Kharka and Tin Pokhari where we were a few days ago. The valley we just climbed from, The Sedim Khola, was filling with mist, but the mountain tops on the far side were proud of it.

I was concerned that the weather was playing its usual trick by being fantastic for the first three to four hours and then slowly misting over and deteriorating until there was snow in the afternoon and evening. So Bharat and I rushed to a pass at the top of the fan to see where the next and final climb was before the small descent to Kalo Pokhari at 4200m. Out of breath and with my thighs bursting, we just made it up in time to see what we thought was the next section disappearing in the mist. With the 1:100,000 Nepali map, never known for its accuracy, and a cirque of jagged mountains before us, we needed sight of where we were going in the soft taxing snow. We waited for a good half hour but realized the weather was now deteriorating for the day so we went down to a flat area and pitched the tent even though it was just 1100. The mist enveloped all in a white out and we all thought there would be no let up so I got my sleeping bag out and had a snooze while the other three played cards. I was woken by rain on the tent. There was no let up until about 1700 when the mist cleared and revealed our pass but it was too late by then.

If this weather pattern continues we will still have three days to reach Yangri Kharka where Dawa is waiting for us. There is a teahouse there and it is becoming the promised land. Just two more high altitude nights, frozen shoes in the morning and 3am starts to go before we are out of our claggy tent and into relative luxury. We will arrive like bedraggled refugees

April 16. Top of Chute Camp to half way between Kalo Pokhari and Kharka canp.  5 kn. 6.5 hours 560m up. 260m down. It was another 0300 start to try and catch the best of the weather and the firmer snow before the sun softened it. It was desperately hard to put on wet socks and frozen shoes and then grapple with the frozen tent. We eventually set off at 0500, and this time I put Bharat into the lead by telling him I was just not powerful enough to make steps today. We climbed slowly but surely up for about 200m when we stopped for a rest. Bharat was tired after a difficult spell and I took over for the last half km to the pass over to Kalo Pokhri. There were some fantastic views down the valley and even down the steep slope we had just ascended.

True to form the mist already started forming at 0800 and the sun was had already softened the snow in the east facing slopes as we climbed out of the impressive cirque of towers. The descent to Kalo Pokhari lake was generally firm but I frequently went through the crust into sugar snow underneath and bashed my shins on the hard 3cm of crust. By the time I got to the bottom of the easy gully I was into soft sugar snow again and frequently up to my knees.  Kalo Pokhari lake was a typical glacial cirque lake lying at the bottom of a deep bowl surrounded by jagged spires some 500m above it. Between the spires were the start of long snowfields which fanned out until they reached the lake, which was completely frozen.

071. A steeper section on the snow chute where a ridge of moraine cut across the main gully made for a tricky section which Santos and his huge pack gallantly led.

The weather did not deteriorate much after the early mists and it was only 0800. Yet despite this the snow was soft now. I would have been ok camping but the other were keen to move on given our food situation. I again told Bharat he would have to lead as I was just not up for it. What followed was a three hour struggle through some 2km of wet soft snow where we only climbed some 200 metre in all. Bharat was tireless in his efforts and postholed constantly to his shins and I followed usually adding some 15cm to his footsteps. Our feet were soaked as no cheap Chinese gaiter could keep that amount of wet sugary snow out. We all had plastic bags over our socks and in our shoes but the sock quickly got wet and our feet were freezing.

073. In the top half of the snow chute where it opened up into a fan leading to the penultimate pass of the climb which is all we managed before the mist arrived.

We saw some prayer flags on the shallow ridge ahead and went over to investigate them. There was a pass which went down from here but it looked extremely steep and convex just to add to the foreboding. It descended a good 150 metres. We all thought it too steep to descend safely. The map showed we should have climbed just a tad higher and then slowly descended on gentler slopes into the valley higher up where it came up. Just as we were debating what to do the mist descended and obscured all in a near white out. With our cold feet, huge effort already today and the confusing mist we decided to camp even though it was just midday. We all knew the weather was not going to improve until the evening.

