Friday, March 27, 2009

Travel: The Snowman Trek (Part VII - Days 16-18)

Day 16

This was a long walk. We began by crossing the pass above Green Lake (Keche La – 4665m) and then began a long and steep descent into the valley of the Pho Chhu. It was not a particularly challenging descent and we came across some villages on our way down including Tega, where we stopped to take in the views of the valley and look at a local Chorten. Across the valley there were hanging valleys and waterfalls cascading down from the plateau above. Below was a sheer gorge with a raging river. It was quite relaxing!

(View into the valley from Tega)

From Tega we descended before coming across a bridge that took us over a waterfall entering the valley. It was loud and a bit wet, but another good place to stop and take in the views. Once we reached the Pho Chhu we came across two of the local girls who were collecting wood. They kindly posed for a photo. It was interesting to see the significantly different clothing they wore compared to the Layaps. We walked along a very rocky trail before climbing up the steep banks (about 20 – 30metres) to the village of Lehdi. It was raining now and there was a cold wind; we were glad to find some shelter in the lee of a hut where we could eat our lunch.

(Some locals near Lhedi)

All that was left was a long walk up the valley to Chozo. In our way we glimpsed the magnificent Kungfu Kung (7100m) as it appeared out of the clouds. This wasn’t a particularly steep walk; however the final climb up the valley through large boulders seemed to take a long time. I think we were all glad to see Chozo when we came around the final corner. The village was bathed in soft sunshine that was spearing in through the clouds. I looked to the east to see Table Mountain, however all I could see was a cascade of cloud tumbling down the west face, the summit and top half of the mountain being obscured. We had a rest day to look forward to and I was not going to waste it!

(Arriving at Chozo)

Day 17

I did very little on this rest day, other than wander around the village. Miriam and I persuaded one of our guides, Ash, to take us to look at the monastery. This was also a fortress, the only one in the Lunana region. It was the only traditional designed Bhutanese monastery we had seen, however we were not able to gain entrance as there was no caretaker around. It is said to be over 600 years old.

Some of the group, only two (perhaps three) went to visit the nearby village of Thanza, somewhat closer to the base of Table Mountain. Now…Table Mountain. This is an awesome piece of rock; there is no other way to describe it. It rises some 3km from the valley floor to its flat summit (approximately 7100m). The summit stretches for kilometres and has a cornice of snow on top that must be a couple of hundred metres thick. It dominates the view east from Chozo with its seemingly vertical west face. Simply magnificent!

(Table Mountain)

The locals came to visit camp and chat as best they could with us. The lad with the big purple hat was a standout among the locals! There was also a house blessing going behind the camp, so there was an opportunity to visit and experience this ceremony. I felt (rightly or wrongly) that I would be intruding so stayed at the camp.

I could have spent the whole day just staring at it, but I had washing to do and lunch to eat, as well as morning and afternoon tea etc. One of the guides showed me the route we would be taking the next day up on to the Lunana plateau. It didn’t look too bad. I ended up thinking that it was a good time to have a rest day.

Day 18

After a chilly start to the morning we crossed a short bridge over the Pho Chhu and began the long climb up to the Lunana Plateau. By golly it was tough! Even the yaks were puffing and panting when they finally caught us and left us behind. We climbed up over 1000 metres to Sintia La, and it took me about 5 hours. We stopped for lunch on some rocky outcrops not far beneath the final pass. Up here there were small glaciers coming down from the craggy plateau edge and a view back towards Table Mountain and Kungfu Kung that was ample reward for the hard work. We were even rewarded with a spectacular avalanche on Table Mountain. We had heard the rumbling of a few avalanches in the morning; however we only saw this one.

(Avalanche on Table Mountain)

Once we reached the plateau we came a across a beautiful, if barren, landscape. It was rocky and framed by snow-capped peaks, with small lakes and streams cutting through the rocks. There were more of the strange alpine plants unique to this part of the world, and we were blessed with clear, crisp weather. While our path was reasonably easy, off to the east were large craggy peaks beside deep valleys that had been incised into the plateau. We strolled with comparative ease across this landscape but the altitude did eventually start to tell. We were staying up at about 5000 metres for two days. By the end of the day, the campsite at Tsho Chena could not come soon enough.

(On the plateau)

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