Frozen Boots, Flying Boulders

October 16 – 28
Days 46 – 58

Syabrubesi to Last Resort
Langtang Valley, Tilman’s Pass

This blog entry describes our approach and crossing of Tilmans Pass (5320m), a remote technical pass attempted by only a handful every year. It was a spectacular, cold and challenging section but considerably enhanced by the guest appearance of our friend Rick Warneke!

On October 16 we left Syabrubesi to head up the Langtang Valley. This was day 46, marking over halfway! The Langtang Valley is Nepal’s third most popular trek, after Everest Base Camp and Annapurna. It was certainly busy! Ciara had walked the trail eight years ago on a trip to cross the Ganja La (5130m) so some parts were familiar but much has changed since the 2015 earthquake.

It took us two days to reach Kyangin Gompa, the highest village in the valley and the turnaround point for the average Langtang trekker. Along the way we had ascended from jungle to alpine meadows filled with yaks. We had also seen serious and sobering reminders of the 2015 earthquake. We walked through (new) Langtang Village. The original village was utterly destroyed by landslide triggered by the quake, 280 people died in this village. The scale of the landslide rubble was astounding and had completely engulfed the village. Walking through it was a thought-provoking experience, a reminder of the unpredictability of the landscap

(Photo of landslide coming soon)

In Kyangin Gompa we finally met Rick which we had been looking forward to for weeks! Rick is joining us for two weeks and brings some much needed fresh conversation to the table! On the 18th we had a rest day, our first in 12 days and our 4th of the trip. However Nic and Patrick couldn’t resist climbing Tserko Ri (4985m), a short day trip from Kyangin Gompa. Rick climbed it a second time in three days! Ciara had climbed it before and choose a sleep in. The boys got to the top by 9am and the weather cleared just in time for a coffee and views!

On the 19th we left Kyangin Gompa, heading for a stretch of camping in wild glacial mountains. Now we are a group of 9 as we had hired an extra porter named Sonam as Rick had joined us and we were now carrying technical climbing equipment. We had an easy day of walking up the valley to Langshisha Kharka. The meaning of this is roughly ‘pasture where the ox died.’ The Langtang Valley is spiritually significant as the reincarnated Lama travelled up it in the form of an ox, finishing his journey at Langshisha Kharka. We indeed had bovine company that night in the form of several overly inquisitive yaks who took great interest in our camp. They brazenly dared to walk straight up to us, drooling over our food. A full-grown yak is a formidable sight, weighing half a tonne and with sharp horns almost a metre from tip to tip. They are not known for their docile nature. It took quite some time to persuade them we had nothing of interest and even still we were worried about being trampled that night

(Photo of yak by tent coming soon)

The next morning we awoke at 4:30am, needing to start up the glacial morraine as early as possible to minimise the chance of rockfall. Unfortunately we were not entirely successful. Heading up a steep scree chute off to the side of the glacier, we had to move quickly as rocks shook loose of the ice and began to rain down on us. We couldn’t move too quickly though because the scree gully itself was incredibly loose and we had to avoid pulling rocks onto each other! Rocks were falling from both sides of the narrow gully and Rick and Nic were very nearly hit by a hurtling boulder. As Rick summarised once we were safely out of the fall zone, it was a bit ‘red hot.’

We made it to high camp at 4700m by 11am and pitched in a huge glacial bowl beside a lake. We were surrounded by 7000m mountains and spent the afternoon listening to the rumbling of active avalanches.  It began to snow that afternoon and the temperature was extremely cold. Bizzarely we ran into a pair of French climbers who were in the area and came to say hello after seeing us dodging rocks in the scree gully. They were the last Westerners we were to see for a long while and had had several successful summits in the area.

(Photo of high camp coming soon)

We awoke at 4am on the 21st, ready for an epic day. It had snowed a few centimetres overnight. Today was the day! Despite weeks above 4000m, Ciara has been struggling to acclimatise to altitude, possibly as a result of iron deficiency from a very rice heavy diet. Thankfully she had slightly improved overnight, potentially due to an interesting concoction of altitude medication!

We started up the moraine towards the glacier and soon had to stop to put on our crampons. We walked single file in a line, avoiding the crevasses criss-crosssing the glacier. Step by step we ascended towards the pass. By 10:30 we were standing on top! Rick added his prayer scarf to the collection.

We began to descend the other side, the bowl of the glacier radiated heat. Pemba slipped into a crevasse up to his waist. We picked our way down the glacier eventually coming to a steep section of mixed rock and ice which we abseiled and did our best to avoid the rocks falling from above.

(Several photos of pass and abseil coming soon)

We reached the moraine field by 3pm and then began to head down. It was extremely difficult to find anywhere to camp among the glacial scree field. The walking itself required huge concentration to maintain balance on the shifting boulders. Nic stepped on a boulder which toppled, flinging him forcefully downwards some metres.  He was very lucky to avoid injury. By late afternoon we reached a series of tent platforms painstaking scraped out of the boulder field. A small pool of frozen water in the glacier meant we had a water source. That night was bitterly cold with a wind blowing through our tents which we struggled to pitch properly between the boulders.

(Photo of camp in boulder field)

The morning was little better, our stove performed poorly in the freezing temperatures and we had a long wait for hot water. Knowing we had a short day, we waited for the sun before leaving camp at 8:30 in boots that had frozen inside our tents. The moraine was still treacherous in the morning, huge ice towers errupted from the scree which we carefully walked around. Finally, some hours later, we reached the end of the scree. From there we ascended the valley side to a beautiful grassy campsite called ‘Tin Pokhari,’ meaning three lakes. The sun dissapeared abruptly at 3pm and we had another cold night.

