Day 6: Siri Kharka (13,200 elevation) to Tilicho Base Camp (13,361 elevation) 6 Kilometers
Day 6 was a very short day trekking and again we were blessed with good weather and a beautiful blue sky day. Though the trek was short we had to stay alert for falling rocks and potential landslides. Our views along the route were spectacular with glimpses of Tilicho Peak, countless unnamed snowcapped peaks and interesting rock formations.
Though the official elevation gain was only 288 feet we easily had to climb over 1,000 feet in the ups and downs of the trail. The trail this day was one of my least favorite. Most of the day we were walking on scree (small loose rocks) that shifts beneath your feet. Going uphill you slide back six inches for every 24 inch step and going downhill you have to constantly be on guard for the scree shifting beneath your foot and sending you on you backside or worse off the side of a 1000 foot drop.
The route crossed several large landside zones which required vigilance both looking for falling rocks and foot placement on the narrow scree paths. Interestingly, I crossed paths with three lunatic mountain bikers. I watched mouth agape as they carried their heavy bikes up one steep section only to then hop on and ride down a steep section no wider than three feet over scree and slide the back wheel around a hairpin turn over a 1000 foot drop.
Eventually we arrived at Base Camp and upon reaching the guesthouse I ordered a big
plate of fried potatoes and onions and an order of steamed vegetable MoMos. The MoMos were surprisingly good! After dinner I decided to try a drink I had seen all along the trail – Seabuck Thorn Juice. It tastes a little like apricot but was so concentrated it was too strong for my taste.
Day 7: Tilicho Base Camp (13,361 elevation) to Tilicho Lake (16,400) elevation then back down through Base Camp to Siri Kharka a 20 mile day.
This would turn out to be the toughest but most interesting and rewarding day of the entire trek. My morning began with a 3am alarm and 3:30am breakfast of tomato soup and black tea. By 4am we were beginning our 20 mile trek to Tilicho Lake and back down to Siri Kharka in the dark by headlamp. The morning was cold and I began the trek in my heavy down parka, knit hat, and my leather spring ski gloves.
But I run hot so within 30 minutes I had stripped down to a t shirt, no hat and no gloves. Lol everyone else on the trail stayed bundled up. The trek was demanding in that it required traveling 4.5 miles straight up without flat areas for 2,464 vertical feet. But with sunrise I got my first hint that the pain would be worth it.
The rising sun burst upon the white peaks creating a brilliant alpine glow of pinks, golds and reds reflecting off not only the white peaks but also through the hanging clouds. We marched on as the sun continued its climb until we reached a massive hanging valley sandwiched between massive mastiffs on all sides.
As we traversed across the valley there were several small and unimpressive lakes and I fleetingly wondered if Tilicho Lake would live up to its hype. After a mile of trudging the length of the valley and dodging unmelted snow drifts we finally crested a small ridge and I had my answer.
Tilicho not only matched the hype it surpassed it in spades. This lake sits at 16,400 feet above sea level and is the highest lake on earth. It is huge and so blue it is beyond words. Fortunately I took plenty of photos and video and I will let my camera speak for my loss of words.
The lake is surrounded by a combination of beautiful white covered mountains on one side and stark brown and gray on the others. The dramatic contrast of stark whites and browns and grays surrounding the lake only adds to the shocking blue of the lake.
Upon arriving we joined other trekkers just sitting and enjoying the view as we ate a breakfast of boiled eggs, Chapati and an ice cold sprite. After breakfast we spent another hour taking photos and video, and offering a quick prayer to both Buddha and Shiva thanking them for allowing me this phenomenal experience and asking for them to deliver me safely back down the mountain.
Raju suggested that we should consummate the experience with a traditional Nepalese Dance Circle. He found what he claimed was the perfect Nepalese song and briefly demonstrated how people in Nepal dance in this circle. Lol the young ladies from Spain and Germany picked it up pretty quick. Claus (German) and me – not so much! And of course all the locals were very proficient with the dance.
