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Trekking the Himalayas: Episode 5

By Olivia Pedersen

May 28, 2015

Trekking the Himalayas: Episode 5

By Olivia Pedersen

May 28, 2015

Over the Pass and to the Desert We Go

With 6 days down and 9 days to go, the climax of the trek was soon upon us. Thorong La Pass was right there, but we were constrained by the rules of altitude acclimation — slowly, slowly. Luckily, there was plenty to keep us occupied and distract from the desire to push further and faster than wisdom dictates.

View of Stupa
Stupa leaving Manang
Elite HC3 Lenses
Taking in the views
Mani Wall
Mani (prayer) wall on the way to Ledar

In order to break up the 6,282 vertical feet left to reach the pass, we changed our plans so that we could shave off 1,000 vertical feet on summit day by adding that to the day previous instead. The new plan was Ledar instead of Yak Kharka and the night after that Thorong High Camp instead of Thorong Phedi Base Camp. It is a grueling climb and descent from Thorong Phedi over the pass to Muktinath, but some people choose to hike it all in one day to avoid sleeping at 14,730 feet. This means gaining a total of 3,034 feet and then descending 5,264 feet in one day. To those people that do this . . . I salute you.

Nepali Guitar
Hand carved Nepali guitar
Slowly Walking
A stone and mud house that was common in the area

Hiking slowly was not easy for me. I like to hike fast and charge ahead, but our guide kept reminding me, “Bistaarai, bistaarai.” Without his reminders, I can see how easy it would have been for me to go too high too fast. I could tell the difference in the air once we got to Ledar — crisper and a bit chillier. In order to make sure that we would sleep well throughout the night, we didn’t nap during the day. This was a struggle not to do when every instinct within me craved sleep. My body felt restless in a new way; it was tired of walking for so many days in a row. It felt the exact opposite of when we were just starting the trek. Instead of being agitated from no movement, it was anxious to just stay still. On the upside, my cold was finally letting up after being a nuisance for 4 days, and I was hoping it would be totally gone by the time we got to the pass.

View of Ledar
Ledar in sight
New friends
Going across the brige
I just didn't look down

The teahouses were starting to thin out at this point. There were only two available in Ledar and both of them were full, luckily our guide was always able to find us a room . . . somehow. This wasn’t even peak season either! The dinning hall was packed shoulder to shoulder. We spent the night playing card games and telling riddles with other guides, porters, and trekkers. Cards are so universal, it was a great way to interact with people and get a conversation going, especially those who didn’t speak the same language, like our porter who didn’t speak a lick of English. It was comical trying to speak with him, doing the typical hand gesture charades the body defaults to when it can’t verbalize what it needs to communicate. He was always full of smiles, laughing at our attempt to make small talk. It was through our laughter and competitive card games that we could communicate.

After breakfast the next morning, we packed up and headed for High Camp. Snow started to dance down on us as we walked, adding a majestic flare to the day. Once we reached Thorong Phedi Base Camp, we yet again stumbled upon some delicious pastries for us to refuel on before we started up to our night’s stay, Thorong High Camp. This time it was cinnamon rolls.

Incense burning
Hiking to Thorong Phedi
Thorong Phedi Welcome sign
Cinnamin rolls
Wearing lots of warm clothing

The hike to Thorong High Camp was crazy steep, Nepali Steep but as Lokendra put it, “These are hills our chickens climb”. That joke was starting to get less funny the steeper the climb got. But finally, we reached Thorong High Camp and its single teahouse. Tucked behind a large cliff that protects it from the jolting winds that whip through the high ranges, it is surrounded by nothing but arid scree fields and ascending peaks. For our altitude check hike we tromped up the backside of the cliff protecting the teahouse. It was, without a doubt, one of the best views yet. There was no sound except for the wind and the thrashing prayer flags. Sitting atop a cliff with views looking out to Chulu Peak and its surrounding pearls, this was my favorite spot of the trek. I wish I had brought my book and lounged there until the day’s light burned out, but instead we returned to the teahouse for some tea to warm us up. We relaxed there packed again shoulder-to-shoulder trying to regain energy for what lay ahead.

Lokendra crossing the river
The bridge right before Thorong Phedi
Big yak
Yaks were a local staple for food and clothing
The long hike up
The hike up to Thorong High Camp
Text that describes the image in case it isn’t showing correctly
Teahouse at Thorong High Camp
The view of Mt.Chulu
View of Mt. Chulu

Tomorrow was the big day, and I was exhausted so I drifted off to my room for some quiet solitude. Sometimes there’s nothing better than being cocooned in your sleeping bag with a headlamp and book.

At this point, it had been 8 days without any contact to the outside world, and it felt bizarre. I was completely disconnected from everyone and everything that was home. It felt as though the only reality that existed was this track tucked away in these majestic mountains.

Valley view
The long, long way down
Laying in sleeping bag
This is how you cocoon

We woke the next morning at 4 am, got some food and tea, I got a nosebleed, and then we strapped on our headlamps and started up. In the pitch black with the stars still visible overhead, we formed a line of bobbing fireflies weaving our way up the pass. We got to this epic viewpoint right as the sun rose. The first break of sunbeams made my eyes react with that sharp tightening you feel when pupils retract from the light. I felt reenergized by the warm sunshine on my cheeks. As the sun rose higher on our backs, giving a subtle push over each discouraging knoll, we peeled off layer after layer of clothing. After many false summits we finally reached Thorong La Pass. My stressor for the past 8 days was finally conquered without a glitch — unless you count the nosebleed. All those questions of doubt were finally answered with success. After the mandatory photo ops to prove our beastly accomplishment, we began the long journey down.

First light horizon
Switch back views
Looking down the Pass
Hiding behing a horse
Peek-a-boo, these mules were at checkpoints for people who couldn't make it over the pass
Lokendra and Olivia
Celebrating the second false summit

In this day alone we had gained 1,800 feet and descended 5,264 feet; a bit rough on the knees to say the least. Once we finally reached Muktinath, the air was thick with oxygen, or at least it felt thick compared to what we were breathing only a few hours earlier, and I was nothing but care free. From here on out I foresaw nothing but smooth sailing.

But I was wrong. I hadn't the slightest idea of the beauty and hiccups that were destined our way. Travel magic was still in effect.

Infront of pass sign
The famous "You Did It" sign
welcome to Muktinath sign

Continue to Episode 6: In Sickness & In Health, the Trek Must Go On

Read the previous post Episode 4: The Unexpected Makes for the Best Stories

In regards to the Spring 2015 Nepal Earthquakes:

I am deeply grieved by the many deaths and injuries caused by the devastating earthquakes in Nepal. My prayers go out to those lost and to those that have lost friends and family close to them.

It is during tragedies like this that we must come together to help our brothers and sisters that are now at the mercy of the elements. While writing my narrative on trekking the Himalayas, my intention was to bring awareness and understanding to the astounding beauty that inherently lives in every aspect of Nepal. I invite you to join Revant Optics, through Doctors Without Borders or one of the many other reliable relief agencies in providing aid to the survivors and restoring that beauty.

Sincerely, Olivia

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