October 29 – November 8
The Last Resort to Thame:
Gaurishankar Himal, Rolwaling Valley, Tashi Lapcha Pass (5755m)
This entry describes our time travelling through the forested hills and culturally rich Gaurishankar Himal from The Last Resort to Chetchet and then the stunning alpine Rolwaling Valley. From there we crossed the formidable Tashi Lapcha Pass (5755m) and stepped into the Everest Region.
On October 29 we left The Last Resort at a mere 1170m and begun climbing up and up into the forested hills. We passed through many small villages celebrating Diwali. In each village an extravagant picnic was set for all and the tables were laden with fruit, alcohol, sweets and baked goods. Everyone was beautifully dressed, even the children in tiny formal suits! We were invited to join but regretfully walked on, needing to make camp by nightfall and knowing from experience that the combination of alcohol and hills is a risky affair. We climbed 1500m but struggled to find water in the forest, making camp early at a small kharka.
(Photo of forest camp coming soon)
The next day was huge and navigationally challenging as the forest had dozens of trail intersections and tracks in every direction. Although we passed through several kharka settlements, all were deserted for winter. After some trial and error we eventually found ourselves on the correct ridge and enjoyed the walking through beautiful rhododendron forest before descending over 1000m and out of the forest. We reached the town of Bigu on nightfall after a huge day and found somewhere to put us up. We have often slept in establishments like this which function as a family house, a shop, a pub, a restaurant and usually have a spare storage room for guests to sleep in. That night Diwali continued and many locals were in a staggering state while the ruksi was free flowing. In a very hungry state our stomachs seemed to over-rule our on-track vegetarianism and we dared to try a local bar snack: dried buffalo fried in alcohol. It was delicious and we suffered no obvious negative consequences!
(Photo of Bigu teahouse coming soon)
A few more days of low altitude walking followed, through small villages still strung with marigold garlands for Diwali. At one lunch we were gifted huge stalks of sugar cane and left over baked goods from Diwali. Unused to eating raw sugar cane, we were much messier than the locals! Over the next few days we spent much time picking routes through fields to avoid huge vertical change. At one point we made a poor choice and walked through a dense patch of needle like burr bushes. They adhered to our clothes and packs, especially Nic’s pants which looked like a pin cushion. It took many hours to remove them.
(Photo of Nic’s pants coming soon)
On the 1st of November we arrived in Chetchet (1377m) and the start of our climb back up to altitude. A mere 2910 concrete steps up from Chetchet lifted us up into the Rolwaling Valley and in two days we were in the high seasonal settlement of Na (4200m). The Rolwaling Valley is a sacred valley inhabited by Sherpa people. The valley itself is stunning, glacially carved and home to thousands of years of culture with a number of sacred sites.
(Photo of sacred rock coming soon)
(Photo of Beding coming soon)
Seven years ago in 2012, when Ciara was 17 and Patrick 15, we had walked the Rolwaling and crossed the Tashi Lapcha on an ambitious family holiday. This also included climbing Parcharmo Peak (6273m), the mountain beside Tashi Lapcha. This meant we had an idea of what to expect for this section but also that we could see the dramatic melt of the glaciers in just seven years.
On the 4th we had a much appreciated rest day in Na. We attempted our washing in the frigid water but struggled with freezing hands. Later that day it began to snow, about 5cm in total dusted the village. We would have enjoyed the snow more except for the knowledge that we were heading back into a stretch of cold camping building up to our crossing of the technically challenging Tashi Lapcha (5755m).
(Photo of Na in snow coming soon)
We headed out of Na on the 5th, passing the Tsho Rolpa Dam. This glacial lake has been dammed as it threatens tens of thousands of people living downstream. However the lake is growing exponentially as the glaciers above it melt. It has grown ten-fold in size since the 1950s and is now over 130m deep at its deepest, 55m on average. It is an obvious reminder of the looming threat of climate change to the Himalayas.
(Photo of lake coming soon)
Unfortunately that day we only made it halfway to our planned camp as Ciara was struggling to adjust to altitude and the three of us again had dodgy stomachs from something we’d eaten in Na. We pitched in a lovely meadow below the lateral moraine of the dam wall. We sheltered from the bitter cold by cooking dinner inside a cave that had been transformed into a rather spartan but homely living space. That night was excruciatingly cold.
(Photo of cave shelter coming soon)
The next day we had to cross the foreboding moraine field that covers the Trakarding glacier. It took over six hours of painstaking walking on unstable boulders to cross safely. We often had to climb up and down towers of scree deposited by the glacier. At one point we witnessed a curious deep cave that had formed in the exposed ice. If there was ever a yeti cave that was it!
(Photo of moraine field coming soon)
By late afternoon we had crossed the scree and reached a huge rocky bluff that we had to climb to reach camp. Someone had installed fixed cables on the most exposed sections which added some psychological relief but it still required considerable work to haul up the packs. Our camp that night was a stunning perch on a jutting nunatuk that stood high above the valley below.
(Photo of nunatuk camp coming soon)
The 7th of November was pass day! We were out of camp by 6:30am and soon reached the crevasssed Drolumbau glacier. We were surprised by the number of groups we met up here, including a Japanese research group documenting the glacial melt. We saw numerous bus sized boulders perched on ice pedestals metres above the snowy ground as the glacier had melted out from under it.
(Photo of boulder suspended above ice coming soon)
From here we turned sharply east, ascending yet another glacier. Seven years ago our ascent here had been up an easy snow rampart but now due to climate change the base of the glacier has melted, forming a small stepped ice fall. Crampons with front spikes were very useful here as we had to climb some steep icy sections with fixed handlines. Then we had a final 300 vertical metre slog to reach the pass itself. As we trudged up the slope, the wind began to pick up. By the time we reached the pass itself we couldn’t dawdle long for photos in the deteriorating weather. Patrick tied his kati (prayer scarf) to the pass, he had been carrying it for nearly 70 days for this moment! Stepping over the pass also meant officially crossing into the Everest (Solu-Khumbu) area!
(Photo of pass coming soon)
The descent on the eastern side of the pass was difficult. We had to cross some very steep scree slopes where it is impossible to form a track as debris constantly rains down from above onto the route. We were also worried about rock fall but Chhiree judged it safe to continue downwards at this late part of the day. Because we are heading into winter, things are a little more frozen and solid. So we safely abseiled down a narrow chute notorious for rockfall. From there we dropped several hundred more metres down until eventually we made camp on the scree field. That night we were awoken numerous times by rumbling avalanches and it was an extremely windy night.
(Photo of abseil coming soon)
(Photo of camp coming soon)
Our final day of this section was only a three hour walk down the valley into the town of Thame. Arriving back into civilization lunchtime, we celebrated by ordering pizza! We were excited because John Smart and Thomas Smart were due to meet us and we soon heard that they were in Namche, a 9km walk from us. Patrick headed off to Namche to take some of their pack weight. The group arrived into Thame by nightfall and we had a celebratory dinner.
(Photo of Thame stupa coming soon)
Now we are in the highly trafficked Everest Region and things are a bit different to what we have experienced so far. On our next section we cross the famous “Three Passes,” the highest of which is the Kongma La (5535m). We do not have any camping for a little while as the Everest region has thousands of lodges. It will be interesting to walk with John and Thomas for a while before Thomas turns around at Chhukung and we head into the most serious section of our trip, a series of mountaineering passes.