Thursday, January 8, 2009

Travel: The Snowman Trek (Part IV - Days 7-9)

Day 7

After spending a night trying to sleep while the local dog population was intent on running riot through and around Chebise, we had a quick breakfast and then began our walking. We headed up towards the next pass – Gombu La. This was a very steep 450 metre climb up to the ridge on which the pass was located. The views back towards the mountains (Jichu Drake (6850m) and Tsheri Kang (6532m)) were magnificent, and made up for the burning feeling in my lungs and legs. I was even able to laugh when I left taking my picture of this view a little too late and had to put up with clouds obscuring the two peaks.

Looking back towards Jichu Drake (obscured by cloud)

The landscape up here was that of grasslands, probably inhabited by small mammals judging by the small burrows we came across. There were bound to be some birds of prey eyeing up these mountainsides looking for the merest hint of movement that would show them where their next meal might be. I didn’t see any, but others did.

It didn’t take more than about two hours to get to the pass, and then we began descending through forests of rhododendrons. As we walked down to lower altitudes we entered a forest of fir and larch trees that was full of autumn colours. Reds, oranges and yellows combined with the dark greens to make a wonderful sight. We stopped for lunch at a yak-herders shelter and enjoyed the opportunity to sit down and rest for a while.

On our way down we could see steep cliffs and gullies on either side of the valley. There were waterfalls cascading down from the cloud above that obscured their origin. The descent took some time and we eventually reached a braided river that we had to cross to get to our campsite on the other side. After a few hops and jumps we could sit down with a cup of tea and reflect on the successful completion of the first week of the trek.

Day 8

Yet another great breakfast to start the morning. Our cook once again excelled himself, filling us up with enough fuel for the day. I wish I could remember his name. I wrote them all down and now can’t find them.

This was a very hard day. We climbed up to over 4700 metres to Jare La in the morning. This was a climb of over 750 metres and it certainly felt like it. Being quite steep and with the cloud being low, we didn’t really know how far we had to go as we trudged on ever upwards. However, once we reached the pass, we were greeted with the smell of Sandalwood which reinvigorated us to some extent. We had a short stop here before we carried on and walked down through a beautiful, wet but treacherous forest. There were lots of sharp corners and the occasional slippery rock, but in between this there were some great views of the valley into which were going. The descent seemed to take a long time and was hard on our legs.

Once down into the valley we were able to relax a bit, and once we’d crossed a makeshift bridge we were on a flat valley floor. In the distance we could see a traditional black yak herder’s tent made of woven yak fur. I tried to get a photo, but it didn’t turn out very well, and we were keen to get to our camp for the night so we didn’t venture of the track too far.

To round the day off, we had a short but steep climb up to a flat campsite on a wide grassy plateau on the side of the valley. By this time I was looking forward to the traditional cup of tea and nibbles at the end of the day and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we were going to do our first 5000 metre pass; the crew filled us up with carbohydrates for dinner!

Day 9

Oh dear…this was a hard day. I wouldn’t usually swear, but - f***! Over 800 metres of climbing in the morning, and it was a rainy and grey experience. There are no pictures of this climb because I was tired, and it didn’t seem worth the effort to take pictures on such a dull day. And it was also quite slippery in many places.

Glacial lake and scour

There were no great views from the top; however the rain did ease once we made it over Sinche La (5005 metres) to the other side. Even though it was tough, it was sobering to see a member of another expedition being carried up the mountain on horse-back, clearly suffering from altitude sickness. The Bhutanese guide, Sangey, was genuinely worried about him. He made it over and down the other side, and on to the end of the trip, but this must have been a very bad day for him. It was good to see Sangey again, he had been our guide on a previous short trek in Bhutan, and he still had his sense of humour and mischief.

Coming down the mountain we had great views of the valley ahead, another classic glaciated U-shape with steep sides and scree-slopes. Further down we came across further evidence of glaciation - a scoured mountainside and glacial lake being retained by a terminal moraine. As walkers would know, after a long hard climb your legs can be a bit wobbly on the descent, so we found a good spot to sit and appreciate the view. There were yet more rhododendrons and fir trees on the steep hillsides which our path clung to.

On the way down from Sinche La

We carried on mainly down hill in the afternoon and camped in some sandy soil by a river. The next day promised a short walk to the village of Laya, and then we would change yaks and move on towards Chozo and the Lunana region.

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