We had the tent set up quickly on a level patch of snow. Then the matrasses were unfolded and we all dived in to change into our diminishing supply of dry socks. We all then climbed into our sleeping bags to try and warm out feet up, except Santos who grappled with the stove to melt some snow and boil water for soup. The rest of the day was now familiar with me snoozing and the others playing cards until it was time to cook supper around 1600. We were all done by 1800 and crawled into our sleeping bags for the 0300 alarm. This will hopefully be our last night of camping in the snow but we still have to find out way down to the valley and then climb up an over a 300m ridge before we can begin out descent from these difficult mountains where we have seen no sign of anyone else for about a week in this remote snowy wilderness.

074. Our camp just after the penultimate pass. We had to camp here around midday when mist enveloped us and confused us.

April 17. 1/2 Kalo Pokhari to Kharka to Ridge east of Kharka. 6 km. 7 hours. 530m ascent. 470m descent. There were loud thunderstorms throughout the late evening and early night and the tent lit up with a flash every 10 seconds or so. Most were south of the Barun Nadi river but some were quite close. They dumped about 5cm of sleety snow which later froze. Then the temperature dropped to about minus five and everything froze. At the 0300 alarm the tent was covered in frozen sleet. We were up and running by 0500 but as soon as the light came the stars disappeared and the mist arrived. We climbed back up to the top of the very steep gully which I was sure was too steep for us to descend and no one was very keen on the idea.

075. Leaving camp at 0500 in the morning to gain the top of the snow chute pass, our first of 3 in the Furling Danda range. Behind us the mountains of Eastern Nepal are spread out all the way to Kanchenjunga in the distance.

I convinced myself and the others that it was not the pass we were looking for but a lower one which went a different way, despite the small chorton and the prayer flags at the top of it. According to the map and my altitude meter the pass we wanted was just up the mountainside a little and there we would find a rake or sloping shelf to lead us down the craggy steep valley side to the floor. So we set off to find it. The mist was all encompassing and it was difficult to see, but with Bharat in the lead occasionally throwing snowballs to see the lie of the land we slowly progressed up the hill. We became very confused in the white out and nearly put the tent up but then the mist cleared and we could see where we were. And that was still on top of the crags which formed the side of the valley. We persevered in the wet snow, our feet getting cold, but we could just not find the rake to lead us down. Eventually Bharat and myself went on to where I was convinced it was (but we were 100m too high by now) to find another disappointment. I had to admit it my altimeter and map reading deceived me and now it was obvious the steep gully with the prayer flags was the way. It did not take us long to descend but there was tension in the air as we had wasted the best part of three hours on my excursion and needlessly climbed and descended some 150 metres.

On reaching the top of the steep gully I volunteered to go first but Bharat and Ramesh insisted they check it out without their baggage. They got to the top of the convex section and saw it was a straight run down to a fan of snow some 200m below. The warmth of the day was however melting some of the new snow from last night and this was occasionally flowing down the gully in  small avalanches. Underneath the old snow was soft and sugary. As they returned to come back up I started my descent and it seemed quite secure in their steps. We exchanged words as we passed and I carried on keeping to the side to be out of the way of any larger avalanche should it surprise me. I reckoned the gradient of the gully was about 40 degrees and it was 200 meters in height. At last I reached the fan at the bottom and veered north so as not to lose too much height as we had to climb up the other side. Relieved, I rested on a rock and watch the others emerge from the bottom of the gully and onto the fan.

076. The last part of the climb at the top of the snow chute leading to the pass over to Kalo Pokhari.

We had a few glimpses of the other side as we descended and it involved a 3-400m climb up to a shallow ill-defined pass. We knew all would be on rotten snow and to compound it the mist returned. With Bharat in the lead we followed in his footsteps. However I nearly always went deeper and occasionally up to my waist. It was exhausting work for all of us especially the porters. We again got confused in the whiteout and knowing it was not going to clear and afford us a view we decided not to flounder about any more with wet feet and call it a day. The trouble was there were no flat tent sites so we had to spend half an hour excavating a flat site from the hillside using the dinner plates as shovels. Once the site was level we all crawled in to warm up as the snow started to fall heavily. I snoozed to try and warm my feet up while the others crawled into their bags and played cards. Santos seemed to be on dinner duty and had to go out into the snow showers and cook spaghetti on the large kerosene stove. As he did there were frequent thunderclaps. It was a very frustrating day in these wild remote mountains north of the Barun Nadi river which seem to attract poor weather. Our last week has really been a miserable winter mountaineering expedition but without the benefits of good boots and gaiters to keep the snow out. Everybody has been fantastic but morale is now low and we need a break.