But I figured if I could look like a fool dancing with forest pigmies, why not make an ass of myself with the backdrop of the world’s highest and maybe most beautiful mountain lake? As we danced I could hear several avalanches high up on the mountains and briefly wondered if I was amusing the mountain Gods and the avalanches were belly laughs brought on by my pathetic attempt at an ethnic dance. My dance style has been described by friends in the past as looking like a zombie being electrocuted.
After our impromptu 16,400 foot dance off it was time to pack up and begin the long descent first to the Tilicho High Camp for lunch and to pick up our gear. Then to continue on to Siri Kharka. In all we would trek over 20 miles this day and arrive in Siri Kharka foot sore, muscles screaming and cramping, sunburned, eyes aching from the bright sun but with smiles plastered on our faces and a warmth filling our hearts that only sharing such an incredible experience can bring.
Day 8: Siri Kharka (13,200 elevation) to Leder (13,600 elevation) 10 miles
Today would be a short day only 10 miles and no long pulls up hill. Instead today would mostly be devoted to following the contours of the mountain traversing high above the valley floor below and the villages we trekked through on our way up to Lake Tilicho. Far below us we could see the Tibetan settlement of Khangsar, then Manang, Barge and Geru.
We had one scary moment along this portion of the trek. The two girls that had been walking with us for days pulled about 5 minutes ahead of us. And as we rounded a bend in the trail we could see basketball sized boulders raining down on them from above. Raju immediately assessed the situation and began frantically whistling as loud as he could while waving his arms like a madman.
It took me a moment to realize the boulders were not falling naturally but were being thrown down the mountain from above by careless workmen building a new trail 500 meters higher up the slope. I say careless because no one in the 20 person work crew was watching the trail below to see the two girls and the three of us.
While Raju was trying to get the workers attention Taron and I were gesturing for the girls to run back to us and safety for their lives. Had one of those boulders hit anyone the force of the weight and gravity would kill instantly if making contact with the head or the momentum of the projectile would have knocked a person off their feet and to their death a thousand feet below.
Once Raju got their attention the crew took a break while we cautiously crossed the scree field then waited for a French couple about 15 minutes behind us to cross before he gave the crew the all clear signal to resume boulder bowling.
Eventually our ridgeline ended as another tributary emptied into the larger river valley forcing us to turn up this watercourse and descend down to the valley floor to Thorongia Khola and cross another suspension bridge to reach the far side of the valley. After a cup of tea at a river side tea house it was back on the trail, up the ridge to the trail to Yak Kharka.
Once on this trail we followed it for several miles before reaching Yak Kharka and lunch. Yak Kharka was packed with Nepalese in search of a medicinal root that only grows at a certain high elevation that is used in Chinese medicine that sells for ridiculous rupees per kilo. After lunch we once again shrugged into our packs to make the final 45 minute sprint to Leder and a welcome night’s rest.
Day 9: Leder (13,600 elevation) to High Camp (16,010 elevation) 6 kilometers
This day would take us from 13,320 feet to 16,010 feet at High Camp. 2,700 grueling feet straight up without a break. Though a very challenging day we were rewarded with beautiful views of Mt. Syagang, Mt. Gudang, Mt Thorang and Thorang Phedi. Once at High Camp I caught my first sighting of the elusive Blue Sheep grazing just above the guesthouse.
This would be a short night because we would have to be up at 3am and on the trail by headlamp by 3:30am. So an early dinner of Dal Bhat (rice, lentil soup, vegetable curry) and chapati it was off to bed for a few hours rest.
Day 10: High Camp (16,010 elevation) to Thorangla Pass (17,769 elevation) then down to Muktinath (12,188 elevation) and over 20 long grueling miles
This day would take us from 16,000 feet above sea level to the Pass at 17,769 feet before dropping down to Muktinath at 12,188 feet all in just over 20 long miles. Who knew the trek up to the pass would be the easy part of the day. We trudged most of the way to the pass in the dark arriving at the highpoint just after sunrise.
