Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Travel: Snowman Trek (Part VIII Days 19 - 21)

Day 19

This was a shorter day as we trekked along the undulating plateau. We were treated to a sparkling clear day and magnificent views of this barren landscape as well as a clear panorama of the surrounding mountains. The landscape can only be described as severe, with jagged mountains and shattered scree covering slopes in every direction, caused by the freeze-thaw action of water. There were more lakes and streams, many of which were in streambeds far bigger than their current volume required – an indication that during the snowmelt vast quantities of water tumble across the plateau before thundering down to the valleys below. We also came across small glaciers that were carving their own valleys. At this altitude, even the 100-metre or so climb to the two passes we went over, including Loju La, felt difficult, however we persevered and eventually reached our camp at Jichu Dramo.

(View from Loju La)

(View across the plateau)

Day 20

Today we climbed over the highest point on our trek, Rinchen Zoe La. This pass is recorded as anywhere between 5360m and 5600m, so I will settle on 5450m and hope that is somewhere near the right answer. Below the pass was a milky white lake full of sediment from melting ice. We spent a while at the pass getting photos and generally enjoying the ‘peak’ of our trek and looking at Gankar Pussum, at 7561m the highest moutnain in Bhutan. Then it was down, a long walk past some lakes with some occasionally boggy areas to walk across. We descended a steep-sided valley and found a campsite on the flat valley floor at about 4400 metres. The additional oxygen down here was immediately noticeable after the best part of three days over 5000 metres. The dinner that night was very enjoyable as we celebrated the biggest pass of the trip. We had just one pass left to conquer and that was a comparatively modest 4655 metres.

(View of Gankar Pussum)

(Lake on the way down from Rinchen Zoe La)

Day 21

Our yak herders had already left early, racing to get the best campsite for the next night as there were limited choices. They left at a run! It has snowed in the night and we had a cold start, but it did wake us up. We carried on at a more sedate pace, descending below the tree line and down towards the valley floor. As we reached the bottom by the river, the valley became extremely narrow and steep – a real v-shape. It was like walking between two walls. We found a pleasant, if somewhat muddy, clearing where we had lunch. It was used as a campsite by yak herders and had copious amounts of yak dung lying on the grass.

(It was cold in the toilet tents this morning!)

After lunch, which was a good opportunity to rest weary legs, we carried on and found ourselves climbing up the side of the v-shaped valley. This was a tough climb that took us about 3 hours. It was a winding path up through the forest that gave us magnificent glimpses of the valley falling away below us. As we neared the top of the climb, the slope eased and we were treated to a sheer rock face rising at least 100 metres above us. Then it was up alongside the waterfall, a very steep and demanding section, and then over to the lake where our campsite was situated. A short half hour walk around the lake and we were there. Our yak herders had won the race and we had the best site. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground and snow-capped peaks above. In the evening light, the lake was a magnificent blue against the mountains and sky, and was framed by the rising evening mist from the valley below. It was a cold night, but tomorrow was the last pass.

(Evening at Tampe Tsho)