078. Our last of 3 campsites on the difficult Furling Danda ridge. We could not find a flat spot so had to dig a shelf out of the slope with our metal dinner plates.

April 18. Ridge east of Kharka to Yangri Kharka. 15km. 8.5hours. 410m up. 1180m down. There were again frequent thunderstorms in the night and some 10cm of new snow, but it was relatively warm in the night and it did not really start to freeze until the early morning by which time it was misty. Indeed the mist did not clear until 0500 and this prompted speedy activity in the tent to the extent I got slightly left behind putting on my cold damp socks, covering them in plastic bags and then putting on frozen shoes. We set off at 0630 and it was perfectly obvious which way to go now, and my excursion up the hill yesterday to find this pass, just before we abandoned everything and put the tent up, was hopelessly flawed. My second mistake of yesterday.

All we had to do now was traverse the ridge for about a km heading south and we would naturally come to the pass. The sun had long risen as we made our way along the ridge with Bharat leading the way. The snow was soft as it had been insulated by the morning’s frost by the 5cm of new snow which had fallen. As a result we frequently went through but in the sunshine and with the pass fast approaching it made it more bearable,  especially with great views to the east of this gnarly little ridge we had just traversed, and beyond that a sea of peaks stretching east culminating in Kanchenjunga and Jannu rising above all in the distance.

081. The joy of reaching the last pass was shared. It had been a hard 4 days to end a gruelling week since the comforts of Hongon. In the distance is the Khongma La pass on the Makalu Base Camp route.

At the pass there was a marked change in the mood of the team. The tension which had been building suddenly vanished and was replaced by euphoria as it was virtually all downhill now to Yangri Kharka. We had been out camping in the snow for eight days now and were all looking forward to a dry sleeping bag and dry feet. To cap it all there was a small view of Makalu, the 8500 metre mountain which would dominate our views for the next few days. We had a joyous photo session at the pass before starting the 500m descent to the snow-filled meadow in the valley on the west of the ridge. It was not as simple as we hoped, as the last 200m of descent were through soft snow with rhododendron scrub and we were frequently up to our waists in wet snow with our feet tangled in branches. At last we got to the stream on the valley floor, crossed it, and then started a difficult short climb through snow to a clearing where we had seen some signs of a snow covered path.

082. The steep gully we came down yesterday which was essentially the second pass in the Furling Danda range. Viewed from the third pass before the long descent to the Barun Nadi river.

Across the deep valley to the south were the snow covered ranges of the Khongma La series of passes which trekkers and expeditions to Makalu Base Camp had to cross. It was an area notorious for poor weather. In the valley was the Barun Nadi river in a deep gorge surrounded by huge cliffs and steep slopes covered in scrub. It was into this valley we now descended, but as we were on the south facing slopes the vegetation was much richer than the bleak scrub opposite. The rhododendron suddenly changed variety to the taller large leaved variety and then there were the first of the Silver Firs at around 3800m. Before long we were in the forest. The homecoming was fantastic. The smell of resins and birdsong filled the air as the big venerable trees enveloped us. There was even some warmth in the glades but much of the ground was covered in hard snow patches with icy fringes. I saw a couple of Himalayan Monals and many Blood Pheasants and other grouse type birds. They would all be very unfamiliar with humans in this remote corner of the Arun Nadi River drainage basin. The further we descended the more we left winter behind and entered a warm spring world with carpets of the purple primroses and flowering bushes of red rhododendrons. We plummeted down the spur with the air getting warmer as the roar of the Burun Nadi river got louder until we found a small glade with a small stream and a abundance of firewood and stopped here for lunch, eating the last of our food. It now became obvious we would easily reach Yangri Kharka today.