The next day was also testing as we trekked up and down across about half a dozen ridgelines. As we summited each ridge, another came into view, requiring descents and ascents of several hundred metres at a time. In the late afternoon we finally caught sight of Panch Pokhari, meaning ‘Five Lakes.’  This is a sacred site and every year hundreds of pilgrims come to visit in August. We were excited to find a few shacks by the lakes and an elderly Sherpa woman cooked us Dahl Bhat while we camped outside.

(Photo of Panch Pokhari coming soon)

In the morning her husband, a former yak herder, offered to guide us down the mountain and through the jungle because the route was tricky. In fact the route we wanted to take was destroyed in the earthquake! Although it was a knee-jarring 2000m vertical descent, we actually gained a whole day following the new route, walking right through to Tembathang. We stopped for lunch in the first village we reached in days, Tharpu. We were served the largest plate of boiled potatoes I have ever seen, dug up only minutes before. There must have been over 100 potatoes on that plate!  We are used to boiled potatoes with salt and chili as a standard meal in remote villages but this was something else! Bloated on carbs, we admitted defeat and sluggishly hauled ourselves towards Tembathang.

(Photo of everyone eating copious potatoes coming soon)

In Tembathang we found a family to put us up and slept in their storage room. That night we were in a celebratory mood and happily accepted the free flowing ruksi. We are used to it served lukewarm which is quite nice but we were surprised to be served it with fried butter mixed through! It certainly added to the texture! That night we were awoken by screeching rats and the standard 4am rooster. The next morning was unsurprisingly slow. Ciara and Rick had both developed fierce colds and soon discovered it really is impossible to wash a handkerchief without hot water.

On the 25th we headed towards Kyansin but became somewhat geographically misplaced in the thick jungle. After about two hours of jungle-scrub bashing, fighting nettles, thorns, fierce heat and hangovers, we emerged back onto the main track. We settled for a homestay a little before Kyansin as we were exhausted and knew we could head directly up the ridge tomorrow from there.

A breakfast of chapati and Tibetan tea set us up for another trying day on the 26th. We climbed well up over 1500m into the forest on small steep trails. Despite being in forest we struggled to find water. We passed through many seasonally inhabited kharkas (grazing meadows) which would have made excellent campsites but to our dismay they were all dry. Forced to walk on, it was very late by the time we reached Shotang Kharka were we happily found some locals who informed us of water a 20 minute walk away. We camped there with a spectacular view down onto the lowlands.

(Photo of jungle and Shotang Kharka coming soon)

On the 27th we were able to get ahead of schedule by skipping our planned night at Listi and walking right through to The Last Resort, a mere 2000m vertical descent. We had Dahl Bhat for lunch in Listi which Nic, Rick and Pat supplemented with beer as this was Rick’s last day with us. In hindsight this may have been an error, still having 1000m of descent to go in blazing sun.

Last Resort is a town named after a resort which is famous for a 150m bungee off a suspension bridge. Before the road was destroyed in the earthquake this was ‘The Last Resort’ before China.

Once reaching Last Resort we had to wait an hour to cross the suspension bridge as it was in use for the bungee. Unfortunately, once on the other side we were informed that the homestay we were looking for was actually on the side we had just crossed from! We had to wait a whole hour again to cross back! The hustle of the resort was an jarring comparison to the solitude of recent days. Nic was keen to do the bungee on our rest day but again we were thwarted by Nepal’s copious festival calender as the resort was to be closed tomorrow for Diwali, the festival of lights.

That night we celebrated our time with Rick with several beverages while the town celebrated Diwali. The night was surreal as around 9pm all the women of the town emerged and created small beautiful shrines out the front of the houses using coloured sand, paint, candles and fruit. Tiny footsteps were painted into each house to invite the god’s blessing. Many houses were also strung with fairy lights so the whole valley glittered.

Our guide Chhiree left for Kathmandu that afternoon. Unfortunately he had to head back to sort out a debacle involving insurance and a helicopter rescue for some other clients of his also walking the Great Himalaya Trail.  Pemba also headed back to Kathmandu to meet John and Thomas who would soon be arriving and will meet us on the trail in a few weeks.

(Photo of several shrines)

We were sad to say goodbye to Rick on the 28th of October who is heading to India. He joined us for a challenging but unique section that was off the beaten trail in every sense of the word! Not to mention he brought us some much needed perspective on this wonderful challenging trip as we enter our third month of walking.

On the 28th we dared to order meat for the first time this trip! Except for our own prepared dehy camping meals, we have been entirely vegetarian to (unsuccessfully) minimise our chances of illness. We had a chicken curry that lived up to our expectations!

Again however that night our ‘rest day’ was thwarted by a festival. Around 11pm, a large group amassed outside our window and began dancing to a speaker at full volume! Firecrackers were set off directly outside our window! They stayed until well after midnight. It turns out Diwali involves a sort of ‘trick-or-treating’ in which groups go from house to house making a commotion and enjoying themselves to ask for money from the inhabitants. The money is then spent the next day on a lavish community picnic which we witnessed in several villages. It was interesting to see but certainly disrupted our sleep!

Our next section involves a few days at low altitude before we head into the Rolwaling and cross the difficult and technical Tashi Lapcha (5700m). The weather is turning and we can all feel the onset of winter now. We are excited and apprehensive to be leaving the lowlands.

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