We stayed at the pass just long enough for photos and to eat a quick Snickers Bar and Oreos then began the long painful descent down to Muktinath. By this time my toenails were all black and bloody from pressing against the fronts of my boots, my knees were screaming from the constant battle with gravity and loose scree, my stomach was growling and howling from lack of food and my muscles were threatening to go on strike from lack of replacement calories in nearly 24 hours.
On and on we trudged mile after mile. We could see Muktinath far below. It looked so near but never seemed to get any closer. I sort of felt like the thirsty hallucinating French Legionnaire crawling through the sands of a desert seeing mirage after mirage of cool oasis and beautiful naked dancing girls. Except my mirage was a tea house with an ice cold drink and piping hot meal or a nice warm cot to rest my aching old bones.
Eventually we made it to a tea house about an hour and half from Mukinath and I enjoyed a nice hot meal and cold sprite to drink. After a long rest we limped on the final hour and half into Muktinath and made a brief stop at a famed joint Buddhist and Hindi Temple complex.
I was honestly disappointed in the twin temples. We could not enter the Buddhist Temple because of a local ceremony in progress and the Hindu side was littered with trash, empty plastic bottles and animal droppings. There was a small pool which is purported to contain special holy water the faithful were waiting their turn to totally submerge themselves under the waters to be healed of whatever ails them.
There was also a series of 87 spigots pouring ice cold mountain spring water from a stone wall into a trough at a height of about five feet. The spigots were each about two feet apart. The faithful would run the length of the rectangular shaped stone wall stopping briefly under each spigot to let the freezing water run over their heads and down their body before running to the next 86.
Again this ritual is supposed to cleanse their souls and bring good luck. My guess is the only thing it brings is at best a bad cold and at worst a case of pneumonia. So after a few minutes of watching the faithful run the spigot gauntlet I headed on down to my guesthouse for the night.
Day 11: Muktinath to Tatopani by Jeep
We loaded our packs into a jeep and rode to Tatopani. The six hour drive took us through lush forests, one of the deepest gorges in the world, and a small village famous for their apple orchards and a local brandy made from apples. Unfortunately apple season doesn’t begin there until October so I could not taste the much ballyhooed apples but I did buy a bottle of the apple brandy to send home for sampling at Thanksgiving.
Tatopani was billed as a spa town where we could relax and soak in the hot springs. Unfortunately, the Nepalese version of a spa leaves much to be desired. The hot springs spa looked to me like a concrete water trough for horses or cattle with absolutely no ambiance or creature comforts like towels or lounge chairs, or waiters offering wine or beer or snacks – so I passed on the horse trough.
The guesthouse also turned out to be the worst one of the entire trip. My unairconditioned room was on the second floor above a courtyard. All night long men sat in this courtyard smoking and talking loudly filling my room with second hand tobacco smoke and noise until after midnight. And worst of all I woke up the next morning with nasty insect bites on my left hip and thigh and no hot water for a shower or shave.
Day 12: Tatopani to Pokhara by Jeep
I climbed back into a jeep unshowered, unshaved, clothes smelling like tobacco, and itching from the bedbug bites for the five hour drive to Pokhara. The drive to Pokahara was long, hot and dusty but offered spectacular views of the Annapurna Range and beautiful raging rivers tumbling down narrow rugged gorges.
Day 13 and 14 I spent relaxing and recuperating from the trek in a nice but somewhat isolated resort hotel. The hotel was very nice but since it was a little out of the way I did not get a chance to see the city which is supposed to be the most beautiful in Nepal. But I did get all my laundry done and much of this and my Thai blogs written.
Day 15 I flew back to Katmandu, checked back into the A Loft Hotel and retrieved my stored bags. I spent two final days in Katmandu relaxing, preparing paperwork to enter India and getting another PCR test. I did enjoy a very pleasant dinner with my friend Pohara and his lovely wife Ruby. It was great seeing him again and meeting Ruby. Hopefully I will get to return the favor and host them in Colorado next winter.
Next stop New Delhi…