083. The rickety bridge over the Barun Nadi river took a steady nerve to cross. Here is the brave Santos having his go.

After lunch we had to walk along the tiny, tortious, and sometimes dangerous, path on the north side of the Barun Nadi River while looking across to the well-constructed path on the south side which was the main Makalu Base Camp path. We had to skirt plenty of landslide areas until after about 3km I spotted a ramshackle bridge over the torrent. It was very difficult getting to the bridge due to landslides and erosion but eventually I stood before it. It was extremely rickety and I was not sure I trusted it all at all. I went first and it seemed to hold. Bharat followed in a very cautious manner. Then Santos charged over with his huge load knocking one of the few logs into the water, much to the consternation of Ramesh who came last. There was another celebration as we now were on a major path up to Makalu Base Camp.

We immediately passed a teahouse run but a very charismatic Sherpa lady, and went in for a cup of tea. She was the first person we had seen since the Belgian group some eight days ago. She told us the ridge we had traversed along was called the Furling Danda. She also told us Dawa, our climbing Sherpa for the next high passes section, had been there this morning to try and contact Baharat’s office. He had been waiting for us Yangri Kharka now for four days while we have been stuck in the snow on Furling Danda.

The final kilometres to Yangri Kharka were glorious. The path crossed back to the north side in less than a km making our perilous bridge crossing somewhat unnecessary. For the next three to four km it wove a route beside the river across grassy meadows and sandy flats where a huge flood some three years ago had brought much silt down the valley and eroded the course of the river and  destroyed the old path on the south side. I chatted with Bharat as we sauntered along here through the silver firs with the steam rising from a short rain shower. Huge mountains rose up 3000 metres on each side of us with Tu Tse (Peak 6) soaring what seemed almost vertically on our SW to a glacier covered crest above the clouds.

084. The final steps across the meadows on the valley floor before reaching Yangri Kharka, which for us had become a promised land. Dawawas waiting here for us to take us over the high passes in the next section namely; Section 04. Makalu.

At last we reached Yangri Kharka and there was a warm welcome from Dawa who was much relieved to see us. He had arrived four days earlier with two porters and all the climbing gear and some additional gear for each of us.  He had brought my gaiters which I sorely missed in the last week along with my climbing boots, crampons, 200m of rope, snow anchors, harnesses, helmets and more. Our team of four had now become a team of seven for the next three weeks. There were some lively and joyous conversations over the next half hour before I went off to my simple room made of corrugated iron while the others caught up with each other. The next day would be a rest day to allow us to get cleaned up and dried off and to get acquainted with the climbing gear. Although Ramesh had been over Sherpani Col before, Santos and Bharat had hardly had a harness on.

Yangri Kharka was pretty much the end of the Arun Nadi section as although were still in its drainage area, the high passes south of Makalu, namely Sherpani Col, West Col and Amphu Labsta deserve a section of its own. The Arun Nadi section had been testing for us. Firstly the Lumba Sumba Pass to enter the section had been taken us longer than expected due to poor weather mostly affecting visibility and making us camp two nights at 5000m. After this, the section was varied and wonderful – especially the remote village of Thudam and mystical journey to the Arun Nadi River. Thereafter the villages to Hongon were lovely, but after that it became very taxing from Molan Pokhari all the way to Yangri Kharka. In retrospect it would have been so much easier to go from Hongon to Hattiya and then up the south side of the Barun Nadi river to Yangri Kharka, but that is not the route in the spirit of the Ghreat Himalaya Trail which is to endeavour to go the highest route possible. But given the winter conditions of the Molan Pokhari to Yangri Kharka due to the extreme snowfall this spring and the fact that this section attracts misty conditions as damp air travels up the Arun valley and condenses on these mountains, it would have been better to do the lower level alternative via Hattiya. The higher section we did should certainly be considered if there is a low snowfall year for a spring crossing, and especially if a post monsoon start to the Great Himalaya Trail is done. But for our trip with an early start in a very snowy year I am glad to see the back of it.

Section 02. Arun Nadi River. 127 km. 79 hours. 7160m up. 8490m down.